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Freedom's Real Heros

Race to Cradock winds down as the Race to Willowmore gets underway.

A bus load of riders arrived today headed up by Ron Smythe who got into just before sunrise but 20 odd minutes outside of achieving his first official windmill finish.

Gill and John Graaf, Charles and Lesley Hughes, Guy Miles rolled in during the afternoon with Josh and Sally Hayman closing out the arrivals for the day. Sally arrived covered in mud. A rainstorm near Schurfteberg had set the scene for a good fall and Sally was happy to oblige in full sight of a bakkie laden to the gills with farm workers. She did mention that they were very gracious.

The two couples of Jason and Claire Crookes and Richard Erasmus spend their last night on the RTC trail at Groenfontein which is the last support station on the way to Cradock. They will be well look after and entertained by the hosts Frans and Amelia. In the morning it’s a hop, skip, skip, skip and a few jumps to get to the finish.

The runners doing Race to Willowmore have entered their 3rd day having started at 6pm two days ago. They are currently 164km into their adventure. They have another 360km to get to the finish with a number of obstacles in their path. I imagine the hardest part for them won’t be the mountains or river valleys but rather the final 83 kilometres into Willowmore from Damsedrif. It’s one long road that’s fairly flat which is going to give their feet a good pounding.

Grant Cowen and Shaun Tishendorf set off from Cradock this morning and after a tougher than expected traverse through the horror of the Struishoek portage they pulled up short of their start line ambitions and have settled down in Pearston for the night.

Rain has been a factor for RTC and the weather forecast suggests it may well continue to hamper the riders who will be making their way to Willowmore. It dampened ambitions and crushed dreams as people abandoned their lofty goals and some the desire to finish the race.

Cold rain and clinging mud tests your resolve to the core.

The standout achievement for RTC this year has been Ron Smythe. This is his 4th attempt at RTC. In 2019 Leon van der Nest convinced him it would be a good idea to give it a go. Ron says he realised early on that he was completely out of his depth.

In his next attempt in 2020 the Covid lockdown had him leaving the trail at Kranskop but not before he spent the night sleeping under a lean-to a few short kilometres shorts of Kranskop.

2021 saw him exit the race well short of Kranskop when he had a accident on the way to Chesneywold. 2022 was not without challenges for Ron but he did managed to get all the way to Cradock. Even though it was just outside the cutoff time it didn’t matter to Ron or the larger Freedom family. We have cheered him on for the last 4 years and to see him finally arrive at the finish was very satisfying.

The race snakes are entertaining in a way that might occasionally make us ooh and aah but the average rider who goes out there and fumbles and stumbles through the route overcoming one navigational challenge after another gets us in our feels. With only a pre marked route on the tracker site we don’t see what challenges the astute navigator is facing if any. When an inexperienced riders markers diverts from the marked tracker route we pull our chairs a little closer to the screen. We talk to the screen willing the wayward traveller to turn back. We get to know them through their antics which demands our attention. Ron has been a regular dot watcher favourite. It was a pleasure spending time with him today getting to understand how he deals with navigational difficulties. I’d be crushed by a fraction of the nav challenges he deals with but he takes them in his stride.

The Freedom Trail belongs more to people like Ron than those who put their heads down and blaze through the trail. It takes the fastest of us 2 days to get to Cradock. It’s taken Ron 4 years. Those 4 years are laden with adventure and a tenacity that defies belief.

#Salute Ron.

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