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RTC/RTW 2021 Race Report #6 (Final report)

“overtime.noodle.activity” Craighall, Johannesburg
Friday 2 April 2021
Mike Roy
The 2021 RTC/RTW season is done and dusted. Riders are back home or gallivanting somewhere on the coast for Easter, much like the new record women’s record holder Ingrid “Gladiator” Avidon. She is currently with her family at Cintsa West in the Eastern Cape. They say that salt water is good for healing and soothing open wounds, particularly the type that is inflicted in places like the Osseberg.
Race Office is now closed (actually it’s never really closed, it has just changed location). Chris and Julia and their kids are presumably back in Cape Town. The Buffalo Herders are home, other than John the Geologist who continues in his efforts to catch a respectable fish at St Francis Bay. He told me this morning that he is switching to chokka as bait.
RTW 2021 may have had a relatively small field but this did not stop some outstanding performances from taking place. The highlights are as follows:
• The men’s race was won by Mike Woolnough in a truly sensational time of 42 hours and 50 minutes, by some margin, 16 hours, a new record. This performance (amongst the men) is surely on a par with the epic record rides of Martin Dreyer and Alex Harris in RTR and RASA over the years and the ride of Bruce Hughes in RTC in 2018, all records that are going to be very difficult to beat. Congratulations Mike, a pleasure to have witnessed your ride, you seemed to get stronger and stronger as the race went on. How anyone in the future is going record a faster time from the cattle grid in the reserve to Willowmore I am not quite sure.
• Roger Nicholson, in his second RTW, dueled with Mike most of the way, finishing in 50 hours and 40 minutes, thereby also breaking the record of 2020 by around 7 hours. Definitely his best FC performance to date. Interesting chatting to Roger after the race. I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing some of our conversation. Roger is one of the bigger racers, clocking in at 95kg. He tells me he used to weigh in at 20kgs heavier back in a day and feels that there is still room for losing more. Who knows what he is capable of if he does this and conquers the sleep monster problem that is probably the toughest opponent for those at the sharp end of the race. I recall Mike Woolnough himself saying that he is shadow of his former self when looking back at the weight he has dropped since he started cycling. The truth that FC shapes us in ways we never thought possible, mind body and soul. Even Buffalo Herders can learn from this.
• Ingrid Avidon is a reluctant heroine. She dismisses any talk of her being a top class rider, muttering things like “agh, I just ride for longer, I’m actually pretty slow”. On the latest evidence she is going have to accept she is one of the all-time FC women greats, alongside Jeannie Dreyer and Janine Stewart. Ingrid won (for the second time in her two RTW attempts) the women’s category of 2021 RTW in a time of 2 days, 14 hours and 58 minutes, taking nearly 14 hours of her own previous record. The only sleep she had was about three hours at Cambria after having lost three or four hours whilst lost in the Osseberg. If that time lost had been converted into more sleep there is little doubt she could have taken a few more hours off her winning time.
• Estelle Labuschagne came in second to record her best time for RTW of 3 days 14 hours and 58 minutes. Estelle could probably have significantly bettered this time, but she seems to have deliberately “ambled” in the Osseberg, leaving Mike Woolnough and Roger Nicholson the opportunity for a faster escorted ride through the Baviaanskloof in the 13:00 slot of that particular day. Estelle opted for the 6am slot the next morning. A collective doff of the cap to you Estelle, respect from all of us. Estelle now has 4 RASA and 2 RTW events under the belt. As she did in 2020 she cycled back to Cradock after finishing. Extraordinary, an yster.
• There are seven new finishers for RTW: Chris Mortimer, Guy Cluver, Mark Basel, Andy Pearson, Graham Lovely, Jerome O’Regan and Roger Bundle. Chris and Guy came close to joining the sub 3 day Silver Bokkie club and Mark surely would have joined them but for mechanical issues. Perhaps a viable target for next year for the three of them?
Congratulations to you all, we hope to see you back at future FC events, in fact I think I have read on one of the WhatsApp groups that is the plan. I am chuckling a bit at some of the comments from you guys after the Osseberg – “this isn’t a MTB race. Never again”. Compare that to the grins as you arrived at Willowmore.
• Chris Harburn added a second RTW to his list. Well done.
• Peter Roux unfortunately had to withdraw after an ankle twist coming down Struishoek. See you next year Peter.
Opportune for a little reflection on the record times for men and women for RASA, RTR, RTC, RTW and RTW. Obviously the RTP is open for record attempts, there had only been one event so far. In all the other races some keen times have been set. Jeannie Dreyer’s times as a percentage of the record time for men stands out but Janine and Ingrid have posted strong records in their own right.
• Men
o RASA Alex Harris 2020 9:22:00 (days, hours, minutes)
o RTR Martin Dreyer 2019 45:43 (hours, minutes)
o RTC Bruce Hughes 2018 42:51
o RTW Mike Woolnough 2021 42:50
o RTP Allen Sharp/Mark Basel 2020 84:27
• Women
o RASA Jeannie Dreyer 2013 12:05:55 (days, hours, minutes) (122% of men)
o RTR Jeannie Dreyer 2013 60:30 (hours, minutes) (132%)
o RTC Janine Stewart 2020 61:20 (143%)
o RTW Ingrid Avidon 2021 62:58 (147%)
o RTP no women finisher
I’m going to incorporate some of Mike Woolnough’s words into this report, following a discussion on social media about some of the more challenging portages on FC:
“Struishoek and I have developed an understanding. After traversing the Osseberg track (Mordor) 7 times I feel the stirrings of a friendship forming. I just wish it would go easy on the bloodletting. It’s like that pet cat some people have that delights in ambushing you with claws fully extended around every corner. The weird thing about the Freedom Trail is the hardest bits are the sections that endure in your thoughts long after the race is over. On my first RASA these hard sections crushed me daily but in time I longed to go back and do them again. The smooth open roads are nice but they can be found anywhere—they don’t build character and they don’t strip you of ego. The hard bits help expose the inner person we often suppress. I like many others, including many Freedom “gladiators” have shed tears of frustration when the trail wins a skirmish. I’m not ashamed to admit that. This trail we call Freedom has helped shape a better version of myself”
Which brings me to the runners, talking about shaping better versions of ourselves. I thought I’d leave this final report to pay homage to the Fabulous Four (Andy Wesson, Dean Barclay, Peter Purchase and Nicky Booyens) who have now added RTC to their honours board in addition to the RTR that they successfully finished last year. The running versions of the FC are still in experimental mode and their finishing time of 8 days and some change earns them a windmill and sets the initial standard for a running RTC. There is no doubt there will have to be some rethinking on this format. Runners are slower than riders and the support stations are currently designed with riders in mind. The Buffalo Herders had the honour of filling in these gaps and twice we waited with food and water for the runners, in remote, beautiful and obscure locations. Fair to say that the highlight for us Buffalo Herders for this season of FC events was our interaction with the runners. Good people, they really are. We watch with interest their talk about doing RTW next year. We watch with even greater interest as to the future of running for FC. Will it grow to rival the riding side of FC?
On other fronts the Buffalo Herders have had a delightful couple of weeks, trying to be vaguely helpful in providing support to Chris and Julia. We really appreciate the thanks that we get, makes it seem all worthwhile. We look forward to growing and shaping this voluntary support in the future, drawing upon wider resources. Already we have Mike Potgieter (in his recovery year) and runner Andy Wesson volunteering to help us with the actual buffalo herding in the Baviaanskloof during RASA later this year. This help will be sorely needed given the large field that has entered RASA. We may well need additional support in KZN (with a big RTR field due to start at the same time as RASA). Please contact me if you are interested.
This year I have forgotten the tradition of thanking each of the support stations as they close. This is just not right and I apologize for my forgetfulness. Never too late though, so a belated thank you to Alpine Swift (Rhodes), Chesneywold, Slaapkrantz, Kranzkop, Brosterlea, Romansfontein, Hofmeyer, Elandsberg, Groenfontein, Oude Pastorie (Cradock), Pearston Hotel, Toekomst, Kleinpoort, Bucklands, Cambria, Damsedrif and the Willow Historical Guest House (Willowmore) for your service. Always appreciated and always part of the FC family. See you in June.
Postal history fans haven’t had much to enjoy, other than the discovery of the 1952 Post Office regulation in Rhodes and a few vintage postcards found in Cradock (apparently only one “d”, although opinions differ). The Buffalo Herders and the entire FC community will do our level best to rectify this in the future. I’ve attached a few vintage Eastern Cape postcards (found on the trip) to this post as an interim solution, hope this suffices.
On that note we switch our attention to the Freedom Circuit, the KZN 400/700km GPS enabled circuit race (starting and finishing at the same place) that starts 27 April. Entries are still open. The Buffalo Herders will be helping again and it will be interesting to see the different dynamics unfold. The field starts at the same time, riders find and fund their own accommodation so I‘m sure a few surprises await us from an organizational perspective.
Cheers until then.
 

RTC/RTW 2021 Race Report #4

“daring.lion.race” Victoria Manor Hotel, Craddock

22 March 2021

Mike Roy

Time to look at a few RTC statistics. Prior to this year’s event (the seventh RTC, the first one being held in 2015) the following is of interest:
  • 157 unique riders have finished RTC
  • 25 riders have done the race more than once, giving a total of 197 RTC finishes over the last 6 years.
  • 33 riders on average do RTC each year
  • Biggest field was 2017 with 50 riders (38 this year)

  • Riders who have 3 or more finishes:
  • Mike Woolnough (6)
  • Gavin Robinson (5)
  • Janine Stewart (4)
  • Jacques Tattersall (4)
  • Anthony Avidon (3)
  • Brad vd Westhuizen (3)
  • Casper Venter (3)
  • Chris Morris (3)

Record time is held by Bruce Hughes, a phenomenal 1 day, 18 hours and 51 minutes. Around 43 hours. Only three other riders have gone under 2 days, Mike Woolnough who has done it twice, Jacques Tattersall and Alex Harris.
The equivalent of a sub 15 day finish in RASA is sub 3 days in RTC. This is roughly the equivalent of getting a silver medal at Comrades. 17 riders have managed this (10.8% of the 157 riders who have completed RTC). The following riders are members of this illustrious club:
  • Mike Woolnough (6 times)
  • Anthony Avidon (3)
  • Casper Venter (2)
  • Janine Stewart (2)
  • Jacques Tattersall (2)
  • Alex Harris (2)
  • Bruce Hughes, Ingrid Avidon, Charles Mansfield, Chris Mortimer, Mike Potgieter, Leon Erasmus, Fjord Jordaan, Roger Nicholson, Mark Stewart and Gavin Horton (1)
Previous winners of RTC are as follows:
o Men (and overall):
 Mike Woolnough (2017, 2019, 2020)
 Alex Harris (2015, 2016)
 Bruce Hughes (2018)
o Women:
 Janine Stewart (2015, 2016, 2018, 2020)
 Ingrid Avidon (2019)
 Rebecca Sands (2017)
The 2021 field is arriving in Craddock thick and fast. By tonight only a few will be left on the trail, including the runners who are through 75% of their race distance wise and are facing a tough battle to get in before their self-imposed eight day cut-off. Still possible though. We found them up in the mountains yesterday, on their way to Hofmeyer, at that magnificent spot just past the 200 year old barn when the vista of the Eastern Cape opens up before you, feels like one can see forever. Sadly I’ve watched that barn crumble over the last 12 years, not much left now although it is still beautiful. I have attached a few pictures to this post that witness this decay.
The race for overall line honours and the race for the first woman home appears to be signed and sealed. Janine Stewart is having a phenomenal ride and will take both titles. She might still have the woman’s record (her own) in her sights, although that would be a big ask from where I see she is now, 129km in 8.5 hours or so. Not impossible though. This will be Janine’s third time under three days and her fifth time as winner of the ladies race. As far as we can establish the only previous time a woman has taken overall line honours in any FC event is when Jeannie Dreyer tied for first place with her husband Martin in RASA 2013.
I’ll give a full summary of other results in RTC in my next report when everyone has crossed the line here in Craddock but so far we have Henry Angove and Pieter vd Westhuizen joining the sub three day club with a 2 days and 19 hours ride. Very well done, especially in the conditions riders faced this year and also taking into account that they were delayed at Brosterlea helping their buddy Dallas. Given that they are the current record holders for RTW we look forward to their next race, whatever that may be.
Ingrid Avidon is having some interesting adventures in her own right. At one stage she appeared hell-bent on riding to Molteno and ended up last night being spoiled rotten by the farmer’s wife (or perhaps she is the farmer herself? At this stage we just do not know. If that is the case I wonder if Ingrid met the farmer’s husband?).
My buddy John Bowen has had a strong finish and looks set to get into Craddock today well before the six day cut-off. The blanket gets closer, well done John. Similarly I have been watching Iain Russel, another member of the XXXL club (like me) and he will come in today with a sub 5 day finish. Respect bud, I’ll speak to Chris about “right-sizing” the FC shirts for us bigger lads. Keep the momentum going, I know you have entered RASA, give it a proper go.
Janine Oosthuizen finished yesterday, hurtling around that second last bend and over the Fish River to grab a 4 and a half day finish. Watch her, early days but she has ambitions and once she has paid her school fees on the FC route might well be challenging at the sharp end in years to come. She rode much of the race with two proper gentlemen, Dave Holyoak and Deon Very, and we thoroughly enjoyed hearing their stories at the finisher’s dinner last night at Oude Pastorie. That tradition now includes a personalized video of each group, put together by the very capable race photographer, Llewellyn Lloyd. You may think Llewellyn is Welsh from his name but he comes from Bloemfontein and I suspect his ancestors gave the British a run for their money during the Boer War. What a lekker complicated country we live in.
The Buffalo Herders haven’t got a huge amount to report, it has been relatively quiet so far this event. A couple of rider pickups, Dallas Fenthum and this morning Cecil Murray, but we have tried to make up for this on the research side of things. The Vaalhoek Valley story continues to evolve. We met with Antoinette Labuschagne, joint owner together with her sister of the farm Stopoordt next to Slaapkrantz, in Barclay East on our way down to Craddock. She filled us in on stories of the wool trading adventures of her father and the various comings and goings of the British forces during the Boer War in the Vaalhoek Valley. She spoke of a nearby cave with evidence of people having gathered, for unclear reasons, and sent me a photo of a 1932 inscription on the wall, which includes a list of apparently local names. Perhaps some astute reader can help work out what the story is, I have attached the photo to this post.
My brother Gordon (RTC 2017, DNF (because of me)) sent me an interesting link yesterday. Apparently every three square metres in the world has a unique three word English name. If you don’t believe me go to www.w3w.co and see for yourself. I have just done that and I am currently in a small space (3 square metres) that is known as “daring.lion.race”. Aside from being somewhat alarmed (although I can’t really see anything too worrying at first glance) at being in a space with such a name, this is a wonderful discovery and will have a major impact on FC narratives, maps and reporting in the months and years ahead. Thank you Gordon Roy, FC is forever indebted to you.
I’m busy writing this report in the magnificent Victoria Manor Hotel in Craddock and have just met and had a lovely chat to Sandra Antrobus, the owner. Her surname rang a bell, turns out that Advocate Mark Antrobus is her late husband’s cousin. Mark’s daughter Lauren and my daughter Chelsea were at school together and of much more relevance is that Advocate Antrobus and Advocate (“Avacado’) and Buffalo Herder Gerrit Pretorius have or had offices (or “chambers”) next to each other. The world works in mysterious ways. Anyway, Sandra owns the hotel and more than 30 of the beautiful period houses in the same street. The one we are staying in is stunning, and all these buildings, including the hotel, are well over 150 years old. Postal historians amongst you will be thrilled to hear that I have been invited to tea at Sandra’s house tomorrow to see her postcard collection. At least I’m assuming it really is her postcard collection. Back in a day “would you like to come and see my stamp collection” was the yesteryear equivalent of today’s “would you like a cup of coffee?”. It had meaning.
Moving swiftly on that brings us to the close of today’s report. Until next time, in a few days. By that stage the RTC would have ended and the RTW will have just begun.
 

RTC/RTW 2021 Race report #3

Friday 19 March 2021

Barkly East, Eastern Cape

Mike Roy

We open today’s report with some eagerly awaited updates on some unfinished business from earlier reports. It is with much regret that we have to inform you that Lizette Fourie, the former sports masseuse to the All Blacks, will not be joining us at Cambria as part of the Buffalo Herder team. There is hope though, as she may well be available for RASA later in the year. Imagine that, after the horrors of the Osseberg, a soothing massage and the now traditional steak and chops to look forward to. There may be a happy ending after all.

It turns out that the story about Ingrid “Gladiator” Avidon is actually true, at least as near-as-dammit true. Ingrid, in her younger and more impressionable years, was indeed part of the Gladiator team, originally as part of the assessment and training function for the Gladiators. She was offered the chance to be an actual gladiator but figured that “Gladiator” wasn’t a natural fit for her professional career, and declined the well-intentioned offer. She is after all, aside from being an outstanding cyclist, Doctor Avidon (actually former Assistant Professor Avidon). In the end she ended up being the time-keeper on the Gladiator show, blowing the whistle next to Umpire Cyril (“ARE YOU READY”) Mitchley. Not many people know that a series of Gladiator stamps were produced (postal history fans, please contain yourselves) and Ingrid is featured on one of these stamps (on top of Cyril Mitchley, in the philatelic sense of the term). From now on Ingrid shall be known as Ingrid “Gladiator” Avidon as a mark of respect from the FC community.

This morning saw the start of Batch 4, the second last batch of this year’s RTC, only one more batch to leave Alpine Swift tomorrow morning, the sharp end of the field. Trevor Elliot, Laurence Chambers, Mark Rule, Andy Wright and Mike Arnold fall under the general moniker of “The Fat Farmers”, although there wasn’t much evidence of that descriptor that I could see. Of this group Trevor has completed RASA, RTP and two previous RTCs. Mike Arnold has three previous shorter FC events under the belt including riding the inaugural 2020 RTP together with Laurence Chambers and Trevor. Mark and Andy are riding their first FC event. By some margin the most relaxed group we have seen going through Alpine Swift.

Discussions over dinner last night ranged from the attractions and perils of investing in Bitcoin to the unfortunate oversight of the Wall Street Journal in their 100th anniversary edition of 1986 where they predicted the top 100 companies likely to succeed in the future. IBM, HP and some other obvious companies were included in the list. Excluded was Apple, even although there was a full page Apple advertisement right next to the published list of the companies likely to succeed. Useful advice for FC navigation, when you are lost sometimes the obvious solution is staring you right in the face.

Enslin Uys, who has so far demonstrated that he is indeed as good a rider as Bruce Biccard, could have done with this advice the day before yesterday when he experienced some considerable navigational pain after Goedehoop. East is not West. Come to think of it Bruce himself had some interesting navigational adventures in the Osseberg during last year’s RASA so perhaps the two friends have learned more from each other than we thought. Enslin has recovered well though and looks on course for a sub 4 day finish, although as I write I see he seems to have got himself lost again. Pivots, always challenging.

The runners are doing just fine. Notwithstanding that they have been ravaged by night monsters, they are well on track to finish within their 8 day cut-off, having completed 41% of the distance in 39% of the time available. My sense is that they are eyeing a sub 7 day finish, but achieving this will not be easy. I, like many of you I imagine, have really enjoyed the superb images that Andy Wesson, one of the runners, sends through on a regular basis. The other Batch 1 starters, the three Durban riders, Mike Harker, Mark Pattison and Kendall Slater together with Nico Louw (hanging in there to stay with them) have been motoring along on a one day at a time schedule. They are strong riders and I suspect will surge towards the end for a 4 days and change RTC.

Batch 2, the threesome of Nick, Tania and Fiona seem to be coping just fine. I suspect they are riding within themselves. Janine Oosthuizen (“Janice Opperman”) has the bit between her teeth on this batch’s third day and has opened up a gap of about ten kms on the rest of the group. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit if she is considering going through Romansfontein to Hofmeyer. David Holyoak, Deon Vrey, and Athony Gould are riding together with Nic, Tania and Fiona and also appear very happy with themselves as far as I can tell from staring at their dots on the tracker. I’ll ask them directly. John Bowen, who started with Batch 2, has fallen behind by half a day which shouldn’t be a problem if he gets through to Broslea tonight.

Mike Woolnough’s flock in Batch 3 get plenty of coverage on social media from Mike himself. Really good footage, the interviews make for great viewing. My interest is in Ian Russel, who like me, will naturally go to the back of the rack at any clothing store where the XXL and XXXL shirts find themselves. Big guys and FC aren’t really a natural fit but looks can be deceiving (think of how good a rider Mike Potgieter is) and Iain is having a strong ride so far. He is a project manager in Kazakhstan and it’s not easy to get any riding in while he is there, so all the more kudos to him. Speaking of Mike Potgieter I’m sure we are all looking forward to his return to the FC after his health challenges post RTW last year, stronger than ever I have no doubt. The 3 racers in Batch 3, Pieter vd Westhuizen, Henry Angove and Dallas Fenthum seemed a bit slow out the blocks this morning, unusually for them. No idea why, maybe a big night, nothing wrong with that.

Llewellyn Lloyd, our very talented photogarhper, told me last night about an interesting character from the 1980s, Joan Abrahams, otherwise known as Tannie Mossie. Back during the South West Africa/Angolan Bush War of the period she organised for pupils from the Oranje School for Girls in Bloemfontein to send letters to soldiers (including I imagine many FC riders of a certain generation) serving their country up in South West Africa and Angola. I suspect she herself had a soft spot for an man in uniform. These letters were sent with a sparrow (“mossie”) ¼ cent coin, the smallest coin in South Africa’s currency denomination, hence Tannie Mossie’s nickname. Legend has it that many friendships and some marriages resulted from these penpal relationships and that tattered copies of these letters were found enclosed in bibles in the pockets of some of serviceman that had been killed in action.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to get a similar initiative going for FC riders. I’m sure we can arrange for the pupils of selected schools along the route to send supportive letters to brave FC riders. Hopefully we won’t find any tattered copies in their pockets, somewhere out there in the cold and dark wilderness. And, who knows, perhaps we could ultimately celebrate a marriage or two.

Julia has asked me to remind you all about the Freedom Challenge Scholarship Foundation. Contributions have already been made from rider’s entrance fees but it would be wonderful if others could donate to the fund. If 4 people each contributed R250 per month a child from a rural home along the route is provided with a private school education at Mariazell Secondary School, a famous learning institute in East Griqualand. A full scholarship for 1 child is R12000 per year. The Foundation has funded over fifty kids in this manner over the years.

Banking details are:

Freedom Challenge Foundation
First National Bank
Account number: 62473449356
Branch code: 0025495

On that happy note we come to the end of this report. Feel free to point me in the direction of newsworthy stories.
 

RTC/RTW 2021 Race report #2

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Alpine Swift, Rhodes

Mike Roy

The first two batches of runners and walkers are off. The walkers and runners from Batch 1 are either through (the riders) or arriving at Slaapkrantz (the runners). Batch 2 (all riders) set off this morning and seem to be going along very nicely so far today. The beauty of the tracker function is that you don’t need me to tell you this, you can see for yourself. This allows me to write about other peripheral matters, which is wonderful, to me at least.

Perhaps a disclaimer before we get too far in the race. Last year I commented on a few happy looking couples that cycled past me and got myself into big trouble for having mistaken a non-couple for a couple in my report. All hell broke loose as a result and, in an effort to avoid making a similar error this year, I have scanned the entry list and can confidentially state that there are no couples. Not one. This comes as huge relief, especially as I have had a number of this year’s entrants take me aside to stress that they are not a couple, just very good friends, which was extremely helpful of them.

The Buffalo Herders had a lovely morning and walked four kilometers down the road (and back, we are fine athletes in our own right) to Rhodes for an early coffee. This really is a beautiful part of the world and the slower one travels the more wonderful it is. We were chatting about the use of GPS and bike computers and Advocate Gerrit told us about the FC event where he had two magnets on his wheel instead of the usual one magnet. The consequence of this unfortunate error was some absolutely appalling navigation errors as he was blissfully riding in reality half of what he was thought he had done. He has not repeated this error since removing the offending extra magnet.

We have met a few interesting people in the two days we have been in Rhodes. Mariska Jane, manager of the band Prime Circle and currently working at the newly refurbished Rhodes Hotel, is one of the RTC’s biggest fans in Rhodes. She has been at both 5am starts to date and has looked after the Buffalo Herders during the day at the hotel (as in providing us with wonderful cups of coffee). Aside from potentially showing us one of the pristine river swimming spots later today, she tells me that she thinks her husband may have dated Ingrid Avidon back in a day. Apparently, according to her, Ingrid was a Gladiator on the TV show of the same name. I’m sure Ingrid (“Gladiator Ingrid”) will confirm this one way or the other in due course.

Fiona owns the vintage memorabilia shop “Back in a Day” in Rhodes. For those of you who are into retro 1950 images, like I am, there is a magazine rack full of old Popular Mechanic, Life, Drum and other period magazines. Very much worth a look. I think these would complement the 200 editions of 1950s Woman and Woman’s Own magazines that I happen to own. Don’t judge, the Freedom Challenge community is a broad family and caters for all sorts of people, including guys who collect vintage woman’s magazines.

For the interest of our postal history fans Fiona relayed to me the story of her paternal great grandfather Sir (yes, a long story) Johannes Wessels who was Postmaster General of the Cape Colony at the time of the Anglo Zulu wars. When news of the loss at the 1879 Battle of Insandwala came through, the signal was so bad that he personally interpreted the message by placing his tongue on the receiving instrument, so faint was the signal. A useful tip for FC perhaps. When battling with communications, when you think all is lost, use your tongue.

We also bumped into some familiar faces from Johannesburg and Cape Town social circles, including Paul Moxley and Japie van Niekerk, who were part of a group of fly fisherman in the Rhodes area for the weekend. I walked away from our brief chat under the impression that both fellows are now committed to doing one of the FC events next year or perhaps even later this year. I have little doubt that they will convince others such as Chris Lawrance and Carl Chemaly to join them. John Barrow is finding it lonely out there.

The batch that started off this morning (Batch #2) are a fit looking bunch. Wonderful to see John Bowen back on the trail after his misadventure during RASA late last year, having to withdraw after slicing his foot open during a skinny dip (the last time he will ever do that) in the Umkomaas River on a very hot first day of RASA. John’s quest to get a blanket is one the legendary stories of the FC. He has three unsuccessful attempts at RASA under the belt and I know for certain he will be back again to get that elusive blanket. As I write this I am sitting with Gilly his wife and Georgie his daughter, staunch and very patient supporters of John. Interesting how today’s youngsters are preparing for a very changed world. Georgie has an archeology and ancient culture degree from Tukkies, qualifications in nutrition and personal training, and is currently completing a Pilates course. Many options for a career are open to her, not a bad idea these days.

Today’s batch also included three woman riders, Fiona Austin, Tania Pfaff and Janine Oosthuizen (“Janice Opperman”). All three look the epitome of lean, mean and very capable FC riders. Tania and Fiona are new to FC but Janine has a RTR and a RTW under the belt, as well as a Munga. She is also down for RASA later this year and she is clearly focused on honing her FC credentials. Who knows what she, Fiona and Tania are ultimately capable of, and we all look forward to seeing their journeys unfold. Janine Stewart, Ingrid “Gladiator” Avidon and others may have some emerging competition which is a good thing. At the briefing for Batch 2 last night Race Director Chris Fisher exhibited considerable bravery when publically asking Fiona her age when she mentioned she had a 40 year old son. Given that she doesn’t look that much older than her son’s age (the benefits of a heavy FC training schedule), I understood his puzzlement whilst admiring his candor. Turns out that the son is a stepson so it all made sense.

The remainder of Batch 2 are made up of five guys, four of which are newcomers to FC events. Nick Adams has completed one and a half RTCs in the past, the half being the COVID truncated event of last year in March when the field had to get off the course very quickly as a result of the first COVID lockdown. If that seems like a long time ago it is because it is a long time ago. FC has survived through all of it. The newcomers to the event include Anthony Gould, Enslin Uys, Deon Very and David Holyoak. Enslin is a doctor and buddy of Bruce Biccard and if he is anywhere near the class of rider that Bruce is he must be a very good rider indeed. Anthony tells me he is also a history hound so we will have plenty to talk about over the next week. At the very least he has a few things to look out for as he descends down Kapokkraal to the Spitzkop farmhouse. Italian artistry, dead British soldiers (more of that ongoing saga in future reports), an old ox wagon and imported vintage sheet metal shed kits (still standing) amongst others.

The Buffalo Herders have been branded. By this I mean we are now resplendent in FC Buffalo Herder kit, floppy hats, caps and T-Shirts. My wife says I look like Farmer Koos in my Buffalo Herder hat and vellies. This is a wonderful complement. In addition our cars have Buffalo Herder magnetic signs stuck on the sides. This must be one of the fastest growing sub-brands in the world. Buffalo Herders, we will rule the world.

The rest of the Buffalo Herder team have just returned from a recce out on the route, having left me to finish my report. They tell me that Enslin is riding like the wind and that all is well at the oasis of Chesneywold. Minky is still in command of the farm and, most importantly, the kitchen. As Odysseus managed to avoid being lured by the fatal attraction of the singing of the sirens, riders have to tear themselves away from the delights of Minky’s kitchen table. Linger too long, and it’s very easy to do that, and the perils of the Kapokkraal portage in the dark await. Glancing at the tracker it seems as if my friend John Bowen may have missed this important advice. This is surprising as I recall spending six hours lost in the dark with him on Kapokkraal in 2015.

On that note we reach the end of today’s report. I am aiming to have seven or eight reports out during the combined 2021 RTC/RTW events so the next report will be in three days or so. In the meantime we will be doing what Buffalo Herders do. Picking up Gladiators in Barkly East, seeking out obscure stories and helping Chris. Today we have taken over the admin (welcoming new riders, administering COVID tests, doing the race briefing) and Chris is going for a well-deserved cycle ride.
 

RTC/RTW 2021 Race report #1

Sunday 14 March 2021

Vrederust Farm, up and over Naude’s Nek

Mike Roy

Only three months ago we were winding up RTC/RTW 2020 in Willowmore, the conclusion to a tumultuous year in which the Freedom Challenge (‘FC”) calendar was turned upside down. This year we return back to some semblance of normality with the traditional March slot for the Race to Craddock (“RTC”) and Race to Willowmore (“RTW”). The Race to Rhodes (“RTR”) and the Race to Paarl (“RTP”) will be held as usual during June/July at the same time as the Race across South Africa (“RASA”). From henceforth we shall talk only of FC, RTR, RTC, RTW, RTP and RASA. It’s a lot easier for stressed Buffalo Herder report writers (Buffalo Herder update coming up later).

Incidentally for those who are a bit puzzled as to the “Paarl” designation when the race doesn’t actually go anywhere near Paarl, it is because the actual finish is at Wellington and the “RTW” was already used up by the RTW. It’s simple really, one of those compromises you just have to accept.

Before I get into the details of RTC, it is opportune to talk about a few broader brushstrokes for the FC. In no particular order these are as follows:

There is a new event, the Freedom Circuit. The jury is out on how we abbreviate this one as “FC” is already taken by the FC (suggestions please to the editor). This is a 400km or 700km circuit race, starting and finishing at the same place. The event will held in April partly on the existing FC route (although raced in the opposite direction) and also through some new terrain, all mainly in typical RTR territory. Other than circular route the major changes are that this is a GPS enabled race and that there are no official support stations. Where you stay and pay is up to you and your wallet. Similar to Tour Divide rules. It is hoped that this event will serve as a halfway house to draw riders into the wider family of FC events and also potentially, as a consequence of GPS being allowed, to attract some of the top overseas racers. For further information follow this link

www.freedomcircuit.com

This year’s RASA will be the biggest ever, with a field of around 100 entrants. This is partly due to the postponed 2020 event (which as you may recall was eventually held at the end of 2020 with a much reduced field) but also due to the burgeoning profile of the FC. It seems as if the investment into social media is paying off. Word has and is spreading which is fabulous for the future of the FC. The implications on logistics, in particular access rights and support stations, is going to be significant. We are probably going to need more Buffalo Herders as well and we are certainly not short of applicants, which is encouraging.

FC runners will ultimately become as numerous as FC riders. At least that is my prediction. Last year saw four runners finish the RTR within the same cut-off time for the riders, seven days. The same foursome are running this year’s RTC. Remember their names, Andy Wesson, Peter Purchase, Nicky Booyens and Dean Barclay. They are the pioneers. Much thought has been put into the cut-off time for runners for RTC and this year it has been set at eight days as the distance is significantly greater than RTR. There is clearly the potential for each of RTR, RTC, RTW, RTP and indeed RASA to be opened to runners. Interest has already been shown in entering RASA as a runner. I suspect cut-offs for runners might eventually settle at a ten days cut-off for each of the shorter events and forty days (think of the twenty six day cut-off for riders) for RASA. It may be ultimately difficult to hold the running event at the same time as the riding event, mainly due to logistics but the momentum is there. When one remembers that David Waddilove first ran the FC route before he cycled it, this running element will be true to the origins of the event and crucial to the sustainability of the FC.

Much of the focus of prior FC events has been on the extraordinary achievements of some of the finest endurance athletes in the country if not globally. Dot-watching is an industry in itself. One area where there is growing interest is in the achievements of woman riders (and runners for that matter). There have been some incredible performances by woman riders over the years and we are currently blessed with a very competitive group, a number of whom have entered this year’s RTC and RTW. More about this later, I have just heard we have a late entrant, Ingrid Avidon, for RTC which make things very interesting in the race for line honours for first woman home and possibly a new woman’s record.

There is another addition to the growing FC family, which currently consists of FC Riders, FC Runners, FC Race Office, FC Buffalo Herders, and FC Writers (of which there are many). It looks like we will soon have a resident FC Artist. Well known South African landscape artist Bruce Backhouse, himself a rider, will be joining the Buffalo Herders during 2021 RASA and will, over the next two years, be producing a body of work that will be sold off in 2023 as part of the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the FC. Our hopes are that an exhibition will be held at the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg after 2023 RASA. A significant portion of the proceeds from this sale will go to the Freedom Trail Foundation (more about this Foundation in my next report). In addition Bruce will, as he travels the route, be producing daily line drawings to augment the race reports that are produced. These drawings will also be leveraged in the future to further fund the Foundation.

Back to the RTC. A big field of 34 riders and 4 runners set off this week, spread out over five batches starting from Tuesday. Over the next few reports I will be covering this race. In this report I’d like to focus on one aspect, the changed role that Mike Woolnough is taking in this year’s RTC. I’m going to give Mike the floor here. He is, aside from being a proper FC rider and undisputed champion and multiple winner of the RTC, very much one of the family of FC Writers (more about that as well in future race reports). So over to you Mike:

“Spring 2020 will find me lining up for Race to Cradock for the 7th time, which includes every version since the inception of the race. For the first time I will have overnight sleep kit in my backpack. I will be joined by 6 Freedom Trail rookies. Actually 5 rookies as 1 of them (Colleen Cawood) has been on the trail a couple of times but is keen to learn how to self-navigate.

Cognisant of how people are keen to get on the trail but are intimidated by the self-navigation component I decided to offer my services as a mentor to a dedicated start batch. I won’t be pointing them down the trail. Rather, I will get them familiarised with directional orientation and how to interpret real world features from scribbles on a map.

We will be taking it easy riding from support station to support station each day. The key is for them is to learn the craft which entails learning and then putting into practice a handful of techniques. It’s not difficult but anxiety has a way of amplifying fear and making simple tasks appear insurmountable. I will be there to answer queries and teach basic navigation techniques, trail etiquette and how to manage your day. Once we start moving each day my primary role is that of sweeper and if needs be fixer of bad route choices.

Why am I doing it? I love racing but I also love encouraging people to experience what has captivated me for the best part of the last 15 years—riding the Freedom Trail. The trail has fed my spirit of adventure and made me realise that I am far more capable than I originally thought I was. As a result I have grown as a person as I have challenged myself to go further and faster. If I can ignite a passion for this kind of adventuring in other people it will be a satisfying way of paying it forward”

A wonderful gesture Mike and I am sure you and your flock will enjoy your ride. We look forward to seeing you along the route.

The Buffalo Herder team is as it ended up at the end of last year. Elton the Mechanic (“Elton”), Gerrit the FC Legend (Race #8 (“Advocate Gerrit’), John the Geologist (“John the Geologist”), and I are back again, hopefully adding a bit of value and certainly having a heap of fun. The Johannesburg Buffalo Herders overnighted on our way down to Rhodes in Aliwal North (where Andre Buys of Slaapkrantz fame is a teacher). Elton and I shared a room and, when comparing notes the next morning, we were astonished to find out that, in the opinion of the other, neither of us had snored. This was totally contrary to the opinion of our wives, who have been telling both of us for decades that we snore like crazy. Advocate Gerrit suggested that we may need additional corroborating evidence before confronting our respective wives so we made the decision to sleep with as many different people as possible during this early FC season, gathering their feedback. Advocate Gerrit said he didn’t think (in fact he looked quite worried) that our wives would look too favorably on this idea (as logical as it appears at first sight) either so it is unfortunately a non-starter. We are therefore, rightly or wrongly, condemned to be snorers forever.

Whilst driving up into Rhodes we came across two walkers. Being gregarious creatures of habit, we stopped to have a chat. The upshot of this chat is that we may have an additional Buffalo Herder. One of the walkers, Lizette Fourie, was the professional sports masseuse for the All Blacks back in a day and, being a seemingly free spirit, she seems keen to join the Buffalo Herder team. We are uncertain as to whether this will actually materialize but do not be alarmed if you are offered a soothing massage at Kudu Kaya. Only if Lizette is there mind, the rest of us Buffalo Herders don’t have those skills.

Postal history aficionados need not despair. The Buffalo Herders continue to be vigilant in this crucial area of research and can report that a full set of the 1952 Post Office Regulations can be seen in the foyer of the newly reopened Rhodes Hotel. The new owners, a group of local farmers, have done a great job and both the Buffalo Herders and Janine Oosthuizen (“Janice Opperman”) can attest to their hospitality. Janice (“Janine”) arrived four days prior to her start on Wednesday in the RTC and is apparently having a marvelous time up at Tennahead.

My Tuesday report will cover the folk starting on Tuesday, race winner contenders and the like. The Buffalo Herders will work our way tomorrow back up Naude’s Nek and over and down to Rhodes where we will report for duty at Alpine Swift, the starting base of the FC for RTC. We are currently “team building” at Vrederust, the superlative farm owned by the Naude family itself (thanks again Tim James).

Freedom Challenge 2021 is open for business. Enjoy.


RTC 2021 - COMING SOON!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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