Wednesday, July 27, 2016

DAY 5 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 5

Day 5   MASAKALA TO MALEKHOLONYANE 70KM

Myself, Gerald, Tony, Caren, Liehann are up after 4am already. Werner still asleep and Neville struggling as he is overcome with dizziness and slight nausea. Liehann is gone way before us and the rest of us settle down for a quick breakfast. Two other riders also join us who arrived in the early hours. Their names escape me.

We had the idea in our head about pushing through to Vuvu from Masakala which would make for around 140km. We are the last to leave, leaving Werner behind who went back to sleep as we exit Masakala at 5.30am. 


In the dark, finding our way out the village, looking for the school on the outskirts as our beacon, I managed to salvage our exit from Masakala after a tricky brief run around. Dropping off and away from Masakala we enter a long river bed section with loads of loose sand which makes for tricky riding. We see plenty bike tracks left behind by other riders before us. Up ahead in the far distance we can see the rear red lights of two riders which would be the two that left just before us we gauged. Once off the river bed track of white river sand and its matted reeds and long grass in places we are on a main tar road and it is busy this time of the morning with commuters obviously travelling to the nearby town of Matatiele. 

Heading for the mountains

The pace was rather brisk considering the slow speeds we have reflected in the past few days. We were headed for the flood plains. After one or two turns and riding once again on dirt roads through settlements of rural houses, dawn breaking, we found our way to the outskirts with the Knira yellow grassy floodplains lying before us. From here we would ride and trek west and gun it to Queen Mercy on the other side, our first target.

Start of Knira Floodplain



 Now and then we lost the track but we knew we had no mist and all we had to do was keep the rising sun behind us and hook westward. The plain is dry but majestic and it stretched for close to 13km. With its network of tracks, deep river troughs and deep soil erosions in places the going was rough when running out of track. Passing through the villages Malota, Sprinkana and Pontseng it was around the last village where Gerald took a right and Neville and I kept going straight. I could see Queen Mercy, a trading store about 2km aways from where we were and made a bee line for it over a slightly muddy wetland area. Gerald eventually joined us from the right on a dirt road. It was here as we popped out the plain that the weather started to turn. A quick stop at a local spaza shop for coco cola, and with the wind picking up we were off. For the rest of the ride it was into an icy headwind all along. 

Spaza shop


We now made our way through more rural settlements as per navigation instructions through streets and tracks. This was rural countryside at its best. We were headed for Mpharane ridge which was a ridgeline to negotiate before we would get to Malekholonyane. We were now close to the magnificent mountain range of the Maluti and Drakensberg, we could almost touch it.

Mpharane Ridge

Checking maps





Tiger lines
Again, we stopped on occasion to have a bite to eat as it is crucial to keep your energy levels up and going. Neville seemed to be coping fine after his shaky start from the morning. We even came across Tony and Caren who had just finished a snack break and were on their way again.

We climbed the ridge and after some riding eventually found our exit point off the mountain to our left and started our descent on some short but steep goat tracks and then down into the valley through clumps of trees and bush where we picked up a track to start riding again. We took a wrong turn and instead of going left continued straight which resulted in us being on top of a hill and adopting the tiger line approach quickly to correct our mistake. This we did and in no time we were crossing the last narrow river stream and on our ride up and down some short hills to get to the Malekholonyane checkpoint.

Up the last bit of hill into searing winds on a concrete track we arrived in Malekholonyane at 13h30 on the outskirts of the Maluti mountain ranges to our right. Tony and Caren had arrived a short while before us. We decided we would not push on to Tinana and run the risk of being slowed down by the wind and the terrain and being caught out in the dark. We are not concerned about time right now and know we will make Rhodes before the eight day cutoff. 


Malekholoyane

Arriving at Malekholonyane I would be honest and say I was feeling a little broken. That wind! Also, stupid mistake that cost wasted energy. However, in my tired state I was still motivated because my state of mind would tell me I am still ‘in and living the dream and the morning hadn't been bad at all. I remember posting a comment on my Facebook page and because of my initiative of raising funds for hearing impaired kids while I was chasing my Freedom Challenge dream, and myself being hearing impaired from birth, my message was to those with disabilities and who still had the means to follow their dream, was that you can overcome the challenges if the desires are strong enough to do so. When I reach a certain level of fatigue my balance relating from deafness in both ears becomes unstable slightly and this becomes a challenge in itself when riding single track and keeping it together. Yes, I had a couple of close calls during the day but pulled through it. If I can overcome, why can others not? I believe it’s all up to you and how determined you are!

Our exit from Malekholonyane is a new totally bushwhack affair and if you get to the checkpoint early and decided to stay for the night, one could do the round trip exit of around 12km straight away and then in the morning when leaving, exit on the district road and bypass this bushwhacking affair than doing it in the dark. This bushwhacked bypass takes you on goat tracks, no tracks, through dongas, over rivers and rutted single tracks. You ride, carry, and push your bike ...that’s the extent of it. We left Malekholonyane at 13h50 with full kit, as is the rule, to do this detour and were back again before 16h00.

The wind had not let up and the air was constantly chilled. A quick recovery supplement shake from my own supply stash and some Malekholonyane’s vetkoek and jam, coffee and a ‘trickle shower, I was feeling somewhat revived again and ready for the next round. Do not get me wrong, my body hurt, my backside cheeks abused but my mind refused to be buckled. The past few days had been hard on the body and it is noticeable such as where slight scratches attained start taking longer to heal because your whole body is trying to balance the act of recovering and repair. Yet, it's also all about sucking it up and getting on with it.

In a perverse way, I am having a blast. In the short time on the trail, there has been amazing people, amazing scenery and been amazing experience so far. Tony and Caren were also staying over at Malekholonyane and had indicated what their plan was over dinner. They were taking it day by day until past Rhodes and then they were going to start upping their tempo to make up time and days on the trail.

Malekholonyane was generator powered and so silence fell around us after 21h00 when they shut down. Under candle light the Trio of myself, Neville and Gerald settled down for the night, sharing a large room, prepping for the next day’s riding.



Even though only five days in, a team like bond was forming between the three of us. We got on well, were sharing the navigation and just generally rode well together. We all had one ultimate goal and that was to finish this incredible race. Ultimately we would go on together, to the end and help each other to achieve just that!

Day six would be the run through to Tinana and gun it for Vuvu. The focus and getting the navigation right would be crucial! With a few drop off of some mountains, climbs and portages, it's a big day! All we wanted was to get to Vuvu before nightfall. That was the plan!

With the wrap for the day and with the wind howling outside, through the valleys and mountains, the village of Vuvu was waiting...

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