Adventure Guaranteed

Adventure Guaranteed.

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That’s the Freedom Challenge catch phrase. They guarantee an adventure!! Wow, pretty confident of them I thought. What if everything goes according to plan and we have a smooth run? Will it still be an adventure?

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21 days. That was our plan, and that’s what it took us. One or two minor mechanicals on our bikes, a sprinkling of snow, a puff of wind and a few drops of rain. No major health issues. Only one small, very small, deviation from the route as we took a wrong turn! So a smooth run in anyone’s books. We were lucky. They say you make your own luck, but we were lucky. Was it still an adventure………..You can bet your house, car and life savings it was. When they say adventure guaranteed, they mean it!

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As a very proud blanket owner, I feel I need to give all you mountain bikers some advice on Freedom Challenge.

Ride it.

Stop umming and aahhing. Ride it.

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“Is it hard?” you ask. Yes it is.

“Is it very hard?” No it’s not. There are some long portages that are physically taxing, especially because you are used to having your bike under your bum, not on your back. It is along ride, and you will be sore at some stage. But it’s not very hard.

“Will I make it?” Yes you will. Provided you can confidently tick the boxes below:

1. You will make it if you are an average mountain biker.

2. You will make it if you know how to read a map and navigate.

3. You will make it if you know your bike and have a good understanding of the possible mechanicals, and how to fix them.

4. You will make it if you have the right clothing. The weather is a big variable. “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”.

5. You will make it if you have a very understanding family back home, it’s a long time away.

6. You will make it if you train to ride, walk and carry your bike. Be prepared for being out there the whole day.

7. But most importantly you will make it if your mind is strong, your attitude positive, and your will unwavering. There is no place for doubt and negativity.

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“Is it expensive?” No, it is the best value-for-money bike ride on the planet. You do the maths. The cost per day, considering the amazing accommodation, wonderful food, awesome scenery and fantastic riding, is excellent value for money.

We live in an incredible country. Full of incredible people. We are all too hasty to climb on a plane and visit far flung corners of the globe, in search of beauty and splendour and unique cultures. There are places on our doorstep that are breathtaking. There are people that are so warm and generous, you feel embarrassed that you’re passing through so quickly. They are all genuinely proud South Africans, and that makes you very happy. The overnight stops are called “Support Stations”. The lunch stops are called “Emergency Stops”. They should be called “Warm Comfortable Homes Away from Home”. They’re a highlight. They vary from very comfortable B&B’s and guest houses, to remote farm homes, to Zulu homesteads. Each stop as unique as the people who care for you. They are all humble, caring, genuine, uncomplicated, proud people. At every stop. Wether you are grabbing a quick bowl of soup and heading on, or enjoying a three course meal, a few beers and comfy bed, each of these places is truly memorable.

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You will make mates on the Freedom Challenge. They should guarantee that too. Amazing what a common goal does for a crowd of riders from all walks of life. Riders come from around the world with very different backgrounds and cultures. Great friends you will make. We were a small group of mates which was wonderful. We got to share the experience together. But no sweat if you’re on your own. You will make mates within hours of leaving PMB. And if you want to ride alone, you can do that too.

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I really enjoyed the pace of Freedom Challenge. Even the racing snakes are riding the same speed as you. They just sleep less and ride longer every day. It sometimes takes them a whole day to overtake you! You will rub shoulders with the experienced racers who finish in 12 odd days. You’ll hang out with the nervous novices , and the riders who own more blankets than a Basuthu family. And you’ll pass the slower guys who are taking the full 26 day allocation to get there. And it might take you a day or 2 to get passed them!

It’s a wonderful journey. A chance to unplug from the distractions and pressures of the modern world and worry about real problems. Like food and shelter. It’s a journey that is long, it’s a big trip, in anyone’s books. But anyone can make it. You eat an elephant one mouthful at a time, and that’s just how you ride Freedom Challenge.

It’s an adventure, you can be guaranteed of that. So ride it. Entries open 1 August.

I will be there again, guaranteed.

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Tomorrow, tomorrow, we’re off tomorrow!!

One more sleep.

We launch in 24 hours.

Flip, have we been waiting for this………

It’s kinda surreal to know that this time tomorrow our Freedom Challenge would have started. It’s been a long build up. A very long build up. Our excitement levels are juvenile. THIS IS IT.

I have a few last minute things to do today, and then we meet the rest of our batch in PMB tonight. We’re super stoked as our great mate Dave Telford, the world’s toughest human, is now in our batch. He got sick this last few days and has been fighting illness off with antibiotics, so his Monday start is postponed to tomorrow. So it’s Telford, Dave Gace, Gary Preston and I that will endeavour to stick together to Cape Town. We’re going to be joined by Gary Green, who starts on Thursday, in the vicinity of Rhodes. There’s a great chance that our racing snake Saturday start mates, Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter will also catch us. How wonderful would it be if we could ride across the finish line together!!

While we’re here I would to say thanks to all the amazing people who have wished us well, and helped us get to the start line. Thanks to my darling wife Claire who will hold the fort for 3 weeks! Thanks for letting me go Nu! Thanks to Racefood for awesome snacks en route and my outer shell jacket. The North Face have supplied us with great kit too. Colin and Debbie Stroberg gave me a pair of Assos shorts last week. Me and my bum would like to thank you very much, your kind generosity is greatly appreciated!! Hattons Cycles in PMB and LBS Mountain Slendour Cycles have ensured my bike is in tip top condition. Thanks dudes!

Also this will be my last blog for a while. One of the reasons we’re attempting this challenge is to escape. We are craving the solitude and freedom that the rural trails and a bike can offer.  I am so looking forward to no FIFA. No Inkhandhla. So it’s going to be a “no news is good news” next few weeks from me. Seriously, we have to save our phone batteries, so expect irregular and sparse Facebook updates. You can track us on the Freedom Challenge website. We all have GPS trackers in our packs, and you’ll hopefully see us plodding along at about 10 km / hr during the day, and dossing at 0 km / hr at night.

I will be attempting to write up a Freedom Challenge bird list. I have an awesome little pair of Leica binoculars that I’ll ride with, and I’ll be using my Roberts Multimedia App on my phone to help ID the trickier species. It’ll be fun and hopefully encourage future riders to add to it over the years. It’s also something to distract us on the dark days, when we need all the distractions we can get.

So………a big deep breath.

This IS it. The greatest adventure that I have ever attempted. I cannot wait. I don’t have to, we’re almost off!

See you on the flip side!!

2 weeks to go!

T minus 16 more sleeps till take-off. What the hell does “T” stand for? I must look it up!

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Houston, we don’t have any problems. Yahoooooooooo! It’s 16 more sleeps, cannot believe it! Flipping awesome feeling to know we are ready for launch. I know I’m ready cos I’ve done my checklist, see below:

Bike drive train new – check

New tyres – almost check

New derailleur cables – check

Ice cream containers packed and shipped – check

Route recce’s – check

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Kit – almost check, got to get one two more things

Mootie – almost check, got to get some more drugs, no not EPO, antibiotics dammit.

Fitness – almost check, but not a lot we gonna do about that now. Loving this tapering phase of the training. Tapering, for those that don’t know, is taking it easy after months of hard training to rest your legs before the event. In theory. In reality it means changing from Hansa to Windhoek Light these last 2 weeks.

Health – check, so far so good. I shall be avoiding, like the black plaugue, all sick people for these next few weeks. No offense, but I will run from you if you are coughing or sneezing. Sorry, but I don’t want your germs.

Mind – almost check. Eish. Never ridden for 21 days before. Will get back to you on this one at the end of June.

Claire’s flights to the finish and plans to get home – almost check. We are going to Cape Town on a mountain bike, and coming home on a train. Yessssssss.

Eating lots to fatten up – check (good for endurance and staying warm).

Back to the mind. I am reading a book by a guy called Peter van Kets. It’s called “The Eighth Summit”. It was recommended to me by Gary Green. I recommend it to you. Peter is the most positive human I have ever come across. The eighth summit is your mind, and you need to be positive and have a strong mind on these long expeditions. Peter can talk the talk, ‘cos he has walked the walk. 2 unassisted rowing boat crossings of the Atlantic (one double and one single) and a foot race to the South Pole, pulling a sled with everything you need. I’m telling you again, it’s called “The Eighth Summit”, by Peter van Kets. Read it.

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We’ve had a heap of fun the last 2 weeks. Spent some qualy time in the saddle. We’ve recce’d the first 4 days of FC, and we also got a last minute entry to the sani2c. In 10 days we rode just over 600 odd km and this was really good for the bum, and the legs.

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A little hurdle though is my saddle saga / crisis / big problem. My ancient old faithful saddle has collapsed. It is 6 years old, and it’s had a good innings. Even though the bike beneath it has changed, my saddle has remained constant, and my bum likes that. Holey smoke now I have to change saddles! 2 weeks to go and I have to put a new saddle on my bike! Crumbs, that’s not good. I tried to find the same saddle but alas, they don’t make that saddle anymore. So now it’s mix and match stuff. I am also scouring the dumpsters of my mates bike spares for another one like the old one. I have found a pretty similar one, but time (or rather my bum) will tell. Bum will tell, it has a nice “ring” to it, don’t you think?IMG-20150508-WA000020150508_151526

Enough bum chatter, let’s talk tactics……. 21 days is our rough goal. Start slowly, take 6 days to Rhodes, then look at perhaps leapfrogging during the second half of the race. Even the best tactics and plans will be waylayed by the weather, your health, your bike, your navigation, your mind……lots of variables here. This is a race like no other. Actually it’s not a race, it’s a ride. And rides are flipping much better than races.

Anyway, I would love to chat more but I’m off to test another saddle, fatten up and taper some more!

Proudly South African

Castle lager and boerewors, Bovril and Marmite, bakkies and tekkies, cane and creme soda. Flip I am proud to be South African. It’s lekker bru, really lekker.

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I realised this again, as I have just come back from overseas. A week in a beautiful place with a Mediterranean climate, vineyards and orchards, a big mountain at sea level that gets snow on it a few times a year, and a unique dialect of English. Actually we’re just back from Cape Town, South Africa. We always say we’re going overseas when we head down there ‘cos it’s so different from the rest of Africa. Claire’s folks live there and we have a couple of great mates down there, so we end up in the fairest Cape fairly often. Nice maan, reaaally nice to be near the mountaaaain. That’s how everyone talks down there.

We were down on business, doing a bit of marketing for our local tourism operation, but we also took an extra 4 days off. I scouted the notorious last day of the Freedom Challenge. Well known for all the wrong reasons. The Stettynskloof Pass – a back-breaking-ball-busting-neck-wrenching overgrown portage, up into a valley of the thickest vegetation around. Awesome. Cannot wait. Actually it wasn’t that bad. Scars do heal, the snake I saw was harmless, and the aeroplane wreck I stumbled upon was from a crash way back in 1963. All in all nothing out of the ordinary for Freedom Challenge. A pretty average day on the trail actually. It is another of those those wild, breath-takingly beautiful places on the trail.

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But I have to admit defeat. I have changed my mind, again. I started years ago by wanting to ride the ABSA Cape Epic. Living in deep darkest Africa for 10 of the last 15 years, I have watched MTB’ing and the Epic grow from strength to strength. Upon returning back to live in SA, I certainly had the Epic right up there at the top of my sporting bucket list. There was lots of catching up on sporting events that I’d missed whilst working in the bush. I had originally been so impressed by this MTB race, an awesome cross country journey between Knysna and Cape Town. However, more recently, I have treated the Epic with a fair amount of suspicion. I have watched it on TV, and was impressed. I have been to the Epic as a spectator, and I was even more impressed.  But chatting to lots of riders who have ridden it, I began to discover that it is a bit “over the top”. The afkak, Kamp Staaldraad mentality, zero-enjoymnet, expensive entry fee…….yep I was happy and relieved to erase it off my list, as I realised it was just not for me.

The Cape Epic is however, the Comrades of running, the Dusi of canoeing, the Kilimanjaro of African Mountaineering. Living in a country obsessed with ultra distance, the Epic is hard to ignore. Being down in the Cape 2 weeks ago during the race has really got me re-thinking my bucket list. When I see the very impressive marketing all over Cape Town. When I feel the vibe of this incredible international event. I have to admit, I am flipping jealous. Serious FOMO bru. I would love to ride the Epic one day. Not just to say “yes I have” when the umteenth person asks me if I have ridden. I want to ride the Epic because it is as proudly South African as you get.

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So despite the fact the Freedom Challenge is much lower profile, longer, more scenic, and a much more “up my street”. Despite all this, I am not deleting the Epic off my list of things to do. It’s back on, in it’s place below FC, but it’s back on. Certainly I will either have to rob a bank, win the lotto, be sponsored, hook up with a wealthy mate who’ll pay for our entry or save like crazy for a couple of years. I am going to ride the Epic one day. It’s as proudly South African as biltiong, Lion matches, bushveld, Mandela, rugby and chops on the braai.

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Never Stop Exploring

Eish.

Shaaa.

It’s only 101 more sleeps till we depart. Flip nearly down to double figure sleeps. Crikey.

Lot’s of excitement this last month…..both in our Freedom Challenge prep and in our country.

South Africa news first.

SA has the funniest comedians ever. In parliament. I didn’t watch our SONA but am bleak I missed it, was hilarious apparently. Mates reckoned they laughed all evening. Clowns in a circus, they said, clowns in a circus!

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ESKOM are load shedding. Stop complaining. Buy a solar panel. You not gonna win a fight vs ESKOM. Guaranteed. You can see when the sh1t is going to hit the fan. You best hope for load shedding then, so the fan will be off.

Now for more important news……FC prep.

Kit lists are almost complete, thanks largely to Blake Raubenheimer, and his brand The North Face. Their “Never Stop Exploring” phrase is very apt for us. We’ll be exploring for about 3 weeks, all the way across our wonderful country, on some very off the beaten track routes. I cannot wait to see these beautiful places.

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We have all been very generously assisted by Blake, and The North Face will be keeping our kit together on our backs, keeping us warm and keeping us dry. Remember that June is winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, and we’ll be riding at altitudes well above the snow line……….you need kit, proper kit, and TNF is just that. Thanks Blake!

Our normally very quite FC whattsapp group exploded to life about 2 weeks ago when they released the batches. We’ve all been split up! We’re leaving on the 10 June. Much to my relief all my faster mates have been batched after us. It’s my good mate Dave “Diesel Engine” Gace who will be riding with me to Cape Town! Chuffed about that cos we ride at the same speed. Steady. It’s going to be fun as the faster guys catch up to us and maybe we’ll all ride together into the finish….who knows! The tortoise is being chased by the hare, that’s for sure!

Very quickly, the enormity of our challenge is beginning to sink in. We’ve even started training, like properly. Looong rides and stuff, with our packs, in our new goretex shoes, North Face kit fighting off the weather. No more running and paddling, The Dusi canoe marathon now a distant memory. We’re riding now. And we are going to ride lots.

They have also updated the FC website and it’s very very cool, check out:

http://www.freedomchallenge.org.za

If you look closely at the blog page you’ll see the some previous blogs by yours truly. I better start double checking my spelling before publishing any more posts!

So awesome to finally have some rain, the sound of thunder and flashes of lightning are a welcome relief. We have had a dry summer. Gumboots and raincoats have been collecting dust, dams are empty, crops are failing. Not good for the farmers. But the sound of rain our tin roof right now has never sounded sweeter! It has made for muddy training rides the last few days but I’ll take mud over dust any day.

I would love to write more, but I have to go for another ride.

Big Dogs and Long Grass

One of my favourite sayings of all time is:

“If you want to run with the big dogs………….you have to piss in the long grass”.

I love it. I loved it from the moment I heard it at school. Can’t remember exactly where it was that I first heard it. Nope I don’t think it was in English class that we learnt that. More than likely on the rugby field, perhaps before a big match against some big Afrikaans opposition, us little skinny souties getting psyched up for a battle. It has helped me prepare for the various adventures and challenges that I have taken on over the years. It could not ring more true in preparing for the Freedom Challenge.

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We’ve just got back from a recce week on the Freedom Trail. Wow – it was so cool! We were ON the trail, proper, my first time actually on the route! Please now do your best Borat accent.

I very excite.

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We rode and drove about 10 days of the route. Man it was beautiful. We were remote, that’s for sure. We got to see our amazing country from backroads, closed roads and sometimes, no roads!

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Race Director and 5 times rider of the FC, Glenn Harrison, was our guide. No better man for the job. He’s got the single speed record and the tandem record for this race, and he’s chasing the overall record. It’s a record that is achievable in what he describes will have to be “the perfect ride”. When all the variables align themselves and you have a good combination of all the various factors. First you need good, or reasonable, weather. Weather at high altitude in mid-winter is a challenge. Combined with the winter rainfall areas further west this means that weather is the biggest variable on the trail. You also need no or little bike mechanicals, good physical health, sound mental wellbeing (not so sure any of us qualify on this one?) You also need no navigational errors, that’ll put you into very long grass, and you don’t want to be there

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Eish, that brings us to navigation. No other race in the country do you use maps, compass and narrative to find your way to the finish line. Lucky I got a “B” for geography in matric. Back in the day when an “A” was very nerdy, and 3 of them classified you as super nerd. Only 2 okes in the whole country got that. Nowadays the standard is so low that you just add water to “B’s” and “C’s”, bring to the boil, and you have “A’s”. Perhaps you let the “C’s” simmer for a bit longer. Skool are so overrated.20150110_144127

Sorry, I digress.

Navigation. Focus. Look sharp. Lucky I like maps. So I reckon I’ll be alright. Cool. I will avoid the really long grass.

Then Glenn suggested that we try navigate at night. My “B” in Geography turned straight into an “F”.

Anyway, we saw lots of long grass, even right on the route. And we saw lots of places where the big dogs piss. Scary places where the dogs are very very big. They are huge. Even the leopards are scared of these big dogs. And the grass was very very long.

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Lot’s of other races claim to be “the toughest”, “the meanest” or “the hardest”. Bwaahahahaa.20150109_150953

We not only are going to piss in the long grass. We will also, if we get to Cape Town, take a long satisfying piss on the Epic riders tents!!!!! Bwaahahahaa.

Kismoes is tough

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Merry merry andHappy Happy everyone, hope you all are having a great Kismoes and are going to have an awesome 2015! It’s a fun time of year now……the long summer days and relaxed work load mean we can really get our teeth into some proper training. With only 163 more sleeps to Freedom Challenge it’s time to raise our game. This festive season, in theory, we can be like real pro athletes. Our entire focus is sport. We can plan our whole day around long MTB rides, paddles in the Tugela (to ease the painful butt on Dusi in February) and trail runs with the dogs. We change our meal schedule to fit in with training. We eat sleep and drink training.

In theory that is.

Enter the Highland Games, our first little distraction of the season. All my mates coming up for the weekend to celebrate my 40th. Eish was fun hey. We laughed a lot. We ate 2 bush pigs and 3 potjies. And we had a couple beers. Although we did play sport, I am not sure any of the physical exertion is going to help us come 10 June. But flip it was fun hey!!!!20141213_16351320141213_16394920141213_160837

Then it was time to focus on training properly again.

Enter Christmas.

And that’s like the Highland Games minus any physical execration……..for a whole week!

At least we had fun though, flipping eating and drinking, like vultures on a carcass……gluttony…….feasting…….

Looking back it’s a wonderful time of year. But it’s also properly stressful. Make no doubt that relaxed time with friends and family is top drawer stuff. But it’s also a high pressure time of year, especially during the build up to Christmas. Pressure to follow the demanding and shallow norms of our modern society. It’s demanding for me as a fledgling entrepreneur. This year I felt more like Father Christmas, when I always used to feel like a kid.

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What is supposed to a religious celebration has turned into a bit of a dog show. Christmas shopping absolutely sucks. No 2 ways about it. Luckily we did ours in about 1 hour in Ladysmith. It still sucked. I can imagine the big malls in the bigger cities being worse than a New Years Day on Durban beach. I would rather gargle wasps. Bright lights, bling, “buy me”, bargains, specials, crap for sale, price tags with big red lines through them……..oh my word! I just cannot bear to watch people, all googley eyed, wasting their hard earned $$ on cr@p.

Anyway, it is a jol, especially for kids, and most of the unskilled labour force of the world. You cannot deny that they have the time of their lives! The short lived euphoria of this time of plenty however, is often masking debt and stress. And that’s not a good thing, in anyones books. But if you peel back all the glitter and flashing lights, it is precious time spent with loved ones, and that is priceless my friends. You cannot put a price tag on that. And that will never be on special, that’s for sure.

Now it’s time for proper training.

Ahhhh sheet, we have some more distractions………

Enter Jeremy Loops tonight. He’s coming to Bergville. Now that is Christmas miracle if ever there was one!

And my great friend from the Eastern Cape is up in the Central Berg. Haven’t seen him for 3 years……

And we still have to celebrate the night were 2014 turns into 2015. Sheet. Perhaps we can fit in a few rides in between.

Yep, I am getting up from this computer and going for a long one right now.

Sjoe, being a pro athlete is hard bloody work hey?!

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Two new members and Racefood

Greetings from the rainswept lush green hills of Natal. This is my first blog as a bearded 40 year old, I hope you like reading it as much as liked turing 40 and growing my beard. I must say, I disagree with those people that think my slightly grey beard makes me look older.

What do you guys think?

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It’s raining properly now and the farmers are all stoked to be nearing the end of a very busy time of year. Hectic planting and wheat harvesting has had most farmers up earlier, and in bed later, than usual. Large spray rigs next to big tractors pulling ploughs and planters, that follow close behind even bigger combine harvesters – it’s busy that’s for sure! Big machines dominate the skyline wherever you look! This lovely painting by my friend, talented local artist Rika de Bruyn, sums up exactly what’s happening right now!

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In amongst this farming frenzy we are chuffed to welcome 2 new team members to our group. Kemsley “I am not scared of anything” Wood and his riding partner Andrew “Faster than a speeding bullet” Green. And I have just realised that everyone in our team either lives on a farm, or grew up on a farm, or is farmer. That’s flipping lekker cos you need some farming toughness for this race! Just to remind you of our little team….

Andrew “World class sprint canoeist and captain morgan” Blackburn

Gary “The oldest but eish he bloody fast” Green

Dave “Tougher than a buffalo bulls ball bag” Gace

Nic “I love shooooooogaaaaa, and cane” Jordan

and Lee “Kingsley Holgate” Fuller

We are really chuffed to have 2 more local riders join us. Kems grew up just outside Bergville and his folks still farm here. Andrew also grew up here, he’s Gary’s little brother. Despite the fact that he now lives in Freestate, he’s still a good oke.

Now how the hell are we going to keep all these flea bitten permanently hungry farmers fed for 20 days?

Enter Racefood. Wow what a company! Wedgwood Nougat started out with John and Steve Walters cooking nougat, using their mom’s recipe, on their mom’s stove, about 10 years ago. It has evolved, along with the help of youngest brother Paul, into a thriving family run rural business that now makes the most awesome nougat, Racefood and biscuits. And watch this space -they are launching new, exciting and bloody marvellously delicious products all the time. They come with pedigreed history – Martin Dreyer ate their nougat on his FC record breaking race – even before Racefood was invented! Nice one guys and thanks a million! Check out:

http://www.wedgewoodnougat.co.za

I have known Racefood’s boss of Marketing, Kate Frost, for a long time. She’s the mother of my Godchildren and the wife of one of my best mates Brett. She also introduced me to Claire, my wife. Wow, not that I need reminding, but I’ve just realised just how flipping AWESOME a mate you are!!!! When I phoned and asked if we could get some Racefood for our ride, there was no hesitation. Kate committed right there and then on the phone, to giving the whole team all they needed for the long ride. Then Steve got involved and started to hand out a bit of kit. Kems and I were on the receiving end of the most-awesome-100%waterproof-fold-up-small-Salamon-rain-jackets. Thanks so much Katie and the Walts, much appreciated. The Wedgewood Factory is on a farm just outside Merrivale in the Midlands, and all 3 Walters brothers are farmers as well……they also like huntin, shootin, fishin, and beer, so we all get along swimmingly!

So, if you are jealous of us, you should be. There are still a handful of entries available. You don’t have to be a farmer or have a beard to enter either, come on, pull in, you only live once. There is a Freedom Challenge information session coming up if you would like to find out more……it’s worth heading down there for a listen.

Date: Wednesday, 3rd December 2014
Venue: Giba Gorge Mountain Bike Park,
110 Stockville Rd, Pinetown.
Time: 18h00

http://www.freedomchallenge.org.za

A SPOON-FULL OF CEMENT

Sjoe! What an awesome month it’s been! Another great FedGroup Berg and Bush mountain bike race done and dusted! I am really chuffed to be part of this slick and fun loving team of humans, and I wear my CREW shirt with pride, that’s for sure! It was so cool catching up with some experienced Freedom Challengers and getting more advice from the horses mouth. Thank you Andrew King, Glen Harrison and Martin and Jeanie Dreyer. We chatted about lots of things, including just how hard the FC can be – you need to be hard to finish it. And you get hard by eating cement.

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Every year, during October, 2500 odd mountain bikers flood into our valley. I love seeing the old familiar faces and meeting new friends. Some riders are hardened veterans of stage racing, others are young and starting out. Some are old and starting out. At the sharp end of A batch are some are serious racing snakes. Shaved legs, tight lycra, compression gear, power meters, heart rate monitors – they’re in it to win it. As professionals this is how they put food on the table. It’s their job, and they work hard at it. They log up hours and hours of training and sacrifice all the easy things in life. It is great to get to know them, they are treat to deal with and learn from. They eat heaps of cement in their diet and are as hard as nails.

At the other end of the field are riders who also wear tight lycra. That’s because if you are carrying your weber around with you, even an XXXL shirt is stretched to the max! These riders, many of them riding their first stage race, are so cool. On the start line nervous energy dominates the last few batches of riders………the unexpected awaits. How awesome it is for these lucky riders to experience, in their first time out, some of the best track in the world. They enjoy the amazing seconding tables, a luxurious race village, delicious food and wonderful scenery. These okes also wolf down lots of cement. They have to deal with a finishing time often double that of the leaders. Hauling big heavy bodies on older heavier bikes for extra hours can be brutal. But they cross the line with smiles as big as the yellow jersey wearer’s!

Then you get the vast majority of riders – somewhere in the middle. I am proudly part of these riders. Some wear compression gear and train with power meters. Others have the best bike that money can buy. Some are tall. Some are short. Some fat. And some skinny. Some have old bikes and holes in their shoes. Lots of baggie shorts and loose fitting tops though. Lots of beer in the diet that’s for sure too. Most of these riders also have a spoon, and know that they will have to ingest some cement at some stage, and they do so with glee! But then you get 1 or 2 riders that are part of the middle roaders that do not like cement. They don’t even know what cement is for. They certainly don’t know that it’s edible. Bottom line is they can be such assholes.

I first heard the phrase “take a spoonful of cement and harden the f%$# up”, from my darling wife! Claire and I were marshalling on the joberg2c a few years ago at the Loteni river. This river is the end of Gary’s 3 days, and Framer Glen starts his 3 day section there. So these 2 farmers, who are both superb MTB bridge builders, always joke at the race briefing about their Loteni “bridge” – the best of both of their skills! Anyway, there is no bridge and the riders have to wade, knee deep, through this chilly river. Claire and I had seen the first 50 or so teams through and then a very very precious person arrived. He was dressed in very tight lycra, on a very expensive bike, with HRM, power meter, GPS, etc etc etc…….He threw a little tantrum and began to freak out that there was no bridge. He was appalled that he would have to get his feet wet. He complained, swear words abounding, to us. He was moaning and winging and groaning and being a right royal chop. He was put firmly in his place though, when petite smiling gentle Claire stared at him and said “take a spoonful of cement and harden the f%&# up mate”. I laughed solid for 3 days afterwards, and still chuckle to this day. The look on his face was priceless. Claire did feel a bit bad afterwards and felt that she may have been a bit harsh on him, but it was exactly what he needed.

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So to the 3 or 4 riders in this years Berg and Bush, who gave the timekeepers such a hard time about their “unfair batching” and “you CANNOT make me ride in D batch” and “we REFUSE to leave in E batch”……..listen up wallys:

Martin Dreyer had his top team of Zulu riders, from the RMB Change a Life Academy, break their derailier on day 1. They came in just ahead of the sweeps on that day, posting one of the slowest times for that first stage. They left in “J” batch on day 2 (the last batch). They finished in 22nd place on stage 2. They then left in “C” batch on day 3. They finished that final stage in the top 10. These 2 wonderful humans have eaten loads of cement, just to get through life. Martin Dreyer has taught them to love eating it when on their bikes. They did not even consider coming to change their batches. They overtook, on day 2 and 3, nearly 1000 riders. In a race of 70% single track. Without a word of complaint. Well done! You make us proud and taught us all a humbling lesson.

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So we will add a little packet of cement into our daypacks for the FC, we’ll add a good size pudding spoon as well. We’ll be eating lots of food on our long ride to Cape Town, but there will no doubt be many doses of cement needed as well. I cannot wait!

Being outside, and why that is so cool

We could start blog # 4 with another round of “Where in the world is Fleabag”. But I don’t want to waste your time. I want to get straight into telling you about Rwanda. There’s lots to tell. Man I love being outside. I cannot wait to be outside for 20 odd days riding the Freedom Challenge next year.

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Beautiful Rwanda

I am typing this blog from my little verandah outside  my room at the Serena Hotel in Kigali. Yesterday, and the day before, we trekked Mountain Gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park. The park is part of a high altitude rain forest, on the slopes of 5 volcanoes. 4 of them are extinct and 1 is dormant (it does blow it’s top every now and again.)  The Virunga massif  forms the international boundaries between Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo. It is also home to the 880 Mountain Gorillas left on this planet. To say it’s a special place is an understatement. It is quite simply mind blowing. It is certainly one of the best places in the world to be outside.

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Humbling

Think Rwanda and the first 2 things that come to mind are Gorillas and Genocide. Most people know about the Gorillas. Dianne Fossey and her book and movie did a great deal for these highly intelligent great apes. We also know 20 years ago this last April there began a Genocide that lasted about 3 months. 1 000 000 Rwandans were hacked to death with machetes. While the world watched. And did nothing. You do the maths – ONE MILLION murders in about 100 days – that’s TEN THOUSAND people per day. Men, women, children, grandpas and grannies – if you were a Tutsi or a moderate Hutu – you stood little chance. The genocide memorial in Kigali will chill you to the core.

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250 000 plus people buried in these graves

I got restless this morning and I wanted to go for a run. There’s a fancy gym here at the Serena,  but this morning I chose to rather go for a run through the city.

WHAT???!!!

A run through a big African capital city??? ARE YOU MAD???!! I would not run in Nairobi. Or Dar es Salaam. Or Antananarivo. I certainly would not run in Johannesburg! You might get me  to join you , kicking and screaming, for a trot around Pietermaritzburg, the Sleepy Hollow. These are all big intimidating cities – where I would be guaranteed to get lost. Just ask Claire how many times I’ve got lost at the Midlands Mall. They are also not very pleasant for a jog.  Overcrowded roads, where if a bus doesn’t flatten you, you’re sure to fall foul of a rusty old car,  cheap Chinese motorbike or, at best, a flying bicycle. Also lots of not-so-nice people who may feel it appropriate to buy your running shoes, watch and cap, for free. Maybe you’ll even get a knife or gun pointed at you, also for free!

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Timers on all the robots, no jay walking here!

But Kigali could not be more different. The biggest hazard here is getting used to everyone driving on the wrong side of the road. And there are traffic circles. Big ones. Flipping scary man. But the extra wide pavements and road verges, reserved for pedestrians and bicycles, make you comfortable. Quickly. What amazes me the most though is there is NO LITTER in Kigali. Not a spec. Not even in the small rural towns. Rwanda is a densely populated busy CLEAN African country.  Why??? No they do not have 1000’s of municipal workers cleaning and sweeping everywhere every day.  They have the last Saturday of every month, between 08h00 and about mid-day (4 to 5 hours a month), where EVERY SINGLE RWANDAN cleans up outside their house or office or factory. Our guide joked and said it is actually not actually working  that well…….cos there’s not that much to pick up anymore! Amazing how us humans will be so much more vigilant about littering when it’s ourselves that have to clean up. I wish the rest of the world could take a leaf out of Rwanda’s book. On my run, when I got lost, I got given directions in English. Everyone can speak it. On my run I did not hear 1 hooter. Not 1 mate. Busy streets full of buses, cars and motorbikes. But not 1 hooter. You hear birds singing. In the city. Birdsong everywhere.  That’s cos on that last Saturday every month they now beautify their city gardens.

Kigali is the capital of Rwanda – 1.5 million live here. 12 million humans call Rwanda home. It’s not a big country, check it out on a map, a tiny dot in the middle of the sprawling African continent. But it is one of the densest populations in Africa. And not a spec of litter. Rwanda has come a long way in 20 years. The people are, like the leadership of this amazing country, proud, dynamic and have wonderful initiative. Even the jails are proper rehabilitation centres. Prisoners, after serving their term, will emerge with skills like sewing, woodwork and metalwork. They also do plenty of community service work. We saw big groups of them maintaining roads. Well done Kigali. Well done Rwanda.

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Wide side-walks

It’s no surprise then that Team Rwanda are an emerging force on bicycles – both MTB and road have some promising superstars. I have no doubt that there will be some more big names in cycling coming out of this little jewel of Africa.

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Gotta love the beer advert!

Rwandans spend a whole heap of their time outside. They have programs, led by the president and his cabinet, that encourage people to walk, even if you have a car. It’s good for your physical health, it’s good for the pollution problems and it’s good for your mental well being. Being outside is why our kids groups are growing. Being outside is simple therapy that our souls need. Whether you are staring at  a Silverback Mountain Gorilla, high up on the slopes of a Volcano, or walking or running through a city, or riding your bike – it’s such a treat being outside.  Next year June we’ll be outside, riding across our beautiful country for 20 odd days. I cannot wait!