Freedom Trail (South Africa)
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. It traverses 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 trail is unmarked and requires some proficiency in navigation, with bikers making use of maps and GPS waypoints. Accommodation stops are usually 3–4 hours apart, and include 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. Bikers can tackle the entire route or individual sections, solo or in groups, and accredited guides are available.
The route is open throughout the year. Coolest times for the trail are the autumn months of March to May, and in the 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 Challenge is an annual race over the same route from mid-June to mid-July. The winter race has a completion deadline of 26 days. Food and accommodation are provided at fixed overnight stops, but competitors are otherwise unsupported and cannot use GPS navigation. The only official reward is the prestigious Freedom Challenge blanket awarded to all who finish inside the cut-off time.
Since 2007, each rider carries 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.
In 2010, mountain climber and polar adventurer, Alex Harris completed the trail in 14 days 8 hours 10 minutes. In 2011, he beat the record with 12 days 15 hours 30 minutes.
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. Harris finished in second place some 7 hours later.
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.
- Freedom Trail Challenge website
- 2010 Freedom Challenge: Tales from the trail
- Gallery of Route Photos