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 -

Friday, 4 October 2013

The Spring Ride to Rhodes

In theory, riding to Rhodes in September should be the ideal time of year to do so - mild weather and longer daylight hours guaranteed. In practice it was something quite different... We had cool morning temps but really hot days and just to keep everyone honest, a stiff headwind to pedal into from Ntsikeni onwards! As the guardian for the second batch, it was my job to escort Leon, Ingrid, Jeremy and Melita safely to each overnight stop.

Day 1 was as hard as it usually is but we all arrived at Allendale just after 5pm. (thanks to Ian Waddilove's new Hella Hella ride, we followed a path cleared through the Umko valley, so no mamba encounters for us.)

Not being particularly rushed, we left a bit late the next morning and after a 20min coffee stop at the Donnybrook Spar, met up with our support driver, none other than David Waddilove, at Centocow, where of course we had more coffee (and sandwiches). To prevent it turning into an eating tour, we headed off to Ntsikeni but the full belly / steep hill / hot weather combo meant we only reached May Lodge an hour after dark.

An earlier start to day 3 helped us get through the thick grass to Politque without too much trouble but by mid morning, the dreaded headwind had started blowing... A brief stop at Glen Edward offered some respite but it was hard work from then on. Melita was nursing a strained knee and eventually got a lift back to Masakala with David, the rest of us arriving there soon after dark.

Leaving Masakala the next morning, it was cold and misty for the first hour. Cruising through the Knira River floodplains in the cool morning air was one of the highlights of the day but by the time we got to Queens's Mercy, it was hot, the shop was closed and out support vehicle was having a tyre fixed in Matatiele... Forced to press on, we eventually found water at Maria Linden School and then found an open shop just down the road.

Suitably restocked, we headed off up Mpharane ridge and were pleasantly surprised to see our support vehicle waiting for us at the river as we came down off the final ridge - treated to a riverside picnic, we forgave David for deserting us earlier that morning. With no running water at Malekholonyane, we had cold showers at the Maria Zell mission instead and made plans to leave even earlier the next morning.

Riding the first hour in the dark, we were treated to cool morning temps and a stunning sunrise. With all the recent veld fires in the region, the tracks around Thaba Chita and Black Fountain were clearly visible, so the riding was fun. Our trusty support driver was waiting for us at Tinana Mission and we scoffed in the shade of the big oak trees next to the river.

We headed off towards the Vuvu valley, into the persistent headwind, secretly hoping that the deep valley would be more sheltered. Thankfully it was and the late afternoon trip up the valley was actually quite pleasant, although the climb out at the end is just as steep as I remember! That evening, the wind died down and Vuvu was a peaceful place to be. By 2am, the peace was shattered by howling winds, driving rain and the roof of the hut threatening to take off! Stepping outside, we were swept along to the school like ragdolls and once assembled, we considered out options. Going over Lehana's in that wind wasn't really an option, so the decision was made to rather head  down to Mount Fletcher, where we could meet up with our lift going back to Pietermaritzburg. This plan suited everyone except Leon, who was on his way home to East London and still had a week's riding to do - he had to get to Rhodes either way. Fortunately, by the time we eventually left Vuvu, the wind was dying down enough to attempt Lehana's and after a quick farewell at the start of the portage, the group split up, with Leon on his way to Rhodes and the rest of us still headed for Mt. Fletcher. (Leon eventually arrived just after dark and took the next day off in Rhodes, before cycling on to East London, arriving a week later.)

So we didn't quite make it to Rhodes and the weather wasn't quite 'Spring' but it was a good ride nonetheless - for Jeremy and Melita, their first taste of the Freedom Trail, for Ingrid and Leon, being able to ride without worrying about navigation or getting lost and for me, a chance to ride on a normal bike, with gears for a change!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Riding bikes and raising money

The Freedom Trail passes through some remote, rugged and spectacular parts of South Africa. Some of these areas are also home to some of the poorest communities, whose opportunities are limited by the remoteness of their location. Yet despite the sometimes insurmountable odds, people from these areas have risen above the challenges and gone on to achieve success. The common thread in these and similar stories is 'opportunity' and the will to work hard to make the most of it.

The Freedom Challenge Scholarship Fund was established to provide such opportunity. It came about after riders on the Freedom Trail decided to do something to help those communities they were travelling through and the plan was to make a lasting difference by offering children a good education.

Maria Zell High School

The Fund raises money to send learners on a three year scholarship to Maria Zell High School, near Matatiele. Promising candidates are selected from within the area and awarded a full scholarship for Grades 10, 11 and 12, covering tuition, lodging, books, uniforms and a travel allowance.

Over the last 3 years, many riders taking part in the Freedom Challenge have taken the opportunity  to raise money for the Scholarship Fund. There have also been significant contributions from corporate donors and private individuals. Recently a fund raising evening was held in Johannesburg - organised by Andy Masters, with help from Ben de Lange and Allen Sharp, (both involved in the administration of the Scholarship Fund) and a host of other blanket wearers (it seems that being awarded a blanket for finishing the Freedom Challenge merely signals the beginning of a longer term involvement with the event and the communities it reaches). The draw-card for the evening was getting to hear the story of the 'Honeymooners,' Martin and Jeanie Dreyer, as they recounted their experiences from this year's race.

Jeanie and Martin with the autographed race jersey. (pic S. Kellerman)

They took us on a journey of 12 and a half days, during which they experienced many highs and lows: the pain of Jeanie's aching knees; sharing the moonlit nights riding together under the stars; the food and hospitality of the support stations; Martin getting sidetracked watching Saturday afternoon rugby; passing up on a champagne dinner at Toekomst; hypothermia in Die Hel; thawing out with waffles and ice cream at Rouxpos and nearly succumbing to the final hurdle of Stettynskloof... a remarkable journey that brought them closer together the further they rode.

The main fund raising event took the form of an auction of various items - autographed race jerseys, Freedom Challenge memorabilia and also a raffle. In the end, a total of over R35000 was raised on the night, enough for a full scholarship for another deserving learner!

Monday, 15 July 2013

The 2013 Race Dinner

Look how far we've come in 10 years! From a 3-legged, 3-man race across the country, to a clan of nearly 150 blanket wearers with a boat-load of adventures between them and countless stories to share. The place to share those stories is the 'Race Dinner,' which also serves  as the traditional wrap-up for the event.

About 50 clan members and their families, spouses and friends gathered at Diemersfontein in Wellington over the weekend to share some fine food and wine. Dressed in their bright red race tops, the riders were there to feed their still hungry race appetites and to relive the adventures with those who understood what they'd been through. The wine flowed freely and war stories were swopped until the early morning hours.

Looking back over 10 years

During a brief talk, race director, David Waddilove, highlighted some of the developments and personalities that have grown out of the Freedom Challenge over the last ten years. He also looked into his crystal ball, suggesting that the way to possibly grow in future would be to expand the online following of the event, rather than the actual number of riders taking part - a wise option for an event that relies on the hospitality and goodwill of others.

All riders who have have completed the Freedom Challenge get the same thing - a finishing time, a pizza and a blanket. A more recent tradition has been the introduction of the 'Stone Saddle' award. This floating trophy is awarded to the finisher who best embodies the spirit of the event each year and is decided on by a vote from fellow riders. This year it was awarded to Avril Metelerkamp - a truly deserving winner. (More about her ride here)

Avril and the Stone Saddle

A new award for this year was the 'Vasbyt' award - with a trophy supplied by sculptor Eric Tollner, one of this year's riders. The winner this year was Roy Mottram, who despite not finishing, showed incredible tenacity out on the trail. (More about his ride here)

And so, after welcoming some new members to their ranks, the clan of Blanket Wearers has dispersed once again - back to normal lives with fond memories of an amazing journey completed and truly enriched by the their experiences. Who knows what the next 10 years will hold for the Freedom Challenge... the race format may change, the route itself may evolve and the coverage of it could surely expand. No doubt, the Clan will continue to grow, both in number and in spirit and the future of this remarkable event looks as bright as the sunny winter skies under which they rode in 2013.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Sweepers are home

The last group of riders in this year's Freedom Challenge are finally at Diemersfontein - the Sweepers have been together since Willowmore and true to form, arrived together at the end.

Chris and Julia Fisher have had a wonderful honeymoon, making the most of their time out on the trail together and loving every minute of it - they rode well, navigated well, ate really well and slept well on their way to Wellington. They probably would have gone on for another week if it were an option but the adventure has finally come to an end after 20days 9hours 48min. Friends and family welcomed them home and there were smiles all around as they received their blankets - well done guys on a great ride.

Chris and Julia at the finish.

The other two members of the group were Leon van der Nest and Andries de Villiers, they also finished in 20days 9hours 48min. Although they also had a large group of supporters to welcome them home, there were no blankets for them, at least not yet... as the only two entrants in the Extreme Triathlon this year, Leon and Andries still have to paddle the Berg River Canoe Marathon to complete their challenge. With the trail run and mountain bike legs now complete, they were at least allowed to enjoy their pizzas with the others. Tomorrow its off to trip the river before they start their four days of paddling on Wednesday - and only then their blankets. Well done so far guys and all the best for the final stretch.

David gives Leon and Andries some encouragement for the final paddle.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Daily Report - 6th July

Only one group of riders remains out on the route - Leon, Andries, Chris and Julia have been riding together at the back of the field since Willowmore and tomorrow the four of them will take on the final stage, starting at Trouthaven and making their way up the infamous Stettynskloof portage. It's not a long stage, barely 50km in total but will still take most of the day to complete, with the bulk of it spent carrying bikes up the kloof (4-7hours). After that it's about a three hour ride to the finish and then its all over...

Two more arrivals

Eric Tollner and Gaeren Wilkinson arrived at Diemersfontein at 17h45 this afternoon. Eric started in batch D and claims a finishing time of 24days 11hours 45min while Gaeren started in batch F and finished in 22days 11hours 45min. They only joined up right near the end and hiked through Stettynskloof together but clearly they both enjoyed each other's company.

They both had their fair share of hardships along the way - Eric falling victim to a tummy bug which slowed him down for a few days and Gaeren struggling with knee issues and later sleeping out in Karoopoort - all of which made the going hard for them. But they both soldiered on and today they proudly wrapped themselves in their new blankets - well done!

Eric and Gaeren at the finish

Friday, 5 July 2013

Daily Report - 5th July

After the arrival of Robbie McIntosh at Diemersfontein this afternoon, there are six riders still out on the trail. All of them are currently in the Breede River section of the trail and if things go according to plan, they should all be home by the end of the weekend. The only thing that can really slow them down now is rain but Robbie left Trouthaven in the pouring rain this morning and still managed to get through Stettynskloof - so it seems the pull of the blanket is strong enough.

Thinking about that blanket tonight will be Eric and Gaeren, they are spending the night at Trouthaven. Eric should have a bit more spring in his legs after a short day today but his full Kasra belly may slow him down... That would be a good thing for Gaeren, who doubled up again, this time from Montagu and will no doubt be feeling the effects of three long doubles over the last few days. But the end is near now and only Stettynskloof stands between them and those blankets.

Not far behind them in Montagu are the sweepers, Leon, Andries, Chris and Julia. They completed a successful double from Rouxpos today and are probably getting ready for a big night out in Montagu tonight, it is Friday after all. If they don't go too big tonight, then tomorrow they'll head to Kasra for the now famous lunch on their way to Trouthaven.

Great pic of Julia by Chris - heading into Montagu

Robbie is home

Robbie McIntosh arrived at Diemersfontein at 16h30 today which gives him a finishing time of 20days 10hours 30min. He was all smiles and has clearly enjoyed himself out there on his bike for the last 3 weeks. Team Aramex were there to welcome him home and now its time to relax and enjoy his pizza and a well earned beer - well done Robbie.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Daily Report - 4th July

The race office didn't manage a ride today - no bikes. Also didn't manage a run today, too cold and dark when the alarm went off. And we really couldn't risk illness or injury when there are still riders out there on the trail, it would have been irresponsible. So after a successful day of loafing, it's time to catch up on the exploits of our intrepid cyclists:

As expected, the sweepers swept through Gamkaskloof, cleaning out Hell's Kitchen on the way and then continued to Rouxpos. Leon, Andries, Chris and Julia were rewarded with waffles and warm beds for their efforts. Tomorrow it's off to the bright lights of Montagu and back into civilisation.

Gaeren staying over in Montagu tonight after a successful double from Rouxpos. The strong winds didn't make things any easier for him but he'll be glad to be there because he's set himself up for a push through to Trouthaven tomorrow and a possible Saturday finish at Diemersfontein.

We thought Eric would try to join Robbie at Trouthaven tonight but it seems he's enjoying the solo gig too much - he left Montagu at a leisurely pace this morning and pulled up the handbrake at Kasra. Who can blame him when the food and hospitality there are so good.

Robbie obviously never got the memo that the race office was closed today - he phoned before 7am from somewhere in the vineyards around Ashton to ask for directions. Once back on track, he made quick work of the good roads to McGregor but then did a bit of exploring on the Kasra portage before arriving for lunch. He had no hassles getting over the next portage at Trappieskraal, possibly because he's been there before on the Epic. Tonight he's at Trouthaven trying to figure out how to turn his cycling legs into walking legs for tomorrow's big hike up Stettynskloof.

Looking at the weather report for the weekend, it seems Robbie will finish dry and the others might get a bit wet, with light rain predicted for late Saturday and Sunday - no real cause for concern though, the riders all know that this thing ain't over until that blanket's wrapped warmly around your shoulders.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Daily Report - 3rd July

The daily reports are getting easier to write because there aren't that many riders left out there and those that remain aren't doing anything exciting except riding their bikes everyday and eating too much. Now and again some of them try to get themselves lost, or take the scenic route between support stations but every evening they manage to find themselves a warm bed to sleep in.

Our sweeper bus hopped on their brooms today and swept across the flats to Prince Albert - the coffee bandit was at his post and the rusks were washed down with a steaming roadside brew. Leon, Andries, Chris and Julia all enjoyed the Karoo hospitality from Voorryer Rissik and soon afterwards they arrived at Dennehof. Tomorrow they're off to Gamkaskloof, The Ladder and maybe Rouxpos? Then again maybe not, Hell's Kitchen serves a mean burger that could derail those plans...

Gaeren rode solo through the Gamkaskloof today, stopping off the customary lunch at Hell's Kitchen. He was last seen heading for Rouxpos in the late afternoon, determined to complete another double up. He seems to be in a bit of a hurry to get finished now as he's done a few big doubles over the last few days - he will most likely aim for Montagu tomorrow - good for him.

Robbie rode that double today and seems to have finally cracked "this navigation thing." He made it through all the scratchy bits around Anysberg and cruised into Montagu by mid afternoon - probably didn't take him long to find the hotel bar for his customary post ride beer.

Eric did the same thing but at a slightly more sedate pace and with a few more photos and coffee brews along the way. He made up a day by doing so which he was quite pleased about. Tomorrow Trouthaven beckons.

Which means that tonight Trouthaven is empty and tomorrow there will be no riders bashing their way up Stettynskloof . It also means that the race office can take the day off, maybe watch Wimbledon or dare I say it, 'Le Tour'  or better yet, go for a ride!

Six more arrive at Diemersfontein

A bit of a nip in the air today at Diemersfontein but nothing the riders would have noticed - not long after they rolled across the finish line, they were wrapped up warmly in their blankets.

The first to arrive today were Andy and Peter, their finishing time was 24days 10hours 10min, well within the 26-day cut-off but maybe some evidence of a bit of loafing at the end there... Who can blame them, they decided there was no need to rush and too much good trail food to pass up on in the last few days so they took their time and really enjoyed it. Well done guys, you finished in fine style.

The remaining riders arrived as a group of four, although they hadn't started out that way. Philip Kleijnhans started in batch E and finished in a time of 20days 10hours 10min, tired after Stettynskloof but glad to be finally done. The father and son pairing of Ted and Shaun Adams arrived with their travelling cohort of many days, Guy McKechnie - all notching up a finishing time of 21days 10hours 10min. They've had a fun and eventful ride, with much laughter along the way.

Shaun, Ted, Philip, Guy, Andy and Peter.

2013 Rider Profiles - Avril Metelerkamp

If there's one person who'll have some stories to tell after this year's Freedom Challenge, it has to be Avril. She started out with Batch B and made good progress to Rhodes, relying on a pre-dawn start time. A few hour's riding in the early morning darkness seemed a good way to ensure she would get in comfortably before nighttime.

Avril half-wheeling her husband John

Two days out of Rhodes, she came a bit unstuck on the two big portages of Slaapkranz and Bontehoek and only made it to Moordenaar's Poort for the night. The following day, after stopping in at Brosterlea for lunch, she set off to conquer the Stormberg, still hoping to get to Romansfontein that night. The wind had picked up and the light was fading, so she made the first of many wise decisions and turned back to Brosterlea. She faced a similar situation again after leaving Grootdam a bit behind schedule but this time pressed on and found herself coming down the Struishoek in the dark... the white rocks must have helped because she found her way down without incident and then continued on to Pearston. Exhausted now and with flat batteries in both her tracker and phone, she found accommodation in the little town instead of pushing on to the next support station at Gegun, nearly 2 hours away - another wise decision.

The remarkable thing about her ride is that she had been riding mostly on her own since Moordenaar's Poort. Added to this were the various bike troubles she was having, first the rear brakes went, then she lost a cleat. Although she met up with other riders now and then at support stations and they helped where they could - John and Barry managed to sort out the brakes - she was riding big days and taking on the tricky navigation with nothing but the wind for company. The Hout Bay Boys tried to help by leaving a few crucial arrows in the sand for her to follow, which she was really grateful for!

"Now I'm scared. Alone in Baviaans valley and don't know which way to go, please can you help..?" The message came through a few hours after she had sent it - the race office was on the road from Rhodes and signal was patchy - we tried to reach her but by then she had gone into the dark zone. The story that emerged the following day was one of true courage. Avril had found her way to about the sixth river crossing, by which time she was exhausted and thrashing about with no real idea of where to go. She still had the good sense to stop, find a place to rest and light a fire, hoping that in the morning she could continue or at least keep a look out for other riders coming past. Morning came and with it the sound of birds  - also eventually, the sound of voices - her 'rescuers' were the guys and gal from Batch E and when she saw them, they were greeted with tears of joy and relief. She had survived a dark and cold night in a cold, lonely kloof. They all made their way through the remaining river crossings to Cambria, to hot food and a warm bed. She then latched onto her new-found friends and rode all the way to Willowmore, a long 170km double up, which meant she had caught up a day on her schedule. The next day the party continued as she tailed them across to Prince Albert: "Yeowsers! flew with racing snakes today, was so lekker to have company. Going to leave an hour before them and try make Rouxpos - hope it works..." Well it did work and she went all the way to the finish with this group. They were not the only riders who commented on the tenacity of Avril, others who had finished earlier had also been impressed by her efforts.

The Freedom Challenge produces it's fair share of war stories every year, the adventures and misadventures along the way. It also produces it's fair share of heroes, people who when faced with the hardships, stand up and take it on the chin. Occasionally it also produces legends, people who do all these things and more - whose fighting spirit inspires everyone they encounter on their journey and touches their lives in a positive way. This lady is one of those legends. Well done Avril!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Daily Report - 2nd July

With eight more riders arriving at the finish today, those that remain out on the trail are now officially in the minority.

The Sweepers have picked up the Honeymooners at Willowmore - Leon and Andries pulled off the big double through the Baviaanskloof today, with a  brief pitstop at Golden Crust for chocolate pudding. Waiting in Willowmore were Chris and Julia, who arrived earlier this morning but decided to stay: "We're having such a good time, we don't want it to end..!" they said. Tomorrow the four of them can form a nice little paceline across the desert to Prince Albert - the earlier you arrive, the more time for pampering at Dennehof.

The Fishers having fun on their way to Willowmore
Gaeren seems to be feeling the effects of yesterday's big ride, he moved slowly across to Prince Albert and kept the Koffie Korporaal waiting but no arrests were made and coffee was served in the end. He will be trying to double up again tomorrow, aiming to go through Gamkaskloof to Rouxpos.

Robbie left Prince Albert early this morning and made it to Gamkaskloof without incident. After brunch he went on to Rouxpos - the waffles and an afternoon beer seem to have kept him there, so the sandpits of Anysberg will have to wait until tomorrow.

Also at Rouxpos tonight is Solo Eric - he came through from a night in Gamkaskloof and after many photos and home brewed coffee stops along the way, eventually rolled into the support station by late afternoon.  Eric may not be solo for much longer, he knows the Anysberg area well, so Robbie would be wise to follow his lines through the sandpits tomorrow.

Eric's roadside coffee stop

Moving up the trail, there's quite a big gap until we find the next riders - all the way to Trouthaven in fact. Overnighting there we have Guy and the Adams Family as well as Philip. They came through from Montagu today, with a lunch stop at Kasra along the way. Andy and Peter are also there, having left Kasra this morning after a hearty breakfast. These guys will probably stick together up Stettynskloof tomorrow - unless Guy decides to drop the 'old guys.'

A festive day at Diemersfontein

Race office birthdays and big group arrivals - seems to be a recurring theme on this year's Freedom Challenge...

The group who arrived today included three from Batch E: Dave Bell, Janine Stewart and Doug Kennaugh. Their finishing time was 19days 9hours 15min. With them were three riders from Batch F: Coen de Bruin, Andrew Bradford and Colin Anderson who all finished in 18days 9hours 15min. The other member of the group was Avril Metelerkamp in a time of 22days, 9hours 15min - a remarkable ride by a very brave lady.

Avril, Colin, Andrew, Dave, Doug, Janine and Coen.

Half an hour later we welcomed home Martin Ciolkosz, who after hiking through Stettynskloof with the group, had decided to slow down, smell the roses and take some photos on the way down to the finish. His time was 20days 9hours 45min.

A happy Martin gets his blanket.

Today's finishers are a festive lot and the Diemersfontein Pinotage is going down well with the pizzas tonight - well done to all of you.

2013 Rider Profiles - Charles Mansfield

Charles in Rhodes

To say Charles had a tough Freedom Challenge this year would be an understatement. He faced many physical setbacks on his journey, first serious knee issues and later on his neck muscles just stopped working - towards the end he was only able to ride by holding his head up with one hand, while steering with the other. These physical difficulties made the last three days of his ride a bit of a nightmare and when he finally did get to Diemersfontein, there were tears of relief on the finish line.
(He's not the only rider to show some emotion at the end - this year's race winners are members of the same club.)

Apart from sheer grit, one of the things that kept him going was also a deeper purpose to his ride - he was raising money for Project Rhino KZN, a group co-ordinating the anti-poaching efforts within KZN. His ride has raised in excess of R60 000 for the fight against rhino poaching, a fantastic effort!

Coming into the race, Charles had set his sights on the rookie record and was aiming for a sub-15 day finish. He rode hard on the first day, a bit too hard and when he got to Allendale, wisely opted to take a 2-hour break to recover. His plan was still to get to Centocow though, so he rode out into the late afternoon sun to test his navigational ability - a few hours later he was there, having found his way through this tricky forest section in the dark. This was a small personal victory and gave him the confidence to push on in the dark if necessary.

Not long after that, he hit a low point in his race - the knee trouble had started and while crossing the Knira floodplains, he encountered mud and slush all around him. He knew that not far away was a perfectly good dirt road but he had to follow the race route and wade through the mud or face a time penalty. Why? What for? It was one of those moments which could have signaled the end. But he dug deep and went on. Later that night he got into Malekholonyane where Jack's Army were all asleep - when they made an early move the next morning, he went with. That arrangement lasted for a good few days, only coming to an end when Charles hooked up with Scott James near Slaapkranz. Scott was racing hard and knew the route and when Christo joined them, the newly formed trio stuck together for most of the rest of the race.

Some of the highlights of his ride were going over Lehana's in the gale force wind and the beauty of the Baviaanskloof. One of his most memorable moments was stopping to look at the sunrise with Scott - they saw the sun rising on one side, the moon setting on the opposite side and the silhouette of mountains in between. Despite the racing, these moments forced them to stop and look on in awe.

For Charles, this race was very different to the usual mountain bike stage race - as a veteran of many such races, he knew about riding hard and suffering. Only a few years ago he was a workaholic who weighed 140kg but riding bikes had reshaped him into a lean, strong rider. By his own admission though, that speed and strength didn't help much on the Freedom Challenge because it's such a different kind of event. Mentally, the other events are a drop in the ocean according to him and being able to deal with adversity is the crucial difference. He described it as "an unbelievable journey of endurance" which often had him "facing his own personal demons and fighting off the evil forces that wanted him to quit."  Clearly, he's learnt a lot from his journey and redefined the limits to which he can push himself physically, mentally and emotionally. Considering the hardships he faced, his finishing time of 15days 19hours 5min is not far off his original goal. But on reflection, his journey has been such a positive experience that the time will be of little importance.

Well done Charles, when the aches and pain are gone you'll think back and remember more of the good than the bad and you can be exceptionally proud of what you've achieved.

Charles wrapped in his blanket

Monday, 1 July 2013

Daily Report - 1st July

With nearly half the field home already, the question is "Who is still out there?" Well the other half of the field still have some work to do before the pizza and blankets, so let's break it down:

Leon and Andries went through the Grootrivier Poort today without incident and are sleeping at Cambria tonight. They're getting stronger as they go, a good sign for the big stages still coming up.

The Fabulous Fishers, Chris and Julia, are having so much fun that they decided not to drop the hammer up the Baviaanskloof today, rather opting to stop at Golden Crust to sample the chocolate pudding. They must have liked it because they decided to stay for the night. Gaeren, on the other hand, used the chocolate pudding to power himself on to Willowmore, completing a big 170km double in the process. He faces the long haul across to Prince Albert tomorrow with rumours of a coffee ambush somewhere along the way...

Today Robbie faced that same stretch and went ripping across the rugged landscape in his big blade. There must be something wrong with his brakes because he overshot a critical turn by about 10km before he was able to reign in his steed and turn around. Back on track, he got to Rondawel in time for fresh vetkoek before charging off again. He was tracked by Voorryer Rissik doing 45km/h after the roadside coffee stop and just managed to throw out his drag chute in time to stop himself at Dennehof. His big blade may get a rest tomorrow as he makes his way up the Swartberg Pass to Gamkaskloof.

Solo Eric went up the pass today and and will spend the night in Gamkaskloof. He seems to be enjoying himself again, stopping to take pictures and smell the flowers. He might go as far as Anysberg tomorrow but it takes a strong will to bypass the waffles at Rouxpos.

Back in civilisation in downtown Montagu, four riders are recovering after a long ride from Rouxpos today - Guy, Ted, Shaun and Philip. They survived the sandpits of Anysberg and arrived just before dark. They can look forward to a scrumptious lunch at Kasra tomorrow on the way to Trouthaven.

Having supper at Kasra tonight though are Andy and Peter. Lunch was great so they decided to stay. Tomorrow's a relatively easy day for them to Trouthaven, with only the sneaky little Trappieskraal portage to worry about but they'll have more than enough time to scuttle across in the morning and then rest up for Stettynskloof.

Already settled in at Trouthaven is another large group of riders - Dave, Doug Janine, Coen, Colin, Andrew, Avril and Polish Martin will take on Stettynskloof in the morning, aiming for a mid afternoon finish. There should be a bit of a path forming by now and there were reports of some cairns marking the way, so all that's left to do is hoist up their bikes and put one foot in front of the other, then freewheel down the hill to collect their blankets - easy as that! (Good luck guys & gals, it's one helluva hike.)

The pizza oven at Seasons Restaurant here in Diemersfontein has been working overtime today, eleven hungry finishers are hard to satisfy and Chef Andy has been cooking up a storm - hang in there Andy, the hungry hordes are dwindling and the race office don't eat much, pretty soon things will be back to normal.

A busy day at Diemersfontein

Today has been a busy day on the finish line: First arrival was the low flying Anton Wood, missing a turn in the forest and heading towards Paarl, before he came to his senses and found his way via a sneaky service entrance into Diemersfontein. He made really good time up Stettynskloof and arrived in the glorious sunshine by early afternoon. He's had a solid ride - no major errors and some consistent riding all reflect in his finishing time of 19days 7hours 50min - another great effort by a rookie.

Anton gets his blanket

Later this afternoon, Gavin Robinson and Henry Angove arrived - looking a little weary after spending an extra hour down in Stettynskloof exploring some alternative paths. But they were soon smiling again and reliving the adventures of the past 3 weeks - the Trolls on the Schurfteberg, making a fire to keep the Swampthing at bay down in the Grootrivier Poort, riding straight past Hell's Kitchen in Gamkaskloof, all the way on to The Ladder before realising that they had missed lunch and were now quite hungry. After proclaiming that "night navigation is a no-no" they spent the next few nights doing exactly that. Despite the misadventures, they always emerged the next morning no worse for wear and just got back on their bikes and carried on riding. Well done guys, your finishing time of 21days 10hours 40min was jam-packed with fun and laughter, for you and all those following.

Soon after Gavin and Henry arrived, the Peleton swept across the finish line - 8 riders, all having ridden together since Prince Albert, some of them from long before that. The group consisted of most of batch A - Pierre Singery, Dave vd Westhuizen, Ansa and Sarel Smit and the father and son pairing of Bruce and Charles Hughes. Their finishing time was 22days 11hours on the dot. It's evident that they had formed a strong bond in the group and always discussed the day's riding plans among the members - strength in numbers in this case. Also arriving with them today were batch B riders Dave Moberley and Pete Button - they started out as the 'Fat Farmers' but judging by their appearance on the finish line, they no longer are. They finished in 21days 11hours and looked like they could have gone on for a few more without too much effort - farmers are a tough breed. 

Charles, Bruce, Dave M, Pete, Dave vdW, Ansa, Sarel and Pierre

2013 Rider Profile - Roy Mottram

Dr. Roy Mottram

Doing the Freedom Challenge is tough, ask any finisher and they’ll confirm it but doing it at the age of 70 beggar’s belief – who in their right mind would attempt that? Only one ‘Crazy Old Man’ according to his friends - Dr. Roy Mottram. This is how his friend and regular riding partner, Rob Fincham, described him:

“Naked buttocks bristling in the breeze of a remote Lesotho gorge, fishing rod searching out giant trout in the river’s crystal clear waters – aha it’s that crazy old man Dr. Roy Mottram - training for the Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa (RASA). His sons, Sam and Matt, horse backed with him into Lesotho as a present for his 70th birthday, just prior to the race. Based at Camdeboo Lodge on the outskirts of Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, this is a military man,  a graduate of Natal and Free State universities and a respected agronomist with water-related work his speciality. He has an often questioning twinkle in his eyes and has a great sporting background - a former Natal rugby player, deadly accurate with a rifle and a deep sea fisherman.  He is also known to enjoy an occasional party. Participating in RASA represents yet another personal challenge for this iron man and we salute his free spirit.”

Roy and Rob started out together in Batch C. Their first day saw them get to Allendale, tired but happy to be there. The big climbs in the Sisonke section of the trail had taken their toll though and it took them another 2 days to get to Ntsikeni. A few days later they got lost descending off the Black Fountain ridgeline and ended up sleeping out in an old ruin. They arrived in Rhodes after 8 days, a bit behind schedule but still within the 9-day interim cut-off.

Over the next few days, both Rob and Roy fell ill and picked up stomach problems. They stopped short at Kranskop to rest and recover. By the next day, Roy’s condition had improved but Rob’s had worsened – Roy decided to wait it out with his friend, hoping to continue together the following day. Rob’s condition was no better by morning and he was forced to withdraw from the race.

So Roy continued down the trail alone, passing Brosterlea that day and ending up at the foot of the Stormberg, on the farm Weltevrede.  The next day he got to Romansfontein by early afternoon and pressed on to the Aasvoelberg portage, hoping to get off the mountain before sunset and ride on to Hofmeyr in the dark. It was slow going though and he only picked up the rough, boulder strewn track off the mountain at last light but he lost the track when it crossed a riverbed and spent the rest of the night slowly picking his way down in the dark. By first light he had found the road at the bottom, so he made his way to Hofmeyr, arriving at midday. Exhausted after the long night, he stayed over there to recover.

The next few days went well and Roy made steady progress towards the Baviaanskloof. Along the way he was joined by Robbie McIntosh and they shared the support station at Bucklands. Robbie rode away the next day to Cambria. It was a tough day for Roy, who was once again struggling with a tummy bug and he decided to sleep at the top of the Osseberg jeeptrack, rather than descend into the Grootrivier Poort for the night. The next day he took on the river crossings through this infamous section and only crawled out at Cambria late that night. By then the damage was done, his body robbed of all strength and now also nursing knee and ankle injuries. 

After soldiering on for so long, his decision to withdraw couldn’t have been an easy one - it wasn’t his indomitable spirit that had been broken, just his body.  This was his message when he bowed out:
“Hi Meryl – thank you for all your help and inspiration – sitting on the top of Baviaanskloof, I am sorry to say that the body has told the mind ‘enough of this.’ So sorry to disappoint you and others but just not enjoyable anymore. Will take my time to next stop and make a plan to get a lift back to Cape Town. My knee and ankle sore, shoes broken, back suspension of bike gone.”

Roy left his mark on this year’s Freedom Challenge with his positive attitude and fierce determination when the going got tough. He also left a lasting impression on his hosts at the support stations – Sandra from Kranskop was so impressed that she lined up all her children and told them: “you see this man? When you are his age I want you all to be like him!” He also earned the respect of his fellow riders – they simply could not believe how a man of his years was still out there riding alongside them.

Roy emptying his Sealskinz socks

Whether or not he will return to try again will likely be a carefully considered decision but everyone will agree that he would be most welcome back on the trail and there will always be a blanket waiting for him at the finish line.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Daily Report - 30 June

Another pearler of a day out on the trail today and the march towards the finish continues.

The sweepers, Leon and Andries are enjoying the hospitality at Bucklands tonight - tomorrow they should get to Cambria and then start the journey up the Baviaanskloof.

In Cambria tonight are the Fishers, Chris and Julia, as well as Gaeren, who rode with them for company today. They got in well before dark, so there will be no camping out in the kloof tonight.

Today saw the unfortunate withdrawal of Roy - he had been nursing a damaged ankle and then picked up a tummy bug which had made the going particularly tough the last few days. It was with great disappointment that the race office accepted his withdrawal - he had been soldiering on through thick and thin, always with a positive attitude and a smile on his face. The 70-year old had also become a firm favourite at the support stations, earning the respect of the hosts wherever he went. Well done Roy on an inspiring ride and a truly remarkable achievement to have gotten that far.

And then there's Robbie - today he finally got to shift into the big blade and crank up the watts, cruising from Cambria to Dam se Drif in a swift 6 hours. Hestelle was impressed enough to give him seconds of chocolate pudding and he then powered on to Willowmore - he went so fast in fact that he missed the last turn off to Willowmore - but a quick phone call got him back on track and he got to the Willows guesthouse before dark after a great day's riding. Let's see how he goes across the 'vlaktes' to Prince Albert tomorrow.

Solo Eric has been steadily riding himself back to good health - leaving Willowmore this morning, he stopped off at Rondawel for some vetkoek. He continued from there to Prince Albert and was ambushed by none other than Voorryer Johann Rissik, lurking in the bushes after a triumphant return from the Battle of Ketoorskop. Poor Eric was forced to have coffee and rusks before being allowed to continue. He will be heading for Gamkaskloof tomorrow.

Guy and the Adams Family continued on their merry way today, with Philip in tow. According to Guy, "the old guys were pretty slow up The Ladder" but they all made it through to Rouxpos and tomorrow they will be heading off to Montagu.

The Montagu Country Hotel is a busy place tonight - the guests include Dave, Doug, Janine, Coen Colin, Andrew and Avril who seemed to have formed a nice group. Lunch at Kasra for them tomorrow, yum yum, and then on to Trouthaven. Also in Montagu and probably at the bar tonight, are Andy and Peter. They arrived from Anysberg just in time for the Sunday lunch buffet and are cruising from here to the finish - goal for tomorrow is lunch... and then supper in Kasra.

Polish Martin is just up the road in McGregor tonight. He had a rough day coming into Anysberg yesterday but recovered a bit today. Tomorrow he'll pass through Kasra for a second breakfast, before pushing on to Trouthaven. - Nearly there Martin

Trouthaven is packed to the rafters tonight - a group of eleven riders will be trying to get a good night's sleep before the massive haul up Stettynskloof in the morning. Ansa, Sarel, Pierre, Dave, Bruce, Charles, Pete and Dave all arrived together. They were beaten to it by Anton, Gavin and Henry though, so guess who got the best beds.

At Diemersfontein today we welcomed Marnitz home and then just before dark, the Hout Bay Boys rolled in, Barry, John and George.

And that leaves only Charles - he's on his way to Diemersfontein, expected to arrive just after midnight. He's now down to walking pace, with his neck and knees caving in but that's not going to stop him - so the pizza is ready and the race office waits...

The Hout Bay Boys are home.

The Hout Bay Boys

The trio of Barry Futter, George Evans and John Croasdale  have arrived at Diemersfontein, just in time for supper! They started in Batch C and finished in 19days 12hours 25min, a great time for these FC rookies. They've ridden together since the start and were all in great spirits when they crossed the line.

Their's was a well thought out and executed ride, without any major setbacks and very little scratching around in the dark - proof that a level headed and steady approach can lead to a successful and enjoyable Freedom Challenge. George commented that at one point he was having so much fun that he felt a bit guilty because he had thought it would be hard all the time.

Along the way they tried to think of a nickname for themselves and eventually came up with 'The Onions - many layers on the outside, a bit smelly inside.'

They rode from dawn most days and usually managed to get in before dark - just in time for supper. Their longest day was in fact their last day where they pushed from Kasra this morning, starting at 01h00, all the way to the finish.

Well done guys, you can be proud of what you've done, hope you have many fond memories whenever you look at those blankets.

Marnitz die Nag Apie

Marnitz and his family reunited

The first finisher of the day has rolled across the finish line at Diemersfontein – Marnitz Nienaber, the Lone Ranger, the Sleepwalker, the ex-tandem rider and now the proud owner of his fourth blanket – an honour he shares with FC stalwart Tim James.

He started out on a tandem with his brother Werner and they pushed hard from the start. They were making good time but at Glen Edward on the third morning, things started to fall apart. Werner had developed major knee issues and they limped into Masakala. It was clear he couldn’t continue – what now? Marnitz was determined to carry on and after consulting the race director about his options, he decided to get hold of a spare bike and take a 6 hour time penalty. The bike arrived early the next morning and after waiting out the required penalty, he made his way across the floodplains to Malekholonyane. Along the way he had a few mechanicals, so had to rebuild the bike with some spares he got from another rider who had just pulled out. By the next morning he was ready to roll and immediately started his charge. A big double to Rhodes, briefly interrupted by a long ‘kuier’ at Slaapkranz and then many ‘slaapies langs die pad,’ saw him move steadily up the rankings and slowly start to reel in the riders ahead of him. He chose to ride at night and because he carried a sleeping bag, was happy to bed down whenever the sleepmonsters paid him a visit. Once up to speed, he managed to keep the wheels turning on only 2-3 hours sleep a night, stopping only to raid kitchens at support stations and to nap along the way, with Klaas Vaakie as his only companion.

The tandem brothers together again.

To come back from such a setback at the start and go on to chase down the rest of the field in the way he did and then finish 5th overall in a time of 15days 8hours40min, is a really impressive feat – ‘knap gedaan Nag Apie, slaap lekker vannaand .‘

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Daily Report - 29 June

Much excitement here at Diemersfontein today - just before midday we welcomed Martin and Jeannie home after 12days 5hours and 55min on the trail - a new record in the women's category. They were relieved to get off their bikes after the long, intense journey and were looking forward to catching up with family and friends - well done guys.

For the rest of the riders, it was another day at the office and there was work to be done:
Nearly 1000km back from today's finishers are Leon and Andries - they completed another double today and went from Grootdam, through Gegund to Toekomst, arriving comfortably by late afternoon.

Ahead of them we have Chris and Julia, who caught up to Gaeren yesterday - the three of them left Toekomst early and all got through to Bucklands before dark, another good effort.

There was a bit of action in the Grootrivier Poort today - Robbie survived the night having slept out at the first river crossing and managed to get through to Kudu Kaya for lunch. Having missed out on breakfast, he decided to stay over to catch up and then stuck around for supper. At least tonight he will sleep in a warm bed. He should get some company later tonight when Roy arrives - he emerged from his 'hidey hole' at the top of the Osseberg jeep track this morning to take on the multiple river crossings on the way to Cambria.

At the other end of the Baviaanskloof in Willowmore, Eric will have the whole place to himself tonight. He had a fairly easy day and arrived early. After all the good food stops he's passed through recently, he should be back to full strength and ready to pedal across the flats to Prince Albert in the morning.

Guy and the Adams Family made that crossing today and got to Prince Albert in the afternoon. There they found Philip - probably in a dressing gown with cotton wool buds between his toes after his massage and rest day at Dennehof! Well, there won't be any time for lounging around tomorrow, they all have to pedal up the Swartberg Pass and get into Gamkaskloof and there are some pretty big mountains to conquer along the way.

Last night's Prince Albert crew all left early and made the big double through to Rouxpos. The group now waffling at Rouxpos includes Dave, Doug, Janine, Coen, Colin, Andrew and the intrepid Avril. They will most likely have Montagu in their sights tomorrow but they'll first have to get through the sandpits of Anysberg.

Recovering from those sandpits tonight are Andy and Peter, who chose the rustic isolation of Anysberg over the Saturday night bustle of Montagu. Their's was a relatively short day, so tomorrow they may try for a bigger push. By all accounts, Martin is with them, as he hasn't popped up in Montagu yet - maybe the sandpits got the better of him...

Ansa, Sarel, Pierre, Dave, Pete, Dave, Charles and Bruce are all in Montagu tonight. They've been riding together for a while now and will probably continue on to the finish together - tomorrow they'll aim for lunch at Kasra and then push on to Trouthaven. Also in attendance is Anton, so if he joins the group tomorrow, there'll be a race on for beds at Trouthaven - overindulge at Kasra and you might end up sleeping on the floor...

Not far up the road in McGregor are Gavin and Henry - they made use of this interim stop to avoid stumbling around in the dark on the Kasra portage - a wise move. Tomorrow should see them getting to Trouthaven early and grabbing the best beds in the house.

At Kasra tonight are Charles, John, George and Barry. Charles had another tough day out, battling knee and neck pains, so his plans tomorrow will be based on how he feels when he wakes up. The other three are planning an early start, with the hope of getting through Stettynskloof before dark and finishing tomorrow night at Diemersfontein.

Our Lone Ranger Marnitz is still on the move tonight, he's been on a long push from Anysberg since early this morning and after grabbing supper on the run at Kasra, was making his way to Trouthaven. Its his last chance to use his sleeping bag and it wouldn't be surprising if he marches straight up Stettynskloof in the dark and curls up to sleep in the fynbos when he runs out of steam. Whichever way, he is determined to sleep with a Blanket tomorrow night.

The last bit of late night action has just played out at Diemersfontein - a very tired Scott James and Christo van den Heever have finished their epic journey. Scott finished a fine ride in third position with a time of 13days 15hours 20min and Christo was right behind in fourth, with a time of 14days 15hours 20min, a great first effort. They were greeted by an enthusiastic group of family and friends  - the pizza is nearly ready and then they'll probably want to sleep - well done guys.

The Dreyers arrive.

Home at last - 12d 5h 55min

Martin and Jeannie Dreyer's honeymoon just ended at Diemersfontein - and now the celebrations begin. They finished their amazing ride in 12days, 5hours 55minutes - which gives Jeannie the new women's record by more than 7 days. A small group of friends and supporters welcomed them home and both were quite emotional, having reached the end of this long and intense journey. As they received their blankets, they spoke of each other's strength and how the bond between them had also been strengthened by the last 12 days together. They also acknowledged the other riders still out there riding, with Jeannie singling out Avril for her courage in doing so much of the trail by herself.

The Blanket Ceremony

Today is Jeannie's birthday, so in addition to the traditional finisher's pizza, there's also birthday cake for dessert. No doubt the eating will continue for a few days until their appetites are back to normal.

Pizza and cake

This has been a remarkable journey for the happy honeymooners - well done Martin and Jeannie!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Daily Report - 28 June

Just when we thought the weather was finally going to become a factor in this year's race... the sun came out! It was a return to the normal balmy conditions out on the trail today after yesterday's brief flourish of rain and everyone made the most of it by getting their wiggle on.

Starting with our sweepers for a change, Leon and Andries did the double thing today, going from Elandsberg to Stuttgart for a late brunch and then on to Grootdam. Tomorrow they will probably try it again and should get to Toekomst comfortably.

The Fishers, Chris and Julia are the real honeymooners this year - they are riding comfortably between support stations and getting in with time to spare. After their first double up yesterday, they did it again today, going from from Grootdam to Toekomst. It must be quite interesting for the vegetarian Julia, travelling through mutton and Kudu country during the hunting season but so far there have been no complaints from either her or the hosts. We know Chris has a soft spot for pies after his feast at Hofmeyr, so he must be loving it out there.

Julia in portage mode
Also at Toekomst tonight is Gaeren - not really part of the plan but he decided to rest up there after spending the night out in a riverbed at Karoopoort. That's a wise move as tomorrow he will feel strong again and also have some company from Chris and Julia on the trail.

The next two up the road are RobRoy 2.0 - an interesting duo who have had their fair share of adventure up to now. Well the adventure continues tonight: Roy is spending the night in a 'hidey hole' near the top of the Osseberg jeep track after struggling today with a tummy bug. Robbie is spending the night in the Grootrivier Poort slaying trolls and the Swampthing after deciding not to wait for Roy and heading down the jeep track in the late afternoon. The monsters down there must be pretty tired by now after all the riders who've kept them busy over the last few nights, so hopefully Robbie will  be left alone and can get some sleep but who knows, he may even sneak through to Cambria tonight.

It's chocolate pudding time for Eric and he can go back for seconds because he has the whole Dam se Drif support station to himself tonight. If he doesn't overindulge, he should have an easy ride through to Willowmore in the morning.

Guy and the Adams Family are in Willowmore tonight - steaks will be served and tummies will be full. The weather looks kind for them tomorrow with only a light breeze predicted, so hopefully the crossing to Prince Albert will be enjoyable for them. 

Its another busy night in Prince Albert - Dave, Doug, Janine, Philip, Coen, Colin and Andrew are all lounging in luxury at Dennehof, after arriving there by mid afternoon. They successfully employed the 'leave really early to beat the headwind' tactic which seems to be a popular option this year. Leading the charge across from Willowmore was Avril - she gets stronger every day and had this to say about today's ride: "Yeowsers! - flew with racing snakes today. Was so lekker to have company. Going to leave an hour before them and try make Rouxpos. Hope it works."

After all the drama yesterday, today was a relatively uneventful day in the Gamkaskloof. All of the fifteen riders who slept there last night got up The Ladder without incident and went on to Rouxpos. Staying over there tonight are Andy, Peter, Ansa, Sarel, Bruce, Charles Dave, Pete, Pierre and Dave. A later arrival was Anton, who rode through from Prince Albert, completing a big double. Martin (Ciolkosz) went with him but only as far as Gamkaskloof.

The rest of the Gamkas gang pushed on to Anysberg. Gavin, Henry, Barry, John and George are expected to arrive there later tonight. Tricky place in the dark that, but food and a warm bed will be their prize when they do eventually get there. They may be woken up by Marnitz later tonight, who is heading towards Anysberg a few hours behind them. He'll probably stop for koffie with Tannie Fourie first and just push on through to Montagu tonight with a few cat naps along the way.

Already in Montagu tonight is Charles - he's had a rough day battling neck and knee pains. Hopefully once he's replenished his Myprodol stocks and gotten a good night's sleep, he'll be firing again tomorrow but if not, he'll opt for a short day to Kasra - sleep well Charles, no Friday night jol in Montagu for you unfortunately.

Christo and Scott had a big day today, starting at Rouxpos and ending at Kasra. They both went over their bars coming through Anysberg earlier today but fortunately no harm done. The haute cuisine at Oestervanger Guesthouse will go down well and they'll make an early departure, with the plan being to get through Stettynskloof before dark and on to the finish at Diemersfontein - nearly home!

Martin and Jeannie have kept their noses out in front today and are almost at Trouthaven - they will have supper there, catch a few hours sleep and leave really early, hoping for a mid-morning finish at Diemersfontein. Its been an incredible journey for the honeymooners and I'm not sure they'll be entirely happy about it coming to an end.

The race office is settled in at Diemersfontein, awaiting the arrival of the first lot of riders tomorrow. We can say with confidence that the pizza's are up to scratch and the coffee is good - but that's enough for now, time for an early night before all the excitement of tomorrow.


The skirmish at The Ladder

The top of the Ladder

This year's Freedom Challenge will be remembered for the fine weather and distinct lack of clouds - except for the strange little mushroom cloud that popped up over Gamkaskloof and hovered over The Ladder.

Two members of the Dikwiel Kommando rode out to investigate - Warrant Officer Waddilove and his trusty sidekick, Voorryer Rissik. They smelt a rat, so had the good sense to check in at the Prince Albert police station on their way out and notify the authorities of their plan.

They arrived at the first Big Gate - now electrified, barricaded and very locked! Waiting on the other side was a menacing pack of Mountain Men, intent on keeping them out. Words were exchanged but it was clear that these guys didn't want to be friends... Since the gate was locked and the fence was high, they set about finding a weakness and came upon a ditch through which they could crawl. The Mountain Men scurried to block their way with thorn branches - but unperturbed, the Kommando dismantled their steeds and crawled through. Once back on the road, a stand off ensued. The Mountain Men were led by a particularly fervent young upstart who tried to body block their progress - he managed to succesfully obstruct WO Waddilove but seeing the gap, the wily VR Rissik darted through and rode like hell to the base of the Ladder. He never looked back, so he never saw them 'arresting' his compatriot and escorting him to their lair at the base of The Ladder. In the meantime, VR Rissik arrived at the base of The Ladder to find the way blocked by razor wire. He whipped out his standard issue Dikwiel Kommando fencing pliers and set to work liberating The Ladder! His job done, he returned to the Lair to find his now detained partner.

Voorryer Rissik in detention

Warrant Officer Waddilove waits for tea

With the two of them under house arrest, awaiting the arrival of the local police, it took a woman's touch to ease the tensions - a Mountain Man's wife offered the prisoners a cup of tea and a pumpkin fritter. It was a long wait, punctuated by brief verbal exchanges but I don't think it ever really got to the point of being 'chatty.' Night fell and after four hours, it became clear that the police were not coming, so the Mountain Men spoke and told the captors they were free to go. The ever determined WO Waddilove informed his captors that he was proceeding up The Ladder, which they briefly objected to but realising the futility of further detention, objected no more. (Quite possibly, they realised that if he stayed any longer, their tea supplies would be decimated, so were more than happy to get rid of him). Looking outside, the mushroom cloud had started to disperse but was soon replaced by rain clouds. VR Rissik, returned to home base to report back on the mission, while WO Waddilove proceeded up The Ladder into the cold, wet night. He got through to the first inhabited farmstead on the way to Vleiland, where he was collected by Gerrit Roux (from Rouxpos) and taken home with the promise of waffles and ice cream for breakfast.

With the matter seemingly resolved for the time being, riders have been passing through the Kloof and up The Ladder unchallenged - possibly the Mountain Men are not as menacing as we all thought, or maybe they decided that a few weary cyclists were really not worth the trouble. VR Rissik reported that the pumpkin fritters were delicious, so who knows, the Lair could even become a support station one day... No doubt the Men of Law will have been consulted and have given their opinions and the skirmish may ultimately be resolved by the Men with Wigs but for now there is peace in the valley where, after the rain clouds finally dispersed, only clear skies remained.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Daily Report - 27 June

Today things changed – a cold front finally arrived and the rain came tumbling down…  There were a few other happenings and a skirmish in Gamkaskloof but that’s the subject of a separate blog post tomorrow. For now, we focus on the riders and their progress along the route.

The first victims of the cold and rain were race leaders Martin and Jeannie Dreyer – after a beautiful evening under the stars going up the Swartberg Pass and a cozy night in Gamkaskloof, they awoke to take on a cold, muddy and wet trail down the kloof, up The Ladder and across to Rouxpos. They were snowed on at the top of a now wet and slippery Ladder and were soaked through and miserable by the time they arrived at Rouxpos. But after a warm shower and a dozen waffles, they were smiling again and slowly got going in the direction of Anysberg.

Martin and Jeannie recharging with waffles at Rouxpos

Not far behind them are the trio of Scott, Charles and Christo. They left Prince Albert early and got through The Ladder without any trouble, before pushing on to Rouxpos for the night. It was a cold, wet ride up the Swartberg Pass and a cold, cloudy day for the rest but the sun did peak out in the late afternoon, so they will be looking forward to riding in warmer, drier conditions tomorrow.

The rest of the Prince Albert crew also left before first light and despite some of them intending to push through to Rouxpos, they all ended up staying at Gamkaskloof. The effect of the rain was immediate, as no-one was keen to carry on slogging through the mud. So it’s full house there tonight with Andy, Peter, Ansa, Sarel, Pete, Dave, Pierre, Dave, Bruce, Charles, Gavin, Henry, Barry, John and George all opting to rest and rather take on The Ladder in the morning.

On his way to Gamkaskloof tonight is Lone Ranger Marnitz – he had a long sleep at Dennehof after a long night ride through from Willowmore. He’s been doing most of his riding in the dark and pushing constantly since Rhodes. But tonight he rides again and this may signal the start of a long push to the finish.

Also in Prince Albert tonight are Anton and Martin, who arrived there from Willowmore just before nightfall.

The Willows Historical BnB in Willowmore is once again busy tonight – Dave, Doug, Janine, Philip, Coen, Andrew and Colin have all checked in and they are no doubt listening to tales of bravery from Avril, who completed the massive double from Cambria in the rain with them today – less than 24 hours after spending the night down in the Grootrivier Poort taming the Swampthing.

The Golden Crust at Dam se Drif is a bit more peaceful tonight after all the traffic of the last few days. Guy, Ted and Shaun are all snoring away happily after stuffing their faces with Hestelle’s chocolate pudding. Will they take a short day to Willowmore tomorrow or try to go beyond? The weather will probably decide that for them…

Eric is alone in Cambria tonight at the Kudu Kaya support station. His tummy bug seems to be a thing of the past though, so if he’s up to it, a big double to Willowmore tomorrow could put him back together with his group – but is it really worth sacrificing the chocolate pudding at Dam se Drif just to ride with your friends? Decisions, decisions.

At Bucklands tonight we have RobRoy 2.0 – the new version with Robbie the engine and Roy the wily navigator. I’m pretty sure Rob will stick to Roy like velcro tomorrow through the Grootrivier Poort to Cambria but after that who knows, when they hit the open roads, Robbie may shift into the big blade and start charging towards the finish.

Then there’s Gaeren, who was still on his way to Toekomst tonight after a cold, wet day coming over the Struishoek. His knee was acting up today which didn’t help but he soldiered on nonetheless.

The Fishers, Chris and Julia have been going along nicely – they left Elandsberg this morning for brunch at Stuttgart, then went over a wet and muddy Schurfteberg on their way to Grootdam. That’s the first double for them – possibly a sign of things to come?

Our sweepers, Leon and Andries had a little navigational wobble on their way to the Elandsberg today – It cost them an hour of wasted daylight but they regrouped quickly and made it off this tricky portage at last light. Tomorrow could see a double from them to Grootdam – weather dependant.

The race office had an eventful day too, it started in Prince Albert and ended at Diemersfontein, with a detour to Laingsburg to collect a fugitive race director – but more about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Daily Report - 26 June

The race office had reason to celebrate today - it was Meryl's birthday and to mark the occasion, we stopped in the middle of nowhere whilst travelling through the Karoo and switched off all cell phones and computers and went for a 10min stroll along the road - just to enjoy the mountains and the big sky surroundings. Then it was back to work and we proceeded to Prince Albert where we set up shop in anticipation of the arrival of a large group of riders.

And the race stopped for 10min...

The large group started trickling in by mid afternoon: Martin and Jeannie, Dave vd W, Dave M and Pete. The farmers immediately went off in search of food and beer and a place to put their feet up,  the Dreyers skipped the beer and left an hour later with full tummies, heading to Gamkaskloof for the night.

The Honeymoon Dreyers

Then came Ansa, Sarel, Pierre, Bruce and Charles. They had no plans to go any further, and after some soup, were shown to their comfy rooms at Dennehof.  Next we had Gavin and Henry, who uncharacteristically arrived well before dark and actually saw the support station in broad daylight - they must have liked what they saw because they also stayed put. The later arrivals were Andy and Peter, who had cruised through comfortably from Willowmore and shortly afterwards, the Hout Bay Boys, George, John and Barry, also looking quite relaxed after the 160km 'rest day' from Willowmore.

The long road to Prince Albert

The talk around the dinner table was on whether to double through to Rouxpos tomorrow or take an easy day just to Gamkaskloof - as they shuffled off to bed, it seemed like a roughly fifty fifty split.

Shortly afterwards, Scott, Charles and Christo waltzed in, looking a bit weather beaten and hungry - they'd had a hard morning battling headwinds from Willowmore but then had the chance to play in their big rings when the wind died down after Rondawel. These guys are pushing for home now so will continue to do some big doubles on the way to Diemersfontein.

Back at Willowmore, we have Anton and Martin, who came through from Dam se Drif today. Tomorrow should see them take on the headwinds to Prince Albert - good luck guys. We also have Marnitz there but the carrier pigeons brought word that he was planning a night raid across the Moordenaars Karoo and could well pop up in Prince Albert for breakfast.

There was some late night action in the Baviaanskloof yesterday - the intrepid Avril spent the night out in the Grootrivier Poort after getting shut down by the dark at the sixth river crossing - a cold and lonely place indeed... She kept her wits about her though and survived the night to emerge the next morning, where she was picked up by Batch E on their way through from Bucklands. She spent the rest of the day recovering at Kudu Khaya, the Cambria support station. Tomorrow she can pick her riding partners from the large group that arrived there today: Dave, Doug, Janine, Philip, Coen, Colin, Andrew, Guy and the Adams Family (Ted and Shaun) are all there tonight.

Eric is staying at Hadley tonight, hoping to get an early start down the Grootrivier Poort in the morning - he seems to have recovered from his tummy bug after an easier day today.

Robbie had a good day today, getting through from Grootdam to Toekomst. He passed Roy along the way and Roy is still out there, making his way slowly to Toekomst (if he gets it right, it will be his first double and he will have gained back one of the days he lost on the way to Rhodes) - Go Roy!!

Gearen had an easier day today, getting through to Grootdam from Stuttgart - that sets him up nicely for a double through to Toekomst tomorrow.

Not far behind are Chris and Julia - she managed to drag him away from the pie shop in Hofmeyr today with enough time to get to Elandsberg in the light - where to tomorrow..?

Leon and Andries are our sweepers - they had a long and windy day to Romansfontein today, arriving after dark again. Tomorrow they'll drop down off the high plains and hopefully have a break from the icy cold wind for a bit - and if they're lucky, Chris might have left some pies for them to eat in Hofmeyr!