A distinct chill in the air in Rhodes this morning but not enough to deter the next eight riders who started their journey today. Batch 4 - Theo, Grant, Ann, Lee, Bryn, Ben, Dave and Joyce are all on their way and making good progress, first stop Chesneywold for refreshments, then on to Slaapkranz.
The other three batches already on the trail all got going around 5am, so no one is having a lie-in this mornng.
Batch 1 - Trevor, Russell, John, Chris, Jac, Adohan, Fiona and Aileen are heading for the Aasvoelberg portage from Romansfontein, with batch 2 rider Jacques among them.
Batch 2 - Chris, Lindsay, Colin, Rory, Sergio, Fabio and Shaun are making their way towards Brosterlea and then onwards to Romansfontein.
Batch 3 - Leon, Dave, Gary, Andrew, Alex, Ed and Brad are going over the two portages on their way to Moordenaarspoort and then on to Kranskop today.
Day 4 is from Romansfontein to Elandsberg with 105km of riding and 1290m of ascent. A manageable day that includes two of the signature portages of the Freedom Trail, the Aasvoelberg and Elandsberg. It is a day when riders will experience two of the best downhills one can ever ride and come as close as one can get to skydiving on terra firma on a mountain bike, virtually free-falling into the Karoo basin.
The looming ascent of the Aasvoelberg, less than an hour from the start and best navigated in daylight, will most likely dictate a dawn departure to reach the portage at first light where progress and navigation may be influenced by mist covered mountains. The old car wreck near the top offers one of the Freedom Trail signature photo opportunities and the descent down to Magdala farm is a thrilling adrenaline rush, white-knuckle, smell-your-brakes affair.
Barely a half an hour later the riders will reach a saddle in the Bamboesberg, another signature point of the Trail, from where they will be treated to a breath taking view that literally goes on forever over the Karoo Basin. It is a moment that brings most riders to a standstill just to take it all in. Once moving again they will make a spectacular high-speed drop down into the Karoo basin and then settle into some very welcome flat road riding and may even be treated to some Westerly tailwind time-trialing into the town of Hofmeyr. They are now truly in the Karoo.
Hofmeyr is a haven. It’s the first sign of civilization in almost 400km, real humans, traffic signs, a beautiful old church tower and of course the legendary Karoobos pie shop. I doubt anyone has ever passed here without stopping for some of the best pies around, venison, lamb and chicken (best to just get one of each), ice cold drinks, friendly people and some welcome shade, another signature moment on this classic day.
A mere 25km out of Hofmeyr awaits the infamous Elandsberg portage. A normal riding routine will bring riders here in daylight but those on a race pace may well enjoy a night time experience and the tricky navigation has claimed its fair share of victims over the years, all of which have resulted in stories that will live on for long in the annuals of the trail. No names mentioned but some of the legends of the trail have spent a night out under the stars, bushes or rain, after getting lost in the dark.
Once through the Elandsberg portage, the support station by the same name offers a very welcome stop with some of the best boerewors and pap along the route and more ice cold beverages. The farm has an equally legendary pet collection, among them a young dassie and a monster size boerboel that out-snores even the most tired of riders! It offers a welcome rest and for some may well be the last night out on the trail as they aim to double up the next day for a 5-day Cradock finish.
Day 4 is beautiful in its diversity and images from this day will leave a lasting impression.
By Carl Scholtz
Batch 1 left Kranskop this morning before sunrise and despite a few hiccups through the first tricky farm sections, they got through to Brosterlea by mid morning and then pushed on towards Romansfontein. There they became a bit more spread out. The guys went walkabout again which meant the girls got ahead but then they ran into trouble with punctures and the guys caught up and helped them sort it out. It’s still a long way to Romansfontein after the Stormberg portage but Trevor, Russell, John, Chris, Jac and Adohan all arrived just before dark, with Fiona and Aileen coming in a while later - another long day for them. They were joined shortly afterwards by Jacques from Batch 2, who had started the day all the way back at Moordenaarspoort - his ride through Kranskop and Brosterlea to Romansfontein means he’s jumped a full day ahead and caught up to Batch 1
Batch 2 are all in at Kranskop tonight, after leaving Slaapkranz at 5am this morning - the legs will be tired after the two big portages of the day but they all arrived before sunset and rode consistently today. Tomorrow Chris, Lindsay, Colin, Rory, Sergio, Fabio and Shaun will be aiming for Romansfontein.
Batch 3 had a good ride today - the East London boys Leon, Dave, Gary, Andrew and Alex, together with Ed and Brad, after a brief stop at Chesneywold, arrived at Slaapkranz by mid afternoon - this means they’ll have rested well for the two big portages that await them tomorrow.
After a night of rain in Rhodes last night, the sun is out and doing it’s best to dry everything out. Batch 3 are making their way to Chesneywold this morning along some rather damp roads and their progress has definitely been slowed by the change in conditions. Things should improve as they go though, so it would be wise for the East London boys, Leon, Dave, Andrew, Gary and Alex, together with Ed and Brad, to make the most of the hospitality at Chesneywoldand let the sun work it’s magic.
Batch 2 are making good progress over the Bontehoek portage and have formed a large group - Chris, Lindsay, Colin, Rory, Sergio, Fabio and Shaun must all be getting along well and enjoying the company. The only one not among them is Jacques - he surged ahead of them yesterday already and ended his day at Moordenaarspoort last night. After getting over the Bontehoek portage before dark, his progress was slowed somewhat by strong winds but he arrived just after 9pm. This morning he left just after 6am and has already passed through Kranskop support station (where he stopped for over an hour) and is on his way to Brosterlea.
Batch 1 are also on their way to Brosterlea and should arrive by mid morning. They left Kranskop before sunrise and again the boys wasted some time with a minor navigation error while the girls got through cleanly and ended up in from of the boys again. Fiona and Aileen are riding steady and smart and seem to be getting stronger after taking strain over the first two days. The boys - Trevor, John, Chris, Russell, Jac and Adohan are all riding strongly and despite their extra kilometres now and then, always manage to get back on track, so the group as a whole is going well and sticking to their daily schedule.
Tomorrow is Day 3. By now the riders already have 2 tough days in their legs and it’s another big day ahead. The endurance training will start paying dividends for the legs but not much will help for their hurting backsides, it’s time to open up that can of vasbyt. We saw some small navigation errors creeping in today and riders will need to stay mentally sharp despite the simpler navigation, to ensure they don’t incur any unnecessary miles or possible time penalties.
Day 3 from Kranzkop to Romansfontein is a 135km ride with 1494m of ascent, the longest day on paper but the riding is not too difficult and there are a few portages along the way to provide entertainment and test concentration levels.
Leaving Kranzkop there are two immediate farm crossings that should be fine during daylight but will require some focus for the pre-dawn starters to stay on track. The first crossing goes round-the-house, over-the-hill, across-the-stream, greet-the-farmworkers and find-the-cement-tracks. The second, immediately after, is a duwweltjie-thorn-fest, never seen so many duwweltjies on my tyres ever, hardly any rubber visible, it’s pretty nerve wrecking to see and is proof of how magic tubeless sealant can be. Riders will cross a deep donga which, when supplemented by a running stream, could mean an unwanted early morning swim. From here on the roads open up with long stretches of district road, past Gouevlei, where Oom Coen ate lunch resting on his back, and to Brosterlea where a very welcome interim stop awaits and quite possibly the first humans since Kranzkop. Remember not to stare at them. Riders may also be treated to the odd Pofadder and should make friends with the farm’s crazy dog that has been known to outpace and keep riders company for many kilometres up th eroad to the farm Emdale.
The next portage of the day waits at the Stormberg. After a bit of bobbing and weaving, riders will reach the top of the ridge above the Vegkoppies block houses, a welcome break in the scenery and a photo opportunity. Of significance on this stretch is the ride past the site of the Battle of Vegkoppies, its rather eerie to think this place of little visual significance was once a war battleground. The day will start getting a bit long for those weary legs but it is recommended to keep the chain tight for the next while to avoid night navigation through the pivots leading up to Romansfontein. The tricky pivot section is very pretty in daylight but it has caught out many a rider in the past.
The hospitality at Romansfontein is legendary and riders are in for a real treat. Pushing on into the night will be a challenge due to the tricky Aasvoelberg portage - unless riders pushed through to Brosterlea the previous day, one may well find most resting up to tackle Aasvoelberg at dawn.
For perspective, by Romansfontein, “normal human” riders will be at end of day 3, 335km into the race with 5550m of ascent in the legs. The racing-snake-machines on the other hand, will likely be arriving for breakfast, just over 24 hours into their race.
Day 3 is a long day and will require some vasbyt.
By Carl Scholtz