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.