2_Free State / Vrystaat, 7_Confessions, 8_Nostalgia, sport

Please Release Me Let Me Go!

July 1970. The All Blacks were on tour. We had gone to Bethlehem – surely the only town in the world where a big sign saying FAKKELHOF welcomes you as you drive in? – to see them play. Bryan Williams, the first Maori allowed to play in South Africa (inconveniently fast, handsome and popular) scored two tries in his very first game in an All Black jersey.

Check the Bethlehem news: ‘en daar was rugby ook’ – with more coverage of the pomptroppies than the rugby!

We got klapped 43-9, so the rugby was just an afterthought! You can be sure there’d have been much more rugby coverage had we won!

Rugby writer Terry McLean said: (The) Paul Roos XV was, bluntly, a nothing team. Dannhauser and Fourie had good stances as locks in the scrummage. Lyell at No 8 had bags of pace which he used much too little and Burger, a hooker of some note, took a heel from Urlich, though he lost five in the process. But behind the scrum Froneman was an obsessive kicker and Kotze at fullback defended principally by making meaningful gestures from a distance.

And McLook said: I get heart burn (sooibrand) just reading remarks like this; it has always been one of the most irritating and frustrating things for me about South African rugby. As a provincial player you get one opportunity in your life to play against an international team so why would you waste the opportunity by constantly kicking the ball away. Secondly, it totally eludes me why selectors would pick individuals for a team if that individual does nothing else than kicking. If you want to kick a ball go play soccer.

Later the Silver Ferns played Free State (or Vrystaat) in Bloemfontein and my mate Jean Roux and I decided we needed to go and see that game as well. We hitch-hiked to Bloem, arrived in time and watched the game.

Hitch-hiking flip.jpg

Let’s conveniently forget the score. You know how those All Blacks are.

1970 Free State -All Blacks.jpg

After the game we realised it was getting dark and cold. We had made zero plans or arrangements, so we made our way to the pulley staasie, the cop shop, told our tale of need and were met with excited enthusiasm and hospitality. NOT. We were actually met with complete indifference and ignored. Eventually one konstabel saw us and asked, ‘Wat maak julle hier?’ and we told our tale again. He said nothing but fetched some keys and beckoned us to follow him. ‘There’s a ladies cell vacant,’ he muttered, letting us in and locking the door behind us.

Toilet in the corner with no cistern, no seat and a piece of wire protruding through a hole in the wall: the chain. Four mattresses with dirty grey blankets. Lots of graffiti, mostly scratched into the plaster. Yirr, some vieslike words! We slept tentatively, trying to hover above those mattresses, which were also vieslik, and woke early, eager to hit the road back to Harrismith. After waiting a while we started peering out of the tiny little peephole in the door, hoping someone would walk past. Then we called politely with our lips at the hole. Eventually we started shouting – to no avail. After what seemed like ages someone came to the door. Thank goodness!

‘Vaddafokgaanhieraan?’ he asked. ‘Please open up and let us out, we have to hitch-hike back to Harrismith,’ we said, eagerly. ‘Dink jy ek is vokken mal?’ came the voice and he walked off. We realised it was probably a new shift and no-one knew about our innocence! They were these ous:

SA police 1970

We had to bellow and yell and perform before we eventually could get someone to believe us and let us out.

And then:

Hitch-hiking

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

FAKKELHOF – doesn’t sound like welcome; sounds like go forth and multiply; literally Torch Court

‘en daar was rugby ook’ – oh, there was some rugby (after ooh’ing about all the ancillary pomp)

pomptroppies – drum majorettes

klapped – pasted; smacked

Wat maak julle hier? – what are you doing here?

vieslik – disgusting; sis

Vaddafokgaanhieraan? – Can I help you gentlemen?

Dink jy ek is vokken mal? – Do you think I’m gullible?

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.