|Race Across South Africa 2020|
|Alex Harris||09d 22h00|
|Mike Woolnough||12d 03h47|
|Tim James||12d 08h45|
|Arno Crous||13d 13h45|
|Bruce Biccard||13d 17h12|
|Eddie Stafford||14d 13h45|
|Luke Matthews||14d 17h12|
|Rowan Matthews||14d 17h12|
|Grant Hill||16d 08h18|
|Trevor Maarschalk||16d 08h18|
|Adrian Payne||17d 13h33|
|Nigel Payne||17d 13h33|
|Jeanette Scoular||20d 10h55|
|Gary Scoular||20d 10h55|
|Ernst Behrens||20d 12h11|
|Brad vd Westhuizen||20d 13h30|
|Nicky Nairn||20d 13h30|
|Ted Adam||22d 10h55|
|Shaun Adam||22d 10h55|
|Race to Paarl 2020|
|Allen Sharp||3d 12h27|
|Mark Basel||3d 12h27|
|Chris Morris||4d 12h08|
|Dave Moberly||5d 10h15|
|Erik Egeland||5d 10h15|
|John Wardle||5d 10h15|
|Laurence Chambers||5d 10h15|
|Glen Haw||5d 10h15|
|Gregg Sneddon||5d 10h15|
|Mike Arnold||5d 10h15|
|Peter Button||5d 10h15|
|Trevor Elliott||5d 10h15|
|Barry Duff||5d 12h45|
|Chris Harburn||5d 12h45|
|Craig Copeland||5d 12h45|
|Jeremy Nel||5d 12h45|
|John Foord||5d 12h45|
|Jonathan Williams||5d 12h45|
|Nigel Thorpe||5d 12h45|
|Russel Hanger||5d 12h45|
|Sean Paul||5d 12h45|
|Race to Rhodes 2020|
|Tim James (SS)||2d 16h20|
|Derrick Bingham||3d 06h33|
|Carlo Gonzaga||4d 12h10|
|Johnny Anderton||4d 23h44|
|Koen Frederix||5d 07h34|
|Charles Mansfield||5d 07h34|
|Ted Adam||5d 07h34|
|Sebastian Martegoutte||5d 07h46|
|Bruce Knowles||5d 07h46|
|Shaun Knowles||5d 07h46|
|David Holyoak||6d 07h30|
|Deon Vrey||6d 07h30|
|Ernesta Meintjes||6d 07h46|
|Riaan Meintjes||6d 07h46|
|Janine Oosthuizen||6d 12h10|
|Andrew Wesson||6d 16h04||*run|
|Dean Barclay||6d 16h04||*run|
|Nicky Booyens||6d 16h04||*run|
|Peter Purchase||6d 16h04||*run|
|Emily Siegel||6d 16h26|
|David Graber||6d 16h26|
|Rene Venter||6d 18h10|
The Final Four rolled in to Diemersfontein at 16:55 yesterday afternoon, bringing to a close the 2020 Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa. Well done to you all. You thoroughly deserve your blankets.
In summary RASA 2020 reads as follows:
• Alex Harris won the event in a record time of 9 days 22 hours, his third RASA victory and a blanket for each of his four kids. This is important, every one of us should make sure that each of our kids has a blanket, it is a constitutional right, like food and shelter.
• Mike Woolnough just missed out on going under 12 days but nevertheless achieved a personal PB of 12 days and four hours, second place plus a bonus of an epic Stettynskloof story on his last day.
• Tim James also achieved a personal best time of 12 days and nine hours, taking third place and breaking the single speed record of Glenn Harrison. How did this whilst looking like he was on a casual holiday ride with all his kuiering I have no idea. At Cambria he referred to the magic formulae of 2,2,1,1 (something along those lines). Basically the number of hours sleep per night until the finish. It worked.
• 19 riders finished out of a starting batch of 22. Charles Mansfield, Janine Stewart, John Bowen will be back again I am sure.
• Bruce Biccard, Luke Matthews and Eddie Stafford all joined the sub 15 club on their maiden voyages. Arno Crous and Rowan Mathews, already members, went under 15 days again. Sub 15 days is like getting a silver medal at Comrades or the Two Oceans, a proper achievement.
• Jeanette Scoular was the first woman home in 20 days and 10 hours.
• Ted Adam became the oldest RASA finisher at 71 years. I note with interest that John Rex has entered RASA 2021 and will 74 or so if and when he finishes. This record has seemingly no boundaries.
• The Stone Saddle award this year has been awarded to Jeanette Scoular. The decision was a very close run thing between Jeanette and Arno Crous, each having suffered for an eternity with challenges not many people would have overcome. Respect.
The challenges of hosting RASA in this unusual year have been well documented. I think huge kudos must go to Chris and Julia Fisher for pulling off a 2020 event, thereby ensuring that the sequence since 2004 is unbroken. There is no doubt that, albeit with an understandably smaller field, the event was a success and lived up the high standards of prior RASAs. The event is in good hands with you two.
What can we take from this year?
• The debate about the relative difficulties of winter vs summer RASAs will rage on forever. This is not a bad thing.
• Will we ever have another summer RASA? General opinion seems to strongly support a switch back to winter but maybe we should think about that for a while. Could we have alternating winter/summer events perhaps? Like an up and a down Comrades. Alternatively we could have both a summer and a winter RASA every year, perhaps with the summer event allowing GPS? The possibilities are endless.
• The experiment with the runners was a resounding success. Not only are they incredible athletes but they brought the intriguing possibility of opening up the entire Freedom Challenge trail and all the events to trail running athletes. Hosting cycling and running together worked well. Personally I don’t think canoeing will work, although never say never, a distinct advantage for the short Umkomaas stretch.
• The variety and richness of the reporting on this race was amazing. Encouraging participants to contribute photos, videos and reports was a huge success, as was the excellent new tracking functionality. Fans were spoilt for choice and for the first time were really given a chance to experience on a granular level the beauty and harshness of the Freedom Challenge. I can only imagine this year’s interactive coverage has been very effective in building the Freedom Challenge brand. I have a feeling entries for next year are going to flood in (I see that 56 people have already entered RASA 2021). In many ways it was quite a challenge for me to add something relevant to the mix when writing my race reports, which was a reflection on how effective the various feeds were.
Attending the final blanket ceremony at Diemersfontein was young Lwandile Mathomane from Masakala. Lwandile is in his first year of mechanical engineering at UCT and is there because of his hard work and also the support of the Freedom Challenge Scholarship Fund. To date 45 youngsters have been funded, mainly to support their attendance at the renowned mission school Mariazel High School.
Anyone wishing to contribute to this fund is encouraged to take a ticket or two in this year’s Scholarship Fund Raffle. Banking details are as follows:
Freedom Challenge Foundation
Cresta Branch 00254905
Swift: FIRNZAJJ or FIRNZAJJXXX if a 11 digit code is required
R500 per ticket gets you a chance to win an entry into any 6 day FC event.
The Buffalo Herders have hugely enjoyed this year’s RASA. We would like to thank Chris and Julia for accepting our offer to volunteer our time to support them. We have had a front row seat to each rider’s journey and have enjoyed getting to know you all. Thank you for your tolerance of us, sometimes we weren’t quite sure whether we should be invisible and only there when really required. I hope we got the balance right, apologies if we didn’t.
On reflection I think there is an opportunity and a necessity for this type of volunteer assistance to the Freedom Challenge to help ensure the sustainability of the event for decades to come. Perhaps we can do all of this under the “Buffalo Herder” fledgling brand. I have had quite a number of people contact me to volunteer their help, which is great and bodes well for the future.
On a personal note I’d like to thank my friend and wingman John the Geologist. I couldn’t have done alone what was expected of the Buffalo Herders. Great company, admirable efficiency and he is welcome back for another stint anytime, when hopefully we will actually see a buffalo.
The support stations of McGregor and Trouthaven as well as the finishing venue of Diemersfontein are now closed for 2020. Thank you to them and once again to every one of the other support stations for their service, without which the Freedom Challenge would not exist. You are part of the Freedom Challenge family.
In closing we doff our caps once again to the founder of this event, David Waddilove, whose legacy lives on. Thank you.
Roll on June 2020, a winter Freedom Challenge.
Anysberg Nature Reserve/Montagu/McGregor
One seldom gets a game reserve to oneself. On Tuesday night the Buffalo Herders not only had sole custody of Leguaan lodge but also of the entire Anysberg Nature Reserve. The reserve is technically still closed due to water restrictions (nice to have a different reason than COVID). Chris must have done a deal with Cape Nature and Freedom Challenge still has the right to use the third cottage from the right, Leguaan. We bumped into Marius Brand, the reserve manager on our way in. He was on his way home. For those of you familiar with the route he and his wife Adri live in that beautiful whitewashed cottage on the left when you are about halfway through the reserve. We met Adri a little further on as she cycled home. They have managed this reserve for the last 12 years, which includes those years when the Freedom route came in from the North, passing the widow’s (sadly she passed away in January of this year) house just before one entered the reserve. Few will forget that sandy section. I recall an abandoned farmhouse where a perfect vintage French petrol pump, with the old glass tubes, still stood proud. I’ll try find out if it is still there (apparently it is, I checked with Marius).
John the Geologist is in charge of culinary affairs and is braaing us a lekker steak. There is a herd of gemsbok and eland in front of me, not far off, about ten in total. The sun is setting on the Anysberg and I know we are pretty lucky to be where we are right now. Earlier I took a walk to the graves of the du Plessis family who used to own this area of the reserve. The graves are still well tended and a lone gemsbok stared me down as it stood guard next to the graves of Meneer en Mevrou du Plessis, both buried in the 1930s. Apparently their relatives still visit, the last such visit being around 5 years ago. They were by no means the first European settlers. The first Trekboers came through in the late 18th century and faint evidence of their very rough dwellings still exists. Marius tells me he regularly stumbles across unmarked graves. This isolated reserve has seen people come and go. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
In RASA 2009 I was by some distance (possibly measured in weeks, not days) the last rider in the field and when I finally arrived at Anysberg the inn was full. I spent the night on a mattress in the manager’s office, sharing it with a nesting tit babbler (it’s a bird, don’t get too alarmed, or excited for that matter). In the office I found an archeological study of every human dwelling in the reserve, dating back to the late 17th century remnants referred to above. It was a really good read and we tried yesterday to find that same file, without success.
Anysberg Nature Reserve was officially proclaimed in 1990 after quite a number of farms were consolidated in the decade preceding the opening. It is very isolated, the closest towns of Touwsrivier, Ladismith and Laingsburg are than 70km away. We drove in from the N1, turning left at Laingsburg. The drive from there to the reserve is one of the loveliest drives you can imagine. Beautiful dirt roads, and humbling Anysberg vistas. The reserve falls under Cape Nature and is in great shape, notwithstanding they were closed for most of this year (COVID and water restrictions due to the drought). Storm clouds are gathering on the horizon though. Money in Cape Nature is tight. Like so many parastatals in SA the revenue streams have to feed an ever growing top heavy work force.
On the riding front the five who were scheduled to finish on Tuesday did so. Well done to them. The final four still on the course, the Adams and the Scoulars made it through to Montagu yesterday and are currently on their way to McGregor and will no doubt move on to Trouthaven today. This means a grand finale on Friday at Diemersfontein.
The Buffalo Herders have leapt ahead and we are safely ensconced at McGregor Backpackers which is run by Geoff and Dorothy Botten. This is a new venue as a support station and we were keen to see for ourselves why there have been such positive comments from riders. One night down and we have decided to stay here again tonight. Granted, Trouthaven is full tonight (with the final four) but we may have done so even if it wasn’t. Last night we found a very welcoming wine bar, made some new friends and as a consequence we have an 11am appointment this morning at Susan Walker’s beeswax candle making factory. A week ago I wouldn’t have foreseen that happening, but that is the Freedom Challenge for you, surprises around every corner. Buffalo Herders have different surprises I suppose. John the Geologist and I met a honey farmer in the Baviaanskloof so perhaps we can link Susan and him up, beeswax is expensive.
We could also go to the Donkey Sanctuary, the third such establishment we have seen on route. Donkeys must be in big trouble, I’m not sure why, they are fairly lovable beasts of burden. Perhaps their eternal pessimism (think of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh) has finally been their downfall. John the Geologist may go to the sanctuary (alone, frankly it doesn’t move my cheese) and find out what the story is. I will concentrate on post offices, rugby fields and train stations.
On our way through to McGregor we stopped off briefly in Montagu at the De Bos Backpackers. They are now in their fourth year as a FC support station and we met Tracey, the owner (and very briefly her husband Andy). They came down from Botswana some years back and have bought and restored a beautiful 1860s property that is also well suited to the Freedom Challenge event. By all accounts riders have enjoyed their stay there so with McGregor we are spoilt for choice.
Whilst in Montagu we caught up with Charles Mansfield and his wife Heidi. You may recall Charles had to withdraw at Moordenaarspoort with Shermer’s Neck. He is recovering slowly. We chatted about the allure of all these small Karoo towns. John the Geologist and I (not as a couple mind, although never say never, we’ve been together for quite a while now) have commented that we could quite happily live in any of the quite beautiful villages or towns we have been through in the Eastern and Western Cape. Willowmore, Prince Albert, Montagu, and McGregor, they all have a tranquility and simplicity that appeals. Perhaps similar to the Freedom Challenge itself. All that matters is you and your bike and the route for the day. By day you have a landscape, at night you don’t even have that, just a circle of light. It feels good. Perhaps this is what happens when one gets older, a desire to travel lighter. If that is the case I have plenty to shed, in more areas than one (a comment aimed mainly at my somewhat expanding midriff).
The support stations of Gamkaskloof, Rouxpos and Montagu are now closed for 2020. Thank you for your service. RASA 2020 will finish tomorrow, 23 days after the first batch set off on Wednesday 7 October. Ted Adam looks certain to become the oldest finisher. What is still at stake (I think?) is who will be the first woman home? Nix finished a few days ago for a time of 20 days and some change. Jeanette Scoular look set to finish on Friday which will give her a time of also 20 days and some change. So it is all about the change, how much exactly (I’ve just been told by Race Office that it is 13 and half hours, so a finish before 19:30 will give Jeannette line honours). Game on.
RASA has the habit of a slow and laborious start, or so it seems, and then once everyone is on the course it accelerates ever faster. Towards the end riders seem hell bent on getting to Diemersfontein as quickly as they possibly can. Doubles become triples. It is Tuesday today and by Friday or Saturday, unless someone suddenly switches to tourist mode, the 2020 RASA will be over.
Ten riders have already finished. There are nine people left on the course. The Honeymoon Couple Brad and Nix, together with Ernst Behrens should finish today (a 20 day + ride), probably alongside the Payne brothers (a 17 day+ ride). Ted and Shaun Adams (approx 22+ days) and Mr and Mrs Scoular (approx 20+ days) look well set to finish on Thursday or Friday, perhaps a little later. A most unusual Freedom Challenge will have come to an end.
The Buffalo Herders are at the back of the field. We had to do an extra escort through the Baviaans when the back-up buffalo herder could only manage the Saturday and not the Sunday. This worked out fine as we had to loop back to PE to get a new wheel for Ted Adams. Our bonus drive through the Baviaans was unfortunately fruitless again in terms of spotting any buffalo. Not one buffalo seen by us or any of the riders (as far as I am aware) during any of the 2020 RASA traverses. We had an interesting chat with one of the rangers yesterday. The drought has undoubtedly had an effect but he did suggest that poaching is starting to take its toll. A day pass, a rifle, some sharp knives, a bakkie and perhaps porous gate control is all it takes. Bushbuck, kudu and buffalo are all at risk.
One last stop for some WiFi and a cool drink at Dam se Drif. The Jansen van Rensburgs (Hestelle and Rune) were busy with friends over a Sunday (lamb?) potjie (the sheep with a missing leg was still hobbling along, which was a relief), looked lovely and we were tempted to stay but we had a wheel to get to Ted in Willowmore. Sunday night was our second night at The Willows. Good to catch up with El-Anne and Derek, her husband, and great to see how busy the venue was. Harley Davidson bikers, photographers from George and the Freedom Challenge.
El-Anne’s Dad established The Willows. He is now further down the road at Sophie’s Choice (with Sophie I think, who has chosen him) and his daughter and her husband have taken over for some time now. They both went to school at Paarl Gymnasium and, as is the norm, both of their children will do their schooling there as well (one is already there). Makes for some interesting dynamics with getting kids to school, especially during these COVID times.
Electricity was in short supply in Willowmore. The local authority (Dr Beyers Naude) owes Eskom R134m and Eskom have lost their patience and, more importantly, have won a relevant court case which allows them to suspend services. They have now cut supply for non-payment. The impact is felt everywhere and hopefully bloated pay-rolls will shrink, bills can start being paid and the power can be switched back on.
John the Geologist and I had a pleasant enough amble through the town on Willowmore. We can tell you that Willowmore looks in good shape, perhaps more attractive in the early morning or late afternoon than the heat and harsh light of midday. My traditional litmus tests didn’t fare as well unfortunately. The Post Office is an awful 1970s building, I couldn’t establish where the original building might have been or if it still exists. The rugby field is no longer. Actually this is not quite true. The old rugby stadium of Willowmore RFC now forms part of the agricultural show grounds and is no longer used as a rugby field.
A friend of mine in the quaint and lovely town of Rosendal in the Eastern Free State, the artist Lein Smuts, is the proud owner of an almost complete set of cigarette cards from 1933 (she has 62 of the full set of 64 and I understand is very close to giving these beautiful cards to me as a present). These cards depict the top rugby clubs in South Africa in 1933. Amongst the clubs represented is Willowmore RFC. How times have changed. Derek tells me that rugby is still played in Willowmore. Willowmore United plays out of the local “township”. There in a nutshell lies the story of South Africa. Rugby is clearly the most popular sport amongst all population groups here in the Eastern Cape.
Willowmore Station no longer exists simply because trains no longer run in this area, which is a pity. A train in the Karoo, preferably one powered by a steam engine, fits the eye perfectly. When I say it no longer exists, I mean that not one brick remains. All that is left are the “Willowmore” signs at the beginning and end of the station, obviously depending on what direction you are coming from. I can only imagine that it was once a stately Victorian building. A quick search of the internet shows it was exactly that.
Buffalo Herders take an alternative route to Prince Albert, via De Rust and up and over the Swartberg Pass from the Oudtshoorn side. John the Geologist had a field day, entirely appropriate as he is a field geologist. Every geological formation known to mankind is present somewhere on the traverse and it is truly a remarkable engineering achievement, thanks to road builder genius Thomas Bain (who was also responsible for the road through the Baviaanskloof). If the Freedom Challenge ever considered a name change the Thomas Bain Challenge wouldn’t be a bad choice.
We are now at Dennehof, also one of the few support stations that have been part of every single one of the 17 RASAs to date. Lindsay and Ria, the owners, bought Dennehof 17 years ago and the Freedom Challenge riders in that year were amongst the first guests they hosted. Dennehof is probably the most luxurious of the support stations on the route, and the only one to offer a sauna. I wonder how many times this has been taken up. The stoep is full of little booklets about the town and the Swartberg Pass. I have one open in front of me and I read that “in 1905 Oom Jan Terblanche of Matjies River drank a green coloured cool drink for the first time in his life at the little hotel on the Oudtshoorn side of the pass”. You read it here for the first time, unless of course you are a previous rider who has read the same booklet.
I suspect there will only be one more race report after this one, some sort of summary and reflection report. Who knows, we might get some last minute Buffalo Herding duties. Reader attention will start drifting, that is already happening, only natural once the race leaders arrive at Diemersfontein. I’ll try to use these last reports to cover some of the support stations still to come. Gamkaskloof, Rouxpos, Anysberg, Montagu, McGregor and Trouthaven. I won’t get to all of them, some will have to wait until next year.
One idea which I think is worth exploring is in response to some wistful thoughts from a couple of the support station hosts. “It would be nice to get to know some of the other support station hosts” and “I’d really like to see some of the route that these riders travel, we only read and hear about it”. Here is a thought, how about the Freedom Challenge community (ex-riders, Buffalo Herders etc) think about organising a week-long trip along the route for the support station hosts? Show them the route, give them the opportunity to get to know each other and learn from each other and us from them. As the convoy travels through we could host events in each of the provinces where the Freedom Challenge community come join for a lekker braai etc. You get the picture. I’ve floated this past a couple of people and there seem to be plenty of people willing to get involved to pull this off. This event has been going for seventeen years now and the Freedom Challenge community is ever growing. The Freedom Challenge Alumuni (obviously ex-riders but it is wider than that) have the resources and reach to pull off some interesting projects that get behind and support the overall Freedom Challenge organization and brand. It is not “their” responsibility to ensure the sustainability of the Freedom Challenge. It is ours, we are “their”.
The support stations of Bucklands, Hadley, Cambria, Dam se Drif, Willowmore, Rondavel and Prince Albert (once we leave, which is not an easy thing to do) are now closed for 2020. Thank you for your service.