Johann Rissik finished yesterday and earned his blanket and his permanent number board – rider no. 27. There was some speculation when the new website was put up as to who rider no 27 was, as the name had been left blank, that is now no longer the case, as Johann achieved a dream of his and the records can now be completed. Johann has been involved in the race from the beginning and was the instigator of the Stone Saddle Award, a trophy he himself made, but to date his involvement has been as a supporter.
So why then a note on Johann specifically? it is because he typifies spirit of the Freedom Rider, he has selflessly supported, promoted and has done as much as he can to encourage the development of the Freedom Trail, especially in his district of Prince Albert. Last year when Johann was facing some challenges and working outside of Prince Albert, he confided in me that he was struggling not to be in Prince Albert as the entire race passed through, as it had become a highlight for him each year. Yet he still made a point of seeing some special friends along the route, it is then no coincidence that the picture of him with a smile of a million dollars tweeted last night saw him sitting next to Steve Thomas – a Freedom Challenge stalwart and one of the people Johann literally went out of his way to see on the trail last year.
Johann’s ride this year has been steady and deliberate, I am sure there were huge nerves at the start, after all, many rookies don’t make the ride in their first attempt and he had the added pressure of so many people supporting him. So one got a sense of relief when he found a good steady group who he joined and who had a similar approach to his. Making it through Rhodes must have been as much a relief as it was an initial achievement. Then riding on through the farmers of the Stormberg, many of whom he would have heard of and who would have heard of him – these meetings would have been priceless to watch. His journey through the Baviaans and on to Prince Albert and Dennehof would have made Johann one of the few people who could have said they passed by their home – but there was no stopping him now – through Gamkaskllof, up the Ladder and on to stay with his good friends, the hosts at Rouxpos.
The final stretch to Diemersfontein saw Johann and the Wally’s slow down to tourist pace, it was clear now that they would finish and their prolonged ‘kuiering’ at various support stations spoke of a group savouring the whole experience. Stettynskloof as the monument with its right of passage to Diemersfontein was both highlight and the end of the journey for Johann - the photos of him seated enjoying his pizza showed a man with a million dollar smile and at peace with his place in the record books, but more than that, the fulfilment of the experience it is to ride the Freedom Trail.
It was significant that David Waddilove was given the honour of handing Johann his blanket – it was a fitting tribute to two men who have done much to define this story.
Well done and welcome rider no 27.
By Charl van der Spuy (Blanket Wearer, rider no.185)