Wednesday 23 November 2022

FREEDOM CHALLENGE/ RASA Summer 2022 by: Craig Bosenberg





In early 2020, as the COVID pandemic began to grip the world, I was on a medical school class reunion Whatsapp and one of my old friends from University mentioned that he was doing a bike race across South Africa. This looked interesting and after “watching” him traverse the country as a “dot” on a computer screen, I thought that this event, the Freedom Challenge, would be something Id like to do someday. I pencilled it in to my “post retirement” bucket list.


Fast forward 18 months of COVID and I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the “sterile” life I had been living thanks to lockdowns and mask mandates. A lack of events had meant that my fitness had declined and I had put on weight. I needed a project and something to train and look forward to. I floated the idea of taking on the Freedom Challenge with my wife and she supported me. I then fortuitously stumbled into a situation at work where I was able to take a year off from my regular long hour and high stress job to focus on training for the event. The stars were aligning. When I finally floated the idea to an old friend of mine from University who now lived in New Zealand and he unexpectedly immediately jumped at joining me on the adventure, the die was cast and I entered.


After 9 months of fairly single minded prep, training and research, I lined up on 17th October at 6am at the city hall in Pietermaritzburg ready for the challenge.


I entered hoping to traverse the country of my youth on my bike. I knew the trail would take me through some of the most beautiful parts and I was looking forward to this.. I wanted to challenge myself physically and mentally and I knew the event should provide this. More importantly though, I wanted to have an adventure. After 2 years of COVID restrictions, I wanted to feel alive again. 


What I got fulfilled these ambitions, but so much more and in a more profound way. I have been off the trail now for over 2 weeks and not a day goes by that I don’t think about the experience. Many have described this journey far more eloquently than I will ever be able to, but what follows is my feeble attempt at putting in words my own personal journey.



The Freedom Challenge is a truly unique MTB adventure which follows the Freedom Trail. This is a route devised by Dave Waddilove through some of the most remote Wilderness areas, private and public lands of South Africa, from East to West showcasing the diverse Flora and Fauna of South Africa as well as her people. 


Technically it is a “self supported” MTB “Race” with the aim being to finish in the shortest possible time. Various time Cut offs ensure that one has to keep moving down the trail. The race record is 10 days, the final cut off is 26 days.


Somewhat interestingly, one may not use GPS and navigation is with 1:50000 maps and a compass. The maps are provided before hand and most participants spend a considerable amount of time studying them and comparing them to images of google earth before the race.


Whilst one is expected to be fully self sufficient and able to repair and maintain one’s own bicycle and carry one’s own gear, the race is unique in that there are “support Stations” which are places every 50-100kms along the trail. These support stations are places where the people living there have agreed to provide a bed, a shower and food to any cyclist arriving there should they need it. These support stations range from a few hotels/ B and Bs to Farms where the private farmers have agreed to provide this service and a village where the villagers give up their own beds to the cyclists (and also a couple of “Self serve” support stations where there are beds and food, but one is left to one’s own devices.) These supports stations are integral to the event.


In addition, one can send 20 2litre “ice cream” containers to a number of these support stations before hand with supplies which one can collect along the way. Most participants use these containers to store their maps for the next leg, as well as snacks and energy bars. Occasional bike spares and first aid paraphernalia are also placed in strategic containers. Interestingly, the event has a fairly high attrition rate and one of the “Rules” is that if one leaves the event, the contents of one’s ice cream containers is available to anyone who is still on the course. This means that later support stations, for those still riding, are highly anticipated not just for the station support, but also for the treats one might find in one of scratched rider’s containers.


Finally, during the race, one is tracked with a “Spot” tracker and one’s progress is followed by a dedicated group of “dot watchers” from previous challenges and one’s own family and friends. The tracker is supposed to update every few minutes, but is somewhat temperamental and this , together with watching “dots” leaving the route inadvertently, leads to a surprising amount of tension and excitement for those watching the event from home. A facebook page also provides an avenue for those participating to upload pictures from the trail which adds the engagement.


A dedicated group of supporters of the trail also follow the riders along the trail in the background. This group are called “Buffalo herders” and are only meant to be used for the compulsory escort through the Baviaanskloof.  They are a reassuring anonymous presence that can, and have been called in in emergencies, to help stricken riders. On two occasions in the last Winter Freedom Challenge they very likely saved lives and, in my case, were instrumental in allowing me to continue on in the race.


All finishers receive a Sotho Blanket.




The trail starts in Pietermaritzburg in the Natal Midlands area of South Africa and finishes at Diemersfontein in the Western Cape. In total, it traverses over 2100km and 33000m of climbing. The highest elevation reached is over 2700m.


Almost the entire route is offroad with less than 50km on tar roads. The remainder of the route entails gravel and farm roads, jeep tracks, cattle and game tracks, single track and hiking paths and some areas with no obvious path but a general direction through the bush/ veld.


There are a number of mandatory “hike a bikes” over mountainous terrain.


The route goes through private farms, wilderness areas, game parks and nature reserves as well as a few towns and passes many historic sites along the way. It passes through some of the most remote and most beautiful parts of the country. Outside of the first few days and the last 2, one sees very few people along the way.


The route is insanely beautiful as it passes through one stupendous landscape after another.  From the rolling hills and mountains of Kwazulu Natal to the Streams and valleys of the Swartberg to the planes of the Klein Karoo, to the stunningly beautiful World heritage Baviaanskloof and onto the Western cape, not a single day goes by where one is not surprised by yet another breathtaking Vista. Words and Pictures do not do the scenery justice. Its is truly spectacular.


The Flora and Fauna is also diverse and spectacular. Im not sure there is a Southern African antelope species I did not see on the trail, from the smallest Reedbuck to Eland, Kudu to Giraffe and Buffalo. The birds were also incredible. Owls, Storks and cranes were common as were Weavers and other colourful birds. From the green, lush grasslands of Natal to the arid Karoo, the Flora was incredible.


The designers of the route very seldom take one on the easy route and each day poses different challenges. There are very few straightforward days without some sort of new and unique challenge ranging from river crossings, 7hr portages up the side of mountains, to steep mountain passes and long flat days in the saddle where one is wishing for hills so that one can get off ones bike to give ones legs and butt a break. There are also some unique navigational challenges including the Vuvu/ Lehanas, Bontebok,Elandsberg, Osseberg, Struishoek and Stetyns kloof portages.


The is at once, insane, but also perfect.




One of the richest parts of the Freedom Challenge is the people:


Fellow riders are all, like oneself, just a little crazy to have even contemplated the event, let alone lined up to start it. Every one has there own story, and all are a unique. Its a treat and privilege to get to know them. It feels great to be around people who have the same crazy approach to adventure as oneself and to hear all their unique stories. Some, one only meets fleetingly on the trail, and others one spends many days with, getting to know them and cementing friendships which one has little doubt would last well past the end of the event. My race would have ended had one rider, who was forced to retire, not lent me her seat post. On another occasion, another rider literally saved my life as he pulled me from a flooded river. Everyone looks out for one another. A truly special band of people.


Support station hosts: Its hard to put into words how grateful one is to these folk who open their homes to wet, smelly, muddy strangers and feed them and put them up in their houses for the night (and sometimes more).  Often the strangers only arrive for 30 minutes before moving on. It is huge privilege to stay in these places and to briefly get to know these folk. I loved hearing their stories and perspectives and immersing myself once more in the history of the South African diaspora. It was a hugely positive experience. On the trail one stays in many different accommodations from rooms in farmers houses, to huts in villages to suites in hotels. ALL help create the rich experience of the race. All the hosts and stays are special and stories such that one does not want to leave. The food is delicious.


Buffalo herders and Race Directors: It is hugely reassuring to know these angels are out there, keeping track of ones progress and being available in a crisis. The Buffalo herders also have unique stories and it was great getting to know them as well on the rare occasions when our paths crossed. Their advice was invaluable. I have no idea how Chris got a seat post to me in the middle of the Klein Karoo, but he saved my ride and for that I am truly grateful. I have no idea how Chris and Julia are able to manage the logistics of this event, but Im grateful they do. It’s a truly amazing event.


The People of South Africa: It was so inspiring to ride through the country to see and meet so many positive people. It’s the antidote to the negative press and stories that grace the front pages every day. The joy of the kids as one rides past them, high fiving on the route, or as they run next to you up the hills through the villages was energizing. The helpfulness and positivity of the villagers and farmers as one asked for directions and assistance was a joy. I stopped on more than a few occasions to chat to people along the way as they engaged me on my ride and am richer for it.




One of the unique features of this event is the fact that GPS navigation is forbidden. All navigation is done with a map, a narrative and a compass. The compass is extremely accurate. The map is more or less accurate, but, on occasion is slightly outdated and the narrative is largely accurate, but has some glaring ambiguities which sometimes cause one to make wrong turns if one isn’t careful.


This aspect of the race was the aspect that made me the most nervous going in. I am used to following GPS enabled devices when riding on my own and I wondered if Id be able to follow a map sufficiently well to complete the event. In addition, there are many instances where racers have become severely lost and spent the night sleeping “rough” or had to abandon the race completely. 


Before the event, I therefore studied this aspect fairly carefully and read a book on orienteering. I still lined up fairly anxious that I would find this challenging.


Fortunately, I started with a couple of folks who had done a few freedom challenge events before and got some tips in the early stages from them. This set me up for the rest of the race as I gained confidence in my ability to navigate.


I learned to follow a few important principles:

1)    Always know exactly where one is on the map

2)   Never go down a hill unless one is completely confident one is heading in the right direction

3)   If one makes a mistake backtrack to the point where one last knew one was right.

4)   I always tried to start difficult sections early and tried to avoid ever heading into one in the dark. My reasoning was that if I got lost, I would have lots of time to find my way and if it was dark, the sunrise would help.

5)   Try, as much as possible, to navigate the really tough sections with buddies.


The interesting thing for me about the navigation was that, as opposed to GPS, it forces one to be present in ones environment and to really take note of it and all aspects of it. One has to study the contours of the hills, the streams one crosses and the far off vistas. Everything is a clue. Everything matters. 


I found this mind shift quite profound and it added to my enjoyment of the trail. For sure, progress was slow at times as I was very careful not to screw up.Those who have done the event before have an enormous advantage for those who are competitive in nature, but the pluses of the “forced” engagement with my surroundings was immeasurable. I “get” the reliance on maps and compasses now and would be a strong advocate for keeping this feature, even though, when I lined up for the start, I found this one of the most intimidating and annoying features of the race.




By taking on the Freedom Challenge one takes on an element of risk which one does not experience in every day life. This risk can potentially be life threatening and includes: 


1)    Weather- thunder and lightning storms and floods as well as heat: 

a.     My riding mate and I were stuck in a lightning storm on the top of a mountain on one occasion when a lightning strike occurred right above us. Both of us quite seriously told the other to tell our loved ones we loved them if the next strike hit either of us. 

b.     I was swept under bridge after a freak incident when I stepped into a fast flowing stream. I was lucky in that the person I was riding with at the time was standing next to me and was able to assist me in getting out of the river before I got washed under. If Id been washed under the bridge, I hate to think what might have happened.

c.     Many of the rivers we crossed became flooded due to storms and this necessitated the route to be altered in some instances.

d.    We ran out of water on one day when the temperature reached the high 30s in the valley. This led to a very uncomfortable hour of riding. Much more and we could have run into trouble.

2)   Animals- There are a number of potentially deadly animals whose paths we cross

a.     Snakes- Black mambas and Puff Adders both live in areas we traversed. A bite from the former would likely be lethal, the latter would mean a prolonged stay in hospital if help arrived in time 

b.    Predators- fortunately there are no areas where one cycles together with large predators other than Leopards that aren’t known to attack humans. The one area where leopards are extremely prevalent is the Baviaanskloof and this is probably the area where one is almost guaranteed to be riding with someone.

c.     Large game- Buffalo and Rhino are present in some of the parks and reserves one rides through. We saw Buffalo in the Baviaanskloof.

3)   Terrain-

a.     Remoteness- for the vast majority of the adventure, one is many hours from help. Even if one were to hit ones Spot tracker, the most rapid response might take hours. 

b.    Terrain- there are many unrideable parts of the trail and many High consequence parts. In addition, some of the hike a bike sections are over fairly steep cliffs and rock scrambles. A poor choice or moment of inattention could easily lead to a severe injury.

c.      I had three crashes / incidents on the trip, all in innocuous parts of the trail:

                                               i.     I was coming down a trail and crossed a stream in about an inch of water. The rocks were slippery and my tire slid out. I fell down and hit my head and shoulder. Fortunately not severely.

                                             ii.     The previously mentioned bridge incident of being swept under the bridge left me with a knee injury that meant I was practically unable to pedal or walk on my left leg for 12 kms. Fortunately this resolved, otherwise my race would have been over

                                           iii.     I was riding through a field and failed to see a hole. I hit it and went over the handlebars. I was lucky not to injure my wrist or shoulder which were both bruised. It would have been a long wait had I fractured anything

4)   People- South Africa is known for its high crime rate and violent crime statistics.

a.     Most of the trail is through extremely remote areas

b.    Absolutely everyone I interacted with on the trail was extremely positive.


One of the most profound insights from the trail for me was how risk averse the world has become. How perspective is important in assessing risk and how damaging living in a risk free, cocooned environment being fed sensational stories designed to increase ones anxiety by social media is destructive. 


Coming out of COVID, where breathing the same air as someone else, or standing within 6 feet of them was considered risky, it was life affirming to be able to “live” again free of the constraints of social media.


Life isn’t risk free and whilst some might consider the Freedom Challenge a little too risky, there is little doubt that, for me, it helped give me perspective on how assuming some risk in ones daily life, enhances it and allows one to have experience and grow. The risk one assumes is most often far less than the media has driven us to  believe.


Opportunities for growth are often not available without an assumption of some risk.


I rode conservatively and walked many sections that I felt carried some risk of injury. Sections I would ride easily in my normal riding routes in Victoria. I tried to manage my risk as best I could. Despite this, the serious incidents happened in the most innocuous areas of trail. I wouldn’t have been able to avoid these even riding in my back yard.


For sure, I had some anxiety travelling through areas where large game were known to exist alone. BUT, after riding for 10kms through one such area , I turned a corner into a small collection of laborers cottages- a group of 5- 6 year olds were playing in the field next to me as rode through. So whilst the risk I perceived was high, the actual risk was obviously extremely remote as these kids clearly had no concerns and neither did their parents. Everything is relative.


Similarly, upon arriving in Macrgegor, I took a wrong turn and ended up in the “wrong” part of town. Gangsters were clearly part of the fabric of the area I found myself in. After realising I was lost, I approached a couple of men who were obviously past or present gang members given their prison tattoos and general demeanour. I asked them if they could tell me where a certain street was. They couldn’t have been more helpful. 


Again, Im sure that in a different environment, these men might not have been so helpful, but treated with respect, a smile, and a crazy looking dude on a bike,they couldn’t do enough to help me. 


Its easy to believe and listen to narratives which might not be very flattering, but its also important to realise that the vast majority of people have good hearts and are willing to help when given the opportunity and respected. This may be naïve, but I suspect that, this is far more true than many of the negative narratives fueling our modern society.



The Challenge:


The Freedom challenge is an incredible challenge. It requires one to ride/ hike around 12 hours/ day, sometimes longer, for close to 3 weeks. TO be successful, one has to manage eating and fueling. One has to maintain ones bike and prevent it breaking down. One has to manage all the aches and pains that arise and wounds that are inflicted. Despite prodigious amounts of food and calories, I lost 10kgs during my ride.


There is a certain amount of luck required to finish the race and I certainly had my share.


One spends a lot of time outside ones comfort zone, but that’s the point.


It is by far the hardest physical challenge most who take it on will ever experience. BUT the beauty of it is that its actually very accessible and completing it is within reach of almost anyone who can ride a MTB, with a sense of adventure , the right attitude, some determination and some fitness. 


This is the beauty of the Freedom Challenge.


The “racers” don’t go a hell of a lot faster than everyone else, they just do it longer and are able to survive on less sleep.


Arriving at many of the portages, one cannot help but wonder how one will ever manage to get to the top, and yet one just puts one foot in front of the other and eventually one is there. It doesn’t matter how steep or insane the portage, eventually one overcomes it, even if one feels like, at times, one is hardly moving.


The Journey:


By far the most profound part of the Freedom Challenge is the “journey” it forces you to take.


Many describe the event as life changing or life affirming and its easy to see why.


For me personally, the event exceeded my expectations and was far more profound an experience than I ever anticipated:


I started the event with certain goals and schedules in mind. Some of these were forced because of the window I had to complete the event before returning home, but some were self inflicted. I had come to start conservatively, but then also to push myself.


The first week went by in a blur of excitement and felt like any multi day event Id done previously. Challenges were addressed and overcome and I arrived in Rhodes “on target”. Shortly after Rhodes, I experienced my fall under the bridge and injured my leg and a few days after that, my seat post broke. Both of these resulted in me feeling like my race was over. Had it not been for some extraordinary luck, it would have been. At these points in the race, I felt extremely pessimistic and “down”. 


Interestingly , the injury meant that I lost the group I was travelling with at the time as they moved on. This meant that when my knee felt better, I needed to take on a significant portage alone and in the dark. I did this without too much trouble and this gave me the confidence that I could do the race alone if need be.


When my seat post broke, I gave myself up to the trail, as by then I knew I could do it, but would need to be lucky to get my blanket.


This shift meant that from then on, I rode with a less goal orientated approach and rode just to enjoy the trail: For sure, I wanted to get to Diemersfontein within a certain time to get my plane, but my riding become much more mindful. Together with the nav, this meant that my daily experience became far more “pure”. I tried to focus just on being in the moment, in that place. Riding my bike, enjoying the scenery and taking in the experience. Ride, Eat, sleep repeat.  


By the end, I enjoyed riding in my own company. I enjoyed the challenge of Stetyns on my own, but most importantly, I just enjoyed “being”. 


The Freedom Challenge fed my soul.


Getting to the end was bitter sweet as it was great to be finished and have accomplished my goal. It was great to know I would be seeing my family again soon and to chat to my wife and kids. It was a relief that I wouldn’t have to ride my bike the following day….


BUT it also meant that the adventure was over and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it to end just yet. 


Would I do it again someone asked: “ in a heart beat……..”

Friday 15 July 2022

Race to Paarl 2022 – Observations of an accidental racer.

Charl van der Spuy – July 2022

Given all the drama around RASA in 2022 its no surprise that Race To Paarl (RTP) 2022 has taken a bit of a back seat. Unlike in 2021 when Anthony Avidon set the fastest time of 66hrs with the clearly stated intention that he was there to race, nobody this year stuck up their hand in either of the groups to lay down the gauntlet.

Group 1 leaving on the Tuesday comprised of ‘Roger’s Group’ led by Roger Nicholson and in it were blanket wearers Andy Walker. Keith Sutcliffe, Dom Giampaolo and Rob Verseput having been on the trail numerous times, accompanied by Elouise Biggs tasting the trail for the first time. Andy told me before the time that I could get a lift with them to the start, but that I can’t ride with them as they talk too much – something I could attest to later. 

But talking = fun and that’s just fine in my books. They stated from the outset that they were riding day to day and were set on enjoying the trail – they stuck to that strategy. It’s a great point to make for folk, especially those from the Western Cape wishing to ride RTP or to tour the trail, that you can really enjoy this section of the trail as the navigation is pretty straight forward (well relatively as we shall see) and the support stations are superb.

Group 2 leaving on Wednesday had Eddie Stafford who needs no introduction with multiple RTR quick times and a decent RASA to his name, but he was to be tested by bringing along his son Rick, who at 16 years of age, has multiple age group endurance sport palmares to his name, but this would be his first outing on the trail. 

Justin Dowdle and Bruce McKinlay look like and are accomplished cyclists, they have done all the other sections of the trail and were keen to experience this part of the route, but you don’t get to take superb photos like they do if you are racing.So it seems it will always be a toss up between the memories and whether they put those cycling pedigrees to the test someday. Ray Sephton (aka Barkly Boy) has been down the trail to get a blanket before and has done every other section as well as having been involved with the event for more than a decade, Ray made no bones about the fact that he was on leave from the farm. Then there was me, the accidental racer. I naively on the start line asked Chris what the record time was. Chris shot back that “you cant ask those questions, but it is 66 hours if you must know”. I suddenly realised I had said the wrong thing and felt eyes on my back – what a silly question to ask I thought to myself as my actual stretch goal was simply to get to Diemersfontein before the rugby kick-off on Saturday.

We rolled out of Willowmore together. Rick and Eddie set off like they were late for an appointment at Rondawel (exuberance of youth), Ray went into holiday mode and Bruce, Justin and I fell into deep conversation. By the time we realised it, we had missed the Sleutelfontein right turn and were 11km down the wrong road. So much for my no maps and own cryptic narrative. I put my glasses on, adjusted my computer magnet to get it working and apologised profusely to Bruce and Justin for being such an idiot. The message to myself was simple: get your head in the game and your equipment working.

From there on it was a pretty regulation day to Rondawel where Karien is always so efficient for a quick stop and then on to Prince Albert. The weather was great and the riding easy, the sandy sections after Rondawel were a bit of pain with the sand/ corrugations combinations, but with no wind it was nothing to complain about.

Arriving at Dennehof one is met by the team of Inge, Albert and Ferdinand and the pampering starts as soon as the welcome is over. Nothing is too much to ask and tea and delicious soup arrived in quick succession, along with directions to your room…….but its not even 5pm, there is no wind and it’s a glorious winter evening – perfect for riding. 

I had visions of Tim James and Mike Woolnough saying are you really going to stop? Don’t, it’s a trap.Clearly Eddie and Rick in their stokies and freshly showered look, with access to the wifi were going nowhere and Justin and Bruce looked ready to see for themselves what the famed Dennehof hospitality was about. That left me with my wife on a farm about 1km away (where we had been staying prior to the race), but me unable to see her as race rules state no outside contact is allowed.  My thought was -oh well, I may as well roll on and see what Fontein Gaste Plaas in Die Hel looks like. Immediately I became not only the guy who asked about the race record, but the guy who skipped Dennehof.I became the accidental racer. I blame it all on Mike and Tim.

That, I am afraid, was also the end of any other contact with a RTP rider for 2022 as I ghosted past Roger’s group in Die Hel and never saw anyone else except RASA frontrunner Mark Basel for the rest of the trip. So from here on it’s a bit more of me and a bit of commentary about RTP which I could glean from the race after the fact. 

I eventually got to Fontein Gaste Plaas at 11:45pm, I passed nobody on the route and the only remarkable thing was a broken chain on the way up the pass and something large jumping off the bank into and across the road. I’ll call it a Rheebok. I was greeted by a lantern in the road outside my cottage and lanterns on inside with a lovely fire, a room filled with the aroma of lamb tjops, with the freshest green salad you could lay your eye on. Normally I would wolf this all down, but I was too exhausted, cold and tired after 240km of day1. (Just to put it in perspective I have never ever ridden 240km let alone on a hardtail mtb and my longest training ride was 9km). So a quick hot shower, put my clothes in front of the stoked up fire and a few hours of shut eye it was. I cannot say enough about the loving touches of Marinette and Pieter to prepare the cottage for me and to ensure I left there with enough food for a day or two, this for a rider they would never even see this year.

Day 2 started earlyish for me with an easy roll down to Die Leer, where I could see Mark Basel’s solitary light in front of me some way up Die Leer. After an awful experience on Die Leer last year at night in pouring rain, I was looking for redemption. It was a beautiful clear morning and the sun would rise somewhere on the way up. Not too far up Die Leer in pursuit of Mark, I saw the train of lights coming down into the valley from Roger’s group, and the chatter could be heard below as the readied themselves for the hike. I managed to get to the top in just over an hour, a good sign and was matched by Mark for the rest of the trip to the road and on toward Rouxpos for lunch. Mark was clearly riding his own race and I mine, so there were no words needed about riding together and that sort of stuff. It just falls into a nice rhythm and each gets on with their own task with the odd interaction which is just sufficient and nice to fill the need we all have to be social.

Rouxpos is like visiting old friends now. Ronelle and Gerhard know the riders and their needs and they are consummate hosts and after so many years, still show such enthusiasm for the Freedom Challenge.Theirs is a work of service. After a quick lunch, it was off to the sandy river section of Buffelspoort. It was a bit odd being alone in front on this section as there are normally a host of tracks to follow, so mine being the first was something unusual for me. For some unknown reason my computer had stopped working and no amount of fiddling would get it reading the magnet.I was riding without maps (I had them on my phone and grabbed some from a box on exiting Rouxpos), but still my security of how far to go was thrown as I was estimating distances and it played on my mind. Just before Anysberg I stopped and had a quite a long chat with the Manager of Anysberg who was following dots. He’s been there for 14 years and is a keen supporter of the event – how critical these relationships are to the event – so spending time with any landowner and showing some appreciation is time well spent. At Anysberg, Mark was testing Julia’s assertion that these ForeverFresh meals are the business. I was a bit sceptical as I have consumed my fair share of dehydrated meals over my lifetime and I was expecting a fancy version of Toppers. What a surprise, they were delicious and I was tempted to throw another in my bag. 

More tinkering with the computer and a full reset offered nothing but frustration. Mark was keen to move and I needed to sit for a bit. Ronelle had said Roger’s army would be skipping Rouxpos for Anysberg, which meant there was no point in me staying with limited beds and it was in any event another lovely evening with no wind. Mark was aiming for Montagu and I had no idea if I would get there, but I set myself the goal of at least getting out of the reserve. 

So off I went into the night, no idea of distances and there are not a lot of distinct features in that area which one can recall and tick off as you pass them. Added to this was that my front brake had bled out, probably a seal issue as I had made sure the bleed nipple was tight. So no computer and no front brake. These things play on a tired mind. I did have Mark’s track in front of me as a confirmation, although I was pretty certain of the way out. By the time I passed the first farm near Hoek van Berg, I was looking for a shed or some sort of shelter, the thought of Ouberg Pass with one brake in the dark was not appealing and I was very tired. 

I could find nothing that offered any shelter. I decided to turn right at the intersection and see it there was anything at Hoek van Berg Farm where the farmer has set up a tap for water opposite his entrance gates. Hoek van Berg looks like a very upmarket farm, rolling lawns and oak trees, with lots of security. The winner was a low stone wall at the entrance with thick green mowed kikuyu grass, there was no shelter but at least my bum and hipbones would enjoy the plush cushion. I crawled into my new foil bag, pressed the OK button and started snoring and coughing. The coughing woke the dogs, so I had to keep that down, but at least I got a few hours of ‘decent’ rest and some sleep. I got going at about 4am and just like that my computer decided it was back, things were looking up!

About 5km down the Ouberg pass my back brake failed too from overuse, so zero brakes and I am no lightweight.I managed to stop by braking with my foot on the road, a proper scary moment when you realise that you are looking for a landing spot. I quickly changed largely unused front pads for back and visa versa and again had a decent back brake. The rest of the ride to Montagu was uneventful and the facilities at the garage were a welcome relief to wash my face etc after the night out. 

As the sun came up I stopped for a coffee at the Total garage in Ashton and sat out a 5 minute mini tornado as the wind went mental ahead of the cold front and total cloud cover arriving. I wasn’t that surprised by this as 10 days before my start, a large frontal system was tracking for arrival when I would be approaching Trouthaven and Stettyns. So while this section of the trail is not difficult riding and the accommodation options are superb, the weather can play a big role as we were to about to find out.

On to MacGregor and the skies had turned dark and ominous, but thankfully the initial wind had died down and the hills around Macgregor offer some respite, unlike the flatter areas of the Breede River Valley where the wind can be merciless. Brandvlei dam is a popular topic of conversation on my kitesurf whatsapp group about how hard the wind is blowing there at this time of the year. Kitesurfing and cycling are not good bedfellows.

MacGregor Backpackers is hosted by Geoff and Dorothy, their enthusiasm is unmatched and I am not allowed to tell you about the toasted sandwiches, so I wont. Suffice to say we could have competition with Dana’s at Allendale. Sitting next to the heater drinking tea and eating toasties is another trap, so I hauled myself out of there, put on sunscreen, cause not the sun was out again and headed for a tour of the wine farms of the Breed River Valley. 

The new section under the powerlines toward Carisworld Road is not difficult, one just needs to realise you are following an Eskom mainline and it gets mowed and maintained from time to time, so just loosely follow the powerlines. This is probably the reason Macgregor gets no load shedding as they are on such a major national distribution line. Predictably the wind picked up near Amathunzi Nature Reserve and it howled from the front. But I was ready for it, so much so that on a Friday night, with a howling wind and everyone at home for the start of the weekend, I found myself fighting the wind all alone. I crawled passed the Reeds accommodation knowing that I had made up my mind that a late entry into Trouthaven was inevitable and that the Reeds would just delay the suffering for a few hours. 

So it was a painstakingly slow slog to Trouthaven, but I was in a good mental space as I knew days before that this was coming and it would be about getting on with the job. I woke Mark up at Trouthaven, who told me he was getting up at 1:15am to get ready, I was too wide awake to go to sleep, so I caught up on where the rest of the field was. It seemed that Roger’s group, along with the Stafford’s, Bruce and Justin had all got to Macgregor and were headed to Trouthaven the following day. Ray in holiday mode, had gotten to Anysberg.

Mark headed out early and I followed him some hours later, I enjoy Stettyns and prefer to see the sunrise somewhere before the crash site. My goal was to nail the route from start to finish with no deviations. It was windy and cold with rain clearly on the way, so sitting around in the sun was not an option. It all went according to plan and I eventually caught Mark on the steep exit slog just before the top. We took some photos at the top and made our way down the jeep track. Not far into the jeep track, the rain which had been threatening since sunrise arrived with a vengeance. I mention this because the passage through the kloof had been easy, with the arrival of the rain it all changed very quickly, we went from a swift ride to a soggy, freezing slog and added to that my easy gears were gone with an alignment issue. 

In a few moments it went from easy clothes changes to near impossible to put gloves on, to deciding to walk rather than fix mechanical issues and just wanting to get off the pass and down to Diemersfontein. My point is that this is a ‘relatively’ easier section of the trail, but the weather – wind, cold, rain can make it a very difficult section.

We rolled into Diemersfontein at about 3:30pm, so in time for the rugby, but no records were ever under threat and I didn’t feel like a racer in any shape or form – just someone wanting a hot bath.

The rest of the RTP field followed the next day into Diemersfontein under constant rain. The chatter I heard at the Leer was absent at the finish. Like me, the rain had a say in the finish line celebrations and the kloof had transformed from a dry bushy hack, to a swollen rivers and soggy branches slog for a few hours. Ray true to his holiday form,took the newer alternative route around via Rawsonville, Slanghoek Valley and Bains Kloof to Diemersfontein – and why not when you are there to enjoy yourself. 

My other observations are that Eddie and Rick are likely to be back for full tilt at this at some stage now that we know Rick, like his dad, has a taste for the tough stuff. I’d be surprised if Roger wasn’t using the tour to take notes for October, it’s a portion of the trail which suits the bigger guys with the grind across the Karoo to Prince Albert, the grind to Rouxpos and out of the Anysberg and then across the Breede River valley. Certainly, those longer legged of us seem to find Stettyns a little bit easier than those below protea height.

I have tried to point out that this section of the trail has a bit of everything and with good weather can be a real blast of ‘easier’ riding and if you are really diligent with the new rule on unlimited private accommodation you could plan your luxury. On the other hand, anyone wanting to take a serious tilt at Anthony’s record will in all likelihood need to be prepared to go into Stettyns at night and that is an intriguing prospect as we all know how that can turn out. I’m hoping that RTP gets someone who is prepared to put up their hand at the start and say I am up for the challenge. I

It deserves it’s own bit of legacy and possibly,drama too


Charl van der Spuy – July 2022

Monday 17 January 2022

RASA 2021 Pietermaritzburg to ….. uhm ….. Romansfontein | By: Tracey Lentin

Day 1 started pretty well. I knew I wasn’t as strong as the rest of the group so I set of at manageable pace with plans to skip the lunch stop and get down to the Umko as early as possible. All went well with only a minor issue involving a bull - until I got down to the river. Having not been there in 4 years and never having done the river crossing before, I first went one way to find the crossing, changed my mind and tried to find the original route only to find myself facing a wall of thick bush with monster thorns. It was getting late and I had no intention of sleeping on the banks of the river so, in frustration, I looked for a cattle crossing and waded into the river heading for the settlement on the other side. The river bottom soon disappeared and I found myself swimming and hanging onto my bike for dear life. Trying to drag the bike through rapids on the other side was quite an exercise but all I could think of was the bitch of a climb to come, up Hela Hela (I’d even dreamt of it). A large owl quietly sitting in the middle of the road cheered me up and I finally arrived at Allendale long after dark and with all my kit soaked. 

A late start on Day 2 to dry kit and recover meant staying at Centocow (interim stop). Good nav and an early start on Day 3 and I arrived at Ntsikeni for a fabulous lunch and good catch-up with Dalo Ngobo. I set off for Glen Edward with plenty of time to get through Politique Kraal with it’s tricky nav. A silly error and I found myself above the kraal with a steep gorge between us. I decided it was best to retrace my steps and was really pleased to see Kemsley and Andrew right where I’d made my mistake. They kindly stayed with me until we were on the jeep track heading off the mountain. I made my way down in the dark and, in my excitement, rode right past the support station. I finally arrived to a warm welcome by Charles and sad news about Sheila’s illness (praying she’s soon home safe). It had been a 16 hour day on the bike but I felt good.

Great weather and a good day’s riding with minor issues in the wattles, no problems finding the farm houses in “my” valley and I arrived at Masakala with light to spare. About half an hour later a rowdy bunch of guys arrived. What a pleasure to have such lekka company after spending most of the first 4 days alone. The next 4 days were a bit of a blur with us battling gale force winds and me desperately trying to match the guys pace.

I arrived at Slaapkranz after dark, completely shattered, and decided to call it a day. I sadly informed race office and my support group that I was heading home. I got up early and said goodbye to the guys promising Richard, John and Steve that I would be there to welcome them in at Diemers. They unfortunately pulled out a few days later due to some serious injuries. A good night’s rest and practical advice from the guru MD and I changed my mind and decided to push on after a day’s rest.

I got an early start on Day 10 but careful navigation through the 2 big portages (my 2014 memories were very sketchy) and I soon realised that I was only going to make Moordenaarspoort that day. I was cruising merrily down the steep, rutted road towards the SS in the dark when I was suddenly launched over the handlebars – my backpack propelling me forward like a guided missile. As I lay on the ground I did what any self-respecting woman does and made sure my face was still intact. Luckily I’d landed head first and my helmet and headlamp took the brunt of the fall. Only after I had confirmed that no facial reconstruction was needed did I noticed the pain in my ankle. Luckily it wasn’t far to the support station and I limped in feeling very sorry for myself. A quick confer with Julia (and FC doc) and I was instructed to ice, ice, ice and that my ankle was going to be unstable for portaging. Regina and Danie were amazing and, after the best shower ever, I was feeling a lot better.

I left early for breakfast at Kranskop where I met Gary and RG then headed to Brosterlea for the night. As the wind departed, the cold arrived and I left a freezing Brosterlea before dawn wondering how my ankle would handle the blockhouse portage. A cold start gave way to a stunning, wind free day and I made good time to Romansfontein after carefully descending the steep portage section. I love the gentle cows and bulls one finds in KZN and EC, so different from the vicious bovines poor unsuspecting cyclists have to deal with in the Cape. They were often my only company for most of the day and we had some interesting conversations as one does on the trail.

I arrived at Romansfontein at about 4.30pm knowing that I would have to head on to Hofmeyer 72kms away if I wanted to make the 6am cut-off. Gary arrived soon after and, nursing an extremely painful abscess in his tooth, said that he couldn’t go on. Three other guys arrived and laughed when I suggested possibly going on. I was then faced with the dilemma of going on alone, in the dark with a sprained ankle to attempt a technical portage that was between me and the cut-off. It was pretty much a no-brainer and I accepted that my ride was done. Being told the following morning that the temp at the farm had dropped to -18deg during the night confirmed that I had made the right decision.

I have had some time to unpack my ride and do the whole woulda, coulda, shoulda thing. I have come to the conclusion that you cannot enter RASA with the only goal being to finish and get a blanket. A blanket is an amazing achievement and I’m pretty disappointed that it has once again eluded me but I had an incredible journey. I met wonderful people, saw places most people never get to see and pushed myself beyond what I ever thought I was capable of. I leave the trail a far richer person. Thank you to all my friends and family for the incredible support xx

Tuesday 24 August 2021

"Peaches!" | by: Oliver Greaves

As I pluck the final Hakea thorn out of my finger, I find myself ready to write this. While out on the trail, I kept reminding myself, during the many hard moments, that “This is type two fun”. As each day passes, I find it easier to forget the hard moments and appreciate the value of the adventure.

Something I have come to love about endurance events, is their ability to challenge one. To an extent, you can decide how hard or how easy you want your experience to be. The groups I found myself in, rode hard each day with the intent to have... READ FULL POST HERE

Tuesday 17 August 2021

RASA 2021 Daily Voice notes | By: Sandy Inglis

 A collection of daily voice notes as sent by Dr Sandy Inglis to his personal whatsapp followers group during RASA 2021. These wonderfully descriptive narrationstell a beautiful story of his journey accross South Africa. Thanks to Steve Burnett for compiling the voice notes into 4 files (one for each 4-5 day portion) for ease of listening. 

Knowing Your Limits | by: Andrew Cromhout

Knowing Your Limits | RASA 2021

I recently shared Mike Roy’s last report for RASA 2021. It makes some good reading, however I

found the stats most interesting. Needless to say I had some complimentary feedback on my humble

achievement, however one of the comments I received was from a school colleague a year or two

behind me at school. I via return comment suggested that he should be next up for the challenge.

During a conversation at the Rhodes stop over, Mike confirmed that he knew the person from his

East London days, and had also been suggesting to him that he should be doing RASA.

Let me undoubtedly state that the person in question, was, and I am sure still is, a much more

talented or gifted person than I was or will probably ever be. (Physically and intellectually). I was at

best an average sports participant, having achieved some nice milestones, but never really coming

close to the top echelons of my sports activities. I won’t bore you with these; however it is safe to

say I have stretched myself on numerous occasions.

This person’s comment back to me on my suggestion that he participate was “I know my limits”. (I

need to mention he clearly put an emoji next to it with a wink!). That however made me think and

snigger at the same time. The question is this; do we really know our limits? I can quote numerous

sayings that would challenge that statement, however it can also lead to another few discussions. I

will give my humble opinions on two points: -

  1. Firstly and most foremost, and it has been stated more than once before in RASA blogs,

RASA is not for everyone. Whether you are racing the event or a tourist, (completely the

wrong description!), RASA is extremely tough. Hard Core tough! Each day is hard, some days

are easier than others, but still tough. A lot of days are extremely challenging and extremely

tough. Forget about the challenging weather we had at times this year. Even on the most

suitable of days to ride your bike, you are going to dig deep, very deep at times. Memories

are short, but you could dig deeper than you have ever done before. Ask the contenders for

the top place finishers how the race went. They will have done meticulous planning and

preparation, but nothing stops your inner demons from testing you. The same for the

tourists such as me. Whilst I am classed as a “tourist”, having completed the adventure in a

little short of 21 days, I consider myself as a racer. Laugh at me if you will, however I tried

my best and beyond every single day out there. I completed the event in the best possible

time I could. For me, I “raced” RASA. Ask me after the event if I would ever do RASA again,

and I don’t have to give you my comments. At 61, I do think my extreme events may have

come to an end; however my awe of this event urges me to suggest that RASA could be a

sort of pinnacle of an adventure cyclist event for a lot of people.

I would strongly advise that anyone considering doing RASA, and even the individual legs of

The Freedom Challenge, think really hard as to the reasons you want to participate in this

challenging but rewarding “adventure”, as someone who is a podium finisher named the

event to a colleague and me. If you are simply looking for some fun and adventure, I can

suggest lots of other alternatives, which are great fun and adventure activities. Yes, amidst

the at sometimes pain, exhaustion and tough times, there are numerous fun moments. You

will see parts of our country that most people will only see snippets of in their life time. Here

you will experience beauty and sometimes poverty and the simple existence of life, like

others will never see. Stetteyns has to be one of the most beautiful and unspoilt areas I have

been to. Some of the fynbos areas outside McGregor have to belong in God’s back yard.

Flowers, sun birds and sugar birds abound in all sorts of colours, shapes, sizes and sounds.

How the young herders towards the top of Lehanas exist leaves me astounded. These are

memories in my head that don’t need photographs to explain or remind me of.

However, the big warning, RASA is not simply a fun adventure. You must think about your

participation more than over a glass of wine. Think hard and deep, and if your innermost

reasons for wanting to do RASA are compelling enough, what are you waiting for?

Remember, like me a lot of other participants are Mr/Mrs/Miss average, so dare I suggest, if

you have the very strong desire to participate in RASA, you can probably complete it. Yes

you will have to train extremely long hours and hard, (another topic), have a strong mind, be

stubborn at times, tenacious, however the psychological experience you will encounter of

completing it, will only be known to you across the finish line.

The issue of you probably completing RASA does lead to my second opinion though.

    2. Do you really know your limits? REALLY?! I can promise you one thing, I dug deeper than I

have for a long, very long time, and if not the deepest I have ever dug in my life. Yes age is

not my friend anymore, as I stare down my best before and expiry date more regularly. But, I

am unequivocal in my opinion that I grew tremendously during RASA.

I won’t get too religious here, however one of my colleagues during the race suggested that

he knew I my convictions may be slightly religious. That was true, however during and by the

end of RASA, I was way beyond that. There were times on my bike when no one was around,

that I cried with big tears. I shouted into the wind where nobody could hear me. I cried in my

bed. Maybe you don’t relate to the religious part, however I can assure you, at times, your

inner demons will test you beyond measure. If you succumb as many do, as was put to me

by an experienced and podium finisher RASA participant and blogger as I have stated before,

you are possibly normal. (Not judging their personal reasons!) But overcoming those

demons stretches and expands you to new limits. Remember the sayings, you cannot grow

in your comfort zone, and challenge your limits, don’t let your limits challenge you.

The growth I have experienced during RASA is something I could not have imagined. The

growth and bonding my family experienced leaves me speechless. I won’t bore you with the

details, but I can promise you, each and every RASA participant knows what I am talking

about. Not one will challenge my opinion.

So, in closing, I have new limits. Limits I never knew and probably most other people I know,

share the same opinion. They asked why I am doing this. Are you mad? Are you stupid? Have

you forgotten your age? Why? Why, why, why…? You will possibly endure the same

questions, but if like me you have a little rat inside you that needs to be fed with adventure

and adrenalin every now and again, I suggest you strongly check in and see if you really

know your limits? As Nelson Mandela said, “It is impossible until it is done”

(And by the way, does anyone know of a decent rat poison that will sort this rat inside me

out for ever!)