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There’s always next year. And there’s always 12 speed

I’m sitting next to the fireplace at The Willows Hotel in Willowmore. I was going to make a video but for the last few days my voice has been croaky to nonexistent—sounds like I swallowed a demon—hence the lack of video messages.

I’ve made the decision to scratch. It’s obviously not an easy decision and not one I take lightly. I got up early this morning and headed out of town. The first gentle climb had me off the bike and walking. If the gentle climbs from Willowmore to Prince Albert aren’t able to be ridden it’s pointless. It’s a long way and I can’t walk all the way to Diemersfontein.

In spite of resting off the bike for 19 hours in Cambria and medicating to reduce the swelling the improvement was marginal. Yesterday was a long hard day on the bike.

While I could possibly take painkillers to mask the pain it also means I’ll be masking the damage that’s causing the discomfort.

Riding a single speed isn’t for everyone and clearly my vagrant legs weren’t up to the challenge. For those who aren’t up to speed on the meaning of vagrant legs it’s what Andrew calls my spindly legs Vagrant legs—as they, in his opinion, give my body has no visible means of support.

Legs aside the issue was probably a combination of many things including poor equipment selection and insufficient training.

That said, the ride was a real blast… until it wasn’t. I noticed a sharp pain in my knee a few kilometres shy of Kudukaya. While getting ready to get the 1pm gate the pain became more noticeable. I thought the best option would be to was to skip catching the afternoon run and rest up overnight.

The climbs out of Cambria (Kudukaya) into the Baviaans reserve are hectic. On a geared bike they present an interesting challenge. On a single speed not so much particularly if you add a crocked knee into the mix. I walked plenty. Once out the reserve the ride from Damsedrif to Willowmore was a struggle without being able to stand or spin up my cadence on the flats and downhills.

In spite of having to end my race here the 9 days 15 hours it took me to get to a Willowmore have been a highlight of the 16 years I’ve spent making my way down the Freedom Trail. While challenging it was also exhilarating. The race against Roger kept the energy going. I get the sense that people were more interested in me racing the tracker site bunny but I can assure you it doesn’t exist in the ground. I did however find myself looking behind several times to see if Roger was catching me.

The first few days riding with Leon Erasmus was one laugh after another. It’s seldom you find someone who you sync with on the bike. Leon was the perfect trail companion.

So here I sit warming myself next to the fireplace enjoying a non rushed coffee, the stark difference between normal life and race life evident. When racing everything is on the clock. Decisions about how long you have to eat and sleep and whether laundry is necessary or not. Now I have time to check my mail, go through my message apps and see what’s happening in the world at large. Not that that’s necessarily good. The narrow focus of surviving each hour and each day while racing down the trail is addictive. It brings into focus the things in your life that are essential for survival and those that are nice to have as well as those things which are unnecessary.

With coffee in hand and the warmth of the fire against my cheeks I begin the transition back to normal. Normals nice, normals comfortable. But I already miss the trail, the challenges, the hardship and the hourly pressure to keep at it. There’s always next year. And there’s always 12 speed.

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Good decision Mike. If there's anybody in the Freedom Challenge family who has nothing to prove, it's you.

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