At 12am the alarm on my phone went and I was up, packed and ready to roll. It may have sounded like I was all fired up to get going but in actual fact my mind was not in a good place. Stepping out the house, the air was warm, swirling around us as the wind storm prevailed. At exactly 1am we left the small holding of Dam se Drift and turned south onto the main Baviaans district road, straight into the puffs and windy blasts of resistance that would prevail the entire length of the early morning dash to Willowmore.
About an hour into our haul, fatigue set in quickly and I felt like I had been drugged. My eyelids heavy and not even the wind smashing my face could snap me out of the slump I was feeling, I remember my head dropping, like when you dozing off in an arm chair. My subconscious mind quickly realized something was amiss and it was a surreal sensation. Like someone experiencing a loud bang, I immediately ‘shocked right and could believe that I had almost fallen asleep. All in a matter of seconds, and I was aware I was feeling despondent, angry, tired, frustrated and maybe nervous because I didn’t know for sure how this was all going to end.
I trailed Neville whilst I sailed between highs and lows. At one stage I felt like I was running on auto pilot. I was wishing for day break and tired of the blackness that lay before me and the beam of light I was following feeling like I was getting nowhere. We stopped a few times, it could only have been once as I cannot recall. Slowly the silhouette of the Karoo landscape was starting to form in the east as the sun edged its way forward around the globe depicting that dawn was near. Day break was forming just as we started seeing the village of Willowmore in the distance. There was something about daybreak and the alluring ability to lift you up. Sunrise over the karoo was pretty awesome as always!
We eventually found ourselves riding down the main street of Willowmore looking for the Willows Hotel at 7.50am and my request being granted to have ice-cream served for breakfast. We found out on arrival that Gerald had made his cutoff and had left for Rondawel at 6.30am already.
Sitting at the breakfast table we met up with Mike Roy again. We were also met by curious patrons coming into the dining hall for breakfast. Two weathered cyclist and curious onlookers made for some interesting conversation as well as the icecream that Neville and I were wolfing down before the usual egg and bacon treat. There was one guest who came and spoke to us and knew about the Freedom Challenge. He was also offering advice as well as giving us a weather forecast and a dim outlook on Stettynskloof, yet I guess he had never been there.
Neville and I eventually decided to pack up and move away from the warm fire that was threatening to harbor us for all eternity. We needed to get going and the day wasn’t going to get any easier by dragging it out. I am not sure what time we left Willowmore but I guessed it was around 9am.
The rest of the next hour went like this as per my update posted: …“Just want to thank you all again for your prayers and support. Today for the 1st time since I have been on the Freedom Trail I slipped into a "dark place" and I slipped quickly! Leaving Dams se Drif at 1am this morning in the Baviaans Kloof for Willowmore I hadn't slept a wink worrying about the hectic winds blowing all night. I even nearly fell asleep while riding. Throughout the morning I was not in a good place until we arrived in Willowmore before 8am. Thereafter we left at 9am for Rondawel. 5km out of Willowmore I started to "choke". My mind just snapped. My body was exhausted. My legs were heavy and I came minutes away from calling it a day. My awesome wife and as well as my riding companion, Neville at this point were instrumental in getting me going again. Hard line approach is the only way to deal with this form of mental collapse! And that is what I got! Keeping this dream alive was important to me, but I am also only human and have endured some of the hardest tests in my life in the past 18 days and managed to slay a couple of 'demons' in the process. Lastly, overall! All of you are also instrumental in part of my success this far through all your messages of support and encouragement. For that,I am truly grateful…”
I sank into a bad place. I just sat on the side of the road quietly while the wind tried to rock me every now and then from my seated place. My thoughts were blank. It’s amazing how the human mind can just shut down. I will always remember, Neville saying to me at that moment, something like “this was not part of the plan”. It was also amazing that around another hour in, I was back to riding and refocusing on moving ahead.
We rode the whole day. Miles and miles of nothing but an endless sandy jeep track stretching across the flat land of the karoo landscape. We stopped at a windmill to see if we could get water but testament to the drought gripping the country, dry. From Willowmore to Rondawel, there was nothing but the odd abandoned farms, no shops. Nothing. As the day turned to late afternoon and then the vastness of the land slowly engulfed by the shadow of the setting sun, I started skirting the horizon ahead to see if we could spot Rondawel. I wasn’t sure what we were looking for. Neville had pulled ahead and I followed, keeping him in sight. Eventually the light of a building flickered and we were near. There popping out in the middle of absolutely no where, was the stand alone farmstead of Rondawel!
Riding in and getting to the door at 17.55, exhausted after a 186km slog, we were greeted by out host and our riding partner in crime! Gerald!
I proceeded to flatten a whole 2L coke during the course of 3 hours at Rondawel as well as polish nearly a quarter pot of pasta! It felt good that the trio was back together again. Gerald had had an agonizing day riding into the headwinds all day on his own and went through his own mental fatigue battles. He was also delighted to be back together with his riding companions.
A reminder is that, Freedom Challenge race across South Africa is an individual event but when three strangers come together and share the trials and tribulations together, it cannot be helped that a bond be formed. Your goal to get to the finish became everyone else’s goal. Your commitment to help each others to get through a hard day became their commitment to you too.