More riders across the finish line today and the rest keep closing in on Diemersfontein.
The first riders out of Stettynskloof today were Marnitz Nienaber and Ivor Jones who arrived just after 2pm this afternoon. They opted to try a different exit out of Stettynskloof, by going out early on the left hand side. This seemed to have saved them from the worst of the bushwhacking and they made good time through the kloof. With 5 blankets to his name, Marnitz has the route saved in his head and Ivor was amazed that they never had to use maps at any stage of the journey. Today Marnitz received blanket number 6 and for Ivor it was his first - their finishing time was 16days 8hours 5min.
The next three riders came over the line together a while later - Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter had ridden together since the start and had a good solid ride. Andrew had to put up with a failing freewheel hub, which meant a long walk from Tinana to Rhodes and later on a serious case of shin splints but he showed real determination and pressed on regardless. They all received their coveted blankets to the applause and cheers of their friends and families. Their finishing time was 19days 10hours 45min.
Of the remaining riders for this year, we have four still in the race and two more who are not.
John Bowen has been riding with Mike Roy since Tinana and the two have been under pressure to chase cut offs from an early stage - after missing their Willowmore cut off they were allowed to continue to the finish but have not managed to keep up with the required pace. In a last ditch attempt, the pair left Good Hope just after midnight this morning on their way to Trouthaven and then the finish. By mid morning they had not reached Trouthaven and it was becoming clear that there was very little chance of getting through Stettynskloof in the dark and still finishing before 6am tomorrow morning, the 26 day cut off. On realising this, John decided to withdraw at Trouthaven. At peace with his decision, he said he had learnt a lot about himself on this journey and pushed himself further than he thought possible. Mike Roy ended up in a similar situation, realising that the clock was against him. He opted to carry on to Trouthaven and spend the night there - he will go up Stettynskloof tomorrow and finish the route to Diemersfontein.
Also at Trouthaven tonight are Mike Glover and John Exley, they rode through from Montagu today. They have been steady and consistent the whole way and now its just Stettynskloof between them and their blankets.
Jumping back to Rouxpos, where Mike Devereux is expected later tonight, after a big double from Prince Albert. He will be happy to have an easier day tomorrow and is now closing in on the finish.
Sweeping behind tonight is Nic van Zyl, who left Prince Albert after serving his time penalty (for a new bike) and arrived at Gamkaskloof for supper. Tomorrow he takes on the Ladder and then its Rouxpos and beyond, he can surely smell the finish now too.
Johann Rissik finished yesterday and earned his blanket and his permanent number board – rider no. 27. There was some speculation when the new website was put up as to who rider no 27 was, as the name had been left blank, that is now no longer the case, as Johann achieved a dream of his and the records can now be completed. Johann has been involved in the race from the beginning and was the instigator of the Stone Saddle Award, a trophy he himself made, but to date his involvement has been as a supporter.
So why then a note on Johann specifically? it is because he typifies spirit of the Freedom Rider, he has selflessly supported, promoted and has done as much as he can to encourage the development of the Freedom Trail, especially in his district of Prince Albert. Last year when Johann was facing some challenges and working outside of Prince Albert, he confided in me that he was struggling not to be in Prince Albert as the entire race passed through, as it had become a highlight for him each year. Yet he still made a point of seeing some special friends along the route, it is then no coincidence that the picture of him with a smile of a million dollars tweeted last night saw him sitting next to Steve Thomas – a Freedom Challenge stalwart and one of the people Johann literally went out of his way to see on the trail last year.
Johann’s ride this year has been steady and deliberate, I am sure there were huge nerves at the start, after all, many rookies don’t make the ride in their first attempt and he had the added pressure of so many people supporting him. So one got a sense of relief when he found a good steady group who he joined and who had a similar approach to his. Making it through Rhodes must have been as much a relief as it was an initial achievement. Then riding on through the farmers of the Stormberg, many of whom he would have heard of and who would have heard of him – these meetings would have been priceless to watch. His journey through the Baviaans and on to Prince Albert and Dennehof would have made Johann one of the few people who could have said they passed by their home – but there was no stopping him now – through Gamkaskllof, up the Ladder and on to stay with his good friends, the hosts at Rouxpos.
The final stretch to Diemersfontein saw Johann and the Wally’s slow down to tourist pace, it was clear now that they would finish and their prolonged ‘kuiering’ at various support stations spoke of a group savouring the whole experience. Stettynskloof as the monument with its right of passage to Diemersfontein was both highlight and the end of the journey for Johann - the photos of him seated enjoying his pizza showed a man with a million dollar smile and at peace with his place in the record books, but more than that, the fulfilment of the experience it is to ride the Freedom Trail.
It was significant that David Waddilove was given the honour of handing Johann his blanket – it was a fitting tribute to two men who have done much to define this story.
Well done and welcome rider no 27.
By Charl van der Spuy (Blanket Wearer, rider no.185)
Our sweepers are in Prince Albert tonight, Mike Devereux and Nic van Zyl came through from Willowmore, Nic arriving later due to his persistent mechanicals - he is considering swopping out his bike for a new one tomorrow and sitting out the 6h time penalty in Prince Albert - he should still be able to move on to Gamkaskloof in the afternoon.
Jump forward to Montagu for the next riders - John Exley and Mike Glover are there tonight and hoping to go through to Trouthaven tomorrow, which means a Friday finish for them. Good Hope plays host to John Bowen and Mike Roy tonight - but how long will they stay? If they stay the night and only leave in them morning, they make it very difficult for themselves to get to Diemersfontein before the 26 day cut off, which happens at 6am on Friday morning in their case...
Trouthaven is full again tonight, with Marnitz Nienaber, Ivor Jones, Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter there tonight, all resting up for the stroll up Stettynskloof in the morning. A large crowd gathered at Diemersfontein today to welcome in the riders, most of them being family and friends. First in today was Maarten Witters, who rode a fat bike and finished in 22d 10h35min after a bit of racing and a bit of touring. He rode with various groups and also on his own, so got to enjoy the full RASA experience.
Next up were Mike and Ingrid Talbot, who came in late afternoon. They’ve had a very consistent ride, had time to enjoy the places they were staying but also put in some big days along the way, all the while maintaining that they were on a honeymoon - their finishing time: 19d 11h 30min
Most of the crowds were gathered to see the Wallys and DWK across the line. Ian Verwayen, Alan Haupt and Paul Dalton (the 3 Wallys) and Johann Rissik (Dik Wiel Kommandant) rolled across the line after dark to massive cheers after a great ride by all of them. Tired and a bit tender after the exertions of Stettynskloof, they were given their blankets by none other than David Waddilove (the original Freedom Challenger) - he was especially glad to give Johann his blanket after all the years of supporting the event from Prince Albert. They all finished with a time of: 24d 13h 25min.
Yesterday was the busiest day yet at Diemersfontein, with riders crossing the line thick and fast (at least in Freedom Challenge terms).
The first arrival was Theo van Dyk, who came in at 3pm. After playing with the racing snakes for the last two weeks, when he, Tim and Fjord hooked up and started some big pushes through the night on very little sleep, Theo was unfortunately forced to stop due to illness just after Montagu. After leaving the trail to receive medical attention, he rejoined the following day at the point he left and continued on to the finish in Diemersfontein. His riding mates Tim and Fjord were waiting to welcome him over the finish line and there were celebrations all around. His finishing time of 15days 9hours is an impressive effort.
The next arrivals were Liehann Loots and Beat Jegerlehner, together with Andrew Hunt. In a somewhat symbolic gesture, they all stopped short of the finish line, picked up their bikes and walked across the line - a fitting end to the long day’s hike up Stettynskloof. Beat and Liehann were one of the most consistent pairs on the trail this year - they rode strongly, always sent daily messages to the race office and never really made any serious navigation errors. They rode together from the start and share a finishing time of 19days 10hours 50min.
Andrew Hunt also finished with them after tagging on in the last few days. He’s had quite a ride - ridden amongst the racing snakes, ridden in groups or on his own and was the only rider to do the Bontehoek portage twice this year. All in all a big adventure that lasted 18days 10hours 50mins.
Sitting at Trouthaven last night were another group of riders getting ready to take on the final hurdle. Johann Rissik, Ian Verwayen, Alan Haupt and Paul Dalton have been together since day one ad will be finishing together. With them is Maarten Witters riding his fat bike - he’ll have his work cut out for him to get that thing up the kloof. At least they all had a shorter day, coming through from Good Hope. The last members of the party were also the last arrivals - Mike and Ingrid Talbot, who came all the way from Montagu.
Montagu hosted quite a few riders last night, the banana boys Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter were there as well as the ex racing snakes turned tourists, Marnitz Nienaber and Ivor Jones. John Bowen arrived later with Mike Roy even later still, having been slowed by a sidewall cut.
John Exley and Mike Glover had another good day yesterday, completing the big double from Prince Albert via Gamkaskloof to Rouxpos and arriving just before dark. Next up is Anysberg and then Montagu which will be an easier day for them.
Our sweepers, Mike Devereux and Nic van Zyl both got to Willowmore. Nic is still riding single speed but when he makes it to Prince Albert, he’ll be able to pick up the spares he needs and hopefully get going again after that.
And last but not least are Stu Brew and Gary Preston, who had an epic day in Stettynskloof, only getting out the top at 10pm. They are expected in at Diemersfontein at 02h30, most of the fans and supporters have already gone home but the race office will be waiting for them.
The field of RASA riders are still strung out along the trail, some moving swiftly forward every day and others at a slightly more sedate pace. Some are under a bit of pressure to get moving after having fallen behind schedule.
At the back of the field are still Nic van Zyl and Mike Devereux. They have been plagued by bike troubles again, this time it was Nic’s bike, with a broken derailleur hanger. A spare will be waiting in Prince Albert but they are still a long way from there. In the meantime he is riding a makeshift single speed to keep going. They started from Hadley this morning and got to Cambria by late afternoon - then they pushed on to Dam se Drif and are still going…
Now nearly two days ahead of them on the trail are Mike Glover and John Exley. After another strong ride from Willowmore, they find themselves in Prince Albert tonight.
A big group left Prince Albert early this morning, headed for Rouxpos: Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan, Mike Potgieter, Marnitz Nienaber and Ivor Jones all got there before dark. Mike Roy and John Bowen should arrive around midnight tonight - that would be a big double for them but keeps them on track for a 26 day finish.
Mike and Ingrid Talbot enjoy another night with a support station to themselves, although in Montagu there could be other guests at the hotel. Another good day’s riding for them with a rare sighting of a Caracal near Anysberg as the highlight.
Good Hope finally has some riders staying over tonight - Johann Rissik, Ian Verwayen, Paul Dalton, Alan Haupt and Maarten Witters took an easy day from Montagu to get there, tomorrow they will take another easy day to Trouthaven and then rest up before Stettynskloof.
Bedding down at Trouthaven tonight is another big group - Lee Fuller, Dave Telford, Gary Preston, Liehann Loots, Beat Jegerlehner, Andrew Hunt are all there after coming through from Montagu. Stu Brew is also there after recovering from his illness and so to is Theo van Dyk, who returned to the trail after his illness. Tomorrow they all head up Stettynskloof.
Today was a glorious day at Diemersfontein with clear, sunny skies and only a light breeze - perfect weather for Stettynskloof. And today the kloof saw plenty of action. Tim James entered the aloof yesterday afternoon and was expected to finish in the early hours of this morning but by late morning had still not come out of the dark zone. Andrew Barnes got to Trouthaven yesterday evening and looked like he would stay but it turns out he was only napping there and heeded off into the aloof at 10pm. He too had not emerged by late morning. Just as a search party was being despatched to Stettynskloof to investigate, a message came through from Tim. Andrew popped up soon afterwards and the gap was only 30min. With the clock ticking, Tim missed the final left turn to the Diemersfontein gate and it looked like Andrew might be able to catch him. A quick correction saw him back on track but the gap then was less than 10 min. Then Andrew made the same mistake and missed the left turn but he ended up in some vineyards and wasted even more time getting back on track. In the meantime Tim had crossed the line for a hard fought and well deserved win - his finishing time: 13d 7h 50min. Andrew crossed the line 30min later in what is surely the closest finish yet in RASA. His finishing time: 13d 8h 10min. They shook hands afterwards and traded stories from the last two weeks of racing.
The next arrival at Diemersfontein was Fjord Jordaan, who rode in on his own after having spent most of the day in the kloof with the other riders still to arrive. He has had an amazing ride for a rookie and his finishing time of 14d 11h 40min is really impressive and earned him the 3rd spot overall.
The later arrivals were Gary Green, Ant Jankovic-Bessan and Mike Ward, who rode in together just after dark. They had ridden together for most of the second half of the race and formed a tight knit unit, working well together. As first time finishers, they were all welcomed into the clan of Blanket Wearers and were proud to receive their blankets. Gary Green finished in 18d 12h 30min. Anthony Jankovic-Bessan finished in 19d 12h 30min and Mike Ward finished in 17d 12h 30min, all three breaking the sub 20 day mark, a great effort by all of them.
Another day at Diemersfontein, another finisher and another blanket.
Jacques Tattersall came across the line just before 7pm, after a long day in the kloof - he described Stettynskloof as the hardest thing he’s ever done, so his sense of achievement was high and despite the fatigue, he was in good spirits. He’s had an amazing ride - as a strong rider with little navigation experience, he picked it up from other riders during the race, riding with different groups as he moved through the field. Yet despite this, he was bold enough to go it alone for a few days and always got to the next support station without any danger of sleeping out. As an FC rookie, his finishing time of 18d 12h 40min is impressive and receiving his blanket was a proud moment for him.
Tim James is the next rider heading for Diemersfontein and is currently making his way up a very lonely and dark Stettynskloof. Having left Trouthaven just after 2pm, he is expected to finish in the early hours of tomorrow morning.
The group waiting at Trouthaven to go through Stettynskloof tomorrow includes Andrew Barnes, Gary Green, Mike Ward, Fjord Jordaan and Ant Jankovic-Bessan. Andrew Barnes rode through from Anysberg and arrived earliest. The other four came through from Montagu and had to serve a 3 hour time penalty at Good Hope this afternoon after going off route through an out-of-bounds area after the Coeniesrivier portage - this meant a later than usual arrival. On the way to Trouthaven, Ant suffered a pivot bolt failure and is trying to make a temporary repair so he can finish with the other guys tomorrow.
Theo van Dyk woke up this morning feeling really ill due to suspected food poisoning (possibly bad biltong from a raided box he thought) but he left Good Hope in an attempt to get to Trouthaven. He made it as far as the Trappieskraal portage before phoning the race office for assistance. A lift was arranged from the Doringrivier store, so that he could see a doctor. If he is well enough to continue, he will rejoin the trail there and hopefully still finish the race.
Montagu hosts a big group of riders tonight, most arriving at different times after having all left from Rouxpos today. Liehann Loots and Beat Jegerlehner arrived with Andrew Hunt. Then came Lee Fuller, Dave Telford and Gary Preston. The late arrivals were Johann Rissik, Ian Verwayen, Alan Haupt and Paul Dalton. Stu brew is also there tonight, although he arrived yesterday - he was ill this morning and decided to stay a day to recover. He’s hoping to move on tomorrow again.
Mike and Ingrid Talbot started out late from Prince Albert today because they were aiming for an easier dat to Gamkaskloof. Somewhere along the way they changed their minds because they ended up pushing on to Rouxpos instead. This sets them up for a slightly easier ride tomorrow to Montagu.
In Prince Albert tonight are Andrew Blackburn, Nic Jordan and Mike Potgieter, who rode through from Willowmore together with Marnitz Nienaber and Ivor Jones - they all arrived by mid afternoon and spent the rest of the afternoon in the bar. John Bowen and Mike Roy also came through from Willowmore, arriving just before dark after a massive 16h day.
Mike Glover and John Exley are staying in Willowmore tonight after a successful double from Cambria via Dam se Drif. They will be keen to start pushing for the finish now too and there are some good dirt roads ahead to help them do just that.
Our sweepers, Mike Devereux and Nico van Zyl are staying at Hadley tonight. They will get an early start for the Osseberg and then hopefully push on to Dam se Drif. From there its more open road, so they too can look at putting in some longer days to make up for lost time.