Northwards or Westwards or Northwestwards?

Navigation on the Freedom Trail is no simple matter.

I have learnt, unsurprisingly, that riding in a North-westerly direction and then making a South-easterly turn … takes me back to where I just came from, so I have tried to eliminate these maneuvers from my route plan.

At the 2014 Race to Rhodes I had the privilege of ending up in a group with many person days worth of route experience which did two things for me. Firstly, it made the journey a bit easier and meant I ended up enjoying the surrounds and the group’s company a lot and secondly, it made me realize how much time can be lost on navigation without proper preparation or route knowledge. In retrospect I figured that Glenn and Meryl had put me in this group as a preventative measure rather than a random draw. The challenge is not at the obvious turn that happen 2.5km from a previous T-junction, but rather to pick up the path heading Northwards from the river crossing or the tricky drop off Mpharane Ridge or to pick the correct track from the myriad cattle tracks running in random directions. I realized in 2014 that I would have spent many additional hours every day on navigation if I had been riding alone. Only prior route knowledge or pin sharp navigation would have helped.

So for Race to Cradock 2015, I have tried to take these lessons into account and have prepared for pin sharp navigation :-).

  • I have spent more time going through the maps and narratives rather than just enjoying Google Earth flyovers, which btw I still find very insightful. The maps are what I’ll have with me rather than my laptop and Samsung color monitor.
  • I made lots of notes on the maps themselves as it is really difficult to try and read a map and narratives at the same time while riding down a rutted farm road … as my scarred knees can attest.
  • I have made a couple of aerial Google Earth prints with paths plotted to help my mind at least have some kind of familiar 3D image when I hopefully get there.
  • The race dates have CLEARLY been carefully selected to coincide with New Moon, rendering night navigation incompatible with route narratives and maps that reference invisible objects like spurs, necks and rocky outcrops. I have plotted some of these sections in 300-500m sections to try and help find my way, if not forwards, at least backwards.
  • I have browsed over many Strava tracks of previous riders (thank you!) to try and spot risky sections or route opportunities. I may have perhaps spent more time (too much!) on the Strava tracks of others than on generating my own training tracks.
  • Several previous riders have volunteered advice generously without hesitation, such is the spirit and camaraderie of this race and its participants.

I may have overdone the navigation preparation this time round but at least it was fun and I do actually enjoy the route planning part of adventure riding. I also know that despite all of this preparation, the actual scenes and landscape I will encounter will look different and fortunately so much more spectacular than it does on Google Earth. I am also pretty sure I will make many navigational mistakes along the way and learn some things about myself, my patience and my tenacity at the same time.

It is after all what the Freedom Trail is all about, testing ourselves against ourselves and overcoming ourselves despite ourselves.

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