About

What exactly is the Freedom Challenge?

  • It is a mountain bike race from Pietermaritzburg to Wellington, following a trail through some of the most remote areas across KZN, Eastern and Western Cape.
  • It is self-navigated. Armed with a map, route narrative and a compass, we need to make our way across the country. No GPS allowed – it has no place in the purpose or spirit of the event.
  • It covers about 2300km with 37 000m ascent, providing we don’t get lost.
  • It is broken down into 26 Stages with a Support Station marking the end of each stage. Each Support Station provides dinner and breakfast, along with a shower and bed for the night.
  • It is self-supported. We each carry all of our gear with us for the entire way, there are no tog bag services that meet us each evening. Backpacks add weight to the bike and the backside, which can have some repercussions.
  • It involves a lot of ice cream tubs. Each person can send one 2litre ice cream tub to each Support Station, filled with maps, bike spares, toiletries and snacks. Whatever you leave behind in your tub you won’t see again, and riders arriving after you can raid your tub.
  • It is in the middle of winter. Temperatures can apparently get down to -15 deg and swing up to over 30deg. The sun only shines for 10hrs in a day, but the day might see us out on the trail for 13hrs or more. It can rain, howl with wind, get muddy and possibly even snow.
  • It is very remote. Groups of only 10 riders leave PMB each day during the beginning of June. This means that there are very few people out on the trail.
  • It is rugged. At times the trail follows historic wagon routes that are no longer in use and will require hike-a-bike. Other sections follow footpaths and cow tracks, so aren’t necessarily ride-able. Some climbs are apparently very steep, so it’s best to just walk and save the knees.
  • It is a non-stop race. When the gun goes off in ‘Maritzburg, the stopwatch is ticking all the way until you enter the gates at Diemersfontein. The Stages are there as markers along the route, not individual days, so you can choose which ones to stop at overnight. The guys that are really racing will take about 11 days to complete, with only a few hours of sleep a day. The maximum time allowed is 26 days.

Why would one do this?

At our wedding last year, Mike announced our plans to spend our honeymoon on the Freedom Challenge. It has been on both our bucket lists for a long time, and before we consider little feet, we want to check this off.

The Freedom Trail is an opportunity to see South Africa in a way that not many people do. And to access parts of the country that you would not necessarily think of going to, or be allowed to. Seeing the world from a bicycle gives you the time to take it all in – the textures, colours, smells, gradient and temperatures.

We can wax lyrical about all that. But it is a Challenge, and we are up for it.

Our race goals

Our aim is to not get lost (too much), take in the scenery, enjoy the hospitality, sleep, have fun and experience something awesome.

Our start group is on Friday 12th June, with the intention to take about 21 days. This means we will double up on some stages, depending on the weather, how we are feeling and how our bikes are doing. All going well, we should arrive at Diemersfontein on the 2nd or 3rd of July.

What are "RASA" and "RTR"?

RASA is the Race Across South Africa, the full 26 Stages, of which there are only about 50 participants.

RTR, Race to Rhodes, has almost 70 riders and covers only the first 6 Stages, which are apparently the hardest. Many people will ride RTR first, as a test of whether they want to do the full RASA. Others who want to redo the event, but don’t have time for the full thing will do RTR, some as a “Guardian” to show others the route and help navigate. The two events start at the same time, so the guardians can help guide both RTR and RASA riders.

The Official Story

Freedom Challenge

For the official story and full info on the all the events and the Freedom Trail, visit their website on: freedomchallenge.org.za

Our journey so far

Route

Route

Route

Route

To give you an idea of where we are headed, this is a simplified map of the route.

For the full detailed map you can have a look at the tracker on the Freedom Challenge website

(Clicking on images will give you a larger view)

For those who love numbers and anyone else wanting more detail of what lies ahead of us each day, have a look at these:

  • 26 Day Stage Planner

    26 Day Stage Planner

  • 22 Day Stage Planner

    22 Day Stage Planner

We were provided with a spreadsheet containing the distances and ascent for each stage, as well as the approximate hours each should take.

Based on this, we've worked out the average speed for each day. Then we divided the ascent by km's to get an idea of the 'scale' of the day. Then dividing the scale by the speed, we got what we refer to as the 'rating'.

Looking at all the numbers, we colour coded certain blocks to start getting a visual overview of what is in store for us.

Orange means "OMG". Green is easy.
But you may note that the last day has both orange and green blocks. Eish.

What's in the pack?

What's in the pack?

What's in the pack?

What's in the pack?

After some experience in riding with backpacks, we know that the best thing to do is to pack as light as possible.

Previously, on our trips through the Alps, we managed to keep our backpacks fairly light. But that was in summer conditions, with pastry shops and gelato cafes along the way. This is winter, in rural South Africa.

So, this is what we are carrying: *

Clothing

  • Head

    • Buff x3
    • Balaclava
    • SealSkinz skull cap
  • Torso

    • Waterproof jacket with hood
    • Windproof jacket
    • Short sleeve base layer
    • Long sleeve thermal base layer
    • Cycling tops x2
    • Arm warmers
  • Lower body

    • Tights
    • Cycling shorts x2
    • Waterproof pants
    • Knee warmers
  • Hands

    • Heavy winter ski gloves
    • Winter cycling gloves
    • Long fingered cycling gloves
    • Thermal glove liners
  • Feet

    • SealSkinz waterproof socks (mid-weight, knee height)
    • Thermal Sock liners
    • Cycling socks x2
    • Toe covers
  • Off Bike Clothing

    • Fleece jersey
    • Crocs
    • Cargo pants
    • T-shirt
    • Socks
    • Undies x2

(Note the lack of off-bike clothing variation. We're going to be smelly!)

Food & Sustenance

Snacks and packed lunches

Other

  • Map board
  • Shower bag
  • Waterproof inner bags
  • Cellphone and chargers
  • Multi plug
  • Batteries
  • Cash & credit card
  • Bike lock
  • Headlight and red rear light
  • Water bottle and a collapsible water bottle
  • Compass
  • Polar watch
  • Map for the day
  • Sunglasses

Toiletries

  • Toothpaste (1x 20ml between us)
  • Toothbrush (cut in half)
  • Facewash
  • Toilet paper (packs of 10 tissues)
  • Wet Wipes
  • Spare contact lenses and lense case
  • Sunblock (1x 19ml tub between us per day)
  • Lip ice
  • Bum cream (1x 40ml tub between us per day)
  • Bennets bum cream

Medical & Emergency Kit

  • Vitamin C fizzys (one each every morning)
  • Zambuc
  • Gauze
  • Strapping
  • Bandage
  • Alcohol rubs
  • Pain killers (Panado and Myprodol)
  • Anti inflammatory (Voltaren)
  • Stoppers (Immodium and Valoid)
  • Anti infection cream (Savlon)
  • Anti-histamine
  • Throat spray
  • General antibiotics
  • Plasters (all sizes)
  • Space blanket
  • Hand warmer pads
  • Lighter / matches
  • Hydration salts / Rehidrates
  • Nail clippers + file
  • Tweezers

Bike Tools & Spare Parts

  • Multi tool
  • Mini Leatherman
  • Mini hub tool
  • Chain breaker
  • Chain Links
  • 2x chain lengths
  • Tire levers
  • 3x spare tubes
  • Sahmurai Sword tubeless plug kit
  • Sidewall repair kit (needle and thread)
  • Tube puncture repair kit
  • 2x CO2 bombs  & adapter
  • Stan's sealant
  • Hand pump
  • Brake pads
  • Squirt
  • Jockey wheel
  • Spokes and nipples
  • Cables & housing
  • Duct tape
  • Insulation tape
  • Zipp ties
  • Velcro straps
  • Spare cleat & bolts
  • Valves & valve core removing tool
  • Drop-out
  • Paintbrush for bike washing
  • Shock oil in an eye-dropper bottle

*Subject to change by the time we leave

That's a lot of tubs!

That's a lot of tubs!

That's a lot of tubs!

That's a lot of tubs!

While we have the opportunity to send to 25 Support Stations, we have only sent tubs to the ones where we plan to stay overnight.

With the aim to finish in around 20 days, we have sent 19 tubs for full overnight stops, and another 2 to stations where we will stop in, but not necessarily stay overnight.

In order to keep our backpacks light, we've done our best to decant as much as possible and to then collect from our tubs every day. A lot of planning has gone into this, and hopefully we've not overdone it, or missed anything either.

So this is what's in our tubs: *

Collect every 1-2 days

Maps

And narratives for the next day

Food & Sustenance

  • 2x FIT drink sachets
  • 5 snacks per person
  • Pack of 2 Vitamin C fizzys
  • Evening Chocolate

Toiletries

  • Bum cream
  • Sun cream
  • Washing liquid sachet
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Tissues
  • Moisturising cream sachets
  • Batteries

Bike Maintenance

  • Squirt
  • Lappies for bike wash

Collect every 4 days+

Food & Sustenance

  • MedLemon
  • Mini Amarula bottles
  • Gu gels

Toiletries

  • Toothpaste
  • Hand Warmers
  • Razors and shaving gel
  • Lense Cases
  • Arnica sachets
  • Shampoo
  • Bennets bum cream
  • Face Wash
  • Zambuc
  • Additional medical supplies

Bike Maintenance

  • Stans + CO2 Bomb
  • Duct Tape
  • Mineral Oil 40ml bottle
  • Plugs and plug tool set
  • Chain lengths
  • Chain links
  • Brake pads
  • Jockey Wheels
  • Cable Ties
  • Shock Oil
  • Super Glue
  • Patch Kit
  • Tubes
  • Mini tub of grease
  • Gear cables and housing
  • Insulation Tape
  • Spare Tyre

Food Planning

We worked out that when we normally ride, we stop to eat something about every 90 minutes, and that each snack is 40-50gm per person. During the course of a 10-14 hour day out on the trail, we've made sure each set of snacks has a variety of sweet, salty and savoury; and a mixture of chewy and crunchy.

To ensure we retain some sanity over 3 weeks of eating the same stuff, we've tried to vary everything.

Savoury and salty is made up of:

  • Droewors
  • Stick chips from Woolies, mini Pringles tub.
  • Mini Cheddars
  • Peanuts
  • Raisins

1-2 of the above each day between us.

Semi sweet/savoury:

  • Mini Ginger Bites biscuits
  • Mini Eet-sum-more
  • Mini Tennis biscuits
  • Mini Marie biscuits
  • Safari Date and Cashew bars

One of the above each day between us.

Sweets:

  • PVM bars
  • Snacker bars
  • ProNutro Bars
  • Damascus Nougat
  • Fruit roll
  • Maynards gums / jelly tots / liquorice allsorts

 We have been told that there is a lot of food along the way, for dinner, etc., so we may be totally over catered, but rather too much, we reckon.

*Seeing as the tubs have already been delivered, this now cannot be changed

Follow Us

Follow Us

Follow Us

Follow Us

Ok, so actual 'following' as in seconding is not allowed, but we will probably be grateful for any moral support we get along the way.

If you want to keep track as to where we are and how we are doing, grab a copy of the route map and planner above and keep an eye out on our social platforms:

We won't necessarily send an update every day. But when we have the energy and 3G reception, we'll try to post something to one of these (most likely an Instagram pic pushed to both FB and Twitter).

Official Freedom Challenge News

On the website there is a live tracking system and news updates under "current event news".

Meryl and her team will also be keeping everyone up to date via their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Weather

For our general well-being, you may want to have a look at the Snow Report (Facebook feed or website) to see if we're getting any snow.

WindGuru is usually our weather forecaster of choice, and it just so happens that someone has created spots for each stage. Go to their website and search for "RASA Stage" and all 26 will come up. The route may have changed slightly since these spots were created, but the spots are still relevant to where we'll be.

#RASA2015 on Twitter

Thanks

Thanks

Thanks

Thanks

Thanks go to a number of people who have helped us out in various ways.

Ice Cream Tubs. We have sent off a total of 41 tubs, of which we have only supplied 1 ourselves.

  • Gill
  • Anton
  • Andrea
  • Tiaan
  • Pippa
  • Mum
  • And everyone else who helped empty these tubs

And to Elmarie, for filling our tubs with a little luxury.

Advice. This has been most eagerly given by anyone who has done Freedom before. It is fascinating how advice varies between 'blanket-wearers', showing how much boils down to personal preference, and possibly the weather from each year. Thanks to the wisdom and experience of:

  • Colin
  • Andy
  • John and George
  • Steve
  • Chris and Julia - whose map board making and navigational training will hopefully reduce our chances of getting lost!

Heather, Angela, and all of Thursday Pottery for listening to the stories so far.

And to Harris, Bryan, Rob, Anton, Phil and the rest of the Nutriders for all their help and input.

Huge thanks go to Harald at Polar South Africa, for lending us two RS800CX watches for the event. As our current Polar watches are GPS devices, we are not allowed to use them. These loan watches also have temperature, so we will know exactly how cold we're getting.

POLAR - Listen to your body