All Freedom Challengers have heard the horror stories of Stettynskloof – “the kloof that shall not be named”. The route to Diemers is only about 50km long, but takes the most part of the day – that is in normal weather. Generally the plan is to leave very early to do the climb to the dam wall and the first 3 km to the inlet of the dam in the dark (it takes about 2-3hours). When the other 3 woke us up at 4:30am, it was clear that the storm was still raging outside. Us 4 that were caught in the storm the previous day were very lethargic – everything happened slowly.
When the others left at 5:30am, we were still getting ready. We raided others boxes for as much food as we can get. We ate breakfast at 4:30, and are not going to get food again until we finish. Many riders make the mistake of not taking enough food for this day. As we walked out the door (around 6:30am) our Scotty stopped us. He wanted to say a prayer for us for this day – Leon started off this habit where we held hands and prayed at breakfast, lunch and dinner stops. This was the 1st time that Scotty asked to lead the prayer.
We made very good time to the inlet of the dam, where we got stuck. The narratives said that we had to cross the stream. The stream however was a raging river with all the rain that fell the night before. JT and I wanted to cross, Leon and Scott had more sense. They picked out a route higher up the right side of the valley. Because of the dense foliage, it’s impossible to try to follow the river up the valley. It was the right choice of route under the circumstances. However, it was slow going to get down the small cliffs and thru the washed away rocky streams (like big dongas).
We caught up to the other 3 near the Schakleton crash site – the plane crashed here in 1960, killing all people on board. Pieces of the plane wreck are spread over a very large area. It’s still there as if it just happened yesterday – a bit eerie. There is a small bronze plague erected in memory of those who died. The normal route goes around a rocky outcrop below this plague. The plague, however, were way below us. I noticed this and mentioned it to the others. They were reluctant to go down.
My mind work in pictures, once I’ve been at a place, I’ll remember it in fairly good detail. I’ve done Stettyns a year before. A few minutes later I spotted some green grey builders down near the river – where the path goes over. Because the route we followed was terribly slow, I announced that I’m going down to where the path is and started climbing down. I’m not sure if it was my confidence, the crap route we were trying to follow, or the cold numbness of the persistent driving rain, but everybody followed me.
When we eventually got to the builders, I found a stacked stone cairn. This was put there by previous year’s riders. This is the path that we had to follow. Scotty took control of the path finding – he had the amazing ability to spot these stacked stone cairns. Closer to the end of the valley we lost the path, but that is Stettyns. Sometimes you just had to barge thru the foliage. The last 300m, you’re crawling on all fours, grabbing hold of whatever you can, whilst balancing your bike on your back.
A the top you can admire the beauty of the kloof, the water falls, ridges, vegetation, everything. However, your body feels and looks like it’s been in the ring with Mike Tyson, armed with an axe and a hammer for 10 rounds. Blood is seeping out everywhere on your legs and your body feels properly battered. And you wonder how a place of such beauty can hold so much suffering.
The demand of this race on your body, day in and day out, never ceases. You have to continually manage your abilities, your mental state of mind, your energy levels and your general physical state of well being to keep going.
The rest of the route goes thru the picturesque Fisantekraal, up the Du Toits Kloof Pass and then it’s downhill to Diemersfontein. Du Toits Kloof Pass gives you time for reflection on this race. On what a great adventure you’ve been privileged to experience. On how great life is. And how important your family and friends are in life.
As we dropped down into the estate, Marnitz was waiting at the top gate. It was dark and my bike light stopped working – I didn’t recognise him until JT told me later. Earlier in the day Leon warned JT that he and I will get emotional at the finish. JT was having none of it, but mentioned that it would be ok to cry only if it rains. Well as we rode the last couple hundred meters, it started to rain softly.
But the raw emotions of relief, happiness and accomplishment never fully took over. The kids gathered just in front of the finish. As we rode past, Hanno (my youngest) screamed: “Pappa! Pappa!” Grabbed my hand off the handlebar and held on for dear life! The next moment Luann (my oldest) and Danielle (Marnitz’a daughter) were on the other side. I had my emotional moment for about 4 seconds, before I got doused with champagne and then it was just people and photos and hugs and questions and phone calls. It was overwhelming.
Apparently the very lively Brackenfellars (and everybody else) waited the whole afternoon for us, and made a big dent in the Diemersfontein red wine stock doing so. I was thankful for the reception I got. It was good to see so many happy people together. But, I would have like it, if the 4 of us, with our families could have sat around the table for one last time. We’ve been thru a lot together, it would have been fun. But there were so many people and everybody wanted their share of our (and their) experience. Leon’s and my family had breakfast together the next morning where we had some reminiscence.
The last funnies that happened later the evening.
Things were a bit hectic in the restaurant, and I was still dripping wet and cold. I told Elitza that I needed to go for a shower and off we went to our cottage. As we walked there I was feeling very miserable, with my body shivering and teeth clattering. I told Elitza that if I ever want to do this race again, she must shoot me. She just laughed at me, and said you’re a Nienaber, you will never change, we’ll talk again in the morning. After the hot shower and some food in the belly, I was already contemplating what I would do different for next year… I suppose, after living together for more than half our lives, she knows me way too well.
Marnitz and I were standing outside the restaurant having a chat, when one of Leon’s fellow Brakkenfellars came walking out on his way home. He said goodbye to me (calling me Werner), and mentioned that there were so many people that excitedly followed me with all my adventures. He then turned to Marnitz to say goodbye, but he forgot his name. He said: “You’re famous man, don’t tell me your name. Ag man, I know it. You’re Werner’s brother!” We both had a good chuckle about this, because throughout the whole race, everywhere I went, I was called you’re Marnitz’s bother.
What I’ve learned:
This race breaks you down to the raw fibres of who you really are. If you don’t pray already, it teaches you to pray. It teaches you to appreciate the very special moments you have in life.
South Africa is beautiful and it’s filled with incredible people. You just have to choose to see the beauty surrounding you. The journey was just that – an incredible journey of self-discovery and experiences, meeting incredible people and beautiful places.
As in life, you’re going to fall of your bike (or break it). You have to be brave enough to get up and get going again. Failure doesn’t mean you’ve given up on your dreams. You have to plan and prepare better to get it done. All the pain and suffering of the past failures, gave way to an emotional elation that I followed a dream (started off by Marnitz). I failed twice before, but came back and finished it.
And in Clint le Roux’s words: “This race is hard on your mind, your body and your soul. It’s uplifting at times. It’s frustrating too. It motivates you, but it also breaks you. This race teaches you things you have forgotten about yourself, as well as new things that need to be learned. Most of all it humbles you.”
A lot of the terrain covered is brutal to say the least. Spectators following our dots on Google Earth see a jeep track. We are seeing and riding a rock garden. Spectators see what they believe to be a flat district road. We ride a 20 km ascent, littered with drainage mounds, with no reprieve. There are many different variables and perceptions of what is actually being experienced vs what the spectators think is going on. I’ve been on both sides of this experience.
Weather changes everything in this race.
And I suppose that my race is pretty much the same struggle autistic kids experience every day. You need a proper support system around you to help you get thru life. You need a lot of prayers and a bit of luck. And with a bit of vasbyt, you’ll get to shine your light in life.
This was going to be my toughest day on a bike ever, not that I knew it at the begining. It’s about 230km to Trouthaven, with over 2,000m ascent. A long day in normal circumstances, starting it with sleep deprived and tired bodies, it’s going to be even more challenging. But we were up for it.
We started off a bit later than we wanted, due to the self-catering issue. Luckily the normal early morning banter got us quickly thru to a cold & misty Montagu. The support station was at a new venue called De Bos where we got breakfast. Leon and JT dropped a lot of kit there to lighten their bikes for the Stettynskloof portage. It is allowed by the race office. But Scotty and I stubbornly chose not to – call me old fashion.
The punishment of the Freedom route has started to take its toll on my bike. The big chainring was worn to a stage where I could no longer put any pressure whilst pedalling. I had to either resort to spinning in the small ring or pedalling very lightly in the big ring. This meant that I was mostly moving a lot slower than the others. They waited a lot for me, where after I changed my strategy to just keep pedalling non-stop, even when they had snack stops. This helped us all moving at a better pace.
We got to Pony’s Cottage in Mcgregor in good time, our 2nd last support station. Scotty promptly made us an awesome salad whilst we heated some Bobotie. Scotty’s other responsibility was to make us sandwiches at every interim stop, preferably with either cheese (rocket fuel) or peanut butter and jam – the joys of being the youngest! Just before we got rolling the mother of all storms kicked up, blowing all our bikes over. We nervously looked at each other, we still had some 110km to go in the day.
At the start the storm winds were manageable and it was strangely warm. I was riding only in my short sleeve cycling shirt. Not having the big blade to my disposal was detriment to fighting this wind. I had to resort to only the small blade and the 10 gears at the back. This obviously put a lot of strain on the chain and smaller cassettes. Leon put together a strategy of riding for 14km and then taking a break of 5min – this worked well.
As the fight went on during the afternoon, the wind just got stronger and stronger. At some stage as we climbed up Gannaberg pass, I was surprised to see that the others have fallen way behind. Watching them whilst taking a quick break, it dawned on me that they’re taking much more strain than me. Being over 90kg I kept my bike mostly on the road, only every now and then I got blown off the road. The light weights on the other hand were having a torrid time at it. They didn’t just get blown off the road, they got completely flattened a few times!
At the top of Gannaberg we took a break at the Amathunzi Lodge entrance to wait for our Scotty. As he neared we got onto our bikes and immediately something snapped on my frame. I couldn’t pedal at all, with the down pipe chaffing against the rear tyre. My top tube broke thru completely. I calmly informed Leon and JT about this and again said my good byes (Scotty only found out later). They had a storm to fight and I did not want to be the reason for them being out in the storm for any longer than needed – the last day is tremendously tough, they’re going to need all the energy they can spare.
When they rode off into the distance, I lost it a bit. I had my moment of propped up anger. I couldn’t believe it, didn’t want to believe it. Just like the previous brake, the area that surrounded me, was devoid of trees. This is fynbos country, nothing higher than hip height grows here. My map indicated a farm house about 14km in front of me, and another about 9km behind me.
The lodge was out of bounds. Then I had my 2nd tiff…
I decided to walk back to the lodge entrance. There at least was a wall where I could hide from the wind and there was cell phone reception. I had to inform the race office and needed to eat something. I also informed Elitza about it. She and the kids had already booked the flights for the next day, to be at the finish. I assured her, that it doesn’t matter what it takes, I’ll be at the finish the next day.
Whilst having something to eat, I asked Marnitz what the weather forecast was going to be like for the next 2 days. His response: ”It’s going to blow for the next 2 days and rain is on the way. JJJ”. At the time he obviously did not know in what predicament I was, and did not understand the ferociousness of the storm. This however did not cross my mind, and his enjoyment about the storm really pissed me off. I was 70km away from Trouthaven, 120km from Diemersfontein – I would have walked the last bloody bit. But I did not want to do it that way, I wanted to enjoy the final moments of the race.
After the phone formalities, it was getting a bit cooler. So I fished my waterproof jacket out of the saddlebag, and discovered the forgotten Wrap-Tech packet. With a smile on my face about my good luck, I feverishly read through the instructions. Without being able to stuff something inside the top tube to keep it in place, I carefully lined the top tube up and then wrapped the Pratley Putty around the break. I poured my last water into the foil packet with the bandage inside. After a minute I started wrapping the bandage around the top tube and worked it as per the instructions.
The Wrap-Tech instructions say that the bandage fix should be done after 20min. Not wanting to loose time I got back onto the road pushing my bike. After 30min, I decided that I’ll give it some more time. I did not want to take any chances messing up the fix. I decided to walk for another 20min. I eventually found a sizable stick that I broke in 2 and duck taped it around the break. Just before I decided to get onto the bike, I prayed. Then started pedalling. It was nerve wracking! After a couple of meters I checked the fix. It held! I immediately send Leon an sms: “Please keep some dinner for me aside, I’m on my way, I’ll get there very late”
I was going downhill into the wind of Gannaberg. I was flying at 20 km/h and as I rode around a corner, I was presented with the most beautiful sunset I’ve witnessed during the race. To me it was the Lord letting me know that He’s looking after me, that He’ll carry me over the finish line. I must just stop worrying about it.
Earlier in the evening I got sand blasted a few times, but the sand storm at the Brandvlei kloof was just murderess. I had to pull my buff over my eyes and walked as fast as I could on this section. Whilst walking, I got almost blown over a couple of times. It was insane not being able to even walk the bike. I got really angry the last time it happened, something snapped. I screamed to no one in particular:
“IS THIS ALL YOU GOT? IS THIS YOUR BEST? F*** YOU! F*** YOU!” And I promptly got blown over the road into a ditch next to the road. I was lying there with my bike on top of me and started giggling. Well that showed me who’s the boss.
The giggle turned into an uncontrollable laugh, with tears rolling down my cheeks. I so much needed that. That laugh released the much needed feel good endorphins to get me thru to Trouthaven.
I continued thru to the Brandvlei prison where I got water. About 20min later when I got to the prison gate, I queried from the guards if the water is safe to drink. He told me that if it’s got a funny taste it’s no good. To a parched throat any water tastes awesome! Luckily it didn’t affect my stomach.
I dreaded the last 12km climb up the kloof to Trouthaven, because that was the direction the wind was blowing from. As I truned into the kloof, much to my relief the wind was blowing more over the right shoulder from behind. I literally flew up the climb. On this last climb it’s the last time that you have reception until you get to the finish.
My phone rang, it was Marnitz. He followed my slow progress during the evening – it was close to 11pm. He said: “Bliksem Boetie, I am so proud of you, well done” and then went on to discuss other details and what we had to do the next day. He is my older brother, watching out for me – he’s been there; stuck in snow storms, he understood the battle I was fighting. That was a very special moment.
When I eventually got into Trouthaven rain was bucketing down. I sent the following check-in message to the race office: “In Trouthaven 11pm Werner, horribly, horribly beaten, but not yet broken”. The race office only received the message when I dropped down to Diemersfontein the next day.
When I walked into the house, everybody just fell silent. There were 3 other riders as well, and they knew about my adventures with the frames. The stares on their face were of pure amazement. Leon called me to the table and put his dinner (that he just warmed up) in front of me, what a friend! He said that he just knew I was going to get it fixed. The riders just shook their heads when they saw the frame. JT was having a shower when he heard me speaking. He couldn’t believe that it was me, so he stopped mid shower to get out seeing if his ears were betraying him or not. The entire moment was priceless. After all the excitement of making it to Trouthaven and passing war stories, we all got to bed after midnight. I slept on a couch under a blanket. It was probably the happiest I slept all trip – I felt invincible.
This is a big day. Only about 180km, but close to 4,000m ascent. It also includes the Swartberg Pass, “Die Leer” and the Buffelspoort portage. After about 4 hours of sleep, we got riding at 2 am. The full moon was up and Leon had the novel idea that we need to switch all our lights off. It was surreal. We rode the full 14km of the Swartberg Pass with only the moon guiding us. We could see everything! The water falls, the streams, the mountains, everything. That experience will stay with me forever.
Turning off to “Die Hel”, people generally make the mistake thinking the road drops down into Gamkaskloof. Unfortunately you have to climb 2 more passes before the final drop down. We made very good time and dawn arrived just before we dropped down the new pass into the kloof. The new pass is something spectacular. The 3 boertjies have seen it before and have taken plenty photos, this time it was our Scotty’s turn.
There was a wet coldness in the air, it was bone chilling and flying down the pass didn’t help at all. When we got to Ouma Sannie se Winkel, our support station, we asked Pieter to make us a fire so that we can heat up a bit. He just brushed us off. 4 cups of steaming coffee could not heat me up. I eventually found a blanket, pulled it over my head and took a nap on an old couch. This did the trick.
Die Leer is the original route into and out of Gamkaskloof. The climb is about 1.5km long with a 600m vertical ascent. After you’ve crossed a stream at the bottom of the climb, you basically, chuck your bike on your back and hike up the side of the mountain. It takes about an hour. The views from the top are breath-taking.
The Prammetjie jeep track at the top of the mountain, could just as well be another portage. It’s very tough going. When you do eventually drop down into the Klein Swartberg River valley, it’s like riding into the different world. It’s warm fruit and grape growing country.
Rouxpos is a charming old Cape Dutch farm house, with a green lawn and a border collie in front of the house. Pretty as a picture. Aunt Ronel treated us to waffles and ice cream for dessert. Wow! I had a very pleasant stay over at Rouxpos the previous year and would have loved to stay over again, but Elitza and the kids would be waiting at the finish in 2 days’ time. So we had to get to Anysberg that night.
Leaving Rouxpos, our Scotty was in fine tourist form, shooting off into the distance without looking at any maps or narratives. He completely missed the turn-off to the Buffels River. Leon had to ride after him to fetch him. Our poor Scotty must have received a proper lecture from the Brackenfeller, because for the rest of the time he was riding at the back.
We flew thru the Kromkloof portage and eventually got into the Anysberg Nature Reserve in complete darkness. I was riding at the front when something suddenly attacked me from the right side of the dirt road. I almost fell of my bike trying to get away from the thing. It turned out to be a rabbit, to the detriment of me, and the entertainment of the others. The jokes kept us going for quite a while.
We got into Anysberg around 8:30pm. This is a self-catering support station. As the others took turns to shower, I prepared us a meal of canned sardines on biscuits, some pasta with canned meatballs and there were some chocolate bars in the raided ice-cream tubs. There were plenty steri-stumpies to get the food down. Not bad at all.
As we were having breakfast at 4:30 am, in walked Brad vd Westhuizen. He broke away from his group, he needed time alone. That’s the Freedom for you.
Prince Albert is about 170km away and it’s the only stretch in the Freedom that is flat (only 800m of ascent). As we rode out of Willowmore, Leon, riding at the back, got pulled over by the local police for suspicious behaviour… Brackenfellar! It was good to know that the police are very diligent in this part of the country.
We were making very good time early on and started thinking of maybe pushing thru to Gamkaskloof. We started off a bit too late in the morning, but the seeds were planted. There was no headwind in the day, so we motored, only stopping every now and then to lube our chains and eat something. I rode some time with Scotty and got all his background. It turns out that I’ve met quite a lot of his family and friends. Small world.
There are only 7 farm houses on this stretch. And to keep us from getting too bored, a bit of sand or corrugation is chucked in every now and then. At Rondawel we met the newest arrival of Karien, only 1 week old. The tame Black Backed Jackal was however nowhere to be seen.
The road after Rondawel is a little more up and down. At some stage I stopped to lube my chain. Because I was the stronger rider during that stretch, I told the other to keep going, I’ll catch up later. When I got to the top of the hill, I couldn’t see the other riders, so I gunned it. At the top of the next hill, I still couldn’t see them. So I decided that I’ll take it a bit easier – they’ll have to stop sometime. About 20 min later, I heard some giggling going on behind me, and there were the 3 buggers. They played hide and seek with me…
We kept the pace up a bit and took turns at the front. All to make up time to push thru to Gamkaskloof. The headwind picked up a bit, and made us work hard when up front. The people to take their turn at the front did not include our Scotty. With about 10km to go, we mentioned it to our Scotty. He promptly took his turn up front and sprinted off into the sunset… Bike ethics!
In the last part of section Leon got a rear tyre puncture. I took a nap whilst he was fixing it, and got woken up by a baboon, like the normal one walking on four legs. I’m not sure who got the biggest fright, but boy that baboon disappeared in a dust cloud. And obviously nobody saw it! More banter followed. A little later on I broke a spoke in the rear tyre. Were these omens for us having to stay over at Prince Albert?
We lost some time with the above mechanicals and only got in at 4pm. I still had to replace the spoke and needed some proper bike tools to remove the cassette. I had to do the fix at Dennehof, because there are no tools at Gamkaskloof. You sleep there in a caravan. In the end we decided to stay and enjoy the hospitality of Lindsey and Ria, and the 300g percale duvets…
We planned to ride thru to the Rondawel farm house (an interim stop) almost 190km away. We still had to climb out of the kloof to Willowmore. Another long day in the saddle. Scott told us the evening before that he’ll only ride to Willowmore – he planned to leave at 7am. Leon was on alarm duties for the day. We wanted to get up at 4am to get into the road at 5am, but were only woken up at 5am. He accidently set his alarm an hour later.
We got stuck around the breakfast table, with lots of laughter and friendly banter. The whole pink panther story was relayed to Hestelle. And with tears rolling down everybody’s cheeks, in walked Scotty. He was much surprized to still find us at breakfast – we should have been long gone. He almost appeared disappointed to find us still there. When we left around 6 am, he told us that he’ll take off around 8am.
|On the way to Nuwe Kloo|
Riding out of the kloof, I was feeling very weak. I suppose the previous 3 days hard effort caught up with me. My mind was also wavering a bit on the effort to keep up with Leon and JT. They waited a lot for me. At one such stop they decided to stop at the Baviaans Curio Shop for coffee. I was grateful for the break. As we were having coffee, Scotty rode down the road.
His 1st reaction was to not see us, but the 3 boertjie waived him over, ordered some more coffee and made him pay for everything… That will teach him some bike ethics, more on that later.
He gave up riding on his own, and decided to join us all the way to Willowmore. I was still battling to stay with the group and whilst going up the Nuwe Kloof pass, decided that I’ll go as far as Willowmore. I couldn’t tell the others because they were too far ahead of me and thought that I’ll send them a message once I got some cell reception again. I stopped frequently to take in the scenery (and some photos). I needed to get the fun factor back.
Great was my surprize when I found Leon, JT and Scotty sleeping next to the road at the top of the 2nd climb out. They also decided that they’ll only ride to Willowmore – they also needed to find their fun factor. Leon did send me a message earlier, but I only got the message once back in Willowmore.
We got into Willowmore and stopped at the 1st coffee shop we saw. As we were ordering food, a gentleman walked up to us, introducing himself as Paul Moult. He drove through from George to give me a product to fix my bike! It’s called Wrap-Tech. He handed me two packets of the product and explained in much detail how it works. The packet only weighs about 100g and consists out of a small piece of steel Pratley Putty and a small bandage with some bonding agent in it. He offered to put it on the broken piece of frame, but the food arrived and I said to him that I’ll do it later in the day and send him the pictures.
I never fixed the frame and felt very guilty about it. When we arrived at the Willow Hotel, I phoned Elitza to tell her about the last few days and the change in plans. I must have sounded like crap, because it was a short chat. I slept the whole afternoon.
Everybody caught up on some much needed sleep that afternoon. We all sounded much better around the dinner table and were treated to the biggest T-bone I have ever seen. I wolfed it down in only a few of minutes. The rest and dinner must have revitalized me, I had a lot nicer chat with Elitza later on.
We planned to leave around 3 am the next morning, but Glenn (race director) told us that there’s no need, because we only wanted to go to Prince Albert. It normally only takes about 12 hours to get there. So we changed to leave at 5am.
We got going at 4am, JT… need I say more? We picked up another rider, Scott Rutherfoord, a very quiet, confident person. He grew up in Mkuze, not too far from Richards Bay. Whilst we climbed up the Osseberg I mentioned to Scotty that if the Freedom has not yet broken him, we 3 will. He’ll have to take all comments in his stride. He just nodded and off he went.
|The 3 boetjies reunited again|
As the dear man rode up the berg in front of me, I saw something very disturbing. Scotty’s long pants showed pink in my bike light and to make matters worse it appeared that he was wearing a thick black j-string. That was unsettling to say the very least. This became a big point of discussion between the 3 boertjies. Every time we cracked a joke on the Pink Panther, he just smiled, which unsettled us even more.
|The Osseberg portage|
I was forced to take it slow down the other side of the Osseberg protage, because my brakes started failing.
The Pink Panther took 3 tumbles on the way down, the 1st tumble we nearly lost him – he just about saved himself going over a cliff. Everything was frozen when we eventually got to the bottom. It was light, but the sun was not up yet, and anyway the sunrays will not reach the bottom until closer to noon.
We all reluctantly took off our warm clothes, but were thankful for the Pink Panther to return to Scotty – the verdict on him was still very much undecided.
You have to cross the Groot River 10 times whilst trying to find a very overgrown osse trail out of the kloof. As explained to Brad and the newbies, when you get to the river, don’t hesitate, pick your bike up and just cross it. The river is about chest high deep and very overgrown with reeds. The 3 boetjies crossed without incident, and were battling to get out the other side when we heard someone use the holy cape flats phrase:” Ahh P***”. We were just in time to see our Scotty and his bike going for a swim downstream. Scotty! That word shalt not be uttered anymore.
|The Groot River portage – there is a river there in between those reeds|
We were utterly confused by the situation. So we did what we know best, find the trail and continue downstream. We nailed the portage and got into Kudu Kaya around noon. We had at least 2 hours to get to the boom gate, which is only about 20 min away.
The conundrum of Scotty’s, err, situation got the better of Leon, and the Brackenfeller in him took over. He approach Scotty very direct :”Scott, not that I’ve got any problems with it, but are you gay?” Scott’s response was a very quiet, no – he’s got a wife and 3 kids. The Brackenfeller was however very persistent: ”So you have not yet came out of the closet…” Poor Scotty was a confused man, but responded in the best way possible:” F*** off man, you got me there! You’re funny!”. There was a very audible collective sigh of relieve
To our surprize and my luck, the Kamp Kommandant was in at the support station. He gave our trackers new batteries, and he had enough tools to fix my brakes. A quick topping up of brake fluid did the trick. I was very concerned about going down the Bergplaas pass without brakes.
As if the boom gate curfew was not enough, the Baviaans Kloof bureaucracy thought it a good idea to force the race office to have someone riding behind us through the conservancy – its 60km long that include 3 proper climbs. The beauty of the Baviaans is tainted by this. We always felt under pressure to ride as fast as we can. The engine noise rumbled away all piece and quite of the Kloof. I tried to stop every now and then to take everything in, but it just was not the same.
The Baviaans Kloof is a very special, beautiful place. It’s very lush and there are streams everywhere that you cross. There are photo opportunities around every corner, if you care to linger a bit. We did none of that. We spent a lot of energy to get to the other boom gate as fast as possible. When we did get to the other gate, we were a broken bunch.
After the bakkie left, we just sat there on the ground, eating whatever we still had left on us. I remember being very amused when I saw water trickling out of the top of my shoes. I’ve got Gore-Tex Winter boots, which is supposed to be water proof. But I suppose crossing the river 10 times in the morning, without taking off my shoes filled them up to the brim. It was now 8pm and I’ve carried the water all the way to this spot.
After a while Leon and JT spoke Russian to each other – we called it Russian, but its gibberish due to being so tired. They continued with this for a long time, amusing Scotty and I.
At least no one fell asleep whilst riding, which has happened to me before.
At Dam se Drift there were 2 sheep on the front lawn. When I went thru the gate they walked up to me and greeted me like dogs. According Hestelle that is just the case, they grew up with dogs and are totally confused. I didn’t mind them at all, especially when they were standing around my legs, I was covered in fluffy warm wool.
Due to the long day before we decided to only get up at 5:30am, but thanks to JT we only started rolling after 7am. We planned to ride thru to Hadley today (about 170km) to set us up to catch the boom gate at the entrance of the Baviaans Kloof open in time. This is new on the Freedom trail, something the Baviaans Kloof bureaucracy forced upon the race office.
|On the way to Addo.|
We started off riding through the Darlington Dam section of the Addo Elephant National Park. A place I always wanted to see, and saw a lot of wild life – no elephants though. On the way down from the dam wall, we flew over a low water bridge and heard a “kink” sound. We could not see that we dropped anything so carried on.
|The start of the Gwaas valley|
|Riding thru the Gwaas valley|
Whilst riding up the Gwaas valley, I struggled to get into a rhythm and my knees started to hurt. My saddle bag kept on chaffing on the rear tyre, no matter how many times I stopped to tighten the straps. Eventually when we went through the Perdepoort the chaffing got so bad that I got off the bike to properly inspect it.
It was then that I saw the broken frame – I rode about 30km on a broken frame! I was furious and dejected. Another broken frame! It’s not possible!
We were about 12km from Kleinpoort (a settlement of about 20 houses). I said my goodbyes to Leon and JT. Leon wanted to stay, but I refused. This is an individual race, I had no idea how long it’s going to take me to fix it and they had to get to Hadley, else they’ll miss the Baviaans boom gate.
Reluctantly they left. This is the Karoo, there are only hip height bushes around. Not much that I could do but to get to Kleinpoort and see if I can sort it out then. I resorted to a fast walk on the hills and putting as much weight as possible on the handle bar riding on the flats and downhill. When I got some cell reception, I contacted the Kamp Kommandant, and send a message on the Whatsapp group. I also phoned Elitza about the ordeal. I assured her that I will finish the race, come hell or high water.
I couldn’t get any help at first at Kleinpoort. So I went to the local padstal to get something to eat. The padstal owner told me that I needed to find the general dealer owner, Willem. If there is anybody that can help, he’ll be the person. Willem was very interested in finding out why the frame broke and inspected it from all sides. When I told him about my previous fix, he shoved both me and the bike onto his bakkie and took off to his house about 7km away where he apparently had a small workshop.
When we arrived I saw a fair size engineering workshop. It only took a few minutes to find a suitable stainless steel pipe, cut it to the right length and hammer it inside the down pipe. Willem was a little bit enthusiastic on the repair job, and hammered it in a bit too much, thereby cracking the bottom part of the down pipe and lifting the top part by about 2cm. We had to cut my seat post stem so that my feet could touch the pedals again. I tested the bike and everything seemed fine.
|The fixed 2nd frame – stainless steel pipe right down its throat|
Willem dropped me off at front of his shop and with a friendly handshake wished me luck. He joked that if the frame held he wanted patent rights. What a man! I informed the race office of the bike fix, they informed me that Ollie form PYGA has flown a frame down to Port Elizabeth, and that I’ll be able to pick it up at Kudu Kaya (Cambria) the next day. I declined the offer, having full faith in the fixed frame.
I also gave Elitza a ring informing her that I’m a relieved, happy rider again. It was 4pm I had to get going properly to get to Bucklands. Marnitz phoned me, according him it’s about a 3 hour ride to Bucklands, and a 5 hour ride to Hadley. At that pace I would have been in at midnight in Hadley – I decided to go for it.
I got to Buklands 5:15pm! When I got there, I slurped down the soup, whilst explaining to Hannes how we fix the frame. His wife, Rinni, replaced the soup with the most delicious kudu mince bolognaise.
Kudus hunted on their farm. That stuff was rocket fuel. They explained the route out of the farm in detail. I recited the route twice and then had to go to the cottage to sign in and out of the race register. There I met up with Brad vd Westhuizen (aka Engelsman) and his troops. He knew I’ve done the Osseberg and Groot river portage before and I had to explain in detail what to look for and how to tackle it. I wasted a bit of daylight minutes, but the Groot river portage is not known as Mordor for nothing. They are all newbies and would need all the help they can get fighting thru it.
I got going at 6pm, after I forgot my helmet in the main house. Hannes’s detailed route descriptions were spot on and I raced along climbing slightly out of the valley. At the speed I was going, I suspect that there was a slight tail wind, but every time I stopped to open and close a gate I didn’t feel anything.
An hour and a half later, higher up in the Baviaans Mountains the rocket fuel ran out. I had about another 10km to go and the sleep monsters where taking hold of me. It was a proper fight. I was imagining all kinds of things, even seeing the devil, with shining eyes and horns at some stage. It turned out to be a cow.
The reaction of my riding buddies when I walked into the Hadley farm house was priceless. I rode these sections in a little under 4 hours, it normally takes riders about 8 hours. I gave my all and was feeling it properly. I immediately went for a shower to get the cold out of my bones. Then I got shoved in front of the huge coal stove by Anine. She fed me a lot of food, and then some more.
Bennie informed me that Marnitz will phone me on the landline in 20min. Cell phones stopped working just before Bucklands, and we’ll have very little reception all the way until we got near Willowmore. My concerned older boet wanted to know how the body was acting up, how’s the frame and then resorted to give advice on tomorrow’s section, especially what time to leave.
He was fairly adamant that we had to leave at 3am.