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Race Report 23/24 June

It was John Barrow’s birthday yesterday. He was holed up last night with his riding buddies (Mike Potgieter, Mike Patchitt and Paul Arnott) at Chesneywold, one of many support stations that were sheltering battered riders. The heavens have opened again after two days of respite from the previous deluge. The dirt roads are a mess and rider progress has been very slow on the Eastern Cape side of Lehana.

The support stations from Rhodes to Romansfontein. Let us mention them all, by now they should roll off one’s tongue like the responses at a Catholic Mass. Rhodes (“we praise you”), Chesneywold (“we bless you”), Slaapkrantz (“we glorify you”), Moordenaarspoort (“we give you thanks”’), Kranskop (“Lord God”), Brosterlea (“heavenly king”), Romansfontein (“almighty father”). Ancient rituals, names etched in our memories.

Richard Cock is South Africa’s leading conductor. Every year he organizes the RMB Starlight Classics concert at Country Club Johannesburg in Auckland Park. I recall one memorable year when the heavens opened and he had the entire audience singing the Hippopotamus song. “Mud, mud glorious mud… etc” Surely you can hum the tune. It has been a very long time since we have seen the Freedom Challenge trail so liquid. There is only one way to get through it. With a sense of humour, perhaps singing the Hippopotamus song.

So the race report from the Eastern Cape can be very brief. Batches are struggling to get through even half a normal day. It is a case of survival, hoping that the tide will turn, the skies will clear and hardpack roads will reappear, the mood will lighten and riders can open the throttle, looking forward to that exquisite moment in the race when the Klein Karoo opens up before one’s eyes on the drop to Hofmeyer. If you can make it to there, you can make it to anywhere.

We watch with keen interest the progress of the Girl Power batch. Ingrid Avidon needs to be in Wellington by 4 July to give herself a free day to get ready for the start of the Berg River Canoe Marathon two days later. She will need to start doubling up pretty soon. Paul Moxley has a similar deadline but is in better shape as he and Mark Basel are way ahead of the field. They may even stand a chance of being the first arrivals at Diemersfontein. There is one small problem though. Paul Moxley keeps getting lost. Last night he had a close encounter of the most personal kind with the hard and cold ground on the portage to Elandsberg. One day we should produce works of art from the Dot Scribbles created by the navigational errors of the riders. Mox’s (as he is known) would fetch record sums of money. He is however proving a tenacious rider. He doesn’t give up and the school fees he is paying now will bare dividends in years to come.

Adrian Payne had a problem with his bike yesterday. An elegant solution was reached whereby he acquired a new one on the spot from Buffalo Herder Pierre Singery who happened to be passing by. “Will you sell your bike to me?” “Yes” said Pierre. So simple. There was the small matter of a seven hour penalty but that is but a mere footnote.

Sadly these conditions have taken their toll on the field. The bell has tolled on the trail after Rhodes for Shaun Tischendorf, David McKerchar, Renier van der Merwe, David Ackerman and Steve Kitto who have all withdrawn in the last few days from RASA. This brings to ten the number of RASA withdrawals this year, almost twenty percent of the field. Back on the other side of the mountain the Greylings have called it a day in their RTR effort.

The five racing snakes are moving down the trail but finding it hard going. These are not sub-ten day conditions as one can see by the relative times to prior years. Alex Harris is out in the front but is battling with a shock issue, as yet unresolved. Mike Woolnough is a strong second. Enslin Uys and Bruce Biccard had some interesting adventures on the (flood) plains before Queens Mercy. Gavin “Hears a Who” Horton has now spent two nights sleeping out in the cold, last night with a dog. There must surely now be a chance he has a companion for the rest of the trail. We will watch with interest.

Speaking of dogs this is an opportune moment to reflect on the pets that one encounters in the Freedom journey. By this I mean the dogs and cats of the support stations. I know there are other animals, like parrots and meerkats, but I am pretty sure that riders feel less fondly about parrots than the dogs and cats. There are too many to mention them all in this report, perhaps we can honor them individually over the race reports for the rest of this RASA. They are worthy of mention because they play no small role in providing comfort to riders as they struggle along the trail. A connection to a family home that is perhaps being sorely missed.

A couple of days back I was at Chesneywold. Minki has without any doubt the most formidable dogs on the trail, boerbuls I think, but boerbuls that are built like Sherman tanks. The old saying that one shouldn’t show fear when approaching a dog is all very well but quite difficult to put into practice when thinking of snuggling 80kg of quivering boerbul. Anyway all ended well as they turned out to be giant puddings, as evidenced by the photo attached of John Barrow celebrating his birthday.

The support stations of the Sleeping Boa, The Oaks, Allandale, Ntsikeni, Twin Springs and Masakala have closed for 2022 winter RASA. We thank you yet again for your hospitality. Ubuntu. You are us.

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