So much has happened since the last report. Dawn Bell winner of the ladies race has been joined on the podium by the mens winner who wasn’t in consideration for the win up until the final day where fate played an interesting hand. I’ll get into the details of the winner and the not winner later in the report.
As I write this in the late afternoon there are only 2 sets of wheels rolling down the trail. Andreas Diacon and Nienke van Schalk are skirting around Brandvlei en route to Trouthaven where the tail end of the race are gathering for a final assault on Stettynkloof in the morning. Nienke is nursing an injury but has her sights set on the finish line.
Already ensconced in Trouthaven are Peter Roux, Paul Arnot, Gary Scoular, John Barrow, Gerald Holland, Michael Pratchitt and Andrew Setzkorn. Stettynkloof as the final hurdle is intimidating. The final Stettyns bus will have heard varying tales of the Kloof transit filtering through ranging from, “It’s easy enough, just follow the obvious path” to “Eish, I hope we don’t get stuck in there for 2 days like that other guy.”
From Trouthaven it is only 50 kilometres to the finish at Diemersfontein. A mere hop skip and a jump you’d think especially with 2100 kilometres under your belt since leaving Pietermaritzburg a few weeks back. There’s just the matter of a small portage up the Kloof. Of the 50 kilometres all but 10 kilometres of it can be ridden. The problem is those 10 kilometres. Getting through those 10 kilometres in 6 or 7 hours is considered a respectable run. Maybe not run. More like stagger, trip, cuss and a final scamper up a cliff face. Anyway, those gathered at Trouthaven have that iconic final hurdle to face in the morning. I’m fairly certain there are mixed emotions.
Finishing today we had Janine Oosthuizen who first entered the race 7 years ago and after having to postpone has finally earned her first blanket. It’s been a long time coming and she will enjoy the feel of it once it’s placed around her shoulders. Her journey was unremarkable and I mean that as a compliment. She was measured and methodical in her approach taking a rest day as she felt the need arriving at the finish without drawing too much attention from the dot watcher army.
Also finishing today we had Chris Mortimer, Francis Bradford and Brad van der Westhuizen. Brad has said he will be giving his blanket to his partner Nikki Oats who had to withdraw from the race in Willowmore.
News from the Berg River Marathon where Ingrid is attempting the final leg of her Freedom Challenge Extreme Triathlon is not cheery. Unfortunately Ingrid has had to withdraw from the event. It’s been extremely difficult for her with more time in the water than she was comfortable with. The risk of hypothermia a real risk. It was a hard 2 days on the river and while obviously disappointed she is at peace about it. She wrote, “Time to reflect. This was tough. I am not a skilled paddler. Falling into freezing water and shivering has taken its toll. I have lost 2 paddles so can't really use my hands to paddle. I do feel disappointed and sad but in the greater scheme of life it is ok. Maybe Steve and I will come back tomorrow and run/ride to Velddrift. Or maybe I will stay home and be a Mom. Whatever I decide I am not going to attach my sense of self and esteem and worthiness to breathe oxygen on this planet, to not finishing the Berg and that is a great lesson to learn. Even at 52. I will train and prepare and return one day.”
Like me I’m sure you are gutted for her. She took on a massive undertaking and in almost achieving her goal she has earned our admiration and respect. I find it hard enough to keep my headspace together when I ride on my own. Ingrid rode RASA while taking responsibility for other riders. That in itself is worthy of respect. She’s a tough lady. Well done Ingrid.
Lets chat about the race winners. Yes, 2 winners, in different categories. Enslin Uys slipped through Stettynskloof in the early hours of yesterday morning in the company of Gawie du Plessis, Quinton Rutherford, Rebecca Sands, Jason Wesson and Justin Bark. That lot rampaged through the Kloof passing Bruce Biccard who was snuggled up in his bivvy on the slopes above them. The lads took off as they exited the Kloof leaving Rebecca to make her way to the finish on her own. An excellent finish for all yesterday afternoon. Gawie joins the 5 blanket gang.
By the time Bruce unfurled himself from his night in his crinkly cocoon the rampagers were hours ahead. Unbeknownst to Bruce he was no longer the race leader and equally unbeknownst to Enslin was the fact that Enslin was now the race leader. Reports from the finish are that the first Enslin knew about this unexpected bonus was as he arrived at the gate at Diemersfontein. His first concern was for his riding buddy Bruce. By the time he had made his way around the dam he took time to let it sink in that as a RASA rookie he had managed to win the race. It’s been a long time since a rookie had achieved a win. Well done Enslin.
Bruce had entered the Kloof at 5pm on Tuesday. He wasn’t that confident of getting through but figured he could at least get to the river by the rocky scree some 6 kilometres from the dam wall. Once there he would bed down and then continue at first light. He felt he owed it to the race to respect his position as race leader, as unexpected as it was, and take on the Kloof. 3.5km in it all went pear shaped. He wandered off the poorly defined path and spent the next 6 hours fumbling around in the dense fynbos. At 1:30am he got his bivvy out where he settled for the next 6 hours.
Once awake he looked out over the valley and realised he was nowhere near where he thought he was. The rest of the day he kept us dot watchers amused and then perplexed as he moved only 2 kilometres down the trail and back again before calling it quits just after last light by pressing the “helping hand” button on his tracker. The helping hand button is used to signal that a rider is in need of assistance. It’s not an emergency—there’s the SOS button for that. A helping hand button activation signals to the race office that a rider has quit the race and needs assistance to get off the trail.
Earlier in the afternoon the race office had already realised that Bruce would need help and had made their way to the top of the Kloof and were making their way down. In the meantime Bruce, realising he wasn’t getting anywhere had turned around to make his way back to Trouthaven. Arno noticing the change of direction volunteered to head up the valley from the dam side. He called his longtime riding buddy Eddie who along with Eddie’s son Ricky made their way up the Kloof armed with a meal of curry and rice and a flask of coffee. Near the spot they expected to find Bruce they fanned out and found Bruce who was back in his Bivvy. A quick meal, something hot to drink and the 4 of them made their way back to the dam wall and the waiting vehicle.
They drove Bruce back to Diemersfontein for a hot shower and warm bed where he was shaken and stirred but fully intact after his extended foray into Stettynkloof.
This morning Bruce put out an audio message recounting his time in the Kloof. It’s an amazing piece of narrative delivered with raw emotion that speaks of resilience, determination and reflection. If you haven’t heard it do yourself a favour and hunt it down. It’s inspirational. I had a friend call me today to tell me his wife listened to Bruce’s message and then turned to her husband and said, “Now I finally understand why this race means so much to you. Go ride it again.”
Bruce might not have won the race but he won our respect. He’s a consummate gentleman. I spoke to him earlier. He is still processing his experience. I asked him, “Would you trade your experience over the last 2 days for a clear Stettyns run blanket?”
His reply, “No. I always thought that not getting a blanket would be devastating. I found this experience (the whole race) bigger, than the blanket. (Don't doubt that I would do nearly anything for a blanket: they are the coolest things out there).”
Let’s leave it there. Good night.