The full force of winter bore down on most of the riders still spread out across the trail today. Strong wind, driving rain, sleet and slippery mud were the order of the day. With snow falling over much of the high ground last night, temperatures were icy all the way from the Baviaanskloof to Wellington. Fortunately it seems the worst of the weather will have passed through by this evening, so hopefully the riders can at least look forward to a bit of sunshine over the next few days.
For Gary (Batch 7) the day through the Baviaanskloof was hard work into a blustery, cold headwind and he decided to stop at Dam se Drif for tonight.
Tim and Didi (Batch 5) set off from Dam se Drif this morning for what is normally a fairly easy ride to Willowmore but ran into a stiff headwind and sleet on the way, which spoilt most of their fun and had them looking for shelter and warmth in Willomore.
Estelle (Batch 4) left Rondawel really early this morning and checked into Dennehof in Prince Albert for a late breakfast. She then set off up the Swartberg Pass on her way to Gamkaskloof for tonight, arriving a few hours after dark.
In Gamkaskloof she finds Wikus, Mandy and Sarah (Batch 3) who also rode through from Prince Albert today. With snow on the surrounding peaks, it was breathtaking sight for them but the freezing temperatures meant there wasn't much time to hang about taking pictures.
The large group who stayed at Prince Albert last night also included Graham (Batch 4), Kobus, Pierre, Leonard (Batch 6), Carl, Russell and Paul (Batch 5) and Mark and Sean (Batch 5). They made good time to Gamkaskloof and pushed through to Rouxpos but conditions made the going tough and it was slow going. Some have arrived already but some are still on their way.
Leaving from Rouxpos early this morning were Ingrid, Charl (Batch 7) and Nigel (Batch 5) - they rode through the mud to get to Anysberg for a pitstop before continuing to Montagu for tonight, where they arrived after dark.
Chris (Batch 3) left early from Anysberg and also had to endure the icy, muddy conditions on his way to Montagu. After regrouping there, he pushed on to McGregor for the night. Joining him in McGregor tonight are Andrew W (Batch 2), Bruce and Lance (Batch 4), who left a bit later from Anysberg this morning but still arrived before dark.
Grant (Batch 4) slept in McGregor last night in the hopes of recovering from illness - today he managed to see a doctor who advised more rest so he is staying in McGregor in the hopes of continuing tomorrow.
Mark (Batch 3) left Montagu this morning and after a few wet, muddy hours of riding, stopped in at McGregor to regroup. He then pushed on to Trouthaven, where tonight he will have the place to himself before he heads up Stettynskloof tomorrow.
Leaving Trouthaven this morning were Tim J and Scott (Batch 7) - they still had a fair bit of rain to contend with and the going up Stettynskloof wasn’t easy but they exited with plenty of light to spare and made it to the finish in Diemersfontein just before dark.
Andrew Blackburn and Rowan Matthews arrived at Diemersfontein last night and their relief at crossing the finish line was clearly evident - after a particularly challenging last day on the trail, they wanted nothing more than to get off their bikes and find a warm, dry place to rest. After nearly two weeks of strong riding down the trail, they seemed to have it all wrapped up but their last day in Stettynskloof proved to be their hardest. After making good initial progress in the light drizzle, the rain came down in earnest and the usually small streams quickly became swollen rivers. Finding a way through meant climbing up higher to where the streams were only just passable and at one point they were seriously considering going back to Trouthaven. Once out the kloof, there was some respite but as they neared the top of Du Toits Kloof pass, the icy wind and thick mist quickly had them frozen and disorientated. Getting down to Diemersfontein was a slow process but after what they had been through, nothing was going to stop them finishing. Having ridden together most of the way, they crossed the line together in a finishing time of 14d14h45min, an impressive achievement for both of them and for Andrew the second fastest finishing time on a single speed - well done to both of them.
As the riders move west towards the finish, the weather moves east across the country. Today brought heavy rain to the Cape, a good thing for the drought stricken areas but not ideal for those still out there riding their bikes. The impact of the latest cold front has now spread across most of the trail, with strong, blustery winds affecting regions as far back as the Baviaanskloof. The result is that progress has slowed with some riders opting for shorter riding days.
At the back of the field is Gary (Batch 7) who was the last rider to endure the Osseberg for this year as he made his way from Hadley to Kudu Kaya in Cambria. Tomorrow he heads up the Baviaanskloof.
Tim and Didi (Batch 5) rode through the Baviaanskloof today and stopped at Dam se Drif by early afternoon, opting to stay there tonight. Tomorrow they head for Willowmore, hoping that the wind will be kind to them along the way.
There was a mass exodus out of Willowmore this morning, starting with Sean and Mark (Batch 5) and followed by Graham, Estelle, Wikus (Batch 3), Kobus, Pierre, Leonard (Batch 6), Carl, Russell and Paul (Batch 5). The dreaded head winds picked up by mid morning and made the going hard - they all stopped in at Rondawel for soup and a bit of shelter before continuing to Prince Albert. Estelle decided to stop for the afternoon to see if the wind might drop this evening, so may still continue later.
Prince Albert will be bustling tonight as the large group makes themselves at home. They will bump into Mandy and Sarah (Batch 3) there, who took a rest day at Dennehof after Mandy’s tumble yesterday resulted in a dislocated finger. Tomorrow they are hoping to continue to Gamkaskloof.
Ingrid, Charl (Batch 7) and Nigel (Batch 5) left Prince Albert early this morning and passed through Gamkaskloof on the way to Rouxpos for the night, where they arrived in time for supper.
Leaving Gamkaskloof this morning were the trio of Andrew W (Batch 2), Bruce and Lance (Batch 4) - they enjoyed an early morning hike up The Ladder before pressing on to Rouxpos for lunch and then Anysberg for the night. There they found Chris (Batch 3) who had ridden from Rouxpos today with Mark (Batch 3) but opted to stay at Anysberg for the night. Mark pushed on to Montagu though, where he arrived just after dark.
Scott (Batch 7) and Grant (Batch 4) stayed at Anysberg last night - Scott leaving really early and riding through Montagu and McGregor on his way to Trouthaven, where he is due later tonight. Grant was feeling a bit ill today, so rode a shorter day to McGregor where he stopped to rest for the night.
Tim J (Batch 7) stayed over at McGregor last night and made his way through to Trouthaven today, arriving just after dark. He will be heading up Stettynskloof tomorrow with Scott, hoping that the worst of the rain has passed already.
Today was a wet and difficult day for Andrew B and Rowan (Batch 6) - they took on Stettynskloof in the pouring rain on their way to Diemersfontein. They spent most of the day in the kloof and with poor visibility and really struggled to cross the swollen rivers near the exit but eventually they figured it out. They arrived at Diemersfontein soaked, cold and very tired but glad to be finally be done.
As a seasoned Freedom Challenge rider, Mike Woolnough has seen his fair share of adversity out on the trail in pursuit of his previous four Blankets - but number five may qualify as the hardest yet. He set off at a cracking pace on day one and never really let up. Employing his usual riding tactic of long pushes with very little sleep, he was able to keep the pressure on his fellow competitors. His cat and mouse games with Jacques kept it fun for him and entertaining for his followers. The last day featured wind and heavy rain which made the final hurdle of Stettynskloof more brutal than ever with flooded streams, slippery rocks and thick mist to trip him up. But he emerged after a long, hard day in the kloof and crossed the finish line in his quickest time to date: 12d16h - well done Mike.
Batches starting from Tuesday 12 June 2018 until Monday 18 June 2018.
Batching based on full field