The Freedom Revolution Tour is an epic trip taking place from November 2010 – January 2011. This is an undertaking by a group of unicyclists from Cape Town. The trip will be to ride over 2500km's, from Durban to Cape Town, off-road, through the interior of South Africa over a period of 46 days.
We are in Durban! Team CounterBalance is unicylcing! I'm blogging!
We set three crazy unicyclists adrift – sorry, on their way, at the cheeky hour of 4:00 AM. We all got up at 2:30 AM to pack the PeopleWagon and get to Blue Lagoon from Geoff Brink's house, our awesome handle-bar-moustached host for the past two days. Jamie Falconer of redsockfriday even came to see us off!
Today, they will cycle some 70 km and stop in Umgeni Valley, and we'll spend the night at Indigo Skate Camp, courtesy of Dallas Oberholzer. Forecasts include unicycles on half-pipes, and tears.
Words: Kirby Kruger
Pictures: Geoff Brink
What day is today?
I mean, YOUR day. OUR day, at the time of writing, is Monday morning. Early. It's 12:10 -early.
Get comfy. This is a long post.
On Saturday morning I put up a quick and neat little go-get-'em blog post where I told you guys how we all woke up at 2:30 on Saturday morning to get Alan, Johnny and Donna to Blue Lagoon so that they could begin unicycling back home to Cape Town. All the way.
Remember how stoked and overwhelmed we all were?
We're cute that way.
This time of writing, (the beginning, I mean), is Sunday evening, close to 11 PM, is Day 2 of the Freedom Revolution Unicycle Tour.
Let me tell you about our past 48 hours.
So the three unicyclists left at 4:00AM, and I was left with the Purple PeopleWagon. For anyone not familiar with the nature of Durban's Blue Lagoon beach parking lot, (i.e us), Saturday mornings are the vomity receptacles of Friday night's leftover car parties, a game which seems to involve everyone bringing their cars and braais to one spot, and playing all of their songs on their car stereos, at the same time. And then attempting jovial, conversational banter over it.
So I, Geoff Brink, Jamie Falconer, and some fifty appreciative and slurring people who had no business being behind any vehicle with a steering wheel saw off these three plucky unicyclists, in their mulit-coloured neon gear. Well, Alan prefers orange, Donna is red, and Johnny likes green or yellow. So, I say mulit-coloured, but I mean within that range of colours. I took off in the PeopleWagon (which is, along with my Macbook, banana guard and sunglasses pouch, is purple), and decided to embrace a busy day ahead.
See, I had to, first of all, get a blog post up. And send off some emails. And make some calls. By nine o'clock, I was supposed to meet the unicyclists at the Indanda Dam, at a point we'd calculated using a combination of Google Earth, some geological maps, and a pretty vague national roads map. So we knew where we'd find each other.
Oh, see, I have a thick, detailed folder of all the maps and the rural routes the team will be moving through – footpaths, Jeep-tracks, grass fields – the challenge is to find a way to find them on their off-road route, whilst driving on roads. With a car. After I did my blogging, I decided to find the Inanda Dam first, and wait there for the riders.
Now, jee, I don't know anything about Durban. I mean, nothing. My maps? Are all national road maps. There are some major roads that show up, but that's it, y'know? And the Inanda Dam shows up as a little blob amidst some nameless roads. So, eh, I drive towards an area that looks close-by. Umhlanga seemed like a good idea. It wasn't. Nor was driving towards Stanger. I eventually stopped and asked for directions at an Engen Garage. As I start asking how to get to Inanda Dam, pointing carefully to the blue squiggle on my roadmap, I look up and see a big friendly green tourist board with the route and the exact place I wanted to be, mapped out like somebody had tried to make a map even Winnie the Pooh could understand. Sheepish, I got back to the PeopleWagon, and the two of us drove down to Inanda Dam, exactly like the big green friendly tourist board showed.
I'm writing from the PeopleWagon again. I've arrived at the Ntsikeni Reserve Lodge, I think, and have just bid good-bye to Claire and Elissa, our two accessory cyclists – traditional, two-wheel cyclists, I mean – who are also braving the Freedom Challenge route, but will be done in half the time it will take us. Well, they have double the number of wheels we have to work with, so I guess it stands to reason. They hitched an off-road ride with me this morning because they were meant to spend last night in Ntsikeni, but some complications have temporarily detoured them and forced them, kicking and screaming, to spend the night in the same place as Team CounterBalance, again. We met at Allendale, the Waddiloves' ridiculously hospitable farmstead, and regrouped again last night at Centocow.
Centocow is a monastery. It, along with several others dotting the landscape, was built for Trappist monks as specific sanctuaries designed to be exactly one horse-ride away, as monks could only sleep in monasteries; thus, if they left at dawn, they'd arrive at the next nearest monastery by dawn. Today, the place has been rigged to look like a trendy loft disguised as a foreboding red brick compound nestled next to an old church. There are three floors to the building; our sleeping quarters and chic little living-room/kitchen were on the top, and some small textile industry takes place in the middle – there is a massive loom spinning fabrics and fibers. The ladies who work there are quiet, industrious, and extremely accommodating; they helped us getting our bags up and down the flight of stairs when we arrived and left, and laid out places and prepared our dinner and breakfast. When I arrived at the monastery, several hours before the team, they were meticulously cleaning the place – mopping the wooden floors, preparing the beds. Centocow was an extremely cozy place to spend the night. Alan, Donna and Johnny arrived together at about 9 o'clock, all smiles – this was Donna's first full day on a route, which has been motivating for everybody.
The team sort of just missed a very incredulous reporter, Terry Mingay, who arrived with the caretaker, Bev, and writes for a local paper called Nix Matters. She and her kids grilled me on "How do they balance?" And "Why are they doing this?" They left about an hour before the riders arrived, despite her kids' protests – "We want to see the unicyclists!"
We got an early start this morning, after a quietly-prepared, massive breakfast spread, and loaded up Claire and Alyssa's bikes into the PeopleWagon so we could road-trip to Ntsikeni Valley together, where they'd leave and try and head for Masakala to make up for time they'd lost – they were meant to have left from Ntsikeni lodge early in the morning.
Johnny's just fastened a horn he found on a cycle route to his helmet, and is prancing around the hut at Masakala Guesthouse with it. It makes him look like a swept-back unicorn.
Donna is massaging Alan's back while he flicks through pictures on his iPhone, and we're all sitting on the cozy little veranda of the Masakali Guesthouse, with its pillars draped in grape vines and villagers shooing cows and horses home.
I regret that so far, pretty much all I've talked about is from the perspective of the Purple PeopleWagon.
I need to get more into the heads of unicyclists – of what they're experiencing. How they'r finding the terrain. How they're managing to keep it… balanced. I sneak out my Macbook and surreptitiously start typing while I ask innocent, unobtrusive questions. They'll never figure out I've set up a sneaky interview.
So, what's the first thing that comes to your mind after this day?
JOHNNY: Wind. Side-wind.
JOHNNY: We met a man who told us there's a giant snake who lives in the Drakensburg who controls the wind, and that he's angry! Today was a day with terrain that wasn't that challenging, but what made it this tough was this wind which wouldn't let up, which constantly comes from the side; you have to twist your whole body to counter-act the wind, when you're already twisting your body to counter-act everything else, and you twist muscles that, you know, you shouldn't be twisting!
So, muscle-wise, what's hurting the worst?
JOHNNY: (slaps himself above the knees) This part. The top part
ALAN: It's different – with the wind, it's like my upper body really got a work-out; my back and neck is stiff too. But mostly it's the legs.
The mud today? How do you cycle through that?
JOHNNY: You don't! You walk!
ALAN: THere's no traction, see…
I know about that "no traction" thing…
ALAN: The wheel just spins…
I know all about that too!
JOHNNY: We do get to ride the downhills in mud, you can get by without traction that way. Flat sections and uphills, where you don't have any traction, is the main issue, really. Otherwise, you can't move through mud.
What's been the toughest so far?
JOHNNY: Day 1.
ALAN: No doubt about it.
JOHNNY: Psychologically, physically, everything. Navigation was a big issue.
ALAN: There really was a bit of a panic, in terms of what we were actually in for. It was an unbelievably tough day.
DONNA: The people made it eerie.
JOHNNY: The worst was the humidity.
ALAN: We went through, what, 12 liters of water?
JOHNNY: And we went through 17 hours of riding, we ran into difficulties with people…
ALAN: Our support vehicle couldn't find us…
ALAN: Yeah, so it was just a shock of a day. It was bad.
JOHNNY: It was a very, very humbling experience about what we were in for. But we made it.
So has Day 1 still been the toughest, in terms of terrain?
JOHNNY: The terrain wasn't so bad! The toughest terrain was Minerva. Sorry, Ntsikeni – that was just completely unridable terrain.
ALAN: Minerva was really scary, because we really didn't know where we were, it was misty, we thought we were on the right course but couldn't be sure, and then we kind of just eventually popped up at the right place.
ALAN: It was the slowest we've done in the shortest distance. It went from nothing, to cattle track, to road, then we hit a Jeep track, so it improved eventually, but the marsh was impossible.
JOHNNY: You ask about the toughest terrain, but there's lots of things that factor into an experience which makes a ride tough or easy.
DONNA: It depends on if it's wet or dry, or light, or dark… a lot of things make navigation difficult. Weather plays a big part.
JOHNNY: Definitely, yeah.
DONNA: Maybe we should start summarizing weather conditions on the blog…
ALAN: Wind factor, sun factor, cloud factor…
DONNA: Silly-why-are-we-doing-this factor…
What's been your favorite route so far? Have you, um, have you been having fun?
ALAN: Good question!
JOHNNY: Well, ja! I mean, even Day 1 was fun, despite the circumstances, it's an adventure!
DONNA: Yeah, it's like a rewarding pleasure.
JOHNNY: Look, there were times when I wasn't smiling.
DONNA: Yeah, we found after you'd separated from us, when you were in Ntsikeni, you looked pretty wild.
ALAN: The look on your face was like an animal –
JOHNNY: I was stressed! I really was. I think that was my worst moment.
DONNA: Look how pretty the sky is.
JOHNNY: It's really pretty, Donna.
Is there anything you'd like to share that might be of interest to unicyclists?
JOHNNY: Yes. The reason we've been going so slow for these past 7 days, has not been terrain, it's been navigation. David Waddilove told us in the beginning, "You have a map, and you have a narrative. One of them is right." This is incorrect!
ALAN: We've spent a lot of time just stopping, re-routing, trying not to get lost. Sometimes we just don't know where we are.
JOHNNY: Many of the roads are simply not marked. We
ALAN: Also, we're very, very novel on the route. These people have never seen unicycles before. We hear a lot of laughter, a lot of screams, a lot of whistling. It gets a bit irritating afterwards.
JOHNNY: Lots of "Haibos!"
ALAN: And bicycles. Messed-up bicycles. One was held together with loops of wires, and falling apart… they follow us for kilometers.