Category Archives: sport

Harrismith’s Mountain Goat

The people of Harrismith dubbed Michael McDermott ‘The Mountain Goat’.

Or so running e-zine ‘Modern Athlete’ says of SIXTEEN-times winner of our Mountain Race. Apparently we used to write supportive messages for him along the route of the Harrismith Mountain Race, much like supporters do in the Tour De France. Race organisers would set him up our local hotel with the room number that corresponded with the win he was going for. Michael became a hugely popular and inspirational figure thanks to his 16-consecutive-year winning streak in our rugged annual race.

They go on: Michael’s love affair with Harrismith’s imposing Platberg began in 1978, when he was just 13. “I was alone at home and ran 5km to the Harrismith Harriers clubhouse because I wanted to run that day, but no-one was there, so I ran back home. Then they called me up to ask where I was and came to fetch me. So before the race, I already ran 10km,” says Michael, who ran the race and finished 32nd. “Nobody believed I had completed the race, though, because I was so small!” he laughs.

In 1980, he finished eighth and qualified for a gold medal, but had to receive it unofficially, behind the tent, as he was still below the minimum 16-year age limit for the race. A year later and now ‘legal,’ he finished fifth, and then in 1982 he posted the first of his 16 consecutive wins, an amazing world record also held by similarly uber-talented athletes Michael McLeod of England and Jim Pearson of America. He held the record for the short 12.3km course at 50mins 30secs in 1985 and the long 15km course at 1hr 05mins 05secs as the first winner over the new distance in 1996. It came to an end when he ‘stepped skew’ and tore ligaments in his ankle while well in the lead on his way to a 17th straight win in 1998. Michael Miya took over and won the race in a new record time of 1hr 04mins 06secs and became the first black South African winner. While McDermott was really disappointed, it was also “a relief as there wasn’t that pressure to win after that.”

SPRINGBOK

Michael earned Springbok colours in 1988 for cross-country, and was invited to run a number of international mountain running events in the early 1990s. He won the Swiss Alpine Marathon three times, shattering the course record in 1993. He also represented South Africa seven times in the World Mountain Trophy, from 1993 to 1999, with a best placing of fifth in 1993 in France. http://www.modernathlete.co.za

*my potted history of the race*


This post opened a flood of ancient memories!

Thanks Koos – very interesting.

In “our day” Johnny Halberstadt was the King – wonder where he is today?

I strolled the race 2 or 3 times in the 1990s – never finished in the allotted time, but always walked away with a medal, ’cause I knew Jacqui Wessels (du Toit) who handed out the medals!

Remember the year we did it after “peaking” at Pierre’s home the night before – about 3am. You remarked as you crossed the Start Line (not the Finishing Line) – “I think I’m under-trained”. The hangovers were monumental. As we strolled past the adoring, cheering spectators, one guy was heard to remark “Daai mal ou het sy verkyker om sy nek!” That was you!

The year Karin Goss and I did it, (circa 1998) we were so last that even the Coke truck had packed up and left by the time we strolled into Die Groen Paviljoen! We were so busy ‘phoning the whole world from the summit that we forgot to be competitive. Jacqui insisted on giving us medals, but drew the line at Gold – we had to be content with Bronze. Don’t know why she was so strict – there were a few Golds lying in the bottom of the box.

Was Alet de Witt the first lady to compete?

Love

stroller Sheila Swanepoel

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Sheila, I think you forgot that when we allowed you to go through the finish banner after cut-off time, there was a breathalyser test for the finishers. This you seemed to have forgotten! Legal limits are 0,24 milligrams per 1000 millilitres. Finishers (at sunset) with this reading all get GOLD.

Unfortunately your readings were 0.60 . . . hence the Bronze medal. 😉

All the best (hope you enter the Mountain Race again this Year).

Kind Regards

actual finisher Jacquie Du Toit, also ex-Mountain Race high-up official

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Hey Sheils
I think we must do it once more!! Seriously!
What comes after bronze??? And is there a medi-vac chopper available?
Thanks for the interesting article Koos!
Happy Women’s Day everyone.
Love (stroller) Kar Goss xx
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Sheila, As far I can remember my Mom Alet and Mavis Hutchison did the race around 1969,70. Koos Keyser won it 5 times 1964-68. Wally Hayward (5-times Comrades winner) won in 1952.

actual finisher JP de Witt

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Sheila, For what it’s worth – I’m seriously considering doing it this year… if anyone wants to join me, perhaps we can motivate each other 🙂 **(Hushed silence from the sundry assorted 60-somethings – *sound of crickets*)**

and yes, there is a ‘medi-vac’ chopper 🙂 I was running it in about 1985-ish, when a runner from Welkom dislodged a rock on One-Man’s Pass. The rock fell onto his thigh, cutting and damaging the muscle. Tony Perry (a fellow runner from Newcastle) and I were immediately behind and below the unfortunate gent. With the help of two of his team mates we carried him to the top. Another of his team mates went ahead to tell Doc Mike van Niekerk that we needed a casualty to be taken off the mountain. By the time we got to the top, both Mike and the chopper were ready….

Tony and I missed out on our silver medals by about 10 minutes (silver time was 1 hour 40 minutes). I moved to Cape Town and never ran another mountain race! So I still only have a bronze. [PS! Mike asked the committee to award Tony and I silver medals, but they must have had a shortage that year 🙂 ]

Footnote: Michael McDermott was at school when he joined our running club in Newcastle, in about 1979… there were a few ‘windhonde’ in the club at the time, but pretty soon he was chasing and beating most of them on the shorter runs. There were a few Harrismitters I saw regularly at races: Pieter Oosthuyzen and Koos Rautenbach, I especially remember, as I often chatted to them at races.

Has anyone from Harrismith ever won this besides Volschenk? and btw, I thought it was Koos Keyser who was the big hero winner of our school days?

PS! note I said ‘doing’ the mountain race… no commitment to running it at this stage, but that may change on the day 🙂

Love to you all

actual finisher Pikkie Loots

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Hector Fyvie’s ‘English Team’

West Indies cricket. Wow!

They would play England – and thrash them at their own game. We would listen to the games on the steam-powered radio.

Representing England you had names like Hicks, Lamb, Greig and Smith who sound OK, except – they were all born in South Africa. Then you had Tavare, de Freitas, Ramprakash, D’Oliviera and Hussain. All Englishmen.

In the other team you had posh and correct names like Sir Wesley Hall, Charlie Griffith, Sir Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshal, Courtney Walsh, Sir Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop.

So Uncle Hec – always quick to spot an anomaly – would refer to them as . . .

“The English Team”.

Hecs Windies Cricket Team

Hance in the Grand Canyon

Hance Rapid3

Hance Rapid at Mile 76.5 stands sentinel at the Colorado river’s entry into the Granite Gorge. The river drops 30 feet as it passes through a natural constriction formed by the Red Canyon. The dark dike cutting through the red Hakatai Shale is one of the most photographed features in the Canyon.

I found out more about the man the rapid was named after:

John Hance (1840 – January 8, 1919) is thought to be the first non-native resident of the Grand Canyon.

John Hance_cr

He opened the first tourist trail in the canyon before the canyon was a national park, giving tours of the canyon after his ca.1866 attempts at mining asbestos failed. “Captain” John Hance was said to be one of the Grand Canyon’s most colorful characters, and one early visitor declared that “To see the canyon only and not to see Captain John Hance, is to miss half the show.”

Hance delighted in telling canyon stories to visitors, favoring the whopper of a tale over mere facts. With a straight face, Hance told travelers how he had dug the canyon himself, piling the excavated earth down near Flagstaff (thus ‘explaining’ those mysterious then-unexplained dirt piles).

Flagstaff SanFranciscoPeaks

John Hance died in 1919, the year the Grand Canyon became a National Park, and was the first person buried in what would become the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery.

(from wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and archive.org)

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In May 1891 one Charley Greenlaw wrote this in John Hance’s guestbook:

I can cheerfully say that this, the Grand Canon of the Colorado River, is the grandest sight of my life. As I noticed in this little book of Capt. John Hance, a great many people say indescribable. I can say nothing more. It is beyond reason to think of describing it in any way. You must see it to appreciate it. A grand sight of this kind and so few people know of it. By accident I formed the acquaintance of two ladies en route to the Grand Canon. I joined them. We have enjoyed our trip; the stage ride from Flagstaff to the Grand Canon is grand. Good horses, competent and accommodating drivers. I have seen the Yosemite, have visited California several different times, in fact seen all the principal points of interest in the United States, but the most wonderful, awe-inspiring piece of Nature’s own work is this, the Grand Canon of the Colorado River.

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Another entry by J. Curtis Wasson told of the twelve hour stage coach journey after alighting from the Santa Fe Railroad Company’s train:

From Flagstaff at 7 o’clock a.m. our stage and six goes out.

Arriving at Little Springs Station, where a new relay of six horses is added, we make haste until the half-way station is reached, passing through a fine unbroken forest of Pinus ponderosa, quaking aspen, balsam fir, and spruce. The open forest, the waving grasses, the gorgeously colored mountain flowers, the occasional chirp of the forest songsters, the ice-cold springs traversing our smooth compact road, the peaks, clear-cut and massive, towering up nearly 14,000 feet into the blue above, the low rumbling of our great Concord stage, the sound of two dozen hoofs, the sharp crack of the driver’s whip, the clear, bracing atmosphere, every breath of which seems to stimulate, the indescribably beautiful Painted Desert outstretching for a hundred miles to our right.

stagecoach2

One fain would linger on scenes like these but we have arrived at Cedar Station, and after partaking of a very refreshing luncheon we are given a new relay of horses and hasten over the desert portion of our ride to Moqui Station, where another relay is provided, which takes us to the hotel at the rim of the Grand canon, where we arrive at 7 o’clock p.m.

Leaving our Concord stage, giving our grips to the porter, not even waiting for “facial ablutions”, we hasten across the yard and up to the rim of the canon, when, looking over — the Chasm of the Creator, the Gulf of God, the Erosion of the Ages, that Erosive Entity, that Awful Abyss, lies in all its awfulness before us, — awful, yet grand; appalling, yet attractive; awe inspiring, yet fascinating in its greetings.

Grand Canyon South Rim

Panoramic view of Hance Rapid:

Hance Rapid

coach pic from wildwesthistory.blogspot.com

 

A Fine Spectacle

This story will be fuzzy in parts because of the long passage of time. But although some details may be slightly different, ‘strue. So I must tell the tale before those last few grey cells that hold the memory get blitzed by the box wine.

It was on the Berg River Canoe Marathon that Christof Heyns came to tell me was pulling out of the race. Why!? I said, dismayed. He’d fallen out in the frigid flooded Berg river and lost his glasses. Couldn’t see past his nose, so it was way too dangerous to carry on in the mid-winter Cape cold and the flooding brown water.

Hell, no, I said, I’ve got a spare pair, you can use mine.

He rolled his eyes and smiled sadly at my ignorance. His eyes were very special, his glasses were very thick and there was no way just any arb specs would do, he mansplained patiently. In his defence, he didn’t know I was an optometrist, that I was wearing contact lenses, that I had a spare pair of specs in my luggage and one tied to the rudder cable in my boat, or that I had a very good idea of what his prescription was from seeing his glasses on his nose both on this race and on a Tugela trip we had been on together. I knew about his eyes better than he knew about my soul (he might have known a bit about that as his Dad was a very belangrike dominee in the Much Deformed Church – top dog, in fact).

So I said, trust me swaer and went and fetched my spares. He put them on and was amazed. I can see! he shouted like I was Jesus who had just restored his sight. I know, I said.

specs

So he wore the glasses and finished the race and I said keep them till we next meet.

Many months later I saw an article in the SA Canews, the paddling magazine, titled: “My Broer se Bril”. Christof wrote the story of how he had lost hope when some arb oke said “Here, try mine” and he could see! And he could finish the race. He ended off by saying “Actually they were so good I’m wearing them to this day”. Ja, you bugger, I know, I said. I could have written an article “How a dominee’s son appropriated my bril”, but I didn’t. I’m way too kind! (In his defence, we haven’t seen each other since that race).


belangrike dominee – important churchman

swaer – bro

my broer se bril – my brother’s spectacles

mansplain – when a man laboriously explains something you already know (usually inflicted on women)

Lee’s Ferry across the Colorado River

Lee’s Ferry on the right bank of the Colorado River, just above the mouth of the Paria River, at an elevation of 3,170 feet asl is the site of the start for most river trips through the Grand Canyon.

Originally called Lonely Dell by Mormon church-man with 19 wives and 67 children John D Lee, who established the ferry in 1872, it provided the only access across more than 300 miles of river for many years. Actually one of Lee’s 19 wives, Emma ran the ferry for a number of years while he was on the lam – hiding from the law for his leading part in the wicked 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre.

The massacre near St George, Utah involved a group of emigrants known as the Fancher Party trekking west from Arkansas who were camped at Mountain Meadows in southern Utah preparing for their final push across the Mohave Desert when they were attacked by a group of Mormon Militia who disguised themselves as Native Americans so as to cowardly deflect blame for the attack.

It was a time of great tension between Mormons and the rest of the United States, and the massacred party was most likely attacked because they were not Mormons.

After an initial siege, the treacherous Lee approached the emigrants saying he’d negotiated safe passage for them with protection from their supposed Native American attackers if they surrendered their weapons. The group agreed, whereupon the militia proceeded to kill all but the children under 8 years of age.

One hundred and twenty men, women and children died that day. For almost two decades, the incident was covered up, but in 1874, Lee was brought to trial. Never denying his complicity in the massacre, Lee did insist – probably correctly – that he was acting on orders from high up in the church. He was the only one of about fifty men involved in the massacre to be brought to book. He was convicted and executed by firing squad in 1877.

His widow Emma Lee sold the ferry in 1879 for 100 milk cows to the Mormon Church who continued to operate it until 1910 when it was taken over by Coconino County, Arizona. The ferry stayed mostly in use until 1929 when the Navajo Bridge was completed. Ironically, the ferry was used to ship much of the material to build the bridge that put it out of business.

1984: There was only one bridge when we crossed to the right – or ‘north’ (rivers only have left or right banks – think about it) – bank of the river. It was completed in 1929. A larger parallel second bridge was added in 1995. The bridge we crossed is now used for pedestrian sight-seeing.

Now: To make sure there are no misunderstandings, our John Lee on the 1984 trip down the Colorado is a good ou who, at that stage, had zero wives:

John Lee

 

Berg River Freeze

“Please tell him not to. He’ll never make it”.

That’s what Jacques de Rauville told my business partner when he heard I was going to do the 1983 Berg River Canoe Marathon. He had come across me one evening on the Bay and I’d asked which way to go, it being my first time out there and the lights and the reflections were confusing. “Follow me” said Jacques, and off he went, but within 50m I was 49m behind him. He waited and told me “Left at the third green buoy” or whatever he said. When he passed me again on his way back and I obviously hadn’t made enough headway, he thought whatever he thought that made him tell his optometrist Mike Lello “tell him not to attempt the Berg”.

Jacques was right, but luckily for me Chris Logan got hold of me and took me for a marathon training session on the ‘Toti lagoon one day which got my mind around sitting on a hard seat for hours on end. Chris was a great taskmaster. We stopped only once – for lunch (chocolate and a coke. It was pre-Banting).

The night before the first day in Paarl they pointed out a shed where we could sleep. Cold hard concrete floor. Winter in the Cape. Luckily I had brought along a brand-new inflatable mattress and an electric pump that plugged into my white 2,0l GL Cortina’s cigarette lighter socket. So I plugged in and went for a beer. *BANG* I heard in the background as we stood around talking shit and wondered vaguely what that was. A few more beers later we retired to sleep and I thought “So that ‘s what that bang was” – a huge rip in my now-useless brand-new no-longer-inflatable mattress, so I slept on the concrete, good practice for a chill that was going to enter my bones and then my marrow over the next four days.

The first day was cold and miserable, but the second day on the ’83 Berg made it seem like a balmy breeze. That second day was one of the longest days of my life! As the vrou cries it was the shortest day, but a howling gale and horizontal freezing rain driving right into your teeth made it last forever. Icy waves continuously sloshing over the cockpit rim onto your splashcover. It was the day Gerrie died – the first paddler ever to drown on an official race day. I saw him, right near the back of the field where I was and looking even colder than me. He wasn’t wearing a life jacket. It wasn’t macho to wear a life jacket and I admit that I wore my T-shirt over mine to make it less conspicuous and I told myself I was wearing it mainly as a windbreaker. Fools that we were. Kids: Never paddle without a life jacket.

1983 Berg Canoe (1)

I saw Gerrie’s boat nose-down with the rudder waving in the wind, caught in the flooded trees and I wondered where he was, as both banks were far away and not easy to reach being tree-lined and the trees underwater. Very worrying, but no way I could do anything heroic in that freezing strong current, so I paddled on to hear that night that he was missing. His body was only found days later.

That night in the freezing gale-force wind and horizontal rain, Greg Bennett announced that he was going home unless the next morning dawned sunny and windless – a seeming impossibility. But rested after devouring a whole chicken each, washed down with KWV wine and sherry supplied by the sponsors and after sleeping in a farm loft, we woke and braced ourselves for the third – and longest – day . . . . .

Which turned into the easiest day as the wind actually HAD died and the sun DID shine brightly on us, making for a really pleasant day which seemed half as long, even though it was 70km compared to that LO-ONG second day’s 49km! At the start about ten Kingfisher paddlers bunched together in our black T-shirts: Alli Peter, Greg Bennett, Jacques de Rauville, Bernie Garcin, Dave Gillmer, who else? I hopped onto their wave and within 50m I was 49m behind. I watched the flock of black T-shirts disappear into the distance. I was used to that.

By the fourth day I was getting fit and could paddle for quite a while without resting on my paddle and admiring the scenery. I paddled with (OK, behind) a lady paddler for a while, focused for once. Busting for a leak, I didn’t want to lose the tug, so eventually let go and relieved myself in my boat. Aah! Bliss! But never again! I had to stop to empty the boat before the finish anyway (the smell!) so no point in not stopping to have a leak.

Not that there will be a next time! Charlie’s Rule of Certifiability states clearly “Doing the Berg More Than Once Is Certifiable”. And while Charles Mason may have done 50 Umkos he has done only one Berg.

Greyling Viljoen won the race in 16hrs 7mins; I took 24hrs 24mins; 225 maniacs finished the race; I was cold deep into my marrow.

The freezing finish at Velddrif at last!

The Velddrift hotel bed that night was bliss with all my clothes on and the bedclothes from both beds piled on top of me. In Cape Town the next day I bought clothes I couldn’t wear again until I went skiing in Austria years later. Brrrr!! Yussis! Nooit!

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Some interesting stats and numbers for the Berg River Canoe Marathon.

241km from Paarl to Velddrif. Four days of 62, 46, 74 and 60km.
46 300 – The estimated number of paddle strokes required to complete the Berg

The river flow in cubic metres per second at the start of the lowest ever Berg in 1978 was 1,44 cumecs. In 1983 it was 19 cumecs at Dal Josephat Bridge and seemed quite flood-like enough to me! But the highest-ever was in the very first Berg in 1962 – 342 cumecs!

Only twice – in 1965 and 1967 – was the overall winning time more than 21 hours (I took 24hrs, but its OK, I didn’t win). The fastest overall time: 13hrs 20mins.

Five paddlers have completed 40 or more Bergs. Giel van Deventer – Berg Historian, who compiled these facts – has finished the race 45 times! In the book on the Umko canoe marathon I wrote in a draft which I sent to him “the Berg, over 200km long” and he hastened to write to me saying “Pete, it’s 241km long, don’t get it wrong”. I changed it to 241km).

One of the toughest years was 1971, only 49% of starters finished – the lowest percentage so far. The oldest finisher of the Berg, Jannie Malherbe was 74 when he did that crazy thing in 2014. He made Ian Myers seem like a spring chicken.

1 401 – The number of paddlers who have completed one Berg only.
2 939 – The number of paddlers who came back for at least one more – maniacs!

Andy Birkett won the Berg in 2016. He makes no bones about the fact that the gruelling race takes its toll, even on well conditioned paddlers. “Flip, it was tough!” he recalls. “It was cold, putting on beanies and two or three hallies and long pants when you are busy paddling. But that is all part of it”. He speaks of how one needs to discreetly tuck in behind the experienced local elite racers, particularly on the earlier sections of the course where local knowledge through the tree blocks and small channels is important.

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 a try in his first game in an All Blacks jersey. I think our Dawie Fourie played against them. Check the Bethlehem news with more coverage of the pomptroppies than the rugby: “en daar was rugby ook”: We got klapped 43-9, so the rugby was just an afterthought!

Now they were playing Free State (or Vrystaat) in Bloem and my mate Jean le Roux and I decided we needed to go and see the game. We hitch-hiked, arrived in time and watched the game. Let’s conveniently forget the score. You know how those All Blacks are.

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 police station, told our tale of need and were met with excited enthusiasm and hospitality. NOT. We were actually met with 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 graffitti, 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 little hole 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!

“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!

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

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* Do you think I’m crazy?

vieslik – disgusting

Harrismith Mountain Race

Mountain-Race site - Copy

Way back in 1922 a Pom army major sat in the gentleman’s club in Harrismith and spoke condescendingly about our mountain, Platberg, as “that little hill”. What was ‘e on about? It rises 7800 ft above sea level and he was from a tiny chilly island whose ‘ighest point is a mere 3209 ft above sea level! Being a Pom he was no doubt gin-fuelled at the time. Anyway, this ended up in a challenge to see if he could reach the top in under an hour, which led to me having to run up it years later. Because its there, see.

I had often run the short cross-country course and twice the longer course, which followed the mountain race route except for the actual, y’know, ‘mountain’ part. I had also often climbed the mountain, but strolling and packing lunch. When I finally decided I really needed to cross the actual mountain race proper off my list of “should do’s” I was larger, slower and should have been wiser.

The race used to be from town to the top of the mountain, along the top for a mile or so and back down. Sensible. That’s how I ran it in 1979. The medal then had a handy bottle opener attached!

20141110_183249

Then some fools decided that wasn’t long enough (apparently a cross-country route needed to be 15km to be “official”!) so they added 3km of perfectly senseless meanderings around the streets of our dorp causing fatigue before I even started the climb.

Leaving town
Start of One Man's Pass Mountain Race 9

It gets steeper, then at times its hands and knees

The

Top of One Man’s Pass looking back down on the City of Sin and Laughter

Top of ZigZag Pass

The best part: On top, heading for Zig-Zag pass

The finish at the Groen Pawiljoen grounds

Run to A then to B and back (who added 3km of tar road!?)

Oh by the way, Major Belcher did get to the top in under an hour, winning the bet.

Some history from friend Etienne Joubert, who has also trotted the course:

The Harrismith Mountain Race held annually since 1922, was described as the ‘toughest in the world’ by Wally Hayward, who won five Comrades marathons, the London to Brighton Marathon and the Bath to London 100-miler! (More about a wonderful day with Wally).

It originated when, in 1922, a British soldier, Maj A E Belcher, returned to Harrismith where he had been stationed near 42nd Hill during the war. He was referring to Platberg as ‘that small hill of yours’, one Friday evening [lots of silly things are done on Friday evenings] and one of the locals (a certain Van Reenen – or maybe the chemist Scruby) immediately bet him that he could not reach the top (591 metres – just under 2000ft – above the town) in less than an hour.

The major accepted the challenge and set off from the corner of Stuart & Bester streets outside the old Harrismith Club near where the Athertons ran The Harrismith Chronicle the very next day. He reached the summit with eight minutes to spare.

During a later visit to the town, Major Belcher (now a schoolteacher in Dundee, Natal) found out that his record still stood so he took it upon himself to donate a trophy to the Harrismith Club to be awarded to the first club member to break his record to the top.  In 1929 the Club management, as the organizers of the race, decided to open the race up to the residents of Harrismith and a Mr Swanepoel, won the race to the top of the mountain in 32 minutes. (The last record time I have is 22 minutes and 9 seconds).

The race route has changed over time – starting in Piet Retief Street outside the post office and police station for some years. Nowadays it starts at the town’s sports grounds, passing the jail, then through the terrain where the concentration camp (second site) once stood, up the steep slopes of Platberg to the top via One Man’s Pass, close to where a fort was built during the Anglo-Boer War. After traversing a short distance along the top, the descent is made via Zig-Zag Pass, and the race is completed back at the ‘Groen Pawiljoen’ sports grounds.

A friend’s Mom, Alet de Witt became the first lady to complete the race. She ran in the year her husband, Steph and JP’s Dad Koos de Witt died tragically suddenly in January 1967. She then donated a trophy for the winner of the newly allowed (!) women’s category, which was awarded for the first time only in 1986.

Later the apartheid “whites-only” ruling was dropped and as soon as McDermott* stopped winning the race was won by black athletes, starting with Michael Miya who holds the record for the newer, longer 15km course at 1hr 03mins 08secs.

*McDermott won sixteen times consecutively from 1982 to 1997 and in 1985 established the “short course 12.3km” record at 50mins 30secs.

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 like this:

1966 Volvo 122s Charles Ryder

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 that?
You do the Dusi in it
What’s that?

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), cycling about 2 miles  to the park in the afternoons and paddling on the flat water of the mighty Vulgar River in Charles’ Limfjorden canoe, which he had kindly lent me/given to me. 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 we went to watch it (see: https://bewilderbees.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/my-four-plus-2-dusis/ ).

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 (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 the pup tent we used –

  • pic here *

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

the Lowveld Croc

lowveld-croc_1

in quick succession, and when we got back from kayaking the Colorado through the Grand Canyon in 1984 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.

Rocky Horror in Senekal, Vrystaat

1971: Rugby in Bloemfontein, Springboks vs the Frogs.
After the game, Tabs, Des, Raz, Stervis and I are driving back when the kroeg (no way you could call it a pub) in Senekal beckoned.
By the time the barman threw us out Des had bonded deeply with one of Senekal’s left-behinds and when we suggested we leave for home rather than go home with Deliverance for a braai, Des told us in no uncertain terms that WE could go but HE was not leaving his lifelong mate (of three hours) in the lurch.

ONE fing we must NOT do, we were told when we got to the small house on the wrong side of Senekal, is wake his wife. Lemme tell you carefully, you must not, no marrer whut you do, wake my wahf, you hear?

Wooden floors, five drunk ous stumbling around, I started to think this goon doesn’t actually have a wife, and if he does she’s in pieces in the chest deepfreeze. Which is where Conan is, scratching around and hauling out what looks like a roundish, rock-hard lump of blood in a plastic checkers.
Des, we should go, this is going to take forever.
It’s like Des told us: WE can go, but HE’s not leaving his lifelong mate.

Eventually a fire gets going – sort of – and the icy red lump piece of deceased wife sits on it, refusing to melt. (Another recollection is the oven was turned on and the lump placed in there. Exact facts are hazy). It’s midnight in June in Senekal, Vrystaat. It’s not hot.

Meantime, Jack Nicholson has found some dop and we have to drink, and luckily this puts him to sleep and mellows the Glutz so we’re able to persuade him to make a bolt for it, hitting the Senekal dirt roads till we find the tar to Harrismith. (Another recollection has the Wildman pulling out a gun and taking potshots as the getaway car spins madly down the driveway).

Bliksem!

To this day I can experience that weird, out-of-body sensation of “WTF are we DOING here? Am I in a bad movie or in a bad dream?!”