A Final Word
The 2016 Freedom Challenge has come and gone. For riders in the Race to Rhodes and Race Across South Africa, some of the signs of their efforts are still fresh in mind, the vivid memories of places seen and people encountered along the way, the still familiar aches and pains for those that finished not too long ago. But as time slowly takes the edge off the hardships they experienced and bodies slowly heal and come back stronger, something more permanent comes to the fore.
After the blur of the finish and the sometimes rude awakening of getting back to normal life, the realisation of what they have been through slowly dawns on them and the overwhelming sense of achievement brings with it a new sense of pride. For some there will be unbridled excitement and wanting to share their stories with friends and family, for others it will be more of a sense of knowing, an inner smile that they carry forward with them. Either way, few are left unaffected by overcoming a great challenge and so to with the Freedom Challenge.
We would like to thank all the riders who set off along the trail this year, each facing their own particular challenge and overcoming it in their own special way. The Freedom Challenge leaves room for a person to test their own limits and to overcome many obstacles along the way - and long may it remain so. For all those new Whip Bearers and Blanket Wearers, welcome to the clan and well done for taking up the challenge and succeeding.
From the Race Office.
And in the end there were three - the trio of Neville Higgs, Clint le Roux and Gerald vd Merwe, who after a night out in Stettynskloof managed to regroup and get it done, crossing the finish line at 5pm this afternoon to a warm welcome from friends and family. For Gerald, the final cutoff had been beaten and he received his Blanket after finishing in 25d 11h. For Clint and Neville who started a day later, their finishing time was 24d 11h. The three of them have stuck together through thick and thin and will surely have many shared memories and stories to tell - for now though, all that matters is that they have finished and can wear their Blankets with pride.
As the sun sets on yet another day on the trail, the Race Office waits for the last three riders to arrive. The trio of Clint le Roux, Neville Higgs and Gerald vd Merwe left Trouthaven this morning to take on Stettynskloof, the final stage in their journey to Diemersfontien.
As first timers to Stettynskloof, they would only have known what to expect by the reputation of the place and the stories of those who have gone before. Any Blanket Wearer will confirm that it is a place not to be underestimated. Judging by the time they got going this morning, they may have underestimated it..
Having made fairly slow progress through the kloof all day, they found themselves about halfway with the light beginning to fade. It seems they have taken the decision to camp out for the night and are in for a cold and uncomfortable night in the kloof, waiting for daylight before they proceed further. If they get going at first light, they should get to the finish at Diemersfontein by late morning - where the Race Office will be waiting to welcome them home.
Brad vd Westhuizen set off from Trouthaven before sunrise this morning - a man on a mission. Having rested there yesterday, his first task was to locate his bike and then finish off what he had started by getting through Stettynskloof. His progress was hampered by swollen rivers after all the rain and the ubiquitous thick bush in his path but he steadily made his way up the valley, making it out just after dark. From there it was a slow ride through to the finish at Diemersfontein and he arrived at 22h30 to be greeted by the biggest crowd so far - all the riders and supporters at the FC Finisher’s Dinner. A fitting welcome from the many fellow Blanket Wearers and congratulations all around - well done Brad.
That leaves only the trio still out on the trail - Neville Higgs, Clint le Roux and Gerald vd Merwe are spending the night at Trouthaven, having arrived by lunch time from McGregor today. There will be a nervous anticipation in the air, the task is almost complete but the final obstacle still has to be conquered tomorrow. They should be well rested and up to the challenge - not much will stop them now.
In the early hours of this morning, Caren Henschel and Tony Wright crossed the finish line at Diemersfontein - after a very long day out for them which ended in the pouring rain - but nothing could dampen their spirits by then, they had persevered and finally earned their Blankets. Having ridden together from the start, they finished in 19d19h20min, a very good effort by both of them.
Catching up with the rest of the field today was a bit like watching a game of chess - one rider maintained his position while the others made a strategic move before their final assault.
Brad vd Westhuizen spent the day at Trouthaven, resting up and giving his injured back a chance to recover before his second attempt on Stettynskloof in the morning. He has used the time well, staying positive and is confident about his chances tomorrow.
The trio of Neville Higgs, Clint le Roux and Gerald vd Merwe completed the short hop to McGregor today, despite the wet weather. They arrived in time for lunch which meant they had the whole afternoon to rest and recover. Tomorrow they will move forward to Trouthaven and with the weather set to clear over the weekend, they look to have timed it well for a possible trip up Stettynskloof on Sunday.
For these four riders the end may be near but a finish is still not guaranteed - they still need to focus on the task at hand and continue in the same determined manner that has gotten them to this point - their Blankets await them.
The onslaught on Stettynskloof got underway early this morning as nine riders entered the valley at dawn. They worked their way steadily up towards the steep exit slope, beyond which lay a short ride to a warm Blanket. For the group of Hughes Clauser, Greg Perrett, Richard Cole and Gary Scoular, it was business as usual as they forged their way up the kloof and emerged by mid afternoon, then continued to the finish at Diemersfontein, arriving before dark. Apart from Gary, the other three have ridden together since before Rhodes, now their adventure has finally come to an end. For Frenchman Hughes, there will no doubt be many stories to tell back home. Well done to all of them for getting to the finish.
The next rider to emerge from the kloof was Fanus Vorster, who then continued to cross the finish line and receive his well deserved Blanket. His ride has been full of ups and downs and he went from the brink of withdrawing to completing a determined, mostly solo effort - well done for seeing it through.
Pierre Oosthuizen is another rider who had a tough ride - that was last year, when he got as far as Cambria. This time around, he was more determined than ever to get the Blanket and went out everyday, focussed and resolute, steadily making his way down the trail on his single speed. A few late night arrivals and early morning starts couldn’t break his rhythm and today the hard work paid off when he finally arrived at Diemersfontein and wrapped himself in his Blanket - well done Pierre.
Among the nine riders leaving Trouthaven this morning were Brad vd Westhuizen and Caren Henschel together with Tony Wright. Brad made it halfway up the kloof and then his tracker showed him making a u-turn and heading back. It turns out, he took a fall on the way up and hurt his back, badly enough to make it very painful to carry his bike - so he went back down, leaving his bike near the dam and seeking assistance from the manager there, who helped him back to Trouthaven. He’s not done yet as he will rest up tomorrow and try again. Tony and Caren have had a very long day in Stettynskloof but have made it out and are on their way to Diemersfontein, where the are expected later tonight.
The sweeps, Neville Higgs, Clint le Roux and Gerald vd Merwe, are in Montagu tonight, after a double stage from Rouxpos today. Neville had to take a detour to the local clinic to have his hand stitched up after he cut it coming out of Anysberg but he is on the mend and will continue with the others tomorrow. They are still hoping to finish over the weekend.
As we head into the third week of this year’s RASA, the pull of the finish line at Diemersfontein is starts to kick in - where previously the riders were content to look only as far ahead as the next overnight stop, now their thoughts start to drift towards their finishing day - it’s a case of working out what needs to be done to finish on the desired date and whether its worth pushing a bit harder to achieve that. At this stage many of the riders are starting to feel the cumulative effects of the last two weeks, some are nursing injuries while others are just in survival mode, ticking off one day at a time. By this stage though, all of the riders have something in common - momentum - they are now firmly in the habit of moving forward every day, following the trail to its inevitable conclusion.
Ideal conditions along the trail today meant that most of the riders made good progress towards their respective destinations. Still out front this morning and first arrivals in Willowmore were Chris Morris, Willie Esterhuizen and Gerrit vd Merwe - they left Dam se Drif just after 3am and arrived for a late breakfast in Willowmore, before pushing on to Rondawel. Chris hopped off the bus there to stay for the night but Gerrit and Willie pushed on to Prince Albert, where they arrived by late evening.
Hot on their heels were Theo van Dyk, Tim James and Mike Woolnough. Theo and Tim made good time this morning and also pushed on from Willowmore to Rondawel, stopping in for a quick supper, then also pushing on to Prince Albert. Mike’s day took a different turn, he slowed up in the early morning hours and stopped to rest along the way, arriving in Willowmore by mid afternoon. Some tea and a meal, then off to bed for a few hours sleep. A while later he had supper and then hopped back onto his bike and set off into the night.
While Mike slept, he was passed by Bruce Hughes, who arrived late afternoon from Cambria. Not done for the day, he stopped to check on the repair to his cracked frame (which was holding up well) and sort out a tyre issue, then ate some food and set off for Rondawel. He’s been riding strongly, thanks to getting a decent amount of sleep - at some point though, he may decide to forego the sleep and head for home.
Another rider who made it to Willowmore today was Hayden Green, also coming through from Cambria after a timeout there waiting for new tyres. He was in good spirits and happy to be on the road again. After a long day in the saddle, he will rest up at The Willows tonight, then head off to Prince Albert in the morning.
Liehann Loots had another good day today, leaving early from Hadley to get to the Osseberg portage by first light. He timed it well and made it through the Cambria gate with plenty of time to spare. He sleeps at Dam se Drif tonight and will head for Willowmore in the morning.
Tim Deane had a day of mixed fortunes - after arriving at Hadley late last night, he then overslept and was forced to race to get to the Osseberg and through the Grootrivierpoort before the 2pm gate closure at Cambria. He was making good time but then stumbled on one of the river crossings, dropping his tracker in the river - an hour of searching proved fruitless and also robbed him of any chance of making it through the gate. So he slowly made his way to Kudu Kaya, resigned to his fate. At least he’ll get a good night’s sleep tonight.
The late arrivals at Kudu Kaya tonight were Ann Harrison and Grant Cowen - starting their day at Bucklands with Fanus Vorster, an early nav error in the dark cost them precious time and meant that they only started down the Osseberg track after lunch. The inevitable happened when they ran out of light while still in the Grootrivierpoort, about half way through all the river crossings. They eventually got separated, with Fanus heading off in a different direction and losing touch with the other two. Grant and Ann managed to rejoin the path and eventually worked their way out of the mess but Fanus seems to have decided to camp out under the stars tonight…
Another busy night at Hadley tonight, as riders try to sleep as close to the Osseberg portage as possible. Scott Rutherfoord was the first arrival there, followed later by Leon Erasmus and Jacques Tattersall - this time without their riding buddy Werner Nienaber - he managed to break his frame again and had to stop in Kleinpoort to try and repair it. Fortunately there was a helpful farmer at the padstal who whisked him off to his workshop in nearby Wolwefontein - they managed to repair the frame sufficiently for Werner to continue and he set off in pursuit of his mates - eventually catching up with them again at Hadley.
Bucklands hosts four riders tonight - Greg Perrett, Richard Cole, Brad vd Westhuizen and Hughes Clauser. They came through from Toekomst today and will be taking on the Osseberg and Grootrivierpoort tomorrow, heading for Cambria.
Still on his way to Kleinpoort tonight is Pierre Oosthuizen, who started his day at Gegun this morning. A nav error coming through Koedoeskop reserve cost him precious time this morning but he eventually corrected himself. Another off track excursion in the Gwaas valley after dark didn’t help but he’s made steady progress since then and although it will be a late night arrival, the rest of the route to Kleinpoort shouldn’t be a problem for him.
All the way back at Grootdam tonight are the remaining six RASA riders - the ever steady Caren Henschel and Tony Wright, who were joined by Gary Scoular from Newlands onwards, as well as the inseparable trio of Neville Higgs, Clint le Roux and Gerald vd Merwe. After initially considering a stop at Rockdale tonight, they realised that doing so would put Gerald in danger of missing the 18-day cutoff in Willowmore, so they pressed on to Grootdam, arriving just after dark. They may be able to make up some time after the Baviaanskloof section but until then, they need to keep moving steadily forward every day.
Heading into the third week of the event, what becomes apparent is that bikes and bodies are taking strain after many miles on the trail - the important thing for all the riders now is to manage their efforts carefully and look after their equipment to ensure they can make it all the way to the finish at Diemersfontein - being forced to withdraw because of injury or equipment failure at his late stage would be a bitter pill to swallow.
As the bulk of riders headed south along the middle section of the trail, the first few turned westwards today to start their ride along the Baviaanskloof - turning west for them is a significant milestone, signalling that they are now on the last third of the trail, the ‘home straight’ as it were, on the way to Diemersfontein. There’s still plenty of work to be done and reaching the finish is by no means guaranteed but by now they have the confidence to deal with just about any adversity that could still befall them and their determination and resolve are high.
It’s been a day of interesting developments as most riders start to push for bigger distances and the race up front takes an interesting turn - let’s see who sleeps where on the trail tonight.
Still out front (but possibly not by morning) are the trio of Chris Morris, Willie Esterhuizen and Gerrit vd Merwe - they went through the Cambria boom gate around 7am and reached Dam se Drif by early afternoon, passing through the Baviaanskloof without incident. With no plans to keep going, they were joined for dinner by Mike Woolnough, Theo van Dyk and Tim James. The three racers had started their day at Hadley and come through the Osseberg and Grootrivierpoort in time to beat the 2pm boom gate closure at the entrance to the reserve. The stop at Dam se Drif will likely be to refuel and have a short sleep, with plans to leave again in the early hours for Willowmore.
After his ordeal in the Grootrivierpoort last night, Hayden Green was happy to sit at Kudu Kaya patiently waiting for new tyres today - scheduled to arrive this evening courtesy of the race office. Some late night bike mechanics may still be on the cards for him but he’ll be looking forward to getting back onto the trail tomorrow and trying to chase down his mates. Keeping him company tonight is Bruce Hughes, who arrived in the late afternoon. Having started his day very early at Bucklands, he ran into trouble before sunrise and had to stop and rest - somewhat dehydrated and feeling the effects of a hard day yesterday, he also stopped in at Hadley for a rest. After all the delays, there was little chance of him getting through the Cambria gate before 2pm, so he settled into cruise mode for the rest of the day. He will have a long rest tonight and be on fresh legs tomorrow - missing the 2pm gate was a tactical error so the chase will be back on again tomorrow.
On the other side of the mountains at Hadley, Liehann Loots sleeps tonight, having ridden through from Toekomst today. Another solid day for him, with everything going like clockwork. He has set himself up for an early start on the Osseberg and will be trying to get through the Cambria gate before 2pm, aiming for Dam se Drif. Tim Deane has similar ideas, although he still has to ride through from Bucklands this evening to get to Hadley. His late arrival time will mean a bit less sleep for him though.
Staying at Bucklands tonight are Ann Harrison and Grant Cowen, together with the ever consistent Fanus Vorster. Having all ridden through from Gegun today, they will be aiming to get to Cambria before dark tomorrow evening - the Osseberg awaits..
Toekomst a busy tonight with a group of five riders staying there - having all come through from Grootdam today: Greg Perrett, Richard Cole, Scott Rutherfoord, Brad vd Westhuizen and Hughes Clauser are all well acquainted by now but seem happy to cruise along in odd groupings during the day, only to reunite in the evening at the support station. No major slip ups for these guys yet and they’ll most likely want to go through the tricky Osseberg together too - strength in numbers. They are still expecting company later tonight, with Jacques Tattersall, Werner Nienaber and Leon Erasmus on the way from Gegun. Their day started at Newlands, so they’ll be looking forward to some sleep by now.
Pierre Oosthuizen continues to quietly get on with the job, in contrast to last year’s attempt where he spent a lot of time getting lost. More focussed and better prepared this time around, he sleeps at Gegun tonight after riding through from Grootdam today.
Gary Scoular is the only rider at Newlands tonight, a welcomed relief for the hosts after a busy few days and nights. For Gary, the last few days have not been easy, as he still has an upset stomach and is not at full strength. He also compounded things by getting lost on the Elandsberg portage this morning, expending even more precious energy. Tomorrow will see him aiming for Grootdam, where he is likely to be joined by the riders coming from behind - few days of company could be just the thing he needs to lift his spirits.
Caren Henschel and Tony Wright had another good day, riding through from Romansfontein to Elandsberg, where they arrived well before dark after cruising through the tricky Elandsberg portage. Following on their heels were the trio of Neville Higgs, Clint le Roux and Gerald vd Merwe, who arrived at sunset, just managing to avoid any drama on the portage. As the sweeps, they are content to tick over day to day, making steady progress towards the end goal - still a few long days and tricky sections to come but they seem to have found their groove and are gaining confidence with each day.
Is watching the Freedom Challenge Race across South Africa (RASA2016) and wondering where the tracking dots are taking our intrepid riders, making you itchy for an adventure? Don’t want to wait until next winter? Want a supported introduction to riding on the Freedom Trail with a riding gaurdian accompanying you and your group? Prefer your pack to be transported to the overnight stops ? Fancy practicing your navigation and map reading skills out on the trail? If any of these appeal, we have just the events for you.
This year sees the addition of a supported Spring Ride to Cradock in conjuction with our well-established Spring Ride to Rhodes.
Riders can do either event or even both 6 day events back to back.
Both these supported events are stage by stage covering one stage per day, in contrast to the non-stop format of the racing events.
Spring Ride to Rhodes (SRTR) starts in PMB and ends in the hamlet of Rhodes while Spring Ride to Cradock starts in Rhodes and ends in Cradock.
All details on the Events tab on the Freedom Challenge website
Limited places on each event – enter now to avoid disappointment
RASA riders pass through the Baviaanskloof Reserve soon after leaving Kudu Kaya support station in the Cambria area. The reserve has boom gates controlling access through the the area - the primary reason being safety, due to the high density of buffalo in the reserve and for this reason, the reserve management will no longer allow riders to be in the reserve after dark.
Riders can arrive at Kudu Kaya/Cambria at any time but may only continue through the boom gate between 6am and 2pm each day - no riders are allowed to pass the boom gate after 2pm, otherwise there is a danger that they will end up in still in the reserve after dark. The 'gate' is not a cut-off, it is merely a limited window during which the riders have to pass through - if they miss it, they will have to return to Kudu Kaya and try again the next morning.
This a special arrangement between the Freedom Challenge and the reserve management for the duration of the event, without which we would no longer be able to ride through the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area and we are grateful for their cooperation in this regard.
The first RASA riders reached the Baviaanskloof Wilderness area yesterday and after descending the Osseberg jeep track, made their way to Cambria via the Grootrivierpoort, arriving just after dark. One of the riders, Hayden Green, fell behind the others due to tyre problems and unfortunately ran out of daylight and got lost near the last river crossing. Many hours later, he eventually found his way out but his route went straight through an 'out of bounds area' - a section of private land to the east of the Kudu Kaya support station which riders were warned to avoid or face disqualification. On arrival, Hayden was disqualified, as per the rules. A rider may appeal a disqualification, which he did on the grounds that it was not intentional as he was lost - the landowner was consulted and accepted the explanation. Hayden was then reinstated and will be allowed to proceed. He has decided to stay at Kudu Kaya for the day while he waits for replacement tyres to arrive, therefore no time penalty will be awarded. The 'out of bounds' area is in place to prevent riders trying to take a shortcut to gain a time advantage and in so doing trespassing on private land - in Hayden's case it is quite clear that this was not his intention.