My four-stage 1973 road trip started in Apache Oklahoma. We drove down in the Ford LTD in Stage One to stay with Mama and Papa Hays, Katie Patterson’s folks, in Shreveport Louisiana. There we ‘visited’, played golf – I recall smacking the ball under big old trees draped in lichen, or old man’s beard – and ate superbly. Larry and his sister Ginny joined us, having driven down from Cobleskill NY and we got ready for Stage Two of my Great North American Road Trip: Heading north-east in a grey Volkswagen Bug.
Ginny, Katie, Mama & Papa Hays, Jimmy, Larry, Mary-Kate – Shreveport LA
One more passenger meant we needed a U-Haul carrier on the roof.
I remember surprisingly little about this trip north-east! We left the Red River and crossed the Arkansas River near Little Rock; I remember camping:
I remember crossing the mighty Mississippi River in or near St Louis, where the Missouri joins it;
The only thing I remember clearly is hoping my ID would be checked at the door when we went for my very first legal beer at a TGIF bar in Missouri (it wasn’t).
And I remember getting to Larry’s hometown Cobleskill, a beautiful little town in upstate New York, and meeting his parents.
That’s a really vague and sketchy recollection of a magic route! Larry doesn’t remember much more. In fact he confidently remembered the VW Bug as being red! ‘Tis not only my memory glands that are dodgy, I’m relieved to tell.
He’s going to ask his sister Virginia. She’ll know more.
But to do it I needed a henchman. You can hike alone, but I’d really rather not, so I persuaded Stefaans Reed, The Big Weed, son of hizzonner the Worshipful Lord Mayor of Nêrens (aka Clarens) to accompany me. Sucker, he agreed.
We sallied forth, rucksacks on our backs, boerewors and coffee and billy can and sleeping bags inside, up the slopes of Platberg, from Hector Street, up past the Botanic Gardens, von During and Hawkins Dams into the ‘Government forest’. Pine forest. We could discern two types of pines, I’m sure there are more, but the type we liked had long soft needles and made a good bed. We walked next to the concrete furrow that led water down the mountain into town. Often broken and dry but sometimes full of clear water, it made finding the way easy.
Halfway up we made camp, clearing a big area of the soft pine needles down to bare earth so we could safely light a fire.
Learning from our primate cousins we raked together a huge pile for a gorilla mattress and lay down to gaze at the stars through the trees. This was 1974, we were eerste jaar studente in the big smog of Doornfontein Joburg. We had learnt to drink more beer, sing bawdy songs, throw a mean dart in a smoke-filled pub, hang out of friends car windows as they drove home thinking ‘Whoa! better get these hooligans home!’ and generally honed our urban skills. Now we were honing our rural skills. Wilderness n all.
As we lay in our sleeping bags, burping boerewors and gazing through the pine fronds at the stars, we heard a loud, startling, beautiful sound.
I was wide-eyed wide-awake! WHAT on EARTH was that!? I knew it had to be a night bird, but what? Which one?
In the dark I scribbled down a picture of the sound. This is what it sounded like to me and I wanted to be sure I didn’t forget it:
I didn’t know I was drawing a “sonogram” – I’d never heard of that.
When I got back home I looked through my ‘Birds of South Africa – Austin Roberts’ by G.R. McLachlan and R. Liversidge, 1970 – and found there was a nightjar that said “Good Lord Deliver Us” and I knew that was it. The Fiery-Necked Nightjar – some call it the Litany Bird*. I loved it, I love it, I’ll never forget it and it’s still a favourite bird.
Next morning we hiked on, past the beautiful eastern tip of Platberg – ‘Bobbejaanskop’ – and down round Queen’s Hill through some very dense thicket, across the N3 highway, back into Hector Street and cold beer.
Those pine trees may be Pinus patula – soft leaves, not spiky. Comfy, but still an invasive pest, though.
*A ‘litany’ is “a tedious recital or repetitive series. ‘a litany of complaints’ – a series of invocations and supplications – “Good Lord, Deliver us!”
The Catholics can really rev it up:
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.
– This is one-twelfth of the Catholic Litany, there’s eleven-twelfths more!
Nêrens – nowhere, or Clarens in the Free State, named after Clarens, Switzerland to which that coward Paul Kruger fled cowardly after accusing my brave great-great Oom of cowardice. Ha!
We were camping in the Estcourt caravan park on the banks of the Bushman’s River when we heard there had recently been a beauty pageant in the dorp. The crown had been awarded. A Miss Estcourt had been chosen, and she was in town.
But where!? Our source of this local knowledge was Doug the Thief, who had heard it from a local.
This was her lucky weekend! She could choose from four handsome, willing and able bachelor paddlers. Well, willing, anyway:
She could choose from Bernie & The Jets’ yellow helmet, Swanie’s white helmet or Lang Dawid’s blue helmet. Doug the Thief had disappeared, nowhere to be found. Oh, well. His helmet’s loss.
We focused on preparation for the search, gaining bottled IQ points and suave wit before setting out in the Jet’s white Ford Escort which we thought the best vehicle to impress Miss Estcourt Sausages with. Look! Miss Estcourt Sausages, we’d say. We came courting you in an Escort! HaHaHa! She’d collapse laughing.
We eventually tracked down her flat in Estcourt’s only highrise building and knocked on her door on the top floor (also the third floor).
From inside came a deep man’s voice: FUCK OFF! it said. It was Doug the Thief’s voice, the swine.
Some freezing nights I recall. Funny thing is, most hold such good memories!
– At home some nights at 95 Stuart Street, getting in between cold sheets in a cold room; Harrismith Free State in winter! In the ’60’s
– On the Wilge riverbank with Claudio – sharing a wet sleeping bag after one swim too many on an overnight canoe voyage from Swinburne to Harrismith; ca 1970
– Above Oliviershoek Pass, under some wattle trees on a stream bank – sleeping bags on the ground, no tent – on Jack Shannon’s farm Kindrochart with Pierre and his cousin Kevin, fresh from Durban. In mid-winter in the July holidays. We rode there on our bicycles – about 19 miles. Kevin thought he was gonna freeze-die; To be fair Durban is sub-tropical and Kevin’s thighs were not made for long bike rides! We woke up to find the top of our sleeping bags frozen – the dew had turned to ice. ca 1968
– With Tuffy and Fluffy in Bloem in an empty school hostel (Jim Fouche Skool?); No bedding, huddled under our school blazers. ca 1970. Apparently Daan Smuts had forgotten to arrange accommodation. But who cared! He had NOT forgotten to arrange a coupla beers for us first – which made us late for whatever accommodation may have been arranged by other, more boring, teachers. That’s how I remember it anyway!
– On the Berg River Canoe Marathon in the Cape. July, mid-winter in a winter rainfall area! Rain sweeping in horizontally on the freezing cold gale-force wind. The night before the race we were given a shed to sleep in and reminded to bring mattresses. I managed to burst my new blow-up mattress and so had a freezing night on cold concrete. That second day, the shortest of four, was the longest day of my life; and the coldest I have ever been. The first fatality ever in a canoe race in SA happened that day. Novice Berg paddler Gerrie Rossouw died. The third and fourth days warmed up, thank goodness; ca 1983
With Aitch in the kombi in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. Like sleeping in a refrigerator. The lions knew to wait till the sun was up before getting it on; ca 1996
Silver fox, Kalahari Gemsbok Park
Frozen fox nuts in fur!
With Aitch on Sheila’s expedition up Mt aux Sources. Sheila insisted we camp right in the open, exposed to a freezing gale with our tents leaning at 45º and rolling away if they weren’t weighted down. Pegs didn’t help. The reason Sheila wanted us just there became clear at sunrise; ca 1996
With Aitch on Nyika Plateau in Malawi 10 000ft asl – but then we dragged our mattress to the lounge and got a roaring log fire going using felled timber from the pine plantation that was being cleared! So that night only counts before the fire got going; ca 1993
Veld & Vlei at Greystones on the banks of Wagendrift Dam in the July holidays of 1972. ‘Leadership School’ – a physical and mental challenge, they said.
Memories of a busy week: The tough obstacle course – carry that 44-gal drum over the wall without letting it touch the wall! Other obstacles, including tight underground tunnels. And HURRY!
Chilly winter nights in these old canvas bell tents – we slept like logs:
Cross-country runs; PT by military instructors. What’s with this love for things military? Brief immersion swims in the frigid water of the dam every morning; The lazy bliss of sailing an ‘Enterprise’ dinghy out of reach of anything strenuous!
Then the second week: Being chosen as patrol leader; A preparatory two-day hike in the area. One of our patrol was a chubby, whiny lad, so we spent some effort nursing him home. He was worth it: good sense of humour!
Then the climax, the big challenge: The course-ending six-day hike! By bus to the magic Giants Castle region in the Drakensberg.
We set off with our laden rucksacks down the valley, up the other side towards the snow-topped peaks, heading for Langalabilele Pass and the High ‘Berg. We had walked about 5km when a faint shout sounded and continued non-stop until we stopped and searched for the source. It was an instructor chasing after us and telling us to “Turn around, abort the hike, return to Greystones! Walk SLOWLY!”
Someone had come down with meningitis and the whole course was ending early!
We were given big white pills to swallow and sent home with strict instructions to take it easy: No physical exercise.
But our rucksacks were packed
** old rucksack pic here **
and our wanderlust aroused, so we headed straight off to Mt aux Sources soon after getting home. Up the chain ladder onto the escarpment and on to the lip of the Tugela Falls, sleeping outside the mountain hut.
In those days the chain ladder was single-lane, not double highway as in this recent pic.
I had no camera, no photos, the only record I still have of the course is the felt badge they gave us on completion and my memories.
But then I found a website by someone who had been on the same course – Willem Hofland from the Natal South Coast – and he had these black & white pics which I am very grateful to be able to use! He also had his course report and certificate, which I no longer have.
Giants Castle pic from howieswildlifeimages.com – thanks!
The rumour on the Kestell bus was that in South West Africa the laws pertaining to grog did not actually, y’know, pertain. Specifically, the drinking age laws. You could order a beer in a pub in South West Africa even if you were only fourteen or fifteen, as we were. In fact, so the rumour went, it wasn’t a rumour, it was a fact.
We were on tour in the little Kestell bus. Kestell had been unable to fill it so they extended the invite to Harrismith se Hoer School: Who wants to join us on an adventure? R25 for 15 days! Pierre, Pikkie, Tuffy, Fluffy and I jumped at the chance, our folks said yes and we were off on a historic adventure which included a World-First in Kimberley on the way: The world’s first streak, Pierre and Tuffy giving their thighs a slapping as they raced kaalgat from the showers to our campsite in Kimberley’s Big Hole (or their caravan park anyway). Some historians think streaking started in California in 1973. Well, they weren’t in Kimberley in 1969, were they?
We crossed into Nirvana at the Onseepkans border post armed with our newfound legal knowledge and confidently entered the first licenced premise we found: The Karasburg Hotel. It was hot, the beer was cold and we were cool. We sat in the lounge and supped as though we had done this for YEARS.
We decided to order a refill while that friendly man who hadn’t batted an eyelid when we ordered our first round was still around. He had confirmed the now well-known fact that South West Africa was a bastion of good sense and sound liberal values. I got up to press the buzzer which would bring him back.
Unfortunately, the buzzer stuck and it buzzed too long, which must have annoyed the owner, as he came stomping into the lounge to see vuddafokgaanhieraan.
He looked at our short stature, our short pants and our tall beers in astonishment and demanded Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? and other seemingly pointless questions which were disrupting our peaceful ambience. He dispatched me to go and fetch our onderwyser forthwith and instructed the others to sit, stay.
But as he turned his back the rest of our gang disappeared after me, taking their beers with them. And like the good mates they were, they brought mine along too!
kaalgat – no clothing; ‘as the day they were born’
vuddafokgaanhieraan – What’s up, gentlemen?
Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? – Time, gentlemen, please!