Spotlight on the finish line
With multiple riders getting to the finish in the last few days, lets take a look at the recent arrivals:
Kevin Meier arrived on Tuesday in a finishing time of 20d11h26min. As a novice, he rode a steady race and particularly enjoyed the navigation aspect of the challenge. Riding with Derrick Bingham for most of the way, he was disappointed when Derrick had to withdraw in Montagu but was happy to complete his own ride and earn his first FC blanket.
Francois du Toit and Dirk Botha finished with Kevin, although having started in a later batch, their elapsed time was 17d11h26min. For Francois it was his second blanket and for Dirk his first. They rode the whole way together and also shared a few days on the trail with Dirk’s brother, Floris Botha, who sadly withdrew at Hofmeyr.
Andy Wonnacott and Sean Privett arrived at the finish yesterday afternoon after an early start from Trouthaven. For both of them this ride earned them a second blanket in a finishing time of 18d7h38min.
Next to arrive were Gary Preston and Alex March in a time of 20d12h25min. This was Gary’s second blanket, in a slightly quicker tie than his first and for Alex, his first FC blanket.
Crossing the line soon after them were a group of riders: Ingrid Avidon, who earned her second blanket in a time of 17d12h36min and did so in fine style, keeping followers entertained along the way with her humorous messages and photo and video updates - all in aid of charity as she managed to raise nearly R60k for the FC Schorlarship Fund in the process.
With her were Leon Erasmus and Mike Nixon. Leon started out with his son David, who unfortunately had to withdraw at Toekomst. Leon, the oldest competitor in this year’s field (64) put in another solid effort and also improved on his previous time, crossing the line in 17d12h36min for his second blanket. Mike earned his first blanket in a finishing time of 18d12h36min.
The remaining three riders had ridden together from the start and made sure they crossed the finish line in the same fashion: Nigel Payne, his brother Adrian Payne and George Oertel completed their ride in 19d12h38min and earned themselves their first FC blankets. They rode steadily and comfortably and thoroughly enjoyed the whole adventure together.
And then it was the penultimate day
Today’s report is relatively easy to write from the perspective of trying to see who is moving where. In essence, the riders are either leaving Trouthaven for Diemersfontein or are headed to Trouthaven – hopefully, you get the picture – it's focus time for the riders. So lets chat about some of the other interesting stuff – the people finishing this journey in the next few hours. Today I will take the liberty of using their race numbers (some permanent and some prospective), this is significant because for today’s finishers as they will from here on out be known by their permanent numbers. Those resting up at Trouthaven will be very aware of not just getting their blanket, but also putting their name on that leaderboard tomorrow.
Setting out early this morning amid the odd freezing rainshower into Stettyns were riders 19 and 64, Andy Wonnacott and Shaun Privett, both finishing their second RASA today. They made short work of the valley and then took the direct line-of-sight route up and out of the valley. They clearly meant business and scooted into Diemersfontein for lunch. Shaun will be pleased to get his blanket on the lawn in front of the homestead. In 2012 he received it on the banks of the Berg River a week later – he being one of the last to do the Extreme Triathlon. Andy and Shaun are great mates and have deep reverence for what the trail offers, they both make great riding partners being knowledgeable and unflappable. Great ride, guys.
At the time of writing and just about to start the exit out of the valley to the farm Phisantekraal above the N1 was permanent number holder rider 161, being Leon Kruger. Leon had hoped to finish the ride with his son David who had to return home early. While these setbacks might seem minor, many have quit in the past when their riding partners have had to leave the trail. Leon got on with the task and by all accounts, his trail experience has been invaluable to those who have ridden with him at various times during the past few weeks.
Estelle Labuschagne, rider number 55 will be remembered for her night out on the trail. It was at a time when riders were complaining of bitterly cold nights that Estelle found herself alone and lost just short of Toekomst. She settled down and waited for the sun to come up which it did. She didn’t quit, she didn’t throw her toys. Later that morning she had thawed out and was pictured smiling next to Martin Dreyer at one of the mid-morning support stations – showing that she is made of the right stuff and should serve as an inspiration of what to do when the going gets tough. At the time of writing, Estelle was still exiting the Stettynskloof while all the men and Ingrid Avidon were well on their way to the N1. She should find the track before dark, but as we know, that should not concern her, she’ll just be in a bit later tonight.
Next up are the inseparable Adrian (252) and Nigel Payne (251) and their mate George Oertel (255). These three took a break from corporate life and immersed themselves in the trail for three weeks. By all accounts, they have been rewarded with an experience which has suggested they will be back. From the bleakness of the state of South African business, they have seen another side of the breadth of South Africa which gives us hope. They will be remembered for their politeness and manners, which in a world of riders increasingly demanding much from their race organisers is a refreshing approach and one which is consistent with the ethos of the trail where one is hosted as a guest, rather than served as a racer. Well done gents on the manner you have gone about your business.
Leading the aforementioned group out of the valley via the traditional exit is Gary Preston, rider number 211, he’s also set to finish his second RASA. Gary will be finishing alongside his fellow start group rider and mate Alex March (245). Alex has had a very solid outing for his first time on the trail, hardly putting a foot wrong. They will be joined by rider number 52, Ingrid Avidon who is also getting her second blanket. Ingrid has, with a great sense of humour, photoblogged her way down the trail, clearly also enjoying the free spirit experience.
Gary Preston was a joint recipient of the Stone Saddle award in 2015. His efforts to finish and conquer Stettyns were described by fellow blanket wearer Stu Brew as follows, “The final day of RASA requires extended qualities of resilience, tenacity and resolve. In 2015, Gary Preston displayed an awe inspiring depth and the extent to which these attributes can be held within an individual; demonstrating to the rest of us mere mortals that in fact, Stettyns is easy.” Well done Gary for another remarkable effort.
Mike Nixon (224) is one of those riders who has finished every Cape Epic stage ever! – today he finishes another of the big challenges he has taken on in life. The great thing about what he achieves today, is that it is so incomparable to anything else he has ever done. I am sure the last thing on his mind will be comparisons as today will be all about finishing an incredible three week journey where he has met so many different riding mates and different experiences on his mtb. Well done Mike.
So those are the finishers today, a big group and I have no doubt, a very big welcoming party, Diemersfontein is set to celebrate tonight.
Back to Trouthaven. Getting in early were Trevor Elliot (280), Shaun Tischendorf (246), Greg Simmons (197), Ray Sephton aka Barkley Boy (123) and Jan van de Putte. They will have booked early beds at the Trouthaven cottages. Joining them is Brad van der Westhuizen, rider number 170, who will be looking to show the rest of aforementioned, the route to their permanent numbers. My guess is that with the predicted weather being good tomorrow, this group will be headed for a lunchtime finish at Diemersfontein tomorrow. (They have had data signal all afternoon so they will be reading this, please don’t disappoint me, guys. PS. Brad the beer is cold at the end and the Cape rivers just look like beer).
Mike and Inky Talbot as riders number 196 and 195 respectively have lost their sweeper tag today as they prepare to get their second blanket tomorrow. They got into Trouthaven just after lunch with a very brisk rider through from Montagu where they had an early start. Behind them are Johnny Anderton (201) and Shane Little (223). These lads teamed up a day or two ago and appear to have agreed that the Cape winelands and the Breede River Valley are worth taking in. Tomorrow they will go about working off some of the calories they have consumed over the last two days. It wouldn’t surprise me if there is more than energy drinks in their packs for a little pre-celebration in Trouthaven tonight. Well done Johnny, you are nearly 2300km done. I remember our chat earlier this year on a casual ride and you told me all about a thing called the Freedom Challenge that you were going to do.
Bringing it home into Trouthaven by mid-afternoon were the brothers Wood, Anton rider number 135 and Adam (301) along with their riding partner Bruce McQueen (239). Like the Talbots, they too got going very early from Montagu and didn’t spend too much time and effort making their way across the Breede River Valley.
Tomorrow, the final 13 riders should all finish in Diemersfontein. What a celebration that will be.
Charl van der Spuy (Blanket Wearer)
The racing snakes have cleared the decks and our attention is now on the average rider. Although, there are riders out there who are far from average but have chosen to ride day by day and relish the experience of the race. The closing sections of the Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa invokes all manner of emotions for the participants, not to mention the lives of the dot watchers. The racing snakes crunch the numbers factoring distance and speed that allows their average speed to spike up before Stettynskloof damps it down. They are focussed on the end goal which is measured in days and hours and how they will stack up in the top 5 or 10.
Others are getting to the end of a multi-week journey that has in many cases reshaped the way they feel about riding a bike. It matters little if you finish in 10 days + Vat per Martin Dreyer or you take full advantage of the 26 days you are allowed to finish the race. Everyone who finishes gets the same reward - a blanket, a pizza, and the respect of your family and friends. I can assure you that every blanket wrapped around the shoulders of a Freedom Challenge finisher feels as special as the next. At the end of the day, the blanket is not the actual reward, it is merely a symbol of a journey travelled, of a special life experience centered around a bike.
Some people get to Prince Albert and put their heads down and push hard for Diemersfontein because they have been on the trail for weeks and long for the normalcy of their everyday lives. Others have settled into a new normal which they find refreshing and are in no hurry to shed.
Kevin Meier, Francois du Toit and Dirk Botha overnighted at Trouthaven getting on their way at 05h30 to tackle the Beast. They were at the dam wall by 06h30 to start their 7 km trek. Steady progress had them out the Kloof at 14h00. It seems the Rocky Scree is now playing off-Broadway and is no longer the show it once was. Most Kloof visitors opting to take a line that passes north of what used to be a main attraction. As interesting an experience as Stettynskloof is, I think most visitors can't wait for the final act that seems them topping out near the jeep track at the far end with a magical view of the valley below.
They arrived in Diemersfontein just before 5.30pm where Francois received his second blanket while Dirk and Kevin were stripped of their novice titles and formally inducted into the FC Blanket Clan.
Ingrid Avidon left McGregor 04h30 with Gary Preston and Alex March close behind. All three were taken in by the dead end Brandvlei quarry road but corrected quickly without significant loss of time. Alex and Gary arrived at Trouthaven at 11h20 with Ingrid forty minutes adrift. They figured it was safer to call it a day than risk tackling the Kloof in fading light. So it's a short day on the bike (nearly 8 hours - short day in FC speak) with plenty of time to think about what faces them tomorrow. Gary and Ingrid have memories to draw on while Alex will probably get to hear the odd tale or two while they wait.
Andy Wonnacott, Sean Privett and Estelle Labuschagne opted for a later start, heading out at 07h00. They had a clean run into Trouthaven arriving early afternoon adding to the numbers that swelled over the course of the day.
Leon Kruger and Mike Nixon got an early start out of Montagu and were through Ashton around 05h00. At 05h30 they were passing Van Loveren Wine Estate. In spite of a claim by one wine lover that everyone stops there, they didn't; besides, the bistro only opens at 10h00. They pushed on, crossing the Breede river over the steel bridge arriving at McGregor at 07h45. A quick turn around had them back on the road toward Trouthaven. They arrived late afternoon where they will overnight before the final bushwack in the morning.
George Oertel, Nigel and Adrian Payne got away from Montagu at 06h40. By 10h35 they had taken care of business at Pony Cottage in McGregor and headed to Trouthaven arriving at 17h00.
Shane Little and Johnny Anderton opted for leisurely start from Montagu heading out at 08h00 indicating their intention of going "all the way to McGregor", a mere 3-hour ride away if you don't get distracted along the way. They were distracted and timed their arrival at the Van Loveren Bistro perfectly and settled into some good coffee. They rolled into McGregor at noon announcing that they had arrived at Beer o'clock.
On reaching Anysberg, Greg Simmons and Trevor Elliot faced the choice of sharing a double bed or riding on. They left Anysberg at 21h30 and pushed through the night getting to Montagu just before 4am. They stopped to freshen up and catch some Zzz's, presumably in separate beds, and were out the door just after 10h00. An hour later their tracker dots came to a halt outside the seductive bistro. On the road to McGregor they zagged where they should have zigged and took the wrong road to McGregor arriving there at 14h00.
Ray Sephton, Jan van de Putte, Shaun Tischendorf and Brad van der Westhuizen got underway just after 06h00 and made good time arriving in Montagu at 10h30. Less than an hour later they had saddled up and pointed their steeds toward McGregor with nary a glance at the tempting Bistro as they passed. They arrived at Pony Cottage in time for afternoon tea. They called it a day and make up the party of 8 who are calling McGregor home tonight.
Michael and Ingrid Talbot, brothers Adam and Anton Wood and Bruce McQueen left Rouxpos 05h00. The ABA trio surged ahead with Minky rolling up the race trail behind them. It must be stressed that rumours of ABA having a morning habit of singing a tuneless version of Dancing McQueen are thus far unsubstantiated. Besides, what happens on the trail...
With their departure from Rouxpos, Ronel and Gerrit Roux have a stack of empty ice cream tubs and a well-used waffle machine. Rouxpos is known for its waffles and ice cream as much as Damsedrif is known for its Death by Chocolate pudding.
ABA and Minky made short work of the section to Anysberg and were there at 09h15. Just after 10h00 they continued their charge to Montagu. Mike And Ingrid had the bit between their teeth and arrived in Montagu a good thirty minutes ahead of the alleged minstrels. They will rest up tonight and probably head to Trouthaven tomorrow.
The season of dot watching is slowly drawing to a close.
Mike Woolnough (Blanket Wearer)
Happy Birthday Meryl
“Hi Meryl. In Allendale at 16h00. Broken. Staying”. For most riders on the Freedom Trail, this may be the first of the many mandatory update messages they send to Meryl along their journey.
It’s Meryl’s birthday today and she got more tweets than the riders, which says something about Meryl and justifies a bit of a tribute. For those who do not know Meryl, she is the heart of the Freedom Challenge, Ms Race Office and an angel for all the riders. Nothing is ever too much for her no matter what the time of day and she makes every rider feel like he or she is the only one out there. She has coached fallen warriors back onto their feet and has witnessed her share of trials and tribulations over the years. Meryl owns a bit of every blanket, whip, windmill and gate earned on the Freedom Trail.
Happy birthday Meryl. All the riders wish you many more years as our “Trail Angel”.
The Battle of Stetteynskloof
“The Kloof” hosted no fewer than seven visitors today, all leaving from Trouthaven in the early hours. Six of them headed up the normal route while Marnitz Nienaber attempted the lesser used route up the high left ridge, providing a nice benchmark for others to use in future. He took a bit longer but will be sure to share his views on his blog in coming days.
All seven arrived at Diemersfontein during the afternoon to earn their well-deserved finisher’s blankets. Tim James in 13 days (7th blanket), Marnitz Nienaber in 14 days (7th blanket) and his best ever finish time, Mike Potgieter in 14 days (2nd blanket). Gavin Robinson (2nd), Bugs Du Toit (2nd) and Andrew Ryan (1st) all finished in 18 days with Gerard Dreyer (1st) in 20 days. The pizza and wine will be finished tonight long before the trail stories run out.
At Trouthaven the next batch of challengers are lined up tonight for their final battle and finish tomorrow. Kevin Meier, Francois du Toit and Dirk Botha left Montagu this morning for the 150km ride to Trouthaven and sadly had to say goodbye to Derrick Bingham who had to withdraw due an injured Achilles. Derrick messaged “Will be back next year to collect my blanket”. There will be a few nerves tonight but they have worked hard to get to this point and nothing will stop their advance to Diemersfontein tomorrow.
Alex March and Gary Preston of Batch 3 left Anysberg heading for McGregor today and after getting stuck n Montagu for a bit, made their way through to Pony Cottage this afternoon. They were joined later by Sean Privett, Andy Wonnacott and Estelle Labuschagne who also rode through from Anysberg today. En route early evening to join them is Ingrid Avidon who left Rouxpos this morning and caused her supporters’ a few anxious moments when she missed a left turn and headed off towards Laingsburg. Given the sense of humour she has shown over the past two weeks it would not come as a surprise if she did this on purpose. The McGregor crowd have a comfortable 108km ride left to Trouthaven tomorrow to position for a Wednesday finish.
Shane Little is making the most of his adventure and while many others are driving for home, he is taking life on the trail one day at a time enjoying the sights, scenes and hospitality along the way. Shane is at Montagu tonight together with brothers Nigel and Adrian Payne and team member George Oertel who have ridden a very consistent and comfortable schedule on their appreciation tour. Johnny Anderton of Batch 2 rode from Anysberg this morning and is resting up for his final push. He may well be tempted to join Shane and slow tour their way to Diemersfontein. Also there tonight are Leon Kruger and Mike Nixon who left Anysberg this morning after splitting from Ingrid who has chosen to enjoy some solitude over the final three days of her adventure.
Ray Sephton, Jan van der Putte, Shaun Tischendorf, Brad van der Westhuizen, Trevor Elliot and Greg Simmons left Gamkaskloof this morning for Anysberg and after climbing up Die Leer, enjoyed some waffles at Rouxpos before the six of them hunkered down at Anysberg. They are unlikely to do the 231km to Trouthaven in one go tomorrow, so will probably head for McGregor (123km) and do the stretch to Trouthaven (108km) on Wednesday, setting up for a Thursday finish.
Brothers Anton and Adam Wood, fellow farmer Bruce McQueen and the Talbot family have for several days now kept a solid rear guard to the 2017 event, closing one support station after the other along their way. They left Prince Albert this morning, dropped into Gamkaskloof, cleared Die Leer and have settled into Rouxpos tonight.
Some rainy weather is forecast for the next day or so but hopefully, it won’t affect the riders too much as they head for home. Diemersfontein is waiting.
Carl Scholtz (Statistician, Windmill, Whip and Gate Owner)
The Podium is Complete - maybe..
The podium club are in, all with spectacular times. However, the race is far from over. The remaining 36 riders, whether 1 checkpoint or 10 away, are by no means guaranteed their blankets and pizzas. Martin Dreyer has already shown us that, notwithstanding the rough tracks cut into Stettyns, she remains as deadly as ever, waiting in the background to trip up the tired adventurers mere kilometres from the line.
Today Fjord Jordaan disappeared into her bosom alone, having parted from his riding partner Mike Potgieter some days ago. Perhaps learning from Martin’s ordeal, Fjord opted to stay over the night in Trouthaven and enter the ‘heart of darkness’ with at least a little daylight to guide him. It was nevertheless a long day in the Kloof for Fjord who made it into Diemersfontein with a total time of 13 Days 11hrs and 17 min. A fantastic time and for a worthy blanket wearer.
In stark contrast to Fjord’s solo expedition, tomorrow Stettyn’s is going to be swarming with brave combatants raring to get home. At the time of writing, Gavin Robinson, Bugs Du Toit, Gerard Dreyer, Tim James, Mike Potgieter and Andrew Ryan are all on the final approaches between Brandvlei Dam and Trouthaven. Not far behind and chasing Tim as he has been for much of the last 1000km is Marnitz Nienaber.
Tim is in tie 4th with Fjord having started a day later than him. It is anyone’s guess as to whether Tim will push through Stettyns tonight as he has before, or rest up a bit before tackling it in the wee hours of tomorrow. If he wants to stick his neck out in front of Fjord he will have to finish before 5.17pm tomorrow.
In 6th and 7th are Marnitz and Mike Potgieter. Mike left from Montagu this morning, having opted to take the conservative approach rather than risk Stettyns in the dark by pushing through to McGregor last night. It is more than likely then that he will wait until daybreak to tackle the Kloof. Marnitz on the other hand, has tested his metal against Stettyns 6 times and given his penchant for night time activities, he may move to get a headstart by entering the Stettyns earlier than Mike.
Gerhard of batch 2, and Bugs, Gavin, and Andrew of batch 4 had a long day yesterday, opting to push on into the night to reach Montague. They were woken by the sound of Tim passing and joined him in leaving for Trouthaven. Provided there are no dramatics tomorrow (never a guarantee), Gerhard will finish in 20 days, and Andrew, Gavin, and Bugs will cross the line in 18 days.
Good luck to all our brave warriors. Tomorrow you face down the final hurdle. May the path be wide, the Proteas few, and the sun bright!
The next group on the trail are batch 2’s Kevin Meier and Derrick Bingham. They have ridden doubles for the last couple days and it seems likely they will sleep at Montagu and continue the trend of doubles tomorrow. Also joining them there tonight are Francois du Toit and Dirk Botha.
The frigid Anysberg will be called home to a family of 7 tonight; Shane Little, the last survivor of batch 1, Estelle Labuschagne and Johnny Anderton of batch 2, Alex March and Gary Preston of batch 3, and Sean Privett, Andy Wonnacott and of batch 5. This is truly a mixed batch of riders with many stories between them. Shane, Alex, Gary, Sean and Andy doubled up from Gamkaskloof, stopping only briefly to enjoy the delights of the Rouxpos waffles. Meanwhile, up the trail in front of them, midnight antics abounded. Francois, Dirk and Estelle made the surprising and brave decision to leave Gamkaskloof and tackle Die Leer in the fading light yesterday. For Francois ad Dirk, this meant an early Rouxpos waffle breakfast at 1am. Estelle ran out of steam along the way and took refuge at Besemfontein farm, a short distance before Rouxpos.
The large party that enjoyed the famed hospitality at Prince Albert last night, split up during the course of today. Trevor Elliot, Shaun Tischendorf, Brad van der Westhuizen, Greg Simmons, Ray Sephton and Jan van der Putte of batch 3, who have ridden much of the race together, made the group decision not to double up and will be delighting in the old world accommodation provided in the delightfully named ‘Die Hel’. Nearing the inviting lights of Rouxpos are Mike Nixon of batch 5, the Payne (Nigel & Adrian) brothers and George Oertel of batch 4, and Leon Kruger and Ingrid Avidon of batch 6. Ingrid continues to share the ladies lead with the other Ingrid (Talbot) who started a day later. Whilst the win is unlikely to be at the front of their minds, it is a thought worth thinking about over the next couple days.
The motley crew of trail sweepers consisting of the Wood brothers (Adam and Anton), the Talbots, and Bruce McQueen are all safely in at Dennehof tonight, having safely traversed the barren and windswept lands leading from Willowmore. More than likely they will make for Rouxpos tomorrow but only time will tell.
As daylight evaporates and the night closes in, another day of delights on the trail comes to a close. Of course, out there, the clock never stops ticking and avid friends and family will be keeping one eye on the dots tonight to see if any movements are made. The call of home will be ringing strong now and the urge to double or even triple up will pull at every single rider. However, with Stettyns looming large and in charge in the minds of all of the remaining competitors, strategy becomes ever more important. One false step and your race can still end, so close to home.
Bruce Hughes (Blanket Wearer)