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Buffalo Herder Ramblings | Burghersdorp | 27 June 2024

Us Buffalo Herders wait for something to do. We base ourselves slightly off course, waiting to assist

where we can. Not too dissimilar (although hopefully with a more savory reputation) to tow trucks at the off ramps to the major highways, ready to leap into action where required. Whilst we wait we entertain ourselves. Chat to the locals. Dream about riding ourselves. Look for interesting old things (although that might only be me). We might even write an article or two. Which reminds me, my pen has been quiet for too long. I just haven’t been in the zone. Let’s see if we can change that.

The focus of RASA is entirely in the Eastern Cape right now. The last rider on the trail, Peter Roux is up and over the Drakensberg, through Rhodes and is making his way to Slaapkrantz, albeit he isn’t feeling too strong today. The first group, led by Roger Nicolson, is going through the Osseberg as I write. The field is stretched out from kilometer 585 to kilometer 1355. 33 (out of an original 41) riders spread out over 770 km. Such a beautiful sight when looking at the Tracker Map. The concertina, stretched out at its maximum.

All eyes are on Alex Harris chasing down his sub 10 day record that was set in the summer RASA of 2020. I remember Alex arriving exhausted at Kudu Kaya, just in time to make the 1pm escort at the gate to the Baviaanskloof. No matter the subsequent debate over the relative merits of a record set in the summer version of RASA, fellow Buffalo Herder John the Geologist and I will never forget the herculean effort that we witnessed when we escorted Alex through the Baviaanskloof in 40 degree heat. Come to think of it we were slightly confused when we found Alex fast asleep in the shade on a concrete slab adjacent to the Parks Board office. We waited and waited. Technically he had every right to sleep as long as he wanted. He had made the gate. We wondered whether we should wake him up. “Let’s give Chris a call’ I suggested. “Of course you must bloody well wake him up” was Chris’s response. We did and at 13:00, two minutes later, Alex was on his bike on off through the Baviaans, albeit weaving like a drunken sailor from exhaustion. He did not once get off his bike to walk. John and I just looked at each other. “From adifferent planet”.

Incidentally for those you older readers who may be wondering where on earth John the Geologist is, he is alive and well and doing geologist things in Mozambique. He will be back one day I am sure. After all he still has to be “blanketed” for his Buffalo Herder services. Yes! Buffalo Herders also get a blanket, a Buffalo Herders blanket, currently held by John the Geologist, Elton Prytz, Pierre Singery and myself. Lekker and thoughtful gesture from Chris and Julia. Means the world, especially when one doesn’t actually own a rider’s blanket. Best of luck to Alex Harris in his efforts to get make the crucial gate. He is behind the black bunny as we speak, but there is still hope. Gavin Horton, 2023 RASA winner, with whom Alex does a lot of his training, tells us that Alex is 7kg lighter and 15% stronger than in 2020.

Tim James is also chasing a record, his own best time for a single speed. His bunny is blue (Alex’s is black) on the tracker map and at this stage the blue bunny is winning by some margin. Early days though and Tim I am sure is working up a steam.

Elsewhere across the field the other riders are on their respective journeys. I’d like to single out two

people in this report. Vera Reynolds, riding effectively solo and on her first RASA, had had some

spectacular nights sleeping out and is “paying her school fees’ in her so far admirable quest to get her blanket. Johan Botha is riding with a fractured ankle. He soldiers on, and has made the 13 day cut-off at Hofmeyer. All eyes are on his onward journey. Stone saddles come to mind.

As the Freedom Trail winds its way through the Eastern Cape we keep finding echoes from the Boer war of 1899-1902. There is hardly a farm or valley on the Trail that doesn’t have a Boer War story. Now that the Karoo Meander is an established touring format on the Freedom Trail (four more batches going down in October this year, please check the Freedom Challenge website shortly for details) we have had chance to expand on this theme. The Battle of Stormberg is right on our route and we now include a formal talk (Pierre Singery) on what happened during that week in December 1899. It’s one helluva talk, come listen for yourself on the Karoo Meander tour. E-bikes welcome but I digress. Wherever I ask about the Boer War, there is an affirmative response. Billy Schoeman at Jakkelsfontein tells me proudly about the skirmish at his farm. “My grandfather untethered 200 British horses, causing mayhem” he told me. Lives were lost nearby. Jan Smuts was ambushed at Moordenaarspoort, barely escaping with his life. Smuts and Reitz used Die Leer route out of Gamkaskloof. Two unknown British soldiers are buried near Spitzkop farmhouse not far from Slaapkrantz. The regimental flag of Captain Henderson sits on the wall at Toekomst. The cemetery at Willowmore contains the grave of a Cape Rebel. This is only scratching the surface. Over time we hope to find and flesh out all the Boer War stories and share them with the Freedom community. Feel free to help us. In years gone by we would offer out thanks to the support stations as they close for this year, one by one. We seem to have lost this tradition, so without further ado we thank the following stations that have closed for 2024:

The Oaks, Allandale, Centacow, Ntsikeni. Two Springs, Masakala, Malekonyane. Tinana, Vuvu, Rhodes and Chesneywold. Thank you for all you do for us. You are always part of the Freedom family. Incidentally there is a new management team at Tennahead that this year have gone out of their way to look after tired, cold and hungry Freedom Riders. Hot soup and coffee ready at no charge to the riders. Amazing! Thank you and I am sure you will be seeing plenty riders returning with their families for a well deserved holiday.

On that note this Buffalo Musing draws to a close. I suggest we all take a moment to let the fact that the Proteas have finally made a World Cup final. Isn’t life wonderful? And we have a wildebeest in charge of South Africa. Who would have thought?

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