It's been a busy day on the trail, weather not withstanding. Busiest of all is the not-so-sleepy hamlet of Rhodes where 21 people are gathered at the Rubicon, with two more still on the way. A mix of riders and supporters are crowded into the pub waiting for the stragglers to arrive. Among these, some will be going home with memories to process while others will be busy preparing to leave on the next stage of their journey.
So let's recap.
The field is spread out now with the front group reaching one of the legendary support stations on the trail - Romansfontein. Chris Morris, Gerrit van der Merwe, Hayden Green and Willie Esterhuizen have worked well together over the 130km separating Kranskop from Romansfontein. They will be hoping to hold off the chasing batches for as long as possible.
Fanus Vorster, who also started with them but suffered from some ill health, had a torrid time getting off the Slaapkrantz portage. Dropping to the south instead of north, he wandered in circles until finding an alternative route down and getting back on track. He's made it as far as Moordenaarspoort. Perhaps Brosterlea?
A mix of RASA batch C & B are enjoying lamb stew at Slaapkrantz having easily made the journey from Rhodes and dragging themselves away from Chesneywold lunch stop. Among the group is Single Speeder, Pierre Oosthuizen, who seems to have taken his navigational challenges from last year to heart and is well on his way. The first lady on the trail is Patricia Bonneau and with her are Hugh Riemers, Greg Perrett, Richard Cole and Hugues Clauser.
The Rhodes party includes the handover of whips to Arno, Eddie, Richard, Steve, Coen, Jonathan, Kevin, Ingrid, Nikki, Johan, Nick and David C. Perhaps the biggest handover ever? Among that group are some multiple finishers of RASA, Race to Cradock and Race to Rhodes, a wealth of experience.
The RASA group won't drink too much and will have their next goal planned already. This includes Ann Harrison, Stephen Kellerman, Grant Cowen, Scott Rutherfoord and Brad vd Westhuizen. Still to arrive are the first of Batch G, Mike Woolnough and Tim James, both of whom have set tough finisher goals. They are likely to grab a few hours sleep and push on for at least Moordenaarspoort.
Behind them, Vuvu has one lonely rider, Liehann Loots. His second time around, Liehann is going steadily and managing some of the night time navigation adroitly.
There are three riders on Black Fountain - tough enough in the daylight and they'll be hoping to make it safely to Tinana Mission and overnight there. Vaughn Roux and Leon Erasmus picked up the hapless Gary Soutar who added significant kms to his ride today. He has seen valleys first hand, most of us have only looked at on the map.
It's another busy night for Malekolonyane with eight riders arriving. Clint Le Roux, Neville Higgs and Gerald van der Merwe are affectionately called the Three Blind Mice... Gerald is flirting with the cut-off to Rhodes with his two sleep outs. He overnighted in the Umko Valley and again in the Bosholweni Forests. He is going to have to dig deep and push on for Rhodes to make it in time.
Also in the group is Werner Nienaber who served a six hour penalty for a replacement frame. However, he is up and running and back on track. Also serving a time penalty of three hours was Bruce Hughes at Masakala when he got a replacement wheel. Bruce started in the last batch and has had a storming run so far.
Two other Batch H riders have reached the small lodge perched on the edge of the Malutis. Theo van Dyk and Tim Deane have also ridden big miles to get to this point and look set to be part of the final mix at Diemersfontein. Our third lady in the field, Caren Henschel started in Batch F with Tony Wright and is in good company.
Bringing up the rear after a hard fall on the concrete strips into the Umko Valley, is Jacques Tattersall. He's a tough competitor and it would take much to stop him. A few days for the bruises to ease and he'll hopefully start to pick up the pace and gain back some ground.
Unfortunately, two competitors have withdrawn today - Gavin Horton injured a calf early on and despite some rest, it refused to co-operate, so he officially withdrew at The Oaks Hotel in Byrne. Gawie du Plessis has injured his knee and withdrew just before Masakala.
And so, one by one, the support stations close behind the riders while new ones open up in the Karoo. We can expect more drama to unfold as the race progresses and the weather settles into the grip of winter.
By Fiona Coward