He slept only two hours a day and rode the rest. And after 10 days, 16 hours and 40 minutes, adventure athlete and former Dusi champion Martin Dreyer shattered the record for the Freedom Challenge, a race across South Africa.
The race began on June 9, when the first of 100 riders left Pietermaritzburg. It was a staggered start and on June 19, Dreyer and the fastest riders set off to hunt them down.
Their destination: Diemersfontein wine estate outside Wellington in the Western Cape, 2 300km south, via the Drakensberg, the Eastern Cape, the Karoo, Baviaanskloof, the Swartberg and into the Cape Winelands.
“In most races, like the Absa Cape Epic, you ride a specific distance every day,” Dreyer explained on Monday night.
“What makes this race unique is that you can make it as hard as you want to make it. You’ve got 26 days to finish and there is food and accommodation every 90km.
“I came into it to test myself, to push myself to the limit – to experience arriving in Die Hel in the freezing cold at midnight, sleeping on the side of the road, before charging on.
“I’ve done a fair bit of adventure racing around the world, but it’s always in teams, and you’re only as strong as your weakest member. This time it was just me; there were no boundaries.”
But Dreyer soon found out that as hard as he pushed himself, he still had more in the tank. So instead of stopping for the night every 90km, he would stop to pay his respects to the farmers who intended to host him for the night and then move on – sometimes doing three stages in a single day.
“In the last week, I had only an hour to two hours of sleep a night. On average I was doing 250km a day, an average of 19 hours a day of riding. I surprised myself that I could still go,” he said.
The worst time of the day?
“The sunsets. It would soon be dark and the pressure of navigating was twice as difficult. The whole experience is ominous, daunting, miserable.”
And the best?
“Seeing my wife, Jeannie, and son Callum at the finish, and my newly born daughter Ruby… She was just four weeks old when I left.”
And he also loved the sunrises, when it became light, the path ahead clear after warmth crept back into the air, the dark danger of pre-dawn a thing of the past.
“I never forgot to stop and smell the roses, to take in the views, no matter how hard the day was. It was that which kept me sane,” Dreyer said.
Dreyer was always under pressure to reach Diemersfontein not later than June 29, due to a promise he made his wife – to not miss her birthday.