The Freedom Challenge

The Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa is an "unsupported" non-stage mountain bike race of approximately 2,300 km across South Africa. While recent winners have won in around 11 days, the race cut-off is 26 days. The race starts in Pietermaritzburg in early-to-mid-June, and ends in Paarl near Cape Town. Temperatures are known to drop as low as minus-10 deg. Celsius. While there are periodic "support stations" which will feed and accommodate riders should they require, the race is unsupported in the sense that riders must carry their own clothing and equipment, are responsible for their own maintenance and navigation (without the aid of GPS), and there are no marshalls or safety officials on the course (Race monitoring is done by satellite tracking). Estimates of cumulative ascent are around 37,000 metres, and the highest point on the route is approximately 2,700 metres above sea level. See the following link for an introductory slideshow by Mike Roy -

Monday, 30 July 2012

Tim James is riding the Colorado Trail Race

Former RASA record holder and Freedom Challenge legend, Tim James, is currently taking part in the Colorado Trail Race in the USA. The CTR is a self supported bike race along the Colorado Trail, winding through the Colorado Rocky Mountains from Denver to Durango.  It covers a total distance of 750km, approximately 480km of which are singletrack, at elevations ranging from 1600 to 4000m . 

The Colorado Trail is a marked route for hiking and biking but the CTR route also takes riders along specific bike detours which are not marked. Deviation from the intended route results in disqualification. For this reason, riders make use of  a GPS with loaded tracks of the whole route and the detours. The race format is also non-stop, so riders decide when to stop and sleep or when to carry on riding. There is no entry fee, no support, no registration, and no prize money. It is a self-timed ITT (Individual Time Trial): all that is provided is a route description, a suggested start time, and a list of results.

Tim spent a bit of time in Colorado during July to recce the route and get used to the altitude. He had to decide what equipment to carry with him for overnighting in the mountains at those altitudes and make provision for carrying a bit of extra food and water.  His bike of choice is his Scott Scale hardtail with front suspension.

Route knowledge is critical to being competitive in the CTR, so it will be interesting to see what Tim can do with the little bit of knowledge he's picked up on his recce ride. The altitude will be another major factor to contend with and riding all that technical singletrack on a fully loaded bike will be a challenge in itself - it should be an interesting journey.

Follow his progress through the event website and trackers here:

For a look at some of the scenery and the type of terrain he'll be covering, here's a short video clip from one of last year's CTR riders:

This race also has a devoted band of cyber-followers, who all congregate here to discuss the action:,4423.0.html

All the best Tim, have fun out there and keep an eye out for those Grizzly bears!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Finisher's dinner and race recap.

Ask any Blanket Wearer and they will tell you that the Freedom Challenge doesn't end when the last rider crosses the line but rather, it lives on in their thoughts and memories and it lives on in the stories that each rider has to tell about their own journey along the trail.

Last night, a fresh group of Blanket Wearers gathered at Diemersfontein to mingle with some of the old hands – to get to know each other and to swop stories from the trail.

This year’s race proved to be very close as the battle between Martin and Alex played out. With a gap of only a few hours over the race distance of 2300km (equivalent to only 0.3sec over a 100m dash), the outcome was only decided on the final day. The non-stop racing and different tactics kept race followers glued to their computer screens  at all hours of the day and night and surely put a dent in the GDP figures for the month of June.  They battled through the rain and mud of the Stormberg, fought off sleepmonsters in the Swartberg and in the end, both smashed the previous course record. In total contrast to these two,  Graham Bird came in third, looking remarkably fresh and proving that there is merit in sleeping properly every night – he rode with an average of six hours of comfortable sleep per night and still finished in under 14 days.

This year, everyone suffered in the Stormberg, which was wet, muddy and messy. It took its toll on bikes and bodies and the rider’s progress sheets show how everyone slowed down along this section of the trail. There were other sections which also proved challenging, strong headwinds in the Karoo for some or heavy rains near the end for the later finishers – at some point everyone had to just take it on the chin and decide to keep moving or go home. The stats from this year also tell a similar  story, with 49 starters and only 29 finishers (2 of whom finished via the touring route). But these numbers are no different to previous years - this race is tough and takes its toll! To date there are only 114 riders who can claim to be Blanket Wearers, 13 of whom are women. None of this seems to deter future entrants from signing up for the adventure though – before this year’s race was even over, there were already 46 entries for the 2013 event.

Every year at the race dinner an award is given to one rider for a particularly courageous effort. The Stone Saddle recognises that rider’s determination to finish. This year, the award went to Dino Marusich (and his Alaskan Wolf). He also finished the Extreme Triathlon this year, after completing the Dusi Trail Run and yesterday, the Berg River canoe marathon.  (The other rider to do so this year was Sean Privett). Dino had an interesting ride this year – after being caught out in a storm, he spent a night in the container on top of Lehahna’s Pass (with Jody and Andre), had to have his frame welded at Kranskop, after a crack appeared and seemingly rode most of the way without any functioning brakes on his bike. His Alaskan Wolf, a basic, heavy steel bike with a homemade rack, made for hard work on the portages but despite the adventures and mishaps, he always kept going and often did so smiling. Well done Dino, a proud Blanket Wearer and now a deserved ‘bearer of the Stone Saddle.’

(Special thanks to Blanket Wearers Peter O'Farrell and Andrew King for the photos.)

Friday, 13 July 2012

Race update - last rider home.

Stephen Kellerman is finally home! He managed to sneak in just under the 26 day cutoff by arriving at Diemersfontein earlier today. He started in Batch I on the 18th June and finished in 25days 10hours 15min. He's had a long and interesting journey, topped off with a cold, rainy slog up Stettynskloof today but he stuck it out and can now use his new blanket to warm himself up - well done Stephen.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Race update - Tuesday 10th July

More action at Diemesrsfontein today - the arrival of Dino on his trusty Alaskan Wolf, as well as Roman and Katarina, the touring Euros.

They all rolled in just before 7pm and the race office were there to welcome them with wine and pizza.

Roman and Katarina were in good spirits after having completed what they referred to as "RASA-Lite" - initially they started out as part of the race but on arrival in Rhodes, were in two minds about continuing the arduous journey. Since they had come out to see the country, they took a rest day and decided to carry on to the finish via the touring route (which is slightly different and avoids most of the portage sections). Although no longer eligible for blankets, they did get to enjoy pizzas and wine at the finish!

Another arrival this evening was Dino on his Alaskan Wolf - the man and his steel steed have had quite the adventure in the last few weeks and its not over yet, Dino sets off on the Berg River canoe marathon tomorrow morning, the final leg of the FC Extreme Triathlon. Not sure if he's going to be paddling a wooden dugout canoe down the river but it probably wouldn't make any difference to him, he's tough as nails!  Dino's ride has taken him 23days 12hours 40min - great effort which included a night the container suite at Hotel Lehana, a cracked frame which was welded back into shape in the Kranskop farm workshop and whole host of other minor mechanicals, none of which could stop him moving forward for too long. Johann Rissik was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the ailing Wolf in Prince Albert but apart from replacing some spokes, Dino wasn't too worried about the rest. (You can read Johann's account of events here: )
So no blanket for Dino just yet, he gets his at the end of the paddle - but well done so far and all the best for the next leg of your journey!

So that leaves only one rider out on the trail - Stephen Kellerman - who today had a bit of a late start from Rouxpos and only got as far as Anysberg. All the cottages were booked, so he's sleeping in the laundry tonight - what a pity that he got all his laundry done at Rouxpos last night! He will need to get to Diemersfontein on Friday if he still wants a blanket, so for him there's still work to be done.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Race update - 9th July

With the next finishers only expected at Diemersfontein tomorrow, things have gone a bit quiet as the race office took a well deserved break. Out on the trail though, we still have four riders - two blanket chasers, Dino and Stephen and two touring Slovakians, Roman and Katarina (they entered the race but opted to withdraw in Rhodes and carry on to the finish via the touring route).

Approaching the final support station today are Dino, Roman and Katarina. The were well on their way, having stopped for lunch at Kasra and were nearing the Brandvlei dam late this afternoon, on track to arrive at Trouthaven later this evening. They may have better weather than last weekend's finishers, with only light rain expected in the evening tomorrow, so hopefully the trek up Stettynskloof will be enjoyable for them. Dino will arrive just in time for the next leg of his challenge, the Berg River canoe marathon, which starts the next day.

Two days behind them is Stephen Kellerman. He's on his way to Rouxpos today, having passed through Gamkaskloof earlier today. It will be another late arrival for him but by now he's used to that, having done plenty of night riding in the last week. Last night he arrived at Prince Albert after completing his longest ever day on a mountain bike - this was part of his check in message: "...quite amazing though, on 105miles of dusty road there was not a single person or car in sight the whole day, until out of the darkness came Johann Rissik (just outside of PA) with coffee and rusks and encouragement! Today was a good reminder of Life - forward motion is often met with resistance, but we must continually choose to go forward and to persevere...thanks for the support!"

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Daily wrap - 7th July

Today was a busy day at Diemersfontein. With eight riders arriving, the blankets were flying and so were the raindrops - but the wet weather could do nothing to dampen the spirits of those riders after their long and adventurous journey. Well done to Gawie, Casper, Charl, Sean, Tim, Travis and Burton on finishing RASA 2012 and earning your blankets. Well done also to Lize on finishing her your charity  ride form Prince Albert - your blanket awaits you next year...

As for the remainder of the field, there are still four riders out on the route:

Stephen Kellerman had a relatively easy day today, going from Dam se Drif to Willowmore. He will welcome the rest at the Willows Guest House, before setting out on the long stage to Prince Albert tomorrow.

Roman and Katarina rode from Prince Albert, via Gamkaskloof to Rouxpos today, a solid double for them - the finish just got a whole lot closer.

Dino also left from Prince Albert and piloted his Alaskan Wolf through the mountains, to end at Rouxpos. This double stage keeps him on track to finish in time for the start of the Berg River canoe marathon (on Tuesday)

With the next riders only expected in at Diemersfontein on Tuesday, the race office can take a well deserved break for the next few days.

Pops and Son

Travis and Burton also finished today. The only father and son team in the race this year, they started in batch G and finished with an overall time of 21days 11hours 38min. As the older member of the team, Burton had his work cut out keeping up with his son, but he was tough as nails and picked up the nickname 'Rocky' from some of the other riders for battling on despite fatigue and injury. Travis had the benefit of knowing the route from his previous finish last year, which made the navigation a lot easier. They rode smart - took the odd double where necessary - and finished with a few days to spare. Good effort guys.

Tim van Coller is home

Tim arrived at Diemersfontein this afternoon at 16h20. His finishing time for this year's ride is 21days 10hours 20 min. He started the ride with his mate Andy Masters (as the Two Old Farts) but Andy unfortunately withdrew at Rhodes due to illness, so Tim continued without him. Tim had a remarkable ride this year - with his prior route knowledge, he made very few navigation errors and apart from losing some time in the mist on the Aasvoelberg, he consistently made good time. He clawed back any lost time with a few sneaky doubles and towards the end, was riding double stages every day. He looked comfortable the whole way, quite in contrast to last year's ride where he struggled with injury. Tim was well prepared this year, he managed to shed some weight from his backpack, switched to a new 29er and was generally a lot fitter than before - as a result he rode strongly to the finish - well done on a really good effort Tim.

Die Wyn Trein maak klaar

There was much merriment and excitement when the Wyn Trein finally reached the end of the line at Diemersfontein this afternoon. This group formed in Rhodes and were formerly known as the Mega Bus, together with a few other riders. They lost some members along the way and the core of four stuck together. Although they didn't always ride together during the day, they regrouped at night over a few drinks. They sampled many different  beers and wines along the way and were an entertaining bunch who the support stations host all loved. They were briefly dropped by their fearless leader Gawie, when he left them at Trouthaven yesterday and pushed on into the night up Stettynskloof, in an attempt to beat the worsening weather. But today they are all reunited at the finish and drinking wine again.

Gawie started in Batch I and arrived this morning at -1h40 making his time for the journey 18d 19h 40min - and he rode the whole way on a belt-drive, singlespeed bike - nice one Gawie!

Casper and Charl also started in Batch I and finished their ride in 19d 8h 10min.

Sean started a day before them as part of the FC Extreme Triathlon group, so his finishing time is
20d 9h 10min. He now has a few days to rest before taking on the Berg River canoe marathon.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Daily wrap - 6th July

With the arrival of four more riders at the finish in Diemersfontein today, the daily wrap up gets a bit shorter each day – but that’s no reason to forget about those still out riding the trail:

  • Stephen Kellerman has been fighting the good fight at the back of the field: first a night out at Koedoeskop, then a long day to Bucklands, followed by an even longer day to Cambria, hampered by mechanical issues which forced him to walk much of the way. He finally arrived at 02h00 and slept for a few hours. He then managed to sort out a makeshift repair with the help of a friendly farmer and continued on to Dam se Drif.
  • Roman and Katarina left Willowmore early this morning, heading for Prince Albert. They ended up on the touring route via Klaarstroom, turned around and went back, then continued along the touring route again – no matter, they got to Prince Albert in the early afternoon and settled in for the night.
  • Dino also left Willowmore and piloted his now famous ‘Alaskan Wolf’ across the steppes to Prince Albert. Johann Rissik was eagerly awaiting his arrival, with his welding machine warmed up and ready to go, in case the steel beast needed any attention. But in the end, it only needed a few new spokes, which were purchased from the ‘Lekker Bek Kaffee & Fietswinkel’ in downtown Prince Albert for the princely sum of R30. Dino and his ‘ysterperd’ are now spruced up and ready to go and that’s a good thing – as one of the entrants in the FC Extreme Triathlon, there’s a bit of pressure on him to get to the finish next Tuesday to make the start of the Berg River canoe marathon – go Dino!
  • Tim and Lize spent last night in the lap of luxury at Oestervanger guest house. They went on to Trouthaven today and will be getting ready to take on Stettynskloof in the morning – sleep well guys.
  • Travis and Burton (Pops and Son) also left Montagu this morning and also made steady progress to Trouthaven - they are also heading up Stettynskloof tomorrow.
  • Die Wyn Trein  (Gawie, Casper, Charl, Sean) stopped at Montagu station last night and were busy refuelling for the stretch to Trouthaven today – they passed through McGregor and Kasra, taking on refreshments and sustenance at both, before pushing on to Trouthaven.
So tonight we have 7 riders at Trouthaven, who will hike up a rather wet Stettynskloof in the rain tomorrow on their way to Diemersfontein.

The eighth rider, Gawie has deserted the Wyn Trein in the final hour and is taking on Stettynskloof tonight – maybe before the rain moves in tomorrow? His tracker still shows him going into Trouthaven this afternoon, so we can’t confirm it but we may still have a very late/early finisher to welcome home.  

Johann and Peter make it home

With Andre and Jody finishing earlier in the day, the supporters waited for the next arrivals. Peter and Johann managed to sneak home just before dark and also before the first light rain started falling at Diemersfontein.

Johann started in batch F and finished in 22days 12hours, crossing the line at 6pm. He rode with Peter the whole way and they made their way steadily along the route without too much incident. He was almost late in getting his support station boxes to the race office before the start and seemed to be one of the least prepared riders to start but it made no difference to him. He took a detour right near the end when him and Peter started cycling into the Du Toits Kloof tunnel instead of up the pass, but after security chased them out, they got back on track.

Peter , the vet, also started in batch F and also finished in 22days 12hours. He arrived a few days before his start batch to scope things out and was probably one of the most prepared riders at the start. He kept a daily blog of the journey. He was hampered by a tendon injury in the latter stages of the race but it never dampened his enthusiasm and he kept moving steadily forward.

Well done guys – enjoy the blankets!

Andre and Jody - proud blanket wearers

Another finisher’s day at Diemersfontein today and the first riders home were Andre and Jody.

Andre finished in 17d 7h 47min – his time puts him 6th overall and makes him the first rookie this year. Starting with the racing snakes in batch J, he was ready to race. Unfortunately his navigator (Glenn) pulled out early and from then on, he paired up with various riders in an attempt to continue racing. Not that he couldn’t navigate - as an experienced adventure racer, he showed his skill when he hooked up with Jody and boldly went over the Struishoek portage at night. That was the first of many big pushes and they quickly started reeling in the other riders up ahead on the trail. Jody eventually let him go and Andre continued in the same vain, with a huge effort from Prince Albert to Anysberg. The following day an icy headwind wore him down on the way to Montagu and he considered stopping there to rest and sleep. He pushed on though and spent the night in McGregor. There he rested properly and decided to back off so that he could enjoy the last bit. The big pushes paid off though, for a first time rider, his time of under 18 days is quick – great effort Andre.

Jody finished in 19d 7h 47min (he started in batch H, two days before Andre) and in so doing, managed to dip under 20 days, which was his goal for the ride. Originally part of a group who became known as  the ‘Hackers,’ he had a few interesting days finding his feet with fellow riders Sean, Dino and Phillip. They went on an excursion off the Black Fountain ridgeline which cost them about six hours and they ended up sleeping in Tinana. The next day ended in the blue container atop Lehana’s Pass, when Jody, Andre and Dino spent a cold night out in stormy conditions. And so it went, one adventure after the next. Eventually Andre convinced Jody to try the ‘racing snake’ thing and the two of them started ticking off a few big double stages and really got some momentum going. They were slowed by a small hiccup in the Grootrivierpoort, got a bit sidetracked by Hestelle’s amazing food at Dam se Drif and eventually ran out of steam on the way to Prince Albert, where Jody decided to hop off the racing snake bus and rather try to enjoy himself a bit. But Jody finished strong, after catching up with Andre again at Trouthaven - the two of them made short work of Stettynskloof and finished their ride in glorious sunshine at Diemersfontein. 

They both had a great ride, dug deep when they needed to but also took some time to appreciate the route, the people and the journey itself - they worked hard for their blankets and can wear them with pride.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Daily wrap - 5th July

  • Stephen Kellerman left Bucklands this morning after a late arrival the night before. His goal for the day was Cambria, a big day out. He needed to get there to stay on track for a 26 day finish – unfortunately we can’t confirm an arrival time as his tracker is still out of action after his rough night out but his determination of late would indicate that he’ll keep going until he gets there tonight.
  • Roman, Katarina and Dino spent the night at Dam se Drif and apparently made a large dent in Hestelle’s wine collection before retiring for the night. It didn’t seem to affect their riding though as they all made it to Willowmore before lunch.
  • Up ahead of them, Die Wyn Trein (Gawie, Casper, Charl and Sean) went steaming on, this time all the way from Rouxpos to Anysberg. They arrived during the afternoon and evening and went straight to the bar to refuel for tomorrow’s ride. They were joined by Travis and Burton a bit later who successfully completed their second double in as many days. The company or the wine must be really good – Pops and Son seem intent on joining this train all the way to Diemersfontein.
  • Tim left Anysberg at 03h00 this morning and rolled into Montagu for breakfast at 08h00, making good time in the sunny conditions. He then set off via McGregor, for Kasra, where he arrived at 15h40. He was riding comfortably and looking strong and aiming to finish on Saturday.
  • Lize left Montagu this morning and after getting a bit lost near Ashton, made it to McGregor for coffee and to reorganise her maps. She pressed on to Kasra, arriving just after lunch. She will stay over tonight and head for Touthaven tomorrow, also aiming to finish on Saturday.
  • Peter and Johann also left Montagu this morning, stopped for coffee in McGregor and had a long lunch at Kasra. They managed to drag themselves away and pushed on to Trouthaven, where they arrived just after 8pm.
  • Solo Jody rode off from Montagu at his own pace, stopped in for a Steri-Stumpie in Mcgregor and a late lunch at Kasra. After separating from racing snake Andre and riding at a more leisurely pace for the last few days, he’s looking relaxed and really enjoying himself. He’’s also at Touthaven tonight and should finish tomorrow.
  • Andre decided to throttle back and enjoy himself a bit after some really big pushes in the last few days. He had a really hard day coming into Montagu yesterday, battling icy headwinds and mud. This made him rethink his finishing strategy and he stayed at McGregor (instead of pulling an all-nighter to Trouthaven) Today he slept late, had a leisurely breakfast, had a second breakfast at Kasra 2 hours later and got to Trouthaven in the afternoon. The race office surprised him with a quick visit and apart from looking a bit ‘skraal’ he was in good spirits. He is looking forward to Stettynskloof tomorrow and hoping to finish before 3pm, in order to secure the title of ‘fastest rookie’ for this year – go for it Andre.
  • With four riders now regrouped at Trouthaven, Diemersfontein will see some action tomorrow as friends and family gather to welcome them home. Their blankets are waiting…

Lunch at Kasra

Many riders will agree that arriving at the support stations at the end of a long day feels like coming home. The farms and families that host the riders go the extra mile when it comes to taking care of tired, hungry riders. A highlight of the journey is the scrumptious food that is served by these hosts – cooked breakfasts, soups, home baked bread, hearty stews, mutton and lamb…..not to mention the desserts! One of the standout support stations in the latter part of the race is ‘Kasra’ (The name comes from that of the previous farm owner – Kasselman Rabie). The hospitality happens at the ‘Oestervanger Gastehuis’ where Alda and Elsa host the riders in a rambling old farmhouse. The food is served to the soothing sounds of classical music – but the food is the highlight: soup and home baked bread for starters, tea and ‘moerkoffie’ on tap, fresh vegetables and venison or lamb stew for main course. For dessert, custard tarts and ice-cream and many possible variations depending on which day you arrive. As the bona-fide ‘foodies’ on the route, their kitchen produces many surprises and treats for the riders. Many riders get caught up there for longer than anticipated and either end up staying for the night or arriving at the next support station at Trouthaven well after dark. No one ever regrets stopping in at Kasra for lunch. 

Rider progress Graph Update (position as at 4 July)

The past few days have seen the riders starting to arrive at Diemersfontein "fast and furiously" relatively speaking. And yesterday it was the turn of the only surviving lady, Dawn bell, to arrive in a time of 21 days, 9 hours and 35 minutes. This was outside of the ladies' record, but nevertheless a great ride after having been behind the 26 day race schedule early in the race due to some technical and health issues that her husband Dave ran into.

The 1st 5 mens race positions are settled, being Martin Dreyer, Alex Harris, Graham Bird, Trevor Ball and Mike Woolnough.

As at last night, 13 of the 28 riders still in the race had arrived at Diemersfontein.

The Sensible Five

Yesterday saw the arrival of five riders who ended up riding together as a group during the latter part of the race and became known as the ‘Sensible Five.’ They always left early in the mornings, rode consistently throughout the day and usually always arrived at support stations before dark. They made use of all the lunch stops along the way, ate well, slept well and generally rode the trail in fine style – showing everyone that the Freedom Challenge can in fact be done comfortably and need not be an exercise in sleep deprivation, starvation and suffering!

Allen Sharp finished in 17d 9h 10min. He started fast (the Mike Woolnough effect?), making it to Centacow on his first night. He joined by Richmond later that night and the two of them rode the rest of the way together. No doubt his previous RASA experience (2008 & 2010) made a difference, as he had no major navigation mishaps, no rough nights out and basically a clean run the whole way. He also had company the whole way which made for a memorable ride.

Richmond Macintyre finished in 17d 9h 10min. He had to navigate his way in the dark to Centacow on day one and arrived late. From then on he teamed up with Allen and they made steady progress. A brief hiccup at Moordenaarspoort with ‘the shoe incident’ may have slowed him a bit and given him the title of “shoe thief” but apart from providing much entertainment on Twitter, it didn’t slow him down much! Everyone in the group was impressed with how he scampered up the portages, his previous mountaineering and trekking experience coming to the fore. A solid ride and a great finishing time for a RASA rookie, well done Richmond.

Chris Morris finished in 20d 9h 35min. This was his second RASA and he was well prepared going in. He said he felt a lot stronger on the bike and rode more consistently. Whilst riding with his friends Dave and Dawn Bell, he and Dave worked together on the navigation but when Dave was forced to withdraw, Chris became the chief navigator – a job he ended up really enjoying. Going through all the scratchy bits in daylight is the sensible thing to do and that’s exactly how he did it. A good, clean run with spot on nav – nice going Chris.
Dawn Bell finished in 20d 9h 35min – as the only female finisher this year, she had a great ride. Starting with husband Dave, she continued when he withdrew which couldn’t have been an easy decision. But together with Chris, she kept the pedals turning every day and made good time on all the stages. Although some days were tough,  she was always smiling and really enjoying the good parts – the hospitality, the good food and the route. As part of the sensible five, she became the glue that held them together, her efforts inspiring them to keep going when things did get tough – well done Dawn. 

Rory Field finished in 21d 9h 35min. He had an incredible journey across the country filled with adventure. He was bitten by a pack of dogs just after Rhodes and after some medical attention, a few beers and a steak at Chesneywold, he was off again. He ended up riding on his own for a week and provided much entertainment at the support stations with the stories of his misadventures. He braaied with the farmers at Groenvlei (on the way to Hofmeyr) after an unscheduled stop because of the mud. He had a few tense moments in the fading light in the Grootrivierpoort but made to safely through to Cambria. It was a massive journey for Rory and a great adventure which he finished in style in the company of a great group of riders. Well done Rory on an inspirational ride.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Daily wrap up - 4th July

  • Stephen Kellerman had an interesting night last night - after a navigation error which cost him some time, he ended up sleeping rough somewhere in the Koedeoeskop Reserve (between VandeVenterkraal and Toekomst)
  • Dino, Roman And Katarina went from Cambria to Dam se Drif today – one more stage and they’ll be out of the Baviaanskloof.
  • Travis and Burton left Prince Albert this morning and headed up the Swartberg Pass to Gamkaskloof - they had lunch and pushed on to Rouxpos.
  • ‘Die Wyn-trein’ (Gawie, Casper, Charl and Shaun) under the leadership of ‘Doctor Dop’ Casper, also made their way through Gamkaskloof today and got to Rouxpos, arriving early enough for another dop.
  • Tim and Jody left Rouxpos this morning and battled stiff headwinds to Anysberg. Tim decided he’d had enough and stopped at Anysberg. Jody battled on and arrived in Montagu just before 6pm.
  • Leaving from Anysberg this morning we had Peter, Johann, Andre and Lize. They all battled the same wind and mud so it was slow going to Montagu. Lize, Peter and Johann all opted to stay in Montagu. Andre just stopped for coffee before pushing on to McGregor, where he’s spending the night.
  • Today was the last day out on the trail for the Sensible Five – they left Trouthaven a bit later than planned due to some early morning rain but the weather cleared  and they still made good time up Stettynskloof. Waiting at the finish were a large group of supporters who didn’t have to wait too long – Allen and Richmond arrived just after 15h00 with Dawn, Chris and Rory coming in 20min later.

Gerrit and Brian safely home

Two more riders arrived at Diemersfontein last night - Gerrit Pretorius and Brian O'Reagan.

Gerrit left in the A batch, on the 9th June and finished in 23d 14h - two days quicker than his previous ride in 2006. He spent much of his time as the first rider out on the trail. As the 'Voorryer' this year, he kept the race office informed of any surprises out on the route, which in turn helped us to keep the rest of the riders informed of any issues. He also kept a daily blog going (which takes a lot of time and effort when riding) which provided an entertaining insight into his eventful journey. He had his fair share of navigation mishaps along the way - enough for him to claim that he was by far the worst navigator this year. But he had a great ride and finished smiling - well done Gerrit.

Brian O'Reagan had a very consistent ride and finished comfortably in 22d 14h. (At 62 years old, he is the oldest rider in the field this year) As a first time rider, he had the odd navigational hiccup which lead to a few late night arrivals but he always kept his head and bounced back the next day - in his own words: "I may have been lost but I always knew where I was." Despite finding the ride physically challenging, he thoroughly enjoyed himself out there and was full of compliments for the support stations, the food, the route and the the whole journey itself. Well done Brian, enjoy your blanket.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Daily wrap-up - 3rd July.

A beautiful, sunny day here at Diemersfontein today – but apparently not for long, as a new cold front approaches…. The effects haven’t yet been felt out on the route, as everyone has been making steady progress:
  • Steven Kellerman was at it again today, leaving from Grootdam, passing over the Struishoek portage. He checked in at VandeVenterskraal at 14h30, stopped for an hour and pressed on. He lost his way a bit after that, missing a turn and heading south towards along a district road but realised his error and turned around to get back onto the route. He stopped in at the Koedoeskop farm house to get directions from the farmer – as at 19h00, he was still on the move.
  • Dino, Roman and Katarina seemed to have teamed up for the last few days – they all left Bucklands this morning and headed off towards Cambria. They were still a way out of Cambria when it got dark but made it to the Kudu Kaya support station at 19h15.
  • Travis and Burton got in at Willowmore after dark yesterday after successfully completing the big double from Cambria. Today was pretty straightforward for them, leaving early and getting safely across to Prince Albert at 16h15.
  • The Wyn-trein (Gawie, Sean, Casper and Charl) did the same thing today, Willowmore to Prince Albert, arriving a bit earlier though. They were all in by mid-afternoon, leaving plenty of time to settle in, uncork some wine and enjoy the good food and hospitality at Dennehof Guest House. This bus seems to be having a great time out there!
  • Tim and Jody both left Prince Albert this morning before dawn – both intent on doubling up to Rouxpos. Jody arrived at 17h45 and Tim was not too far behind.
  • Andre also left Prince Albert this morning, although it was a lot earlier. He passed through Gamkaskloof for breakfast at 08h00 and pushed on up the ladder and on towards Rouxpos. A quick stop for waffles at Rouxpos and then on towards Anysberg. He phoned in from the Rooiberg farmstead late afternoon and should arrive at Anysberg before 21h00 tonight. That’s another big push from Andre, clearly, he’s keen to get home!
  • Leaving from Rouxpos, we had Peter and Johann. After a late night, they left late and got to Anysberg at 13h50. Although they had time to push on, they decided to stop and rest up because Peter is nursing a tendon injury. Lize also left Rouxpos and arrived at Anysberg in the afternoon.
  • The now quite famous ‘Sensible Five’ left Montagu early this morning, stopped at McGregor for coffee and then enjoyed a scrumptious brunch at Kasra. They pushed on to Trouthaven and were all in before dark. Last night to raid boxes tonight before taking on Stettyn’s Kloof in the morning.
  • Leaving Trouthaven at 05h15, we had Gerrit and Brian. They have spent the better part of today walking up Stettyn’s Kloof on their way to the finish at Diemersfontein. A small group of friends and family has gathered here to welcome them home – the trackers have picked them up on the tar road pass so it won’t be long before the cross the finish line.

The Nutty Professor

Mike Woolnough, a.k.a The Nutty Professor, arrived at Diemersfontein last night just after 10pm. His incredible journey took 15d 16h 10min, a very quick overall time and a new personal best for him.

He shot out of the start blocks in Pietermaritzburg, with Trevor Ball in his wake and only really stopped when he got to Rhodes (The two of them had only 4 hours of sleep on the way to Rhodes!) Along the way they flew past other riders from the earlier batches, and with Mike's incredible route knowledge, got through all the scratchy bits cleanly, except for Lehana's, where the mud and pitch blackness of the night slowed them momentarily.

With the first goal ticked off, Mike and Trevor then slacked off and spent the next 3 days fighting their way through the mud in the Stormberg region. Along the way Mike picked up an injury to his right leg which further hampered his progress but he soldiered on as far as Grootdam before stopping for most of the day to recover. (Trevor went on ahead, riding with Theo van Dyk)

A few 'standard' days followed, which got him to Dam se Drif and then he went crazy again... A long push to Prince Albert, a double up to Rouxpos and a non-stop push from there through to the finish. He got to know the sleep monsters really well along that final stretch and tried to hide from them by napping in various bushes and gutters along the road. But despite all this, he was always chirpy and always smiling - if there was a prize for the rider who had the most fun this year, the Nutty Prof. would win it hands down!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Rider progress graph update - 2 July

After a period of quiet following the spectacular end to the duel between Martin Dreyer and Alex Harris on Friday evening/Saturday morning, 3rd placed Graham Bird finished at Diemersfontein today, along with Theo van Dyk and Trevor Ball.

Sadly for him, perhaps, he probably won't get the acknowledgement that he deserves, such was the standard of the race up front between Martin and Alex. Graham finished the race in 13 days, 9 hours and 5 minutes. While well behind the new "standard" set by Martin, his time beats Tim James' 2011 record setting ride, as well as being just inside Glenn's 2nd placed 2012 ride time, to make it the 4th best time in the history of the race. 

Well done Graham.

Graham arrived with Trevor Ball and Theo van Dyk. Trevor is a likely candidate for 4th position, having finished in front of his I batch riding partner for much of the race, Mike Woolnough, who is due tonight, and could take 5th spot.

Trevor's race time was 15 days, 9 hours and 5 minutes. I say a likely 4th place, because there is still Andre Visser that stands a very outside chance. But Andre has slipped a little off the pace, having only reached Prince Albert at 14h20 today. Having started 2 days behind Trevor, he would have to be at Diemersfontein on Wednesday by 15h05. That would now appear unlikely. 

Our lone woman, Dawn Bell, is riding nicely. She arrived in Montagu today, and looks set for a 21-22 day finish.

At time of writing, 5 riders are finished. That still leaves 23 riders out on the course, with Mike Woolnough due tonight.

Daily wrap - 2nd July

A busier day at Diemersfontein today with three riders finishing and another one due in tonight. But  another good day out on the trail for the rest of field:

  • Stephen Kellerman left Stuttgart this morning and made his way to the luxurious lodge at Grootdam.
  • Roman, Katarina and Dino all left Toekomst together, made it around Darlington Dam and through the Gwaas Valley without a hitch and were seen on the trackers in Kleinpoort around lunchtime. From there they carried on to Bucklands, arriving before 17h00
  • Travis and Burton had did the big Baviaanskloof double today, stopping in at Dam se Drif for lunch along the way to Willowmore. They are still riding (19h00) but are on track to arrive in the next hour.
  • Also leaving from Cambria were the members of the 'Wyn-trein' - Gawie, Casper, Sean and Charl. (Gawie's skewer problems were eventually sorted out after Peter Stephens drove up from Port Elizabeth to bring him some spares.) They left Cambria really early and had a late breakfast at Dam se Drif before pushing on to Willowmore, where they arrived mid afternoon - tomorrow the karoo flats to Prince Albert for them.
  • Andre and Jody were up to their tricks again, leaving Willowmore at 23h30pm last night, aiming for breakfast in Prince Albert. Things went a bit pear shaped during the wee hours of the morning when Jody ran out of steam and they sought refuge in a labourer's cottage for a  few hours. Andre then nursed him along to Prince Albert, where they arrived at about 14h00. They both needed to rest and decided to stay. Jody has decided to tour the rest to the finish and Andre will probably try and push hard again tomorrow. (he still has an outside chance to sneaking into fourth place...)
  • Tim jumped across those karoo flats in perfect weather today, arriving at Prince Albert in the morning and resting up for the rest of the day. He may well end up playing tour guide for 'Touring Jody" from tomorrow.
  • Leaving Prince Albert this morning we had Peter and Johan, who overslept and got away a bit later than planned. They went to Die Hel for lunch and are currently still on their way to Rouxpos. 
  • Joining the ride today was Lize Theron. She had to stop at Ntsikeni to seek medical attention after a concussion but has decided, after a rest, to continue riding as part of her fundraising efforts for the Scholarship Fund. She was also aiming for Rouxpos today and will spend the night there in the company of Peter and Johann.
  • The 'Sensible 5' (Allen, Rich, Chris, Dawn and Rory) all did the sensible thing and doubled up from Rouxpos, through Anysberg to Montagu. They all arrived in time for afternoon tea.
  • Brian left Montagu this morning, lunched at Kasra and is still on his way to Trouthaven (should be in before 9pm)
  • Gerrit left from McGregor, had brunch at Kasra and was also on his way to Trouthaven. The two will be re-united there tonight and will accompany each other up Stettyn's Kloof tomorrow, on their way to Diemersfontein.

Trevor, Theo and Tweet are home.

Some mid afternoon excitement at Diemersfontein today with the arrival of the three "T's" - Trevor, Theo and Tweet (Graham) - who all looked remarkably good after a morning in Stettyn's Kloof!
They've done some big days on their run in to the finish and as a result have finished with some impressive times.
Although they all finished together, they left Pietermaritzburg on different days, so their relative times differed:
  • Graham started in J Batch on the 19th June and his overall time is 13d 9h 5min which puts him firmly in 3rd place overall.
  • Trevor started in H Batch on the the 17th June and his overall time is 15d 9h 5min which gives him 4th place overall.
  • Theo started in F Batch on the 15th June and his overall time is 17d 9h 5min - a great first effort!
After a brief Blanket Ceremony and photo session, they made their way quickly across to the restaurant - where they are now enjoying their pizzas and swopping war stories with friends and family - reliving the crazy adventures of the last two weeks. Well done guys.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Daily wrap up - 1st July

It’s been a relatively quiet Sunday out on the trail. The next riders due in at Diemersfontein will only arrive tomorrow so today was a bit of a rest day for the race office – for a change.
But the riders haven’t been slacking off, they’ve been making their way steadily towards the finish:
  • Still soldiering on at the back of the field is Stephen Kellerman. He left Hofmeyr this morning, scuttled across the Elandsberg portage without any trouble, had breakfast at Elandsberg farm and then pushed on to Stuttgart. He arrived there late in the afternoon but decided not to tempt fate on the Skurfteberg portage in the dark and stayed put.
  • Roman and Katarina had another steady day and got to Toekomst in the afternoon. They are enjoying the comforts of the new lodge and once again they have the company of Dino there – he arrived before them and stopped to do his laundry. Tomorrow they’ll all be heading for Bucklands.
  • Travis and Burton left Bucklands this morning (together with the ‘Wyn Trein’) They made steady progress along this tough stage and will sleep in Cambria tonight.
  • Gawie, Casper, Charl and Shaun (Die Wyn Trein) moved along from Bucklands to Cambria today and arrived there late afternoon. Gawie seems to have sorted out his skewer issues. Maybe tomorrow he’ll finally put the hammer down and get that singlespeed moving!
  • Andre and Jody left Cambria in the early hours of this morning and got to Dam se Drif for brunch – they then proceeded to eat a hole in Hestelle’s food supplies, having last night’s supper, dessert, breakfast, coffee and cake before having a nap on the lawn in the sun to recover. They went on to Willowmore, arriving just after 17h00.  Where they’ve stopped for more food!
  • Tim and Hugh left Dam se Drif this morning with Tim making it comfortably to Willowmore after lunch. Hugh was struggling with a niggling injury as well as some stomach issues and stopped after 35km. He got a lift to Willowmore to get treatment and may take a rest day there before re-joining the race.
  • Peter and Johan cruised through to Prince Albert today and arrived well before dark. Johann Rissik sorted out their bottom bracket issues and Ria fed them fat in preparation for the Swartberg Pass tomorrow.
  • The sensible group of five, Rory, Rich, Allen, Chris and Dawn, all left Prince Albert early this morning with a double through to Rouxpos as their goal. Allen and Rich got there at 18h00, the others weren’t far behind.
  • Brian and Mike, who spent the night at Rouxpos, left after a leisurely breakfast, passed through Anysberg without incident and pressed on to Montagu. Mike passed through after a quick snack and went on to McGregor. Brian will stay in Montagu.
  • Tweet, Trevor and Theo got to Anysberg at midnight and left early this morning. They lunched early in Montagu, got to Kasra before dark. They are currently on their way to Trouthaven and will head off up Stettyn’s Kloof in the morning.

Diemersfontein was treated to a bit of sunshine today, so hopefully the gap in the weather will spur some riders on to get home a bit sooner – it’s so much nicer to finish in good weather.

Alex's race in his own words

Some thoughts and reflections of RASA 2012 to follow...

Day1. Rode to Ntsikeni (207kms) Near Bosholweni, broke a saddle bolt. Seeds swen for trouble later and a sore rump! Got in at 10pm. Also shredded my ear on a Wag-'n-bietjie bos in the Umkomaas. But altogether a good first day.

Day 2. Broke a 2nd bolt leaving Nsikeni (thought it was bad luck). Stopped at Glen Edward to fix. Martin sneaks past. Push on to Tinana.

Day 3. Loose 30mins in giant martian donga outside Tinana. Unbeknownst to me, my saddle clamp continues to grind its ratchets..trouble later. Roll into Rhodes about 2 hrs behind Martin. Push on to Chesney wold as the rain arrives and the roads turn into Mississippi mud fudge!
Cross Lehanas and surprisingly, get first Uruk Hai assault. Take power nap in storm water drain. Perfect long as it doesnt rain! So far 3 days down and still on track for the original plan, a sub 11 day. But this all changes today as the mud takes over.

Day 4. Limp over Kappokraal, slaapkrantz and Bonthoek portages with crazy mud! Brosterlea no longer an option. Stop at Vaalbank soaked!

Day 5. Break a third bolt 30 mins out of Vaalbank. Then a 4th crossing the vlei. Walk 10kms across vlei contemplating the problem... Finally understand the nature of problem. The ratchets on my seat clap have worn out, thus unable to lock off bolt, thus torque shears bolt. Limp on with cable ties and rope attaching saddle. these wear so eventually use bloudraad. Make it to Brosterlea in 8hrs!!!
Push on to Romansfontein and a waiting seat post. Break a 5th and final bolt but eventually get in. loose about 8hrs to Martin. bleak day!

Day 6. Invigorated that i have finally solved the problem. Go like mad with good weather and trail and make it to Grootdam, 255kms later.

Day 7. Pull back 3 hrs on Martin. Conditions still superb. Another big day to Bucklands. 200+. Realise i have a chance of doing a sub 11.

Day 8. Drop into Mordor in the day. feeling bold and try a sneak. 2 electric fence shocks later and 30 bee stings to the head and face..pow! Roll into Cambria with face swollen and head pounding. sulk for about 45mins as i recover. now about 3hrs behind. Push on but lethargic... Come down a hill in Baviaans in the fading light and split a heard of Buffalo in two! feeling lucky...push on slowly to Dam se Drif.

Day 9. Another big day Jonny. Push all the way to Prince Albert, 258kms. Experince a charge down by two Brown Hyena entranced by my light!

Day 10. After 2 hrs sleep at PA, move up Swartberg pass and into Gamkaskloof. Out the back and into Rouxpos for lunch. 4 hrs behind. Roll into Anysberg around 9pm. Sleep deprivation is now drastic. Multiple power naps follow as i push on to Montagu. Hallucinating ... Keep hearing the faintest music on the wind and in the air. Looking back all the time at my *partner*. The Uruk Hai come now, with no mercy! 
Fall asleep on my bike coming down the steep Ouberg pass. The Lord protects me and the bike goes right into the cliff and not left off it! Wake in a mangled pile in the rocky gutter. Bruised, angry but alive and thankful to Jesus! Grace as always! Stumble and dither into Montagu.

Day 11. Sub 11 is still on but need to push. martin about 3.5hrs up the road. Shapes in the darkness shift and plants become people. Crossing Ashton a dog bites me on the calf but too tired to care. something comes out but not a shout. Making good time though...

Miss the obvious sneak into Magregor and give up the 30 mins i had just made up, and possibly the last chance of catching Martin. Angry!
Arrive at Kasra some time around 12. See the gap to Martin is still around 3.5. Now its down to Stettyns. light for Martin, dark for me...
Trouthaven at 8.30pm. No chance to catch Martin now, so pushing everything to the sub 11. Have 3 extra hours in the bag i figure...
At the dam wall by 9.45pm, and soon thereafter in the infamous Stettyns kloof. the only FC test i havnt taken Steyttyns in the dark!
Hugely underestimate the complexity of a dark Stettyns. Takes another hour to the first river crossing. tear, rip, shred and stumble along..
Shins smacked to pieces but body has been committed a long time ago. Stettyns is like a puzzle, the mines of Moria in the dark!
Constantly losing the 'track' and praying to the Lord for signs. A rock pile here, torn tape there, even a scant path, one clue to another.
Finally I make the climb out point and celebrate. My self-talk has taken on a whole new dimension. It’s us, all the time now, me and whoever...
But ive killed all my spare time. Its 3am and the wind is pounding. A new cold front has smacked the cape and think mist covers DuToits koof.
My sub 11 cut off is 6am. Ive 3 hrs left. I struggle in the dark to find the Elandspad trail. At last, I'm pushing along it as its too rocky.
1.5hrs later im on the N1 near the tunnel. I start the 7km climb up toward the pass. Wind is gusting. when its in the face, it stops me dead.
Out of the saddle and my legs are screaming. Tendons long ripped out of the back of my patella, quads have gotten to know a meat tenderiser!
I have to give myself at least 30mins for the drop to the finish. Its complex forrest trails and links. So i grind, cursing at the wind.
Finally im at the summit and its 5.30. Thick mist make it impossible to see more than 2ms. I mess aorund for 5 mins searching for the sneak.
I celebrate as i find it and say a quick prayer that the Lord guides me. I know i have one shot at this, one only. One mistake and its over...
I drop down the first forest road. Highly attuned at the drift and feel of the forest, listening to the Holy spirit. Right at the 1st fork..
20mins...left at the 2nd, then its a right, and a right again. Out of the mist now. 15 mins. Straight, straight, then another right...
10 mins. Surprised, as always, that this section is so long. Endless turns and twists, but the Lords guidence is true. I know I'm right...
I'm now in the back of Diemersfontein and in the big blade. Good thing i put a 44 on and not the 42! who would have thought i would need it..
5mins and I must be pacing at 50kms/hr along the paved road around the dam. I can see the lights. Legs are screaming in an alien language.
Vague glance at my watch and i know its going to be close...minutes in it. Two more bends. Slight uphhill, out of the saddle again...
I’m not going to give it up now, not now. i know it’s just a number. but hell, I’ve worked hard for that number! I turn the final bend...
Body and mind are in a strange new place. A magical place where long journeys instantly end and begin. Memories rush and flood the mind...
I cross the line and stop. I look at my watch. 10 days 23 hrs and 57 mins!
I let out a scream. A deep, primal scream, from a place where belief and history meet. Potential and actual, this mystical mix that now is..
I climb off my bike for the last time. I’m tired. I’m thankful. And I’m very aware that I’m just a small piece in a very big puzzle.
Don’t you just love life! Thanks everyone...what a ride!!! Now for lunch!!

Rider Progress Update - For most of the riders, although there's much work to be done, mentally the race is almost a "done deal"

Rider progress tables as at evening of 30th June.

20 riders have withdrawn from the race, the 2 leaders have finished, and 26 are thus still out on the course. For most of the riders left, however, finishing the race is near to a "done deal". This perhaps sounds a bit premature, and yes there is still a lot of effort to be put in.

But the point is that the mentally toughest parts of the race are now largely over. Most of them are through the freezing cold Eastern Cape High country section, but most importantly, Cape Town is getting nearer with every passing day. And every time the  "kms to go" drops, the riders' spirits should improve, and the light at the end of the long tunnel appears brighter.

For the social rider, I believe that emerging from the Baviaanskloof and heading for Prince Albert is a big mental barrier overcome. You're then heading into the Western Cape, and Cape Town really starts to feel close. The support stations are closer together, so stages become easier, and there are a lot of opportunities to  skip support stations if one is behind schedule.

So typically the drop out rate of riders dwindles sharply to virtually nothing, and only a big injury would likely cause a rider to quit now. Even a technical problem could more easily be sorted out with "drive-in" support and time penalty if need be, the nearer one gets to Cape Town.

Some of the back markers are behind 26 day race schedule still. But as mentioned, many of the  shorter stages in the Western Cape offer ample opportunity to make up time.  

In 3rd place, Graham Bird looks very safe, but 4th place looks set to be contested by up to 5 riders. Trevor Ball and Mike Woolnough reached Rouxpos last night, but are being chased by Allen Sharp and Richmond McIntyre, who started in the same batch on 17th June, but are a little behind having reached Prince Albert last night. But the man who could still sneak through and grab 4th place is Andre Visser. He was only at Cambria (early in the Baviaanskloof) last night. But he started on the 19th June, to days behind the abovementioned 4 riders, so although he is only 8th on the rider average speed chart, he is still very much in contention for 4th spot.