Race Report | 20 June

In the early hours of this morning I woke to the sound of rain. Given that my cottage here in Rhodes has a zinc roof there was no doubt about it. It is late morning now and the sun has come out but it doesn’t take much for the roads in this area to turn to quagmire. 12 cyclists from the first two batches set off for Chesneywold/Slaapkrantz at various times (ranging from 4am to 8.30am) this morning and very quickly there were reports of polisiehond modder (police dog mud). Very slow progress and character building, to say the least.


Now I am curious about the origins of “polisiehond modder”. What exactly does this mean? Google is of no help with either the Afrikaans or English versions. If any of you kind readers can shed some light on this you will go down in Freedom Challenge history. Riders will feel so much better if they understand the context of what they are riding through. At a guess I imagine the comparison is that a police dog sticks to you (by way of teeth) in a similar manner to how the awful mud sticks to you and your bike. That surely must be it, as any Wits student of the 1980s (other than those who supported the Student Moderate Alliance, a conservative Nat offshoot. May their souls forever rot in hell) will surely have personally experienced.


It is normal for there to be a “settling in” period with new support stations. It takes some getting used to the rolling circus of Freedom Rider arrivals and departures. Hot water, food, warmth, all at different times depending on when riders arrive and leave. It takes years to get this right. Last night was the first night that the new support station at Rhodes Hotel had a full house of riders (13). Sandra, our hostess, went out of her way to prepare a magnificent 6 course meal, gourmet standard. After a post match analysis we decided this morning that a giant pot of lamb stew will suffice going forward. Hungry and tired riders need to eat quickly and get some sleep. We live and learn but there is no doubt Rhodes Hotel is going to become a very popular stop. We are also trying to sort out the potential washing challenge. Riders come up and over the Drakensberg after a few days where laundry is not always an option. The entire Rhodes village is currently rallying together to see if we can offer village support to the laundry problem. Ubuntu at its best.


Every year (last year 40% of the RASA field withdrew during the event) the extreme conditions of this event take their toll. This year we have already had casualties, for a variety of reasons. Phil Fullaway (RTR) withdrew at the Umkomaas. Quinton Dry (RASA) at Twin Springs with heart concerns. The duo of Renn Holzthausen and Craig McCarthy (RASA) have called it a day at Masakala, having gained valuable experience for future attempts.


Last night there was plenty of drama on the Black Fountain ridge. Estelle Labuschagne (multiple blanket holder) fell, properly damaging her pelvis. She had to be evacuated from a tricky spot and thanks to Buffalo Herders Elton Prytz and Mark and Nicky McLeod she is now on her way to Kokstad hospital, in safe hands, her race over for 2022. Huge credit must also be given to rider David McKerchar who stayed with Estelle throughout her ordeal. Good Samaritan of note. A local Sotho herdsman also lent a very welcome hand, thank you.


John Bowen, on his fourth attempt at a blanket, spent his second night out in the cold and it looks like his race has ended. We doff our collective hats to him out of respect for his determination over the years and feel his pain. At the very least he will still be a member of our No Blanket (but want one) Club, a very proud club indeed.


Most groups of riders out there now, before the racing snakes set off in the last two batches over the next two days, are sailing along very nicely, faithfully following the advised route. This is wonderful for them but frustrating for Freedom Writers, as we need stuff to write about. We can only hope there are some interesting route variations of the really-getting-lost kind. Paul Moxley has been doing his very best to help us out, as his diversions into the dongas after Tinana and wrong valleys on his way to Vuvu bare evidence. I have peered down onto those eroded horrors from the official high route and wondered how Tim James and others manage to find their way through. In many ways that stretch is the true Mordor of the Freedom Challenge route, although there are a few other contenders (to put it mildly).


Who else can I mention in dispatches? Carlo! Yes, Carlo is hurtling along, aiming for a sub three day RTR. I consulted with sage Woolnough who advises us to watch Carlo’s progress along Mparane ridge tonight. Carlo went wrong there last year. Let’s hope he gets it right this year.

We have the intriguing possibility that a rider might take a day off in Rhodes to go fly fishing. I won’t mention names at this stage but perhaps we will have some visuals available in due course for a future edition of the race report. I’ve always thought there should be a fishing challenge in this event.

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