Freedom Trail (South Africa)

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The Freedom Trail is a 2350 km long, 37 000 metres of ups and downs, mountain bike route across South Africa, from Pietermaritzburg in the east to Paarl in the west. This technically challenging trail was started in 2004 and is made up of dirt roads, dirt tracks and cattle tracks featuring impressive geological and scenic diversity, going through some seven biomes, from the high mountains of Lesotho, to the wide open spaces of the Great Karoo, crossing six mountain ranges, criss-crossing countless valleys, venturing through unspoilt wilderness areas, a few national parks and some nature reserves. The route is open throughout the year, and riders not participating in the annual race may tackle the entire route or part of it, at their discretion. Bikers may be solitary or in groups, and may make use of accredited guides if they choose. The Freedom Trail is unmarked and requires some proficiency in navigation, with bikers making use of maps and GPS waypoints. Accommodation points are usually 3–4 hours apart, and may be guest houses, country hotels, game lodges, nature reserve cottages and even furnished caves. These are all fully serviced, enabling bikers to dispense with tents and sleeping bags.

Coolest times for the trail are the autumn months of March to May, and in spring from September to early November. The summer months from November to February may be very hot, while winter months from June to August may be very cold with occasional snowfalls at high points along the route.

The Freedom Trail Challenge is an annual race over the same route from mid-June to mid-July, is unsupported and has a completion deadline of 26 days. Food and accommodation are provided at fixed overnight stops.[1] Mountain bikers completing the route find that they achieve new levels of mental and physical fitness, and claim that their outlook on life has undergone remarkable change. In 2010, mountain climber and polar adventurer, Alex Harris completed the trail in 14 days 8 hours and 10 minutes, the second fastest recorded time in the history of the Freedom Challenge.

The 2007 race had each rider carrying a personal tracking device produced in South Africa. With a weight of 180g and 18 hours of battery life, the device records and transmits position, speed, altitude and ambient temperature, providing spectators with ample information about the riders' progress.[2]

In 2008 the race became part of an extreme triathlon made up of the 87 km Comrades Marathon, the Freedom Trail Challenge and ending with the 240 km Berg River Canoe Marathon. The event was expected to cover the period from 16 June to 12 July.

Martin Dreyer, seven-time winner of the Dusi Canoe Marathon and winner of the 2006 Land Rover G4 Challenge, set a new record for the 2012 race with a total time of 10 days 16 hours 40 minutes, improving on the previous record of 12 days 15 hours 30 minutes set in 2011 by Alex Harris. Harris, who had also won in 2010, finished second to Dreyer, arriving some 7 hours later.[3]

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