Friday, June 20, 2014

Day 3: Masakala to Ongeluksnek

By Julia 

Similar to last night Chris is not able to pedal with his right leg. Over the last three days we have been trying everything we could think of, changing cleat position every which way, adjusting saddle height, massage, stretching, rolling, strapping, heating, you name it. Only thing now is that walking is also painful and riding consistently makes it worse. Things are not looking good for team Fisher.  

Keeping the pace low and allowing the distraction of the beautiful scenery to help us on our way we trundled from village to village along cattle tracks and footpaths. The riding between Masakala and Ongeluksnek is awesome with lots of rolling singletrack and the Drakensberg mountains as a backdrop.

With Chris' knee still deteriating we were starting to realize that this would likely be our last day on the trail this year so we WERE SOAKING IT UP! Taking lots of pictures and savoring the sweeping downhills. 

What a privilege to ride through Marizell, the mission school that the Freedom Scholarship fund supports. This is really what it's about, people. We stopped and chatted to some well spoken grade 12 students who told us a bit about their school life. We admired the very neat veggie garden and loved the sound of singing voices coming out of a class room. 

It was like an oasis of hope and promise relative other schools we had past. The sun was low, giving everything a golden glow. This moment on the Freedom trail, sick and sore, we realized the bigger picture clearer than before. 'It is what it is' and people are what really matter. 

This journey that we had been preparing so long for, was coming to a premature end and perhaps that is what was needed to teach us this lesson.

Day 2: Centecow to Masakala

By: Julia

Day 2  involved 21 hours of riding and hiking and LOTS of climbing. 

We left Centacow at 1:40 am in the cold of the night. Centecow is a lovely mission station on the side of the hill built around a beautiful old church.

Riding through sleeping villages under a star filled sky with the spoilings of the odd shooting star. 

This first section to Ntsekeni is a tough one. Lots if climbing with little reward. I was knackered. We were moving slowly. I had a progressively worsening chest, it was productive and made me short of breath very easily. This slowed our speed down considerably as well as a general weakness. Perhaps I was fatigued from the 12 hours of riding the day before or perhaps it was my system just saying 'take me to bed to get better', probably both. 

At about 2:30 am Chris says, " Jigs check here" ! Flip, it was a crack in his frame where the cross bar meets the seat post tube, it went all the way around. Out with the duct tape and cables ties for some African engineering. 

We finally made it into Ntsekeni at 9am for a brilliant brekkie. We took an hour off and had a few minutes of shut eye before heading out again. Getting to a support station is an obvious highlight for the warmth, food and rest opportunities but also to catch up on who is where and how your fellow riders are progressing. 

Leaving ntsekeni we took the old route through the valley which was apparently open again and supposedly an hour faster...this was not the case! 6 km took us 2 hours. Bike on back wading through knee high grass with uneven ground..... Not cool. 

The wind had now picked up but we could smell Sheila's soup on the stove at Glen Edward, we arrived at her door at 3pm and enjoyed her good cheer and a break from the wind. Over the farmers radio system there were reports and status up dates of bush fires. Understandably so with this dryness and wind. 

Leaving GE, back into the wind we knew there was a long slog ahead. Chris' knee was getting worse and riding was becoming more and more painful. I was still feeling weak. The last 30 km s, now in the dark takes you up and down three valleys where there are no roads and navigation is tricky. With no moon, not dropping into the wrong valley was crucial. Fortunately Chris' nav got us through cleanly. 

We passed one village where there was a bush fire between the houses. This put our exhaustion and pain into perspective. Good reality check. 

During this last section, Chris had twisted his knee, so that the itb stabbing pain on the outside was accompanied by sharp pain when walking on uneven surfaces. 

At last we reach Masakala at 22:45, as two tired riders grateful for the coziness our round house provided and asleep in no time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Day 1: PMB to Centocow

Day 1 of Freedom Challenge is done and dusted. It was a day filled with beautiful riding and glorious weather but it was not without its challenges! 

We lined up outside Pietermaritzburg City Hall at 6am alongside some pretty awesome riders. The others guys in our batch are all racing and all potential winners so we naturally felt a little intimidated and a bit out of place but we enjoyed the hype anyhow. 

The whole group stayed together through Bizley and then Glen (Harrison) was the first to make a break. We rode with Graham (Bird) and Hanno (Smit) until half way up to Cunningham Castle when they put the hammer down. It was on this climb that Tim (James) also came FLYING past us after he had a small nav mishap in the sugar cane fields. 

Julia and I spent the rest of the day alone and it was great! The route down through the Umko valley was clear and flowing and lots of fun... Until my gear cable snapped, then the fun stopped and it was bushman mechanic time. Fortunately we didn't lose too much time but I have lost a couple gears. 

The Hella hella climb (Approx 6km and 600m altitude) was even more painful than expected due to my sore knee. We have both been struggling a bit with tired legs that feel a bit like they did an expedition race two weeks ago... Wonder why? Oh yes, they did. My right knee in particular has been giving problems but hopefully it will feel better after a bit of rest. Julia has been her usual chirpy and positive self and riding well... She is such a great riding partner (and life partner) ... Lucky me! 

We had a brief but lovely stop at Allendale (the first of 25 support stations) and then carried on into the early evening arriving at Centecow at 18h15. We have had a lovely dinner and are now planning a 5 hour sleep before getting back on the bikes  at 1:30am and heading for a Ntsekeni breakfast! 

Good night! 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How to spectate the Freedom Challenge

This post will be a bit of a guide to following the Freedom Challenge for those who are not familiar with the event.

The event website is www.freedomchallenge.org.za

The right-hand pane of the website contains links to useful places you can find information on whats currently happening on the trail. These links include:

Twitter @freedom_trail : Twitter provides the most instantaneous updates. 

The HubSA - Forum including discussion and daily reports summarizing the days events. (change the  'Post Order' to display newest post first.

There is also a list of other rider's blogs.

Disclaimer: We take no responsibility for any loss in productivity due to the strangely addictive past-time of following the freedom challenge ;) 

What's the point?

by: Julia Fisher

I'm sure you'll agree with me that we tend to block out all the bad stuff, and MTB memories are no different. If you think about your favourite day on the bike, you might recall endless downhills, special moments with friends, reignited love for your country, views, SINGLE TRACK! For us, Freedom Challenge last year, was all these things for 20 days, back to back! How lucky were we! And boy did we love it. I seem to not recall frozen fingers, sore knees, broken spirits, tears, rain, and headwinds as easily somehow... And maybe that's why Chris and I are finding ourselves in the last few days before the start line of this great journey once again.

Although when doing the Freedom Challenge you are riding your bike ALL day, and for some, ALL night, it is not only about the ride. If your bike and body are working, you will make it. The real essence is a bit more complex then the revolutions of your pedals. 

You share a trail with women who carrying water on their heads and children who play with wire cars. You cycle past in 100 layers, while they are barefoot. Then muddy and perhaps a little hangry (Hungry + angry = hangry) you arrive at a 'strangers' door. Which is flung open and warm air gushes out. You find yourself sitting around their dinning room table, sharing their family meal and sleeping in their spare room. Bright and early the following morning you're on the road again, expectant for the day's highs and lows that will inevitably be cast your way. But you know that the day will once again be interspersed with new people, views and temperatures. The journey becomes about the people, the beauty, the privilege.

Hour after hour, day after day, a space is created in your head / your heart / your soul. In this space, perhaps a parallel journey has begun. One of reflection, reassessment, appreciation, promise.  The true magic perhaps, is how this 'inwardness' created in this instance by hours on the bike, transforms who you are and how you interact with others, it transforms how you live your life. For me, that is the actual challenge, and for me, it just so happens to be along side my man and dressed in 89 maps of South African soil.

What ever your challenge is, go for it! Commit! Get to your 'start line'. Allow yourself the opportunity to reconnect. 


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Preparing for Battle

Getting to the start-line of the Freedom Challenge is in itself, quite an accomplishment. Apart from the obvious mission of acquiring all the right gear and preparing your bike, you also have to prepare to put your normal life on hold for the better part of a month. The extended escape from your life, job, society and daily norms is perhaps one of the biggest barriers to entry for this race but it is also part of the reason that this event is so special. It is a journey of discovery for everyone who takes part. Discovery of the beautiful country we call home but also discovery of one’s self. 3 weeks alone on your bike gives you a lot of time to ponder life, clear the mind and hit reset.

Training obviously starts months ahead of D-day. RASA demands a slightly different training regime to your average MTB event. It’s all about time in the saddle and if you are not riding your bike then best you be carrying it. That’s right, hiking over mountains with your bike on your shoulders is going to become the norm once on the trail so it is worth getting some practice in. Training is one thing but the preparation stage gets real when you have to start packing support station boxes.

The race is unsupported and riders need to carry everything they require but there are 25 available support stations en route at which riders are given a bed, shower and warm meal. Riders must also pre-pack 25 2l ice-cream tubs which are distributed to the support stations by race organizers. Riders will typically pack race food/snacks, spares, maps and other consumables in these boxes and this packing process can take days. The route is self-navigated which means riders must also spend valuable time familiarizing themselves with the maps and narrative directions.

 Once all the prep is done we will pack our bags and then probably re-pack them about 17 times before making our way to Pietermaritzburg. All that’s left is to say our goodbyes, stop questioning why we are putting ourselves through this torture and remember just how privileged we are to be taking this journey together…. AGAIN!

Chris and Julia's 2013 Freedom Challenge Video

This is a video from Chris and Julia Fisher's 2013 Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa.

The 2300km Freedom Trail route is non-stop, unsupported and self-navigated from Pietermaritzburg to Paarl.

For more info visit www.freedomchallenge.org.za

Radical Face - Always Gold
Radical Face - Welcome Home

For more of Chris' videos visit: www.advlog.co.za