After a busy night at Pony Cottage in McGregor, where extra mattresses had to be brought in to cater for all the riders present there, the hosts can breathe a sigh of relief and take tonight off because the party has moved to Trouthaven - it has also grown by three, so the late comers could be back on mattresses again tonight. Brad vd Westhuizen and Fanus Vorster were the first arrivals, followed a bit later by Hughes Clauser, Greg Perrett, Richard Cole and Gary Scoular. Later in the afternoon, Caren Henschel and Tony Wright arrived, having ridden all the way from Montagu. The last to arrive was Pierre Oosthuizen, who took his time and got there well after dark. Tomorrow the nine riders will take on Stettynskloof together, the final stage of their journey.
Leaving Gamkaskloof this morning were Gerald vd Merwe, Neville Higgs and Clint le Roux. They had a long day, arriving at Anysberg by late afternoon. Any thoughts of pushing on to Anysberg were banished at the first sniff of Ronel’s fresh waffles, so tonight they will sleep there. That means a few big days ahead to get to Trouthaven on Friday night for Gerald to go up Stettynskloof on Saturday - let’s hope there are no waffles in Anysberg tomorrow..
We are down to twelve remaining riders out on the trail and all of them moved a bit closer to the finish today. Still spread out over different support stations, they are all by now in the Western Cape, so the end is not far off.
A large group sleeps at Pony Cottage in McGregor tonight, where a few riders concertina’d together and tomorrow will jump to Trouthaven together - more importantly, this means they will have strength in numbers as they take on Stettynskloof together the following day. Brad vd Westhuizen and fauns Vorster were the first arrivals and spent most of the afternoon relaxing and resting their legs. Next were the foursome of Greg Perrett, Richard Cole, Hughes Clauser and Gary Scoular, the first three coming from Anysberg and Gary coming all the way from Rouxpos today. they have a relatively easy day ahead of them tomorrow and good weather to look forward to.
Not far behind at Montagu tonight are another three riders, Caren Henschel, Tony Wright and Pierre Oosthuizen, who rode through from Rouxpos today. From there it is possible for them to reach Trouthaven tomorrow night, although it is a long push - they could still opt for a short ‘rest’ day by going only as far as McGregor. If they push on, then they will join the other at Trouthaven and have company going up Stettynskloof on Thursday.
All the way back at Gamkaskloof is where we find our sweepers tonight, Gerald vd Merwe, Neville Higgs and Clint le Roux. They rode through from Rondawel today and will most likely aim for Anysberg tomorrow although Montagu is not out of reach if they can get going early.. They will also be keeping an eye on the weather, as there is more rain predicted towards the end of the week, something which could make for harder going in the final few days.
As things slowly start to wind down, we watch and wait for the remaining riders, ready to welcome them home at Diemersfontein, ready to give them their well deserved Blankets.
What happened to Gerrit?
After sleeping out in Stettynskloof on Saturday night, Gerrit continued on Sunday morning but again ran into difficulty with the thick bush and steep terrain in the kloof - he then pressed the SOS button on his tracking device, in the hopes that someone would come to his assistance (the riders were briefed about the use of the tracker SOS function and when to use it). He continued to move though, choosing a really steep route up the south western side in an attempt to get out of the kloof before dark. He ran into trouble when he could no longer carry his bike and hold onto the steep terrain at the same time, so he decided to leave his bike and get himself out instead. Managing to find a way out eventually, he walked to the Fisantekraal farm buildings where he arranged with the farm workers for a lift to Wellington. In the meantime, a search party had been dispatched to Stettynskloof to look for him at his last recorded position. Not finding anything, they returned after dark, to the news that Gerrit was already back at Diemersfontein.
Ordinarily, his race would have been over as soon as he pushed the SOS button but his bike was still in Stettynskloof and he was still in a capable physical condition, so he was given the option of going back to fetch it and a chance at completing the race. After being dropped off near the top of the kloof, he attempted to retrace his steps and find his bike. Heavy overnight rains had swollen the rivers and made the terrain harder to negotiate, low cloud and mist meant visibility was also limited. After a few more hours of searching, he was unable to locate the bike and was now frozen and tired, so abandoned the attempt, again pushing his SOS button but continuing to move, making his way back to the shelter of the mountain hut (where he had been dropped off earlier that morning). He was collected from the trail and has abandoned the race. His bike will be collected when the weather clears and returned to him. Hopefully he will return at some point in future and try again.
We wish him well and hope to see him back on the trail at some point in the future.
A large welcoming party was at Diemerfontein tonight to welcome in a total of seven riders for the day. The first four arrived as a group - Jacques Tattersall, Scott Rutherfoord, Werner Nienaber and Leon Erasmus all started in different batches but over the course of the event, merged into the group of four, enjoying each other's banter and company enough to continue that way until the end. Although they rolled across the line together, they end up with different finishing times due to the fact that they started on different days: Jacques - 14d12h38min / Leon - 15d12h38min / Werner - 16d12h38min / Scott - 17d12h38min. For Jacques it is Blanket number two but for the others, this is the first Finisher’s Blanket. Tired from a long, wet and cold day out in Stettynskloof, the smiles on their faces returned as soon as they stood wrapped in their warm Blankets.
The next riders to arrive were Ann Harrison, Grant Cowen and Hayden Green, who rolled across the finish line at 20h30 this evening. For Hayden its been a long solo ride since Cambria, after tyre problems there forced him to stop for a day and he lost touch with his fellow batch members. He regrouped and pressed on, playing it safe and enjoying some good weather along the way. He finished in 21d14h30min and earned his first Blanket. Ann and Grant have ridden together since the start and there was never any question about them finishing together either. Both earned their first Finisher’s Blanket in a time of 18d14h30min.
Trouthaven takes a breather tonight and tomorrow Stettynskloof will be eerily quiet once again as riders are only expected to pass through to Diemersfontein again on Wednesday.
Brad vd Westhuizen and Fanus Vorster sleep at De Bos in Montagu tonight, having ridden through from Rouxpos today. From there they will be aiming for Trouthaven tomorrow and with the weather clearing again, they can look forward to a pleasant ride through the winelands in the morning.
Hughes Clauser, Greg Perrett and Richard Cole are still all together and tonight they stay at Anysberg, having ridden through from Gamkaskloof. Hughes , the Frenchman, has been enjoying his backroads tour of South Africa in the company of his capable guides and now that they are nearing the wine making region of the Cape, maybe the roles will switch. They will be aiming for Montagu or McGregor tomorrow, with a possible Thursday finish in mind.
Pierre Oosthuizen left Prince Albert at midnight and set off for Gamkaskloof, riding the Swartberg Pass in the dark. He may have missed out on the the scenery but his early start ensured that he had enough time to keep going all the way to Rouxpos. Joining him there is Gary Scoular, who also came from Prince Albert, riding on his own for most of today. The late arrivals there tonight were Tony Wright and Caren Henschel, also coming from Prince Albert and also completing the double through Gamkaskloof. Tomorrow they can all look forward to flatter terrain and the long downhill stretch to Montagu via the Ouberg Pass.
Looking further down the trail, we need to go all the way back to Rondawel to find the intrepid sweeps Gerald vd Merwe, Neville Higgs and Clint le Roux. They were reunited there after Gerald had to scamper through the night to Willowmore in order to beat the 18-day cutoff, which he did with six hours to spare. Tomorrow its back to business as the trio reset their sights on the finish line at Diemersfontein and figure out a plan for Gerald to get there on Saturday.
The day at Diemersfontein started earlier than usual with the arrival at 03h55 of Tim Deane - his finishing time of 12d21h55min is remarkable for a trail rookie, a clear indication of his pedigree and adventure racing experience being put to good use. He was proud to receive his first Blanket and is already murmuring about the next one..
The wait for the next finisher proved to be longer than expected - after sleeping to in Stettynskloof last night, Gerrit vd Merwe got going again early this morning, intent on reaching Diemersfontein. But things don’t always go according to plan and he battled to find his way out of the valley, ending up on the steep south-western side. Nursing a leg injury and struggling to hold onto both his bike and the steep terrain at the same time, he decided to to leave his bike hooked to a tree and focus on getting himself to safety. Eventually finding his way out, he walked all the way to the Fisantekraal farmstead and got a lift in to Wellington, arriving at Diemersfontein via the front gate. He will now return to the valley tomorrow to find and fetch his bike and ride back to cross the finish line to earn his Blanket - at least tonight he will sleep in a warm bed.
Nestled at Trouthaven tonight is a large group of riders waiting to take on Stettynskloof in the morning. Hayden Green has been there since mid afternoon, having ridden through from McGregor. Ann Harrison and Grant Cowen are also there, having ridden through from Montagu. Joining them will be Jacques Tattersall, Leon Erasmus, Scott Rutherfoord and Werner Nienaber (Werner slightly delayed by more mechanicals). After a day of strong winds, the predictions are for overnight and morning rain, so they will have to knuckle down to get through the kloof tomorrow - not an easy day for them but their last day nonetheless.
Brad vd Westhuizen rode from Gamkaskloof to Rouxpos today, where he was joined later by Fanus Vorster, started in Prince Albert. The pair of them will most likely aim for Montagu or McGregor tomorrow but the weather may have the final say in their plans.
Hughes Clauser, Greg Perrett and Richard Cole rode from Prince Albert to Gamkaskloof today, a relatively easy day for them. No heroics and steady riding have seen them make good progress along the trail, giving them every chance of collecting those Blankets before the end of the week.
The ever determined Pierre Oosthuizen had a slightly shorter day today, going from Rondawel to Prince Albert - tomorrow him and his single speed will take on the mighty Swartberg Pass on the way to Gamkaskloof. He is joined tonight by Caren Henschel, Tony Wright and Gary Scoular - they rode through from WIllowmore today.
Our sweepers Gerald vd Merwe, Clint le Roux and Neville Higgs split up today after riding through the Baviaanskloof together from Cambria - Gerald was forced to push on to Wollowmore to make the cutoff there by 6am tomorrow morning, which he is comfortably on track to do. He may take a long sleep there and wait for his riding buddies to come through from Dam se Drif in the morning, then join up again and head for Rondawel, or beyond. They can’t relax too much though because now they have to reset his sights on the finish line at Diemersfontein and make sure they get there in time for the Finisher’s Dinner on Saturday - keep pedalling boys.
With seven riders coming through Stettynskloof tomorrow and one more going back to fetch his bike, it promises to be another busy day at Diemersfontein. Hopefully the predicted rain won’t spoil the party too much and the other riders can keep moving steadily forward.
Another day of Blankets at Diemersfontein today - the first arrival was in the early hours of the morning, when Tim James arrived at 01h44. A long hard slog up Stettynskloof for him, which included a bit of walkabout in the dark at the top of the kloof but he was still in good spirits at the finish and rightly so - his finishing time of 12d19h44min was his fastest to date. Following his usual plan of long riding days and short, often trailside sleeps, Tim kept pace with the frontrunners and ensured some tight racing up to the end - ensuring plenty of entertainment for the dot watching followers at home.
The next Blanket went to Liehann Loots, who came across the line at 15h45 in glorious sunshine. He put in a really solid performance, a well calculated and executed race plan which required consistent riding and allowed for good sleep and recovery - the result was Blanket number three for him and his quickest finishing time to date: 13d9h45min.
The next to arrive were Willie Esterhuizen, Chris Morris and Mike Woolnough, rolling across the finish line at 19h32. For Willie his first blanket after a tough ride which started with his mates Gerrit and Fanus (Fanus dropped off early at Rhodes / Gerrit fell behind in Stettynskloof) but he ended up finishing with Mike and Chris instead. For a first timer, he rode well and made good decisions, never really getting into any serious trouble with the navigation and picking up a few doubles later in the ride. He will be pleased with his finishing time of: 19d13h32min
For Chris, this is Blanket number three and his ride is an example of how consistent effort and good trail knowledge can combine to ensure success - with a finishing time of 19d13h32min, this is also his quickest finishing time to date. He enjoyed the hospitality along the trail immensely and took his time towards the end, making sure not to miss out on any of the good food and company along the way.
Mike Woolnough is a seasoned veteran of the Freedom Challenge and arriving at Diemersfontein tonight earned him his fourth Finisher’s Blanket. His finishing time was 13d13h32min, also his quickest time. As a racer, he was relentless, getting off to a quick start and going hard from the start. He was in the mix with the frontrunners until the last third of the race, where a chest infection forced him to slow a bit. He soldiered on though and bounced back towards the end, putting in some long efforts on the run into Stettynskloof. He also had the pleasure of doing the final stage up Stettynskloof today with his good friend Chris, a fitting way to conclude a fine effort by them both.
Looking down the rest of the trail, there are still two riders making their way to Diemersfontein tonight - Gerrit vd Merwe and Tim Deane - they are expected to arrive much later tonight.
In McGregor tonight is Hayden Green and he has Pony Cottage all to himself. He has been steadily making his way to the finish, one stage at a time - for him the only thing that will matter is finishing and getting his Blanket and he’s well on track to do that.
Staying in Montagu tonight are Grant Cowen and Ann Harrison, who rode through from Rouxpos today. They will head to Trouthaven tomorrow and to the finish the next day - hopefully just in time to beat the next cold front.
The now tight group of Jacques Tattersall, Leon Erasmus, Werner Nienaber and Scott Rutherfoord arrived in Anysberg tonight after completing the long triple stage from Prince Albert today - a good effort from them. This sets them up for another long push to Trouthaven tomorrow and a possible Monday finish for them.
Brad vd Westhuizen continued his solo ways today, riding as far as Gamkaskloof today, where he has the place to himself. Tomorrow he will take on the Ladder and head for Rouxpos and possibly beyond - the finish line is calling.
Sleeping in Prince Albert tonight are Hughes Clauser, Greg Perrett, Richard Cole and Fanus Vorster. They rode through from Willowmore today, leaving really early and arriving by early afternoon after a comfortable day’s riding. Tomorrow they head up the Swartberg Pass into Gamkaskloof and will have Rouxpos in their sights after that - the finish line is creeping closer for them too.
The stoic Pierre Oosthuizen continues making steady progress down the trail - riding solo for most of it, he's slowly but surely getting closer to realising his dream of wrapping himself in the coveted Finisher’s Blanket. Tonight he sleeps at Rondawel, so he can look forward to a second breakfast at Dennehof tomorrow morning.
Willowmore hosts Caren Henschel, Tony Wright and Gary Scoular tonight - they’ve had a big day, completing the double from Cambria today. With decent weather still expected for tomorrow, they can hopefully get across to Prince Albert before the wind switches on again.
Our sweepers Gerald vd Merwe, Clint le Roux and Neville Higgs all sleep at Kudu Kaya in Cambria tonight, having survived the long, difficult stage through the Osseberg today. Still flirting with the Willowmore cutoff, Gerald will be aiming for Willowmore tomorrow, so there’s still work to be done before they can ease off.
As the field moves steadily towards the finish line, there’s still plenty of riding to be done. With some bad weather looming, it won’t be plain sailing all the way but slow and steady progress it what’s needed now.