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Race to Cradock 2023 | Race Report #1

The ninth running of the Race to Cradock is underway, the first event taking placed in 2015. RTC is generally regarded as the best event for a first time Freedom Rider to enter. A really tough (particularly in wet weather) first three days are followed by a slightly less taxing run-in to Cradock for the second half of RTC.

RTC brings to mind places like Bottelnek, Kappokkraal, the Slaapkrantz exit, Bontehoek, Stormberg, Aasvogelberg, the Elandsberg portage, Schurfteberg and Swaershoek. We each have our own private memories of these places, some being etched more indelibly than others. Feel free to point out any “indelible memory” spots I may have missed.

The support stations Chesneywold, Slaapkrantz, Moordenaarspoort, Kranskop, Brosterlea, Romansfontein and Elandsberg have served us well from the early days of the Freedom Challenge. Hofmeyer has been an interim stop since the inception of FC. The Victoria Hotel has been hosting us there for a few years now, proving a popular stop. Groenfontein is also relatively new (and also a popular stop). The names of previous support stations such as Stuttgart have not been forgotten from the years they hosted riders. I’ll try and drop by the latter to get an update during this event.

The first three batches of the 2023 RTC have set off from Rhodes. By Friday all riders will be on the trail. The first two batches have had reasonable weather to negotiate although there were some heavy localized showers yesterday, resulting in one group having to get (an approved) bakkie ride across a swollen river.

I bumped into blanket holder Dominic Giampaolo’s Batch 1 at Slaapkrantz the night before last. They looked in fine spirits, a good first day for them. Yesterday the ride to Kranskop proved to be a bit more taxiing by the looks of it. Batch 2 has some old FC hands, Mark Basel and Nicola Oates in particular. All seems fine with their journey so far. I will catch up with them down the trail.

Batch 3 is made up of riders with no prior experience on the trail, including John Barrow’s sister Janet Malcolm, riding with her husband. This is just wonderful, a smorgasbord of dot-watcher interest is always piqued when adventure beckons for the uninitiated rider. Actually this is the best way to ride the Freedom Trail, 100% reliant on yourself for navigation.

This is the first event of the 20th anniversary of the Freedom Challenge. Dave Waddilove’s vision all those years back of a mountain biking trail from Pietermaritzburg to Wellington lives on. The Freedom Trail is a testament to his foresight and energy. Look around as you head South-West (not always, just to be clear) along the trail. Dave’s legacy lies before you.

I drove up from Cape Town before this race, visiting Romansfontein, Kranskop and Slaapkrantz to drop off rider’s ice-cream boxes. I have never seen the veld looking as beautiful as it currently is. The results of a few good years of rain are clear to see. Riders (if they manage to look up at what lies around them) are in for a proper treat. The downside is that the gravel roads have taken a hammering. Suffice to say the drive from Romansfontein to Molteno is interesting (but always well worth it).

Riders are encouraged to “ride with curiosity”. Have the conversations, stop and look at the family graveyards, scan for the evidence of those that over the centuries have travelled the same trail as you. In so doing it will be a richer experience for both you and those that you meet.

Buffalo Herders also “drive with curiosity”. As such we (actually probably mostly me) find things. One such object was a beautiful old family photo album that I picked up in Cape Town the day I left for the trail. There were a few clues as to the origins of the album. Being curious, I followed the trail and it turns out that album once belonged to Philip Amm, one of the original 1820 Settlers. His father, Simon Amm was the captain of the ship Boat Canada that brought one group of settlers. The photographs are roughly from the period 1870 to 1890.

Philip Amm was married four times, one marriage (his first) being to Mary Gush, daughter of the famous (he negotiated a peace treaty with the Xhosa) Richard Gush of Salem. Salem (near Grahamstown) was originally founded by the Hezekiah Sephton party of 1820 Settlers. What is the relevance of all of this, you may well ask. If you did I wouldn’t blame you. However, there is a connection. The RTC travels through 1820 Settler country. The families have been there for generations, including the family of blanket holder Ray Sephton. Maybe Ray would enjoy a cup of coffee and a chat about those times, 200 years ago. I certainly would.

One other small item I thought worth sharing is the cover of a 1953 pulp paperback “Alien Corn” by Ursula Bloom. “Ursula Bloom ” is surely a pseudonym, reminiscent of the two legendary characters Pussy Galore (Goldfinger, James Bond) and Felicity Shagwell (Austin Powers). Actually, on refection, maybe it isn’t reminiscent at all. Moving on.

This slight volume came my way from the wonderfully eclectic antique shop in Cradock. The connection here is tenuous I admit, but I had dinner last night at the Royal Manor in Barkly East with a lovely chap by the name of Johan. Johan is from Kroonstad and is a specialist in feed supplements for livestock. We talked about many things and I learned much about his world, including genetically modified seeds. I now know a few things about “Alien Corn”. As an aside Johan also told me that bountiful lush veld does not translate to more food for livestock. On the contrary, quantity is good but quality not so good. He is in the animal feed supplement business, after all.

Looking ahead at the sharp end of this year’s RTC I see the racers batch has some keen riders in it. Roger Nicholson (on a single speed) tells me he is going for the single speed record which currently stand at 60 hours and forty eight minutes, owner Mike Woolnough. Any competition between Mike and Roger is well worth watching. Jason Wesson has the ability to push boundaries and it will be interesting to see what his strategy is. Ingrid Avidon is unfortunately no longer riding, she is doing the Cape Epic and we wish her well.

Mike Woolnough has another mentor group and they leave tomorrow morning. Some familiar names amongst the riders and I have no doubt they will have a blast under Mike’s guidance.

There we go, a brief update on the race and some Buffalo Musings. Until next time.

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