My Race to Rhodes (RTR) 2016 first went better than plan and then, unexpectedly, it unhitched and I found myself stranded at the Glenn Edward soup stop for 24 hours with hosts Charles and Sheila, waiting for my wife to pick me up. I had aggravated a back problem and could not continue the race so I made my way to Glenn Edward and arrived around midday. I had 24 hours to “kill” till until my lift arrived.
Sheila and Charles have manned the Glenn Edward soup stop for the past 9 years since they had moved there. They have hosted hundreds of riders and made as many friends over the years. It was a Sunday and they were both outside waiting for me as I arrived. Sheila’s first question was if I was ok, its how it works in these parts, people care.
Later in the afternoon Clint, Neville and Gerhard arrived, they had camped out in Boshelweni forest the night before and were working their way back onto the trail. I had somehow passed them during the night in the forest and was surprised to see them. They were pretty chirpy and all smiles despite their unplanned camping. Gerhard had camped the first night in the Umko Valley and had me try and lift his 15kg Karrimor back pack. These guys were not the fastest but they were pretty hard core by any measure. Sheila had them few and setup in their sleeping quarters in no time. Charles put out some biltong which needless to say went down faster than flash.
Gary Scoular rode with me the previous day through the Umko before we split up going up Hela-Hela. He arrived in the dark and joined us at the dinner table. Sheila had prepared a delicious meal including some steak, a welcome relief from the customary chicken and rice along the route. She thought everyone would enjoy a bit of variety. Five Star hospitality. Sheila and Charles open up their house in all ways and their bedroom shower has become a favourite stop for dirty tired bodies. The beds are comfy and warm and many a rider has probably planned a riding strategy around a stay over at Glenn Edward for this reason alone. After all the spoiling, no-one needed an invite to hit the bed.
Gary had left during the night and the Trio were planning an easy day to Masakala so they were in no hurry. The outside temperature had dropped to -7C during the night. It was Monday morning. At around 6h00 Tim and Mike arrived, they had been on the go for 24 hours non-stop and it was showing, they went for the couch and a bed almost immediately. It was nap time, 60 and 20 minutes respectively. They arrived together and the split up happened without a blink right in front of my eyes. They were going to sleep a different strategy and leave separately, it was par for these warriors, relationships along the route are often a matter of mutual convenience and they tend to dissolve as uneventfully as they started. Its how it works on the Trail.
Twenty minutes later Mike’s alarm went, he looked a new man, ate his breakfast, drowned his tea and literally picked up where he had stopped an hour earlier. All very efficient. A while later Tim came out from his refuge, a little less elegantly than Mike but looking fresher than an hour before. Tim was focused on keeping a meal down and managed to do so successfully, something that has been a challenge for him recently. I wondered if that little triumph may end up being a turning point for Tim for the days ahead. Once his meal had settled, Tim, got himself prepared to resume his ride. As with Mike, he pretty much just got back onto the bike and started riding. The time these racers were in the house flashed past before one could blink, all the time Sheila knew exactly how to make sure their every need was met. Time mattered for them and somehow she knew exactly how to make sure their breakfast was ready and warm exactly when they needed it. She was everywhere and yet nowhere, always serving but never in the way. Sheila was in her element and she was very good at it.
Somehow, during all of this the Trio of Clint, Neville and Gerhard, had slipped away. Their getting mobilized was in stark contrast to the racing snakes, in fact, quite the opposite, they were slow and disorganized. They had pretty much unpacked everything the previous night and had to repack everything all over again. They carried plenty and plenty had to be reorganized at every stop. It was early days in the race and I suspected that over the next few days they would settle into a rhythm and become almost as efficient as the racing snakes, even though their pace may remain tailored to a more body and mind friendly riding strategy. I was sad to these three leave, they had bonded in a special way, were in great spirit despite some setbacks and to me epitomized the spirit and character of the Freedom Trail. In the days since they have remained together and others have remarked on their bond and character. I really hope they make it all the way to Diemersfontein without problem.
Werner Nienaber, a veteran of the race and strong rider arrived around 8h00, his frame had broken and Ollie and Heiko from Pyga were en route to rebuild the old components onto a replacement frame. Sheila greeted him as if they were old friends, pretty much picking up the conversation from where it had stopped a few years before. I have seen this before at other support stations, its how it works. There is a mutual respect and bond between riders and hosts and it lasts for years. Werner, as those before him, was fed and serviced faster than a F1 pit stop. Ollie and Heiko arrived pretty much on cue and the rebuild from old onto new was completed in no time. I suspect the hospitality was such that Werner may have even wished the rebuild to take a bit longer so he could enjoy himself a while longer.
During the bike rebuild excitement, Liehan Loots, another RASA veteran arrived and none of his racing snake intentions were showing. He was as calm as the touring Trio, had his breakfast, topped up supplies and left again quietly, even having time for some casual conversation. He was on a mission and left with the same efficiency as Tim and Mike, but looked a lot less stressed. The final guests for the 24 hour period were Tony & Caren, they had started with our batch the day before and were heading one day at a time along the route, enjoying the sights sounds and people along the route. As with all those before Sheila was in her element and everyone only had compliments.
My wife was almost at Glenn Edward and my 24 hours at a support station, or soup stop in this instance was coming to and end. It had passed by in a flash and for both myself and Sheila the 2016 was coming to and end, she had a handful of riders left and my lift was approaching. There had been a common theme for the past 24 hours. The race office did a superb job of communicating arrivals and times to the support station host and every rider was expected and waited upon like they were family. Every time the bell rang, Sheila knew who was at the gate and she was as excited about the one as she had been about the other, even being disappointed when racing snakes had skipped during the night. She had a sense of responsibility and understanding. Sheila is not a cyclist, not does does she do endurance events, yet she understood the needs, what to do when and what not to do, what to say and what not to say. Charles was always there in support, lending a helping hand, keeping conversation going. They love the Freedom Challenge and what it stands for and serve proudly year after year as hosts. Every single rider took the trouble to thank them for their effort and support and I could see how they truly appreciated the compliments.
My 24 hours had come to an end. I had experienced a very disappointing personal low 24 hours earlier, yet I left Glenn Edward feeling so very proud of what I had witnessed during my day in the life of a Freedom Challenge support station host. Long may this symbiotic relationship continue. It is truly something quite special.