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Trouthaven and Its River of Emotions for RASA Riders

Trouthaven is the final support station on the Freedom Trail. It’s a cute cluster of self catering cottages set halfway up a valley, in amongst the trees, alongside a clean, fast-flowing river, that is apparently a great place for fly fishing, hence the name. Freedom Trail riders ride up the valley from Rawsonville to Trouthaven, knowing that the next day they will climb the rest of the way up the valley in the dark, to the Stettynskloof dam near the top, and then circumvent the dam into Stettynskloof proper, the final major hurdle of the Race Across South Africa. 

Two of the cottages at Trouthaven are reserved for Freedom Challenge riders, and the staff at the resort place prepared meals and the final supply of riders’ personal ice-cream tubs in those cottages. This means that as a rider, you typically don’t interact with anyone other than other Freedom Challenge riders when staying at Trouthaven. Both times I have been there it has been an evening of introspection, reflection, excitement, sadness and a bunch of other fairly extreme emotions. 

Each time I participated in RASA, I spent many hours during the ride imagining getting to Trouthaven and spending a final night on the trail to prepare for one last big push to then be done. Trouthaven was consistently a vivid goal on my way to achieving my overarching aim, and in many instances it drew me forward and pulled me to push on through uncomfortable situations and challenging scenarios. But then the closer I got to Trouthaven, the more conflicted I started to feel about being there. 

Rolling toward Trouthaven I realized that for the better part of three weeks, the trail had been my existence. Almost every waking moment was consumed with how to get to the next support station, how not to get lost, making sure my bike worked, my body was adequately fueled, staying warm when it was cold, and staying cool when it got hot. Being on the trail is simple yet all consuming. As I left McGregor to proceed toward Trouthaven, I started to think about how that would all soon end. The trail life would suddenly come to a screeching halt and I would need to re-enter the real world. I was now close to achieving an aim I had dreamed about and worked toward for a long time. That would be satisfying. And I would get to see my family again which would be magnificent. But at the same time the simplicity, engagement, and beauty of trail life would also soon come to an end. I sensed a feeling of loss as I contemplated no longer waking up before dawn, pedaling all day, engaging with the maps and compass, and being immersed in the vivid, open and often untouched beauty of Africa on a day-to-day basis. 

Thinking about the end of the trail brought with it much happiness, but it also instilled a sense of loss, sadness, and mourning.    

These conflicting emotions came to the fore in a conversation I had with my riding partners as we stopped midway between McGregor and Trouthaven on the second last day of our ride. It had been raining all morning, we were wet and muddy, as we pulled up to a deserted farm school looking for water and a place to sit and eat. We found a JoJo can, filled our water bottles, and sat on the steps of the school eating peanut butter sandwiches staring out at an open field surrounded by the Cape Fold mountains. The rain fell lightly, yet the sun tried to break through, and a stunning rainbow appeared in the distance.  

Sitting there eating lunch, we started chatting about what it would be like to re-enter society and how we planned to handle things differently. “I will not get so stressed about small inconveniences,” said one of us. “I plan to spend much less time on my phone,” said another. “I will spend much more time outdoors,” was one person's resolution. “I hope I can keep this weight off,” said someone else. We elaborated on each others’ simple desires and reflected on how the trail and its people had revealed important insights and perspectives about life. At that moment, we collectively realized that we were returning to the real world a little different and hopefully better from when we started.  

We spent a good chunk of the afternoon riding in sight of one another but alone and not talking much, contemplating our journey, where we had started, and where it had brought us. 

By the time we got to Trouthaven, we were still working to process the myriad of emotions that flow toward the end of the Freedom Challenge. 

As I washed the mud off my bike that evening, I thought about my scary first sleepless night at Allendale as I contemplated the enormity of the task ahead. I recalled kids in the highlands of KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape living with almost nothing yet seemingly happy. I remembered being on top of the world as I crested Lehana’s Pass. I thought about the warm, heavy blanket that made me feel safe as I slept at Splaapkrantz, and I recalled the joy that came with the many delicious and varied meals all along the way, the pies in Hofmeyer, the eggs and bacon at Groenfontein, the soup at Fietskraal and the braai at Kudu Kaya. I thought about the frustration with the thorns in Osseberg and the exhaustion from climbing the hills in the Baviaanskloof and Swartberg Pass. 

And then I remembered that all this would be over with one final big, tough push through Stettynskloof. In 24 hours, I would (hopefully) be sipping pinotage at Diemersfontein, and with that, I would get to see my family and share some of this immersive experience with them. I looked forward to a few mornings of sleeping in, drinking cappuccinos, being warm, watching the Tour de France on TV, and not having to earn every meal with 50 km of pedaling. 

Preparing to finish RASA is very conflicting, to say the least. It's a lifetime achievement but also the end of something very special. 

So, please be kind and understanding to the riders as they finish this great ride. It’s a river of emotions to process.   

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