So, we’re doing it again! After our 2015 Freedom Challenge, almost any mountain bike event that has come across our path has seemed either too expensive or not adventurous enough. RASA always comes back up in conversation and we haven’t been able to shake the urge to go back. So, off we go!
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.There are also Emergency stops between some Support Stations.
- 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, so we have worked to keep these as light as possible.
- 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 max 10 riders leave PMB each day from the end of May. 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?
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, and without a GPS or route markers, you are forced to look up and pay attention to what is around you.
Why do this again?
Because it is in our system.
We did this in 2015 as our Honeymoon, and it was quite an adventure. We had really harsh words to say on the last day through Stettynskloof, but you tend to eventually forget pain and discomfort, and all the romance of an event lingers on.
Watching the dots through June 2016, we realised the effect it had on us. Thoughts to plan other adventures through the Alps were tossed about, but as soon as we heard our friend Andy was packing for RASA 2017, we called Meryl...
The Official Website
For the full info on the all the events and the Freedom Trail, visit their website on: freedomchallenge.org.za
Our race goals
When you do an event again, you need to do it slightly differently. So while we still have the same goals from 2015 - to not get lost (too much), take in the scenery, enjoy the hospitality, sleep, have fun and experience something awesome - we would also like to do it a little faster.
Our intention is to do about 17 days - give or take a day. In 2015 we did 19.5 days, and every day was a big day. Now it needs to be even bigger, as we will need to double up on more days than before. It does also depend on the weather, how we are feeling and how our bikes are doing.
With a start date of 12th June, and all going well, we should arrive at Diemersfontein somewhere around the 28th or 29th of June.
What to expect
We are starting in the second last start batch and with only three other riders in the group. All of them have done it before, and are likely to aim for slightly faster times than us. The racing snakes start the day after us, and will whizz past in the first couple of days. We may not even see them, if they come past at night.
So for the first few days we might be bringing up the rear of the race, and slowly catch up to riders further along the route. We may ride with others at times, but we expect that it will probably just be the two of us for the most part. Out in the bundu, sometimes in the dark, possibly in snow, rain and wind.