It’s Saturday 18 June, early morning, and the 2022 Race Across South Africa is well underway. Six batches are already on the route. Before we know it the entire field will have started, the last batch setting off on Wednesday next week. The Buffalo Herders have so far been kept busy. This is a good thing because it is very cold and even Buffalo Herders must keep moving to avoid hypothermia.
The first days of RASA always throw a few curve balls that cause batches still to start to peer nervously down the trail. Three days back it rained in Pietermaritzburg, somewhat unusually for this time of the year. The batch that started that day looked as miserable as all hell as they battled through Bisley Nature Reserve in rain and hail. All except Janine Oosthuizen who was her normal cheerful self.
The Umkomaas River valley is at its most formidable. All the rains over the summer months have resulted in overgrown paths and an abundance of ticks, so much so that Race Office has placed (thanks to Rebecca Sands) cans of tick repellant at the Oaks in Byrne. This is a first. The exit from Allandale also seems to be causing navigational problems, especially for experienced Freedom Challengers. False memories perhaps, the bane of Freedom Riders.
The Buffalo Herders have a soft spot for those riders who belong to the left hand downslope (actually as it begins to flatten) of the Bell Curve of Freedom Riders. Ron Smythe (fellow Buffalo Herder) and I are proud members of this group, commonly known as the No Blanket (but want one) Group. So is John Bowen, race number 298, who is currently on his fourth attempt for his blanket. John has had, as is the tradition, a rough start with a very long and wet first day to Allandale. He has taken three days to Ntsikeni and holed up not far from Masakala last night. We are behind you brother. That blanket beckons.
Renn Holtzhausen and Craig McCarthy (both from Cape Town) are showing enough promise to get automatic membership of this elite group. Four nights down and they have made Ntsikeni. They will need to push on to make the eight day cut-off in Rhodes. The odds are against them, but we have seen riders recover from similar situations before. I know what is going to happen. Renn and Craig will get their blankets. They will just have to accept that they cannot be part of our No Blanket (but want one) Club. Ren is 70 years old and is riding with a heart full of stents. Respect.
This year it seems like every second rider is Riding for a Cause. This is fabulous. We are a privileged lot being involved with this incredible event. To give back in some way seems right. The Freedom Scholarship Fund has been and will continue to be the focal point of the Freedom Challenge itself but there are other initiatives underway and they are all welcome.
Paul Moxley is riding for our rivers which are struggling to breath (Adopt a River). Grant Hill is riding to create opportunities in sport for guys and girls who have disabilities. His escort of disabled cyclists on recliner bikes as he moved through to Bisley was wonderful. The Payne Brothers ride to help people realise their dreams (Reach a Dream). Ingrid Avidon is trying to inspire women through her 12X12 initiative.
Bruce Backhouse (Freedom Artist) is immersed in creating his Freedom Trail landscape canvas masterpieces, part of the proceeds of which will benefit the Scholarship Foundation next year. Never before has there been so much competition for your donation rands. My advice is don’t overstress about who to give to, make it easy for yourselves and give to them all. And then come and ride the Freedom Trail, the gift that keeps on giving.
The Buffalo Herders took a drive up to Ntsikeni to witness the first batch attempt the new route out of Pleasentview on the way to Two Springs (also new) support station. Who should we find in the middle of the soon-to-become-infamous mielie field but the owner of the farm, Lance Rorich. It certainly does help our cause to ride though farms of blanket holders, Lance having earned his blanket in 2018.
Lance told us about the family farms and piqued my interest when he spoke about the main family farmhouse that was apparently built by Italian PoWs during WWII. The original plans were discovered in the ceiling of the farmhouse, each sandstone block being numbered individually. Surely this should inspire riders to ride with curiosity. Who knows what you will discover. Chat to the farmers, ask about their history. Take a ladder and climb up into their attics, just make sure you don’t do this when you are muddy. That is taboo on the Trail, mud in the support stations.
On that note the Buffalo Herders must get back to their duties. We have been based in Himeville at the beautiful home of Craig Mackrory (blanket holder, 2012) and his wife Hilliary. We have had a very happy five or six days so far, conditioning ourselves for the tough days ahead. We split up today, Elton and I head down the trail, Elton to be based in Matatiele and I am going over the mountain to be in Rhodes in time to welcome the first finisher of the Race to Rhodes, Arn de Haas. The Eastern Cape beckons. Hopefully I will get a chance to pop into the Matatiele Museum and help them get organize their back editions of the local newspaper. They have copies dating back to 1901. Currently they are in a bit of a mess.