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Today saw the arrival of the first riders in Rhodes, with most of Batch 1 reaching their final destination. The first arrivals were Nigel and Kevin, followed a while later by Roger, Dominic and Keith. For all except Nigel, this was their maiden voyage down the trail, so although fatigued, they were in high spirits when they crossed the finish line. Later in the afternoon, Graham and Sarah arrived, after a more relaxed trip through from Vuvu.

 

Behind them were the Batch 2 heading to Vuvu: the RTR riders - Mark, Tony, Andrew, Greg, Marius and Johann, together with their RASA companions - Phillip, Cassandra and Andrew W. have ridden together since day 1 and continued that way again today. Conditions out on the route were really good and they enjoyed clear skies, sunshine and great mountain views today. They were joined a bit later by Leon Kruger, who also rode through from Malekgolonyane - he had a bit of fun coming into Tinana via the ‘tiger line’ - something he hadn’t tried before but pulled it off with out any problems. 

 

Batch 3 rode from Masakala to Malekgolonyane today, enjoying the crisp, clear conditions across the Queen’s Mercy floodplains. The group of Chris, Mark, Sarah and Mandy have ridden well together while still taking the time to stop for photos along the way. Trailing them by a few hours were the rookies David and Robert, they’ve been going along steadily and are having a really good first ride. All of them arrived with enough time to go back out and pre-ride a section of tomorrow’s route known as ‘riding the loop’ - solving the tricky navigation in daylight rather than possibly getting stuck in the pre-dawn darkness tomorrow. Joining this group tonight was Trevor (Batch 4), who started his day at Glen Edward today. He rode with Angela to Masakala before carrying on to Malekgolonyane - managing to get down off the tricky Mparane ridge just before sunset - another good day out on the trail for him.

 

Masakala is a busy place tonight, with riders from various batches meeting up at the support station - this often happens when faster riders jump ahead or slower and struggling riders fall back on their riding schedules. Angela stopped there today to rest up her injured knee - she is making good progress after struggling for the last few days and is in good spirits for the next section tomorrow. Also there tonight is Wikus, who rode through from Ntsikeni - a solid day’s riding for him after taking it easy on the first two days. The other guests are from Batch 4: Grant, Lance, Bruce, Matt, Graham, Estelle, Phillip and Nick, all of whom had ridden through from Ntsikeni without major incident. Also among them were Clive and Riaan but hey have both withdrawn due to injury and will be making their way to Rhodes by vehicle tomorrow. Not to be forgotten are Arno and Eddie, the two RTR racers from Batch 5 - they arrived by mid afternoon after a virtually non-stop ride from the start in Pietermaritzburg. Their plan was to sleep for a few hours before continuing into the night, with a final push to Rhodes, which they are hoping to reach in around 60 hours.

 

At Glen Edward tonight is Colin, who started with Arno and Eddie yesterday but pulled up the handbrake at Ntsikeni as he was feeling ill. He had a slow day to Glen Edward and will most likely ride through to Masakala tomorrow where he plans to withdraw. 

 

Ntsikeni is also busy tonight, with the all of the Batch 5 RASA riders staying there, as well as Simon (RTR) - they all made steady progress today and were in by dark but after two long days on the trail with a lot of climbing, will be looking forward to the slightly easier day to Masakala tomorrow. 

 

Batch 6 left the City Hall today and made rapid progress through the morning: Andrew and Rowan had crossed the Umko river by midday and after a quick stop at Allendale, continued on to Centocow, arriving in time for supper. Kobus, Leonard and Pierre were a bit more sedate and arrived at Allendale by mid afternoon, where they are staying tonight.

 

Back in Pietermaritzburg, the final race briefing for Batch 7 has been done and the racing snakes are ready to hit the trail - this batch between them hold 19 finisher’s blankets,  compare that to the total of 15 finisher’s blankets for all the other batches together and it becomes clear that there is a wealth of experience about to be unleashed on the trail tomorrow - let the games begin!

 

 

                          

 

                    

Today was a relatively hassle free day on the trail for most. Riders kept (mostly) on track, the weather was peachy and most people got to where they were headed in daylight. 

A massive batch of 12 headed out of PMB in warmer than usual conditions this morning. This included the last of the 2018 RTR riders. Arno Crous, Eddie Stafford and Colin Ogilvie are really RACING to Rhodes… seeing just how little they can sleep along the way. They flew through Umko late morning, Allendale at 14h30 and stopped for 18h30 supper at Centocow. They are planning to push through to Ntsekeni and maybe even Glen Edward before getting any shut-eye. Brave souls!

The fourth RTR rider is Simon Francis. At 70, he is the oldest rider in this year’s race. He is joined by his daughter Didi and her husband; Tim Deane. The three plan to ride together to Rhodes then Tim and Didi will continue to Wellington. The Deanes have also just completed the 550km Expedition Africa Adventure Race so their legs will be a bit heavier than normal. 

Russell Boltman, Carl Combrink, Mark Bowman, Nigel Payne, Paul Marais and Sean Shaw also all started their rides to Diemersfontein today. Most of them will be looking to finish in around 20-22 days. 

Yesterday’s starters all had a good day from Allendale to Ntsekeni, arriving late afternoon. Trevor left Centocow at 3am, had breakfast at Ntsekeni and continued on to Glen Edward but his legs were feeling the two big days of riding so he is resting up at G.E together with Angela.

The batch ahead had a trouble free day to Masakala, enjoying some cold cokes along the way. Also pretty smooth sailing to Malekgolonyane today. Most people decided to ride the loop after arriving in the early afternoon but they still had a tiny hick-up in the wattles near Mariazelle School (where the Scholorship Fund kids attend) … even in daylight. Justin and Andrea are in Tinana this evening where, unfortunately, their ride will end. Andrea’s knee is too sore for the portages to Rhodes. 

More wind for the front batch today, they are feeling a little ‘hard-done-by’ as they are the only ones really affected by the dregs of the front. Good news is that the Vuvu valley is relatively passable. They all made good time to arrive in the light. There was a sprinkling of snow at Tiffendale last night so lets hope, for their sake, the warmer, calmer weather arrives for their hike up Lehanas Pass tomorrow.

 

           

 

 

Today was the largest start group of 2018 with 11 riders setting forth from PMB, 6 RASA and 5 RTR. Almost all of them have had some experience on the trail but it is easy to forget just how demanding a day on the freedom trail can be, and today would have been a sharp reminder.  Clive Leader, Nick Taschner, Phillip Fullaway, Riaan Landman and Trevor Maarschalk started their Race to Rhodes bids. Weather was good and they all made steady progress throughout the day. There was quite a bit of pre-race banter about pushing past Allendale but it seems Trevor is the only one to have followed through on this ambitious plan. He left Allendale at 4pm to take on the (now) infamous Centocow forests in the dark and should arrive at the mission around 10pm if all goes to plan. He will join Wikus, who took a shorter day from Allendale.

Today’s starting RASA contenders include: Lance Rorich, Bruce Koller (AKA Piston Percy), Estelle Labuschagne, Grant Hill and father-and-son-combo; Graham and Matt Denny. Today also saw the first Umko river crossings. Grant, Bruce and Trevor seemed to make easy work of the crossing, albeit with wet feet up the Hella Hella climb. Most of batch 4 trickled into Allendale throughout the late afternoon with Estelle riding into the dark but (with her 3 blankets and ‘hard as nails’ reputation) nobody was too concerned about her doing a bit of night time solo riding. 

Leon Kruger set his sights on a big second day with a 1am departure from Allendale. He passed through Centocow at 7h30, Ntsekeni at 14h30 and should reach Glen Edward around 8pm for a great day’s riding. The rest of batch 3 left Allendale at 6am and had a relatively straightforward day to Ntsekeni, all arriving in daylight hours. They caught up to Angela who, after a few more wrong turns today, might enjoy a bit of company tomorrow. The rest of batch two had a smooth day from Ntsekeni to Masakala and are probably enjoying some well-deserved Black Labels right now. 

Apparently things started to get a bit windy for the trail-breakers with the cold front rolling in. There were a few reports of endless headwinds en route to Malekgolonyane, which turned a usually easier day into a battle of its own. Roger Nicholson added to his battles by cracking his frame. Luckily it is a steel frame bike and he was able to catch a taxi back to Matatiele to get it welded before returning to the trail to continue on and still make it to Malekgolonyane comfortably. Unfortunately Justin and Andrea are struggling with ITB so plan to do a short day to Tinana tomorrow then hitch a ride to Rhodes. 

                    

Another big batch starting tomorrow including some RASA faithfuls and the RTR racing snakes… should make for some fun dot watching. 

 

 
 

A chilly morning on the trail today with sunrise temperatures just above zero along these early stages of the trail. The third batch of eight riders started today, smongst them Chris Morris and Leon Kruger, who collectively already have five blankets to their names. Mandy Joyce, Mark Basel, Sarah van Eerden, and Wikus Van der walt also started on their 2018 RASA adventures. 

David McKercher has persuaded his friend Robert Lathem to come out from the UK and they are riding to rhodes together.

The first batch had a pretty straightforward day but had to do a lot of their own navigating as Chris and Leon were out in front. Leon had toyed with the idea of pushing through Allendale but decided to stay after arriving just before 4pm. Chris arrived shortly afterwards, Robert and David made it in the around 5pm and Mark 5h20pm. The others had a bit of dark to contend with but all in safely by 7pm. 

Batch 2 kept it pretty tight and tidy today. They all left at 6am, except for Angela, who opted for a little extra rest and shorter ride to Centecow. The group rode consistently well on this tough day and all arrived at Ntsekeni in daylight. Tony and Mark arrived at 16:40. Andrew and Greg arrived at 16:50. Marius, Johann, Philip, Cassandra and Andrew arrived at 17:00. Angela left Allendale mid-morning and had a trying solo day through the forests en route to Centecow. The navigation on this section is tricky as walls of trees often surround you, making it difficult to orientate yourself in your surroundings. There were many dot watchers very concerned for Angela as she made a few wrong turns. Some people even phoning her to try and assist but the reality is that it looks very different on a screen compared to on the ground. Eventually she just put her phone on silent, put her head down and she got herself there safe and sound with great determination.

The front batch had one little wobble through the wattles, where the roads change from year to year but they were all in Masakala by 7pm. Graham and Sarah at 17h30 and Kevin and Nigel at 4pm. At one point it seemed like the “LoveBirds” might be separated but that was just a glitch with Sarah’s tracker.

Batch 4 is a big one. All 11 are in PMB and there are even a few novices talking about pushing through Allendale tomorrow so that should make for some interesting dot watching.

 

             

 

 
 

At 6 o’clock this morning another 10 brave souls lined up at PMB City Hall ready to tackle the Freedom Trail in somewhat chilly conditions. Andrew Walker, Angela Green, Cassandra Stremmelaar and Philip Lee all plan to ride across South Africa. Andrew and Angela have both ridden to Rhodes before and are now in pursuit of their blankets. Cassandra and Philip are diving in the deep end with this RASA being their first time on the trail. 

Andrew Donkin, Greg Dingley, Johan Erasmus, Marius Hickley, Mark Olivier and Tony Lindsay all left PMB this AM on their way to Rhodes, Tony being the only one to have previously done so. The second batch had a pretty good first day on the trail, mostly riding in small groups and steadily finding their way up and over Minerva, through the Umko and up Hella Hella to Allendale. Angela, took a wrong turn on her way into Byrne and lost a bit of time looking for water but she has been soldiering on all day on her own and should be at Allendale by 22h00. Tony, Greg, Mark and Andrew arrived at Allendale at 16h15 followed by Cassandra and Philip at 16h40 and Marius and Johann shortly after them. They will all be enjoying some well-needed recovery time before the BIG day to Ntsekeni tomorrow.

The first batch all left Allendale between 5h30 and 6am, looking to maximize daylight hours. The second and third days are arguably two of the toughest on the trail and these guys will attest to that as they were still making their way up the massive final climb and through the Ntsekeni Nature reserve when the sun dipped below the horizon. Kevin and Nigel were out in front again with no tracks to follow and made a little extra work for themselves when they took a wrong turn and rode about 10k’s down a hill on the way to Centocow before realizing and riding back up again. They lost about an hour but still managed to arrive first at Ntsekeni just after 5pm. Tweet (Graham) and Terror (Sarah) didn’t fall for any navigational shenanigans but their legs are still recovering from Expedition Africa and felt every bit of the endless climbing en route to Ntsekeni. They arrived half an hour later at 17h35

Andrea, Dominic, Justin, Keith and Roger all had a solid day but slowed towards the end meaning they had to trudge through the Ntsekeni grasslands in the dark. This is a wild and vast place and with no lights around them what-so-ever, so they would not have had much idea of exactly how much further to go, which can be mentally challenging but they kept moving nicely and arrived just before 7pm to a cheerful Mr Ncgobo and some delicious soup and stew.

 

                              

 

Page 7 of 8

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2018 Freedom Challenger Blogs

Mike Woolnough - Adventures of an Ordinary Cyclist

Carl Scholtz - Making Trackz

Clint le Roux - Afrivence

Bruce Hughes - East of Adventure

Phillip Fullaway - Race to Rhodes 2017 – My personal account

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