One Saturday morning in about 2005, Jan Nel and I were riding north of the Gamka river when we came across a farmer having trouble herding a small group of rams on his own. He wasn’t coping too well as he had to move his bakkie a few hundred meters forward, then herd the rams, then move the bakkie, then herd the rams...
Needless to say, the rams had worked out just when to run back the way they had come. Jan and I came over the horizon just in time to offer assistance, and so the Dikwiel Skaapwagters were born. The rams took one look at the apparitions approaching them and fled, I think they even flattened a fence in their haste. While following the spoor over the rante, I came across “The Saddle” and strapped it to the carrier on my Giant Rincon. In order to maintain some sense of dignity, the Dikwiel Skaapwagters were re-branded as the Prince Albert Dikwiel Kommando, but that’s another story. Some months later the idea came to me to mount the stone saddle on a block of Poplar wood as an award for the Freedom Challenge. The Poplar wood came from Scheepersrust, where Gideon Scheepers is reputed to have bent the barrels of some English soldier’s rifles in a pear tree. And we all know how that ended. My initial idea was to award it to riders, who, in my opinion, epitomized the spirit of the Freedom Challenge. It hasn’t been easy - Johann Rissik (Dikwiel Kommando)
These two caused me much concern when they didn’t appear over the horizon as planned (remember, this was pre-trackers), so I set off to look for them. (Had I known then what I know now, I would have drunk the coffee and gone home) After much gnashing of teeth, searching and wailing I found them. Clearly, in the tradition of Schalk Lourens, they had spent some time thinking up their Abjaterskop story. They claimed to have been overcome by sleep while lying under a Soetdoring watching an aardvark.
For their ingenuity they were jointly awarded the saddle.
An “absolute gentleman”, according to my sources. A photographer of note. Sadly lost to Australia. He left his heart in Rhodes the second time round. Part of the group that witnessed a leopard catch a baboon in the Baviaanskloof.
Esti, a tough nut indeed. In trying to find out more about Esti all the guys will tell me is that she’s an anaesthetist and you don’t mess with her. That and the fact that for a while one of the support stations was named Romancefontein. Maybe Andre Eksteen can provide more information?
Boskind. Calm and centred, easy-going, laid back, that’s pretty much it. Until the Horlosiekrans downhill where he packed his backpack full of stones to help in his attempt on the speed record. For having the honesty to tell the story and to admit that it didn’t help.
Another year, I met another newcomer. Quiet, polite, unassuming but clearly very competent on and off the bike. In fact he restored my faith in people who race bicycles. Mike Woolnough told me that he also ran a pub at Waterval Boven, one day that will need to be verified. Glenn was to me the consummate gentleman, an example to all.
Dino and his Peugeot Alaskan Wolf, showing again what can be done. Dino was the epitome of just dealing with stuff as it arose and moving onwards. I met him out on the road with 8 broken spokes, nothing major. That night we talked at length while we replaced the fistful of spokes. Proof, if proof is needed, that the path to enlightenment is not made of carbon fibre.
Avril. Tenacious Avril. In weather only David Waddilove could have asked for, Avril found herself alone, after dark in the Grootrivierpoort, The Grootrivierpoort that makes some big boys stand a bit closer to one another. Out comes the Blitz and Avril spends the night beside her fire. The guys who met her there the next morning are still talking to their therapists about it.
Marnitz entered the fray alongside Carel Crous and then just didn’t stop. Marnitz lying on his back in the sand in front of Annie’s Cuca Shop joking about his sore backside. In fact he can’t stop now because soon his daughters will be doing it on a tandem with him. With five blankets (and counting) who knows?
Riding with Alan Haupt was a rare privilege, a frequent reminder to count one’s blessings. Alan’s quiet presence taught those who rode with him some valuable lessons, the most valuable undoubtedly to cherish what we have, not to bemoan what we do not.
The final day of RASA requires extended qualities of resilience, tenacity and resolve. In 2015 Gary Preston displayed an awe inspiring depth and the extent to which these attributes can be held within an individual; demonstrating to the rest of us mere mortals that in fact, Stettyns is easy.
Fanus rode his own race. After battling before Rhodes and almost bailing, he got back on his bike. After running into problems on the Aasvoelberg and needing to get to Elandsberg in a hurry, he did just that, at an impressive speed. Having fallen behind his group, Fanus joined others going through the Grootrivierpoort. He lost precious daylight when a major mechanical left him to contend with this scratchy section in the dark. And the cold. This was the night of the heavy frosts at Cambria. At some point Fanus fell into the river. More than once. After a night spent moving around to keep warm, Fanus emerged, spent, but not broken. Again, he rose to the challenge and set off on the long haul to Diemersfontein. At no stage did I doubt that Fanus would finish. Cool. Calm. Understated.
Ingrid rode pretty much the entire way on her own. She had many navigational mishaps and even ended up sleeping out in a village one night but she embraced the entire experience, always kept her sense of humour firmly in tact and still managed to finish in 17 days and some change, giving her the 4th fastest ladies RASA finishing time to date. Her positive attitude and 'never say die' attitude epitomises the ethos of the Freedom Trail.
The standouts this year though were close friends Mandy and Sarah who despite the setbacks, had a remarkable ride - their positive attitude and pure enjoyment of the trail and its people were always evident. They truly embraced the event for all that it offers and seemed to relish every day out there despite the obvious challenges. The hosts along the trail all mentioned their bubbly enthusiasm and even fellow riders also felt the effect of their positive attitudes. When they finally crossed the line, their smiles were wide and the sense of achievement immense - both are worthy recipients of the Stone Saddle Award for 2018, well done Mandy and Sarah
JT is no stranger to the trail and has spent more time out there than most, always a gentleman. This year he was back to defend his title and rode a great race pushing his body to the limit for 11 Days. On the final day he set out from Trouthaven knowing 2nd place was all but in the bag and a very clear objective of arriving at Diemersfontein before 3pm to, thereby, become the 3rd fastest person to complete RASA. At the bottom of Stettynskloof he came across RG du Toit going in the opposite direction. RG had spent the night lost in the kloof (his 3rd night out for the race) and RG was ready to throw in the towel. JT immediately forgot about his racing aspirations and convinced RG to turn around. He gave up a time he had spent 11 gruelling days suffering for and shepherded RG home. This epitomises the spirit of Freedom Challenge.