Four years ago, I met a chap mountain biking at Sondela. His name was Colin and he had a massive back pack on his back. Coming from a racing bike background, where less is more, I had to enquire why he was lugging this load around. His story, told over the next two hours of riding, stirred something in my soul. He told me about the Freedom Challenge. At that time, my youngest child was 3 and I was sorting a lot of my life out. The people I rode with loved adventure and nature, but I didn’t have a fellow rider who was wooed by the spirit of the trail as I was. The closest ally I had was my bud Jess, who shared my excitement and understood my passion, but for a number of reasons could not entertain the reality of a Freedom Challenge in her near future.
In 2014, I had hatched a plan. I was going to enter Spring Ride to Rhodes which looked like the most logical introduction to the Trail. This takes place in September every year, is supported and guided along the route that the Freedom challenge takes to Rhodes, but although being tough, does not have the added complications of self navigation to contend with. I quietly entered the event and started to get fitter.
2014 saw my second onslaught on Sani2C. This time, I had entered with my friend Marlette. We are a good match for riding and we had done a few events together so we were looking forward to the race. Unfortunately, my Sani ended on Day 2 that year, with a fall at the bottom of the Umko Valley that broke my leg. After a few weeks of denial, I had to admit to myself that the surgery I needed and the recovery time that followed would make me put my Spring Ride To Rhodes off for a least another year.
Forever optimistic, I asked Meryl at the race office to hold my deposit over for 2015 and I worked on getting back into riding again with a string of endurance cycling events. During this time, I met my Soulmate, Sean Brown and right from the start of our relationship he understood my dream of riding the Freedom Challenge one day and agreed to become part of it.
2015 turned out to be very busy – we competed in many stage races, went overseas and got a surprise entry for Imana Wild Ride. All of this meant that I again put my dream on hold… reluctantly having to face up to some practical reality (not one of my strengths!). In November however, I made a decision and after mentioning it to Sean, entered us both for Race to Rhodes 2016. No time for the recce version, my dream had been put on hold for long enough time to jump in at the mini deep end and do the unsupported ride to the Eastern Cape.
The whirlwind months that followed saw us ride our hearts out, purchase Fat Bikes, go for double century training rides and subscribe to a professional training programme with a coach. The start of 2016 saw us prepare for ultra events like the Berg 100 and the 360-1 with different degrees of success. In the meantime, our maps arrived and we started to seriously contemplate the art of Mountain Bike Orienteering.
Once 360-1 was over, I took the lessons that I learnt from achieving a DNF after riding 282 km non stop, to prepare my psyche for Race to Rhodes. It started to become daunting – I had no idea what a Spur or a Floodplain should look like in real life. I was reading stories of riders who had to camp out in Umko Valley and in the Maluti mountains with their space blankets and their peanut butter sandwiches in sub zero temperatures. I did know that I can survive after being completely broken mentally and physically (as I had been in 360-1) I just had to find a way to translate that into coping with the challenges of the trail!
In the weeks leading up to Race to Rhodes, the reality of the event began to hit home for Sean. He had decided that he was ultimately responsible for not getting us lost and he was beginning to feel the stress of trying to prepare for every eventuality. I was still wrapped up in the allure of my dream, so I couldn’t understand his deep concerns – maybe this was a good thing, or we would have both been nervous wrecks by our starting date on 2nd June.
When we left Benoni on Wednesday 1st June, we thought we were well prepared and there was no turning back… so with a certain amount of trepidation and a huge amount of excitement on my part as we headed off for our Race to Rhodes. My dream of Freedom was about to begin to be realised.