1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers, 8_Nostalgia, sport

Up the Creek

I can’t really say I was born ‘up Shit Creek without a paddle,’ but I can say that mere days after I was born I was taken home to our house on a plot on the banks of Shit Creek. And that it would be ten years or so before I owned my first paddle.

The first time ‘I paddled my own canoe’ was years later after we had lost the plot. OK, sold the plot, moved into town and bought a blue and red canoe. As far as I remember the first place we paddled it was in a little inlet off the Wilge river above the Sunnymede weir, some distance upstream of town. Right here:

Sunnymede on the Wilge River upstream from Harrismith FS ca1965

Before this, I had paddled a home-made canoe made of a folded zinc roof sheet, the ends nailed onto a four-by-four and sealed with pitch. Made by Gerie Hansen and his younger boet Nikolai – or maybe by their carpenter father Jes? We paddled it, wobbling unsteadily, on their tiny little pond in the deep shade of wattle trees above their house up against the northern cliff of Kings Hill.

Then Charlie Ryder came to town, and one thing led to another . . .

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Good school friend Piet Steyl wrote of the wonderful days he also spent in the company of Gerie Hansen – who died tragically early. He told of fun days spent paddling, gooi’ing kleilat, shooting the windbuks and smoking tea leaves next that same little pond. He also remembered Gerie winning a caption contest in Scope magazine and getting reprimanded for suggesting Japanese quality wasn’t good. Irony was, they had one of the first Japanese bakkies seen in town – a HINO.

Gerie used to say ‘He No Go So Good’, and Piet says when it finally gave up the ghost he said ‘He No Go No More’!!

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

Shit Creek – actually the Kak Spruit; a tributary of the Wilge River which originated on Platberg mountain, flowed down, past our plot and westward through the golf course on the north edge of town, then turned south and flowed into the Wilge below the park weir;

gooi’ing kleilat – lethal weapon; a lump of clay on the end of a whippy stick or lath; spoken about way more than practiced, in my experience; Here’s a kid loading one:

windbuks – airgun, pellet gun,

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 3_USA, 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers, 8_Nostalgia, 9_KZN, sport

Thanks, Charlie Ryder!

I canoed the Vrystaat Vlaktes thanks to Charles Ryder, who arrived in Harrismith in about 1968 or ’69 I’d guess, to start his electrical business, a rooinek from Natal. He roared into town in a light green Volvo 122S with a long white fibreglass thing on top of it like this:

First Duzi. Dad seconds in my Cortina 2,0l GL

I asked:
What’s that?
It’s a canoe
What’s a canoe?
You do the Dusi in it
What’s the Dusi?

Well, Charles now knew he was deep behind the boerewors curtain! He patiently made me wiser and got me going and I got really excited the more I learned. I decided I just HAD TO do the Dusi. What could be more exciting than paddling your own canoe 120km over three days from Pietermaritzburg to the sparkling blue Indian Ocean at the Blue Lagoon in Durban? Charles made it sound like the best, most adventurous thing you could possibly think of.

I started running in the mornings with a gang of friends. Tuffy Joubert, Louis Wessels, who else? We called ourselves the mossies as we got up at sparrow’s fart. Then I would cycle about two miles  to the park in the afternoons and paddle on the flat water of the mighty Vulgar River in Charles’ Limfjorden canoe, which he had kindly lent me/given to me. It was the fittest I’ve ever been, before or since.

Overnight I would leave it on the bank tethered to a weeping willow down there. One day around Christmastime and about ten days before Dusi I got there and it was missing. I searched high and low, to no avail. So I missed doing the Dusi.

I continued the search after we got back from watching the Dusi and eventually found a bottle floating in the Kakspruit, a little tributary that flows down from Platberg and enters the river downstream of the weir. It had a string attached to it. I pulled that up and slowly raised the boat – now painted black and blue, but clearly identifiable as I had completely rebuilt it after breaking it in half in a rapid in the valley between Swinburne and Harrismith. Come to remember, that’s why Charles gave it to me! I knew every inch of that boat: the kink in the repaired hull, the repaired cockpit, the wooden gunwales, brass screws, shaped wooden cross members, long wooden stringer, shaped wooden uprights from the cross members vertically up to the stringer, the white nylon deck, genkem glue to stick the deck onto the hull before screwing on the gunwales, the brass carrying handles, aluminium rudder and mechanism, steel cables, the lot. In great detail.

So no Dusi for me. Not that I had done anything but train for it – I hadn’t entered, didn’t know where to, didn’t belong to a club, didn’t have a lift to the race, nothing! Still enthused, though, I persuaded my mate Jean Roux to join me in hitch-hiking to the race. We got to the start in Alexander Park in PMB, where we bummed a lift with some paddler’s seconds to the overnight stop at Dusi Bridge. We slept under the stars and cadged supper from all those friendly people. The stayed with them to the second overnight stop at Dip Tank and on the third and last day to the sea, the estuary at Blue Lagoon, following the race along the way.

That was January 1972. In 1976 I entered the race and convinced a friend at College Louis van Reenen to join me. He had asked ‘What’s that?’ when he saw my Limfy on my grey and grey 1965 Opel Concorde in Doornfontein, and ‘What’s that?’ when I said ‘The Dusi,’ so he was ripe for convincing. Later in the holidays he bought a red Hai white-water boat with a closed cockpit from Neville Truran and paddled it once or twice on Emmerentia Dam. In those days that sort-of qualified you for Dusi! Then he loaded it up on his VW Beetle and traveled down from Jo’burg to meet me in Harrismith. Only one of us could paddle, the other had to drive as the ‘second’ taking food and kit to the overnight stops. So we tossed a coin. I lost, and so we headed for Alexandra Park in PMB with the red Hai on the roofrack.

In that 1976 flood-level high water Louis swam his first Dusi! He swam and he swam and he drank half the water, lowering the level somewhat, but not enough. Evenings he had to hang his bum out the tent door, wracked with ‘Dusi Guts’, but he rinsed and repeated the performance three days in a row and finished the marathon. He was a tough character, Louis!

I drove that pale blue VW in the thick mud of the Valley of a Thousand Hills. Us seconds took turns getting stuck and helping each other out. In places there was a queue of dozens of cars, but one-by-one we’d give each car a shove and we all got through.

Here’s my orange pup tent and Louis’ Hai and VW at Blue Lagoon after the race, wind howling:

Blue Lagoon at last! Louis van Reenen finishes a swollen Dusi in his Hai!

It was only in 1982 that I eventually got round to paddling again – in 1983 I did my first Dusi:

dusi

the Umko:

umko_no1

the Berg:

berg_hermon

the Fish:

fish

and the Lowveld Croc:

lowveld-croc_1

All in quick succession, and all at my hippy pace, staring at the scenery, which was good practice for kayaking the Colorado through the Grand Canyon in 1984.

– Colorado River 1984; Crystal rapid –

When I got back from America I thought I must get hold of Charles and tell him what his enthusiasm had led to.

But I didn’t do it then – procrastination – and then I was too late.

His heart had attacked him, he was no more. Thank you Charlie. You changed my life. Enhanced it. Wish I coulda told you.