Endurance athlete Alex Harris became the first cyclist to finish the Freedom Challenge in less than 10 days when he crossed the line early on Wednesday morning.
The 49-year-old from Johannesburg completed the 2 140km race from Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal to Wellington in the Western Cape at 4am after nine days and 22 hours.
Having achieved his goal of becoming the first rider to complete the journey in less than 10 days, he was still too exhausted to express his true feelings a day later.
“At this stage I am still too tired and sleep deprived to know how I really feel,” said Harris today of his herculean effort. “But when it finally sinks in I am sure I will be immensely relieved.”
Attention to detail and not wavering from a disciplined routine proved the key elements in his successful ride.
“It was essential to have a day-by-day breakdown of where I needed to be, coupled with a time-line of the course,” he said.
“This included a list of the really tricky sections and if it was possible to do them in the light. I followed a cue card which contained the important details I needed to stick to.
“In addition to that, you have to instil ruthless discipline to your planning throughout the race as time is your biggest enemy.
“For example, you have to constantly monitor time spent at stations so you do not deviate from your schedule.”
As an endurance athlete and explorer, Harris has faced some severe challenges, including summiting Mount Everest and walking unaided to the South Pole.
But his Freedom Challenge record owns a special spot in his CV.
“Compared to the other things I have done, to complete the race in under 10 days was definitely one of the hardest things I have done, period,” he said.
“There were numerous testing times on the course which can create doubt in your mind.
“For instance, the wind on Lehana’s Pass [in the Eastern Cape] was incredible, while stretches in the Baviaanskloof [also Eastern Cape] were so overgrown that I thought I would not get through.
“Also some areas in Stettynskloof [in the Western Cape] were overgrown, making it hard to negotiate.”
The Freedom Challenge was established in 2003 to create a mountain-biking trail across the interior of South Africa.
It covers some of the more isolated places in the country, but uses local accommodation and services so riders don’t have to carry all their own food and gear themselves.