28 June - the evening wrap up

Another day at Diemersfontein, another finisher and another blanket. 

Jacques Tattersall came across the line just before 7pm, after a long day in the kloof - he described Stettynskloof as the hardest thing he’s ever done, so his sense of achievement was high and despite the fatigue, he was in good spirits. He’s had an amazing ride - as a strong rider with little navigation experience, he picked it up from other riders during the race, riding with different groups as he moved through the field. Yet despite this, he was bold enough to go it alone for a few days and always got to the next support station without any danger of sleeping out. As an FC rookie, his finishing time of 18d 12h 40min is impressive and receiving his blanket was a proud moment for him.

Tim James is the next rider heading for Diemersfontein and is currently making his way up a very lonely and dark Stettynskloof. Having left Trouthaven just after 2pm, he is expected to finish in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

The group waiting at Trouthaven to go through Stettynskloof tomorrow includes Andrew Barnes, Gary Green, Mike Ward, Fjord Jordaan and Ant Jankovic-Bessan. Andrew Barnes rode through from Anysberg and arrived earliest. The other four came through from Montagu and had to serve a 3 hour time penalty at Good Hope this afternoon after going off route through an out-of-bounds area after the Coeniesrivier portage - this meant a later than usual arrival. On the way to Trouthaven, Ant suffered a pivot bolt failure and is trying to make a temporary repair so he can finish with the other guys tomorrow.

Theo van Dyk woke up this morning feeling really ill due to suspected food poisoning (possibly bad biltong from a raided box he thought) but he left Good Hope in an attempt to get to Trouthaven. He made it as far as the Trappieskraal portage before phoning the race office for assistance. A lift was arranged from the Doringrivier store, so that he could see a doctor. If he is well enough to continue, he will rejoin the trail there and hopefully still finish the race.

Montagu hosts a big group of riders tonight, most arriving at different times after having all left from Rouxpos today. Liehann Loots and Beat Jegerlehner arrived with Andrew Hunt. Then came Lee Fuller, Dave Telford and Gary Preston. The late arrivals were Johann Rissik, Ian Verwayen, Alan Haupt and Paul Dalton. Stu brew is also there tonight, although he arrived yesterday - he was ill this morning and decided to stay a day to recover. He’s hoping to move on tomorrow again.

Mike and Ingrid Talbot started out late from Prince Albert today because they were aiming for an easier dat to Gamkaskloof. Somewhere along the way they changed their minds because they ended up pushing on to Rouxpos instead. This sets them up for a slightly easier ride tomorrow to Montagu.

In Prince Albert tonight are Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter, who rode through from Willowmore together with Marnitz Nienaber and Ivor Jones - they all arrived by mid afternoon and spent the rest of the afternoon in the bar. John Bowen and Mike Roy also came through from Willowmore, arriving just before dark after a massive 16h day. 

Mike Glover and John Exley are staying in Willowmore tonight after a successful double from Cambria via Dam se Drif. They will be keen to start pushing for the finish now too and there are some good dirt roads ahead to help them do just that.

Our sweepers, Mike Devereux and Nico van Zyl are staying at Hadley tonight. They will get an early start for the Osseberg and then hopefully push on to Dam se Drif. From there its more open road, so they too can look at putting in some longer days to make up for lost time.


Can the Freedom Challenge change your life?

I don't know if it still says it, but the Freedom Challenge website used to claim that the completion of the trail would change your life. This is, of course, quite a big claim to make. While you are doing it you have the sense that the claim is probably true, but you can't help wondering what changes it will bring.

Will you start describing barely visible track through impenetrable parts as "scratchy" as Freedom founder David Waddilove does? Will you hold your wrist slanting downwards when you are really indicating a ferocious incline and the wrist should be pointing upwards (as I have seen him do)? Will you be able to tell your left from your right? Actually, none of us doubt that David knows his left from his right, it was just that his early narratives sometimes confused the two. It was part of the charm of the thing that the narratives, including descriptions such as "scratchy" were there as a guide. Get the fact that in cases David meant left but wrote right, and you were good to go.

Well, those were the grand days. Now we have trackers that work and, from some accounts, so many bits of ribbon strung along the trail that it resembles Dorothy's yellow brick road, not a fearsome wilderness experience. I wasn't there on day one, the first ride from Pietermaritzburg to Paarl. David had just two companions, his boet Rob and Andrew King, the latter who has returned to do the race at least once since. But the first ride was pre-dated by the first run. David, flush with a gushing rush of blood to the head, ran the Two Oceans and then ran to Pietermaritzburg to run the Comrades. The route was somewhat simpler and more straight-forward to that of today, but included many of the places that have become part of its firmament.

I remember on my blanket year arriving at Kapokraal after a devastating bout of diarrhea. The place is so high that the garage for the car is located well down the mountain lest it be snowed in. I was greeted by Christo, a young man who had been plucked from the good college life and sent to run the farm. He had been away for the weekend and so the coal stove was cold. We sat looking at it, he telling me that David had come through here the year he ran from Cape Town to Pmb. There was snow (they call it kapok) on the ground.
"He dried his wet socks on the coal stove," Christo said.
The consensus was that Christo would never convince a woman to come and live with him in such a cold place and that he would see his days out as a bachelor. But I heard later that such is Christo's charm that indeed his did not only find a woman who fancied him, but enough so that she moved in at Kapokraal.

There are untold stories here. One is David had two companions on his big run. One is a man named Pat who drove a back-up vehicle. The other was a woman who ran part of the route with him. I gather that there was a fair bit of tension between the two as she was aiming to get lost, the idea being that the resulting publicity would put the event on the map. I don't remember her name, but always thought she would make a good interview: "How David and I dried our socks on Christo's coal stove at Kapokraal."

It was the tantalising things just off the trail which brought me back. Our hosts, particularly in the area near Chesnywold, told of Bushman paintings just off the road. I wanted to show my wife Lucille the route and used this as an excuse to go looking for the paintings. We found so many sites, well-hidden places where we have lived for as long as people have been people. These sites are more than just paintings, the settings are spectacular with large horseshoe overhangs, sometimes including a waterfall for fresh water. One overhang had the water source gushing seemingly directly out of the mountain.
One farmer, an elderly fellow, told us that he had taken a younger man, a believer in things supernatural, to a large overhang. His visitor had smoked a zol there. Our farmer took a puff too, all kinds of out-of-body experiences resulting.

The trail made me realise how little I actually knew of the story of our country. Eschewing the history books I turned to first-hand material wherever I could find them, going as far back as such accounts are available. I was riding too, working out a route along the Drakensberg to connect with the Freedom, riding this range in a single go and then, over 30 days, the whole 3 500 kms from Beitbridge to the Cape. I came across William Burchell's 200-year-old map of his five-year journey in what was the Cape Colony and started riding sections of it, all the while getting more and more fascinated by his story, not least because of his exquisite prose. I have now ridden some 4 000 kms of his 5 000 km trek. I previously would see beauty, but William John (after 4 000 kms I feel I can call him this) continues to prod me to look deeper. Where I would see a pleasing vista, he would see 200 unique plants not yet in his collection. I continually thank him too for the beautiful places I would not have found but for the fact his map took me there.

The Freedom Trail is one long, beautiful place. It takes focus, fitness and fortitude. It tests and teases. It gives both the racing snake and back-of-field plodder no place to hide. Its beauty, showing itself as it does on a cumulative day-by-day basis, washes deep into the soul. It demands minimalism and shows that without our fellow humanity to guide and nurture us, we are both nowhere and no one.

It changes lives. I know it changed mine.

By Kevin Davie, Blanket Wearer #13

26 June - the evening wrap up

Another pearler of a day out on the trail, the weather for the last two days has really been amazing. And good weather usually means rapid progress down the trail for most riders.

The first riders to venture up Stettynskloof this year will be Anton Wood and Gert Peens - they rode through from Montagu this morning, stopped off for a quick lunch at Good Hope and then pushed on to Trouthaven for the night.

Behind them is Jacques Tattersall, he rode through from Rouxpos this morning and arrived in Montagu early evening, had some supper and then pushed on to McGregor, booking himself into a BnB for the night. His plan is to have an easier day tomorrow to Trouthaven, so he can rest up in the afternoon for Stettynskloof on Sunday.

Rouxpos is busy tonight, with Gary Green, Mike Ward and Ant Jankovic-Bessan scoffing waffles there. Stu Brew arrived a bit later to join them and the lights are on for a possible late night arrival of Tim James, Theo van Dyk and Fjord Jordaan, that is if they don’t fall asleep somewhere in Gamkaskloof. The early arrivals are heading for Montagu tomorrow but the racers will be on their final push toward the finish, so it will be cat naps until the end for them.

Dennehof is bursting at the seams tonight - Prince Albert local Johann Rissik was welcomed like royalty, Ian Verwayen, Paul Dalton and Alan Haupt are there too, Lee Fuller, Dave Telford and Gary Preston are present, as well as Liehann Loots and Beat Jegerlehner. The Andrews Barnes and Hunt arrived just in time for dinner, so there was much merriment around the table, with riders swopping stories from the trail and the last two weeks of riding. Most are leaving early tomorrow to attempt the tough double to Rouxpos.

Back in Willowmore, the Talbot couple, Mike and Ingrid have the place to themselves, peace and quiet at last.

Still in the Baviaanskloof at Dam se Drif are the banana boys, Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter, they rode through from Cambria tray, opting not to double to Willowmore. With them are Mike Roy and John Bowen, late arrivals after serving their 6h time penalty at Kudu Kaya earlier in the day and only leaving at 13h00.

Kudu Kaya plays host to Marnitz and Ivor, who came through from Bucklands and made quick work of the Osseberg section thanks to Marnitz’s route knowledge. Pierre Oosthuizen left Hadley early this morning to take on the Osseberg and was on track to get through before dark. Tomorrow he needs to get to at least Dam se Drif. He looks likely to miss the Willowmore cut off but will be allowed to continue as long as there are still other riders behind him.  

Mike Glover and John Exley had another consistent day on the trail, they started at Toekomst and went through Bucklands in the afternoon, pushing on to stop at Hadley for the night. An early start could see them getting through the Osseberg and still being able to push on to Dam se Drif.

Our back markers are still Mike Devereux and Nico van Zyl, slowed down by Mike's failing rear wheel - a spare wheel is waiting at Kleinpoort, so they still have to get there. It comes with a 3h time penalty but if they leave Toekomst early enough, they could get to Bucklands and serve it there before sunset, which would not impact on the following day’s riding. Whatever happens, Mike will be glad to get the spare, there’s still a lot of riding between him and Diemersfontein.


27 June - the evening wrap up

Its been a long day out on the trail for the race office, starting in Prince Albert, then Anysberg, then Diemersfontein, then Montagu and finally back to Diemersfontein. Sorting out trackers and spares for riders has kept us on the hop - but what about the riders? The first riders home this year arrived at Diemersfontein this afternoon: Anton Wood and Gert Peens were welcomed home by a crowd of friends and family and were in a cheerful mood, despite the hard day up Stettynskloof. Reports are that the kloof is bushy and hard work, so riders may be looking at alternative lines to avoid the worst areas. Either way, they made good time today after an early start and arrived just after 4pm. For Anton its blanket number two and for Gert, his first. Their finishing time was 18d 10h 15min - a solid ride.

Trouthaven sits at the mouth of the valley leading up to Stettynskloof and tonight Jacques Tattersall sleeps there after and slightly shorter ride through from McGregor today. He will start up the kloof early tomorrow and is also expected at Diemersfontein by late afternoon.

Montagu was the scene of much activity tonight, with tracker swops and bike repairs on the go. Dinner was also on the go and Stu Brew, Ant Jankovic-Bessan, Mike Ward and Gary Green were tucking in after a long ride from Rouxpos today. Also there briefly were Theo van Dyk and Tim James, who ate and then dashed off into the night, heading for Good Hope. The trio became a duo earlier when Fjord Jordaan’s free hub packed up - he managed to keep things going by making it a fixie and that’s how he came down Ouberg Pass into Montagu. With Theo and Tim already having left, Fjord opted to stay and join the other group for the final two days to Diemersfontein.

Andrew Barnes left Prince Albert early this morning together with Andrew Hunt. On the other side of Gamkaskloof, it was Barnes who emerged solo, as Hunt had suffered a mechanical, a broken rear derailleur, and had to resort to a single speed patch job to continue, getting him as far as Rouxpos. Barnes went on to Anysberg and seems to have foud a bed there for tonight.

Also at Rouxpos tonight is a large group: Lee Fuller, Dave Telford, Gary Preston, Liehann Loots and Beat Jegerlehner and Maarten Witters. They were later joined by Ian Verwayen, Alan Haupt, Paul Dalton and Johann Rissik - a tough double under their belts.

Mike and Ingrid Talbot once again have a support station to themselves tonight, this time Dennehof in Prince Albert. They cruised through from Willowmore and will head up Swartberg Pass in the morning.

In Willowmore we have Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter. Also there are Mike Roy and John Bowen, who arrived a bit latter, as well as the Marnitz Nienaber and Ivor Jones. They will all be heading across the flats tomorrow to Prince Albert, hoping the wind will be kind. Mike Glover and John Exley find themselves at Cambria tonight. After dispatching with the Osseberg without too mush fuss, they will now try the double to Willowmore in the morning.

The adventures of Pierre Oosthuizen sadly came to and end today when he decided to withdraw after arriving at Cambria this afternoon. He spent yet another night out after getting lost, taking a tumble, ending up in the river and soaking all his equipment. He strained his back in a fall a few days ago and this only aggravated it. He’s had an amazing ride and showed some plucky determination at times in trying to stay ahead of cut offs and has certainly kept his friends and family entertained.

Bringing up the rear are Mike Devereux and Nico van Zyl, who sleep at Bucklands tonight. Mike must serve the required 3h time penalty in the morning for having a new rear wheel brought in but he’s more than happy now that he’s rolling again and after Cambria, the two intend to start pushing a bit to make up for lost time.

As the Diemersfontein gates open for 2015 and the riders start arriving at the finish, we look forward to a week of blankets, pizza, wine and celebrations.

25 June - the evening wrap up

From the rain soaked Western Cape to the windswept Eastern Cape, the riders are scattered over nearly 800km of the trail. For some its still a long way to go and thoughts of finishing are still vague and distant but for others, the end is near and their days left on the trail are few.

Anton Wood and Gert Peens celebrated their arrival in Montagu by sipping muskadel and toasting the amazing downhill that they had just ridden to get there - from the top of Ouberg Pass, the roads drops and swoops for 20km as it descends from Anysberg. They are heading out early for McGregor, then Good Hope and finally Trouthaven where they will spend their last night on the trail before taking on Stettynskloof.

Jacques Tatersall finds himself at Rouxpos tonight after heading off solo from Prince Albert early this morning - he did well to get up the Ladder in the wet and cold today but should have some sunshine for tomorrow, when he will head to Montagu.

Prince Albert for the night is where Ant Jankovic-Bessan, Mike Ward and Gary Green find themselves, they rode through from Willowmore and were spared the howling winds of yesterday. Still there after arriving yesterday, is Maarten Witters, who took a rest day and went to see a doctor to have some large splinters taken out of his foot - tomorrow he rides again.

Still on his way to Prince Albert tonight is Stu Brew - he left Dam se Drif at 2:30am and got to Willowmore mid morning for brunch. He then pushed on to Rondawel and didn’t stop, intent on getting to the luxurious Dennehof guest house in Prince Albert. He’s had a massive day of solo riding, over 250km by the time he’s done.

Willowmore is where its at tonight, a big group came through from Dam se Drif in the morning and then stopped. They have been propping up the bar for most of the afternoon. Lee Fuller, Gary Preston and Dave Telford rode in together, followed by the group of Johann Rissik, Ian Verwayen, Alan Haupt and Paul Dalton. Arriving early evening were the racing snakes Tim James, Theo Van Dyk and Tim James, with Liehann Loots and Beat Jegerlehner also pulling in a few hours later after a big double from Cambria.

The Andrews Barnes and Hunt are sleeping at Dam se Drif tonight, after a big day that began at Hadley. An early start for them would see the going through to Prince Albert tomorrow.

Still in the Baviaanskloof tonight are Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter together with Mike and Ingrid Talbot. They successfully made their way through the Osseberg after starting the day at Bucklands and are staying at Kudu Kaya tonight.

Mike Roy and John Bowen came through from Hadley today and are also staying at Kudu Kaya. They will be serving a daylight time penalty there in the morning for an infringement of Rule 6, after a complaint was received from a landowner about a camp fire that was not properly extinguished. They will continue to Dam se Drif tomorrow after the time penalty has been served.

Pierre Oosthuizen is staying at Hadley tonight - he had a big day yesterday and got to Bucklands in the early hours of the morning but it seems to have taken its toll. Moving too slowly today to get to the Osseberg in daylight, he made a wise decision in staying at Hadley. Tomorrow he’ll have fresh legs and plenty of daylight to get him through the kloof safely.

Marnitz and Ivor are at Bucklands tonight, making bike repairs and readying themselves for an early start to get through the Osseberg before dark - good chance thay they'll pick up Pierre Oosthuizen on the way through later tomorrow afternoon.

Mike Glover and John Exley are at Toekomst tonight after a good double from Grootdam today. With plans to get to Hadley tomorrow, they seem to be moving well and making up time wherever possible.

And last but not least, we have Mike Devereux and Nico van Zyl, who are staying at Grootdam tonight. After their second relatively easy day in a row, they are ready to try a double tomorrow and are aiming for Toekomst.

The next few days will see the first riders arriving at Diemersfontein. There are also likely to be some decisive moves form the racers as they jockey for position and line themselves up for the finishing stages. With a brief gap in the weather, its time to ride. 

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