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And that's a wrap for 2015

Nearly a month after the first riders left Pietermaritzburg for Rhodes and Wellington, the 2015 Freedom Challenge finally draws to a close. In an event with a drop out rate as high as 30-40%, this was a really good year, with that rate falling closer to 20%. In the end 59 riders completed the RTR and 33 completed RASA. Factors contributing to this success were better levels of preparedness of the riders before they started - many riders had attended rider briefings and quite a few had scouted and pre-ridden sections of the trail beforehand. With so much information available online nowadays, riders were also kitted out with lighter equipment (average backpack weight was 7-8kg). Add to that the good conditions, although there was snow and strong wind in the early stages, most riders enjoyed stable, dry weather for a large part of their journey and this undoubtedly made the going easier. But let’s not take anything away from their efforts as this year’s crop of ‘newbies’ were a determined bunch and they proved that the pull of the finisher’s blanket is as strong as ever.

Up front we had a close race between Tim James and Andrew Barnes and it was interesting to watch their respective strategies play out: Tim rode long hours on little sleep while Andrew’s slightly faster speed was offset by his longer sleeping times. With only hours separating them as they went into Stettynskloof, the race came down to the wire, at one point on the approach into Diemersfontein, a navigational error by Tim allowed Andrew to close the gap to within 5min before he too made a similar error. The eventual winning margin of 30min is perhaps the closest yet and is a testament to the competitive nature of them both.

At the back of the field there were a few riders who ended up behind schedule due to mechanical or navigational issues. This immediately put them on the back foot and the pressure was upon them to make the various interim cut offs along the route. They put in a brave effort but it proved a bridge too far and it was unfortunate that riders like Pierre Oosthuizen, John Bowen and Mike Roy all ended up withdrawing after having come so far. But they don’t go away empty handed as their experiences this year will be invaluable if they decide to return in future years.

This year could be fondly referred to as the 'Year of the Squiggles’ - with the rider tracking working well, it was possible to follow them on their respective journeys and see where they went wrong. As a navigation race where GPS is not allowed, the number of navigational errors was proof that navigation is the great leveller and is not to be underestimated. Being a strong rider is no guarantee of success since it doesn’t help to be riding fast in the wrong direction. Even the more experienced campaigners with good route knowledge still found the navigation challenging, especially at night, as was the case with Tim in the Vuvu valley or both Tim and Andrew going through Stettynskloof in the dark and taking longer than the first timers did in daylight.

Most riders got to grips with it as the race progressed though and it also became apparent that they were realising and correcting their errors sooner and moving more efficiently in the latter stages. Finding the route is one of the defining elements of the Freedom Challenge and riders taking responsibility for themselves in doing so is the very essence of the challenge. Herein lies the attraction of the event for many - an uncertain outcome and the promise of adventure. 

There were a few standout performances this year which bear special mention: 

Ingrid Avidon’s solo ride from Pietermaritzburg to Ntsikeni in one push places her among only a handful or riders to have done so in this event - the fact that she is the only women so far to have done this on her own is a remarkable achievement. 

Andrew Blackburn's long walk from Tinana to Rhodes after his freewheel hub packed up is also worth a mention. While his riding companions went ahead, he endured many hours of solo walking up the hills and freewheeling down in his determined quest to keep moving forward to Rhodes where he could get spares. His efforts caused him severe shin splints which later nearly derailed his ride but he overcome those too and proved that the body will follow where the mind goes first.

Johann Rissik was well known to many of this year’s riders as the Prince Albert local who has always been a huge supporter of the event. This year he got his chance to ride it and did so in exemplary style. Riding with the three ‘Wallys’ (Ian Paul and Alan) he took on the role of guardian and patiently helped Alan through many tough sections of the route.

In similar fashion, Stu Brew was also no stranger to RASA, having completed it before. He rode with various groups throughout this year as he moved through the field but he ended up with a very determined Gary Preston in Stettynskloof and together they slogged through the infamous kloof for over 16 hours on the final stage. Stu was blown away by Gary’s tenacity but Gary had great respect and gratitude for Stu’s patience.

The Stone Saddle Award went to two riders this year - Alan Haupt and Gary Preston. They both came into RASA knowing that it would be even tougher for them due to their own physical challenges but this did not deter them. Although they had the support of other riders around them, they still had to go out every day and face the demands of the day and this they did without complaint. The other riders were often inspired by the determination and tenacity of these two, the way they got up after countless falls and just quietly got back to the job at hand. Their efforts are a true reflection of courage and self confidence and we can all learn something from them.

As the tyre tracks along the trail slowly start to fade and life slowly returns to normal for the riders, the stories from this year’s event will live on - in the hearts and minds of all who took part and in all those who followed their progress every day. The memories that make the Freedom Challenge such a rich and diverse experience are also part of the reason we keep coming back for more - the seeds of adventure lie in curiosity and out on the trail those seeds always find fertile ground.   

The last two riders arrive at Diemersfontein

Nic van Zyl and Mike Devereux crossed the finish line at Diemersfontein tonight, after a long, hard day in Stettynskloof. Having started in some of the later batches, they were always likely to miss the finisher’s dinner but were well within their allowable 26 day cut off. Mike Devereux finished in 23d 16h and Nic van Zyl finished in 22d 16h Having ridden together for many days during the event, splitting up for a while and eventually meeting up again at Trouthaven to take on Stettynskloof together, their 2015 RASA has had no shortage of adventure. The two riders were elated after finishing and were proud to receive their coveted finsher's blankets.

5 July - the evening wrap up

The two remaining riders in RASA2015 are both staying at Trouthaven tonight. Reunited after a few days apart on the trail, Mike Devereux and Nic van Zyl will take on Stetynskloof together in the morning. Mike rode through from Good Hope today while Nic came all the way from Montagu. Due to their late start dates, they are in no danger of missing any cut offs but they still have to complete the last stage to earn their blankets.

The weather still looks good for tomorrow and they should enjoy a bright sunny day in the kloof - we look forward to welcoming them across the finish line at Diemersfontein.

4 July - the daily wrap up

With only two riders left on course, today’s report is short and sweet.

Nic van Zyl will spend the night in Montagu, after riding through from Anysberg today. He’s charging phones and trackers, doing laundry and resting up for a big push to Trouthaven tomorrow. After that its just Stettynskloof and a short ride between him and the finish at Diemersfontein.

Mike Devereux will stay at Good Hope tonight, he rode through from Montagu and took a few wrong turns on the way in to GoodHope which meant he then left there a bit late for the remaining portages on the way to Trouthaven - so he opted to return to Good Hope and stay there tonight. Having started in a much later start batch, he is under no pressure to make the cut off, so can afford to cruise into the finish. He will ride through to Trouthaven tomorrow and if Nic manages to come through all the way from Montagu, then they can head up Stettynskloof together on Monday.

Mike Roy spent last night in Stettynskloof and only emerged after midday today. He called in from the bottom of Du Toits Kloof pass announcing his withdrawal. His night out had taken its toll and he was also struggling with bike issues. On top of that he did not have any narratives or maps for the last section into Diemersfontein, so a vehicle was despatched to collect him.

Diemersfontein will play host to the finishers’ dinner tonight, with riders already arriving - time for them to catch up on all the stories from this year’s race and to meet their fellow riders face to face.

3 July - the evening wrap up

Today was another glorious day in the Cape, the sun shone brightly and there was only a gentle breeze - perfect conditions for a hike in the mountains. 

Mike Glover and John Exley made the most of the great weather and hiked up Stettynskloof today to complete their Freedom Challenge journey. Although the last day is tough and uncompromising, they went about things in their steady and persistent way, much like the rest of their ride. Having ridden together from the start, it was fitting for them to cross the line together and they can be proud of their achievement. Their finishing time was 19days 11hours 55min. 

Stettynskloof had another visitor today, Mike Roy - he started out with John and Mike but was soon on his own. Riding unofficially after missing his 26 day cut off, Mike is expected at Diemersfontein later tonight.

Staying in Montagu tonight is Mike Devereux, he rode through from Rouxpos today which was a good double stage for him. Riding solo for the last two days, he seems to have sufficient momentum going now and is accelerating toward the finish. Another double tomorrow would mean a finish on Sunday.

Nic van Zyl made good progress today, riding from Gamkaskloof via Rouxpos to Anysberg - his first double stage. It seems his bike troubles are over for now and he too seems to be going well. He may be able to catch up with Mike Devereux and come up Stettynskloof with him but to do that he will have to keep the pace up tomorrow and get all the way to Trouthaven.


2 July - the evening wrap up

More riders across the finish line today and the rest keep closing in on Diemersfontein.

The first riders out of Stettynskloof today were Marnitz Nienaber and Ivor Jones who arrived just after 2pm this afternoon. They opted to try a different exit out of Stettynskloof, by going out early on the left hand side. This seemed to have saved them from the worst of the bushwhacking and they made good time through the kloof. With 5 blankets to his name, Marnitz has the route saved in his head and Ivor was amazed that they never had to use maps at any stage of the journey. Today Marnitz received blanket number 6 and for Ivor it was his first - their finishing time was 16days 8hours 5min.

The next three riders came over the line together a while later - Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter had ridden together since the start and had a good solid ride. Andrew had to put up with a failing freewheel hub, which meant a long walk from Tinana to Rhodes and later on a serious case of shin splints but he showed real determination and pressed on regardless. They all received their coveted blankets to the applause and cheers of their friends and families. Their finishing time was 19days 10hours 45min. 

Of the remaining riders for this year, we have four still in the race and two more who are not. 

John Bowen has been riding with Mike Roy since Tinana and the two have been under pressure to chase cut offs from an early stage - after missing their Willowmore cut off they were allowed to continue to the finish but have not managed to keep up with the required pace. In a last ditch attempt, the pair left Good Hope just after midnight this morning on their way to Trouthaven and then the finish. By mid morning they had not reached Trouthaven and it was becoming clear that there was very little chance of getting through Stettynskloof in the dark and still finishing before 6am tomorrow morning, the 26 day cut off. On realising this, John decided to withdraw at Trouthaven. At peace with his decision, he said he had learnt a lot about himself on this journey and pushed himself further than he thought possible. Mike Roy ended up in a similar situation, realising that the clock was against him. He opted to carry on to Trouthaven and spend the night there - he will go up Stettynskloof tomorrow and finish the route to Diemersfontein.

Also at Trouthaven tonight are Mike Glover and John Exley, they rode through from Montagu today. They have been steady and consistent the whole way and now its just Stettynskloof between them and their blankets.

Jumping back to Rouxpos, where Mike Devereux is expected later tonight, after a big double from Prince Albert. He will be happy to have an easier day tomorrow and is now closing in on the finish.

Sweeping behind tonight is Nic van Zyl, who left Prince Albert after serving his time penalty (for a new bike) and arrived at Gamkaskloof for supper. Tomorrow he takes on the Ladder and then its Rouxpos and beyond, he can surely smell the finish now too.

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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