Sunday 14 March 2021
Vrederust Farm, up and over Naude’s Nek
Only three months ago we were winding up RTC/RTW 2020 in Willowmore, the conclusion to a tumultuous year in which the Freedom Challenge (‘FC”) calendar was turned upside down. This year we return back to some semblance of normality with the traditional March slot for the Race to Craddock (“RTC”) and Race to Willowmore (“RTW”). The Race to Rhodes (“RTR”) and the Race to Paarl (“RTP”) will be held as usual during June/July at the same time as the Race across South Africa (“RASA”). From henceforth we shall talk only of FC, RTR, RTC, RTW, RTP and RASA. It’s a lot easier for stressed Buffalo Herder report writers (Buffalo Herder update coming up later).
Incidentally for those who are a bit puzzled as to the “Paarl” designation when the race doesn’t actually go anywhere near Paarl, it is because the actual finish is at Wellington and the “RTW” was already used up by the RTW. It’s simple really, one of those compromises you just have to accept.
Before I get into the details of RTC, it is opportune to talk about a few broader brushstrokes for the FC. In no particular order these are as follows:
There is a new event, the Freedom Circuit. The jury is out on how we abbreviate this one as “FC” is already taken by the FC (suggestions please to the editor). This is a 400km or 700km circuit race, starting and finishing at the same place. The event will held in April partly on the existing FC route (although raced in the opposite direction) and also through some new terrain, all mainly in typical RTR territory. Other than circular route the major changes are that this is a GPS enabled race and that there are no official support stations. Where you stay and pay is up to you and your wallet. Similar to Tour Divide rules. It is hoped that this event will serve as a halfway house to draw riders into the wider family of FC events and also potentially, as a consequence of GPS being allowed, to attract some of the top overseas racers. For further information follow this linkwww.freedomcircuit.com
This year’s RASA will be the biggest ever, with a field of around 100 entrants. This is partly due to the postponed 2020 event (which as you may recall was eventually held at the end of 2020 with a much reduced field) but also due to the burgeoning profile of the FC. It seems as if the investment into social media is paying off. Word has and is spreading which is fabulous for the future of the FC. The implications on logistics, in particular access rights and support stations, is going to be significant. We are probably going to need more Buffalo Herders as well and we are certainly not short of applicants, which is encouraging.
FC runners will ultimately become as numerous as FC riders. At least that is my prediction. Last year saw four runners finish the RTR within the same cut-off time for the riders, seven days. The same foursome are running this year’s RTC. Remember their names, Andy Wesson, Peter Purchase, Nicky Booyens and Dean Barclay. They are the pioneers. Much thought has been put into the cut-off time for runners for RTC and this year it has been set at eight days as the distance is significantly greater than RTR. There is clearly the potential for each of RTR, RTC, RTW, RTP and indeed RASA to be opened to runners. Interest has already been shown in entering RASA as a runner. I suspect cut-offs for runners might eventually settle at a ten days cut-off for each of the shorter events and forty days (think of the twenty six day cut-off for riders) for RASA. It may be ultimately difficult to hold the running event at the same time as the riding event, mainly due to logistics but the momentum is there. When one remembers that David Waddilove first ran the FC route before he cycled it, this running element will be true to the origins of the event and crucial to the sustainability of the FC.
Much of the focus of prior FC events has been on the extraordinary achievements of some of the finest endurance athletes in the country if not globally. Dot-watching is an industry in itself. One area where there is growing interest is in the achievements of woman riders (and runners for that matter). There have been some incredible performances by woman riders over the years and we are currently blessed with a very competitive group, a number of whom have entered this year’s RTC and RTW. More about this later, I have just heard we have a late entrant, Ingrid Avidon, for RTC which make things very interesting in the race for line honours for first woman home and possibly a new woman’s record.
There is another addition to the growing FC family, which currently consists of FC Riders, FC Runners, FC Race Office, FC Buffalo Herders, and FC Writers (of which there are many). It looks like we will soon have a resident FC Artist. Well known South African landscape artist Bruce Backhouse, himself a rider, will be joining the Buffalo Herders during 2021 RASA and will, over the next two years, be producing a body of work that will be sold off in 2023 as part of the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the FC. Our hopes are that an exhibition will be held at the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg after 2023 RASA. A significant portion of the proceeds from this sale will go to the Freedom Trail Foundation (more about this Foundation in my next report). In addition Bruce will, as he travels the route, be producing daily line drawings to augment the race reports that are produced. These drawings will also be leveraged in the future to further fund the Foundation.
Back to the RTC. A big field of 34 riders and 4 runners set off this week, spread out over five batches starting from Tuesday. Over the next few reports I will be covering this race. In this report I’d like to focus on one aspect, the changed role that Mike Woolnough is taking in this year’s RTC. I’m going to give Mike the floor here. He is, aside from being a proper FC rider and undisputed champion and multiple winner of the RTC, very much one of the family of FC Writers (more about that as well in future race reports). So over to you Mike:“Spring 2020 will find me lining up for Race to Cradock for the 7th time, which includes every version since the inception of the race. For the first time I will have overnight sleep kit in my backpack. I will be joined by 6 Freedom Trail rookies. Actually 5 rookies as 1 of them (Colleen Cawood) has been on the trail a couple of times but is keen to learn how to self-navigate.
Cognisant of how people are keen to get on the trail but are intimidated by the self-navigation component I decided to offer my services as a mentor to a dedicated start batch. I won’t be pointing them down the trail. Rather, I will get them familiarised with directional orientation and how to interpret real world features from scribbles on a map.
We will be taking it easy riding from support station to support station each day. The key is for them is to learn the craft which entails learning and then putting into practice a handful of techniques. It’s not difficult but anxiety has a way of amplifying fear and making simple tasks appear insurmountable. I will be there to answer queries and teach basic navigation techniques, trail etiquette and how to manage your day. Once we start moving each day my primary role is that of sweeper and if needs be fixer of bad route choices.
Why am I doing it? I love racing but I also love encouraging people to experience what has captivated me for the best part of the last 15 years—riding the Freedom Trail. The trail has fed my spirit of adventure and made me realise that I am far more capable than I originally thought I was. As a result I have grown as a person as I have challenged myself to go further and faster. If I can ignite a passion for this kind of adventuring in other people it will be a satisfying way of paying it forward”
A wonderful gesture Mike and I am sure you and your flock will enjoy your ride. We look forward to seeing you along the route.
The Buffalo Herder team is as it ended up at the end of last year. Elton the Mechanic (“Elton”), Gerrit the FC Legend (Race #8 (“Advocate Gerrit’), John the Geologist (“John the Geologist”), and I are back again, hopefully adding a bit of value and certainly having a heap of fun. The Johannesburg Buffalo Herders overnighted on our way down to Rhodes in Aliwal North (where Andre Buys of Slaapkrantz fame is a teacher). Elton and I shared a room and, when comparing notes the next morning, we were astonished to find out that, in the opinion of the other, neither of us had snored. This was totally contrary to the opinion of our wives, who have been telling both of us for decades that we snore like crazy. Advocate Gerrit suggested that we may need additional corroborating evidence before confronting our respective wives so we made the decision to sleep with as many different people as possible during this early FC season, gathering their feedback. Advocate Gerrit said he didn’t think (in fact he looked quite worried) that our wives would look too favorably on this idea (as logical as it appears at first sight) either so it is unfortunately a non-starter. We are therefore, rightly or wrongly, condemned to be snorers forever.
Whilst driving up into Rhodes we came across two walkers. Being gregarious creatures of habit, we stopped to have a chat. The upshot of this chat is that we may have an additional Buffalo Herder. One of the walkers, Lizette Fourie, was the professional sports masseuse for the All Blacks back in a day and, being a seemingly free spirit, she seems keen to join the Buffalo Herder team. We are uncertain as to whether this will actually materialize but do not be alarmed if you are offered a soothing massage at Kudu Kaya. Only if Lizette is there mind, the rest of us Buffalo Herders don’t have those skills.
Postal history aficionados need not despair. The Buffalo Herders continue to be vigilant in this crucial area of research and can report that a full set of the 1952 Post Office Regulations can be seen in the foyer of the newly reopened Rhodes Hotel. The new owners, a group of local farmers, have done a great job and both the Buffalo Herders and Janine Oosthuizen (“Janice Opperman”) can attest to their hospitality. Janice (“Janine”) arrived four days prior to her start on Wednesday in the RTC and is apparently having a marvelous time up at Tennahead.
My Tuesday report will cover the folk starting on Tuesday, race winner contenders and the like. The Buffalo Herders will work our way tomorrow back up Naude’s Nek and over and down to Rhodes where we will report for duty at Alpine Swift, the starting base of the FC for RTC. We are currently “team building” at Vrederust, the superlative farm owned by the Naude family itself (thanks again Tim James).
Freedom Challenge 2021 is open for business. Enjoy.