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Thursday 20 October 20:00 Day 6 RASA/RTR

The last batch of Summer 2022 RTR and RASA set off this morning. Tim James and his son Murray (RASA), the Payne brothers, Mr and Mrs Talbot and a very strong RTR contingent made up of Alex Harris, Arno Crous, Jacques Tattersall and Sally and Josh Hayman. Roger Nicholson yesterday shared his thoughts on the likely racing strategies of the final batch so I don’t need to dwell much on that aspect.

Although perhaps a brief update would be appropriate. Looking at the tracker map I see the Paynes have moved through Allendale on their way to Centacow and beyond. The rest of the RASA group (James x2 and Talbot X2) plus the Haymans are still enjoying the hospitality of Ian and Dana Waddilove. They are probably looking at birds, taking advantage of the extra pair of binoculars at Allendale. The RTR racers (Alex, Arno and Jacques) are, as expected, well on their way to Centacow and by tomorrow morning should be through Two Springs.

Before looking at how the rest of the field are doing there are two stories that I think are worth sharing. These stories, particularly one of them, have a somewhat tenuous link to the Freedom Challenge, but I hope readers will give me some license to meander a bit, as usual. And why not, we do encourage riders to ride with curiosity and perhaps my two stories for the day will pique exactly this attribute, curiosity.

A few days back I was in discussion with a foxy whiskered gentleman (if the reference seems familiar I urge you to look through your Beatrix Potter collection) and I was asked if I would be interested in a beautiful 1861 title deed. I examined the images that were forwarded to me (one is attached to this report) and it turns out the block of land in question is a property by the name of “Shortts Retreat”. The tenuous connection to the Freedom Challenge is that this property is very close (as in 100m or so) to the RASA route through Bisley Nature reserve. That aroused my curiosity (and just my curiosity, to be clear) and on further examination this “Shortts Retreat” is also the origin of the infamous nearby Polly Shorts hill on the Comrades Marathon route. Note the spelling, two “t”s versus the one “t” in Polly Shorts. Someone has screwed up badly and I can only suggest that those of you who have run in Polly Shorts clothing ask for some sort of refund.

My second story probably should be told further down the trail but, quite frankly, I feel like telling it now so that is what I am going to do. By way of back ground in my “normal” life I tell (written and verbal) stories. I am drawn to the ephemera of people who have died. In the suitcase that contains the last evidence of their lives lie their secrets. These suitcases find their way to me, more of them than you can imagine. I try to tell their story, before it is forgotten, because in many ways their story is our story. In one of these “dead man” suitcases I found a letter that I think would have touched the emotions of any Freedom rider. It certainly did mine.

We are all aware that the last day (or more) of RASA traverses through the exquisitely beautiful and simultaneously terrifying Stettynskloof valley, beyond which lies the finish at the Diemersfontein Wine Estate near Wellington. For those of you that don’t know, scattered at various points in the valley lie the remnants of the 1963 crash of a SAAF Shackleton aircraft. 13 people died in this crash. Their tragedy is a poignant reminder to riders of what they have endured during their personal journey. A reminder that not everyone makes it out of Stettynskloof. There is a memorial plaque on the crash site commemorating the tragedy. The letter I opened from the suitcase was from a young girl, Desiree Barry, from Fuller Hall at the University of Cape Town, dated 12 August 1963. Four days after the terrible accident. She writes to her friend Willie Bezuidenhout who at that stage was based in Maraisburg in the Transvaal. One of the deceased, 2nd Lt George James Smith, was the love of her life at the time – “hy het my hart in sy hande gehou”. He was the navigator on the flight. She asks Willie to buy a dozen red roses to put on the grave at his funeral. Enclosed in the envelope is a small mourning card that Willie was meant to put with the roses on the grave- “George, ek het jou so liefgehad. Rus sag my liefling”. The fact that the card is still in her letter seems to indicate that Willie didn’t fulfill her request. Perhaps it is the memory of how emotionally fragile I was during my journey through Stettynskloof but that made me incredibly sad. Subsequent to finding this letter I managed to track down Desiree Barry (with the help of Geoff at McGregor Backpackers). She was still living in McGregor. We chatted over the phone and arranged to meet in a few weeks’ time, when I will be going through McGregor as a Buffalo Herder. My intention was to give the letter back to her.

Very sadly, I was informed that Desiree passed away last week. She was 77 years old. I won’t get to meet her after all. I was told that she had never married. So perhaps a request to Freedom Riders if they happen to see the Shackleton memorial plaque in Stettynskloof. Please look for the name of 2nd Lt George James Smith and remember him and Desiree Barry. Take some roses if you can.

With my stories out the way we can now get back to the actual race. I’ve just had a look at the Tracker Map and quite frankly there isn’t a huge amount I can tell you. Hang on. Nigel and Adrian appear to be lost somewhere in the forest before Donnybrook. This is unexpected news and most encouraging for those that secretly (actually some not-so-secretly, which is fine) hope will happen. The RTR racer trio will be at Ntsikeni before midnight. Everyone else looks safe and sound in the support station that they hopefully intended to be safe and sound in.

I seem to recall one or two other riders going off route today but clearly these detours were aberrations, recovery being swift.

I did manage a catch up call with Buffalo Herder Pierre Singery late this afternoon. Pierre has been having a wonderful time ferrying Alex the Cameraman around. Alex is filming Ian Henderson, one of the RASA riders, and the footage will be input into a movie that really does have huge potential to spread the allure of the Freedom Challenge far and wide. Pierre tells me that these guys are not messing around, and some epic drone footage was shot today on Maporane Ridge.

On that encouraging note we end today’s report. Focus for tomorrow surely will be on the sharp end of the RTR riders, Alex, Arno and Jacques. Your reporter tomorrow is Ingrid Avidon and I happen to know that she has no intention whatsoever of writing about this. I will try and have a quiet word with her. After all the race report should be about the race, not peripheral stuff that is of no interest to anyone.

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