What’s Your Challenge?

Why do you ride your bicycle and why did you enter a Freedom Challenge race? Ask around and you will probably find as many answers as there are people on the start line. Everyone has a different reason and his or her own personal objectives and challenges.

Win, Podium, Top 10. There are not that many of these riders and when you line up, you generally know if you are going to be able to contend for the win or perhaps a top 3. It is not for everyone and it requires special preparation beyond the normal, ie riding, navigation and perseverance. It requires some insights into the route, the psyche of the race and an understanding of personal limits & boundaries. The challenge for the snakes will be to try and keep up with their predetermined schedules, stay focused and perhaps to push themselves beyond their previous limits.

Testing Yourself. These riders are ambitious but may not be concerned about winning the race. They have personal objectives like riding a double day or an extra half day, maybe a day one push to Centacow or simply to ride a stretch into the night. For others it may be navigation, to simply stay on track and make few navigation errors, perhaps even to try a different route option to a previous ride or an option they saw someone else take a previous year. For others it may be a sub-5 or a sub-4 or simply to get to Rhodes in a par 6 days, racing snakes to themselves. These riders will come to the race with their own ambitions and riding schedules and may finish mid-pack or at the back, but will still have their personal challenges and will finish proudly like winners.

Enjoy the Trail. There are a fortunate few who have the ability to ride within themselves, reach a support station with something left in the tank and do so well before dark. Over the years there have been a few of these, notably one group called the “Wyntrein”. These groups may ride one day at a time and focus on the social and surrounding elements the trail and the journey has to offer.

Everyone on the trail is there to test themselves against the trail, the weather, the navigation and against one another. It’s woven into the DNA of the trail. There’s a reason its called the Freedom Challenge. Whatever your reason to line up at the start line and whatever challenge you have set yourself, embrace the opportunity, give it your best shot and become your own hero.

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The Mystery of the Race Boxes

The race boxes are in. It represents a special milestone in the lead up to the race. Something of me will be on the trail long before I get there, waiting patiently for my arrival, ready to provide a much needed physical and mental boost when I eventually catch up.

I found this quite an intriguing concept when I first started following the Freedom Challenge. My first race boxes were loaded to the brim, the result of meticulous planning and providing for many scenarios, needs and consequences. I have now packed race boxes 4 times and every time the content has reduced, my boxes have over the past few years been generous donors to support station hosts. The question is always what to pack and what not.

In the end it depends on what one will require along the route. Racing snakes carry very little and pretty much just need to supplement their base supplies from a nutrition and hydration perspective. Some even go very light on race boxes and live off the remains of boxes from previous days. I have been told of of race boxes containing as little as a Coke, a Sterri-Stumpi and a box of custard. Those on a longer race strategy tend to add a few extras to cater for overnight stay situations and perhaps some snacks and treats for the evening. There have been stories of shampoo and lubricants spoiling carefully selected snacks and RASA riders may add clothing and spares into their boxes. It’s pretty much about personal preferences and on-trail needs.

Last but not least on the packing list of most is the precious maps. The first time round I had my maps lined up pretty neatly until I realized they were lined up one support station too late. Luckily this was realized in time and the alignment problem was rectified. The race boxes are one of several little nuances that make the Freedom Trail races special and unique.

There are probably some riders who return year after year only for the fun of packing a lucky packet type race box just to look forward to opening it up a month later while on the trail. 🙂

The Trail is Calling

The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are dropping and names like Boshelweni, Lehanas and Mpharane start filling my mind. It’s that time of the year again when the Freedom Challenge series of races start appearing on the radar. For me its the Race to Rhodes (500km) and for others its Race Across South Africa (RASA), 2300km. The tradition of the trail requires participants to be competent with navigation, map reading and compass use. The first part of the trail to Rhodes has many scratchy navigation bits and requires one to become intimately familiar with the route and its many nuances. The only way is to either ride and learn the route or to study the maps, narratives and Google Earth for hours on end to reduce uncertainty and improve the odds for not getting lost. Whichever way, preparation for navigation takes hours and builds intimacy with the trail. It is this challenge that attracts riders back year after year and there is always unfinished business, whether to improve on navigation, to ride a better time or just to enjoy the surrounds, there is something for everyone and the weather conditions ensure that the challenge is different every year.

My start date is on 11 June, 3 weeks away. I love navigation, maps and a good challenge. I plot routes on my mapping tools, load them onto my GPS and go ride them. That’s my thing. The Freedom Trail fits me like a glove. I get to plan routes, visualize them for what they will look like when I arrive there in daylight and even some at night time. When I close my eyes I can see the scratchy bit leading into Centacow Mission. I turn right from the main road, the road makes loop back, goes around a hill and then makes a double switch back before a steep rise onto a ridge. I expect to find a crossing there and a few hundred meters down the road a turnoff to the left which will take me to another left and a quick right and then a long down hill to a tar road and sight of Centacow. I cannot wait to ride this section and see how well I remember it from my previous visit in 2014 and if my visualizations are realistic.

When I close my eyes I fly my way through all the scratchy bits, scenery and difficulties I expect to encounter. The only certainty is that my experience this year will be different to what it was the previous time and also different to what my plans are. The trail is full of surprises and will test my ability to adapt, to persevere and to enjoy. I am as excited as a kid opening a lucky packet and I cannot wait to get out there.

The Trail is Calling.