Day 4. Wind Wind Wind

Masakala to Ongeluksnek
64km, 855m ascent
Depart: 6h30
Arrive: 15h45

What was meant to be an easy, very ridable 6 hour day turned into an over 9 hour ordeal fighting a very angry mother nature.

The day started very innocently at 6h30, a latish start to allow good visibility of the Knira flood plain and also the flood plains before Queens Mercy. Everything went according to plan … until we got on our bicycles. The wind hit us from the front after 5km and an impromptu road echelon formed as we tried to protect our tired legs from the ever building wind. It was still manageable at that point as we crossed some spectacular grass plains as far as they eye could see. Pinpoint navigation by GPS Dave got us perfectly into Queens Mercy for a quick stop.

The daily ritual was an early start with a 2-3 hour push before we made the first stop to shed excess clothing due to heating up from the rising sun. The “heating” up was such that we dropped leggings, wind proof socks and wind shells for bare legs and arms. The ambient temperature at this “heated” stage of the day was generally between 1 and 3 Celsius! Strange how one’s perspective changes from the city where 1C is too cold to ride and in R2R it’s too warm to stay dressed.

As we left Queens Mercy around 9h00 the wind got really angry, going downhill was a challenge and by the time we reached Mpharane Ridge staying on the biek had become a challenge. From this point we pretty much pushed our bikes the last 25km to Ongeluksnek as riding became virtually impossible with the strong side winds! On top of Mpharane Ridge we were all pretty much blown completely off our bikes, a trend was to continue for the next 3 hours as we dragged our bikes along and at times flew them like a kite in the wind. If I was alone at this time I would have had a sense of humor failure. Seeing others also struggle created perspective.

Rowan, as strong as he is, was going downhill at 10km/h in granny +3 gear, probably the only time he used this gear all week … going downhill against the wind! Conditions got progressively worse as we literally crawled our way across to Ongeluksnek and at times I cold not see how we could continue, in fact my plan was to stay over the next day if conditions did not let up! At Ongeluksnek we bumped into some hardcore racing snakes under lead of Scotty and Werner who has chosen warm bed over the angry wind, a wise choice in the end. By 20h00 the wind started calming and we were set for a stunning next day where we could ride our bikes.

It is not possible to describe in a blog, by video, by picture or by sound clip how strong these winds were, they were as rough as I had ever experienced and probably will ever experience, clothing was ripped from washing lines like paper thread, we were all blown off our bikes 15-20m into the veld with somersaults, bikes flew like kites, branches whipped skin like a cattle whip, Dawn had to duck a self-propelled JoJo tank  at Mariazell Mission. I hear some people had to lie on top of their bikes to prevent them being blown away, I was at one stage sand blasted by a gusting force to the extent I had to take cover low on the ground in a curled up position to protect my skin. It was as bad as you can imagine and our group was not alone, there were many other Freedom warriors out there braving these conditions. Well done to everyone, it was character building to say the least!

The most insane day ever on/off/next to/on top of a bicycle!

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Bokkie on top of Mpharane Ridge,

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Taking a break after being hammered by the wind on top of Mpharane Ridge,

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Day 3. Tricky Navigation

Ntsikeni to Masakala (via Glenn Edward)
96km, 1635m ascent
Depart: 4h00
Arrive: 15h00

Day 3 has two tricky sections, the first 20km out of Ntsikeni Reserve over Politique Kraal and the second  the three schools section between the watershed and Prospect School. This was also the day a very angry wind started showing its hand.

We left in below Celsius conditions to get a head start for a long day and to hit the tricky fence section at dawn. All went well and it was quite an amazing experience breaking ice on the ground in -3C as we rode over “perfectly manicured” graspolle, they really need to put bigger shoes on cattle in these areas so the paths can be a bit wider and visible!

The soup at Glenn Edward is legendary, more like a stew, in fact more like a pasta vegetable soup dish with some delicious home made bread and biscuits. Note for future riders, allow enough time at this stop to feed all your cravings.

From Glenn Edward the wind picked up and it was a brawl all the way to Masakala. We made good time through the schools sections and arrived to an ever friendly Masakala staff. The hot shower was a winner!

I haven’t mentioned it yet but one of the highlights every day is arriving at the support station looking forward to your pre-packed and pre-posted 2 litre ice cream tub like a child does to a luck packet. It’s not like you don’t know what’s in there … yet one opens it with an expectation like it’s the biggest surprise ever! How bizarre we are, the more we grow up, the more we remain like kids and why not!

Another tough day in the saddle and on the feet but it was the easier of the 3 days so far. Tomorrow we do an “easy” day to Ongeluksnek, if there is such a thing on the Freedom Challenge route.