Boet Werrie June 26 Day 16: Trouthaven to Diemersfontein

All Freedom Challengers have heard the horror stories of Stettynskloof – “the kloof that shall not be named”.  The route to Diemers is only about 50km long, but takes the most part of the day – that is in normal weather.  Generally the plan is to leave very early to do the climb to the dam wall and the first 3 km to the inlet of the dam in the dark (it takes about 2-3hours).  When the other 3 woke us up at 4:30am, it was clear that the storm was still raging outside.  Us 4 that were caught in the storm the previous day were very lethargic – everything happened slowly. 

When the others left at 5:30am, we were still getting ready.  We raided others boxes for as much food as we can get.  We ate breakfast at 4:30, and are not going to get food again until we finish.  Many riders make the mistake of not taking enough food for this day.  As we walked out the door (around 6:30am) our Scotty stopped us. He wanted to say a prayer for us for this day – Leon started off this habit where we held hands and prayed at breakfast, lunch and dinner stops.  This was the 1st time that Scotty asked to lead the prayer.

We made very good time to the inlet of the dam, where we got stuck.  The narratives said that we had to cross the stream.  The stream however was a raging river with all the rain that fell the night before.  JT and I wanted to cross, Leon and Scott had more sense. They picked out a route higher up the right side of the valley.  Because of the dense foliage, it’s impossible to try to follow the river up the valley.  It was the right choice of route under the circumstances.  However, it was slow going to get down the small cliffs and thru the washed away rocky streams (like big dongas).

We caught up to the other 3 near the Schakleton crash site – the plane crashed here in 1960, killing all people on board.  Pieces of the plane wreck are spread over a very large area.  It’s still there as if it just happened yesterday – a bit eerie.  There is a small bronze plague erected in memory of those who died.  The normal route goes around a rocky outcrop below this plague.  The plague, however, were way below us.  I noticed this and mentioned it to the others.  They were reluctant to go down. 

My mind work in pictures, once I’ve been at a place, I’ll remember it in fairly good detail.  I’ve done Stettyns a year before.  A few minutes later I spotted some green grey builders down near the river – where the path goes over.  Because the route we followed was terribly slow, I announced that I’m going down to where the path is and started climbing down.  I’m not sure if it was my confidence, the crap route we were trying to follow, or the cold numbness of the persistent driving rain, but everybody followed me.

When we eventually got to the builders, I found a stacked stone cairn.  This was put there by previous year’s riders.  This is the path that we had to follow.  Scotty took control of the path finding – he had the amazing ability to spot these stacked stone cairns.  Closer to the end of the valley we lost the path, but that is Stettyns.  Sometimes you just had to barge thru the foliage.  The last 300m, you’re crawling on all fours, grabbing hold of whatever you can, whilst balancing your bike on your back.

A the top you can admire the beauty of the kloof, the water falls, ridges, vegetation, everything.  However, your body feels and looks like it’s been in the ring with Mike Tyson, armed with an axe and a hammer for 10 rounds.  Blood is seeping out everywhere on your legs and your body feels properly battered.  And you wonder how a place of such beauty can hold so much suffering.

The demand of this race on your body, day in and day out, never ceases.  You have to continually manage your abilities, your mental state of mind, your energy levels and your general physical state of well being to keep going.

The rest of the route goes thru the picturesque Fisantekraal, up the Du Toits Kloof Pass and then it’s downhill to Diemersfontein.  Du Toits Kloof Pass gives you time for reflection on this race.  On what a great adventure you’ve been privileged to experience.  On how great life is. And how important your family and friends are in life.

As we dropped down into the estate, Marnitz was waiting at the top gate.  It was dark and my bike light stopped working – I didn’t recognise him until JT told me later.  Earlier in the day Leon warned JT that he and I will get emotional at the finish.  JT was having none of it, but mentioned that it would be ok to cry only if it rains.  Well as we rode the last couple hundred meters, it started to rain softly. 
But the raw emotions of relief, happiness and accomplishment never fully took over.  The kids gathered just in front of the finish.  As we rode past, Hanno (my youngest) screamed: “Pappa! Pappa!” Grabbed my hand off the handlebar and held on for dear life!  The next moment Luann (my oldest) and Danielle (Marnitz’a daughter) were on the other side.  I had my emotional moment for about 4 seconds, before I got doused with champagne and then it was just people and photos and hugs and questions and phone calls.  It was overwhelming.

Apparently the very lively Brackenfellars (and everybody else) waited the whole afternoon for us, and made a big dent in the Diemersfontein red wine stock doing so.  I was thankful for the reception I got.  It was good to see so many happy people together.  But, I would have like it, if the 4 of us, with our families could have sat around the table for one last time.  We’ve been thru a lot together, it would have been fun.  But there were so many people and everybody wanted their share of our (and their) experience.  Leon’s and my family had breakfast together the next morning where we had some reminiscence.

The last funnies that happened later the evening.

Things were a bit hectic in the restaurant, and I was still dripping wet and cold.  I told Elitza that I needed to go for a shower and off we went to our cottage.  As we walked there I was feeling very miserable, with my body shivering and teeth clattering.  I told Elitza that if I ever want to do this race again, she must shoot me.  She just laughed at me, and said you’re a Nienaber, you will never change, we’ll talk again in the morning.  After the hot shower and some food in the belly, I was already contemplating what I would do different for next year… I suppose, after living together for more than half our lives, she knows me way too well.

Marnitz and I were standing outside the restaurant having a chat, when one of Leon’s fellow Brakkenfellars came walking out on his way home.  He said goodbye to me (calling me Werner), and mentioned that there were so many people that excitedly followed me with all my adventures.  He then turned to Marnitz to say goodbye, but he forgot his name.  He said: “You’re famous man, don’t tell me your name.  Ag man, I know it.  You’re Werner’s brother!”  We both had a good chuckle about this, because throughout the whole race, everywhere I went, I was called you’re Marnitz’s bother.

What I’ve learned:

This race breaks you down to the raw fibres of who you really are.  If you don’t pray already, it teaches you to pray.  It teaches you to appreciate the very special moments you have in life.
South Africa is beautiful and it’s filled with incredible people.  You just have to choose to see the beauty surrounding you.  The journey was just that – an incredible journey of self-discovery and experiences, meeting incredible people and beautiful places.
As in life, you’re going to fall of your bike (or break it).  You have to be brave enough to get up and get going again. Failure doesn’t mean you’ve given up on your dreams.  You have to plan and prepare better to get it done.  All the pain and suffering of the past failures, gave way to an emotional elation that I followed a dream (started off by Marnitz).  I failed twice before, but came back and finished it.
And in Clint le Roux’s words: “This race is hard on your mind, your body and your soul.  It’s uplifting at times.  It’s frustrating too.  It motivates you, but it also breaks you.  This race teaches you things you have forgotten about yourself, as well as new things that need to be learned.  Most of all it humbles you.”
A lot of the terrain covered is brutal to say the least.  Spectators following our dots on Google Earth see a jeep track.  We are seeing and riding a rock garden.  Spectators see what they believe to be a flat district road.  We ride a 20 km ascent, littered with drainage mounds, with no reprieve.  There are many different variables and perceptions of what is actually being experienced vs what the spectators think is going on.  I’ve been on both sides of this experience.
Weather changes everything in this race.

And I suppose that my race is pretty much the same struggle autistic kids experience every day.  You need a proper support system around you to help you get thru life.  You need a lot of prayers and a bit of luck.  And with a bit of vasbyt, you’ll get to shine your light in life.

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