Road Trip Out West

Jim n Katie Patterson, wonderful host family in Apache took girlfriend Dottie Moffett and I on a special trip out west, driving across the Texas panhandle to New Mexico, where Jim’s Mom Merrell had a cottage outside Red River in the Sangre de Christo mountains.

Granma Merrill's Cottage outside Red River
Granma Merrill’s Cottage outside Red River

Here we stayed with the gang – the wonderful group of Apache friends the Pattersons hung out with: Manars, Hrbaceks, Mindemanns and Paynes.

After a terrific stay there, we headed off to Vegas in their Ford LTD via Colorado and Utah

Colorado1973 (4).JPG
The LTD, with Dottie Moffett, Katie and Jim Patterson

In Colorado we rode a historic steam train from Durango north to Silverton.

Then via Utah, where we visited Bryce Canyon and Zion NP.

Bryce Canyon small

In Vegas we stayed at The Stardust on The Strip. I learnt to gamble, I learnt to win. I battled to lose. Dottie was a good luck charm! I kept winning small amounts so kept on and on gambling, determined to lose. Finally as dawn approached we were down by a considerable fortune – $10 – and could go to bed.

We saw Joan Rivers being delightfully rude and Petula Clark warbling away (also Joan warbled a song and Pet told a joke!). I learnt a Vegas rule when saw Jim slip the doorman a cri$p note to get us a good table!

StardustSign1973
1973 Vegas strip scene

After Vegas we stopped off at The Grand Canyon: We stared down at this awesome sight from the lookout on the south rim. We only had a few hours there, so we’re just look-see tourists. Suddenly I couldn’t stand it! I had to get down there.

I started running down the Bright Angel trail. It’s about 10km to the river. I’ll give myself an hour, I think. The run was easy on a well-maintained track with the only real obstacle being the ‘mule trains’. Only once I had to step off the trail and let a bunch of mules pass. I made sure I was on the upside!

Bright Angel trailhead
Bright Angel Trail seen from the South Rim. Grand Canyon NP, Arizona.

At first it was all open desert trail, but at Indian Gardens I was surprised by the amount of greenery in the canyon. From the rim it looks like all desert, but in the protected gorges there’s green shrubbery and even some tall trees.

Indian Gardens Grand Canyon.jpg

In well under an hour I got to just above the river. I stared in awe at the swiftly-moving blue-green water. I had never seen such a large volume of water flowing clear like that. Our South African rivers mostly run muddy and I wasn’t expecting clear water. Right then I thought I MUST get onto this river! I’d started kayaking a couple of years before, but if I’d been asked I’d probably have said on a raft, little knowing that in eleven years time I would kayak past that very spot, under that same bridge in 1984 on a flood-level river!

bridge grand canyon.jpg
1973 on foot

The hike back out was steep, but hey, I was 18yrs old! Cross-country running had been my favourite obsession the year before, so no (or an acceptable amount of) sweat!

In ’84 I arrived under that bridge in my kayak. Here our supporting rafts heave to:

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (27)
Same bridge eleven years later in a kayak

Then we headed home, by and large following the old historic Route 66 – the new I40. Flagstaff Arizona, Albuquerque New Mexico, Amarillo Texas, and back to Oklahoma. Me to Apache and Dottie on to Ardmore. What a wonderful trip!

I learned later:

  • The name Colorado was for its muddy colour and its clarity is in fact an undesirable artifact because of the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell upstream;
  • The 10km climb down Bright Angel is about 1000m vertically, and every metre you’re going back about 100 000 years in geological time!
  • They tell you Do Not try to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day!
  • Jim has hiked the rim to rim hike through the canyon a number of times since – an annual pilgrimage – the last time he did it he was 70!

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***most pics off the ‘net – I’ll add my own when I find them!***

Colorado USA

I was going to ski – we would have called it snow ski! – for the first time in my life. Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan mountains in Colorado. We’d be catching a bus from Oklahoma, driving there and staying at the lodge. Jim Patterson was taking me on a host-Dad and Son special treat. In the previous summer (1973) he and Katie had taken us on a steam train ride nearby – the Durango to Silverton narrow gauge railroad.

 

durango_silverton

My pic of the Animas River out the train window:

Between Silverton & Durango in Colorado from the steam train window

That was a glorious summer. But now we were going in winter:

As the day approached we watched the snow reports with bated breath. Nothing. No snow. The day before we were to leave the bad news came: Trip cancelled. True to form Jim looked on the bright side – he always did! – and invited me to join him in drowning our sorrows as he opened up the big heb cooler full of beer he had packed for the trip! Jim always put a good spin on everything!

I would have to wait till 1988 before my first snow skiing – in Austria.

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, he eventually made me wiser and got me going and I decided I 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. We called ourselves the mossies as we got up at sparrow’s fart. Then I would cycle about 2 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 about ten days before Dusi I got there and it was missing. I searched high and low, but to no avail. So I missed doing the Dusi – but hitch-hiked down to Natal to watch it.

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, 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, 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! We ended up hitch-hiking to the race – me and my mate Jean Roux – and going to the start in Alexander Park in PMB. There we bummed a lift with some paddler’s seconds to the overnight stop at Dusi bridge where we slept under the stars and cadged supper from all those friendly people. On to the second overnight stop at Dip Tank and on to Blue Lagoon, following the race.

That was January 1972. In 1976 I entered the race and traveled down from Jo’burg with a friend Louis van Reenen, newly introduced to canoeing. He had said “What’s that?” pointing at my Limfy on my car in Doornfontein and so his paddling career started. We knew only one of us could paddle, the other had to drive his VW beetle to second. At the start in PMB we tossed a coin. I lost. In that high water he swam the Dusi! He was in a Hai white water boat with a closed cockpit that he’d bought from Neville Truran which he had only paddled on Emmerentia Dam! He swam and drank half the water, and evenings he had to hang his bum out the tent door, wracked with ‘Dusi Guts’, but he finished. He was a tough character, Louis!

I drove his VW in the thick mud of the Valley of a Thousand Hills. Us seconds took turns getting stuck and helping each other and we all got though.

Here’s my orange pup tent and Louis’ red Hai at Blue Lagoon:

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

When I eventually got round to paddling again in 1983 I did the 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. 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.