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The Education of a Freedom Challenge Navigator

In the modern world, most of us are accustomed to using “Siri” or Google Maps to get us from place to place. Cyclists enjoy the convenience of plugging new routes into our Garmins and following a series of prompts or an arrow on a blue line to get us from place to place.

The Freedom Challenge requires us to forego these modern tools and find our way across the Southern African Landscape equipped with only a 1:50000 Map and compass.

For many aspirant challengers, this feature of the race is particularly daunting and something which causes many sleepless nights. Anyone attempting the race will spend time acquainting themselves with topographic map features and some simple navigation techniques.Many spend hours poring over the map and comparing it to google earth images. Notes are made and plans developed, but it would be unusual for any new rider to arrive at the start without at least some trepidation with respect to how well they will handle this aspect of the challenge.

Fortunately, the Freedom Challenge is a teacher that is capable of educating even the most wayward student over the course of the 3 weeks or so it takes to complete the event.

Leaving “Sleeping Bao” without a GPS is a nerve wracking experience for any neophyte, but fortunately, one can generally follow a local to the start and avoid the embarrassment of not making the 6am kickoff. From there, a car is very kindly provided to avoid any wrong turns and then it's onto a road before the first turn through a gate and onto the trail. At that point, one quickly finds out how well one has prepared.

By the end of the trail, one will be an expert in not only Map navigation, but also many other aspects of tracking and navigation one had never thought of. But to get there one needs to go through the tough school that is the Freedom Challenge.

To survive the school, one should follow the same wisdom we followed in our early years: 1) It is always useful to follow a Senior student- at least initially. Riding with folks who have done the trail before, who have some idea of navigation, is a good way to accelerate one's learning. One has to be careful though as sometimes the most confident in the playground have neglected their homework or are not the strongest students. It is always best to check one's own work before handing it in.

2) On the subject of homework, it is prudent to do some: Learning some rudimentary map reading skills before the event will help. Scouting the next mornings exit from a support station in daylight can often avoid a few hours of aimless wandering the next day.

3) One should try to avoid making silly mistakes and even when one is confident of the answer it pays not to commit until the last moment. Checking ones work is crucial. This is particularly important when losing elevation. Its always much easier to avoid going down a hill by checking twice than discovering a mistake at the bottom and having to retrace ones steps.

4) Trying to work in groups and trying a few team sports when faced with difficult challenges is often beneficial.

5) Expanding ones interests, making new friends and making use of opportunities that arise is often very rewarding. Watching out for signs of those who went before you often helps find the track. Asking Villagers for directions often saves time.

6) One should endeavour to avoid detention by starting challenging tasks early. This leaves time to negotiate unexpected problems with projects and to finish these projects with lots of time to spare. A last minute attempt can often end up with a learner working well into the night, tired, without adequate help and this can sometimes lead to unpleasant sleeping conditions.

7) Failures are inevitable. How one responds to these will define how successful ones progress is.

8) Fortunately on the Freedom Challenge, all exams are open books exams. Crib notes are encouraged. This is particularly so with the final exam through Stettyns where the text book can be found here:

Just like school, any learner that embraces the experience will come out richer for it. They will learn a lot along the way about the trail, the features of the landscape, the people and themselves.

The Freedom Challenge is a great teacher. It's not an easy course, but for those who finish, it is likely more rewarding than anything from our formative years.

Good luck to this years learners. Hopefully your successes outnumber your failures and you finish with a blanket in Diemersfontein.

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