Jean-Prieur du Plessis, Texan

I contacted JP du Plessis wanting to know wassup!? Catch me up on your USA sojourn!

He wrote:

Good to hear from you. We’re living in Austin, Texas – since January 2016.

We spent sixteen years in Mandeville, Lousiana – near New Orleans. We raised our kids there, and still have the house there.

Prior stints in Chicago, Illinois, Las Vegas, Nevada and Los Angeles, California. Can’t believe we’ve been here 30 years.

I fondly (jealously!) followed your past road trips through the States on vrystaatconfessions.com – Sorry you had to experience Shreveport!? I get to travel quite a bit for work. I have extensively traveled the Gulf States by road and other places by air.

Hopefully you made your way on I-20 through to Vicksburg and saw the mighty Mississippi River on your way up from Shreveport to New York with Larry Wingert?

I still think that is why I came here: because of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer as well as the fascinating origins of American music in the Mississippi Delta.

We had a great time living in New Orleans. Our daughter still lives there. We’re going there for a few days on Wednesday for a bit of Mardi Gras and work.

Our other kids live in Brooklyn, New York City, Chicago and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Funny….I thought so much of you yesterday listening to a “rubriek” on the New Yorker Radio Hour podcast about this guy who traveled all over the States on his canoe. For two decades! Saying: Hey I’m not lost and I’m not homeless…..I’m just paddling on the water seeing some fantastic geography and meeting very nice people on the way, (paraphrased). He wrote three books (not published). I will try to find the link for you.

I think that may have been Dick Conant:

We have built a new home:

– take a walk-through:

…..now, after a lot of bloed, sweet en trane, we will take Sweet Melissa the Airstream on the road again – to the loud music of The Allman Brothers!

Sweet Melissa

See, learning from you, I have now almost written my first blog!

Cheers brother. Keep in touch…..even better…come visit and take the Melissa the “karavaan” on a road trip. – J-P

Who Knew Harry Hart?

Friend Charles got marooned on a Seychellois island from drinking too much. Drink – hard liquor – made them forget about their yacht and it broke anchor and drifted off without them. He’s writing a book about his adventures, of which more later, when he has published and become famous. On this lonely island he met ‘an Empire Games javelin champion.’

I went looking for who that might be, and found:

Henry Beltsazer “Harry” Hart – an SA athlete born in Harrismith, Orange River Colony on the 2nd of September 1905. He died in Reitz on the 10th of November 1979.

At the 1930 Empire Games in Canada he won the gold medals in the discus and shot put competitions, and bronze in the javelin throw. He finished fifth in the 120 yards hurdles.

In 1932 he went to the Olympics in Los Angeles, USA and finished tenth in shot put, twelfth in the discus and eleventh in the decathlon.

At the 1934 Empire Games in London (originally awarded to Johannesburg, but changed to London due to concerns regarding the treatment of black and Asian athletes by South African officials and fans) he won his second brace of Empire gold medals in the discus throw and shot put competitions. In the javelin throw contest he won silver (well, any Free State javelin-gooier is a friend of mine!).

Hart was the owner of the Royal Hotel in Reitz, Free State, South Africa. He was friends with actors Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, US swimmer and Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller and CR ‘Blackie’ Swart – at that time a cowboy actor; later the first state president of South Africa. His study at the Reitz Royal Hotel – not really ‘Royal’ – displayed hundreds of photographs of himself in the company of these famous stars, as well as with US swimmer and actress Esther Williams, Irish actress Maureen O’Sullivan – Jane in six Tarzan movies – and others.

Henry Harry Hart himself was apparently offered the part of Tarzan but refused as he had to return home to his farm to practice for the Empire Games. Hmm – ‘Hollywood? Reitz? Ag, fanks, I’ll take Reitz, OK?’

Lucky Johnny Weissmuller – shown here with Maureen O’Sullivan.

The SA team to Canada in 1930:

Kayak the Ocoee

Atlanta Lincoln2
Atlanta Lincoln1

We hired a Lincoln Continental Town Car in Atlanta and put roofracks on. Dave Jones, dentist and US paddling legend and coach, put us up for the night before we headed North. Chris Greeff, kayaking legend & trip organiser; Herve de Rauville, kayaking legend; Jurie the SABC cameraman, Steve Fourie, a friend of Chris’. And me.

And off we went to the Ocoee River in Tennessee. Which was completely empty. Not low. Empty.

Then they turned on the tap at twelve noon and we could paddle. The full flow of the Ocoee gets diverted to generate power! How criminal is that!! That it even flows occasionally is only thanks to hard lobbying by paddlers and environmentalists. From around 1913 to 1977 the river was mostly bone dry – all the water diverted to generate power. Now sections of it flow again at certain times.

259

I’m in orange.

Here’s a description of the short stretch of river we paddled:

The Middle Ocoee
The Middle Ocoee is the portion of whitewater, on this stretch of water, paddlers and rafting enthusiasts, have been paddling for decades. Beginning at Rogers Branch and just over 5 miles long, this class 3-4 section of whitewater is an adrenaline junkies dream, crammed with waves and holes.

Entrance rapid gives you whitewater from the get-go. As soon as you launch onto the middle Ocoee you are in a class 4 rapid, paddling through waves and dropping ledges. It’s a fun and exciting way to begin your trip.
Broken Nose begins with a large S-shaped wave. Swirling water behind it will send you to a series of ledges. This is a great place for pictures, so smile.
Next, Slice and Dice: two widely spaced ledges, fun to drop, especially the second ledge. If done correctly, you can get a great surf here “on the fly”.
An interesting and humorous set of rock formations highlights the rapid, Moon Chute. After making your way behind the elephant shaped rock, do some 360’s in front of “sweet-cheeks,” then drop through the chute and over the ledge at the bottom.
Double Suck, an appropriately named rapid, where a good-sized ledge drops you into two hydraulics. Paddle hard or you might catch another surf here.
Double Trouble, which is more ominous in name than in structure, is a set of three large waves, which will have everybody yelling. This is another great photo spot. You won’t find an easier, more fun rapid.
Next is Flipper (No, it’s not named after the dolphin). Here, a great ledge drop puts you into a diagonal wave. Hit this wave with a right hand angle and enjoy the ride, or angle left to eddy out. Then enjoy one of the best surfs on the river.
Table saw was originally named for a giant saw-blade shaped wave in the middle of it. The rock forming the wave was moved during a flood several years ago, making this one of the most exciting rapids on the Middle Ocoee. The big waves in this one will make the boat buck like a bronco.
At Diamond Splitter, point your boat upstream and ferry it between two rocks. Once there get a couple of 360’s in before dropping through the chute and into the hydraulic.

Me on the Ocoee river

Slingshot is where most of the water in the river is pushed through a narrow space, making a deep channel with a very swift current. To make this one a little more interesting, see how many 360’s you can complete from top to bottom.
Cat’s Pajamas start with a couple of good ledges, with nice hydraulics. After those, it will look as though you are paddling toward a big dry rock, but keep going. At the last second, there will be a big splash and you will be pushed clear.
Hell’s Hole is the biggest wave on the river. Start this one in the middle of the river, drifting right. Just above the wave, start paddling! When you crest this 7-8 ft. wave, you will drop into a large hydraulic. Stay focused because just downstream are the last two ledges known as

Powerhouse. Drop these ledges just right of center for a great ride.
Once through Powerhouse, collect yourself and take out at Caney Creek.

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The dry river when they turn off the taps. Very sad:

Let’s Save Us Some Souls!

The new preacherman at the Christian Church of Apache Oklahoma, looked me up after he’d been in town a while and invited me over to his place. Turns out he was interested in becoming a mission-nary to Africa and wanted to meet one of the real-deal Africans he’d heard and read so much about. Maybe suss out just how much we needed saving?

A HUGE man, six feet and nine inches tall, Ron Elrick wore a string tie, a ‘ten gallon’ stetson and cowboy boots, making him damn near eight feet tall fully dressed as he stooped through doors and bent down to shake people’s hands. I met his tiny little wife who was seemingly half his height, and two lil daughters at their house, the church ‘manse’ or ‘vicarage’.

there’s the house next to the church

Ron was an ex-Canadian Mountie and a picture on his mantelpiece showed him towering over John Wayne, when Wayne was in Canada to film a movie.

The actor Mountie in the movie had to be shorter than John Wayne!

Soon he invited me to join him on a men’s retreat to “God’s Forty Acres” in NE Oklahoma (the yanks are way ahead of Angus Buchan in this “get away from the wife, go camping on a farm, and when you get back tell her you’re the boss, the head of the house, the patriarch – the ‘prophet'” shit. I mean, this was 1973!). I had made it known from my arrival in Apache that I would join anybody and go anywhere to see the state and get out of school – I mean hey! I’d already DONE matric!

So we hopped into his muddy pink wagon with ‘wood’ panelling down the sides – it looked a bit like these in the pictures. We roared off from Caddo county heading north-east, bypassing Oklahoma City and Tulsa to somewhere near Broken Arrow or Cherokee county  – towards the Arkansas border, anyway. Me n Ron driving along with the wind in our hair like Thelma and Louise.

Non-stop monologue on the way. He didn’t need any answers, I just had to nod him yes and he could talk non-stop for hours on end. At the retreat there were hundreds of men and boys just like him, no women. Unless you count them in the background who made and served the food. The men were all fired up for the Lawrd, bellowing the Retreat Song at the drop of a hat:

“In Gahd’s Fordy Yacres . . !!”♫

We musta sang it 400 times in that weekend. If I was God I’d have done some smiting.

We left at last and headed back, wafting along like on a mattress in that long slap wagon, when Ron suddenly needed an answer: Had I ever seen a porno movie? WHAT? I hadn’t? Amazing! Well, jeez, I mean goodness, he felt it as sort of like a DUTY to enlighten me and reveal to me just how evil and degraded these movies could be. So we detoured into Tulsa. Maybe he regarded it as practice for the mission-nary work he was wanting to do among us Africans?

We sat through a skin flick in a seedy movie house. It was the most skin ‘n pubic hair ‘n pelvis ‘n pulsating organs this eighteen year old boykie from the Vrystaat had seen to date so it was, after all, educational. Thin plot, though.

I suppose you could say I got saved and damned all on one weekend.

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footnote:

Ron did get to Africa as a mission-nary. He was posted to Jo-hannesburg. Lotsa ‘sinners’ in Jo-hannesburg, I suppose. I’m just not sure they need ‘saving’ by a Canadian Mountie.

The Subway

Greg Seibert arrived in Harrismith from Ohio in 1972 as a Rotary exchange student.

In 2014 he was sending sister Sheila some of his pictures from those wayback days. He wrote: Here is one I’m sure you will like. It is one of the very first pics that I took in Harrismith, probably the day after I got there. You or Koos took me down to the field hockey field. I remember people saying it was by the subway. Boy was I impressed! The only subways that I knew were the underground trains in London and New York! Imagine little Harrismith being so advanced as to having one of those!

Well…I was a bit disappointed…lol!

New York subway’s Grand Central Station

The feature pic and this pic are not the Harrismth subway, but do give an idea of what it looks like. I’m looking for some actual pics of our illustrious subway.

Wounded Knee, the A.I.M and Me

The Native Americans in Apache welcomed me very hospitably. One concerned Rotarian drew me aside at the time of the 1973 Wounded Knee incident which was very big news in Oklahoma. Oglala Sioux and AIM activists occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. US Marshals, FBI agents, and other law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area.

Wounded Knee 1973

The activists had chosen the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre for its symbolic value. The military was armed, the protesters were not. The Rotarian told me to be careful; the AIM was restless and could kidnap me to make demands. He certainly meant well, but it sounded far-fetched to me. After 71 days the occupation ended. Two protesters had been shot dead.

I got nothing but inclusive friendliness from the many American Indians, as they called themselves then, at school. At school they were classmates and Apache Warrior teammates in athletics and football. They invited me to a traditional pow wow one evening, and they presented me with gifts at one of their functions. 

. . .

Melvin Mithlo was a year my junior at school. He was a keen member of the American Indian Movement AIM and was fascinated by stories he had heard of the Zulus in South Africa. He would ask me about them and teach me about American Indian history. Given my avoidance of history – I gave it up in high school as soon as I could – and the poor white-wash version of history that we were taught anyway, he taught me way more than I taught him. Not that he learnt his history in school. The real history of the American West was so much more crooked, sad and brutal than the star-spangled bullshit taught by teachers. As in South Africa, they would be following the official white-wash school syllabus.

Melvin taught me about the AIM which, just before I got to Apache, had gathered about 800 members and people from other Indian groups from across the United States for a protest in Washington, D.C. known as the Trail of Broken Treaties.

He also taught me about Wounded Knee the tragic last hurrah of Indian independence in 1890. Briefly, Native Americans were squeezed into ever-smaller areas and every time they were allocated land, promises were reneged on and more and more land was stolen by settlers or government. Any resistance was depicted as hostility and the army – and vigilante bands – were sent in to murder any resisters – or even peaceful people. Many settlers believed the only real solution to the “Indian Problem” was extermination.

In broad strokes, U.S. government policy toward the Indians of the Great Plains and Far West went through four phases in the 19th century:

  • Removal from lands east of the Mississippi;
  • Concentration in a vast “Indian territory” between Oklahoma and North Dakota;
  • Confinement to much smaller “reservations” on part of that land; and
  • Assimilation of the Indians into white American-style farming and culture, through the allotment of even smaller, individual tracts of barren land. More honestly called the termination of the tribes.

The natives lost at every step, they were lied to and cheated at every turn, and their territory and rights shrunk with each new phase. The saying ‘White Man Speak With Forked Tongue’ was simply the plain truth.

Around 1890 a Paiute holy man in Nevada preached a new sort of nonviolent religion. If Indians gave up alcohol, lived simply and traditionally and danced a certain slow dance, the Great Spirit would return them their lands, and white ways and implements would disappear. By the time the belief reached the Northern Plains and the Sioux tribe, it had garnered a slightly more militant message and spread widely among the hopeless and despondent tribe. The “Ghost Dance” terrified whites and Indian agents, and when a band left the main reservation to dance on the Badlands of South Dakota, the U.S. Army sent in the Cavalry. Tribal police were sent to arrest Sitting Bull at his home, and in the violence that followed, Sitting Bull and more than a dozen other men—both policemen and supporters of the chief—were killed.

490 cavalrymen then set out in the winter snow and surrounded the Ghost Dance band along Wounded Knee Creek. The soldiers began disarming the Sioux when a gun went off. A massacre ensued, and the soldiers fired four new big machine guns down into the encampment from all sides.

Wounded Knee machine guns

Virtually all the Indians – one hundred and forty-six of them – were killed, including 62 women and children. It was a massacre. Twenty-five soldiers were killed, most of them probably shot in crossfire from their own forces.

Wounded Knee grave

The U.S. Army – desperate to depict the incident as a “battle”- in a despicable, dishonest aftermath, awarded no fewer than twenty ‘Medals of Honor’ to the troopers at Wounded Knee. They have never been rescinded.

(Shades of the British defence against the Zulus at Rorke’s Drift after their big thrashing at Isandlwana. Eleven Victoria Crosses were dished out there to act as fig leaves and little was said of the equally despicable massacre that followed the defence. I wish I had known that inside story to tell Melvin!)

The Massacre at Wounded Knee was the biggest domestic massacre in U.S. history. One hundred years later both U.S. houses of congress issued a half-baked apology of sorts: only a voice vote was taken, no-one had to stand up and be counted; no reparation was offered; no shameful, undeserved “Massacre Murder Medals of (dis)Honor” were rescinded.

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Bugged by Bugs in a Red Bug in Canada

north america map

Stage Three (in yellow on the map) of my Great North American Road Trip started in Cobleskill in upstate New York, where Stage Two had ended.

A red VW Bug swept up the drive and out poured three lovely Okies and an Aussie. Sherry Porter, owner of the Bug and twins Dottie and Dale Moffett. Sherry had been a favourite high school teacher of the girls in Ardmore a few years prior. Jonathan Kneebone was an Aussie, a character, say no more. Liked a beer.

We headed north to the Canadian border. At the border the man leaned in, asked “All American?” and was about to wave us through when Jonathan and I said “Um, no”. “Australian” said Kneebone and the man made to step back again and wave us through when he registered what I had said. “Uh, come with me please sir. I need to check your passport,” he said. An hour later we were off again – to Montreal. That’s where you see Dottie sitting on the grass.

On to Ottawa where we bumped into Indira Ghandi on a state visit to Pierre Trudeau. She chose to arrive while we were staring at some government building or other. I’m not sure I’ve seen another head of state in the flesh ever. Oh well, one’s enough.

Somewhere around here I dinged Sherry’s car! “I’ll drive!” I shouted as we headed for the pub. I promptly reversed and BANG! I got out and saw to my great relief – how horrible was this!? – that I’d hit a huge Dodge pickup with a bumper a yard deep; not a scratch on it! Poor Sherry’s prize VW wasn’t so lucky. I wrecked her left rear fender and light and I had no money to pay for the damage. DAMN!! Sherry of course was an absolute star about it, bless her!

Dottie, Dale, Jonathan, me and Sherry in Sherry's Bug: Canada here we come!

Then Toronto, Waterloo and up around Lake Superior, Sudbury, Sault St Marie, Thunder Bay. What a sight Superior was! Biggest stretch of fresh water imaginable. For a Vrystater, awe-inspiring! We camped en route wherever we could squirrel away for free. Only once were we shoo-ed, but by a Mountie with a big hat, so it was worth it!

Canada Mountie, Patrol Car

Here we used a rock for a mattress. We had just woken up but Kneebone was already being Australian!

Me, Dottie, Dale & Jonathan Kneebone (can you guess where from?) in Canada

Me, Dottie, Dale & Jonathan Kneebone (can you guess where from?)

Once we stayed in an old railway station converted to a sort of backpackers, the track ripped up and turned into a trail. Then we needed to go canoeing. When in Canada, canoe! So we hired two boats in Quetico National Park, Lake of the Woods (take all these names with a pinch of salt; these are 45yr-old memories!). Internet pictures of the area:

After one night we turned back and ran, tails between our legs! We had spent the day trying to dodge dark clouds of midges and no-see-ems, or black flies. When you ran your hand through your hair it came out covered in blood. That night we pitched the tents on an island in a cloud of mozzies. We lined up with our kit, zipped open, dived in and zipped up immediately. So fast that we only had fourteen million mosquitoes in the tent, a fraction of what was hovering and zeeeee-ing outside! Ama-azing! Canada sure has bugs!!

But what beautiful country:

Lake Woods 3

As we’d cut our canoe trip short we decided to carry on into Manitoba, but Canada is vast, so we soon cut back and headed south for the US border at International Falls, into Minnesota, across the Mississippi River where its still quite small and headed south for Iowa, where I had to leave the gang.

My host family from Apache Don & Jackie Lehnertz were up there and would be driving me back to Apache via Iowa, Missouri and Kansas on Stage Four. I’m afraid I slept a lot of that trip!

map Road Trip USA Home to Apache 1973