Updated: Jul 3
22 June 2021, the day after Winter Solstice Day
The Freedom Poet suggestion in the first race report of a few days ago has elicited a response from Freedom Challenge alumni, friends and family. The upshot of all of this feedback is that we have discovered that we already have a Freedom Poet, alive and well and living openly amongst us. Six years has passed since Mike Devereux penned his offering after his RASA ride in 2015 and it has been up and visible (on the Freedom Challenge website) for everyone to see since then. My apologies for not being aware of this, no doubt due to my not being entirely with the program after my ride in 2015. I must have met Mike somewhere along the trail that year considering I started first and finished more than last, but John Bowen and I had “miles to go before we could sleep” every single minute of the race, so my apologies if we didn’t say hello.
So without further ado here is the current Freedom Challenge Poem penned by the current Freedom Challenge Poet Laureate, Mike Devereux:
THOUGHTS ALONG THE TRAIL
I have ridden in the shadows of the greats, like Dreyer, Harris and the iconic Tim
I have tumbled into the Umko Valley, only to climb the Hella Hella,
I have lost myself with the ghosts of Vuvu, and conquered Lehana,
I have cursed, sweated, pushed, pulled and pedalled,
I have searched the tracks of those gone before me,
I have seen the beauty of the of our land, and even more so the beauty of the great
hearts of the people along the Trail,
I have been tickled by the Whitethorns, and egged on by the baboons of the
I have listened to the great silence
I was awed by the grandeur of all of the Bergs and the vast Karoo,
I smelled fynbos - for the first time – and it was fine
I have rolled down the Holstoot, and on to Stettyns,
I have earned every kilometer along the way.
All the while watched over by our guardian angels, Meryl and Glen.
I have left it all on the trail, liberated….
I am a Freedom Rider.
Really lekker. Personally I like the Johnny Clegg inspired “(beauty) of the great heart(s)”. That song takes me back more than 35 years to Wits University days. Jaluka concerts, usually at a hot and dusty venue. Singing to unforgettable music, seeing the girl who I never had the courage to speak to, Kim McFarland, on the shoulders of some other bloke. I nearly said hello to her (it wasn’t as if there was lack of opportunity, she was in my accounting class) at that Johnny Clegg concert. Johnny Clegg made us all feel good, filled us with hope. Gave us courage, just not quite enough in my case. And that is why many of us do the Freedom Challenge, to find our lost courage, just like the Lion in the Wizard of Oz.
As I write this report the first two batches of RASA 2021 have left Pietermaritzburg. Yesterday the first riders set off at 6am from the City Hall, and by the looks of things they seem to have gone very well indeed, all in at Allandale as a group by 6pm. This is good going by a Batch One, no doubt inspired by the group “leader”, Roger Nicholson. It came as a surprise to me that this is Roger’s first RASA. He has cycled many FC events, with considerable success, and we wish him and his fellow Batch One competitors all the best for their ride. In particular I am watching out for Iain Russel, flag bearer for the XXL club (of which I am a founding member). Having said that Iain was looking pretty lean and mean when he dropped off his bike at my house a few days ago. That’s another story, COVID complications with our Freedom Artist, Bruce Backhouse, has meant that Bruce cannot get down to the Trail until he is clear and, as a consequence, Roger Nicholson very kindly took Iain’s bike down to PMB for him. Incidentally Bruce is doing fine. Scary times.
Batch One consist of nine riders, six going all the way and three to Rhodes, where I will have the pleasure of awarding them their whips. Only one person amongst the RASA candidates, Sean Shaw, has a blanket (2018) but four of the other five have all done one or more FC events prior to this year. One RASA rider is new to FC, Andrew Cromhout. Amongst the three going to Rhodes, Andrew Walker is the holder of a blanket, as well as being a fellow a history hound. Arn de Haas and Nicolas Broukaert are brand new to FC. They sound perhaps Dutch? I wonder if we have international contestants for this year. I will find out. Out of interest the average age for the whole of Batch One is 56, no-one younger than 50.
I’m started this report in the wee hours of the morning and I note with some interest that as at 6am this morning there didn’t appear to be any movement from Allandale. In my experience that is a late start for one of the toughest days (for early batch riders) in the saddle, the Allandale to Ntsikeni leg. Doing the last 4km in the dark at the end of the day in Ntsikeni Nature Reserve seems to take forever and the track isn’t always that visible. Especially if it is cold and wet, you are absolutely stuffed and alone. The horror, the horror. In daylight it is extraordinarily beautiful, hence the advantage of an early start. In fact many riders have never actually seen Ntsikeni, they arrive in the dark and leave in the dark, dawn arriving when they are around Politikraal. This is a pity, they are missing out, Ntsikeni is one of the few breeding grounds for the endangered Wattled Crane. Striped Flufftail can also be found, their eerie hoot is not easily forgotten.
Batch Two has also set off this morning and seem to be going well. Five riders are in this batch, 3 RASA and 2 RTR. All five riders have done previous FV events, with Clint le Roux the only blanket holder. I remember Clint fondly, for 2016, the year Clint got his blanket, was the start of the Buffalo Herding duties and Clint, Neville Higgs and Gerald van der Merwe brought up the rear of the field that year, battling a bit to make sure they all got their blankets (which they did). Joining Clint in the ride to Wellington are a couple of veritable youngsters, Jonathan Williams and Craig Copeland, who have done a sterling job in raising a huge amount of money for the scholarship fund in the lead-up to this race. All kudos to them. Between the two of them they have raised well over R200k for the scholarship foundation and for CHOC. Justin Dowdle and Bruce Mckinley are the two doing RTR. Chris and Julia must have sorted the batches according to age, the average age for Batch Two is 44.
My co-Freedom Writers tell me that their inner-authors are on the verge of emerging. This is wonderful news and we look forward to their words of wisdom and entertainment. I know that Kevin Davie is tracking down Dave Waddilove, the founder of the Freedom Challenge, and that he, Kevin, wants to take us back to the origins of the race. I am hoping Ingrid uses this platform to develop her theme of ‘pushing the boundaries”, in a particular for women athletes. Many of you are aware that Ingrid’s book “Never Eat Silk Worms” is due to be published later this year. It is a great read, very funny and perfectly captures the essence of being a Freedom Rider. Ingrid, being Ingrid, could very well write about something completely different to what I am imagining, which is absolutely fine. I have no idea what Mike Woolnough and Fiona Coward are contemplating for their reports, but have no doubt that it will be worth reading.
I thought it might be worthwhile having a look at past winners, men and women, of RASA. In a “where are they now?” kind of way. I have looked back over the seventeen RASAs and I note the following:
Three men have won the overall RASA more than once. Martin Dreyer (4) (2019, 2017, 2103, 2012), Alex Harris (3) (2020, 2011, 2010) and Tim James (3) (2015, 2009, 2008)
Jacques Tattersall (2018), Theo van Dyk (2016), Graham Bird (2014), Jeannie Dreyer (2013), Maarten van Dalser (2007), Sirk Loots (2006), Wessel Cronje (2005) all have one win as do David Waddilove, his brother Robert and Andrew King who finished together to win the inaugural event in 2004.
Two women have won the women’s RASA category more than once. Ingrid Avidon (2)(2018, 2010) and Ingrid Talbot (2) (2017, 2015).
Jeannette Scoular (2019), Sandy Maytham-Bailey (2019), Ann Harrison (2016), Jill Homer (2014), Jeannie Dreyer (2013), Dawn Bell (2012), Tatum Prins (2011), Esti du Plessis (2009), Di Thomas (2008), Hannele Steyn-Kotze (2007) and Amy Jane Mundy (2005) all have one win.
Over the course of the race reports for 2021 we will be trying to trace these champions and find out what they are up to and attempt to entice them back into the FC fold, if they are not there already.
Enjoy, early days.