4 Aug 2010

Through my eyes - The Freedom Challenge

Here now, the visuals of the Freedom Challenge. So many times one would look up from pushing the bike just to see the most spectacular scenery. Your mind is in two; if I stop now, I might not be able to get going again, I'll stop at the top. And when you do stop, many times only 50m further, the scenery is just not the same and you've lost the magic of that moment. These are the visuals when I did stop.

Here we are at the start at 6am. Only 4 of us eventually finished. Excited and scared at the same time, not quite knowing what was waiting for me. Looks cool all the shiney bits.
The turn to Cunningham Castle, which is not a castle. Turn left here.
Minerva, the first lunch stop. It's nice and warm and cosy and interesting inside and cold and still a very long way outside.

So many interesting engines and things.....

Crossing the Umkomaas River. I wasn't convinced that that route was the shorter, but they said it was.....Estelle taking the lead.

The Umkomaas Valley. Up Hela Hela...

Tough day in the saddle and still a bit to go.

Freezing start on Day 2. The grass made crackling noises when we cycled over it.

Just pass the little town of Donnybrook on our way to the Donnybrook forest.

The beautiful Donnybrook forest with puddles of frozen water.

Centacow mission.............

......and the church at Centacow..........

...and the inside of the church. A beautiful lunch stop just before very steep hills onto Ntsikeni.

The hills just outside of Centacow........

......and onto Ntsikeni. It is here where I passed three locals sitting on the side of the road. One playing a guitar and the other two harmonising.......One goes so slowly that there is enough time to listen.

Dead tree.......about three hours from Ntsikeni. That was all for Day 3. Wow! I was obviously cycling and cycling and cycling and......

Lots of roads and paths criss crossing the flood plain. I was blown away by it, the vastness of it, the villages scattered around it, the people moving through it. AWEsome....
Through the flood plain with the mountains around it.....
Through the flood plain.....
A close up look of one of the many villages scattered around the flood plain.......
People of the flood plain.....most of them going to the shop at Queens Mercy.
The shop's entrance is to the left and is stocked with most things people around in the area might need, candles, matches, wood, blankets, frozen chicken, polonies, cleaning stuff. We concentrated on chocolates and crisps and coke which we drank there, and then bought some more. I had to empty my extra drink into my water bottles as I didn't had any space in my backpack, so it was a mix of energy drink with coke......great new taste. One actually gets tired of the same energy drinks every day.
Firewood drag....High on top of the mountains where no carts can go, the locals drag firewood through the veld to the villages. It is a huge cause of soil erosion because of plants, grass etc getting ripped out of the ground by the branches. They are making wide roads with the dragged wood and at some places made it very easy for us to cycle. Mostly wattle, which is an alien plant.
In some places remotely far away from anything or anybody you wonder if you are still on the right track, road, path and when you came across a Eland/Arrow you sighed a sigh of relieve. Keep going.....
So many fences to cross, packs over, bikes over, you over and on you went.
Pride owner of the farm.........
On to Vuvu, the next village...
Pass Black Fountain........
.....and the wood carrying woman...
The bridge crossing before Tinana Mission.
The church bell of Tinana Mission. We had a quick lunch stop there but had to press on to try and reach Vuvu before dark.
These kids had fun with us. We were racing and they were racing with their donkeys and they giggled a lot and showed off their riding skills. We couldn't ride all of the path, because of river crossings, rocks in the paths, sandy stretches, but they could ride all of it on their donkeys. Next time I'll do it on a donkey, hhee-hhaaa!
On to Lehana's Pass, then Naude's Neck and then Rhodes. Didn't matter how remote, they all knew about the world cup.
A 360 view of the mountains around the pass.
Top of Lehana...
The Dragon we had to climb to get to the top.
I too made it to the top!
A shephard's hut and kraal on top of Lehana's Pass. Cold, cold place to sleep and live. Coming across some dogs are usually the first sign of sheep, shephards and a possible kraal nearby. If in trouble on the mountain, this is the place to find to try and keep warm.
Through some marsh land, pass the ruins and then the road to Tenahead Lodge.
On Naude's Neck, lots of snow and bitterly cold.
Careful, Careful! Lots of sheep around sharp corners....Mostly downhill now, racing to Rhodes and warmth.
Frozen country to Slaapkraanz.......and then ........
the portage.....mmmmmm..... one can't really miss the sign
At the bottom of the Loutebron portage where we stopped for a short break. And then on to the portage of Bonthoek. 21km in 7hours. I know it was slow, very slow, but they had to wait for me ;-)). For those who would like to attempt this, it is steeeeeeep!
I found this youngster on my way to the farm Vaalbank with his 'bare' bike.
When you see the Eland, pass through the gate, cross the little river balancing on a wooden log and then go right and pick up the track that will take you to the Burgersdorp tar road. I did, and I found it.
Not too far now from Brosterlea with an early full moon rising.
Just to show off the dongas on the way to Stormberg. If you want to end up with a broken neck, ride this at night. By the way, the little flag stayed miraculously on my bike the whole way.
Cross the farm with the beautiful horses to get to Stormberg. The difficult thing about riding the farm roads or the roads on a farm were the up and down of it. Steep up and down, then steep up and down, then steep....I'm sure you're getting it.
If you are faced with many farm roads going in all directions it is normally time to take stock. My phone call was something like: "I'm sitting next to a salt lick and looking at some sheep, where to now" Simple....Highest point to your left, over the mountain........and viola! there it was.

Tigers and Lions?  Meals on wheels? Count me out because I was pushing.....

The Gunsteling portage passing this old wreck.

This was absolutely awesome. I came over the mountain, some downhill switchbacks and all of a sudden the whole country opened up in front of me.
Cross the Fish River.......
Find Coetzerskloof and the right path. These trees looked a bit spooky lining a track going sort of nowhere with abandoned farm houses.......Now if only I could find the right track........"If you go pass the bullet riddled car, you've gone too far" Trust me, that is so right, but I still couldn't find the track.
Instead, I found Alec, with his horse and his dogs, and he knew the land like the back of his hand and he showed me the right way and made sure I followed him all the way to the point where I couldn't go wrong anymore. Bless his soul!
The ladder on the Struishoek portage.......Remember that when you do cycle by yourself, there won't be anybody waiting on the other side to take your bike when you hand it over the fence, or your bag....so it is up and over and back and over and up and over. That also happens when you reach a 3m high game fence or locked gate.

The other side of Struishoek portage with beautiful Aloes in bloom and lots of inquisitive Angoras.

Through the Voelriver valley which was absolutely beautiful. Lots of riding through beautiful rock formations, sandy river beds, and saw so much game of which the baby giraffes were the best.
Had a quick lunch stop almost on the stoep of Koffielaagte farm. We then had to tackle the very steep Perdepoort uphill and the gloriously beautiful downhill through the poort with its huge towering rock walls. On to Bucklands from here.

The back of the Baviaans. It was up and down up and down but if you put a good effort in on the down then you would win half of the up.....do you know what I mean? I suppose only if you cycle.
Our lunch stop at the Groot River. A very long steep uphill from here all the way to the Ossewa Jeep trek, which is mostly unridable and then crossing the river 14 times and then Cambria. Not a lot in one day?
Down the Baviaans towards Geelhoutbos.
Willowmore to Prins Albert. A very long day in the saddle with corrugations, sand and wind. Keep a sense of humour here otherwise you might go under.
Somewhere between Willowmore and Prins Albert. Having a bite to eat and collecting my mind for the rest of the tough day.

My bike under scrutiny by Johan Rissik at Dennehof in Prins Albert. A clean bike with all parts working gave me such peace of mind.
This part of the race was just absolutely so beautiful. I started off with short cycling shorts but quickly had to change to longs at the top of the Swartberg mountain pass.
Of course you can do this at night, but who would want to miss such scenery?
And more of the Swartberg.
And then on top of Swartberg Pass, at the Teeberg view point, Johan was waiting with coffee and rusks. It was so windy and cold that we had to climb into the Landie to get a bit of shelter.
Onto Gamkaskloof. So scenic with such variety of plant species. Travelling time is for cars....ok.
Just look at this weather! It was windy and very cold. Stunning.
This is the Gamkaskloof valley. You are halfway down on the very steep downhill with very sharp switchbacks. Check your brakes before you go down here. The dusty little road stretch all the way to the other side of the kloof with little cottages all along the road.
Beautiful scene! Very tough climb up the ladder which is just rocks, rocks and rocks. The path leading away until you eventually meet up with the district road is also rocks, rocks, rocks, in different sizes.
I had to stop to collect myself, to eat something, to check my maps and to stand in awe of the mountain scenery.
Mrs Fourie who has been dishing out coffee and rusks to all the cyclists passing her house which is on the back of Laingsburg. Remote and far away and yet an oasis, like in a desert. On to Anysberg from here. Sand, and more sand, and lots more sand.....
Such scenic places...only to be seen once?.....
Howzzzat! Rock formations. Almost miss the turn off, but with Keith in the team we corrected ourselves very quickly. So, look out, as you cross the gate, there is a path directly to your left. Follow it.
Lunch stop had to be quick. We still wanted to reach Montagu.
Pass vineyards and onto the Cape. So close and yet still a lot of riding to do.
This was such soothing scenery to my eyes. Soft green and cool and misty and reminded me a lot of Europe. The last gate to open or climb over?
The last two days were misty and raining. Closer and closer we got to the end.
Look at this! This is Stettynskloof. Unbelievably beautiful. How can one ever describe that. You have to see it. Very rugged terrain. Some early snow on the mountains surrounding us, which made the weather extra cold.
With the rain of the past two days this waterfall was just wonderful to see. The rivers are knee high or deeper, no bridges, just rocks.
The scree which had to be crossed. Very slippery and tricky. Looked like truck loads of rocks just got off loaded in the valley. Difficult crossing.
After every beginning there must be an end. This was it. I couldn't believe that I was really there. Reality only sank in the next day.
My blanket!


onegiantride said...

Great pictures Gerda! I passed through some of those areas at night and really missed out. Well done for stopping to take them, I know how much effort it takes.

Johann Rissik said...

Brilliant Gerda,
Thank you for setting it out like that, it means a lot for me to see it in sequence like that.
How on earth am I now going to focus on the work I need to do;)

Unknown said...

dis pragtige foto's Gerda en ek glo elkeen van daardie scenes was al die trap, val, klim, koue en pyn die moeite werd ! Wat 'n experience en weereens baie geluk !

Unknown said...

It looks amazing momey! Wish I could do it, but without the 24 day cycling of course!

Salome said...

stunning pics! dankie dat jy dit met ons deel! baie geluk - ons bewonder en beny jou!

Jaco Strydom said...

Nou trek my hart se punt erg. Great pictures. Do not worry, the pain is soon forgotten and the beauty remains. You get to keep so much more than just a special blanket...

Edd said...

........this is why do it all over again and again ans ........
Great photos Gerda. It was a pleasure sharing the first week with you.
Well done!

Johann Rissik said...

Hi Gerda,
There are two American women who are booked to ride the route in November-December. I'd like to put them in touch with you and Rodney as you are much better qualified to answer their questions. I don't seem to have your email address. Pse contact me on jrissik at absamail dot co dot za and I'll pass their details on.
Thanks, Johann