16 June 2021, Youth Day
It hasn’t taken long. We are back to where it all started, testing ourselves in inhospitable places in the bitter cold. RASA in winter, the mere thought of which is enough to quieten strong men and women. We heard the whispers during the two March events, the Race to Cradock and the Race to Willowmore. The inaugural Freedom Circuit race in April reinforced the fear that this year is going to be cold, very cold. I paid attention to the farmers of the Eastern Cape when they said in March “this is going to one of the coldest winters for decades”. Memories of the bitterly cold events of 2009, 2011 and 2012 have faded over time but the recent images of knee-deep snow in Rhodes and up at Tennahead have clearly sharpened the memory.
Reminds me of that wonderful poem by Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy evening”. Penned in 1922 it goes like this:
Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sounds the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep.
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
We haven’t had a Freedom Poem yet (or Freedom Poet for that matter). Given that we have Freedom Writers, Freedom Photographers and now a Freedom Artist (more about this a bit later), I see no reason why we cannot and should not have either or both of a Freedom Poem and perhaps even a Freedom Poet. I sense volunteers for the latter may take a while to emerge (please send your offerings directly to me.) In the meantime we can think about adopting Robert Frost’s offering above as a candidate for the official Freedom Poem. Perhaps engraved on next year’s race top?
I have just realized we do not have an official Freedom Challenge Song. This is just wrong but we will have to wait for another day for this to be addressed. Riders are asked to hum or whistle “Hi Ho it’s off to work I go” (Snow White) as a temporary solution until we find something more appropriate. For summer RASAs the temporary song will be “the Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music” (The Sound of Music). I’ll close the door on my way out.
I can hear Kevin Davie (fellow Freedom Writer and holder of Race Number 6 or thereabouts) muttering “it wasn’t like this in my day. Freedom Writers, Freedom Artists, Buffalo Herders, what the hell is going on…? Finishers should get winter duvets, they don’t deserve Basotho blankets”. I know he says it tongue-in-cheek but there is some truth in his comments. This event is not meant to be easy and we would do well to not forget that. Which is why my idea for a Freedom Masseuse at Cambria was rejected. For Freedom Riders that is, Buffalo Herders are still eligible.
Which brings me on to Freedom Challenge Siblings. For the last two years the Buffalo Herders have been privileged to watch (and listen to!) and interact with brothers Nigel and Adrian Payne. Nigel tells me that 2022 will be the fifth occasion the two brothers ride RASA together, this year being the fourth. Nigel wondered if there couldn’t be more siblings riding together. I understand what he wants others to experience. The love (because that is what it is) of experiencing something like the Freedom Challenge with a sibling is difficult to describe. To observe the obvious affection between the two Payne brothers as they ride is quite moving, in “I wish I could experience the same” kind of way. Incidentally this year they stand to become the first pair of brothers to complete RASA and the Cape Epic in the same year. Impressive to say the least.
Other brothers (no sisters or brother/sisters yet, but watch this space, the Stewarts are coming) to have completed RASA include Dave and Robert Waddilove in the inaugural RASA. The third Waddilove brother, Ian, finished RASA the following year, sadly without his fellow brothers. I wonder, three Waddilove brothers to enter the 20th anniversary RASA in 2023? Other brothers to ride and complete RASA are Marnus (“Naked Nienaber” or “Die Rooi Baron”) and Werner Nienaber (not sure if they rode in the same year?), the Matthews bothers (Luke and Rowan), Jethro and Zane de Decker, Mike and Sean Woolnough, the Wood brothers (Anton and Adam) and the Kirsten (‘Banana Skin”) brothers. If I have confused a father/son combo as a brother combo or perhaps a complete coincidence (same surname, same finish time) my humble apologies.
Get additional brothers and sisters off their couches and onto the trail, the Freedom Siblings need you (cue bearded man pointing directly at you)! I’m thinking of the Barrow brothers and cousins in particular. Could be an entire batch of Barrows. Reminds of that somewhat tired joke about the wheelbarrow smugglers (easily accessible through a Google search). Sisters? None as far as I can see.
So what lies in store for our Freedom Challenge community this June and July? We have three events, the 16th Race to Rhodes (25 entrants), the 18th Race Across South Africa (56 entrants) and the 2nd Race to Paarl (23 entrants). It’s great to see fuller fields after the challenges of a COVID-hit 2020. 104 starters across the 3 events, Race Office including the Buffalo Herders are going to be busy. I have done a bit of an analysis of the entrants for all three races and my observations and comments, in no particular order are as follows:
There are 12 riders doing RASA who have not entered or finished any previous FC events. Similarly for RTR there are 8 FC newcomers and for RTP, 5 FC newcomers. This is really good to see, 25 riders experiencing the FC trail for the first time (assuming none have a DNF from prior events).
Prior to this year’s event there have been 405 finishes in RASA, of which 302 are unique finishes with many riders having completed more than one event.
The record (or fastest known times (FKT)) for RTR for men is 45 hours and 19 minutes by Martin Dreyer in 2019, and amongst the women Jeannie Dreyer, in 2 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes in 2013. The rumor mill has it that both records are being pursued, the men’s record by Alex Harris and the women’s by Ingrid Avidon. The best of luck to both of them and any other riders who fancy a win or even a record in RTR.
The RASA record is held by Alex Harris at 9 days and 22 hours achieved last year in the summer run RASA. Alex I guess is looking at putting up best times for both the winter and summer versions. I’ll leave it to Mike Woolnough to ponder on the competitive edge of RASA in his first race report.
I’ve looked at the women’s field for RASA and I’m picking Mandy Joyce and Sarah Watermeyer to get line honors. Sub 18 days? Time will tell. Sandy Maytham-Bailey expanded her horizons in the inaugural Freedom Circuit when she won the women’s 700km event and it is great to see some additional really strong women riders emerging. Hopefully other line honor candidates amongst the women will come forward during the race.
No-one went under 3 days at the inaugural RTP last year, so the record is ripe for the plucking. We will look at this afresh when RTP starts in July. Anthony Avidon is riding and I imagine he has the bit between his teeth after his win in the 400km event at the Freedom Circuit. Whoever wins the women’s event will hold the record, no women started last year.
As far as the Buffalo Herders and Race Office goes we can tell you that John the Geologist and I are back for the full journey from PMB to Wellington. Elton is taking a break for this event but will be back for future events I am sure. Advocate Gerrit Pretorius is joining a veritable crowd of volunteer Buffalo Herders at Cambria for the actual buffalo herding. Mike Potgieter, Andy Wesson, Fiona Coward, and Janine Oosthuizen will be gathering with John, Gerrit and I at Cambria. We will, as is becoming the custom, royally look after the riders as they emerge from the Osseberg, escort them the next day (mainly) through the Baviaanskloof as required by Cape Nature. Aside from that we will have a blast, a reunion and celebration of Freedom Challenge alumni. The invitation to join us is always open including for this year’s event. We pay our own way so more people does not equate to a strain on the finances of the Freedom Challenge. The sustainability of the Freedom Challenge is a cause worthy of pursuing and it is wonderful to see the Freedom Challenge family volunteering with this as the objective.
Which brings me to Bruce Backhouse, our resident Freedom Artist. Bruce is one of South Africa’s leading landscape artists and a keen cyclist to boot. The plan for his involvement is that he will join the Buffalo Herders for the next couple of years. His sole responsibility is to produce a body of work (great big beautiful landscapes) in time for the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Freedom Challenge in 2023. A significant portion of the sale of these works of art will go to the Freedom Trail Scholarship fund. So if you see a guy in a floppy hat sitting at an easel along the way in some remote place do not be puzzled or alarmed. It is he, Bruce. Bruce will also provide us with a regular stream of line drawings that will accompany the daily report.
Race Office seems to be operating as smoothly. Chris and Julia have, as always, put in the hard yards to pull off yet another FC season. I have noticed images of roughly 1400 ice cream boxes heading off to the various support stations. I am sure Chris is looking forward to setting off 11 batches from PMB. He will only be halfway through this by the time the first RTR riders get to Rhodes, so the Buffalo Herders will be running the finisher’s dinner and handing over the whips to RTR finishers.
Llewellyn Lloyd of Bloemfontein is again serving as the Freedom Photographer and also as an honorary Buffalo Herder. He and I also have plans to bring a fresh look at the various post offices, railway stations, churches, rugby fields, cemeteries and farmhouses along the way. Drones are beautiful things.
Lastly we have new blood as part of the Freedom Writers echelon. Kevin Davie, Mike Woolnough, Ingrid Avidon and Fiona Coward will be producing race reports with me over the next month. They are at liberty to write about whatever they want to. It is a responsibility not to be taken lightly and thank you to Chris for giving us licence to write what we see fit. I am sure on occasion he winces.