The farm dogs at Kudu Kaya (SS14) are an endearing collective. The chocolate lab, the Australian cattle dog, a Jack Russel and a border collie visit us at various times of the day. I cannot explain why one of those breeds is capitalized and the rest are not. It seems unfair but there again Jack Russels are a breed apart. The farm dogs do have names but I’ve forgotten them. Buffalo Herders get lonely at times and they provide us with some welcome company. The cattle dog bites a bit, in a friendly way, but blood is drawn nevertheless. We don’t really mind and you don’t want to get into an argument with a cattle dog, so we let him nibble. Yesterday he ate the leather sheath of a vintage Masai machete I lug around with me. How he didn’t cut himself to pieces on the razor sharp blade I have no idea.
Bruce and Arno have just arrived after a traumatic night in the Osseberg, both absolutely shattered. They have that thousand yard stare that only those who have just been through a properly traumatic experience can have. Arno’s neck is unplayable, he is trying everything he can to prop his neck up and alleviate the pain. He is unsure whether he will make it to Diemersfontein. This is not a man who easily accepts a DNF. In a lifetime of endurance sports he has only one DNF, the 2016 Attakwas which he left in an ambulance after a high speed downhill crash. His decision at Cambria is to leave tomorrow morning, thereby giving himself a day to try and recover. In the meantime Race Office is trying to organize some sort of support mechanism to prop up his neck. Pool noodles are currently under consideration.
Bruce was most apologetic when he arrived, worried that he has inconvenienced everyone. He was even concerned as to whether he will be allowed to continue, fearing that he may have triggered a disqualification. Chris Fisher, who has joined us at Cambria for the night, assured him that everything is fine and he is still a contender for the podium. Bruce cheered up a bit at that news and decided to catch today’s 13:00 bus. Once he does that his nightmare day and night in the Osseberg will be pushed to the recesses of his memory, only to re-emerge in the wee hours of the morning in years to come, “the horror, the horror”. Both Arno and Bruce are quiet and considerate fellows, clearly each with a resoluteness and discipline that is characteristic of all the front-runners that we have seen come through.
Alex Harris and Mike Woolnough are the two riders that have come and gone through Cambria. Mike was exactly one day behind Alex when he left the gate into the Baviaans. In normal Mike style he was calmness personified in his brief stay at Kudu Kaya, cracking jokes and quite happy to chat away with the Buffalo Herders. He had found one of Alex Harris’s water bottles in the reeds, noting with interest that Alex has taken on board Mike’s idea of wrapping water bottles in canvas. Those of us of a certain age will remember our fathers hanging wet canvas water containers off their car radiators before setting off on a long car trip. The pleasure of that ice cold water in the burning Karoo is etched in our memories.
The Baviaanskloof is a World Heritage Site. John the Geologist, before we set off on our first Buffalo herding trip escorting Alex Harris, was a bit puzzled as to why this was so but once we had finished our first trip he was convinced. The majesty of the remote beauty of the Baviaanskloof is difficult to describe so I am not even going to attempt to put into words what should, at least once in our lives, be personally experienced. If you are leery of narrow “roads” hanging over yawning 200m vertical drops then this isn’t the place for you. Buffalo Herders are fearless except for one thing. Buffalos. Actually, we are ok with buffalos. What we fear is oncoming traffic and the possibility that one has to be the vehicle passing on the side of the vertical drop. This happens every now and then.
The access that we have to cycle through the Baviaanskloof is a privilege, not a right. A Freedom Challenge without the Baviaanskloof is as unthinkable as losing the stretch through the tribal lands of KZN and East Griqualand. Our Freedom Challenge community understands this and every participant and others around the event, including Buffalo Herders, need to ensure our relationships with Park representatives are optimal. Our main interface is with the officials at the two ends of the park, the boom on the Cambria side and the boom on the Dam se Drif side. Over the next couple of days we will get to know these people a bit better and will share this with you. They are after all part of the Freedom Challenge family.
The Buffalo Herders this year are volunteers. We do this because we, like many others, have a deep love of this event. This is one small way we can contribute to the sustainability of the Freedom Challenge. We have had a blast and wonder whether we couldn’t perhaps build on this model, expanding this opportunity to other volunteers, most likely (but not necessarily) blanket holders that perhaps cannot ride that year or any year, for whatever reason. We could turn Cambria into an “Order of the Buffalo Herders” highlight for riders, putting on a lekker braai for them as they come out of the grip of Mordor. It would be a great opportunity for the Freedom Challenge community to put something back into the event, other than hard cash, and have fun in so doing. I’d welcome comments on this idea.
WiFi and mobile communications are a constant challenge. At Kudu Kaya we hover on the outer range limit of the connectivity provided by our hosts. There is a large tree down the hill where there is a better signal. We can choose from five or six different WiFi connections. The best one is “Huis na Pomp”. I haven’t dared ask as to the origins of this name but it does make sense that it works the best.
John the Geologist and I have some time to kill during the day, in between herding buffalo. John has a Kindle and has endless choice as to what he can read. I have a box of van Riebeeck Society reprints of original journals and writings of early South African travelers, guys like Bains and Burchell. For some obscure reason I am reading about the Norwegian Missionaries in Natal and Zululand between 1844 and 1900. Reminds me that throughout the Freedom Challenge we see evidence of missionaries from various faiths, stunning monasteries that in most cases are still operating, many having been around for 150 years or more. Tinana, Mariazell, St Augustine at Centacow and the Maria Linden mission at Malekgolonyane are examples. There are many more. One could debate the impact these missions have had, but there is little doubt that they have made a positive contribution to the education of the people that they have endeavored to convert.
Janine left us this morning, thereby ending her short stint as a Buffalo Herder. She heads back to Durban to join her family in mourning the loss of her father. In a way she is mourning the loss of her Freedom Challenge family as well, as she is shortly moving to London. I could see what this event means to her and it was great having with us for a few days, time in which she could say goodbye.
From a race perspective Alex Harris is still on track for all three of his objectives, the win, the record and the first under 10 days. Mike Woolnough is having a superb ride and has second place and a personal PB pretty much locked up. I’ll update on the rest tomorrow, other than Eddie Stafford, who I failed to mention yesterday, my humblest apologies. It is Eddie’s birthday today and he is due any moment in at Cambria where he will join his buddy Arno Crous. They will ride through the Baviaanskloof together at 06:00 tomorrow morning. We are expecting a relatively full house at Cambria tonight with Tim James, Grant Hill and Trevor Maarschalk expected later tonight. They will be joining Arno and Eddie tomorrow.
The support station of Romansfontein is closed for 2020. Many thanks, once again.