The Buffalo Herders are doing what Buffalo Herders do best, herding buffalo. Which means we are finally in Cambria. The race report has taken a bit of a back seat the last two days. We have had to leap forward from Slaapkrantz to Cambria, picking up Janine Stewart (who has withdrawn, more of that later) and fetching a new rear wheel for Luke Matthews along the way. All this whilst trying to make sure that we got to the gate at Cambria in time for Alex Harris to make the 13:00 bus (single seater) for the Baviaanskloof. No time for report writing but we are back in the saddle, so to speak.
The history stuff can wait until later. It’s time to take stock of the bigger picture, what is happening with the riders and what is at stake in this year’s race. Let’s start with the front end of the field. Alex Harris is on course to firstly win the race, secondly to break Martin Dreyer’s record and thirdly to become the first person to break 10 days for the event. The win, barring catastrophe is almost certain, Martin’s record is under threat, Alex is behind but not by much as he left Willowmore this morning. Under 10 days? This is the one to watch.
This begs the question about records being set in a year when RASA is held in the summer as opposed to winter. We had this debate in an earlier report. From where I sit this debate, albeit very interesting, is moot. If records are broken, then they are broken. It is 2150km regardless, there are advantages and disadvantages (watching Alex go through the Baviaans in 35 degrees plus yesterday was sobering) and if new times are set then bring it on for those to be challenged in 2021. Queue heated discussion on the various WhatsApp groups, that’s ok, nothing will change that! Mike Woolnough has just arrived here at Cambria and his comment is that the pros and cons just about even themselves out, barring perhaps Steteynskloof, where the extra daylight hours could be a distinct advantage.
The rest of the podium seems to be sewn up between Mike Woolnough and Bruce Biccard, in that order. Mike’s best time in RASA is 12 days and 16 hours. He is surely on track to better that given that he is a day ahead of his 12 day race schedule. This is Bruce’s first RASA and a podium finish would be a wonderful achievement, as will membership of the sub-15 day club. I do note however, that as I write Bruce seems to be getting full value out in the Osseberg. He better get a move-on if he wants that podium finish.
Which brings me to other riders who are aiming to join the sub-15 day club. Nigel and Adrian Payne, Luke Matthews (brother Rowan is already a member) and possibly Grant Hill and Trevor Maarschalk, although the latter two will have to really push on to make it. Grant will certainly better his best time of last year.
The other riders to watch are at the opposite end of the field. Father and son combination Ted and Shaun Adams are riding consistently but are a day behind a 26 day schedule. I’ll remind you that if Ted gets his blanket he will become the oldest RASA finisher at 71 years. The heat wave we are experiencing the last few days will not be helping matters but it is still game on for Ted and Shaun.
I haven’t mentioned the Honeymoon couple, Brad and Nix. They still look very happy, at least they did at Elandsberg where we had to pick up Luke Matthew’s bike and take it through to the new (old) stop at Fietskraal. They are still together with Ernst Behrens. Ernst is from Kroondal, a little place near Rustenburg. I know all about Kroondal because I have a 1905 postcard with a Kroondal cancellation on it. Turns out that this postcard was cancelled in the post office that sits inside the trading store that was (and still is) run by Ernst’s family. Ernst comes from German stock and the original Behrens established the trading store in Kroondal in the 1860s. Ernst is the fifth or sixth generation to own and run the business. There is still a thriving German community at Kroondal, although Ernst wistfully commented that there will come a day when that will no longer be the case.
Gary and Jeanette Scoular are exactly on a 26 day schedule, in fact they were ahead of schedule, but Mrs Scoular is riding in extreme discomfort and each day, for her, is survival. Joyce and Andre Buys, the gracious hosts of Slaapkrantz, fashioned a stylish new sheepskin saddle cover for Jeanette so we can only hope this helps ease the pain. If anyone can get their hands on some Lucas pawpaw ointment (helping sore backsides since 1911) please let me know. If it worked for The Man Who Cycled The World, Mark Beaumont from Scotland, it should work for Jeanette.
I guess that is it for the race situation, other than for Arno Crous and Tim James. Tim seems to be having a slightly more sociable RASA this year. I have seen images of him swimming in local dams and kuiering with old friends along the route, but I have little doubt that he will nevertheless still finish in 14 days or so. Actually he has earned the right to do what he wants, five wins and this being his ninth blanket ride. He is on a single speed, a 34x16 ratio (madness according to Mike Woolnough, the ratio that is, not the fact that it is single speed).
Arno is battling with Shermer’s Neck, a condition that we seem to be experiencing more in endurance cycling. One no longer is able to hold one’s head up (two’s head isn’t affected), so riders have to resort to duct-taping their helmets (and therefore their heads) to their backpacks, just to hold the head up. It’s horrible, but Arno has kept going, seemingly and admirably determined to get his blanket, even although his aspirations for a podium or even a win are dashed.
There we have it. 19 riders left out the original 22 RASA riders that started in Pietermaritzburg. The withdrawals are John Bowen, Charles Mansfield and Janine Stewart. John we have reported on in earlier reports. Charles had to unfortunately withdraw at Moordenaarspoort due to chronic neck pain. Very sad as he was well on for a sub 15 day ride. Similarly Janine withdrew at Romansfontein with very bad tendonitis. She has been made an honorary member of the Buffalo Herders and is here with us in Cambria helping with our duties. As she is a geologist with Rio Tinto (and about to move with them to London) she and John the Geologist have hit it off and have spent the entire day talking about whatever it is geologists talk about. This afternoon the two of them will be herding buffalo together, escorting Mike Woolnough as he goes through the Baviaans. He is due here shortly and will be leaving in today’s 13:00 bus (again a single seater). The weather is much kinder today, overcast and no longer the furnace of yesterday.
We (the Buffalo Herders) had a lovely stay at Slaapkranz (SS7), one of the longest standing support stations on Freedom Challenge. Right from the first race I think. This is the farm of Joyce and Andre Buys and their two children, one of whom, Michelle, is currently at home busy with her remote learning (not by choice) 2nd year of an industrial psychology degree at Stellenbosch University. We do indeed live in a very different world these days, what price studying up in the exquisite valley where Slaapkrantz sits? Andre teaches in Aliwal North during the week and Joyce is a lawyer in Barkley East, commuting the 42km drive each day, there and back. A beautiful river flows through their property and one fingerling trout is recovering from having been subjected to an out-of-water experience from me.
Joyce is and always has been a wonderful hostess. I’m sure many riders have enjoyed chatting with her, she is open, curious and welcoming and a stay at Slaapkranz is always a highlight of any Freedom Challenge ride. One topic of discussion was the mystery of two British soldiers that lie somewhere on the farm where the Italian artist’s farmhouse is. Actually it’s the van der Merwe’s farm, always has been, the Italian artist’s role was to paint mural scenes in many of the rooms of the long abandoned farmhouse. Quite beautiful, as is the old ox-wagon that sit in a forlorn shed outside. The shed was built around the ox-wagon, so I am told.
Gavin Robinson, blanket holder, informed us of two graves that he saw whilst descending from Kappokkraal. Chatting to Joyce and her neighbor Charmaine, it is common knowledge that there are indeed two British soldier graves. The legend goes that they were buried next to the river, an unwise choice as years ago, hopefully shortly after they were buried, the farmer noted that one of the farm workers was proudly sporting a new pair of boots. When questioned as to where he got the boots from, he pointed out the graves, which recent rains and a rising river had exposed. The soldiers were reburied (according to legend) next to the van der Merwe family graves, although there is uncertainty about this) and that is where we currently stand. Where exactly are they buried? It would be wonderful if Gavin Robinson has discovered some long lost graves. We are due to return to Slaapkrantz in time and go and have a look.
There is a new support station, Fietskraal. Actually Fietskraal is the old De Doorns, years ago a support station that was run by the mother of the current owner. The Buffalo Herders stayed there last night after delivering the replacement wheel to Luke Matthews. The young couple that run the support station, Michael and his wife Charne have pulled out all stops. Michael is a qualified Chartered Accountant, has ticked that box and is now doing what he actually wants to do, and Charne is busy with her Master’s in Medical Law. Talented young couple and we look forward to a long relationship with Fietskraal in coming years.
The support stations of Slaapkrantz, Moordenaarspoort, Kranzkop and Brosterlea are now closed for RASA 2020. Once again, thank you for your service.