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Race Report 26 October 2022

I think by now most folk reading these race reports have a good idea of where the riders are and where they are headed for the next day or so, so I don’t think there is much point in telling you what you can see on while following the dots. Instead, I will try and offer some insight into perhaps what the various riders or groups might be thinking or feeling as the trail begins to open up, hopefully it dries out a bit too and their confidence invariably rises as they are over some of the more daunting parts of the trail.

This report has had to be rewritten several times this afternoon given how much has changed in just a few hours – such is the nature of the riding. For the most part the riding today has been regular and as expected, but there are two riders at the front making some moves worth chatting about.

Let’s start at the back with the James pairing, you have probably seen the pictures and heard the voice notes of their adventure over Lehana’s which ranged from bivvy bags to silver service at Tenahead and then culminated with breakfast at Rhodes topped off with a 3hr penalty for some replacement shoes for Murray. The memories being created for both Murray and Tim who has held this race so dear to his heart for more than a decade must be very special, they are following in the shoes of several parents sharing in the journey with their children – what a privilege. They would have used the time penalty at Rhodes to regroup and now it remains to be seen if they stop at Chesneywold interim support station or if Tim introduces Murray to the Kapokkraal portage at night.

Moving ahead to the Talbots, it has been a few years since they have been on the trail, but they are both analytical types and would have been well aware of the need to get over the Kapokraal portage before night fall, they are safely in at Slaapkrantz without issue. I see they are keen to “test some limits” so we should expect some longer days/ nights as they progress down the trail and the if the weather plays ball. I am pretty sure they would have prepared for that.

The Payne brothers bagged some good sleep at Slaapkrantz and have made good time past Moordenaarspoort and on to Krantzkop. They are old hands now and unless they lose concentration, this rest of the trail should not pose much of an issue for them from a navigation perspective. Having had a good rest and looking at their progress through this part of the trail in the past, we could well see some late-night riding and big days from them. But it will also depend on how the bodies are holding up – keep in mind they have done Epic and RASA (winter) earlier this year.

Skipping further down the trail Jacqui Shaw and Dave Templeton are riding sensibly and steadily with their confidence increasing each day they are headed to Romansfontein for the night. Andy Wonnacot is already at Romansfontein and given the fact that he has been there for a few hours, it looks unlikely that he will head over the Aasvoelberg tonight. He was joined there shortly after by Guy Henderson and Janine Wencke who have had a good solid day. Besides Andy who is very experienced, the rest were novices at the start – but by now they will be feeling like battle-hardened soldiers. To have made it this far is a significant show of fortitude and resolve – it will stand them in good stead for the rest of their ride as they reflect on what they have done and what they are capable of. This turnaround in mindset at this point in the trail is not uncommon and they will also be sharing war stories over dinner at Romansfontein to encourage each other for what lies ahead. They will become a band of brothers – I know it sounds dramatic, but quite a few tears will have been shed up to this point and some of them would have experienced emotions they would never have expected to have on a bicycle ride. They will feed off each other’s experiences as they plot their way down through the Eastern Cape. Respect to all.

Ian Henderson crested the Aasvoelberg this afternoon and looks to have had an easyish ride into Hofmeyer – hopefully the decent off the mountain was dry, otherwise is might have been a slow walk down in slippery mud and late arrival at Hofmeyer. Ian is in for a treat in Hofmeyer, this boutique hotel/ guesthouse will offer him luxury he cant imagine and the treat will make him feel like a million bucks – perhaps just the thing he needed after a muddy day.

Craig Bosenberg is riding alone and had to navigate through the Fish River irrigated farmlands late afternoon, it’s a bit ‘left and right, then left and right’ sort of stuff, but he made no big deal of it. He will be treated to exceptional Eastern Cape hospitality by Frans and Amelia.

Ahead of Craig is Mike Woolnough on a charge, I am expecting he won’t be waylaid too long by the temptations of Fietskraal once he is over the Schurfteberg and it will be onwards into the night and Pearston for him. It will be interesting to see if he drags either Mark Preen or Stefan Coetzee with him, the racing riders love some company, especially at night as their pace slows a bit after a long day and the company for a while helps fight off the sleep monsters.

I expect that Mike will be on his own tonight under the stars, he will already be doing the endless permutations in his head about the Cambria gate. Ideally, he will want to measure his effort to get to the gate at about 11am on Friday.

Which brings us to Andrew Rose at the front of the field and currently deep in the Groot Rivier Kloof. Andrew has had a remarkable ride as a novice, my internet sleuthing tells me he is a Dr and has some considerable mtb racing experience. Thus far he has navigated like someone who has put in the hours preparing, studying the route, i.e. he has hardly put a foot wrong, sure he has been off the track at times, but each time he has corrected, which speaks of someone who makes clear rational decisions – what you hope for from a Dr! But today Andrew left Bucklands at 5am with his usual steady pace he got to the first river crossing at about 1:30pm – which for a novice on his own is too late in my view – even given the late sunset at this time of year.

Let’s compare Andrew and Mike for a moment, (likely to be No1 and Nr2 placing in this edition of the race), because it’s worthwhile observing the Master and the novice. As I have alluded to, Mike will be lining up the Osseberg from a few days out, he will time his entry into the kloof allow his exit with an hour or two buffer at Cambria, as he knows if he gets there before 1pm he will bank hours of non-wasted time as he can catch the 1pm bus without having to either wait for the next 6am or worst case the next 1pm bus.

Compare that to Andrew, who may at the time of writing, make it out tonight and then he is able to take the 6am bus tomorrow – all going well (which it isn’t at the time of writing). But if Andrew has a night in the Kloof and cannot make the 6am gate tomorrow (which is only generally caught by those who either sleep over at Cambria or the singular individuals who can do that Kloof at night.) One must keep in mind that the big horseshoe at the end which from the tracker looks like an easy ride across the plain and up over the hill to the road but it is anything but easy. The end is tricky as at one point you potentially cross upstream which can be very confusing. If this sounds confusing, it is worse in the Kloof and in daylight. It is near impossible at night.

The point of all of this is that the Freedom Trail is like a complex puzzle, it has corner pieces (Allendale, Rhodes, Baviaans, Stettyns) – these anchor your experience. There are some easier parts and some which seem impossible to find, but as one gains more experience, they offer clues and combinations which, when unlocked, can greatly aid your progress. Fortunately, the route, the maps, the website, the forum and the old hands are all accessible – the more you prepare - the easier the ride. In my view Andrew rolled the dice on a big day, leaving at 5am from Bucklands was a big call, if he had an hour more sunlight he might just be sitting at Cambria tonight, instead he is going to have to work hard to make the 6am gate tomorrow.

In conclusion, the dot watching community is alive in SA tonight as we will one of ours on across the border in Namibia – theirs is a similar endeavour to be greatly admired. Similarly, our Freedom Trail requires earning one’s blanket which takes hours and hours of study in addition to the riding time. Long live the Freedom Trail.

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