Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Die plan was dat ek en Coenraad Fick weer die Trans Baviaans saam sou aandurf. As derde lid het hy vir Garreth Sexton, wat saam met hom werk, nader getrek. Nettie Fick het egter ‘n pos in Nederland aanvaar en die Ficks is middle Junie oor Nederland toe. Coenraad het beplan om vir middle Augustus in SA te wees vir werk en wel deel te neem. Ons drie het dus op 8 Junie saam ‘n oefen rit op Durbanville se agterpaaie gehad. Coenraad se relings het egter skeef geloop en hy moes onttrek. Ek en Garreth het toe besluit om as tweeman span deel te neem. Op 29 Julie het ons ondersteunings bestuurder ook onttrek. Die problem het ons opgelos gekry deur met my broer te reël om ons ‘n geleentheid te gee vanaf Jeffreysbaai na Willowmore, waar ons een van die motors sou agter laat.
Ek het net na 08:00 op Vrydag uit Bloubergstrand vertrek. By Garreth se huis het ons die fietse op sy feitsrak gesit en mer sy motor die rit Willowmore toe aangepak. Langs die pad het ons, soos gewoonlik, by Diesel en Cream stil gehou vir middagete. Ons was net na 16:00 in Willowmore. Registrasie het glad verloop, die houer vir waterpunt 4 (Bergplaas), met ekstra klere en warm baadjies, is afgegee en ons was voor 18:00 by Marlu Gasteplaas. My broer, wat vir sy seun ondersteun het, was ook reeds daar en sy seun en die se spanmaat het ongeveer 19:00 daar ge-arriveer. Martin, die gasheer, het soos gewoonlik gebraai en ons het lekker gesellig in hulle braaikamer saam gekom vir aandete.
Ontbyt was 07:00 reg en ons vat net na 07:30 die pad Willowmore toe. Gee houer vir Waterpunt 3, wat my ligte en ‘n warm baadjie in gehad het, af en gaan na die gastehuis waar ons gereël het om die ekstra motor te parkeer. Nou was dit net die groot wag toe 10:00 vir die begin van die wedren.
Ons het die vorige aand na die weer gekyk en tot ons ontsteltenis agtergekom dat daar Vrydag ‘n Weste wind gewaai het, wat Sateradg sou omdraai na Suid-Oos (reg van voor) en dan Sondag weer Wes sou waai. Ons moes dus maar verlief daarmee neem dat ons heeldag teen die wind sou ry. Dit was dan ook so, maar gelukkig was die darem nie te sterk nie. Net sterk genoeg om ‘n bietjie ekstra energie uit ons bene te trek. Die gevolg was dan dat ons 20 minute langer as verlede jaar geneem het om by die eerste waterpunt uit te kom. Die eerste deel van die pad was omtrent in die selfde toestand as verlede jaar met heelwat sinkplaat maar darem ook groot dele waar ons dit kon vermy.
Na die aanvanklik klim is daar natuurlik meer afdraand as opdraand tot by die Waterpunt 1. Oor die eerste 30 kilometer klim ons 330 meter en oor die volgende 80 kilometer sou ons 900 meter daal! Wanneer jy ry kom jy nie agter dat jy so baie hoogte verloor nie. Die wil voorkom asof groot dele van die pad wel gelyk is, maar dit voel beslis nie heelpad afdraand nie. Ons het ‘n redelik goeie tempo oor die stuk gehandhaaf en ek en Garreth het vir groot gedeeltes ‘n hele tou ander deelnemers op ons agter wiele gehad. Die pas waarteen ons gery het was blykbaar so dat niemand by ons wou oorneem nie, maar ons het ons self darem ook nie ooreis nie. Om die waarheid te sê ek het dit nogal geniet om voor te ry. Jy bepaal dan die pas en hoef jou nie te bekommer oor die person voor jou se pas nie. Ons het ook nou in groepe van eenderse sterkte gery, met die gevolg dat dieselfde deelnemers gewoonlik in ons omgewing was.
Na Waterpunt 3 kom “langwater”, die “fangs”en dan Holgatpas of te wel MAC (Mother of All Climbs). Die afstand tusse Waterpunt 3 en 4 is 12.5 kilometer en ons klim 490 meter, Dit neem ons 1:50 en ons kom na 8:40 in die saal daar aan. Teen hierdie tyd is dit al donker. Die donkerte het ons net voor die einde van die klim gevang. Hier word ons ingewag deur lekker sop en vars klere! Ek en Garreth raak ontslae van ons nat gesweette tops en sokkies, wat deur die water is, trek droë klere en ‘n paar ekstra lae aan. Ek het ‘n paar Sealskinz sokkies, wat waterdig is, ingepak en kan dus dubbel sokkies aan elke voet trek om hitte in te hou en die Sealskinz sal die klamheid van die natskoene uithou. Garreth oorkom sy natskoen problem deur ‘n plastiek sak oor elke voet te trek! Ons spandeer 38 minute hier.
Dit is redelik mistig op die berg en ons daal versigtig teen die Combrinckpas af. Links van ons is daar donker afgronde en regs is daar kranse! Wanneer ons onder kom is dit redelik aanskoulik om die liggies teen die pas te sien af kom. Die padoppervlakte teen die pas af is ook baie rof, maar wanneer ons onder kom is dit heel wat beter en ook redelik gelyk met ‘n klein klimmetjie elke nou en dan. Dit neem ons 40 minute om die 15 kilometer van die pas af te ry Die volgende 20 kilometer sluit grootendeels die Grootrivierpoort in. Ons handhaaf hier ‘n goeie pas en kom na 10:51 by die Hadley pakstoor, Waterpunt 5, aan. Ons eet vining ‘n “chip roll”en val na 12 minute weer in die pad.
Die einde is nou in sig met nog net 50 kilometer oor. Ongelukkig lê die “neverender”en ‘n paar lastige bultjies nog in ons pad. Oor die volgende 20 kilometer klim ons amper 300 meter. Dit sluit die “neverender” en die “onbemande” kontrole punt 6 in. Dit word gevolg deur 7 kilometer, wat meesal afdraand is, na Waterpunt 7. Hier word ons ingewag deur ‘n waffel en Milo! Garreth het teen hierdie tyd beslis die einde geruik en ek moet my litte roer om by te hou. Die pad einde toe sluit ‘n verskydenheid pad oppervlaktes in. Aanvanklik is dit ‘n kort enkelspoor wat ons na ‘n plaaspad toe neem.
Ons kom na 14:47 by die einde aan. Moeg maar tevrede! Totale afstand volgens my Garmin was 227.02 kilometer en ons het 2,749 meter geklim en 3,419 meter gedaal. Totale ry tyd was 13:13, dus het ons stoptyd by waterpunte 1:34.
Sunday, July 14, 2019
FCRASA 0219 Reflection
So what do you say after such an epic journey? The Freedom Challenge motto of Adventure Guaranteed was achieved. This was a journey that was very adventurous and I had a great adventure. My expectation from the race was fulfilled. Having done it before in 2014, I knew what I was letting myself in for and this time was even better. This year my aim was to be the first 70 year old to complete this challenge.
My original plan was to ride 19 and half days, and I managed to keep to that schedule all the way. I was greatly helped in achieving this objective by the people of Group two, with whom I departed from Pietermaritzburg on 18 June. Up to Rhodes we rode as a unit, and although there were some splits towards the end of some of the days, we always gathered together again at the end of the day and planned the next day’s start as a unit. This was reduced to six as Sarah was always only going as far as Rhodes and RG du Toit had a plane to catch!
From Rhodes the six of us stuck together up to Jakkalsfontein, where cracks stated to appear. My schedule had the next stop as Toekomst, but some of the people in the group wanted a shorter day. Willem Kamstra also decided to follow his own strategy and left us. Johan Radcliffe and myself decided to split from the other three after Struishoek and had a fantastic ride together from there on.
What can I say about Johan Radcliffe! This guy, who made it very clear at the briefing that we do not share the same religious believes, did more for me during the rest of the journey than anybody could expect from his best and most loyal friend, and we only met on 17 June for the first time! Our relationship started forging when we were the only two who decided to go around and cross the Umkomaas on the bridge and not get our feet wet by walking through the river. He is 20 years younger than me and could have left me whenever he felt like it, but he liked this “old man’s” race schedule and strategy and decided to sick with me. Every now and then he would leave me and skittle up a hill or down the road, only to wait for me to catch up again a little later. When we encountered head winds, he would spend more time in front, but we also worked together quite well on a number of occasions by rotating every kilometer. Sometimes I did not know where the strength came from, but I managed to do my share. We had a wonderful time together, stopping for snacks and chatting as we cycled along. Johan is great conversationist and loves talking. I tend to listen more, but we gelled! He would share his mussels or sardines with me and I would share my biltong and droëwors with him. We became a great team and I really enjoyed his company!
Then came Stettyns. I had my doubts and fears about getting up the last hill of Stettyns and as it turned out, it was not unfounded. By this stage, my strength was low and I really had trouble getting up that hill. A while before we got to that point, Johan saw that I was struggling with carrying my bike. He then suggested that I take my saddlebag, which weighed about 5 kg (probably the same weight as Johan’s rucksack), off and he stuffed it into his rucksack and carried it for the rest of the way. During the first half of the final hill, Johan would carry his bike some way up the hill, leave it there and then come back and take my bike up to his bike, while I struggle up the hill. This carried on until we were half way up, when Leon Erasmus, my brother’s son and a racing snake who joined us at 02:00 that morning, appeared on top of the hill. He directed us, but seeing how I was struggling, came down and carried my bike up the rest of the way. I am not sure if I would have made it up that hill without this help!
Leon Erasmus said that he would stay with me once he caught up with me and was true to his word. It is a bit of a shame that it only happened at the top of Stettyns as I would have loved to spend more time in his company, but it was a great joy to do the last number of kilometers in one another’s company and cross the finish line together. It must also have been a great feeling for my brother to be able to witness and experience this.
The low point of my journey was when I crashed on the hill down towards Killian Pass just before Rossouw. That could have ended my race, but I came through with only a brased knee and no headlight. Here I must thank Harko de Boer, who lent me his second light for the rest of the journey.
At the end of something as mammoth as this, there must be some thank yous! The first must go to my wonderful wife Sue, who was at the other end of the line every night when we had cell phone or wi-fi and we could phone her. Initially she was not too keen on me doing this grueling race again, but after I completed it she said she was glad I did it and that she was proud of what I achieved! Her encouragement carried me daily. Also all the people on my WhatsApp Group with their positive commentary! That helped me to make sure I do not disappoint them. The race organisers for putting up and excellent event again. We were blessed with the most wonderful weather! We had a number of difficult days with the wind, but generally the weather was just about perfect. There were a number of days when I just had to hang in there and give my best to survive! My motto then was "we shall prevail" and prevailed we did!
I must also thank the Lord Jesus Christ for giving me the strength; faith and self believe to achieve this journey. I worked out a schedule and in spite of some very difficult days, managed to keep to it right to the end.
Total time 19 days 13 hours 55 minutes; total riding time 247 hours 34 minutes; total distance 2,168 kilometers; 33,195 meters of climbing; average speed 8.74 k.p.h.; fastest day 11.92 from Willowmore to Prince Albert; slowest day 3,62 from Trouthaven to Diemersfontein via Stettynskloof; longest day 170 km from Kudukaya, Cambria to Willowmore at 170 km; shortest day Hadley to Kudukaya via the Osseberg and Grootriver at 48 km, which was also to second slowest day; lonest day 16 hours 28 minutes from Prince Albert to Rouxpos via Gamkaskloof and the Ladder; shortest day 8 hours 9 minutes from Vuvu to Rhodes via Mcambalala and Naudesnek Pass at 8 hours and 9 minutes.
Monday, July 8, 2019
FCRASA day 20
The end is in sight, but with the Freedom Challenge you must never start celebrating before crossing the finish line! There have been cases of guys giving up on the last stage. Last year Jacques Tattersall survived by finding late night refuse in the Mountain Club hut and in 2916, Martin Dryer, a multiply winner, nearly succumbed to the cold when he fell into the river at night and had to survive until daylight before getting out of the kloof. It probably cost him an additional 6 hours onto his winning time and still best time of 10 days 12 hours. RG du Toit, who finished on Saturday, had two attempts in getting through and stated that if he did not meet up with Jacques Tattersall this year, he would have given up!
We decided to get going at 05:00. At this point Leon and his companions, were still sleeping, but we were sure that they would overtake us through the kloof. In 2014 it took me and George Wienekus 12 hours to cover the last 54 kilometres, so on that basis we should finish by 17:00. I did recci the first part, by foot, with Leon at the beginning of May so had a good idea where we should go and what the state of the growth in the kloof is. Johan Radcliffe, Francis Bradford, Charles Hughes and myself set-off together. Charles has done the race before and also knew the way, but I was given the responsibility to do the initial leading due to my recent knowledge of the trail. The first 4 kilometres is a fairly well worm footpath and it is quite easy following, even in the dark., but the terrain is such that the going is slow. From the dam wall there also is no change of riding. You either have to psh or carry your bicycle. Francis and Charles who are 58 and 63, respectively have caught up with us Kudukaya and we have shared part of the day since then, but generally they were faster and pulled away from us. Johan could easily have gone with them but decided that he likes my pace and have been keeping me company all the way. So it was no surpise when they left us behind after about 2 kilometres after the dam wall. While I struggled along, Johan was going at a good pace, waiting for every so often. We finally reached the sight where the Shackleton crashed on 8 August 1963 killing all 13 crew members (according to Google and not 1960 as per the narratives). At the next ridge we had to cross down to the river to get around a rocky outcrop. The narrative state that we should we look for a rocky scree and follow that up to the left, go up the dry to semi-dry riverbed and find a distinct path through the undergrowth and out the other side. I have three times before. 2010 when I recced the course, 2014 when I did the race and in may with Leon and never had a problem. We now had the problem that it rained quite a bit during the days preceding our arrival and the riverbed was a knee to thigh high river! As this was the way I knew, I decided that this is the way to go! We managed to get through without getting too wet and found the path on the other side. A few guys were surpise at our antics and one our two followed us. When I looked at the map afterwards, I saw that indicates a right and dryer exit from the rocky scree! Beyond the path through the undergrowth, the terrain opens up, but the path tends to disappear. All you can do is to follow some rocks mounted on one anther every now and then! There also are quite a number of ridges still to cross. The under growth consists of rocks and grass, so progress is difficult and slow. Finding secure footing is not always possible and losing your balance is a real problem. To exacerbate the problem, it is difficult to stay up straight when you lose your balance with a bicycle on your back. The result is multiply falls, getting out form underneath your bike and starting over again! At one point Johan suggested that we take the saddlebag, in which I kept some spares, my rain jacket and a warm jacket all weighing about 5 kilograms, off and add it to his rucksack. This help lighten the weight of the bike I had to carry! A real show of kindness from his side and something, without which I am doubtful if I would have made it out of the kloof! We continued until we reached the point where we had to cross the river again and exit the kloof up a insanely steep hill. Here I really started to struggle. The route I always took to get up this hill was so over grown that we could not get up there. Johan discovered an alternative and we stared up that. After a while he left his bike higher up, came down to collect my bike and carry that to where his bike was while I crawled up the hill! Another saw of amasing care and kindness. This guy was determined to get this old man to finish this race with him! Unbelievable! As we were halfway up the hill, we saw somebody at the top shouting directions to us. After awhile I realised that it was Leon. He stated that if he catches me before the end and is in no position to better the record time, then he will finish with. This was now becoming a reality! A little further up the slope Leon came down and collected my bike and carried it to the top. There he offered me his rucksack, which was about half the weight of mine and I took his. With the help of Johan and Leon, doubt if would have managed to get up the hill before dark and maybe not even at all!
We now had 11.5 kilometres to the Du Toitskloof tunnel, of which at least 4 or 5 involved heavy climbing. With at bike, without the weight of a saddlebag and a lighter rucksack on my back, my climbing was above expectation and i managed to ride up all the hills up to the tunnel and also the 6.8 kilometres to the top of the Du Toitskloof Pass, which we reach just before 19:00. All that remained was 13 downhill kilometres to the finish but all in darkness. As fate would have it, we missed a right turn on the way down and soon realised we are on the wrong track! We studied the map, managed to find where we were, saw and alternative and finally got onto the correct track. Finally we could start relaxing and experience the joy of the end being in sight. We found the entrance gate to the Diemersfontein Estate, where Chris Fisher was waiting for us and made our way down to the restaurant, around the dam, up the final hill and then over the finshline, where we were met by a joyous crowd after nearly 14 hours! What a delight, what a relieve! A amasing feeling of achievement and satisfaction.
FCRASA day 19
Montagu to Trouthaven is suppose to be an easy day with no mayor challenges and all district road. We got going just after 05:00 and had visions of cover the 160 kilometres good time to reach Trouthaven before darkness descended on us. All went according to plan up to McGregor, where we had a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. We arrived at 08:45 and was out at 09:10. When we round the first bend out of town, turning in North Westerly direction, we started encountering the wind. As the day continued, the wind got worse. The total distance for the day was 160 kilometres. We completed the first 52 kilometres at an average speed of nearly 15 kph, now we were battling against the wind! Our aim of arriving before dark was being blow out of the window! We started working together against the wind. We would ride one behind the other so that the front rider breaks the wind and the rearer rider hides in his wind stream, changing position every 1 kilometre. We climbed Gannaberg Pass under protection of the wind behind the mountain, but when we started descending the other side we had to pedal into to maintain a speed of 10 kph going downhill! Down the bottom of the hill the fearceness of the wind calmed and we managed to maintain a speed of just over 10 kph. Most of the rest of the day was in a North Westerly direction, so the battle was relentless! Getting closer to the Brandvlei Dam, we were "blessed"with a 7 kilometre stretch with the wind on our backs. While we were riding we saw that it was raining over the dam area. As we the mountain area, we decided to don our rain jackets. Our timing was pretty good, because the first drops hit us soon afterwards. We were fortunate in that it was only a light rain, but the wind was not so kind! Passing the exit gate of the Brandvlei Prison, we stopped for a rest and I donned my waterproof Sealskiz gloves. The sun was setting but we still had about 15 kilometres before we would be able to enjoy the comfort of a warm chalet. We were fortunate in that the last 12 kilometres were with this fearce wind over our right shoulders. What we hoped would be a 10-11 hour day, turned into a 14 hour day. It was riding up hill for nearly 100 kilometres. When we got to our chalet the two guys we were sharing with had a fire going. They graciously also left the double bed for me! There were internet reception and I checked to see were Leon Erasmus, my brother's son who started 6 days after me, was. He set out from Anysberg earlier that morning. At this point he was still far away, battling against the wind. When I finally switched the lights off at 22:00, they were still about 4 hours away. They finally arrived at 02:00!
FCRASA day 18
The ride from Rouxpos to Montagu is fairly straight forward and uneventful. We found the first turn-off without any problem, but a little further down the road we had to find a track after passing the farm house. It was still dark and unfortunately we went to far left. The narrative stated that we "had to cross a large riverbed". After a while Johan asked me weather I could remember this from when I did the race in 2014. I said no. We looked at the map again and the direction we were going, and decided that we must be on the right track. we amble along for another 15 minutes and looked at the map again. We then realised that we went too far left and the we were in the Buffelspoort river bed! We saw that it runs parallel to the track we should be on and continued along. The boulders were big and progress was slow. We conferred again and after a little debate, we decided to turn around and go back to the farm house. There we very quickly found the right track and stated making good progress. When we passed the point where the river meets up with the correct track, we noticed that there was a rather large pool of water. Just as well we decided to retrace our steps?The rest of the tide to the public road went without incident but the track was rough and had a number of sandy stretches where we had to push our bicycles. Once reaching the district road, it was easy and pleasant riding up to the Anysberg turn-off. The road through Anysberg had some nice stretches and some very corrugated sections and at times the going was difficult. We had a "self help" lunch at one of the chalets and we quickly on our way again. The ride up to Hoek van die Berg also went off without a hitch. After a short break we decided that Johan, who is quite a bit faster than me, will continue along and that we will meet up at Die Bos, our sleep over in Montagu, again. i arrived there at 17:20.
FCRASA day 17
Prince Albert to Rouxpos. This was going to be a big day. It started with the Swartberg Pass, which we climbed in the dark. We maintained a steady pace and climbing in the dark seems to be easier because you can not see the end. We reached the top just as the sun was about to rise. This was followed be short decsent to the entrance of Gamkaskloof. Here you are greeted by a sign stating that the distance is 37 km but you should allow 2 hours travelling time. That is by vehicle. On a bicycle it would take a little longer as meander our way along this the road with a very rough surface and many up and down hills, ending with the mother of all climbs! To make it worse, there are many “false” tops in this hill. When you thing you have reached the top and go around the bend, you are greeted by a climb that continues until you finally reach the top and can relax. The downhill into Gamkaskloof is reminiscent of Sani Pass. Some way down the Pass we encountered a vehicle, and I drove past I recognised the driver. He did the same and we stopped for a chat. It happened to be Wickie Smith and his wife, and old friend with whom I did a number of Double Century cycle races during the 1990’s. The descent was exhilarating and we just about freewheeled the 5 remaining kilometers to the restaurant, where we were treated to scrumptious lunch.
After lunch we first had to negotiate the 8 kilometers to the foot of the ladder. After 5 kilometers we had to go through a gate, for which we received two alternative codes. When we got there, none of the codes worked. Johan test the electric wire and received the shock of his life! He looked around and found a hole in the fence, where we managed to get through. Up the road we met two workers, who informed us that the code was 0719, (month and year). I was pretty upset that I could not work that one out or even tried another number! Onto the Ladder and one of the big tests of the Freedom Challenge. This used to be the only entrance to Gamkaskloof until 1962 when the road from Swartberg Pass was constructed. It is an almost vertical climb of about 400 meters over a distance of 500 meters! Once on top we still had 9.7 kilometers to the district road, on a road, which was very rough and unrideable in places. We reached the end just as the sun was setting and were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets of the race.
Saturday, July 6, 2019
FCRASA day 16
The ride from Willowmore to Prince Albert is long (160 km), but rather simple, provided the weather plays along. We were blessed with good weather as we left and had an especially good ride from the top of Leeukloof to the Strydomvlei. The road condition was perfect, there was no wind and the sun was rising on our backs! We probably clocked our best average speed on this section. We had a number if left and right tufns and finally arrived at the turn-off for the road which take us to Rondavel. Johan Radcliffe picked up a 3 hour penalty because he had to get replacement shoes and had to serve this out at Rondawel. As he is quite a bit faster than me, I suggested that he goes and I will make there on my own. He left and I took a brake. As I was eating, the wind came up. Not too strong, but enough to make life difficult! When I got to Rondawel, Johan have had a shower and cleaned his bike. I had a quick lunch and was on my way. No point in waiting with Johan as he would be able to thr last streach much quicker on his own. It took me 5:20 to cover the 60 km from Rondawel to Prince Albert. The wind was in my face all the way up to the point where I made the final turn with 23.5 km to go. The sunset was beautiful and Chris Fisher and the official photografer took some picture and vidoe's as I was riding. I always miss the Dennehof entrance, but fortunately Chris was staying next door and when I saw his vehicle, I turned off there just be informed that he was staying at Dennehof! He then directed me to the correct entrance. I got in at 18:30. Johan arrived at 20:30