This year’s RASA riders have already had all four seasons to deal with in their quest for the elusive blanket - hot temperatures down in the Umko valley on day 1, icy mornings out of Ntsikeni, thick fog at Masakala, howling gales up Lehana and snow and mud on the Bontehoek portages. Since then, things have settled down somewhat with a week of fine and clear weather. The result is that most have made rapid progress through the Karoo with a few groups already through the Baviaanskloof. With recent pictures of riders in short sleeves enjoying beers at sunset, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all the hype around the extreme nature of this event is just hot air - in those cases that’s exactly what it was. Today though, things are a little bit different. All those layers of warm kit that they haven’t used for days and are thinking of mailing back home - today they are being worn.
As a fresh cold front lashes Cape Town, the ripple effect can be felt down the trail: the wind is howling over the Struishoek portage near Pearston, where Marnitz and Ivor are trying to hold on to their bikes. The higher passes in the Baviaanskloof are also windy although the lower valleys and kloof are more sheltered - currently the guys at Dam se Drif for lunch are in two minds about going on to Willowmore, where a strong, gusting wind is creating turmoil. Maarten and Jacques ran into a block headwind on the way to Rondawel and have been sheltering there for the last 2 hours. Anton and Gert went over the Swartberg Pass this morning and down into Gamkaskloof - they got caught in pouring rain and arrived drenched and shivering and Tannie Ansie had to make a fire and ply them with ‘ warm sop en brood’ to thaw them out.
So things can change quickly out on the trail, from one day to the next. Just when the riders think they have it figured out, a curveball like the weather or a mechanical comes along to spoil the fun. Fortunately for most of the remaining riders in this year’s event, they’ve all had a taste of that sudden adversity and are by now quite adept at solving the problem or adapting to the prevailing conditions - the finisher’s blanket is a coveted item and by this stage it’s almost within reach, so when things go wrong and threaten to snatch the blanket away, these riders are not going to give up without a fight.