Another long day on the Freedom Trail draws to a close. Nothing much to report on the weather front, a bit of wind, chilly morning temps but it warmed up nicely during the day and riding conditions were good.
Ticking off a slightly longer day in the saddle today were Tim, Didi (Batch 5) and Gary (Batch 7) - leaving from Romansfontein this morning they passed through Hofmeyr for lunch, Elandsberg for afternoon tea and made it to Newlands for supper and a sleep.
Kobus, Pierre and Leonard (Batch 6) together with Carl, Russell and Paul (Batch 5) all rode through from Elandsberg to Jakkalsfontein today, with a brunch stop at Newlands. They have settled into a comfortable groove and are steadily ticking off each stage with relative comfort. 
Ingrid and Charl (Batch 7) were reunited briefly at Newlands last night after Charl pushed on late from Elandsberg and arrived in the wee hours. Although Ingrid left earlier this morning, Charl caught up later and they made it over the Struishoek portage in fading light and are making their way to Gegun for the night.
Wikus (Batch 3), Estelle, Matt and Graham (Batch 4) and Nigel, Sean and Mark (Batch 5) all stayed at Jakkalsfontein last night and left early for a long day to Toekomst, via Gegun. They spread out during the course of the day with a stop for lunch at Gegun and all trickled into Toekomst this evening.
Scott (Batch 7) has had another good day out, leaving from Gegun this morning - he is currently nearing Bucklands where he will sleep tonight. 
Tim J (Batch 7) rode through the night to Bucklands, had a long breakfast stop there and was then off to Hadley and then the Osseberg. He is currently making his way through the river crossing in the dark in an effort to make the 6am gate for the Baviaanskloof escort.
At Bucklands tonight are Mandy and Sarah (Batch 3, Bruce and Grant (Batch 4) who had ridden through from Toekomst today. Tomorrow is their turn to take in the Osseberg.
Hadley tonight hosts Chris, Mark (Batch 3) and Lance (Batch 4) who had also ridden through from Toekomst. Leaving from there in the morning will give them a few more hours of daylight to spare for the Osseberg.
Rowan (Batch 6) went through the Osseberg today and emerged on the other side in daylight and in one piece but without his bike tools and a few other bits which went missing along the way. In front of him were Andrew B (Batch 6) and Andrew W (Batch 2) who left from Hadley and just made it in time for the 1pm gate. Andrew W opted to stay and receive treatment for his saddle sores from a doctor in the valley, while Andrew B rode on to Dam se Drif together with Graham and Sarah (Batch 1), who had spent the morning resting at Kudu Kaya.
In front of them are only Mike and Jacques (Batch 7) who are still riding big days and are now heading rapidly towards the finish - tonight Mike sleeps in Willowmore and Jacques in Prince Albert.

Every year a bunch of crazy cyclists line up outside Pietermaritzburg Town Hall and ride their bikes all the way to Wellington, of course they do this in the middle of winter. For most it is all about the journey – physical, mental and spiritual. There’s a select few who are lined up in the final batch, with the intention of fast times and/or the win.


There are two former winners on the trail, the first – Graham Bird (2014) is not ‘racing’ and trailblazing from the first group with his partner Sarah – the second Tim James (2008,09,15) is in the racing batch, and was the first rider to really become a student of the trail. Being a pilot had the time (and toys) to fly out to sections of it before Google earth was a thing. He has twice managed to shatter the race record, I’m never going to make the mistake again of thinking he is getting a bit over the hill for this event.


Then there’s Jacques Tattersall, who is now on his 4th consecutive RASA – the bug has bitten proper! He has taken his finishing time from 18.5 days, to 14.5 days to ~11.5 days, and this time last year is the 6th fastest ever. Finally, we’ve got Mike Woolnough, who is one of the candidates for Mr Freedom Challenge. Mike has been on the trail every year in one way or another since 2006, and transformed himself from an ‘Ordinary Joe’ biker to a total endurance racing machine.


As it stands, we are now into the 8th day of the racing batch. Tim fell ill and was off the pace in the KZN section. He’s pulled back into 3rd overall, but is about 36hours off the lead. In a solid 2nd place we have Mike Woolnough, who has been dangling behind Jacques Tattersall ever since the start. The elastic has stretched, but never broken. Mike was 6 hours behind into Rhodes, and it grew to 14 hours as they end up stopping in different places at different times.


We need to backup a little bit here, as the Freedom Trail is no ordinary race course – but a combination of farm tracks, open road, bushwacking and buffalo back garden. It is never the same, there are often minor route changes due to changes in support station stops or permissions/land ownership. The weather is also a real lucky dip and can range from sunny to windy to snow – it looks like it’s been very mild this year (but it’s always frigidly cold). With the large scale reintroduction of buffalo to the Baviaanskloof megareserve there is now a ‘gate’ which riders need to cross between 6am and 1pm. This plays quite a factor into your schedule, and one can push for this from 2/3 days out. This is preceded by the Osseberg jeep track, which is an eroded trail that goes down into the Grootriver valley. There is an abandoned campsite and that’s about it. The path is being grown over and apart from the odd animal going through it it’s only really a handful of cyclists every June punching their way through it. When I did it in 2008, there was no buffalo gate after Cambria, but it was seen as being a no go area in the dark. Alex Harris tried it in 2010 at night and dubbed it Mordor – a name that has stuck.

Jacques got through it at 12:30pm on day 7, Mike missed it by about 7 hours, so has now crossed it at 6am on day 8. This is effectively a 17 hour lead that JT had, but there are no absolutes here. We have no way to know how much JT pushed to get through this gate, and how much extra rest Mike would get by sleeping an extended period. There was the possibility that JT would try and extend his lead as much as possible, to effectively snap the elastic. Luckily for us armchair adventurers that is not what happened, and he slept a full 9 hours. We now have both riders having a long extended sleep, and Mike would be about 6-8hours behind JT.


Now the obvious question – can Mike overhaul Jaqcues? Firstly, there is the small matter of 800km of mtbing to get to the finish at Diemersfontein – so anything can go wrong from here! I’m going to look quickly at the pace that they’re on.

The current record is Martin Dreyer’s 2017 time of 247 hours total. He did however drop about 10-12 hours on the final hurdle. JT was about a day behind MD last year, before falling back to about 36 hours behind from the Baviaanskloof. He has been on almost the exact same schedule as what he had been on last year (he left DamseDrif at 5am, 2 hours later this year) which is a finish of 279 hours. All things being equal, he has about 90 hours of riding left. Mike could overhaul him, but would need to drop his best time by anything up to about 36 hours to do this! Incidentally that best time is from 2016, and he is about 20 hours ahead of that.


Sometimes it is easier to be the chaser, if Mike can get the gap down to 4 hours, then he has the chance of arriving at a SS before JT leaves it – a huge psychological boost. Does JT keep looking back over his shoulder and push to try and stay ahead or just ride his own race? Both will definitely be going for the win more than the time. The only thing we know for sure, is that we’ll have the answers soon – so stay tuned!


By Steven Burnett (Blanket Wearer)

Today was a slightly colder day out on the trail, with overcast conditions in some parts but thankfully not much wind. The riders are making steady progress and everyone is heading swiftly south towards the Baviaanskloof.


The sweepers Tim, Didi (Batch 5) and Gary (Batch 7) are at Romansfontein tonight - they are spending their last night in the Stormberg region and tomorrow will drop down into the Karoo as they head for Elandsberg.


Tonight Elandsberg hosts Kobus, Pierre and Leonard (Batch 6) as well as Carl, Russell and Paul (Batch 5), who all rode through from Romansfontein today. The all stopped to snack in Hofmeyr before moving on to tick off the Elandsberg portage before dark. Ingrid and Charl (Batch 7) were also with them in Hofmeyr, Ingrid moving on swiftly to Elandsberg before continuing to Newlands tonight. Charl was delayed with bike admin - after many attempts to repair a snagging freewheel, a substitute rear wheel was eventually obtained from a nearby farmer who was willing to donate it to his cause. The delay cost him a lot of time which left him no option but to head for the Elandsberg portage in the dark..


Up ahead at Newlands tonight are Wikus (Batch 3), Estelle, Matt and Graham (Batch 4) and Nigel and Sean (Batch 5) who have all ridden through from Elandsberg today, with a brunch stop at Newlands along the way. Joining them a bit later was Mark (Batch 5) who had finally managed to catch back up to his riding mates Nigel and Sean.


Scott (Batch 7) has had a good day out today - he started from Elandsberg and is still on his way to Gegun this evening, a great effort that should keep him in touch with the front runners, Jacques, Mike and Tim. He done a lot of riding on his own and doesn’t seem too phased about riding into the night.


Tim J (Batch 7) left Toekomst after his supper and will be riding through the night towards Bucklands - a long push from him that started early this morning at Jakkalsfontein. 


At Bucklands tonight is Rowan (Batch 6) who spent today riding solo after dropping back from his riding mate Andrew B (Batch 6), who stays tonight with his namesake Andrew W (Batch 2) at Hadley - tomorrow the Osseberg awaits all three of them.


Today saw the first of the riders going through the Osseberg - a tricky section of bush and multiple river crossings before the Baviaanskloof itself. Jacques (Batch 7) was the first to go, starting at first light after leaving earlier from Hadley - he made it comfortably through to Kudu Kaya and then the boom gate before the cutoff at 13h00. This enabled him to ride through to Dam se Drif for supper. Later in the day, Mike (Batch 7), Graham and Sarah (Batch 1) also reached the Osseberg. Mike was through soon after dark with Graham and Sarah running out of daylight about halfway through. They will all stay at Kudu Kaya tonight and enter the Baviaanskloof in the morning at 06h00. 







After yesterday’s incessant wind, today the weather was a bit kinder, with clear skies and only a gentle breeze. The riders made the most of the favourable conditions and good progress was made by most of the field today.


Still bringing up the rear were Tim, Didi (Batch 5) and Gary (Batch 7) who had an uneventful ride from Slaapkrantz through to Kranskop today. Not far ahead of them were Charl and Ingrid (Batch 7) who put in a slightly longer day from Moordenaarspoort, via Kranskop and Brosterlea to Romansfontein and arrived for a late supper. They are moving steadily through the field now which gives them the opportunity to meet new riders from the earlier batches as they go. Romansfontein also plays host to Carl, Russell and Paul (Batch 5) together with Kobus, Pierre and Leonard (Batch 6) - they will be glad to have this long stage from Kranskop via the Stormberg behind them.


Mark (Batch 5) has had a long day today, he started together with Scott (Batch 7) from Brosterlea this morning. They both passed through Romansfontein for lunch and on to Hofmeyr, where Marks plans to stop tonight. Scott has been moving a bit quicker and has passed through Hofmeyr already and is on his way to Elandsberg tonight.


Elandsberg was a busy place today, hosting many riders for meals but tonight the sleepers are Nigel and Sean (Batch 5), Matt, Graham and Estelle (Batch 4) and Wikus (Batch 3). Matt and Wikus had a few mechanicals to contend with but fortunately race office was close enough to offer some assistance and they could could moving. 


Newlands was also really busy today with various batches passing through but all those riders moved on to Jakkalsfontein for tonight - there we have Chris, Mark, Mandy and Sarah (Batch 3) who rode through from Elandsberg today, as well as Bruce, Lance and Grant (Batch 4) who started their day from Hofmeyr. They will be joined later tonight by Tim J (Batch 7), who left Romansfontein in the pre-dawn cold and is expected there before midnight. He seems to be getting some of his strength back as well as his appetite - last seen scoffing ice cream with his brunch at Elandsberg.


Rowan and Andrew B (Batch 6) left Newlands this morning and spent the day riding through to Gegun, arriving for supper. Rowan has opted to stay there and rest as he is struggling with ITB but Andrew has gone on to Toekomst for tonight.


Already at Toekomst tonight is Andrew W (Batch 2), who had a very short day today from Gegun. He is struggling with saddle sores, so is hoping the shorter day will help him recover a bit.


At Bucklands tonight are Graham and Sarah (Batch 1), who rode through from Toekomst today. They were joined there for breakfast by Jacques (Batch 7), who had ridden through from Gegun in the early hours - he had a quick supper at Bucklands before moving on to Hadley for tonight. Still on his way to Bucklands is Mike (Batch 7) - after supper at Toekomst, he headed off into the night

and is trying to reach Bucklands for an early breakfast in the morning.


With Jacques now out in front, he should be the first rider into the Baviaanskloof sometime tomorrow. From there the trail turns west and the run in towards the finish starts to take shape. We will watch to see how that unfolds in the next few days.






The bulk of the riders are now in the Stormberg region of the trail - an area that is well known for its high altitude and inclement weather. Today it lived up to that name as a stiff north-westerly wind blew throughout the day. The riders at the rear still had the relative shelter of the peaks and valleys near Barkly East but for Tim, Didi (Batch 5) and Gary (Batch 7), there was little incentive to continue out into the more open countryside to their west and they opted for a short day from Chesneywold to Slaapkrantz.


Also leaving from Chesneywold this morning were Ingrid and Charl (Batch 7) who did brave the wind and ventured as far as Moordenaarspoort. 

Leaving from Slaapkranz this morning were Kobus, Pierre and Leonard (Batch 6) together with Carl, Russell and Paul (Batch 5) - all of them battled the headwinds as far as Kranskop today, where they sought shelter for the night.


Just up ahead at Brosterlea are Scott (Batch 7) and Mark (Batch 5), who both rode through from Moordenaarspoort today. Scott had to turn back after he left Moordennarspoort late last night - a flat wheel that he couldn’t fix on the trail meant a 10km walk back to a warm bed there. Also starting in Moordenaarspoort this morning was Tim J (Batch 7), who is heading for Romansfontein tonight.


The mixed batch of riders that started at Kranskop this morning: Estelle, Graham, Matt (Batch 4), Nigel, Sean (Batch 5) and Wikus (Batch 3) were already battling the wind on their way to Brosterlea, making the going really tough. After the Stormberg portage, as the trail swung to the south, there some moments of respite but their later arrival at Romansfontein was proof of a hard day out on the trail. 


Bruce, Lance and Grant (Batch 4) started their day from Brosterlea and passed through Romansfontein on their way to Hofmeyr today, arriving there after dark. Up ahead of them tonight are Chris, Mark, Mandy and Sarah (Batch 3), who rode through from Romansfontein. For them the wind blew hardest into Hofmeyr and they were glad to finally get out of it when they arrived at the Elandsberg support station. Andrew and Rowan (Batch 6) also left Romansfontein this morning and rode hard all day, they were determined to get to Newlands tonight and arrived in time to watch the rugby with the hosts.


Mike (Batch 7) also left Romansfontein this morning and passed through Hofmeyr around lunchtime, before ticking off the Elandsberg portage and moving on to Newlands, After supper there, he headed off again, aiming for Jakkalsfontein later tonight.


Andrew W (Batch 2) started yet another solo day on the trail from Elandsberg this morning - he was later caught by Jacques (Batch 7) and the two continued together to Jakkalsfontein for lunch and then onwards to Gegun for tonight. The struishoek portage in the dark could get interesting but Andrew couldn’t have asked for a better guide than Jacques.


Still with their noses out front are Graham and Sarah (Batch 1), who started from Jakkalsfontein this morning, battled the wind over the Struishoek portage near Pearston on their way to Gegun and are still on their way to Toekomst, where they will stay tonight.






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Mike Woolnough - Adventures of an Ordinary Cyclist

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Clint le Roux - Afrivence

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