In many races there is an Ultra or a Marathon and then a “Half” or a “Lite”. Somehow the latter signalling something easier and for beginners. On the Freedom Trail there is RASA and then Race to Rhodes (R2R) or Race to Cradock (R2C) and given the above context one can be forgiven for thinking R2R/R2C are easier and for beginners, but one cannot be more wrong.
The final day of R2R represents a case in point. After 5 days on the trail one wakes up on the final morning in a warm blanket covered bed of a local hut that has been vacated for your privilege. It is made so much more special by the striking balance between poverty and friendliness of the people of the trail one had experienced along the trail. Vuvu represents the final frontier of this experience as from here on the trail flows into a completely different and remote farming landscape. Few realize that the pre-dawn ride down to the start of the legendary Lehanas Pass will present a last glimpse of these rural villages which are so typical of the first section of the trail.
Lehanas Pass is the biggest portage along the route and with an elevation difference of almost 1000m over 3.5km it is the one that can explained most understandably to outsiders. It is almost incomprehensible to fathom carrying your bicycle on your shoulders up this pass and the task is made so much more real by being able to see pretty much the whole pass all the way to the top from the moment one starts at the river at the bottom. The blue container way up high in the sky patiently awaits its next visitors as it slowly but surely becomes bigger in size as one makes the ascent step by step. There are few experiences as rewarding as reaching the top of the pass and taking a few minutes to look back in awe down the pass and the breathtaking vista it presents. Strangely enough, celebrations as deserved as they are, are short lived and one is overcome with an incredible sense of humility and respect for the journey that one has completed over the past few days. For many this reflection represents a realization that one has the physical and emotional ability to overcome any challenge no matter how big. You just know that from this moment your life will never be the same again, you have been changed forever.
There is however still work to be done before one can celebrate in Rhodes and the ride past Tena Head and down Naudes Nek is perhaps a final reminder that the trail will not give any inch for free, every meter has to be earned. The final ride into Rhodes to the waiting smiles and hugs from the Race Office and fellow riders plays out almost as an anti-climax, the significance of the achievement of the past 6 days, far outweighing the social celebrations. The previous 6 days touch and impact us in ways we could never have anticipated, physically and emotionally, not even in our wildest dreams. We learn about ourselves and experience our deepest highs and lows along the journey.
The final day from Vuvu to Rhodes is wonderfully representative of the Freedom Trail experience and the Herdsman Whip represents so many special things that can only be understood if you were there yourself. Saying congratulations is a much appreciated social gesture but seeing that Whip on your wall brings back deep emotions and special memories that are only understood by those that have completed the journey.
Welcome to the tribe.