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Race Report : 19 June 2018

With all the riders now strung out across the trail, the field is spread between support station 8 at Kranskop and support station 2 at Ntsikeni. Out front are still the Batch 1 riders Graham and Sarah, they are now entering the Stormberg region of the trail and staying at Kranskop tonight. 

 

Behind them are the small group from Batch 2, Phillip, Cassandra and Andrew, all sleeping at Slaapkranz tonight after the long ride through from Rhodes. This mountainous stretch of mostly district road riding climbs many mountains but the deep valleys in-between at least offered some welcomed shelter from the relentless wind that blew today. 

 

The group that felt the full force of those winds was the one going over Lehana’s Pass today - made up of RTR riders Trevor, David, Rob, Arno and Eddie together with RASA riders Chris, Mark, Sarah and Mandy, they had to fight for every inch of height gained on the already tough portage as the wind swirled around the high peaks and buffeted them from all directions. For Arno and Eddie, the ordeal began last night when they left from Vuvu but they were forced to hunker down near the top and wait for daylight to find the way over the top of the pass - a cold and sobering experience for the racers aiming for a sub 72 hour finish. Their impressive riding since the start still gave them a sub 80 hour finish despite the bad luck with the weather this time. The rest of the riders took all stopped in at Tenahead Lodge for a hot cup of coffee and a brief escape form the trying conditions before continuing on to the finish in Rhodes.

 

Waiting at Vuvu tonight and no doubt keeping a beady eye on the weather forecast are Batch 4 riders Bruce, Grant, Lance, Graham, Matt, Estelle, Nick and Phillip. Also there is Batch 3 rider Wickus and joining them later tonight will be the two Batch 6 riders Andrew and Rowan. Although the wind blew for them too, they were traversing lower altitudes so it was less severe and at times during the day they even had tailwinds. They made good time and reached Vuvu by mid afternoon. Andrew and Rowan started from Masakala today, so they had used up all their daylight by the time they reached Tinana, but they were confident to continue on into the Vuvu valley in the dark..

 

Tinana Mission is hosting its first riders tonight - Nigel, Sean and Mark from Batch 5 are staying there after riding through from Masakala today - this sets them up nicely for a possible jump through to Rhodes tomorrow to get a day ahead of the intended schedule. 

 

Tinana will also see Batch 7 racer Jacques tonight - this is the end of his second day on the trail and despite encountering gusty winds near Queen’s Mercy and on Mpharane Ridge he is determined to keep the momentum going, so will likely continue to Vuvu after a brief stop in Tinana.

 

Not too far behind and still chasing hard is fellow Batch 7 racer Mike - his day started at Glen Edward and he will likely opt to sleep for a bit at Malekgolonyane before heading out to Tinana in the early morning hours with a goal of reaching Rhodes sometime tomorrow night. 

 

Also at Malekgolonyane tonight but having taken the full four days to get there, are the riders of Batch 5: Tim, Didi, Simon, Carl, Russell and Paul. For them today was more of a rest day and they were glad to take shelter from the wind in the afternoon. Tomorrow should bring flamer weather, so they can look forward to a spectacular day in the mountains as they make their way to Vuvu.

 

At Masakala tonight are Kobus, Pierre and Leonard, the Namibian riders who started in Batch 6. They have done well so far with steady navigation and solid riding every day tomorrow’s shorter day could serve as a sweet little reward or the opportunity to possibly start pushing a bit and aiming for Tinana. The weather will probably play the biggest part in the eventual decision though. Also at Masakala tonight are Batch 7 racers Scott and Gary, who have ridden through from Centocow today and are making swift progress down the trail so far. They will most likely be aiming for at least Tinana tomorrow but good weather might prompt them to go even further.

 

Succumbing to Charles and Sheila’s renowned hospitality tonight are Charl and Ingrid from Batch 7, who also rode through from Centocow today. They arrived there fairly early but decided not to move on and rather to rest up and leave early, so tomorrow will be another big day out on the trail for them. 

 

Bringing up the rear tonight is Batch 7 racer Tim, who is still struggling with nausea and battling to keep any food down - although he arrived at Ntsikeni by late morning, he could not carry on and has been resting there today in the hopes of recovering. Hopefully the good food and warm company of Mr Ngcobo will cheer him up and give him the strength to continue again tomorrow. 

 

 

                 

 

 

Race Report : 18 June 2018

Another day of clear skies and warm sunshine out on the trail. With most of Batch 1 finishing yesterday, it was only Graham and Sarah who had to get back on their bikes and hit the trail from Rhodes this morning. A fairly straightforward day awaited them to Slaapkranz, as the district roads started to open up, allowing average speeds to increase slightly. After the customary lazy lunch stop at Chesneywold, the arrived at Slaapkranz comfortably before dark. 

 

Batch 2 had to work a bit harder to get over Lehana’s Pass as the wind had picked up by mid morning and became strong and gusty, forcing the riders to hold onto their bikes or have them blown away. The large group of Mark, Tony, Andrew, Greg, Marius and Johann, together with their RASA companions - Phillip, Cassandra and Andrew W. were also joined by Leon Kruger as they made they their way carefully over the mountains. They made good time despite the conditions and stopped in at Tenahead for shelter and coffee, then pressed on to the finish, all arriving in Rhodes by mid afternoon.

 

The next riders expected in Rhodes should be Arno and Eddie, the determined RTR racers of Batch 5. They managed to keep the momentum going today, taking only short stops at Masakala, Malekgolonyane and Vuvu and now they are heading up Lehana’s in the dark, hoping that the wind would have died down. They are still on course for a sub 70 hour finish in Rhodes.

 

Batch 3 consisting of Chris, Mark, Sarah, Mandy, David and Robert left Malekgolonyane before dawn heading to Vuvu. The group stuck together despite a few navigation errors before sunrise but found their groove later and enjoyed a really beautiful day along the ridges of Black Fountain. The early departure paid dividends as they arrived in Vuvu with plenty of daylight to spare. They were joined soon after by Trevor, who had started in Batch 4 but jumped ahead a day. Tomorrow they will all be heading over Lehana’s, let’s hope the wind is kinder to them. 

 

Malekgolonyane is once again busy tonight - from Batch 3 there is Wikus and from Batch 4 we have Estelle, Nick, Phillip, Matt, Graham, Grant, Bruce and Lance. Having enjoyed their first slightly shorter day on the trail and  had some time to rest and recover in the afternoon, they should be ready for the longer day again to Vuvu.

 

At Masakala tonight, the kitchen is busy churning out hearty food for all the hungry riders. From Batch 5 we have Tim, Didi, Simon, Nigel, Sean, Mark, Carl, Russell and Paul who rode through from Ntsikeni today. Most arrived well before sunset after another good day out on the trail. They are also joined tonight by Andrew and Rowan from Batch 6, who had another solid day out, riding all the way from Centocow. 

 

After a busy night last night, Mr. Ngobo at Ntsikeni has a slightly easier task tonight - he hosts only three riders - Kobus, Pierre and Leonard of Batch 6. They don’t quite have the place to themselves though, as the racers of Batch 7 on the move..

 

Batch 7 left Pietermaritzburg at speed this morning: Jacques, Mike, Tim, Scott, Gary, Charl and Ingrid were all through the Umko valley before 1 o’ clock. Next, they ticked off Allendale, with only Tim opting to stay and rest. He was feeling ill and vomiting, so had a swim and then went to sleep with plans to leave later in the night. The rest pressed on, with Jacques and Mike reaching Centocow by late afternoon. A quick pitstop and they each continued to Ntsikeni, with about an hour gap between them by that stage. Gary and Scott had a relatively smooth ride to Centocow but Charl and Ingrid took a few wrong turns and lost some time navigating the tricky forest section in the dark. The four of them all sleep at Centocow tonight. Mike, Jacques and Tim continue to ride into the night, aiming to get as many trail miles behind them in the first 24 hours of their ride - how far they get will be the topic of discussion for dot watchers over their morning cup of coffee.

 

 

                

 

Race Report : 17 June 2018

Today saw the arrival of the first riders in Rhodes, with most of Batch 1 reaching their final destination. The first arrivals were Nigel and Kevin, followed a while later by Roger, Dominic and Keith. For all except Nigel, this was their maiden voyage down the trail, so although fatigued, they were in high spirits when they crossed the finish line. Later in the afternoon, Graham and Sarah arrived, after a more relaxed trip through from Vuvu.

 

Behind them were the Batch 2 heading to Vuvu: the RTR riders - Mark, Tony, Andrew, Greg, Marius and Johann, together with their RASA companions - Phillip, Cassandra and Andrew W. have ridden together since day 1 and continued that way again today. Conditions out on the route were really good and they enjoyed clear skies, sunshine and great mountain views today. They were joined a bit later by Leon Kruger, who also rode through from Malekgolonyane - he had a bit of fun coming into Tinana via the ‘tiger line’ - something he hadn’t tried before but pulled it off with out any problems. 

 

Batch 3 rode from Masakala to Malekgolonyane today, enjoying the crisp, clear conditions across the Queen’s Mercy floodplains. The group of Chris, Mark, Sarah and Mandy have ridden well together while still taking the time to stop for photos along the way. Trailing them by a few hours were the rookies David and Robert, they’ve been going along steadily and are having a really good first ride. All of them arrived with enough time to go back out and pre-ride a section of tomorrow’s route known as ‘riding the loop’ - solving the tricky navigation in daylight rather than possibly getting stuck in the pre-dawn darkness tomorrow. Joining this group tonight was Trevor (Batch 4), who started his day at Glen Edward today. He rode with Angela to Masakala before carrying on to Malekgolonyane - managing to get down off the tricky Mparane ridge just before sunset - another good day out on the trail for him.

 

Masakala is a busy place tonight, with riders from various batches meeting up at the support station - this often happens when faster riders jump ahead or slower and struggling riders fall back on their riding schedules. Angela stopped there today to rest up her injured knee - she is making good progress after struggling for the last few days and is in good spirits for the next section tomorrow. Also there tonight is Wikus, who rode through from Ntsikeni - a solid day’s riding for him after taking it easy on the first two days. The other guests are from Batch 4: Grant, Lance, Bruce, Matt, Graham, Estelle, Phillip and Nick, all of whom had ridden through from Ntsikeni without major incident. Also among them were Clive and Riaan but hey have both withdrawn due to injury and will be making their way to Rhodes by vehicle tomorrow. Not to be forgotten are Arno and Eddie, the two RTR racers from Batch 5 - they arrived by mid afternoon after a virtually non-stop ride from the start in Pietermaritzburg. Their plan was to sleep for a few hours before continuing into the night, with a final push to Rhodes, which they are hoping to reach in around 60 hours.

 

At Glen Edward tonight is Colin, who started with Arno and Eddie yesterday but pulled up the handbrake at Ntsikeni as he was feeling ill. He had a slow day to Glen Edward and will most likely ride through to Masakala tomorrow where he plans to withdraw. 

 

Ntsikeni is also busy tonight, with the all of the Batch 5 RASA riders staying there, as well as Simon (RTR) - they all made steady progress today and were in by dark but after two long days on the trail with a lot of climbing, will be looking forward to the slightly easier day to Masakala tomorrow. 

 

Batch 6 left the City Hall today and made rapid progress through the morning: Andrew and Rowan had crossed the Umko river by midday and after a quick stop at Allendale, continued on to Centocow, arriving in time for supper. Kobus, Leonard and Pierre were a bit more sedate and arrived at Allendale by mid afternoon, where they are staying tonight.

 

Back in Pietermaritzburg, the final race briefing for Batch 7 has been done and the racing snakes are ready to hit the trail - this batch between them hold 19 finisher’s blankets,  compare that to the total of 15 finisher’s blankets for all the other batches together and it becomes clear that there is a wealth of experience about to be unleashed on the trail tomorrow - let the games begin!

 

 

                          

 

                    

Race Report : 16 June 2018

Today was a relatively hassle free day on the trail for most. Riders kept (mostly) on track, the weather was peachy and most people got to where they were headed in daylight. 

A massive batch of 12 headed out of PMB in warmer than usual conditions this morning. This included the last of the 2018 RTR riders. Arno Crous, Eddie Stafford and Colin Ogilvie are really RACING to Rhodes… seeing just how little they can sleep along the way. They flew through Umko late morning, Allendale at 14h30 and stopped for 18h30 supper at Centocow. They are planning to push through to Ntsekeni and maybe even Glen Edward before getting any shut-eye. Brave souls!

The fourth RTR rider is Simon Francis. At 70, he is the oldest rider in this year’s race. He is joined by his daughter Didi and her husband; Tim Deane. The three plan to ride together to Rhodes then Tim and Didi will continue to Wellington. The Deanes have also just completed the 550km Expedition Africa Adventure Race so their legs will be a bit heavier than normal. 

Russell Boltman, Carl Combrink, Mark Bowman, Nigel Payne, Paul Marais and Sean Shaw also all started their rides to Diemersfontein today. Most of them will be looking to finish in around 20-22 days. 

Yesterday’s starters all had a good day from Allendale to Ntsekeni, arriving late afternoon. Trevor left Centocow at 3am, had breakfast at Ntsekeni and continued on to Glen Edward but his legs were feeling the two big days of riding so he is resting up at G.E together with Angela.

The batch ahead had a trouble free day to Masakala, enjoying some cold cokes along the way. Also pretty smooth sailing to Malekgolonyane today. Most people decided to ride the loop after arriving in the early afternoon but they still had a tiny hick-up in the wattles near Mariazelle School (where the Scholorship Fund kids attend) … even in daylight. Justin and Andrea are in Tinana this evening where, unfortunately, their ride will end. Andrea’s knee is too sore for the portages to Rhodes. 

More wind for the front batch today, they are feeling a little ‘hard-done-by’ as they are the only ones really affected by the dregs of the front. Good news is that the Vuvu valley is relatively passable. They all made good time to arrive in the light. There was a sprinkling of snow at Tiffendale last night so lets hope, for their sake, the warmer, calmer weather arrives for their hike up Lehanas Pass tomorrow.

 

           

 

 

Race Report : 15 June 2018

Today was the largest start group of 2018 with 11 riders setting forth from PMB, 6 RASA and 5 RTR. Almost all of them have had some experience on the trail but it is easy to forget just how demanding a day on the freedom trail can be, and today would have been a sharp reminder.  Clive Leader, Nick Taschner, Phillip Fullaway, Riaan Landman and Trevor Maarschalk started their Race to Rhodes bids. Weather was good and they all made steady progress throughout the day. There was quite a bit of pre-race banter about pushing past Allendale but it seems Trevor is the only one to have followed through on this ambitious plan. He left Allendale at 4pm to take on the (now) infamous Centocow forests in the dark and should arrive at the mission around 10pm if all goes to plan. He will join Wikus, who took a shorter day from Allendale.

Today’s starting RASA contenders include: Lance Rorich, Bruce Koller (AKA Piston Percy), Estelle Labuschagne, Grant Hill and father-and-son-combo; Graham and Matt Denny. Today also saw the first Umko river crossings. Grant, Bruce and Trevor seemed to make easy work of the crossing, albeit with wet feet up the Hella Hella climb. Most of batch 4 trickled into Allendale throughout the late afternoon with Estelle riding into the dark but (with her 3 blankets and ‘hard as nails’ reputation) nobody was too concerned about her doing a bit of night time solo riding. 

Leon Kruger set his sights on a big second day with a 1am departure from Allendale. He passed through Centocow at 7h30, Ntsekeni at 14h30 and should reach Glen Edward around 8pm for a great day’s riding. The rest of batch 3 left Allendale at 6am and had a relatively straightforward day to Ntsekeni, all arriving in daylight hours. They caught up to Angela who, after a few more wrong turns today, might enjoy a bit of company tomorrow. The rest of batch two had a smooth day from Ntsekeni to Masakala and are probably enjoying some well-deserved Black Labels right now. 

Apparently things started to get a bit windy for the trail-breakers with the cold front rolling in. There were a few reports of endless headwinds en route to Malekgolonyane, which turned a usually easier day into a battle of its own. Roger Nicholson added to his battles by cracking his frame. Luckily it is a steel frame bike and he was able to catch a taxi back to Matatiele to get it welded before returning to the trail to continue on and still make it to Malekgolonyane comfortably. Unfortunately Justin and Andrea are struggling with ITB so plan to do a short day to Tinana tomorrow then hitch a ride to Rhodes. 

                    

Another big batch starting tomorrow including some RASA faithfuls and the RTR racing snakes… should make for some fun dot watching. 

 

 
 

Race Report : 14 June 2018

A chilly morning on the trail today with sunrise temperatures just above zero along these early stages of the trail. The third batch of eight riders started today, smongst them Chris Morris and Leon Kruger, who collectively already have five blankets to their names. Mandy Joyce, Mark Basel, Sarah van Eerden, and Wikus Van der walt also started on their 2018 RASA adventures. 

David McKercher has persuaded his friend Robert Lathem to come out from the UK and they are riding to rhodes together.

The first batch had a pretty straightforward day but had to do a lot of their own navigating as Chris and Leon were out in front. Leon had toyed with the idea of pushing through Allendale but decided to stay after arriving just before 4pm. Chris arrived shortly afterwards, Robert and David made it in the around 5pm and Mark 5h20pm. The others had a bit of dark to contend with but all in safely by 7pm. 

Batch 2 kept it pretty tight and tidy today. They all left at 6am, except for Angela, who opted for a little extra rest and shorter ride to Centecow. The group rode consistently well on this tough day and all arrived at Ntsekeni in daylight. Tony and Mark arrived at 16:40. Andrew and Greg arrived at 16:50. Marius, Johann, Philip, Cassandra and Andrew arrived at 17:00. Angela left Allendale mid-morning and had a trying solo day through the forests en route to Centecow. The navigation on this section is tricky as walls of trees often surround you, making it difficult to orientate yourself in your surroundings. There were many dot watchers very concerned for Angela as she made a few wrong turns. Some people even phoning her to try and assist but the reality is that it looks very different on a screen compared to on the ground. Eventually she just put her phone on silent, put her head down and she got herself there safe and sound with great determination.

The front batch had one little wobble through the wattles, where the roads change from year to year but they were all in Masakala by 7pm. Graham and Sarah at 17h30 and Kevin and Nigel at 4pm. At one point it seemed like the “LoveBirds” might be separated but that was just a glitch with Sarah’s tracker.

Batch 4 is a big one. All 11 are in PMB and there are even a few novices talking about pushing through Allendale tomorrow so that should make for some interesting dot watching.

 

             

 

 
 

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2018 Freedom Challenger Blogs

Mike Woolnough - Adventures of an Ordinary Cyclist

Carl Scholtz - Making Trackz

Clint le Roux - Afrivence

Bruce Hughes - East of Adventure

Phillip Fullaway - Race to Rhodes 2017 – My personal account

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