28 Jul 2010

Freedom Challenge Support Stations

It's a home, it's a lodge, it's a safe place. It is far away, it is remote, it is in the middle of town. I had all the support stations' names but they were only names to me until I took the step into the door. One thing I have to say before opening the doors to them is, that no support station should be more than 200m from the main/district road. There is nothing more demoralising than trying to schlep a tired body another 2km before getting to the farm house. Take Rouxpos for instance. It has two entrances, so if you are not paying attention and miss the first one, you just keep on pedalling until the second entrance. But the best is you can see the house. It is not hidden behind a koppie.

I have to add now, that this is not intended to be criticism about any of the places we stayed in. This is how I experienced it as I arrived on that specific day. Keep in mind, that I was tired, hungry, fed up and wanted a hot shower, enough food to last me at least 4 hours and a warm bed. It can also be used as reference in planning your stay overs for next year's ride. I made sure that I stayed in most of them.

At the end of Day 1, I arrived at Allendale farm. Dana and Ian know about cyclists and their needs. Almost immediately I had a plate of hot soup, more soup please and then a huge plate of warm food and while I'm eating my washing got sorted. A warm bed and a huge breakfast and I was on my way. Quickly and efficiently, no waiting.

End of Day 2 at Ntsikeni's May Lodge. Ah, what a pleasure walking into an oven. They had about 10 heaters blazing red hot heat into the room. Washing hanging all over in different stages of drying, but friendly and helpful. First some coffee, then soup, then shower, then a hot meal. It was so nice and warm in there, I didn't want to go out in the cold, to my room. I could have slept there on a mattress on the floor. Warmth, warmth and more warmth..

Arrived at Masakala in the dark. All was quiet and in semi darkness. We allocated rooms to ourselves and quickly unpacked, dragged all the bikes into the room and then went to search for food, in the food hut. Hushed silence and whispering coming from the kitchen part in the main hut. We said our "hello's" and got our 2l boxes. Nothing else happened for a while so we peeped round the kitchen door and asked if our food was ready. It was, so we took our places at the table and waited some more. Peeped round the kitchen again and asked if they could dish up the food. Slow process, but we did get our food and it was yummy. So was the breakfast the next morning and it was on time. We also got a heater to warm up our room, so we had a warm night's sleep.
Most beautiful pink for a hut! Masakala!

End of day 4 we arrived at Malekholonyane (check out the spelling because it gets spelled a hundred different ways) to loud cheers and clapping. Awesome! I felt instantly important. But the best of bests, they had vetkoek. I left my bike lying in the sun and dived in. Vetkoek and coffee. More vetkoek and juice and then more vetkoek. It was the best to arrive with still some sun left to clean bike, clean self and for washing to be washed, dried and folded. More clapping and cheering when we left, waving us on, on our journey. Friendly and super efficient.

The painted inside of the main hut at Malekholonyane
The main hut which housed the kitchen and more sleeping place and a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains
The whole hut to ourselves, with our own bathroom.

We arrived at Vuvu at the end of Day 5 in the early evening. We pushed hard through the day so we could start the climb to the school in light. A classroom was changed into a store room for our bikes and packs and our boxes. Another class room was the dining room. The bathroom was an outside tent with steaming hot water but freezing cold weather to immediately bring our core temperature down to a minus again. bbbrrrrr...... We had to wait a bit for dinner but very tasty when it did arrive. I haven't had samp for a long long time and that felt like the right kind of fuel for my body. We then got accompanied by our hosts to their homes where we were to sleep for the night. "Our" house was fairly close to the school and Estelle and I each had a room to ourselves. Each had a double bed and the thickest, softest and largest blankets I've seen in my life. They were heavy but snugly and warm. The house was absolutely spotlessly clean and I felt totally honoured to be invited to sleep there for the night. We were then left alone and our hosts went to sleep elsewhere.  

My room in Vuvu.
Our hosts and their children in Vuvu.

The end of Day 6 took us to the very picturesque little town of Rhodes. I have been there before so was very eager to get to the town and make myself at home again at the very friendly pub close to the fireplace to soak up all the warmth. Before we could eat we had to bring our washing, sort of now, immediately before 5pm otherwise it doesn't dry. Luckily I had a laundry bag (hahaha....honest, I packed one) so I just handed my bag over which was my ticket to a hot bowl of soup and some bread. I had a most lovely room with fluffy towels and a hot hot shower. It felt wonderful. Dry and warm. Off to the pub for chats and a glass of red wine and then dinner. Dinner was very hotel like, starting off with soup and bread and then the mains which was nicely arranged on my plate. I think it was all gone in 5min and with no pudding coming from the kitchen I tucked into some more bread. We helped ourselves to coffee and cereals the next morning before we left in absolute freezing temperatures.

In the early evening of Day 7 we arrived at the farm Slaapkraanz. It was bitterly cold and a hot shower and warm food was all I was looking for. Joyce quickly got our washing while we sorted our packs and bicycles. Our meal was a lovely selection of meat and veggies and my favourite, pumpkin fritters......pampoen koekies. Yummy! It was a family affair with all of us cyclists around the table including Andre, Joyce and their children. At breakfast the next morning it was good to see Andre jumping in making scrambled eggs and toast. It was so cold that all the water pipes were frozen. Buckets of water appeared from somewhere so we could fill water bottles and do the necessary. Our lunch packs each had a little message attached. Mine said "staan sterk" - stand strong. I would like to know what my score/points  was if any. Apparently they give each participant a score or points. Maybe out of 10 or 100, who knows? I think I failed. They asked difficult questions like: Why did you enter the Freedom Challenge? And to be honest, at that stage I didn't know and I was quietly wondering about my sanity. The other question: Have you done anything similar to this before? and What do you expect to learn out of this experience? Blank........food....bed....sleep. I think I failed, but I would still like to know. 

At the end of my Day 8 I arrived at Moordenaarspoort, the farm of Danie and Regina. I had a fall shortly before my arrival there and was without lights so had to stop over at the emergency stop. At very short notice Regina had a room organised for me and with family arriving shortly she really pulled out all the stops to organise my food and more food. With some new bumps and bruises on my tired body, I declined the very generous offer of joining them for a glass of red wine and lots of biltong. I just wanted to creep into bed. The next morning Danie was ready with " 'n boer maak 'n plan" remedy for getting all my lights permanently attached to my bike. It was so cold that I had frost forming on my buff which I quickly moved over my mouth as soon as I stepped out the door. He said that he doesn't tell people anymore how cold it can get there because nobody believes him anyway. It was -8 degrees C.

Day 9 brought me to the door of Brosterlea at Jenny's cottages. I had to bypass the farm Vaalbank, which is the usual support station. Thanks to Sandra who went all the way to Jamestown to collect my extra lights and odometer. While I was waiting for her to arrive back to the farm, her children were feeding me and making sure I got enough to eat. If you want to sleep at Vaalbank you have to check in first at Kranskop to collect 2l box, eat there and the next morning have to get back for breakfast. 2km to Vaalbank and 2km back and then 2km pass Vaalbank again.......mmmmmm. Jeanette and Jim of Jenny's cottages came looking for me. It was still early evening but they heard that I was cycling on my own and just wanted to make sure that I was on the move. The table was set, the shower was hot, the rooms were heated, the food was waiting in the warmer. Such variety to choose from. Different jams, breads, cheese, it was a luxury feast to my eyes. Sigh.....what a lovely stay.

Romansfontein was my Day 10's resting place. Place to keep the bikes, bathroom for dormitory style bedroom, enough food and even more for breakfast. Be careful that you don't miss the turn off at night. "Romansfontein" very neatly printed in small letters does not make for easy reading at night with old and tired eyes, but nothing wrong with the heart of the people. A very welcome stay.

Day 11, I stayed at Hofmeyr, an emergency stop. Because of the tricky portage of the Elandsberg, it was recommended to me by the people who know that I better sleep in Hofmeyr and make for an early start the next day.  The B&B quickly got unlocked and food warmed and more pies for breakfast and friendly service. The front room facing the street and the passing trucks, has enough noise to keep the day's route and tomorrow's narratives ticking over in your mind for a long time. But a lovely warm bed and enough room to pack and unpack your belongings. When you are on your own and you are left alone at the overnight stop it makes for a quick getaway. No long chats and good byes. You get on your bike and start cycling.  

Doornrivier is the name of the farm I spend at the end of Day 12. No, it's not on your list. Doornrivier is the farm just before you get to the farm Stuttgart, which belong to the family of the farmers of Stuttgart. The farmers of Stuttgart wanted to go on holiday and I was taking my time so I got shifted off to the family. But before we get to my stay there I have to mention Margaret at Elandsberg. That is now normally SS10. She was standing ready, food, plates, coffee/tea, how many slices of toast, more cheese. A lovely big spacious farmhouse. I could easily have stayed there for 2 more days. I left with a full to the brim tummy. I was on my bike ready to go. What made me turn around and go back to Margaret to give her a hug? Then her tears and only then I learned about her husband's sudden death the year before. Margaret, you are a pillar to us passing through your house. Back to Doornrivier. I passed through there during the hunting season and so when I arrived, hunters were there, ready for the kill the next day, and guns, but they were really very friendly. They took my bike and wheeled it through the house showing it off as if it was a trophy. A hot bath was immediately run and a stiff whiskey was poured. I obviously looked totally like an...... extreme athlete? .....hahaha...Lots of pampering and lots of food and when I left they felt like family. By the way when you take the second turn off to Spekboomberg there is a lovely biltong/droe wors/coke shop on your left plus an ATM just in case you forgot to put enough money in your boxes for your washing.

De Doorns became my SS13. (I know, I was one day behind) so I was really riding hard because my information told me that I should leave De Doorns not later than 2 that afternoon if I want to make the portage in daylight. I was there just after 1. I would just eat, grab maps and go. No, there was nobody home. Knocked on the door, walked around the house, all looked very deserted. Windows closed, curtains drawn. Knocked again, louder, still nothing. I felt a bit frustrated, so walked off in the distance to the workers' cottages. No, the house is open, just walk in and "mevrou sal daar kos kry". If only I knew. Anyway time wasted meant I would have to stay over. Opened the door, walked in and found one plate of food, neatly covered with cling wrap ready to be popped into the microwave. I selected a bedroom, the best, and off loaded my pack. Later the afternoon Asthore came rushing in with more plates of food, for the other cyclists on their way. It was a nice restful afternoon, with enough coffee and rusks to fill any hole not yet filled. We had a lovely log fire going and all wet clothes got dried in time. It was here that I met Anthony and Ingrid and Keith and Leon who eventually finished with me.

We left early the next day to arrive at Van de Venterskraal at around 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Merlie was there waiting for us, but she was also waiting for Neels and the 17 other people who were to stay over that night in that house on that farm. So if we can eat quickly then we can cycle to the next farm house on the next farm which is on your next day's maps and it is only 15km further and it would be nice for us to be 15km further and it is only 7km uphill and the rest is downhill but thinking about it now she doesn't quite know how Butch her big boerboel is going to react to strangers if we stay alone in her house, hopefully he won't bite you and would you like to have more food or a beer perhaps, but I can easily warm up another plate of food, the whole freezer is stacked with food because one never knows how many people will arrive and because it is hunting season this house is bigger and then where else would she put 17 more people and she can't really say no to her sister-in-law and her son rides horses and he can't understand that we want to ride a bicycle for...........it was like rapid gunfire. I had instant information overload. Eventually I got it, she moved my bed 15km further. Sigh, I still wanted to arrive there in daylight, so back on the bike. She met us at the next farmhouse on the next farm, 15km further. More information...you can do the washing, here is the machine and these are the instructions and there is the soap and then the tumble drier, and there is soup and the plates of food, neatly covered, just warm things up and coffee and make a log fire and Butch won't do this or that but might do this or that and cereal for breakfast but lots of bread and sandwiches and cheese and the room is big enough and there is another bathroom..... Phew! Her son came over later to make sure we were ok and that we have settled in. Butch did play with my helmet which I found in the garden early the next morning. That was my end of day 14 at the farm Karoopoort.
The turn off to Van De Venterskraal.

Before we got to Bucklands, my Day 15 stop over, we had to pass the farm Toekomst. What a lovely place with a beautiful view of the damn dam (did I say that twice ;-)) ) and enough staff to cook and prepare rooms and stow bikes and sort out washing. If you can, stay over! We passed through. Arrived around 8pm at Bucklands where we were quickly shown to our room, dormitory style and shared bathroom. As I was the only woman in our team I got to use the in house bathroom and bath. Total luxury, just what I needed. The lady of the house was visiting so Hannes and daughters took over and served us with a smile. I went to bed a happy camper as I made up my lost day. Hunters were hunting in the area so we got diverted from the usual route on our way to Cambria.

Turn Right here to go to the farm Toekomst

 Fiona and Ray were waiting for me at Cambria's Bruintjieskraal at end of Day 16. Keith and Leon left me to fend for myself over the 3m high game fence so by the time I arrived at the cottage everyone had already showered and was sitting with their hands folded neatly over bulging tummies. I think they were all so relieved to see me that the first thing I was handed when I put my face around the door was a glass of wine. It went down nicely with a huge plate of food and sitting next to the fire was just great. I got to use the bigger downstairs bathroom and then went upstairs to the dormitory style bunk beds.They left me a top bunk which I was very happy with. I quickly did my washing while I was in the shower and with the log fire all was dry in the morning. 

I arrived at Dam se Drif on Day 17 around 4pm. after a late start and a flat in the kloof. Go through the white gates and then down the road where it makes a bend and then the road splits and then keep to your right, and I think about 2km from the main district road you will find the farm house. It might not be that far but it felt endless. Hestelle didn't expect me or she did because she put my 2l box out but didn't expect so many cyclists or she did because she was preparing food for a commando. The children were there and Granny and children's friends and she was cooking and holding the baby and talking on the phone and doing washing and handing me a coke, then a cup of coffee and rusks and still smiling. I was told that she would make me a bed in the lounge/tv room when everyone has gone to bed which was fine with me. But then a visitor arrived and I wanted to go to bed so Granny got shifted from her bed and I got Granny's bed and the two guys got the pink room. Food was great and how she got everyone organised and a deliciously cooked breakfast for the next morning was amazing.

I arrived at The Willows in Willowmore just after lunch end of Day 18.

Nice big room close to all dining rooms. I know it all sounds about food but that is what survival is all about. I would have liked to make myself a cup of coffee in my room but the kettle wasn't working. They said they'll bring another but because that didn't happen, I had coffee in the lounge, which was very nice coffee. Lunch was a choice of two dishes, curry or chicken pasta (salad), I think. Curry was good and pudding too. Evening was lasagne and salad which was a good plate of food. They even had our breakfast ready at 3:30am (awful early start to any day) and made sandwiches for the road. I'll give them an extra star for being ready for us. It is still a very long way to Rondavel or Visgat through deep sand, so think carefully before you move on.

Lindsay and Ria are the perfect hosts at Dennehof in Prince Albert. After cycling a whopping 165km through rough corrugations and sand it was a welcome sight to see them. Organising rooms and doing our washing and making coffee and handing out a glass of wine to us was no difficulty at all. Relaxed and beautiful atmosphere. It was wonderful to have a deliciously freshly cooked meal. I have nothing against precooked dinners, through the freezer, through the microwave, but nothing beats a fresh meal. Yum yum!! I want to go back there. Beautiful setting with lovely rooms, linen and big soft towels. What a treat! End of Day 19, and I know it sounds like a holiday but it wasn't.

End of Day 20 in Gamkaskloof. It was a cloudy, windy day and all we wanted was a warm bed, a hot shower and a decent meal. Get out of the wind, was what I wanted. We were told that there were some caravans, obviously previously used for construction workers, which we could use to stay in for the night. With no cellphone reception I had to convince the young guy behind the Red Devil's Kitchen's counter that he needs to make an urgent call to our race organisers, because the person standing in front of him is not falling for the caravan joke. Fantastic people on the other side of the phone because within minutes we were directed to our cottage. We also arranged with the Kitchen for our food to be brought to the cottage. There was no coffee or milk in the cottage but because it was close to supper time we decided to wait and see what would be brought out to us. The Kitchen was friendly but the delivery person was like a bear with a sore head. The food got unceremoniously dumped on the table with 3 teabags and 5 teaspoons of coffee. When we asked about milk, he said they didn't give him any milk. Was he the guy that was renting out the caravans? I don't know but his attitude stank. So Leon, bless his soul got onto his bike and cycled to the Kitchen to get some milk and cookies to round off the meal. I'm thinking hard but can't even half remembered what we ate that night. Just before locking the cottage the next morning our breakfast got delivered. Nothing wrong with the cottage. We had a lovely hot shower, warm beds and solar powered lights.

Off to Rouxpos which would be SS21. No problem to find the farm. Dormitory style room with bathroom but the farmers Ronel and Gerhard gave me one look and decided I needed to use their bath in their bathroom and soak off the tiredness and dust. What heaven! Ronel is a teacher and one could see that in the precision of everything. The washing was done before dinner, the dinner was a lovely curry and rice dish and heaven above heavens, the pudding, freshly made waffles with dripping syrup and ice cream. It was delicious. I had a second helping of waffles. The best packed lunch consisting of sandwiches x 4, homemade fudge, a fruit, a juice and a fruit roll neatly packed. Wow! I was impressed. I left there, feeling like a pampered guest.

On to the end of Day 22 in Montagu. We decided to bypass Anysberg. We had to pop down to the cottage which had our 2l boxes with our maps and some sweets and cookies. I would have liked the cottage to be next to the office. Sandwiches were made and were neatly wrapped on the table in the kitchen. We arrived around 8pm in Montagu. Battled a bit to find the right Hotel but eventually I was there waiting for the receptionist to finish playing with her doggy. We were allowed to stow our bikes in our rooms and it really looked a bit out of place with a dirty bike in a very neat and clean room. We went down for dinner at 8:30pm. A man at the piano playing beautiful tunes, patrons lovely dressed up for their meal out and us three cyclists in the only clean outfit in our bags. We stood out like sore thumbs, not that it bothered us. After a bit of hassling the food arrived, like in Rhodes, beautifully arranged on the plate. We asked for seconds and after some more hassling received an identical beautifully arranged plate of food. Pudding was not included but Leon and I decided we needed a bit of sweetness in our lives, so we ordered pudding which we paid for. Coffee was served in the smoking lounge, not at the table, so we toddled off just to find that cups and sugar was there, but no coffee and no milk. More hassling and coffee was brought through to the smoking lounge. We poured a cup and took it through to the dining room, where we were still waiting for our pudding. Off we went again for a second cup of coffee, same procedure and at last our pudding. We tried to arrange breakfast for 6:30am the next morning but was met with some resistance and was told that the staff needed to be rearranged and that breakfast can only be served at 7:00am. With a smiling face we convinced them otherwise. Breakfast was served at 6:30am and coffee was served at the table as well.  

End of Day 23 we stopped at the farm Kasra at the Oestervanger Guesthouse. Beautiful! Fantastic host Alda, knows all about tired and hungry cyclists. It was a pleasure to stay over. Lovely freshly cooked food served in the kitchen with everyone around the table. I have to go back to experience  more niceness and deliciousness of the place and its people. Winner recipe! I have to mention Carol at McGregor who waited for us, standing in the street waving her arms to get our attention. A fantastic welcome and a delicious lunch stop.

Trouthaven at end of Day 24. We arrived just after 1pm, having to cycle through rain and wind. We were soaked and looked like wet chickens. Nobody at Trouthaven and nobody in the vicinity. After a quick call we found the key to the cottage. Under the door mat. Because we arrived so early there was only one meal per person and also just so many bread rolls put out. Another phone call and more food were brought, all the same. We didn't mind to have curry and rice for lunch and curry and rice for dinner. Quickly washed clothes and tried to dry all by the fire and the heaters.

The last day is at Diemersfontein, the wine estate. No pizza but the food was great and the people and the end and the wine.

I would like to hear what other riders experienced, so please make your comment, it might just help other riders in the years to come.

1 comment:

August said...

Hi Gerda, great to read someone writing about the support stations, they are an absolute integral part of the race which sometimes gets overlooked. Just want to say my experience at all the SS was fantastic, the people, hospitality food etc helped ease some of the strain on the big days. Would do the Freedom again just to experience that again.
Oh if you start telling everyone after the second day that you're looking forward to your pizza at the end(thanks David), then it magically appears, twice ;-).