Race report #5, final FC report for 2020 Friday 27 November 2020
The 2020 RTW is over, bringing an end to a tumultuous year for the Freedom Challenge. Race directors and riders were all back in their home towns a few days ago (other than Janine Oosthuizen who is “catching up on reading and general laziness” at the family cottage at Nature’s Valley). I’m also not sure if Estelle Labuschagne has got home yet. She cycled back to Cradock (yes) after finishing at Willowmore. Buffalo Herders are slower and we only got back yesterday, more of our trip a bit later.
Attention has moved from the Freedom Challenge to other upcoming events like The Munga. We know this because no sooner has an event finished than the name of Mike Woolnough’s WhatsApp group changes to that of the next event. It is now called “The Munga 2020”. This is a good thing, the world of endurance cycling is alive and well. The fuller the calendar the more people are attracted to the sport, each event feeding off the other.
The final analysis of the RTW is as follows:
• The event was won jointly by Pieter van der Westhuizen and Henry Angove in a new record time of 2 days, 9 hours and 42 minutes, beating Tim James record by nearly 9 hours. Talk is that under two days is possible for RTW. This would require getting to Cambria in time for the 13:00 bus. Given that Pieter and Henry only missed this by two or three hours, the race is on for a sub two day RTW in 2021.
• Three other riders went under Tim’s previous record. Peter Roux, Axel Poser and Daniel Otto, thereby joining the sub 3 days club which now stands at 9 riders. Out of interest RTR has 10 riders under 3 days and RTC 17. No-one went under 3 days for RTW in the inaugural event this year. It would be interesting to know what thoughts are on the possibility of a sub 2 day ride on RTP. Presumably this would require a night traverse of Stettynskloof. Hopefully the timing for the racing batch for RTW 2021 will link with a helping full moon. It is a given that the event has to be held at the same time as RASA. Access to Stettyns is restricted to one window during any year.
• Estelle Labuschagne won the woman’s event in 3 days and 15 hours. Ingrid Avidon’s record of 3 days and 5 hours therefor still stands.
• All 23 riders that started RTW finished within the time limit, thereby earning themselves a very attractive aloe and stone trophy and more importantly a patch or badge to sew onto their current or future blanket(s). In days gone by finishers at running and cycling events would get cotton badges instead of medals. These would be sewed onto the requisite tracksuit and one’s street cred was determined by whether or not there was any space left on the tracksuit. It works the same with The Freedom Challenge. Some FC riders have very full blankets. Others don’t have blankets and want one.
The last week at Cambria went by in a blur. Yet again the Buffalo Herders didn’t see any buffalo. The riders however saw plenty, which is certainly food for thought. We hope the riders enjoyed their braai and cooked breakfast at Cambria and we look forward to refining this tradition over the next years. It was an absolute pleasure and a privilege to host everyone. Thoughts of a muffin and coffee at Smitskraal in the future are foremost in the mind. After all why should Eddie be the only one to get cake at Smitskraal (so we heard).
Other memories from Cambria include the poignant sadness of Roger Nicholson who, when pressed on the reasons, muttered something about Mike Woolnough being mean to him. Some discussion amongst his group ensued and the question was asked (by Henry perhaps?) if Mike holds any best times on any of the FC events. All I know is that the entire table was covered in empty beer cans the next morning.
As mentioned the Buffalo Herders took some time to get home. This wasn’t because we didn’t want to go home. On the contrary. We went to visit Slaapkrantz to investigate further the saga of the dead British soldiers. Along the way we, being curious Buffalo Herders, had some intriguing conversations, none of which had much to do with the Freedom Challenge but are worth noting in any event. Whilst having a break at Steytlerville Hotel (having just missed Estelle Labuschagne who was on her way back to Cradock, a FC connection after all), we fell in with Erna Buber-deVilliers Schutte and her lovely granddaughter. I asked my standard question “I’m interested in old documents, do you by any chance…?” and I now have sitting in front of me the life files of her father, JN Schutte, who lived from 1919 to 1962 when his life was cut short with coronary problems.
Mnr Schutte was the Trade Secretary for various South African Embassies from 1949 to 1962. He served as such in Sweden, Leopoldville in the Congo, Washington and finally Den Haag in Holland, where he died. His files contain an exquisite collection of every invitation, programme, ticket, table setting and various musings and speeches through his diplomatic life. He was one of the first Afrikaans speaking diplomats after the change of government from the South African Party to the National Party in 1948. It couldn’t have been easy for a young Afrikaans speaking lad schooled in Middelburg Transvaal. In return for the files my role is to tell his story and to look after his effects. I look forward to it.
I will be eternally grateful for the trust and understanding of those along the Freedom Challenge route who have responded to my interest in the past and gently remind those who are lucky enough to ride any of the FC events that it is not always about the speed of the journey. Ask the questions.
Helene, our wonderful hostess from Cambria, also left in my custody some wonderful old brochures and newspaper supplements. These included a “bylae” from June 1970 from the now defunct newspaper “Die Oosterlig” on the 150th centenary of the 1820 Settlers. Much of the country we cycle through in both RTC and RTW is tattooed with the consequences of the arrival of these settlers from England. Two other supplements from 2003 covered the announcement of a “mega reserve” of 500 000 hectares for the Baviaanskloof. I’d suggest there is still some way to go before this vision is realized.
Our overnight visit to Slaapkrantz was wonderful. Buffalo Herder Gerrit Pretorius was reunited with old friends. Just a reminder that Gerrit’s race number is 8. His relationship with the Freedom Challenge goes back to 2006 and the bonds of friendship have endured. Joyce Buys, Slaapkrantz hostess, has been doing some sterling research and through her we were provided with GPS coordinates for the site of the grave from Rassie Couvaras, owner of the farm below Spitzkop. We went to the site and further work is required, the graves are covered by grass. I’m meeting with Rassie down in Sedgefield in January, so watch this space. Any excuse to return to Slaapkranz (hopefully with Gavin Robinson) is welcome. The trout-filled waters of the Vaalhoek River are also calling.
The last detour on our way back to Johannesburg was at Reddersburg, where we found the most amazing police museum, one of only two in the country (the other is at Muizenberg). Well worth the visit. We spent the night there (at a B&B, not the police museum). I asked the question of our hostess and I left with a supplement from once again Die Oosterlig dated 18 May 1945, covering the end of WWII. The world works in mysterious ways.
A word of thanks from the Buffalo Herders to all those that we interacted with during all the 2020 Freedom Challenge events. It seems there may be a role for us going forward and we welcome volunteers from members of the FC community to join us next year. We will undoubtedly need additional help, along the trail and in particular at Cambria. Record fields are anticipated. Please contact me directly if you are interested. We sure had a good time.
Thanks also to Janine Oosthuizen who confessed that she occasionally found some of the stuff I wrote “funny”. Travel writers thrive on this kind of feedback and I will be eternally grateful to Janine. I do hope she found the bits I intended to be funny, funny, and not the other more serious bits. I only need an audience of one to make it worthwhile. I hope I didn’t drive everyone to drink with my historical meanderings. I’ve had fun researching and writing 20 race reports over the October/November events and hope they have given some pleasure.
The support stations of Cambria, Damsedrif and Willowmore are now closed for 2020. Our thoughts are with Hestelle from Damsedrif as she recovers from a health scare. Every single venue across the whole of RASA can now heave a sigh of relief and relax for the next, well, three months. In March the 2021 RTC (starting dates 16-20 March) and RTW (23-27 March) takes place. Hopefully 2021 is a less complicated year with full fields and happy and busy support stations.
Race report #4Saturday 21 November 2020
Kleinpoort’s population cannot be more than 50 people, if that. Enough to support a post office and a general dealer. A railway line runs through, the old line from Graaff Reinet to Port Elizabeth, which sadly hasn’t seen a train for a very long time. Like Willowmore the station name boards stand hopefully but somewhat forlornly. There isn’t one brick that remains of the station itself. What Kleinpoort lacks in people and amenities is more than compensated for by the fact that one of only two private clay tennis courts in South Africa is situated in the village.
Even more startling is that this court is on the grounds of the Freedom Challenge support station in Kleinpoort, a stately old property that is in complete contrast to the rest of the town. A welcome swimming pool, polished yellowwood or Oregon floorboards and king size beds make for a compelling invitation to riders to linger longer. We never see the owners, who apparently live in Port Elizabeth, but thanks to them for allowing us to use their splendid home. Frankly I’m surprised more riders don’t stay there. I guess it may be because there is no-one to talk to, surely one of the highlights of the Freedom Challenge, the wonderful people that one meets along the way.
Yesterday I had an epiphany. Post offices have been mentioned once or twice in my race reports. How about if riders had to carry a set of pre-addressed postcards (to FC Race Office) and at selected locations had to personally post each of these cards as evidence that they were indeed there. This would mean they would have to be at the respective post office during opening hours which would introduce a compelling and intriguing planning challenge to each rider’s race. A bit like the gate at Cambria. Other than having to wait a bit for the postcards to work their way through the postal system before results could be verified, I think we are onto a winner of an idea here. If anyone doesn’t think it is a great idea please could you make a small contribution to the Scholarship Fund, use “FC Post Office” as the deposit ID.
It worried me that on Wednesday that I couldn’t find Olive Schreiner’s quote from the old RASA race narrative. Turns out that there was a good reason for that. It wasn’t her quote. It was Alan Paton’s, from his novel “Cry the Beloved Country”. It is worth recalling those immortal lines:
“These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, beyond Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys in Africa”
I cannot think of any better way to describe what it feels like to ride the Freedom Challenge, where one gets to see many “fairest valleys”. Many thanks to Steve Burnett (fellow race scribe from 2019) for pointing out my trumponian inconsistency with the truth. At the very least it is reassuring to me that at least one person reads my intermittent diatribe.
On our journey south west from Craddock to Cambria we had a beer with Jurie, the owner of the Pearston Hotel. This hotel is an official support station for the first time this year. Jurie used to be a risk manager at the Anglo Platinum mine Amandabult. He took early retirement and somewhat to his surprise ended up buying the hotel when he visited Pearston eight years ago to buy a tractor. Jurie is thinking of moving on from hotel life so if there any aspirant hoteliers amongst you now is your time. As a sweetner (or indeed possibly an independent transaction) there is a 1959 1000cc Morris Minor sitting in the garage that is looking for a new home.
The Buffalo Herders are now firmly entrenched at Cambria. There are four of us now, John the Geologist enjoyed his first stint during RASA so much that he has returned. The first lot of riders from Batch 1 went through yesterday. They battled in the heat and Mike Potgieter was fighting heartburn all the way. A long slow day. Elton and I were however entertained by the surprising amount of traffic through the Baviaanskloof, including two groups of Grade 10s from Woodridge College near Port Elizabeth. They were on their “journey” or “coming of age adventure” a 21 day canoeing/cycling/hiking effort from Willowmore back to their school. The boys and girls were split though, so clearly not all facets of a traditional coming of age catharsis are explored. Unlike Freedom Challenge where boys and girls are allowed to mix, although most if not all entrants are already “of age” and in any event they are very tired.
All riders should be through Cambria by Monday morning. The excitement as we stand is all around Estelle Labuschagne, who is striving to make Cambria in time for the 13:00 escort. If she succeeds (and it looks like a 50/50 shot) she is well in line to go under 3 days. She would have to finish by 6am tomorrow morning, so 160km in 17 hours. By so doing she would become the first woman under 3 days and would break Ingrid Avidon’s record of 3 days and 5 hours, set in 2017. As I write there are five other riders were are still in with a chance of going under 3 days. These are all from Batch 4, Daniel Otto, Axel Poser, Peter Roux, Pieter vd Westhuizen and Henry Angrove. Considering only four riders have achieved this in the past this would be some achievement.
We had a lovely chat with Bennie at Hadley yesterday. His wife Anine was unfortunately not at home so we sat around the kitchen table listening to his stories about life in the Grootrivier valley. We learned a few things that are worth sharing. For example Nguni cattle are very good mothers (at least the cows are) and will fiercely defend their calves against hungry leopards (of which there are plenty). It is for this reason that their horns are not cut. Unfortunately they are of a nervous disposition and can die of fright without a mark on their bodies if something untoward happens, like Freedom Challenge cyclists startling them (actually maybe that would be ok). Their meat only fetches R24 per kilo versus R34 per kilo for a breed called “the Reds”, whatever that may be.
Next time you are up on Bergplaas in the Baviaanskloof look up at the mountains behind it. Somewhere up there is a path over the mountain that leads directly to Hadley. According to Bennie this is how his great-grandmother met his great-grandmother. She lived on the Bergplaas side and one day walked over the mountain and met her future husband. No Tinder in those days, one had to be pretty fit to find a partner.
The other vignette was the discovery that many years ago there used to be a post office at Hadley, evidence of which is the magnificent table on Bennie’s stoep. This yellowwood table used to be the sorting counter at the Post Office. Hopefully I can find a letter with a Hadley cancellation one day.
We say goodbye to Craddock, Pearston, Toekomst, Kleinpoort and Bucklands for 2021. Many thanks for your service, look forward to seeing you next year in March and June.
Race report #3 Wednesday 18 November 2020
Seattle Coffee, Port Elizabeth
Cradock has been around in one way or another for nearly 210 years. It really is a beautiful Eastern Cape settlement and a fine choice for hosting the Freedom Challenge community. The RTC has finished and the RTW started yesterday. We don’t see Cradock during RASA and it is an interesting diversion from the traditional support stations.
The Buffalo Herders arrived in Cradock on Sunday and you will be glad to hear that we settled in well. The Oude Pastorie was a hive of activity with riders completing RTC and others setting off for Willowmore. We acclimatized ourselves with a gentle stroll around Cradock on Monday. Buffalo Herders are not necessarily under the same stress as riders, we are required to reflect on things at least twice a day.
I can share with you that the mining sector needs to rethink East London and Port Elizabeth as logistics hubs for the export of manganese. The relentless stream of ore carriers is probably not what the city founders had imagined when they laid out the town along the banks of the Fish River in 1812. We couldn’t help but notice a seemingly unused railway line running parallel to the road.
We had a stop at Cradock Weir, the nemesis of many canoeists who attempt the Fish River Canoe Marathon, held in September of every year, other than 2020 of course.
We also spent time in the Olive Schreiner House, an excellent museum to the memory of the famous author. There may be some of you who will remember her being quoted in the old RASA race narrative (taken from her book The Story of an African Farm). Even although she never actually went to Natal/KZN her words are appropriate for that mystical stretch on the hills above Minerva.
The verandah or stoep at Oude Pastorie was a wonderful place to be over the last few days with any number of new and old Freedom Challenge riders finishing RTC or arriving to start RTW. Conversations with people who were previously only names to me will not be forgotten quickly. Gavin Robinson and I have been communicating on the case of the buried (but where?) British soldiers at Spitskop (near Slaapkranz) for a month or so. It was a pleasure to finally meet him and discover someone who is a passionate as I am about history. He is also a pretty funny guy, which helps. Weird, as I am writing this he has just sent through a bunch of photos of the decaying farmhouse at Spitskop (remember the Italian artist murals?). He said I mustn’t write about his Mrs Robinson moniker, so I won’t.
David Stickells, a pulmonologist from PE, shared some sobering stats on the COVID situation in PE. He is at the sharp end of this pandemic. In essence the number of people with COVID at his hospital has increased tenfold in the last month. The surge is real. Wear that mask.
Other conversation topics ranged from dropper posts (useful or not, mixed opinions here) to the rising problem of dogs that attach themselves to cyclists and follow for kilometers. Chris Fisher remembered the story of Arthur the scruffy stray dog who adopted a team of Swedish athletes doing an adventure race in a South American jungle. Arthur was lucky enough to get a meatball from the racers as they passed by. He never left them again. One day this will happen on the Freedom Challenge, mark my words.
The only other incident worthy of reporting was an awkward moment when Gerrit Pretorius, without any encouragement whatsoever from the other Buffalo Herders, took it upon himself to ring the church bells of the NG Moederkerk when we popped in to admire this imposing venue. Unfortunately there is no such thing as a subtle ringing of bells, and not since the 9th Frontier War has the town been called to action in such an effective manner. As I write we are not far off raising the amount requested for Gerrit’s bail. Contributions will be greatly appreciated, deposits marked “Freedom Bells” can be made into the following account:
Freedom Challenge Foundation
Incidentally at the end of WWII letters in Great Britain were cancelled on usage with a pair of Victory Bells. They are quite valuable so keep a lookout for them.
RTC riders, those that made it, have now all finished in Craddock. Social media has gloriously covered the various splendid achievements by the field but in summary this is what transpired:
• Mike Woolnough won the race, clocking 47 hours and ten minutes. In doing this he is the winner of 2020 RTC. He also recorded his best time on RTC (and the third best time overall), and now owns two of the four sub 48 hour times on RTC. He has also helped boost the coffers of the scholarship fund by at least R40 000 through the “under 48 hours” challenge he issued at the start of the race. That happens to be the exact amount we need for Gerrit’s bail, but best we try raise that independently, just saying.
• Roger Nicholson finished second in 2 days and nine hours. He is celebrating by having a recovery ride on RTW, starting today, I think. Good man.
• Janine Stewart and her brother Mark finished in 2 days and hours, thereby taking joint third place. Janine set her best time and the fastest woman’s time, breaking her own record.
• Riders to join the sub 3 day club are:
o Ingrid Avidon (Husband Anthony was already a member)
o Roger Nicholson
o Mark Stewart
• First windmills were earned by Mark Cowley, Doug Retief, Dave Stickells, Ralph Buddle, Stuart Thompson, Sarah van Heerden, Ian Caldwell and Hugo Hayes. Well done.
Yesterday morning we saw the start of the RTW, the first batch being led out at 06:00 by Mike Potgieter with his group of buddies. Buffalo Herders have to get up early like everyone. I remembered Mike from RASA 2015. One of those guys that keeps an eye open for those around him. I was really struggling and I won’t forget the kind words and gestures from him during that event. Also good to see John Barrow at the start; we have a cup of coffee scheduled in Johannesburg so I guess we can bring that date forward to Cambria in a few days.
This is the fourth running of RTW. Previous winners include Tim James in 2017 (setting the record of 2 days and 18 minutes), Bruce Hughes in 2018, and father and son team Casper and CJ Venter in 2019. Only four riders have gone under 3 days: Tim James, the two Venters, and Mike Potgieter, who took second place in 2017. Given the Cambria gate restrictions, sub 3 days is a very challenging target. A sub-three RTP is likely to be even more difficult with Stettynskloof looming large at the end of the event. The winners and winning time in the inaugural event were Allen Sharpe and Mark Basel in 3 days and 12 hours.
The favourites for RTW seem to be Axel Poser and Daniel Otto, but I guess any of the other last batch riders will be in with a chance. I’m keeping an eye on Richmond MacIntyre who has a second place RTW in 2018 under the belt. Richmond has just finished RTC and is looking lean and hungry. Interesting guy, born in New Zealand, married a South African lass and is now a South African. He seems to have spent a lifetime of adventure. Cape to Rio a couple of times at least, 2012 RASA, scaling mountains all over the world, the Malawi 500 (a Hobie Cat yacht race across Lake Malawi) amongst other achievements. His story of iceberg climbing in the Antarctic stirred my loins. Not my loins (Buffalo Herders have been away from home for a long time), apologies, my imagination. Basically one approaches a sheer ice wall from the sea, you then leap off the side of the boat onto the sheer ice wall and up you go. The bit about getting the timing right when you leap off the boat worried me a bit, as did the climbing bit, otherwise it seems pretty straightforward.
On our way down the trail yesterday we stopped off at Groenfontein to chat to Amelia de Klerk, The last cyclists on RTC had just left when we arrived. Groenfontein is a new support station which has received rave reviews from riders and we wanted to see for ourselves what the fuss is all about. We had a lekker chat with Amelia who fed us copious quantities of koeksusters and roast beef sandwiches. It is my custom to ask about family cemeteries and postal history, and we heard that there was indeed a very old cemetery but floods in times past washed the whole lot away. Which goes to show one should always look left, right and left again when you cross a dry river bed in the Karoo.
We also popped in at Stuttgart, support station of years past and home of Francois and Amanda Moolman. They are both in fine spirits and send their regards to the Freedom Challenge community, making it very clear that riders are very welcome to pop in say hello, or even to use Stuttgart as a base to stay. For the younger male riders I can report that three of the four daughters are or are about to be married but do not panic, one of the twins is currently unattached and all is not lost. Amanda reminisced (over a coffee and beskuit, homemade) on all her years of supporting FC. In particular she recalled having to respond to a medical emergency from one of the riders, someone in the aviation industry. Francois no longer farms pigs, the drought has taken its toll, but he is as large as life as ever and is experimenting with medicinal plants.
The Buffalo Herders are in Port Elizabeth, fetching a new wheel for one of the RTW riders. That is our job, and it is now ready at CyclePro so time to go.
All support stations on RTC are now closed. Thank you for your service, see you in 2021.
Race report #2 Saturday 14 November 2020
The 2020 RTC field have all left Rhodes and are on their way to Cradock. @Mike Woolnough and Roger Nicholson left this morning and are eating up the kilometers. Out of Slaapkrantz just after 12 noon is no mean achievement and Mike did it today, well on target for his aims of a win and a sub 48 hour RTC. On that note he has put out a challenge that if he manages a sub 48 those accepting the challenge will need to take one or more tickets to the raffle for the scholarship fund. I’ll take that challenge up, two tickets from me if he makes it. Even if he doesn’t, it’s a good cause.
What have we learned so far?
• The women’s race is by no means a two horse race. Sarah van Heerden can go like the wind and is keeping pace with Janine Stewart and Ingrid Avidon. At the very least all three cyclists should be under the 3 day mark, Janine having achieved this in the past. As I write the three ladies are at the 340-350km mark, approximately 240km from the finish. Janine’s record is 61 hours and 20 minutes, so about 26 hours to do the remaining distance. Alternatively 36 hours or so to get under the 3 day mark.
• Two cyclists have dropped out so far. Ron Smythe, damaged shoulder, and Norman Thompson, who was suffering from vertigo issues. Given the obvious link between vertigo and restricted oxygen flow a very sensible choice to be conservative on that one. The rest of the field seems well in control. Batch 1 (other than Ron Smythe) all seem on course for a 4 or 5 day finish, depending. Aside from the women, who I have already mentioned, Richard MacIntyre, Stuart Manzie and Janine’s brother Mark Stewart seem on track to go under three days. The remainder of Batch 3 also are on track for a four or five day finish. Of note is that the lovely couple of Mr and Mrs Robinson Tattersall have holed up in Hofmeyer for the night. I remind you that Mr/Mrs Tattersall (social media can be very confusing) holds the second fastest time for RTC and is clearly having a most enjoyable ride.
This was Ron Smythe’s third attempt at RTC, all three unsuccessful to date. It’s worth reflecting on this. Failure, for whatever reason, and how to deal with it. Aside from Ron there a number of RASA riders who have tried and tried again to get a blanket, without success. I’m one of them, two failed attempts. My friend John Bowen is another, three RASAs and no cigar. Do not underestimate the desire of us wannabes to chase that pot at the end of the rainbow. Allow us to labour under our own personal illusion (or is it a reality?) that such a thing is possible. It keeps us alive (hopefully) and means as much to us as a sub ten or sub fifteen may mean to others. Ron (and John and Buffalo Herders), I really hope you come back again and get that windmill and maybe an aloe, a whip or a bit of wine barrel. Perhaps even a blanket. A last comment on the tragedies at the back end of the field. We have never felt ridiculed by the front end. The comments on social media from the wise men and women of the Freedom Challenge have always been empathetic, encouraging and supportive. Thank you for that. Personally I think it is because we provide huge entertainment with our various travails.
I have had an interesting initial chat with Bruce Hughes, owner of the fastest time in the RTC. Bruce has moved to New Zealand. He tells me that waking (and for that matter sleeping) moments are consumed by thoughts of the Freedom Challenge. He has stated on record that he is after Alex’s record. He has entered RASA 2021 (as a rollover from 2020) but there are understandable concerns as to whether this will be practical given COVID restrictions. Bruce, I am sure the collective Freedom Challenge community would love to see you here next year, lining up next to Martin Dreyer, Alex Harris and others.
Not far from the RTC route lies the farm Leeuwfontein, near Steynsburg. Generations of the Vermaak family have lived there, from the 1870s, but no longer. The farm has recently been sold out of the family. The Buffalo Herders will be popping in to the Leeuwfontein farm whilst we are in the area. Why, you may well ask. The attraction lies in a box of personal effects I bought at an auction a few years back. This contents used to belong to one of the doyens of the family, a Mnr CC Vermaak. I have since discovered that the Vermaak family were hoarders (unlike me, I am a collector, although my wife holds a different opinion) of note, keeping an original of every document in large leather bound annual diaries. They did this from 1870 or so until 1929, when a fire destroyed everything. They carried on with their habit though and it is my understanding that there are 200kg of leather bound diaries waiting for an eager researcher. Given that in my box of effects there was a programme and three tickets from the 1933 rugby match between the touring Wallabies and North East Districts (played in Aliwal North), I’m sure you can imagine that I am quite keen to get a look at these diaries. The Wallabies won 31-11.
Andy Wesson, one of the heroic runners who won the RTR a month back, has been reporting on Facebook on one of his latest adventures in the Baviaanskloof (actually not far from Bucklands, I assume Andy knows that is a support station on RASA and RTW). All I can tell you is that Andy can write, so the reserves of Freedom Challenge scribes are looking a lot healthier.
The Buffalo Herders leave Johannesburg early tomorrow morning, aiming for Cradock by the end of the day. We will be in time to see the first finisher, who I assume will be Mike Woolnough. We are looking forward to our trip and it will be a lot easier reporting from the trail rather than from Gauteng and its surrounds.
Rhodes, Chesneywold and Slaapkrantz have now closed their doors to RTC 2020. Many thanks, it’s been a hectic year for you guys. Minkie, Joyce, see you in a few days, bringing an old friend around to come and say hello.
Race report #1 Wednesday 11 November 2020
The 2020 Race to Rhodes (RTR) and Race Across South Africa (RASA) finished two weeks back. For those of you who have forgotten, a cyclist (Alex Harris) won RASA and 4 runners (Andy Wesson, Nicky Booyens, Peter Purchase and Dean Barclay) won R2R, the latter feat (the overall win) surely unlikely to be repeated.
Today we start the 2020 version of the Race to Cradock (RTC). Over the next four days 23 cyclists will set off from Rhodes in the sixth running of the RTC, which started in 2015. In a week’s time 25 cyclists will start the 2020 Race to Willowmore (RTW), the fourth version of the event.
There is a feeling that the six day Freedom Challenge events do not get the recognition and coverage that they perhaps deserve. The main focus is on RASA, on breaking ten day records and the courage and tenacity of those who strive to earn a blanket. The four six day events (Rhodes, Cradock, Willowmore and now Paarl) seem to come and go and interest is currently restricted to riders and the relatively small Freedom Challenge community. This doesn’t seem right. The mental and physical challenges of these events are impressive in their own right. Some incredible times have been set by previous riders. We should be celebrating and respecting achievements in these events more than we currently are.
The history and statistics for the R2C are as follows:
• The event has seen three winners in the five years it has been held. All are legends of the Freedom Challenge. Alex Harris won the first two events in 2015 and 2016. Bruce Hughes won in 2018 and Mike Woolnough won in 2017 and 2019. Of these three only Mike has entered for this year.
• The fastest time (42 hours and 51 minutes) is that of Bruce Hughes in 2018 (the same year that he won the RTW, after his hugely impressive second place and 11 days and 8 hours ride in RASA 2016). The only two other people to go under 48 hours are Jacques Tatersall (45 hours 51 minutes) and Mike Woolnough (46 hours and 30 minutes). It is of interest to note that Bruce Hughes has entered RASA 2021. Given his track record he is a rider who could go under ten days. Watch this space.
• In addition to his two wins Mike Woolnough has two seconds and a third place. Every year he has been on the RTC podium and fair to say that he has dominated this event to date.
• Janine Stewart holds the woman’s record, 61 hours and 20 minutes in 2016.
• The rough equivalent of a sub 15 day RASA is a sub 3 day or 72 hour RTC. This in layman’s terms is like getting a silver medal at Comrades or Two Oceans. Not easy to achieve. To date the following riders have managed to achieve this:
o Mike Woolnough
o Alex Harris
o Bruce Hughes
o Jacques Tatersall
o Leon Erasmus
o Anthony Avidon
o Casper Venter
o Fjord Jordaan
o Gavin “Lays an Egg” Horton
o Janine Stewart
o Tim James
o Charles Mansfield
o Mike Potgieter
o Chris Mortimer
The main contenders for this year’s RTC are all in the last batch, Mike Woolnough and Roger Nicholson will be vying for podium honours. Mike, given his R2C track record and his recent outstanding second place in RASA a few weeks ago, is the favourite to win this year’s RTC. I read on his WhatsApp group that he has challenged the FC community to contribute to the scholarship fund if he goes under 48 hours so clearly he isn’t going to hold back in this year’s event.
In amongst quite a number of woman entrants Janine Stewart and Ingrid Avidon will be vying for line honours. Both riders were injured in the recently completed RTR/RASA events and have hopefully fully recovered. They start on Friday, a day before Mike and Roger.
Riders aiming for their first windmill (the prize for finishing RTC, the equivalent for RTR is a whip, RTW an aloe and RTP a piece of a wine barrel) are Mark Cowley, Ron Smythe, Doug Retief, Dave Stickells, Ralph Buddle, Norman Thomson and son Stuart Thompson, Sarah van Heerden, Ian Caldwell and Hugo Hayes. Good luck to all of you.
I note with a twinge of sadness that there are no runners in this year’s RTC. I have no doubt that this will rectified in future years (Andy Wesson and crew please respond appropriately).
The Buffalo Herders are resuming their duties for RTC and RTW. John the Geologist will be joining me at Cambria for the actual buffalo herding. Elton Prytz (RTR 2015) will be my wingman when I join the trail in a few days on Sunday 15 November. Coming along for the ride is multiple blanket holder Gerrit Pretorius.
The invitation at Cambria is open (including for this year’s event, please contact me if you are keen to join us) to anyone from the Freedom Challenge community who wants be a Buffalo Herder or with Buffalo Herders and riders for a few days. We will be all staying in the camping site, either in tents or in one of the chalets, on our own account. Our job is to welcome the riders, look after them in a manner which they deserve and to ward off the buffalo as they ride through the Baviaans. It is hoped that this will become a tradition, a gathering point for reconnecting with FC friends, perhaps a ride or two through the Baviaans and an opportunity to give something back to the Freedom Challenge.
The next two weeks also provide an opportunity to explore further along the route. There are support stations that we didn’t expand on in my reports during RASA. Quite a few of them actually, and I am looking forward to visiting the folk who have looked after us for so many years and giving us all deeper insight into them and their history and lives.
The somewhat oblique themes of flora and fauna, post offices, churches, graveyards, rugby fields and train stations remain barely touched and lie intriguingly pregnant with possibility along the trail. We will leave no stone unturned (other the gravestones, which we will leave in situ, it just wouldn’t be right). John the Geologist, having had a taste of sharing his expertise during RASA, is full of ideas to further open our eyes to the forces of Mother Nature.
We can report that the Freedom Challenge is playing a facilitator role in setting up a working group to research the history of the Vaalhoek area in the Barclay East district. Vaalhoek is where the legendary support station Slaapkranz is located. Andre and Joyce Buys, owners of Slaapkranz, neighbor Faan van Heerden and myself have joined forces to dig a bit deeper and research the history of that extraordinarily beautiful valley. You may recall the story of the two British solders that lie buried near the abandoned farmhouse with the murals painted by the Italian artist. I hasten to add that when I say we will be “digging a bit deeper” this does not include their graves. “Step away from the gravestones and graves” as the saying goes. Incidentally we have learned that there is a new arrival at Slaapkranz, a Border Collie puppy, Pickles, that I have no doubt will welcome riders with enthusiasm.
We have only just started so no need to say goodbye to or thank any support stations yet. Everything lies before us. You can assume the position in front of whatever dot watching device you prefer. Enjoy for the next two weeks or so.