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Race Report – Friday 4 November 2022

Having just watched the video of Craig Bosenberg finishing I am reminded of how quickly riding the Freedom Trail can go from a ‘dawdle’ down the trail to a barrage of thoughts of throwing the towel in and then again to feelings of pure bliss just hours later. I’ll get back to Craig and his RASA finish a bit later. As I expect most reading the reports have come to realise, the writers have a lot of leeway other than reporting on watching dots: I hope you will indulge me once again.

Going through the field from the back, which is where the drama is, are Guy Henderson and Janine Wencke, with the James pairing just ahead of them: all are headed to Prince Albert tonight. The drama is that some of the normally dusty stream beds have become raging mud/silt passages which have had to be negotiated. These have been the result of some big thunderstorms in the area which temporarily closed roads and passes in the Karoo. Head on over to Facebook to have a look at the pics, they are surreal if you are familiar with that part of the trail. It seems they are through most of the runoff areas and should be safe and sound in Prince Albert later tonight.

With more rain predicted over that region tonight, there are several other poorts which effectively drain from the Karoo basin toward the coast. The Gamka River in the Gamkaskloof/Hel and the Buffels River after Rouxpos could also present some water and mud. The riders spend a number of kilometres in and out of the Buffels river: it’s usually a sandy section with some river stones and lots of thorns. Once again, the summer edition of RASA/RTP is offering up some late surprises.

The Talbots and Ian Henderson have made good progress out of the Gamkaskloof and should be at Rouxpos not much after dark. Ahead of them, the Paynes and Dave Templeton have gone through Rouxpos and are headed to Anysberg where they are likely to spend the night as it’s a very big push on to Mcgregor from there with Montagu not being an official option anymore. Jacqui’s tracker has been on pause for two hours at Rouxpos where she is resting; it’s a much better option than the unmanned Anysberg.

On to the runners: I am quite lost for words at what these four are doing – to do the distances they are running is just incredible; I’m not sure there is any difference between day and night with this crowd: they seem to sleep just fine within 2 minutes of lying down on the ground in the hot sun. They should come into their own in the Stettynskloof on Saturday night or Sunday. Simply astounding progress.

Sitting at Trouthaven are Stefan Coetzee and Mark Preen: they are both from the Cape and I am sure Mark, at least, has quite a bit of experience in the mountains. I’m predicting an easy finish for them tomorrow, well in time to be showered with a few beers down before the rugby starts.

Today saw the finish of the Wards, the Graafs and Simon Hall: they took the easier route via Rawsonville and Bainskloof: a spectacular ride too and a fitting way to end their RTP. I think it is wonderful to see the couples riding RTP as it is by no means easy, but there are easier options, such as the overnight in Montague with its luxury guesthouses and avoiding Stettynskloof. These choices make the trail accessible to a greater number of cyclists and I am all for people doing the trail the way they wish. So, hats off to the RTP finishers: great ride and I trust you enjoyed yourselves.

Finally, on to Craig Bosenberg, a novice who has ended second on elapsed time, finishing some three hours ahead of another novice, Andrew Rose (I really don’t think either Craig or Andrew had any ideas of racing one another). There are some similarities and differences between these two which are worth dwelling on as they offer insight into the differences with similar outcomes. They are both doctors and both seemed very purposeful and deliberate in their riding, i.e. they rode hard at times and rested when they needed to. Andrew came into the race as a relative dark horse: he started at the front and only showed his hand when out on the trail. He can ride fast, far and he can navigate. After his fast start he slowed when he needed to, then blitzed the Baviaanskloof, only to slow again toward Montagu, when he again needed to. Andrew, on the other hand, looked totally in control, except for his exit at Kudu Khaya, which was in part due to lost maps, compounded by fading light.

Craig Bosenberg is an expat from Canada and spent a lot of time online before the race, asking lots of good questions and gathering his info to make his choices. He arrived with his own setup, which looked a bit more like a gravel bike with the handlebar choice and skinnier tyres. He started slowly and made steady progress down the trail, linking up with other riders when he needed to, and riding alone when he wanted to go at his pace. His drama was a broken seatpost which was replaced with an added time penalty.

The point of all of this is that there is no one way to ride this race: it offers each person an opportunity to immerse themselves in preparation and to ride or race as they wish - to adapt their plans as they go and, above all, to finish.

This brings me to the finish line interviews this week conducted by Chris and Julia. Chris likes to give the bikes the once over: it’s almost like a steward’s inspection and then to offer his congratulations and a knowing nod of approval, as if to say, ‘See I told you that you would be alright.’ Chris has, after all, been party to their drama: Chris was and the end of the phoneline, sms or whatsapp, doing what he could within the rules to ensure they kept going. Chris is - in part - why most people finish: at some stage they would have had to trust him and keep going.

Julia’s finish line role on the other hand is to ask the more searching questions once they have done their bike check, turned off their headlight and taken off their helmet. That’s when Julia begins to give them their cue, so let’s have a look at three of the doctors finishing this week and what they said or didn’t say, with some liberal interpretation on my behalf.

First up was Dr Andrew Rose: he seemed a bit lost for words to start with but quickly warmed up once he had a beer in his hand. He began by recounting his night in the Groot Rivier and how he handled it, his words were to the effect of ‘The trail strips you bare, builds you up, only to strip you down again and build you up once again.’ Clearly the whole experience offered a bit more than he expected - all of which he took in his stride. Hopefully we see him back again to see what that riding speed and some experience can do.

Then there was Dr Bruce Biccard, a late entry to RTP. Bruce was asked a simple question at the finish at Diemersfontein and it soon became clear that when he said he was ‘rescued’ from Stettyns a few months ago, he was not being dramatic. Bruce showed on Wednesday that his 2022 RASA had a profound effect on him; thankfully his passage through the Kloof would have put to bed some of those memories, and I am sure we will see him back in time. My sense is that he’s found that the trail offers a lot more than just riding a bike and navigation. It was a moving moment to see him finish.

Dr Craig Bosenberg had travelled a hell of a long way to be here (Canada being pretty much the opposite quarter of the globe). He had planned and prepared meticulously, but even with all that there was no guarantee of success. Watching him being interviewed today, one got a sense that the whole experience as a South African living abroad, was a lot more than he had expected. I’m assuming that a lot of the narrative from overseas about SA is negative, yet amid the everyday challenge of riding a bike through some of the most demanding terrain and having his equipment and resolve tested, he found that South Africa, its wild landscape, and diverse people, still resonate deeply with him. My sense is that Craig still has some processing to do after his three-week experience.

Hopefully, if you are still sitting on the fence, wondering if the trail is for you, you will see that there are many ways to ride the trail, and it is accessible to most people with a sense of adventure. Whether it is the weather, your equipment, your patience, your resolve, or your partners: you will be tested, and you will, no doubt, be a better human for it.

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