Beat warned me that my Freedom Challenge report is delving too far into the negative aspects of my experience. I didn't mean for it to come across that way — to sound as though I spent the entire trip stressed and frightened. There were many relaxing and enjoyable moments that tend to fade in the wash of memory, while the sharp edges of the more intense experiences stick out. Those sharp edges are why I pursue endurance racing. I seek to not only learn more about what lies beneath my perception of the world and myself, but also to gain more control over these perceptions. I'm a fearful person. Maybe more so than others, and maybe not, but fear has always lurked around the edges of joy. I'm not brave, and I'm not strong ... but I'd like to be. So what do I do about it? I face my fears. I push my limits. This process is always hard and sometimes painful, and many, many mistakes are made ... but ultimately, I emerge with a richer perception of the world, which is useful in smothering fear.
We spent the night in Willowmore at a historic hotel. Thirty minutes after we arrived, it started to rain — our timing was impeccable. We enjoyed a gourmet dinner of lamb curry in an ornate dining room. It was a far, far cry from the Osseberg. Marnitz was sleeping there still, and the race leader, Graham Bird, had arrived as well. Graham was going through the following day's maps, of which there were a lot. It was another 162 kilometers to Prince Albert. I couldn't wait.
Marnitz was there, sitting on a couch and drinking red wine. His hair was substantially shorter than it had been last we saw him — a little girl at a farm house offered to cut it. He asked how long it took us to ride into town. Liehann thought about it — not counting the lunch stop, 14 hours. "How long did it take you and Graham?
Later, Di would tell us that Graham said that day across the wind-blasted Karoo was one of his hardest on a bike. Whether or not he actually said this, I'm not sure. I didn't think it was too hard. Just tedious. I'm good at tedious.
You're probably detecting a pattern here. I did love the dirt road touring, especially when it was both scenic and physically demanding.
And indeed, behind the poplar trees, we caught our first glimpse of the zig-zagging path up the face of the cliff. It wasn't quite a moment of magic — but it was reassuring. The Ladder is in fact a well-built trail, although very steep, with stair-like boulders lined by thick brush. My arms still weren't well-recovered, and my muscles balked at even meager efforts. I tried to hoist the bike on my back, but I couldn't quite position it correctly. My method of walking with the saddle hooked over my shoulder didn't work on a trail this steep. I resorted to lifting the bike up and placing it down on a ledge, crawling up myself, repeat. It was extremely slow. My arm muscles started to fail again. I dropped the bike once, and teetered enough to feel unnerved. I made more efforts to hoist the bike on my back. "It really shouldn't be that hard," I thought to myself. "What's the deal?"
I looked up to see Liehann far ahead. Eventually he came back down to help me. "I'm sorry I'm so slow," I apologized. "I really don't know what's wrong with me." I thanked him repeatedly as he carried my anchor part way up the mountain after hauling his own.
"It's for my benefit as well," Liehann said.
I agreed. "Yeah, it would probably take me all night to scale this wall alone. And you'd have to wait for me."