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2021 RASA | RTP Race Report #20 | Mike Woolnough

It’s just a blanket | Friday 16th July 19h00

Richard Cole and Greg Perrett have just arrived in Diemersfontein. Each of them will just have been wrapped in their second blanket.

We’ve seen lots of blankets dished over the last few days with another dozen pending.

Over the years I’ve been asked many times what the prize money is for the Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa. When I reply the typical response is “Just a blanket?”

Just a blanket. Tell that to Gavin Horton who in pursuit of just a blanket chose to take on Mordor at night knowing full well that he could end up spending the night in its freezing embrace. His blanket the prize worthy of the risk that turned into his reality.

What about Axel who spent a week chasing down Fjord and with a 30 minute lead on the last day he found himself thrashing around in dense vegetation. In a last throw of the dice he spent 5 hours scaling up the the near vertical face of a mountain. That decision ultimately cost him the win leaving him the second place finisher but not before he found himself floundering around looking for an illusive jeep track in the dark. After wandering around aimlessly for hours and falling into a river he was persuaded that he’d have to spend the night wrapped in a flimsy foil blanket. After an uncomfortable night out he rode to the finish. Tell Axel it’s just a blanket.

Tell Gary Scoular that he’s suffered through a tooth abyss and torn muscles for just a blanket that he can pick up in a craft shop in Underberg.

Tell that to Tracey Lentin who doesn’t have one. Tracey put herself through the wringer day after day with the goal of having a blanket to call her own. It’s not just a blanket to her. It’s a dream and a goal harboured for years.

The efforts of these and many others should be enough to disabuse anyone of the notion that it’s just a blanket. Those simple Basotho blankets are rich in meaning. The stories twisted into the threads and moments that are woven into the intricate designs of each persons journey to the moment of having their blanket placed over their shoulders is unique. When they look at that blanket, they see that journey, they relived those moments.

As I said earlier Richard Cole and Greg Perrett have just finished. Both having previously earned their first blankets in 2016.

Anthony Avidon in his quest to go Sub-3 on RTP has pushed hard and is currently on the jeep track after successfully scrambling out of Stettynskloof at last light. He should be arriving at the finish by 10pm tonight.

Anthony was joined on the first day by Peter Roux who had to withdraw after eye problems. In Peters words, “Hi Mike. My bad luck with Freedom events continues. 30km outside Willowmore I started losing vision in my left, eventually ending up with 20% looking through a dirty window. I rode the whole way to Gamkas with one eye. Anthony convinced me join him to Rouxpos which also turned out a disaster. We spent 5 hours crashing around the steep slopes before finding our way. Got into Rouxpos and had a sleep which got the eye to recover slightly. After speaking to specialist I decided to call it. Fortunately no permanent damage.

Going down Die Hell with one eye at night was interesting.”

Peter is fine and is already planning his return to the trail. I sense he has his sights set on just a Blanket.

Merak and Oliver Greaves along with Greg Fisher are in Trouthaven tonight along with the RTP duo of Sally and Josh Hayman. They’ll be eagerly anticipating their trip through Stettynskloof tomorrow. News of Axels adventure a few days earlier have percolated through the field which means the balance of the field should be looking to go, as Charl put it, “Straight down the middle”.

Carlo Gonzaga and Casper Venter who were both looking at a 15 to 16 day adventure have found a more leisurely adventure to their liking. Tonight in McGregor they must decide is they want to head out early and take a chance on Stettynskloof late in the day like Anthony has done or stroll through to Trouthaven tomorrow to seal a 17.5 day finish for themselves. I imagine by the second beer 17.5 looked like a mighty fine number.

Gary Scoular arrived for lunch in Rouxpos and judging from his tracker he has decided to add dinner, bed and breakfast to his stay. As mentioned earlier he is nursing injuries. Here’s hoping he is using this time to rest up and it doesn’t signal an exit from the race. Scott Danoher and Martin joined him for dinner and hopefully they’ve keep a place setting for Jan van de Putte who will be along shortly. These gents are playing a calculated conservative game with no clever tricks or cunning nighttime manoeuvres. The stakes are too high — going home with a blanket is a must.

The final RASA pair of Franci Joubert and Paul Micklewood took it easy today with lunch, dinner, bed and breakfast for them in Gamkaaskloof. This is their 18th day on the trail so they still have ample time to take in the sights and make the cutoff in Diemersfontein.

Six RTP riders are running under lights with their eyes set on Rouxpos. Stefan Nel, Jerome O’Regan, Carine Visser, Aryna Edwards, Sean Brown and Becky Sands are busy with the big haul from Prince Albert through Gamkaaskloof and up Die Leer after starting in Prince Albert earlier today

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