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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.

When the racing snakes come out to play

The last day or two of a Freedom Challenge event is generally reserved for the riders who are considered to be podium contenders. That is not to say the eventual race winners will come from this group but it's more likely as they are strong riders and have previous experience on the trail. You cannot overestimate the advantage of knowing the route. The degree of route knowledge runs from a fairly good idea to highly detailed film strips that run through their heads. This intimate knowledge means that sunset doesn't signal the end of the day, it merely raises the stakes slightly and makes the snakes relish the challenge. It used to be that there were certain parts of the race that were considered too difficult to attempt at night. Those doors were kicked in years ago.

To be honest, watching the snakes is boring. In most places their tracker scribbles will merge into a single track overlaid on the official race line. There will be nuances but they will be few and far between. Two or three visits to the website every day to monitor their progress will suffice. In truth it is a different race with a completely different dynamic. It's more a case of how far and how long rather than where did they ride.

Day one is generally a huge day for the non-snake. They arrive at Allendale late in the afternoon with a sense of achievement overlaid with a new respect for the race. One or two stronger riders might push through and are pleased with getting to Centocow, a further 45 km's down the trail, well after dark. For some of the racing snakes Allendale is a quick pit stop and Centocow a place to change kit before it gets dark. They then push on through the night. It's cool to watch but it is the experiences, tales and personal growth of the rookie sitting next to the fire at Allendale that intrigues me.

To extract and understand the true essence of this race rather focus on the antics of the less experienced rider or the rookie. Their journeys are rich with experiences that will delight you or have you sitting on the edge of your chair. The race is actually more about them. They are having to deal with uncertainty every day and it's debilitating. That process however has a transforming effect on them as people.

The snakes might emerge victorious but the rest of the field experience a deep transformation of their being and emerge triumphant.

(by Mike Woolnough, a man with a few whips and blankets and a self confessed racing snake)


13 June - the wheels keep turning

Another day on the trail, another start batch and more finishers in Rhodes.

The batch that left PMB today had some strong RASA and RTR riders with most of these guys having some experience of the route up to Rhodes - despite this, there was a slight nav hiccup going through Thorny Hill farm early on but maybe that was just due to the excitement of finally being on the trail. Their route knowledge was evident from the clean lines through the Umko Valley and with the exception of Mike Devereux, all crossed the river. They arrived at Allendale mid-afternoon and opted to stay. Mike Devereux fell off the pace early on but had a steady day of solo riding and arrived at Allendale in time for supper.

Mr Ngobo at Ntsikeni will be in his element tonight with an audience of 9 riders to listen to his legendary storytelling. Brad, Nicky and Nick, together with Joyce, Pierre, Gaeren and Paul as well as the Talbots, Mike and Ingrid all reached Ntsikeni with daylight to spare - a good effort on such a hard day. There’s some tricky navigation waiting for them on their way to Glen Edward but with experience in the group (Pierre is a Blanket Wearer), they have every chance of getting to Glen Edward for mid morning soup. Then its on to Masakala for night three.

Mike Ward and Andrew Hunt have been going along nicely - they left their group yesterday when they went through to Centocow for the night and stayed ahead by pushing through to Glen Edward today. They should have their sights set on Malekholonyane for tomorrow, which would put them a full day ahead of schedule on the way to Rhodes. Solid navigation and steady riding are the order of the day for these two.

Masakala saw plenty of action today - first there was the broken bike and time penalty for Gary Preston, he had to sit until 13h00 before leaving due to taking a replacement bike. The award for sportsmanship for today goes to Lee Fuller who opted to stay with Gary. Also there was Dave Gace, who took the chance to rest up today. After the bike switch, they left at 13h05, now chasing hard to get over Mpharane ridge before dark. Only five minutes out and Dave turned back, still struggling, so he stays in Masakala tonight. Joining him later were Gary Green, Kemsley Wood and Andrew Green. They made it comfortably in by mid afternoon. Following not too far behind were Beat and Liehann - the latter being quite chuffed to settle an old score getting out of Ntsikeni cleanly - good nav all day from these two. Also at Masakala are the PTA boys, Willie, Gerrit and Fanus - these guys are pretty solid, they make steady progress every day and if they happen to stray from the intended route, they self correct pretty quickly.

Getting back to Lee and GaryP - they hightailed it out of Masakala just after 13h00 and made haste in the direction of Malekholonyane. What would normally be a leisurely day, even a rest day for most, suddenly became a dash to get up and down Mpharane Ridge before The Dark. Well they made it, slicing crisp, clean tracks through the floodplains on the approach and scuttling off the ridge at last light. So that ends the broken bike saga for Gary Preston - hopefully he repays Lee in koeksisters.

Dave Telford’s day was spoiled by a broken seat post but he pressed on regardless. Turns out that the seat post on Gary Preston’s broken bike was a match, so he generously agreed to strip it off his bike and take it through to Malekholonyane for Dave - more koeksister debts to be paid? (No time penalty because nothing was brought in from outside.)

Malekholonyane is also busy tonight - Tracey has been resting up there all day following the unfortunate withdrawal of riding partner John Croasdale - he injured his knee in a fall and is unable to continue. Tracey has a big choice of riding partners for tomorrow: Steve, Ant, Jacques, Stu Brew, Neville, Des and Dane are all there tonight, as well as SS Pierre, who also corrected his earlier out-of-bounds excursion on the floodplains. His Rhodes cutoff is looming, so he’ll have to keep it tidy tomorrow to get to Vuvu.

Up the road at Vuvu tonight are John Loos, Gert, Anton and Tony and Maarten. Arriving at various times but all in daylight, they are sure to get to Rhodes tomorrow. Already in Vuvu before they arrived were Mike Roy and John Bowen. After a night in Setabalaba village, they got up the Vuvu valley without too much drama but the thought of pushing on towards Lehana in the late morning proved too daunting a thought - rather some famous chicken and a cosy bed in Vuvu to build the reserves before taking on the mountain tomorrow. 

Also in Vuvu, albeit briefly, were Arno and Eddie. At a time when most people would be thinking of a shower, food and a warm bed (18h50) these two have decided to take on Lehana, in The Dark…

Neil and Francois started their day at Tinana Mission, got through the Vuvu valley with only a small hiccup and arrived in Vuvu let in the morning. A quick refuel and they were off again - managing to get over Lehana’s just before the light went. After a long day,, they finally arrived in Rhodes just after 9pm, dinner first and then their whips.

11 June - the daily wrap

Up front Batch 2 reached Rhodes today with what appeared to be a brisk portage up Lehanas by the bulk of the group, excluding Rory Field who took the seldom used Mcambalala/Philipsrust option. Snow is falling at Afriski and a dusting of Lehanas cannot be excluded. 

Batch 3 ably led by experienced Leon Kruger and his Team GALA are safely in at Vuva and would have by now tested the new luxury shower facilities.  Sergio/Fabio and Shaun have been slowed by mechanicals with Fabio’s bike,  which cost them time today. Arriving at Tinana late, they elected to push on. Normally that would be unwise, given the late hour but they went anyway. They then avoided the dreaded Vuvu valley by taking the road - this used to be an optional route choice but for the last few years already has been out of bounds, so normally they would be given a time penalty. In this case though they have come up short and have notified the race office that they are stopping to sleep at the police station on the way to Vuvu. Depending on their departure time in the morning, they may still have to sit out a time penalty at Vuvu in the morning as they must wait until 10am before going on to Rhodes. If they leave early, they will have to wait in Vuvu until 10am but if they only arrive in Vuvu after 10am, the penalty will fall away.

Batch 4 into Malekholonyane

The group from Masakala all enjoyed the easier ride today and other than a glitch here and there across the Knira flood plains that were masterfully corrected, made good time and no doubt enjoyed the extra rest. Niel/Francois caused some entertainment by missing the tricky Mpharane turnoff and were heading  for the Kingdom of Lesotho before they fortunately realized the error and neatly made their way back to Gladstone Farm. It appears the Mariazell Mission late afternoon cool down ride has now become standard practice to enable a slightly simpler and earlier exit in the morning - all of which helps in getting to the Vuvu valley with enough daylight.

Batch 5

John seems to have a new found riding companion in Gert Peens and they again rode very well into Masakala today with Anton, Tony and Fatbike Maarten not far behind. Comeback Kid Tracey Lentin and John were doing great and tracking near the old house just after Shenxa village - they came a bit unstuck here in the wattle trees and needed a few calls to the nav office to get them back on track. They are expected at Masakala by 11pm tonight. After her rough 2014 ride she has been solid this year but with a fair bit of night riding in the last few days, and will no doubt be looking forward to the easier day tomorrow.

Batch 6

After a super effort yesterday, Arno and Eddie, slept at Centacow perhaps aiming for a push through to Masakala. It does however appear that they may have got tricked by the myriad tyre tracks leading into Politique and lost some valuable  time correcting a navigation error. They have to settle for Glen Edward stop tonight sharing the fireplace with the bearded legends, Stephen and Pierre. The rest of their group crossed the Ntsikeni fence and they will be delighted to be in time to hear one or even two of Mr Ncgobo’s famous stories.

Neville Higgs was good for some entertainment value for the desktop jockeys today with seldom seen manoeuvres. First he did a zig and a zag around the Donnybrook forrest, then he drew a  beautiful lizard head into Centacow and finally a fish hook manoeuvre into Boshelweni  forrest. Masterful. But seriously, he pulled himself together later in the afternoon and got to Ntsikeni without any further excitement - a relief for him.

Batch 7 today

Today’s start batch has been rock solid with hardly a navigation twitch and they set a fast pace into Minerva for a very early soup stop. They all reached Allendale with light to spare but it appears they have been seduced by Allendale koeksisters and toasted sarmies. Des and Dane followed through on their race plan and pushed on to Centocow, arriving at Centacow at 21h05 - surviving 2 hours of drizzle and a close encounter with a massive porcupine.

The story of the day/night undoubtedly belongs to the proudly bearded pairing of single speed Pierre and his latest best friend Steven Kellerman. (Described by Mr Ngobo at Ntsikeni as "Steve and Pierre, the look-like Sangoma men") They are both eccentric in a beautiful way and those observing would pay big money to see and hear the dynamics as these two larger than life individuals are fast turning themselves into FC legends. SS Pierre has now taken 4 days to complete 2 ½ days of the route but he appears less than bothered and this super attitude is what will probably result in a most memorable experience for both as well as their fast growing group of admirers and supporters.


Todays report from Whip Bearer/Windmill Keeper Carl Scholtz



12 June - the evening wrap

As the race settles into the routine of eat, sleep and ride, alliances  are forged and the comfort of having others to navigate with overcomes any need for speed. Today saw more forward progress, less walkabouts and more riders than ever on the trail.

It also saw some new and interesting routes being pioneered much to the dismay and amusement of the tracker watchers. Dismay because we've all been there and we desperately want to urge the rides back on track and amusement in the shared knowledge that no one on the trail escapes route meanderings.

By now, the race office phones should be ringing less as lost riders seek to verify where they are and more and more bike tracks head in the same confirming direction. But be wary, oh riders...check twice, navigate once.

Before we head into the day's wrap, there are the issues of penalties given out by the race office. Riders are notorious for not reading race rules and in an event like this, the rules are very different and often challenging when tired, hungry and cold. The common penalty is time and riders are required to serve out a time penalty at the next support station they get to - the length of penalty is dependent on the transgression.

Two penalties were issued today and it is worth clarifying. Three riders skipped the Vuvu valley section, mechanicals being a major reason for their decision. The road to Vuvu is out of bounds. The race office contacted the riders and informed them of the penalty which was to sit out at Vuvu until 10:am the next day. These riders did not make the village and instead were forced to sleep at a police station which nullified any advantage they may have gained but were still required to serve out the time.

The second penalty refers to Golden Rule #6 and is regarded in an extremely serious light. Abuse of support station staff, official and other riders is not be tolerated no matter the circumstances. The race depends on the commitment and generosity of these stations and their hosts who go out of their way to assist riders at all hours of the day and night. This rider behaved extremely badly and the while the support station did not report him, other riders were so discomfited by his behaviour, they contacted the race office. The rider has apologised and sat out a penalty at the next support station. 

So now onto the news of the day.

Team GALA (Gary, Andrew, Leon & Alex) arrived at Rhodes having cruised comfortably through the route under the experienced leadership of Leon. They left Vuvu early and were in Rhodes just after lunch. 
Behind them are Shaun T and the duo of Sergio, Fabio who were plagued by bike mechanicals and Vuvu road penalty. With the odds stacked against them, they set off for Lehana’s at 10am from Vuvu. By that time, most riders are half way up Lehana’s already. However, they soldiered on and eventually arrived in Rhodes at 20h40 to receive their well earned whips.

The Vuvu valley at the best of times is a scary prospect but with strength in numbers, the first of the RASA riders worked their way through tonight aiming for the red light on top of the cell phone mast which spells rest - except tonight the red light wasn’t burning tonight which made it really tricky. A few phone calls to the NightNavOffice kept them pointed in the right direction and Paul, Ian, Allen, Tessa, Johann, Merak and Rob eventually arrived at Vuvu at 20h50.  Mike Roy ended up riding with John Bowen when the group split up just after Tinana Mission. Approaching the Vuvu Valley with just after dark, they elected to sleep out in Setabalaba village. Tomorrow they will have daylight to help them up the valley but the longer day could mean a late finish in Rhodes for them.

Neil and Francois left Malekonyane at 10am and planned to get to Tinana Mission at the base of Black Fountain. Leaving the Lodge they took a detour to see the church at Mariazell but we're not sure if this was deliberate. They managed the Black Fountain section admirably but did a Mike Roy too coming off. Luckily their destination was not far. They are ensconced there and will no doubt make an early start for Vuvu then Rhodes.

Back at Malekonyane where the views of the Malutis are incredible, there is a group of RASA riders including the fat bike, Maarten Witters, the only one to complete the loop out of there to gain an advantage in the morning. It's a wise decision because the crossing of the small stream on that section in the early hours is guaranteed to freeze feet and bike parts. Tracey and John had a long day to here but will be pleased to have made it in the daylight. John Loos has tapped off his aspirations to get to Rhodes in record time and is keeping Gert Peens (RASA) company along with Anton Wood (RASA) and Tony Roche. The rest of this start group are scattered over the trail behind them.

The ride from Ntsikeni was less eventful until the wattles after Taylerville where Pierre O had us all watching in horror as he ploughed a new route on the wrong side of the river, the wrong side of the trees and probably the wrong side of the mountain. He masterfully regained the route (not without a little help from the race office) and is now on his way to Masakala along with a big group of riders. Jacques Tatersall, Lee Fuller, Gary Preston, Ant Jankovich, Dave Telford and Neville Higgs (who has had his fair share of forest exploration) got to share a candlelight dinner thanks to load shedding. Arriving later than the main bunch were Stu Brew, Steve Johnston and Dave Gace, so its a full house at Masakala tonight.

Arno Crous and Eddie Stafford who are surely going to be the fastest to Rhodes for now, had a good day today, going from Glen Edward to Malekholonyane. Des and Dane Warden however, may wrest that from them as they have had an excellent run and are at Glen Edward for the night along with Steve Kellerman who holed up for the day hoping to shake off his illness. That puts them only a half day behind and 2.5 supported stations in 36 hours.

A great day was had by overseas visitor Beat Jegerlehner riding with Liehann Loots. Willie Esterhuizen, Gerrit vd Merwe, Fanus Vorster, Gary Green, Kemsley Wood and Andrew Green all stormed their way to Ntsikeni depriving the couch watchers of any drama for the night - as Mr Ngobo from Ntsikeni remarked “my todays group is too early!"

Then the Starting Batch of the day of RASA riders, Andrew Hunt, Mike Ward, Ingrid and Michael Talbot were teamed up with a mix of experienced and  inexperienced riders taking on R2R, Pierre Singery, Brad van der Westhuizen, Paul Dumont, Joyce Benade, Nicky Nairn, Gaeren Wilkinson and Nick Taschner. They had a flawless run to Allendale and only Andrew and Mike persevered on to Centacow, eventually arriving at 20h05.

Tomorrow will bring more stories of the trail as these warriors take on an event that only if you've done it, can you fully understand it.

Thanks to Blanket Wearer/Windmill Keeper, Fiona Coward, for today's report.

RTR Batch 1 - some post ride comments

PJ Combrink: “Had an amazing ride. Still marvelling at the total make up of the race with the last 2 days' mountain biking superb and a reward for the first 3 days hard work, with Lehana’s the cherry. Loved the navigational challenges, learnt so much - I could carry on. What a complete package!”

Ernst Behrens: "Morning Meryl, I know you are already up so I can text you. Yes I had a SUPER ride and will be back, thanks again"

John Foord: "Thanks for a great life experience"

Page 10 of 13

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