Showing posts from June, 2014

Freedom Challenge - Hadley to Willowmore

As explained by a commenter on the previous blog post, the section from Hadley to Cambria, while short, is one of the hardest and most rewarding of the race. Jill and Liehann only got to Cambria late in the day. The section was even more difficult to navigate than anticipated as there was flooding that had moved trees and debris across the trail which was at times impossible to find. They got very lucky as a faster racer caught up with them and guided them through the section. He deliberately stuck with them as he apparently had, in a previous year, left someone behind who ended up spending the night in this section, about which he had felt quite bad.
Steve and Di, the couple with which Jill and Liehann rode for quite a while earlier, also caught up with them.
The way from Cambria to Willowmore was on good roads with very clear navigation which, despite being a long day with over 100 miles, according to Jill felt "easy". The views must have been spectacular as we got this me…

Freedom Challenge - Hadley

Just got off the phone with Jill. They had a few pretty good days, mostly through game reserves with some pretty cool views. After Jill had turned her ankle somewhat badly when a concrete step broke off at a lunch stop(!), it seems that they are doing physically better with both Jill's ankle and Liehann's shin improving (presumably due to more riding). They've also put in a few shorter days, mostly because the sections they are at right now don't really lend themselves to navigating at night. They pulled ahead of Steve and Di a few days back, though they anticipate they might catch back up, which would provide some good company anyways.
Lots of the past trail has been through game reserves and farms, with many10ft fences to climb. Jill is reporting improved upper body strength after some harrowing days. On the other hand, she said the terrain now really feels like "Africa" and doesn't resemble anything she knows from over here, with sightings of Giraffes,…

Tiny Freedom Challenge Update

Jill did not have cell reception for most of the day, so all I got were two satellite messages. The were able to put in a double day as planned, though they were still struggling with navigation (I could see they got lost early in the day, costing them 20-30 minutes). The race plan calls for another double day tomorrow. The course seems to be mostly on well defined dirt roads and even a fair amount of pavement, with only one cross-country looking section, and one section with lots of forest/farm dirt roads intersecting. Other than that the elevation profile looks promising for some good mileage.
Here are the messages (hearty smileys removed:):
Hi love. Mildly sprained ankle when step broke at lunch stop. Other than that day was good. Liehanns shins bad. and, after I asked more about the anke:
Sore hiking and a little wobbly but not too bad. Beautiful long climb today . Nav still main source of stress. And that's all I know. But they were back on the road a bit after 6am, indicating …

Freedom Challenge - Slaapkranz to Elandsberg

Things have been moving along reasonably well for Jill and Liehann for the past three days. Communication was pretty spotty, so another short update.  Jill seems to have a lot of fun despite challenging conditions with headwinds, temperatures of 14F, long days, and dead arms. The group has picked up another racer, so they are five cyclists now.  Liehann seems a little more unlucky. Not only were they unable to get a replacement fork, but he has shin splints from walking, some knee pains, can't open his hand for some odd reason (which doesn't seem to concern him) and, to top it off, a failing rear brake. I think he should pick up some sport where he can't break stuff, like bridge maybe? Those cards are awfully sharp though ...
The original plan was to double up on the next two checkpoints which aren't too far apart and seem to be easy enough to navigate. So far they're moving very well.
For reference, some messages Jill posted:
-10C this morning . Arms are dead. Wish…

Freedom Challenge - Days 5-7

Just a quick recap as I was out at Bryce:

Day 5 of the FC would bring Jill, Liehann and her fellow travellers Steve and Di to Vuvu. Due to a cross-country section, they pushed the pace hard to avoid having to attempt night navigation. They managed that goal, though Jill was pushed to her limits and bonked towards the end. I'm amazed that Liehann is able to ride this with his busted fork. They call his bike the "rigid lowrider". I presume it's at least aerodynamic!
On Day 6 the group went to Rhodes, where Liehann's replacement shock was waiting. The section turned out to be very technical and challenging, with a very steep off-trail pass crossing. Jill texted that they encountered 50-60mph winds, and she was unable to pick up both wheels of her bike without it being picked up by the wind! As if that wasn't enough, it turned out that we had actually not ordered the correct fork! The specs we had found mentioned a tapered steerer, but his bike ended up with a st…

Freedom Challenge, Day 4

Short day. Spent more time bumbling around and looking at maps than riding bikes. Frustrated but what a beautiful spot to stop.Trang here, blogging for Beat since he's gone off for the weekend to run the Bryce 100. I spoke to Liehann this morning shortly after they finished day 4. While it was a short day, it was probably not as short as they would have hoped. Liehann and Jill are now riding with Di and Steve, who have done Freedom Challenge twice before and also started on this year's race on the same day as Jill and Liehann. (We ought to give them a team name.) All of the other folks who started with them but who were only going to Rhodes are now long gone - those riders seemed pretty familiar with the route and also didn't sleep much.There's been a lot of walking in the past two days and that's taking a physical toll on Liehann and the others, but Jill is a machine and still going strong. I think Jill's running fitness is a distinct advantage in this …

Freedom Challenge, Day 3

Day 3 took Jill and Liehann from Ntsikeni to Masakala, through a nature preserve via lengthy stretches of off-trail cross-country bike-hiking. They had a rough start (Liehann got very brief cell reception and confirmed some specs for his shock (which is now leaking oil, but is still rideable) with me, and added
F*d morning. Tough nav
Slow!!!!Throughout the day they seemed to move somewhat slowly, and partially off the path, as it turns out they indeed missed some jeep roads and hiked in parallel cross-country. But they made it in the dark. Jill reported seeing wildebeest and antelopes and having to track around another gorge. They had to race the daylight to get at least off the cross-country section. Weather seems good, though cold, with mornings below freezing. Jill is also enjoying the atmosphere of the checkpoints, farmer's houses and village community centers - it actually sounds a bit like the Iditarod!

Tomorrow should be a short day, only 60km. While it would be tempting to s…

Freedom Challenge, Day 2

"Tough nav day. Stumble through morning. Beats device awesome through forest road maze. Brilliant sunset moon. Big gate climb""Nav still tough and some hard terrain but beautiful""This is not easy but i love it." No cell reception at today's overnight stop, so only a little information is available via our sat texting messenger. Looking at the maze of trails/forest roads early on I worried about their navigation, but everything seemed to go ok, including crossing one of the infamous high (as in higher than a person) fences. Trang and I anxiously watched them stop at a house after 3 hours - maybe they got a brunch offered, we won't know until later. Turns out watching such an event is more exhausting than riding it!
After some technical issues with my little turn-reminder device (it occasionally gets into a funky state) it seems to have been quite useful and worked well today.

Unfortunately Liehann's shock isn't doing great apparently, as T…

Freedom Challenge, Day 1

Trang (Liehanns girlfriend) and I will try to give updates on this blog every once in a while. 
Day one was ~114km, taking them around 10-11 hours to complete, with a rest stop in the middle. The terrain was tough with two major climbs and a long and somewhat sketchy hike-a-bike section along a river gorge, but both Jill and Liehann are in great spirits. It's pretty cold, but they feel good and are happy so far with the progress. Jill had a kid-in-the-candy-store glee in her voice on the phone as she told me how great the route was, so far so great. She was also excited because they didn't get lost so far!
Liehann had a broken chain early on (after just 6km) but of course that was quickly fixed. His front shock seems to be sticking a bit leading to a 15% sag without him being on the bike, a problem he had before the race that the PA bike shop apparently was not able to properly repair ... but it's rideable. Let's hope it holds up.
They already started day 2 again, and …

Freedom Challenge-bound

The weather finally cleared so I took the bike, kit, and gadgets out for a spin this afternoon. Loaded bikes are always a bit of a downer in the beginning, but after a few days you get used to extra weight and the heft becomes your new normal — or so I keep telling myself.

This week has been unseasonably cold in Cape Town — there was a dusting of snow on the mountains this morning, and reports of 6 below (Celsius) just a little farther inland. I managed to get everything but water, electronics, and a select few items of clothing in my bike bags, and Liehann's friends marveled at how we might possibly stay warm with whatever was located in these seemingly small bags. There's actually a fair amount of winter layers and spare bike parts, as well as two bivy sacks that I can double up — as I also am genuinely concerned about becoming so lost that I have to spend a night out in -10C.

When we tell others about the Freedom Challenge, most inevitably ask about the training, and wheth…

Small adventures before the big one

This is one of those weeks where I thought I'd get a lot done: All of my regular work, finish a manuscript, finish my Iditarod race report, tour around the region, try local cuisine, get all of my prep done for the Freedom Challenge, go for satisfying shake-down bike rides on famous mountain bike trails in the Cape Town region, and post blogs for Beat back home in California. 
Well, you know how it goes. 
I actually didn't expect to do much touristing this week; both time and mobility are limited, and I'm not in Cape Town proper — I'm about 50 kilometers southeast. The weather has been marginal — rain and wind every day, and temperatures ranging from 6 to 12 degrees Celsius, so not terribly warm. I went with Liehann to his office (technically his brother's office) to work on Tuesday and we got out for a lunch ride on a network of banked singletrack and rocky doubletrack through a recently logged forest. The trails were swoopy down and steep up, and the ride probab…

Into Cape Town

I consider myself the kind of person who can adapt quickly and well to all kinds of uncomfortable conditions, but I am abnormally afraid of jet lag. Between that, more time to ensure the safe arrival and assembly of the bicycle, and the likelihood of picking up some kind of gastro distress (which I'm also highly sensitive to in new regions), I convinced myself it made sense to join Liehann in flying out to Cape Town a week early.

Oh, jet lag. I don't sleep on planes. Doze for five minutes here and there, but that's the extent of it. I drugged myself once, and that just made it worse: I was air sick, awake, and out of it. (I do take Dramamine for the motion sickness. It causes sleepiness but not actual sleep.) This flight was nearly thirty hours — eleven-plus hours overnight from SFO to London, a six-hour, vaguely mid-day layover at Heathrow, and another eleven-plus-hour flight through nighttime darkness to yet the other side of the world. I frequently glanced out the wind…