Why Everyone is a Winner

I thought I should post something on race strategy as before the start I felt like a lazy man participating in a “race”, yet planning a par 6 day completion. In the end I felt like a winner.

I encountered three different approaches.

1. Ride Non-Stop (Racing Snakes)

For the hard core out there looking to challenge Martin Dreyer’s 2012 record of 56 hours or improve on previous best times or aiming to win the event. None of these super athletes are rookies, they have paid school fees by previous participation, route recce trips and specific preparation to be able to spend many hours in the saddle. Their equipment choice and setup are specific to purpose and most importantly their navigation is accurate and well prepared.

2. Break Par (Fast Snakes)

These riders plan to break par, ie they will attempt to complete one and a half days or even double up in a 24 hour cycle. They come no less prepared than the Non-Stoppers and have more than likely done some additional preparation for night riding, night navigation and also plan to sacrifice beauty sleep. I found them less cautious of night navigation than the 6-dayers, I suspect this is due to either strong determination and lac of fear of getting lost or perhaps just a good knowledge of the navigation aspects. This would be a real challenge for rookie riders.

3. Tourers (Tough Snakes)

Completing the race in 6 days is no less of a feat. There are some who simply choose to ride at a manageable pace, finish before dark and enjoy some of the scenery and hospitality. There are also those who have to work hard, get lost and have to hang tough to complete one day at a time. I suspect most of the finishers in this category are likely to return either with friends or to try and improve their time.

I chose the 6-day plan from the beginning and it rewarded me with a very enjoyable experience of the journey as it did those in any of the above categories. I guess it’s another dimension of Race to Rhodes that is different to other multi-day events, there are options available to satisfy your need whatever it may be. In the end everyone deserved their whip as they had to dig deep and overcome their personal challenges.

Everyone wins!

Hiking or MTB Shoes?

My planning for R2R had gone very much according to plan other than my shoes. I wanted to use a pair of Shimano MT71 Goretex hiking MTB shoes (wind and waterproof and walking friendly) but challenges with delivery from Evans Cycles meant I had to use my el cheapo Sportmans Warehouse Olympic MTB shoes, also referred to as “ballet shoes” on social media. The pair is about 4 years old and has been surprising good value for money.

I wore Sealskinz socks to make up for the lack of water and wind proofing and that was sufficient, in worse weather I may have experienced a touch of discomfort.

As for walking, hiking and climbing, well as you may have guessed, they are pretty dangerous to say the least, yet somehow they went everywhere and to be very honest I expected to have a few nasty’s on slippery rocks, none of which materialized. I was however very careful and would not recommend this option. I had to walk like a duck up Lehana’s, my heels stopped just short of quacking though.

There are some good options out there, ask around, do some homework, get decent hiking type MTB shoes. Mine are retiring now.

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Perspective – Post on TheHubSA

Some sharing to help others understand a bit more about Freedom. I loved this race so please forgive my enthusiasm.

– Also understand that I am no expert or experienced rider, I only have one whip to show and I hooked onto a strong group with 4 experienced Freedom navigators so I got a bit of a free ride. We rode 9-11 hours everyday which is above average,with no navigation mistakes, if you have to navigate or read maps, add 30% to this time. If you cannot ride a sub-3 94.7 or run a sub 4 minute mile, add another 20% to the time. You don’t need to be fast but you need to be able to keep going the whole time, chipping away at the trial.

– It is odd in a way that the Freedom Challenge is a topic on a cycling forum, I guess its cause one has to bring a bicycle along. It perhaps belongs more on an adventure racing forum, I have also heard it referred to as adventure mountain biking.

– I estimate that I pushed or carried my bike around 40-50% of the time and I did not quite expect this even though I knew there would be some portaging. The hills get too steep to ride, the surface is loose and rocky or cattle tracks too narrow to ride or you are simply just too buggered to ride. If you ride a SS the 40-50% will be 60-70% pushing unless you can ride standing at 30 rpm cadence for extended periods of time.

– If you want to know what a typical Freedom Trial day is like, go ride Klapperkop or Kingskloof loops for 10 hours non-stop, you will eventually start pushing your bike and when you get g@tvol of the front wheel jamming against rocks and graspolle you will want to start throwing your bike onto your back. Its then that you realise you should have spent more time on the stair climber in gym than on the stationary bike. Perhaps also go do some climbing at the Tuks climbing wall … with your bike on your back and throw in some ballet classes as you will want to have your balance sorted when you scramble up and down cliff faces where one slip can have you rolling (happened this year, the rider stopped 20m down, the bike 30m further).

– Doing a sub-3 Argus may not be very helpful. Climbing up Table Mountain with a 25kg backpack in a sub-3 will be very helpful.

– Underestimate navigation at your own peril. I can read 1:50,000 maps no problem and it got very tricky, especially in dark with no landmarks or on top of a mountain with no visible contours or beacons. Now try reading maps and narratives at the same time while riding your bicycle. We all have scratched knees and elbows from doing just that. You will make mistakes, you will miss a turn-off. I was following riders who knew the route closely on my map and would have missed many turn-offs on my own, some sneaky single track turn-offs almost invisible to the eye.

– As a novice, I spent 4 hours off the bike in preparation for every hour on the bike and I was still under-prepared for navigation.

– I read people talk about the riding and the weather. These are non-issues, anyone on this forum can do the riding and weather challenges are addressed by correct clothing of which there is lots of info around.

– On a more positive note. I am not an olympic athlete but I can hold my own on most weekend groups. If I can finish this race I reckon most can. I do however have a good mind and attitude, they can stay strong for many hours and you will need this aplenty. Race to Rhodes is a highlight for me and it will more than likely be for you too if you are interested in something different than the usual MTB ride with both challenges and rewards you will not find at any other MTB event.

– From a training perspective, 50% cycling, 50% hiking. Equal amount of time to training .. studying the maps & narratives.

– Lastly. There will be information sessions again this year so I strongly recommend those with an interest attend these or arrange other such informal sessions with the growing family of participants. There are also many Blanket Bearers or Whip Carriers in your social circles, speak to them, they have the scars and would love to share their stories.

See you at R2R 2015! Over & Out!

Awesome Group

Groups are informal and form for purpose rather than by arrangement. We had a super group that formed informally and whilst it started off for a practical purpose of following GPS Dave for navigation, the group ended up sticking together for a common purpose with laughter and fun the bonding purpose.

Kevin: Fascinating stories and legendary long distance rider and journalist, racing snake who showed us what can be done.

GPS Dave: Our informal group leader, pin sharp navigator, blanket bearer, strong rider. He saved us hours every day.

Dawn: Always a smile, always chirping and friendly, just got stronger every day.

Jonathan: Strong as an ox, always friendly and caring, got the only puncture of the trip while carrying his bike.

Janine: Perhaps the strongest rider in the group, cannot ride behind another wheel, if you try and sneak ahead, she will get you, the quiet smile hides a very strong mind.

Brad: The party animal of the group, great sense of humour, always a witty comment, very strong on the hills, made the journey very enjoyable for us all.

Nicci: Diminutive in stature, a power house on the bike and hike, like a metronome, never stops, picks up and carries her bike like its a feather.

Rowan: Always strong with a smile, great sense of humour, hiked his bike up Lehana faster than most can run!

Leon: What an inspiring man! Celebrating retirement by riding his bike to Cape Town, always a smile and oozes energy no matter how adverse the conditions. Great example!

Johan: Silent but strong, hung in when the going was tough, no doubt he’ll get to Cape Town!

Niven: Great guy who makes friends wherever he goes, rode probably the heaviest bike around yet stuck in there to make it to the finish with a smile. Gained a lot of respect from us all.

A big thank you to everyone who crossed my path, we struggled together and we laughed together and made memories that will last a lifetime.

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Day 6. Carrying a bicycle up a mountain

Vuvu to Rhodes (via Tenahead Lodge)
55km, 2025m ascent
Dep: 6h15
Arr: 14h30

Day 6 is the last day of Race to Rhodes and such a day always comes with mixed emotions. The Superhero in me knew that after surviving 5 days I was going to make it to the finish to earn my whip, nothing was going to stop me now. The Realist knew there was still the matter of portaging my bike over Lehana’s Pass. The Lazy Man in me didn’t want it to finish and go back to work, he wanted to hang around and enjoy some rays and quiet time.

Lehana’s is a 1000m ascent of the Drakensberg over a distance of about 6 km, most of it has to be done with bike on the back, no other option. Here and there some free yards can be gained by a brief pedal but that is the exception. I am not strong in my upper body nor did I do much training for hiking or carrying. It does not mean I am weak or below average, just not well prepared for such a hike. I also walked with normal MTB shoes which worked fine with some challenges for my feet and heels in particular. I had a restless night before at Vuvu about this section and ended up making some adjustments to my bag for the hike (separate post) which saved my bacon. The portage is spectacular in all ways, one has to work hard to gain the meters but one is rewarded continuously with breathtaking views and vistas. Without a doubt one of the most rewarding hikes I have ever done, worth every drop of sweat. It is precarious at times but a highlight of the journey.

Most difficult part was to get going once at the top, which is just below a well know blue container. Lehana’s is without doubt a significant milestone and one feels like the race is now over. To my surprise I was told we’ll take another 4 hours to reach Rhodes … at that point my body and mind had finished the race so the last 40km was probably the longest of the whole race!

After a quick stop at Tenahead Lodge for hot chocolate and toasted sandwiches we tackled the last 30km to Rhodes which included a few climbing surprises, least of which being the last 200m up to Rubicon Lodge at the finish, a rather appropriate way to top off 6 days of mental and physical challenges. Meryl welcomed us like the mother she is for all the riders, what a lovely sight to see a familiar face.

At dinner Dave, as Blanket Bearer, handed out our finisher whips as part of a very special ceremony and for me this is now a treasured trophy amongst boxes and boxes of medals and old badges. For some the Race to Rhodes may be just another race and an easy journey, for me it has a special place and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to be able to celebrate life!

View from the top of Lehana’s Pass

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How to Hike-a-Bike

Let me start by saying I am perhaps the least qualified to comment on the topic … so I’ll go ahead and do so anyway.

My share is simple … I use a Wingnut backpack gifted to me by my friend Nicolaas from Irvine CA, which is awesome to help keep the weight low down on my back. My neck operation had me a bit nervous before the race but I had zero issue whatsoever, partly due to low sitting backpack and party due to being very blessed.

The climb up to Vuvu the bike was resting on my neck and back as the backpack was too low down and I was very uncomfortable and frustratingly slow. So whilst sleeping in my cozy Vuvu bed … I came up with the idea to cable tie/duct tape my Revelate saddle bag onto the top of my backpack to act as a bike platform.

It may come across a bit soft but it worked like a charm, the climb up Lehana’s went perfectly, the bike rested comfortably on the backpack and I was able to keep up with the group comfortably. So my amateur advice … speak to seasoned Freedom riders about backpacks, I will do the same again but getting a backpack that will support your hike-a-bike activity can save a lot of discomfort and frustration.

PS: I am accepting as default that one needs to carry a bike on one’s back. I resisted this technique as my thinking is pushing is easier, which is true under specific conditions but my article is really focussed on carrying a bike on the back when pushing and hooking-over-the-shoulder don’t make sense any longer.

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Special Vuvu Hosts

Vuvu is a small remote village on top of a mountain near Lehana’s Pass or Naude’s Nek. During the Freedom Challenge the people of Vuvu open their homes to the riders and vacate either rondavels or rooms and beds to host us.

My hostess tonight is a young mother with a 2 year old daughter. They are sleeping in the other of the 2 rooms, my bed is neatly turned with more blankets than I can count, its an oven. I can smell the bed has been scented, they have put the best foot forward.

I asked where the toilet was in case of a midnight emergency. The hostess and her sister looked at one another before they responded. I had two options, the long drop in the veld 50 m away behind a barbed fence or the empty bucket in the corner of the room. They were prepared to service a used bucket rather than have me walk 50 m to the long drop in the dark cold night. I could never.

These are special people. Its moments like this that will stay with me forever.

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