Categories
4_Optometry Johannesburg 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal sport

Duzi 1976

1976 Duzi – In 1976 I dusted off my old repaired Limfy and entered the race, ready to finally ‘Do the Dusi.’

(BTW: ‘The Duzi’ or ‘Dusi’ is the Duzi Canoe Marathon, a 120km downstream river race from Pietermaritzburg to the sea in Durban, in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Next year should see the 70th annual running of this crazy biathlon, COVID-permitting).

Like I had asked Charlie Ryder about six years earlier, Louis van Reenen, a fellow student in Doornfontein, asked me, ‘What’s that?’ when I said I was going to ‘Do the Dusi,’ so he was ripe for convincing. Or brainwashing? He decided to join me. I was happy, as he had a car! I headed off to Harrismith for the December holidays, leaving him with wise counsel: Buy a boat and paddle in it a bit.’

A month later in January, he arrived in Harrismith in his light blue VW Beetle with a new roofrack and a brand new boat – a red Hai white-water boat with a ‘closed’ (smaller) cockpit. He had bought it from Neville Truran at his Kensington shop, and had paddled it once or twice on Emmerentia Dam. In those days that could sort-of qualify you for Dusi!

We now had to tackle the dilemma we had left unspoken: Two of us, two boats and one car. Who would paddle, who would drive as the ‘second’ or supporter, taking food and kit to the overnight stops? So we tossed a coin. I lost. DAMN!

We headed for Alexandra Park in PMB with the red Hai on the roofrack. A great pity for me, as I had done a lot of canoeing, also in flood-level rivers, and had broken two boats in half and repaired one. But – a coin toss is a coin toss. And it was his car!

For Louis, the coin toss won him a first-ever trip down a river. And what a river! Here’s how two-times Duzi winner Charles Mason described it. I have paraphrased excerpts from his memoirs Bakgat:

Charles: The 1976 Duzi was arguably the fullest level ever. The record 420 starters on the first day on the uMsunduzi River were greeted with a very full river, resulting in many casualties.

I helped Louis get onto the water at Alexandra Park and he was relaxed. Although it was moving, the water looked similar to Emmerentia dam as it was flat, so he should be fine, right?

– Louis’ red Hai in the foreground –

That night at the first overnight stop at Dusi Bridge, Louis’ eyes were a lot bigger. He told of big water, scary rapids and numerous swims. I had pitched my little orange puptent and made him supper. He slept with his rear end out of the tent, ready to sprint off yet again – the dreaded ‘Dusi Guts’ diarrhoea had got him!

Charles again: That night the Kingfisher marquee was abuzz with speculation regarding the river conditions for the next two days on the much larger Umgeni. Our first day’s paddle on the much smaller and narrower Duzi River had been enjoyable and exhilarating. I remember being told many years before that the word ‘uMsunduzi’ is isiZulu for ‘the one that pushes and travels very fast when in flood.’ It had really been pushing that day. I was relaxing in a corner of the Kingfisher marquee, listening to the excited banter and anxious anticipation of the largely novice competitors in the tent, regarding the prospects for the next day’s paddle. Few of them had experienced such conditions previously.

Blissfully unaware, utter novices Louis and I were in my little orange pup tent nearby.

Charles: Around 9pm race organiser and ‘Duzi Boss’ Ernie Pearce came to see me:- Ernie said: “I have just had a visit from the engineer at Nagle Dam. He came to warn us that they have opened all the sluices of the dam to reduce water levels in preparation for a massive plug of flood water making it’s way down the Umgeni. The river will be in full flood below the dam by tomorrow morning!” Very early the next morning, I went to inspect the river downstream for Ernie and then reported back to anxiously-waiting paddlers and officials: “The Umgeni is pumping – it’s bloody big – and I am wearing a life jacket!” Life jackets were optional in those days and in any event, very few paddlers possessed them. I overheard one paddler remarking, “That’s enough for me.” He left to tie his boat onto his car. A few others followed suit. The second and third days were big and exciting.

Louis van Reenen, Duzi novice, first time ever on a river, carried on bravely. Paddling some, swimming some, and portaging – a lot! A lot of portaging was done by a lot of paddlers to avoid the big water.

New watercourses and new islands opened up:

The weather cleared up enough for the welcome newspaper drop by Frank Smith in his light plane at the second overnight stop at diptank:

Us seconds and supporters were kept busy rescuing cars stuck in the mud, including our own Volksie. We’d all be stopped in a long line; We’d get out, walk to the front, push the front car, push the next car, and so on.

Never-Say-Die Louis got to Durban, to the Blue Lagoon, to the salty water of a high-tide Indian Ocean. Hours before him Graeme Pope-Ellis had equalled the best, winning his fifth Duzi, paddling with Pete Peacock.

That night we slept right there at Blue Lagoon, at the finish. Here’s a satisfied and relieved Louis with his Hai and his paddle, and me at the driver’s door of the pale blue Volksie:

Seven years later I FINALLY got round to doing my first Duzi. Sitting in my boat at Alexandra Park in Pietermaritzburg waiting for the starter’s gun, I thought I saw a familiar face and paddled over. Louis! It IS you! He had come back seven years later to do his second Duzi! Never-say-Die!

That 1983 Duzi was the opposite of his first. A low river, lots of portaging because of NO water, not because of high water!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family

An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

Asked what could be inferred about the Creator from a study of His works, British scientist and naturalist JBS Haldane replied:

“The Creator, if he existed, had an inordinate fondness for beetles”

Now it’s true he meant the one on the left, not the one on the right, but still . .

My gran Annie’s Caltex garage in Harrismith had a filling station, a restaurant on the forecourt, a workshop behind – and the VW agency. My gran Annie sold VW Beetles!

– Platberg bottle store, Annie’s garage, Flamingo Cafe & OHS 155 – the little light-blue beetle – ca.1959 model –
– interior of a ca.1959 VW Beetle –

toy models

One of the perks of Annie having a VW dealership was Volkswagen’s toy models of their cars & kombis. They were fascinating! They had moving doors, flaps, engine covers, side loading locker in kombi pickups; some had a clear sunroof that clipped off. Something like these:

At one time – I don’t think I’m imagining this – the VW Beetle cost less than R1 per cc: The 1200cc engine model cost R1199. Let’s check: A VW Bug in the USA was around $1563; A US dollar cost us 72 SA cents – Yep, about right.

A long concrete ramp lead up into the workshop behind the Flamingo Cafe. At Truscott was the mechanic – I remember him as small, bald and kind. I remember the big jacks that lifted the cars; the lights they shone into the engine bay – an incandescent bulb in a cage to protect it, with a 220V cable dangling behind it; There was a high ‘shelf’ overhead – above the wall of the ‘office’ inside the big shed-like workshop on which lots of tyres were stacked; The wooden workbenches were full of interesting vices and spare parts and grease.

One of Annie’s forecourt attendants was Joseph Culling. He was a son of Sgt Culling, who was demobbed in 1913, when the British finally left Harrismith after the Anglo-Boer War. He had been stationed on Kings Hill and unlike most of his fellows, he stayed behind and married a local Harrismith lady. In the apartheid classification of the day that immediately – and magically!? – made his children ‘coloureds.’ I remember him with the leather coin dispenser satchel on his hip, the strap holding it slung around his neck and shoulder, wearing a Caltex cap.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Back in the sixties, many of us, of course, also had an inordinate fondness for the beatles . .

Lovely Venn Diagram from Michelle Rial

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
3_USA 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 8_Nostalgia travel

Bugged by Bugs in a Red Bug in Canada

north america map

Stage Three (in yellow on the map) of my Great North American Road Trip started in Cobleskill in upstate New York, where Stage Two had ended.

A red VW Bug swept up the drive and out poured three lovely Okies and an Aussie. Sherry Porter-Steele, owner of the Bug and twins Dottie and Dale Moffett. Sherry had been a favourite young high school teacher of the girls in Ardmore a few years prior, and involved in Rotary exchange student selection. Jonathan Kneebone was an Aussie, a dinkum character, say no more. Liked a beer.

We headed north to the Canadian border. Five laughing, happy peeps in a VW bug. It wasn’t a squeeze at all, we were having so much fun. At the border the man leaned in, asked “All American?” Yeah, we’re American, chimed Sherry, Dottie and Dale. He stepped back and was about to wave us through when Jonathan and I said “Um, no”.

“Australian” said Kneebone and the man made to step back again and wave us through when he registered what I had said.

“Uh, come with me please sir. I need to check your passport,” he said. An hour later we were off again – to Montreal. That’s where you see Dottie sitting on the grass.

On to Ottawa where we bumped into Indira Ghandi on a state visit to Pierre Trudeau. She chose to arrive while we were staring at some government building or other. That’s the only time I’ve seen a head of state in the flesh ever. And one’s enough.

Somewhere around here I dinged Sherry’s car! “I’ll drive!” I shouted as we headed for the pub. I promptly reversed out the driveway, swung, and BANG! I got out and saw to my great relief – how horrible was this!? – that I’d hit a huge Dodge pickup with a bumper a yard deep; not a scratch on it! We could hop back into the red bug and bug off to the pub. Poor Sherry’s prize red VW wasn’t so lucky. I wrecked her left rear fender and light and I had no money to pay for the damage. DAMN!! Sherry of course was an absolute star about it, bless her!

Dottie, Dale, Jonathan, me and Sherry in Sherry's Bug: Canada here we come!

Then Toronto, Waterloo and up around Lake Superior, Sudbury, Sault St Marie, Thunder Bay. What a sight Superior was! Biggest stretch of fresh water imaginable. For a Vrystater, awe-inspiring! We camped en route wherever we could squirrel away for free. Only once were we shoo-ed off and told ‘I’m Sorry, You Can’t Camp Here.’ This by a Mountie with a big hat, so it was worth it! Yes SIR!

Canada Mountie, Patrol Car

Here we used a rock for a mattress. We had just woken up but Kneebone was already being Australian!

Me, Dottie, Dale & Jonathan Kneebone (can you guess where from?) in Canada
– Me, Dottie, Dale & Jonathan Kneebone (can you guess where from?) –

Once we stayed in an old railway station converted to a sort of backpackers, the track ripped up and turned into a trail. Beautiful.

Then, suddenly, we needed to go canoeing. When in Canada, canoe! So we hired two boats in Quetico National Park, Lake of the Woods. All names may not be exact or current – these are 45yr-old memories!

We planned a three-night trip, but after one night we turned back and ran, tails between our legs! We had spent the day trying to dodge dark clouds of midges and no-see-ems, or black flies. When you ran your hand through your hair it came out covered in blood. That night we pitched the tents on an island in a cloud of mozzies. We lined up with our kit, zipped open, dived in and zipped up immediately. So fast that we only had fourteen million mosquitoes in the tent, a fraction of the hordes that were hovering and zeeeee-ing outside!

Ama-azing! Canada sure has bugs! But what beautiful country:

Lake Woods 3

As we’d cut our canoe trip short we decided to carry on into Manitoba, but Canada is vast and we realised we might bite off more than we could chew; so we soon cut back and headed south for the US border at International Falls, into Minnesota, across the Mississippi River where it’s still quite small and headed south for Iowa, where I had to leave the gang.

They dropped me off and buzzed off into the sunset, three lovely ladies and an Aussie with who I had just spent one of the most unforgettable times of my life. That REALLY was special. So uncomplicated and relaxed and unstructured (unless Sherry was planning as we went – she was! I bet you she was!), and free and friendly. Wonderful people.

map Road Trip USA Home to Apache 1973

My host family from Apache Don & Jackie Lehnertz were up there and would be driving me back to Apache via Iowa, Missouri and Kansas on Stage Four. I’m afraid I slept a lot on this leg of the trip!

~~~oo0oo~~~