Day 6 Wrap

Day 6 wrap
David Waddilove

Friday, 18 June 2010

The cold front has passed, the snow has fallen and the 2010 Freedom Challenge is starting to gather a familiar rhythm - we have witnessed the Donnybrook maneuver performed by a few participants and all aspirant front runners fall short of Masakala as a second night target. Running from the front of the field backwards here’s how things stand. Adventurer racers Trevor and Ugene’s initial charge was slowed by technical problems that were sorted out at Masakala. They then pushed through Malekhalonyane and Black Fountain and, relying on Ugene’s pinpoint navigation, they descended the single track to Tinana Mission in darkness arriving after midnight. Wednesday saw them in Vuvu shortly after midday. With Lehana’s Pass thick in snow and clouds closing in on the container at the summit they opted for the safer but longer route up Naude’s Nek from where participants normally take 2 hours to descend in a rush of wind to Rhodes. With ice on the road they were forced to walk it taking close to six hours and arriving well after midnight. On Thursday morning they were late leaving.

With isolated snowfalls in the Bottlenek Spruit and Rytjiesvlakte they had a surreal day of snow riding before heading over the Kapokkraal portage just after sunset. Six day, seven support stations they are 1.5 below par. They are probably hoping to push through the Vaalbank support station towards Brosterlea but might find their going slowed by the thick snow and sticky black mud on the Loutebron and Bonthoek portages.

Coming through a day later Ray Farrankothen, Scott James and Gawie have kept to the programme, riding this Mehloding section of the trail support station to support station. On Thursday they left Vuvu and were the first group to take on Lehana’s Pass, finding their own way through the knee deep snow that obscured all the cattle paths. Despite one very badly barked shin, they made it through to Rhodes in good time and in a day that Scott described as his best day of mountain biking…ever. Six day six support station – they are on par. It is anticipated that they will continue riding support station to support station at least until they reach the Karoo.

Behind them Chris Morris and Dave Bell are proceeding very efficiently along the trail, helped no doubt by their pacers/navigators, the Maluti-Mcleods who will leave them in Rhodes. On Thursday they left Malekhalonyane for Vuvu and on Friday they will arrive in Rhodes where they are likely to stay and take proper leave of the guides, family and friends who did the Ride to Rhodes as part of their start group. Included in that group is Brendan Hayden who battled gamely through the first four days before opting to put his pack in the Ride to Rhodes support vehicle and downgrade to that race.

The third start batch was set alight by the De Decker brothers who flew off the front only to have their 14 day race strategy start to unravel when they got lost coming out of Ntsikeni Nature Reserve at night. Mechanical problems then meant that they could not progress beyond Masakala the following day. However, having had the opportunity to recharge, early on Thursday morning they flew out of Masakala only to spent much the time before dawn wandering around the Knira River flood plain. They spent the evening in Malekhalonyane with the rest of their start group which includes Quenton Oates and Blackie Swart who are on a very well thought through 24 day race strategy – ride during the day and enjoy it.

At Malekhalonyane on Thursday evening this group of riders were joined by Adventurer Alex Harris who was forced to stop the previous night at Banchory after losing his maps crossing the Ngwangwane River in the approach to Ntsikeni. Alex then made good speed through to Masakala, where he refueled before pushing on to Malekhalonyane. Having ridden 4 support stations in 3 days Alex (ie 2.5 below par) is effectively the race leader.

The fourth start batch, which included Glenn Harrison riding a Giant 29’r single speed and Australian couples Bec and Tim James and Audrey and Marius Gerber made slow going of the first day. Giant single speed 29’r Glen arrived at the Allendale support station with a few hours of sunlight remaining and decided not to leave immediately for Centocow. Instead he left in the very early hours of the morning but his progress was slow. Not learning from his lesson of 3 years ago where he ended up sleeping out in the Donnybrook forests he again made navigation errors. His progress was generally slow and, despite his early start, he was not able to push past Ntsikeni. On Thursday he rode from Ntsikeni through to Masakala. He is now probably looking to push past the next support station at Malekhalonyane if he is to try to set a new single speed record.

Meanwhile Marius Gerber, battling with a persistent health problem compounded by the cold of the front, withdrew at Minerva Reserve leaving his wife Audrey to travel on alone and as one of the four women participating in this year’s race. Send Audrey your messages of support at 072 1182154. Currently riding with Bec and Aussie Tim James, the threesome left Allendale on Wednesday but were slow in getting through the Donnybrook forests and past the Centocow Mission. After crossing the Ngwangwane River at dusk they got lost in the plantations of Boshelweni and eventually slept the night with at the home of a local headman. Although it set them back a bit time wise it did afford them the privilege of riding through the grasslands of the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve in daylight. They then proceeded to Banchory farm arriving just after dark. On their way there they were joined by Paddy Veenstra who had started well before them but had stopped at Ntsikeni for two days whilst sorting out a broken freewheel hub. The four will have a relatively easy day of riding through to Masakala village.

The only riders leaving Pietermaritzburg on Day 5 (Wednesday) were a large group doing the Ride to Rhodes.

Thursday, Leaving on Thursday Allen Sharpe made very fast progress through the Umkomaas River, up the Hella Hella and on to Allendale arriving in the mid afternoon. To the surprise of many he then stopped for the night. He was later joined by Mark Mitchell and Travis Saunders who were contemplating whether to head into the forests that evening or early next morning – word amongst riders is that there are monsters there. Later the same evening the two other women participants, Estelle Labuschagne and Gerda Gruner arrived at Allendale together with Eastern Cape farmer Ray Sephton and 2009 finisher, Errol Derrick.

Friday and Saturday see the last two groups leave, both of which contain their fair share of racing snakes, and then we sit back and watch the race unfold

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