Before we know it the Freedom Challenge 2022 season is upon us. And what a year it promises to be. Multiple events, an encouragingly larger number of entries and the country saturated with rain. It doesn’t take much to fuel the hope tank for the average South African. One World Cup rugby win every twelve years and we are very happy campers. Many years of draught have been broken and it is truly wonderful to see the land lush again. Lush and very, very wet, which has not gone unnoticed by the RTC field that is currently spread out on the RTC Freedom route. Mud, mud, glorious mud.
Probably useful to step back a bit. It is a very full menu for 2022. Briefly summarized as follows:
· Race to Cradock and Race to Willowmore (March)
· Freedom Circuit 400/700 (April)
· Winter Race Across South Africa /Race to Rhodes/Race to Paarl (June/July)
· Summer Race Across South Africa /Race to Rhodes/Race to Paarl (October/November)
Probably 300-400 riders that will enjoy one or more of the above ten events in this the 19th year of Freedom Challenge. Good times, the future for FC is looking good.
The field for 2022 RTC has all set off from Rhodes. Truth be told five riders finished yesterday in Cradock. Jan van de Putte notched up his second RTC and Nick Rizatto, Simon Marlin and Trevor White their first RTC (and second FC event, having done RTR last year). Herman Botes successfully completed his first FC event. Well done to all.
Freedom writers are very keen on doing some research for the reports they write and I am no exception. I spent a very pleasant hour yesterday analyzing a spreadsheet that Chris Fisher keeps for all FC finishers. I thought I’d share the following with you:
· This is the eighth running of RTC, the first having being held in 2015.
· If Mike Woolnough completes this year’s event he will have completed all eight RTCs.
· Other notable (four or more) multiple RTC finishers are:
o Janine Stewart 5
o Gavin Robinson 4
o Jacques Tatersall 4
o Ingrid Avidon 4 (assuming she finishes this year)
· This year’s field is the largest since 2017 when there were 50 finishes.
· Prior to 2022 there have been 233 RTC finishes. 186 individuals have completed RTC (29 of whom have more than one finish).
· On 5 occasions RTC has been completed in less than 2 days, Mike Woolnough having done it twice. Another 26 finishes have been under 3 days. This is comparable to getting a silver medal in Comrades with around 13% of the field over the last seven years having gone under 3 days for RTC.
· The record for RTC is held by Bruce Hughes at 42 hours and 51 minutes in 2018. Janine Stewart holds the women’s best at 60 hours and 8 minutes.
· Mike Woolnough is a 3 time RTC winner. Janine Stewart has won the women’s event 5 times. Her win last year was also the overall win for all competitors, male and female.
· In this year’s field 80% are men, 20% women.
· 53% of the field are from KZN, 22% from Gauteng, 16% from the Western Cape and the remaining 9% from the Eastern Cape.
· 5% of the field are anti-vaxxers.
· The entire field claims to have lost their innocence by the age of 21, some more than once.
Amazing what nuggets of knowledge one can get from random data. And all of this from a simple spreadsheet. Imagine what Google knows about you.
We (the Buffalo Herders) had a day and night in Hofmeyr. The Victoria Hotel in Hofmeyr is a so-called interim FC stop, although there really is very little difference these days between a full support station and an interim support station. One can sleep at either.
Bruce Backhouse, Buffalo Herder and Freedom Artist, and I had a very pleasant chat on our stroll around Hofmeyr with a chap by the name of Mandiso. Mandiso is a MK vet and still receives a stipend for that service. He is also a baker for Pick ‘n Pay in Cape Town. He is 64 years old. He had to serve four years in various prisons in the 1980s as a result of his involvement with the ANC. He told us the new dominee in Hofmeyr has rounded up some of the local youth and has put them to work cleaning up the refuse from the streets of Hofmeyr. We can see the results of this initiative, Hofmeyr is looking much better.
I also found Judy, owner of a coffee shop. Turns out Judy is the original pie-maker from the pie shop in Hofmeyr, a legendary stop for generations of Freedom riders. Judy says she would love to make more pies for us. You can call her on 084 902 7832 as you hit the top of the hill and Hofmeyr squats down in the valley below, the pies calling.
Judy also has some of the historical records of Hofmeyr, which is why I went looking for her in the first place. She showed me a scrapbook of old photos, some of which I have included in this report. One photo is of particular interest. 2022 is the centenary of the Rand Revolt, or the “Red” Revolt and the photo referred to is from that occasion, taken near Benoni. Given that so many Freedom riders hail from Benoni (Ingrid Avidon, Rebecca Sands, Tony Wright, Sean Brown and myself) I thought it appropriate to slip this nugget into my report. I accept that the link to FC is tenuous, but make no apology for that.
In addition there was a poignant photo in the scrapbook of a local who drowned in the local dam. Good for us riders to remember that we cycle through a land of many memories. Respect them all.
We have a new support station in Rhodes, the Rhodes Hotel. Many thanks to Alpine Swift Trails who have hosted us for so many years. Actually Rhodes Hotel isn’t new to FC as it served as the original support station at the very beginning of FC. The wheel has turned full circle. Gordon Noble, a new recruit to the Buffalo Herders, told us his story of Rhodes Hotel in the 1960s when the walls were adorned with original Pierneef paintings. Apparently Pierneef used to stay there and paid in kind with his paintings. Who knows where these paintings are now. At the very least I am going to see if I can follow the trail.
And on that note I conclude this report. The following of trails, we still have two weeks of that ahead of us. It is good to be alive.