Day 5. Lovely Riding, Big Portages

Ongeluksnek to Vuvu (via Tinana Mission)
73km, 1710m ascent
Depart: 6h00
Arrive: 16h47

I didn’t quite expect this day to be so long and as usual we weren’t really leaving much time out there, we were efficient in our continuous movement yet the day ticked along. It’s a deceptive day, tricky navigation and lots of portaging. The usual route narrative got us through the day with tricky route options at Blackfountain which we did well, scaling up and down cliff faces which we did well, heading into the Vuvu Valley which we did well and scaling a mountain to the top of Vuvua which I didn’t do so well. My bike carrying techniques needed refinement, I was wrestling my bike more than I was progressing forward. More about that later though. All in all a tough day with lots of walking and scrambling with bike but actually very enjoyable. I took my bike up and down places I would never have thought possible or sensible .. perhaps it wasn’t sensible.

I really don’t want to be in that Vuvu valley all by myself whether day or night … and I am not really the nervy scary type, it’s just not a nice place, there be things in those long grass that I’d rather not bump into when alone. In a group I think we scared them away or perhaps they were still busy hibernating. As it was we managed to find our way on the maps and up to the radio tower … or was it a cell phone tower :-).

The Vuvu stop is legendary and it didn’t disappoint. The people of Vuvu make this stop special. We are hosted at Vuvu School where riders are fed, we wash from a bucket in a class room and it appears from experience they know what to expect as all chairs & desks are moved out wide, it seems Freedom riders like to splash! Toilets are long drops which were neat, clean and had lovely views in the moonlight :-). The highlight is no doubt the sleeping bit (see separate post on this topic) when we are hosted in vacated rondavels or houses of the locals. These people pull out all the stops and I hope they know how much we appreciate their hospitality.

Vuvu chicken is the topic of many a Freedom discussion so we were all looking forward to seeing what it was all about. In all honesty, we never got it, the chicken looked pretty normal and tasted very good. So the legend of the Vuvu chicken remains a mystery to me.

The local security chief quickly became an ally as he knew where the local shebeen was and ensured our supply of hydration was kept fresh all evening. Another hard day but the body is adjusting by now and we’re well past halfway. Tomorrow it’s Lehana’s Pass and I have butterflies in my stomach as the bike carry didn’t go very well today and tomorrow will be even bigger!

The hanging bridge at Tinana.

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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,