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Straws upon a camel’s back | Buffalo vignettes | Mike Roy

Gill Graaf (Freedom Circuit 400km 2021) is the most recent addition to the ever expanding clutch of Freedom Writers. Gill and her husband John (also FC Circuit 400km 2021 (a tough one to abbreviate)) happened to be spending a few days up at Tenahead Resort whilst RASA and RTR were going through, a week back. Aside from coming to say hello to me down at Alpine Swift, which was very much appreciated, Gill spent some time in the library up at Tenahead and came across this gem, contained in a guide for cyclists and motorcyclists, published in 1897:

there were 115 items listed under “touring requirements”, such as string, riding gloves, corkscrews, passport, spare trousers, cardigan, compass, leather-straps, notebook, and on-and-on. Some of the remainder were also handy, no-doubt, had I known what hand to lay on them or when, such as puggatee, sperm-oil, and treadle pin; and further requisites spoke of the age rather than this - white cuffs, spare neckties, visiting cards, and Jampwick. I like being recommended to ‘take my money in the form of gold coins’ and ‘if accosted by footpads or brigands to inform them that you are British and display your Union flag’. The guide was helpful in reminding me, yet again, that all possessions are, however valid individually, are each as straws upon a camel’s back. “Slippers, saddle-cover, sponge, barometer, conversation book’ - all laudable individually but, en masse, most burdensome. And irksome. And ready to break spines.”

And how spines have been broken in this year’s RASA. As I write 18 of the 54 RASA starters (33.3%) have withdrawn for various reasons. I don’t have historical stats available but this must surely rate as one of the most brutal RASAs in memory. General consensus is that the relentless winds of the first week took their toll, mentally and physically. A never-ending struggle, from morning to night. I will leave it to Mike Woolnough and Leon Erasmus to expand further on this topic in their race reports, a daily event that allows me and other Freedom Writers the latitude to drift off on any number of wistful red herrings that at times have the most tenuous connection to the race itself. For this we are very grateful. Hopefully our limited fan base is as well.

Gill and John Graaf’s involvement with the Freedom Challenge is by no means restricted to what I have outlined above. They tell me that they are the proud owners of the Mfula Store in the Valley of the Thousand Hills, well known to those of us who are familiar with the Dusi Canoe Marathon. The Freedom Challenge connection with Mfula Store is that it served as a watering point for the 85km Freedom Challenge Trail run that used to form the first leg of the Freedom Challenge Triathlon (Comrades/Ultra Trail Run, RASA and the Berg Marathon).

Mfula Store

During last year’s summer RASA I raised the topic of a possible resurrection of the Freedom Challenge Triathlon. It was last run a decade ago, but recent changes in the start dates of Comrades and the Berg River Canoe Marathon suggest that it could be on again pending the blessing of Chris Fisher. I recall at the very least, Ingrid Avidon, Erika and Leon Erasmus expressed interest. In fact Ingrid was talking about adding a Robben Island swim at the end of it, perhaps followed by 100km on a rowing machine, one of those Concept 2 contraptions. I think I see what Ingrid is doing, by putting this kind of thing out in the public domain one is, in a way, compelled to actually do it. Very clever and we all look forward to following her (and Leon and Erika’s) efforts. Hopefully others will be tempted.

The administration of this year’s RASA and RTR has been hectic due to the increased size of the fields. Race Office, including the Buffalo Herders, has been stretched. Never before have we so many “help” buttons pushed. All in a day’s work, it is what it is, but I think I overhead Race Director Chris Fisher musing about whether or not there should be both a summer and winter version of RASA run each year, in an attempt to make the fields more manageable. This may well have been just a whimsical thought of Chris’s but it did get me thinking. Could this work? Would the demand be there? Personally I think both events would be full to the brim, and would in time acquire a similar reputation to the Up and Down Comrades Marathons. Same event but different. What I do know is that there would be no shortage of Buffalo Herders to help out.

A week ago I had to help Jason Wesson out at Kranskop, his wheel was broken (to put it mildly). There is a very long story about the resolution of that problem but I will leave that for another day, if at all. My observation in this report is rather about Kranskop itself. I have previously been through there twice before, both as a RASA rider. Prior to my recent visit I had only ever seen Kranskop in the dark, arriving late at night and leaving before light in the morning. I could have sworn blind that Kranskop was situated on a flat, featureless plain. Much to my surprise this is not the case at all. It is surrounded by mountains and koppies, nothing flat about the area in the slightest. Further evidence that nighttime riding messes with one’s mind, as if we didn’t know that already.

Memories of Rhodes seem a while back, but I’d like to share a few glimpses that we experienced whilst there. Given that we had a week or so manning Alpine Swift there was time in between the arrival and departure of riders to follow a few threads in Rhodes and the surrounding area.

John the Geologist happened to bump into a fellow by the name of Roger Browne. Turns out that Roger has a link with Freedom Challenge. During the inaugural Freedom Run (2003?) by Dave Waddilove, the predecessor event of RASA itself, Roger ran a couple of the legs of this run with Dave. One leg from Molteno and the last leg into PMB. Each of these legs was around 40km. For those of you unfamiliar with this inaugural run, Dave Waddilove ran the Two Oceans and at the finish carried on running from Cape Town to PMB, concluding his journey with running the Comrades Marathon in a sub 9 hour time (so I am led to believe by Roger). Kevin Davie is currently chatting to Dave Waddilove about this journey and hopefully this will lead to a proper article on this epic achievement. Roger ran nine or so Rhodes Ultra Marathon events in his time, a notoriously tough event, and his recollection was “Dave was too strong for me”.

Caroline Thompson Reeders, formerly of Elliott, hosted me over a coffee at her lovely farm near Rhodes. She very kindly gave me a book on the history of Rhodes, written by her mother-in-law. In time this book will be useful pointer to other Rhodes stories, hopefully to be shared with you in future race reports. I have included some very useful info (and a photo) on the Rhodes Post Office, a secret thrill for the three post office aficionados amongst our readership.

Rhodes Post Office

The Buffalo Herder contingent at Cambria is almost at full strength, at least as full as it is going to get given that all of the Gauteng Buffalo Herders had to withdraw due to COVID lockdown. Fiona Coward, Mike Potgieter, John the Geologist and I will be joined late this evening by runner Andy Wesson. It has, and will be (we have three or so more days here) great fun. I know Fiona is writing something on this angle so I will leave it to her to expand further.

The various vintage magazines I collected from Fiona have been a life-saver in the few quiet moments during this RASA. How I missed VUSA in the 1980s I do not know. Many memories in the six or so copies I bought from Fiona. The 1930s Popular Mechanics are splendid as well. I could go on all day so I will do exactly that. On second thoughts I won’t. I'll just leave a few images, they speak for themselves.

We are over the half way mark in this year’s RASA. It goes so quickly.

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