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The Freedom trail humbled me

Nothing hardly ever goes to plan or the way you would like it to.  I wasn’t planning on doing RASA again, but as many people on this group will attest to: never say NEVER. The inevitable preparation was not as intense as for my first attempt, which in hindsight probably translated into the lackluster performance of my 2023 campaign, even though I had ambitions of a 16 odd day finish.

 

Today, as things unwind, I sit and reflect on the year that was and draws to a close.  I muse about things that was and could have been, about work and life in general but my thoughts drift back to the Freedom Challenge time after time. What is it about this race that makes it so special that intrepid riders come back for more?

 

This is my take on it as I recall what stood out for me on my adventure this year.

 

It seemed that the cold front cleared the day before my batch departed from Pietermaritzburg town hall, so with enough luck I was looking forward to a dry ride to Rhodes.  Chris’ send-off wasn’t even cold yet when my crank broke off on the start line and I was left stranded staring at the flickering red lights of the rest of the batch off in the distance.  It dawned on me what the ominous squeaking was coming up the hill to the start line. It was not my bike protesting under the extra weight I accumulated during breakfast, after all. I could only hope that bad things did not happen in threes this time around.

 

Google is your friend.  Callan’s Bike Tech quickly sorted me out and I was on my way.  I made good time and caught up with the others at Allendale for a well-deserved rest.  The following day was a long, hard slog to Ntsikeni and we made it in just after dark. My racing partner from the UK, Andrew Turner, decided to stay over at Two Springs to rest and recover and I continued. From Masakala to Rhodes I had intermittent company early mornings until my average speed got the better of me and I got left behind again. For most of the way I would ride alone and that gave me mixed emotions; the sense of freedom and astonishment at the immense expanses made me feel so small and insignificant and at night the fear will disappear when the moon and stars illuminate my soul.

 

Tragedy struck again 8 kilometers before Slaapkrantz, when coming down the speed bumps, five of my rear wheel spokes had enough of the abuse and ripped through the rim.  Crestfallen and with a bruised spirit I trudged along the river in the valley.  The natural beauty and spectacular views not enough to lift my anxiety and hopelessness.  As Trevor and his gang came past, I asked them to let race office know that I will be needing some assistance.  By the time I got to Slaapkrantz I just had to provide the specs of my rear wheel and the rest fell in to place.  Fanus Vorster, a fellow rider from one of our cycling groups back home in Pretoria, coincidently on the farm near Aliwal at the time, kindly offered to collect a spare wheel and bring it to me.  I was chuffed that it worked out the way it did and indebted to Fanus, by 13:00 I served my penalty and was on my way up the Slaapkrantz portage. Descending the Bontehoek portage on the other side with nightfall my front wheel disappeared into a hole, and I was doing the obligatory tuck-and-roll over the handlebars of my bike. Seemingly, with only a cranked ego, I thankfully escaped without any further bike damage.  (I did notice later at Brosterlea that my map board did not survive that fall).

 

Snow, sleet, mud, and rain accompanied me to Kranskop early the following morning.  It was certainly nice and cozy out of the rain, inside the Kranskop house.  While I was waiting for a let up in the rain to continue down the trail, Sandra and her cleaners showed up at the house.  She was surprised to still find someone at the house and treated me to a warm breakfast in true Boer hospitality style. Turning down an offer of laundry and a tasty home cooked lunch I sat in anticipation for the rain to stop. Eventually it eased but did not stop completely and I decided to continue down the trail.  Shivering and cold I made it to Brosterlea just after dark.

 

The rest of the way to Bucklands went swimmingly, no pun intended.  The Pauls River crossings at night near Groenfontein were treacherous and provided for some unwanted night swimming action. There must be a song like that 😊.

 

I arrived rather late at night at Bucklands and opted for a quick nap before heading to Hadley.  The idea was to try and catch up with the group ahead of me as I was craving company at that point.  I left Bucklands at 01:00 a.m. and was hoping to reach Hadley for breakfast and join the other group en route to Kudukhaya.  The third time I saw the same tracks, I realized that it was my own and that I have been going in circles.  I regrouped but by then my distances were out and my tripmeter hinted that I should turn left, way too soon of course. What followed was a navigational mishap of note and a scramble through the one valley after the other, the mist not making it easy at all.  I discovered leopard spoor and remnants of its last meal and decided that I’ll try and find the conventional route and headed back where I thought I came from, before I became that leopard’s next meal.  I arrived at Hadley at 15:00 and decided to get some rest and leave early the next morning.

 

Still tired, I left the next morning with the hope of making the 13:00 gate.  The Grootrivier banks were still swollen, and I started the slog of a detour to Kudukhaya and thankfully made it in time to have a nice meal.  I was accompanied by two true gentleman buffalo herders, Marius Viljoen and Gerrie Horn through the reserve and ultimately all the way to Damsedrif, after the ash white guard at the last gate gave us her encounter with a leopard that evening, not long before our arrival.

 

I reached Prince Albert the day after and with the Gamka River still in flood another alternative route was waiting to be conquered on the other side of the Swartberg pass.  I felt good and strong and was looking forward to an early night at the alternative stopover in Calitzdorp, however it was not to be.

I came to, concussed, in a ditch next to the road.  For a moment I did not know where I was or what I was doing.  I slowly pieced the puzzle together.  I saw the bike and it dawned on me that I was riding somewhere, then I remembered the race and subsequently I tried to figure out where I was and in which direction I was headed.  My front wheel was buckled, making the bike useless for cycling purposes so I started walking until I reached an area where I had mobile signal.  I called my wife and then Chris and walked on in the general direction of civilization. Just before 23:00 I knocked on the door of Great Samaritans, Basie and Mandie Strydom. They nursed me back to health for the next two days.  Friends I made during my first RASA, Franci Joubert and Paul Micklewood, came to my rescue all the way from Knysna and brought another front wheel and replaced my damaged shifter. If it was not for these selfless people, I would’ve been left stranded, without a hope of a 2nd blanket. The Payne brothers passed by my position and Adrian popped in and gave me a check-up and the green light to continue.

 

The following day, still unsteady on the bike, I slowly made my way along the 25 kilometers to Calitzdorp. Well rested, I had a rather late start on my way to Rouxpos on the alternative route along the Huisrivier pass the next morning. Flurries of snow, sleet, driving rain and headwinds made for slow progress, but I pushed on yearning for what was sadly to be the last ever waffle and ice cream on the Freedom trail. I spent some quality time with Ronel and Gerhard and finished watching a game of Wimbledon tennis with them, before calling it a night. 

 

The slow puncture in my rear tyre became a flat overnight and I wasted unnecessary time to repair it.  I was forced to travel by day as both my bike light and my headlamp was damaged from the last fall I had.  Every ticking minute I put myself in danger to arrive at my next destination at night, without any light to illuminate my path. I eventually came down Ouberg pass and into Montagu as it got dark.  I treated myself to a stay and a nice dinner at the Montagu Country Hotel, much to the dismay of my credit card.

 

I contemplated stopping at the co-op the next day to buy a headlamp as I knew that it was going to be a long day.  A detour through the vineyards near Brandvlei helped nudge me into getting into Trouthaven at dark.  Adrian was kind to leave me a new headlamp stocked with new batteries to have an early start through Stettyns the next day. The Stettyns experience is daunting on your own to say the least and would need a book on its own to describe it, but it was a hard, long slog, more so with torn shoulder muscles (of which I only found out about, after the fact).

 

Fast forward the rest of the day, standing among family and friends at Diemersfontein, looking back at the last 22 days in my mind’s eye, the generosity and philanthropic nature of the Freedom community is what sets this race apart and makes it truly special. Adventure is certainly guaranteed.

 

Perhaps one day I will do it again, at least that is the plan.

Martin Victor

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