My four-stage 1973 road trip started in Apache Oklahoma. Katie Patterson drove us down in her Ford LTD in Stage One to stay with her folks, Mama and Papa Hays, in Shreveport Louisiana. There we ‘visited’, were spoiled (I was a third, honorary grandchild!), 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 light greenish-grey Volkswagen Bug.
Larry and Ginny had packed their camping kit on the back seat; One more passenger meant we now 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. I held my SA passport ready . . I now know it was a Sunday; Richard Nixon was the President; We were listening to Killing Me Softly With His Song, and Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree; and the man at the door just waved me through. ** sigh ** why have I always looked much older than I am? Nowadays people think I’m a hundred in the shade. Next they’ll be wanting to take away my drivers licence . .
Oh, well, at least there some other world-firsts happened that week: The first cellphone call; The World Trade Center twin towers opened; the first international rugby sevens tournament took place; the last American soldier ignominiously left Vietnam; and Pablo Picasso died.
I also remember getting to Larry’s hometown Cobleskill, a beautiful little town in upstate New York, and meeting his parents. I’d heard about Cobleskill since 1969 when Larry breezed into Harrismith and we spent a fun year making memories and amok; early experiments mixing beer and petrol – which he called gas. Well, we had a gas! Fun times!
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. I know we went here, cos my trust Olympus trip 35 camera recorded it, but where is it?
A few days later, another VW Bug arrived, full of gorgeous Oklahomans; and one less-than-glamorous Aussie . . and this Bug was red.
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, resident son of hizzonner the Worshipful Lord Mayor of Nêrens (aka Clarens) and fellow optometry student in Jo’burg to nogschlep along.
We sallied forth, rucksacks on our backs, boerewors and coffee and billy can and sleeping bags inside, up the slopes of Platberg, from Piet Uys Street, up past the Botanic Gardens, von During and Hawkins Dams, into the ‘Government forest’. The pine plantation. ‘Die dennebos.’ We could discern two types of pines. The type we liked had the 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 piled all those leaves and more into a thick gorilla mattress and lay down on it to gaze at the stars through the treetops. This was 1974, we were eerstejaar studente in the big smog of Doornfontein, Jo’burg. 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 – some call it ‘Bobbejaankop’ – and down round Queen’s Hill through some very dense thicket, across the N3 highway, back home and a cold beer.
Those pine trees may be Pinus patula – soft leaves, not spiky. Comfy. Still an invasive pest, though.
A ‘litany’ is a tedious recital or repetitive series; ‘a litany of complaints’; ‘a series of invocations and supplications‘;
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. – and this is one-twelfth of the Catholic Litany, there’s eleven-twelfths more! Holy shit!!
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! Who actually stayed and fought the war, huh?
nogschlep – kom saam; accompany
boerewors – raw beef wurst; just add fire
dennebos – pine plantation; plantations are not forests!
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. EVER! 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
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
Another cold night on Mt aux Sources with Larry Pierre and Tuffy ca.1970, where we were joined in the hut after dark by two guys who had got a bit ratty with each other on the walk in the dark. They argued about the beef stroganoff and whether the wine was being ‘frozen instead of chilled’ where it was outside in a bank of snow; that set us off into gales of laughter and mocking. When they eventually shut up and settled down for the night Larry started off with 100 bottles of beer on the wall and we sang that very annoyingly for way too long. Hopefully they were more cross with us than with each other in the end?
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, my matric – or ‘senior’ – year of high school. It was a ‘Leadership School’ – ‘a physical and mental challenge,’ they said. Sheila’s diary tells me I was taken there on Friday 30 June 1972 by family friend Dr Dick Venning.
Memories of a busy first 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 naked immersion swims in the frigid water of the dam every morning after a 2,5km run; The lazy bliss of sailing an ‘Enterprise’ dinghy out of reach of anything strenuous!
Then the second week: Being chosen as patrol leader of Uys Patrol; 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! Poor bugger’s thighs rubbed red and sore on the walk!
I had no camera, no photos, the only record I still have of the course is my vivid memories – and the blue felt badge they gave us on completion.
But then I found a website – http://www.hofland.co.uk – by someone who had been on the same 1972 winter course as me – Willem Hofland from the Natal South Coast. He had these black & white pics which I am very grateful to be able to use! He also has his course report and certificate. I wonder what they said on them, as our course was cut short. His images are very blurry but you can read the word PASS – so they must have decided we’d done enough to get certificates? I now only have the felt badge.
Then the climax, the big challenge: The course-ending six-day hike! We drove 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! Sheila’s diary records my folks were phoned on 12 July and asked to fetch me. 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 . . . . 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.
That’s what I remembered. Today, however, 48yrs later, Sheila has given me the letters I wrote home, so I also know this: So much for vivid memories!
My first letter was two days into the course and the main concern was PLEEZ send my rucksack! The rucksack I have been issued with is absolutely messed up! I was fit, as shown by my maximums. I had done 63 step-ups with weights. The camp record was 64. ‘The assault course instructor is a sadist.’ Please send the rucksack! They have arranged for parcel deliveries.
The next letter was Monday 3rd July 1972 – Early morning run and naked dip in the dam; sailing and canoeing. Our patrol won both canoe races (natch! I wrote, being very keen on canoeing at the time) and won Best Patrol of the Day. Today Monday was much tougher: The assault course consists of eleven obstacles and we only completed five! Only one of the six patrols completed the course. They took one hour and seventeen minutes. The course record is twelve minutes and fifty seconds! PT was based on maximums. My first round took 10 mins 42 seconds, then a run. I did the second round in 10 mins dead. Dead’s the word! I met Stephen Middlemost. A good chap.
The last letter was on day 9: Our first free morning. On day 7 they had given us twenty minutes to get ready and leave on a two day expedition. Find your way by map to various waypoints. There was not much discipline in our patrol. Leaders had been chosen who were not leaders (according to yours truly!) and not much hard hiking was done. I saw we were way behind schedule so I tried to push them, but they just got mad and rested often and long. I did all the map and compass work and they would argue like mad as to our direction without ever looking at the map! By nightfall we were about halfway to our intended destination. We camped and the boys just wanted to turn around and go back. I refused and eventually they agreed to try and finish the course. In the morning we only set off at 9am! I worked out shortcuts for them while one of the guys and I walked to the beacons and took bearings; we would then catch up to them again. We walked along to a chorus of moaning and swearing, mainly at me for ‘rushing them.’ Anyway, eventually we crossed the Bushmans River in the dark and arrived back at camp at 7.30pm. At least we did finish the course! And luckily there was a good supper waiting.
On the evening of that ninth day we chose patrol leaders; seventy two boys, six patrols; I was chosen to lead Uys Patrol. My deputy is Reg Wilkins, a very good chap: funny, determined, stubborn, etc. but we’ll go great. Our quartermaster is Neville Slade, also a great guy, very conscientious. I lost or mislaid my boots; I should find them. Cuthberts made a lousy job of fixing them. R3!! On the first hike I lost half of both heels; on the two-day expedition the other halves came off and the whole sole is coming off, starting at the toe.
I was so looking forward to the high ‘Berg hike. That was MY territory! None of these city slickers and beach bums knew the high ‘Berg and I did. But it was not to be . .
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.
It was 1969 and 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. His relaxed response 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 or manager, 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!