Thursday, August 6, 2015

Freedom Challenge: 2. Getting Ready - Getting Real

Once I'd actually entered and paid, it started to dawn on me that there was no turning back, my name was on the list. Fortunately I spent 2014 working on a large drilling project in the Eastern Cape, so there was plenty of time to start preparing. ( Being near the Big Smoke that is Port Elizabeth had it's benefits )

I know that I started “over-thinking” every possible eventuality, my mind would spin at the thought of all the "what if"scenarios.  My ice-cream tubs, the ziploc bags and all the little containers were bought by late 2014. In hindsight, I realise that I became rather obsessive about the planning. 

While in PE, I was also able to slowly start putting in the miles of training, this was generally riding around on site and doing intervals on the concrete cycle path between Bluewater Bay and the city. Not exactly my idea of fun riding, but I kept on telling myself that once on the Freedom Challenge I'd look back and be thankful for these miles. I did and I was.

There was also time to start preparing mentally, to slowly but surely start getting my head in the right place. Actually my Freedom Challenge training was what kept me sane while working with some very trying drilling contractors.

Once I was back home by the end of February, I was ready to start training and preparing seriously. This consisted of intensive interval training, long distance riding, night riding and some hike-a-bike on the Swartberg Pass. I've always enjoyed training when I have a specific goal, in this case the goal was huge, and in my case anything but a given.  

Part of my plan was to get my body-weight down, so I combined the training with a more restricted LCHF diet. Before I knew it I was back at a weight I hadn't been at since 1984 (I'd lost 9kg). This was a huge motivational boost, as I'm only too aware of the energy cost of hauling lard over them thar hills.

Boxes packed and sealed. Committed!
I'd decided to prepare as much of my food as possible myself to avoid eating preservatives and other poisons. (My riding food was primarily biltong, droe-wors, dried fruit and nuts and of course supplements"). The droe-wors came from Leonie Maasdorp of Steytlerville (072 150 3450), it is outstanding droe-wors. The trick lies in using good quality meat and the correct fat. This prevents the icky side-effect of the rancid fat sticking to one’s palate). I brought the droe-wors home and laid it out to dry completely in order to minimize the chances of it going mouldy while in the boxes.
I also bought biltong from a trusted supplier, had it sliced and then also dried it completely. Trying to slice hard biltong while riding is not an option.

One box of apples and another of pears were sliced up and set out to dry, again just plain dried fruit, none of the crap one gets onto commercially dried fruit.

Finally, I made dried fruit roll of apricot and prune, sheets and sheets of the stuff, later cut up into manageable bits.  
Dried fruit sheets
The plan was that there would be two snack packs for each day:

Savoury – Biltong, droe-wors, dried olives and dried tomato with a shake of turmeric (anti-microbial properties) for good measure, then wrapped them in in butcher’s paper to prevent any “sweating”.

Sweet – Dried apple and pear, fruit roll, nuts, coconut, dates, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds all in a Ziplock bag.

Marking and packing the boxes was relatively straightforward, but I suggest you make yourself a "Box 0" for the first day. This helps get the right maps in the right boxes, (a not uncommon mistake is to put Day One’s maps in Box One) and also means your snacks for The Big Wake-Up (aka Day One) are in place. 
The boxes (the famous 2 litre ice-cream tubs) ended up full of food, supplements, maps, spares, and the odd treat, bearing in mind that I was planning a 24 day ride.  

Typically the box contained the following:
  • Snack packs x 2
  • Supplements ( PVM Octane, PVM Fusion, Hammer Perpetuem and GoNutrition Pepto-pro)
  • Maps with narratives attached
  • Bombs, sealant, spares, batteries (not in every box)
  • Toiletries, vitamins, etc 
  • Chocolate (low sugar)
  • Washing powder (taped to the lid to prevent contamination)

 (If anyone is interested, I can email the spreadsheet with the contents of each box.)

After filling all the boxes, I taped two small ziploc bags of washing powder to the top of each box. (Washing powder has a smell that permeates everything). Omo Auto for de-greasing and Sunlight Baby for the Merino base layers (if you really want to know). This way you don't have Kleen Green leaking in your box....

In the rider briefing there's an instruction to write your name and the support station  on the top and the ends.
There's a very good reason for this, as you may discover later.

Then a moment of truth as the boxes are packaged and sent off  to Race Office courtesy of Aramex (not only do Aramex sponsor the Freedom Challenge, but they are the best courier company around)

Boxes of boxes of commitment.

Preparation of the maps and narratives kept me busy when I wasn’t thinking and re-thinking the box contents and other finer details. The Freedom Challenge does not allow the use of GPS, so navigation is a key component. Riders are given a set of maps and a narratives. I have no idea how much time I spentreading the narratives, looking at the maps and "Google Earthing" the route. Telkom ADSL supplied enough bandwidth for me to “fly” over the tricky bits of the route, again and again and…. This was later to lead to some rather déjà vu moments where I "recognised" features, despite never having been there.
Another crucial part of navigation is knowing how far you have travelled from the last known point on the map. I fitted two odometers, one to use as an odometer and the other to measure navigational splits. Two.Tips. Use odometers that record distance when your speed is below 4.5kmh . Mine did not. Oh, and remember to zero them at the right place.

A snip of Map 2, note the Bermuda Rectangle, one of many.

Living in a small dorp like Prince Albert, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to training rides;

  • Out and back interval sessions, on tar or dirt
  • Long rides, loops, on dirt and or tar
  • Long dirt road night rides
  • The Swartberg Pass (very good for practising pushing or carrying your bike too )
  • The Swartberg hiking trail (as above)
  •  And on any one of those rides you might be unlucky enough to see ten cars. On one 120km night ride I saw one car twice.  

The Swartberg Pass at night. Pitch dark silence.

By now I had accumulated pretty much everything I could possibly have needed on the Freedom Challenge (and some more) and everything was falling into place.......until Sandra fell while riding in the Richtersveld, dislocating her ankle and breaking her leg rather badly.

Fascinating images, the detail is astounding.
 I immediately drove up to Windhoek to be with Sandra while the various bits were put back together by Dr Jonck. It's astounding what damage a walking-speed fall at just the wrong angle can do. Suffice to say, if I ever break any bones, I'd be glad to have Dr Jonck put them back together again at the Windhoek Catholic Hospital.

While in Windhoek, I was lucky to find Canvas and Tent, who very professionally produced a bar bag and a top-tube bag in less than a day. The bar bag carried the vital and heavy, but infrequently-used rain suit, 950g off my back.

The top tube bag became the proverbial, “hoer se handsak” with everything from spare spokes to food, at all times it was more than a feeding trough. To complete the “bike load” I had a Revelate Designs saddle bag, courtesy of Steven Thomas.  The plan was to put the heavier stuff in the saddle bag (spares and tools) and keep the backpack space for clothes. Writing this with the precision of hindsight, I took too much stuff, way too much. What would I leave behind next time ? Difficult to say, but the spare tube won’t come along next time. 

Most of my training was done alone, which is fine, but at some stage I began to wonder if I was training in a fool’s paradise, as I had no-one to compare my fitness level with. Time in Windhoek enabled me to get in some rides at altitude and to fine-tune my equipment. 

Once back home in Prince Albert, it was time to slow down and focus and enjoy the anticipation....if you believe that.

Finally the big day dawned and I was dropped at Prince Albert Road by Lindsay Steyn of Dennehof, bike in a box, everything else in my backpack.

Leaving home

Load 'n Go
Getting anywhere from Prince Albert usually means driving long distances, unless of course you're cycling. Well in this case it was different, I needed to be in Pietermaritzburg with only my bike. Greyhound is the perfect way to do this, book a Business Class seat and sit back.

Just outside Beaufort West, the trailer (yes, that trailer in the picture) unhitched itself from the bus......