6. Comrades Clive Days

1999 marked my first Comrades Marathon. Me, who had smoked Madison and Winston for 15 years and had sworn to never, ever do something so silly. In fact, when living in Pietermaritzburg we would line up on the morning of Comrades, each with a case of beer at our feet and the challenge was to start drinking when the Cockerel crowed at 6am and finish the case before the winner (Bruce Fordyce) got in. We’d start in-front of the TV and later go out onto the roads near the finish at Woodburn Stadium in Maritzburg or Kingsmead in Durban, half hammered and stand there telling all the runners they were mad; that cars had been invented for such journeys. Lunatics was what I thought they were as we watched on, drinking warm beer and puffing away. I never did beat Bruce in that ‘race’ (of 24 beers in the 5 and a half hours that he typically took to win the Comrades) and when I was running, I only beat him once, when in 2008 he had his slowest run ever of 10hours 8minutes. To his credit he came back and got excruciatingly close to a Silver in 2011 when he ran 7hours, 30minutes, 31 seconds. But I digress….

The ‘99 Comrades was a ‘Down Run’ so Dee and I drove with the kids to stay at Pops’ – his house being as convenient for running as it was for paddling. I was extremely nervous, not sure that I would be able to make the distance and was very proud to eventually finish in 9hours and 38minutes. I can’t tell you that it was either fun or exciting in the same way that the Dusi is, but the runner camaraderie and the spectator support out on the road was incredible, as was the sense of achievement, and the bug bit.

Comrades Marathon

For Lowveld in 1999 we stayed at Lindealu Lodge with Dave and Joy Tattam, John and Jen Barrow Dave Cox, Kevin Greig and his wife – and with all our kids, it was quite a party. I didn’t do day 1, instead we went to Sudwala to see the dinosaurs. They all did the first 10kms and were then pulled off the river at the weir due to Hippo’s having moved up the river. I paddled the second day at the back of the race with Dave and Kevin, happy to again be away, enjoying both the river and good family time. While we had fun on the river, Dee was with Joy and the kids and they had their hands full trying to keep our naughty boys Tim and Brandon Tattam out of the river and out of harm’s way. In stark contrast the Barrow triplets were angelic.

Triplets with Flowers

Dee stayed home for the Fish, Pops and I went down with Neil and his brother-in-law’s Rod and Puc. Rod did some low-level flying and we got to Cradock in 6hours 30 minutes. We hadn’t trained but we were in A batch and raced hard. Day 1 was cold and wet, Keith’s was big, but we made it and from there on it was plain sailing. Day 2 was uneventful, and we were very happy to finish 30th overall and won the ‘First Siblings’ title. We didn’t wait for prize giving, Rod flew us back to the Vaal dam at high speed to spend the rest of the weekend with our families. That was a K1 year, won by Graham Solomon.

Fish Marathon
Fish Marathon

In November I attended a BBDO conference in Sitges near Barcelona and my boss Victor said that Dee could stay with me – all we had to do was pay for the flights, so we shipped in Granny and Grandpa (Di and Nev) to look after the kids and went to Spain. I did the Conference thing in the day while Dee did the tourist thing and then we would party with BBDO people from around the world – it was great. After the Conference Dee and I caught a train and then a bus to Andorra where we had 3 days of skiing which was awesome. We would have stayed longer but there was no accommodation, so we went back to Barcelona. It was a great trip, but we were very happy to get home to our babies.

Christmas of 1999 was spent at the farm and we saw the new year and new millennium in at Wartrail. As with most visits to the farm I went up the Kenmure Hill, this time in a reasonably good 37 minutes.

The must-do-millennium-year-syndrome’ attracted 2217 paddlers to the Dusi, including an old school friend from our Godfrey Huggins days: David Mitchel. He and his mate Tristan Retzlaff enlisted Neil and I to take them on a training trip down the Klip. The river was not overly testing and although they had a big stable boat they swam often. Twenty kilometres us took over 3hours and it was clear they were going to have a long Dusi, but they weren’t worried, they were simply going for the fun and experience of it all.

The year 2000 marked 10 Dusi’s in a row for me, my first ever in a K2, my fastest ever at 9hrs 32 mins, my only Top 50 and with this my only Silver medal. It was not my normal Dusi at all. In fact, it was hard work; Neil was determined to compete, so we had to run all the portages. We started in C batch, were the second boat over Camps Drift, the first boat over Commercial Weir and were going really well until we nearly wrapped. Fortunately, the boat bent back into shape, but we still took lots of water and I had to pump the whole way home. We finished day 1 in 58th place.

On day 2 we went into my nemesis, Washing Machine and got stuck but surfed out – I was terrified of another spin, but we were fine. We then rode waves across the dam to finish in 48th position. On day 3 we shot everything cleanly including Island One and Two; it took us just 29 minutes to do the equivalent of the Burma portage. We ended up 47th overall but didn’t stay for prize giving, meaning I never did get that Silver medal, nor was I there to get my Green Number: 447. These were trivial to Neil plus Dee and Lo were at the Vaal Dam with the kids, so we drove back that afternoon.

Dusi Marathon
Dusi Marathon

Mark Perrow had partnered with Martin Dreyer and they won in a record time of 7hours 56 minutes. I always believed that Neil felt hurt and betrayed when Mark ‘dropped’ him to paddle with Martin in search of another Dusi win and although we never did talk about it, I don’t believe their friendship was ever quite the same again, yet to me it seemed that they all constantly chopped and changed race partners anyway. Dave and Tristan came 1008th in a time of 18hours and 50. They were stoked; but never came back.

The year 2000 was the first time we ever saw a K3 on the Dusi, credit here goes to the Gandy brothers as in time more and more K3’s would be seen on the likes of the Umkomaas and particularly the Fish. While this is a great way to expose a novice or involve a weaker paddler in an event, I never really liked K3’s believing that they reduced the boat numbers and halved the fun, particularly for the middle padder. To this day I still think one should paddle one’s own boat and while I like to say I do most of my races in a single because I have no friends, the truth is I believe a river is far more exciting and testing in a K1 than in a K2; and particularly more so than in a K3, where in my opinion you should be so big and so stable that you should never swim, although I did swim in all two of my K3 races. The Gandy brothers then went on to become the first to take a K4 down the Dusi in 2009, but few followed in their wake here.

For Comrades 2000 I flew to Durban and stayed with John as it was an ‘Up’ run. At the 10km mark I spotted a Dabulamanzi vest in the throng of runners, it was Dave Wilson, brother of Colin and we stayed together for 60km before parting ways. His wife was the most attentive second I ever saw at a run with everything from drinks to food to fresh socks. I eventually finished in 9hrs 56mins and was very happy with that. Pops, John, Shorts and I went to dinner at Stokers Arms that evening and I got legless.

comrades marathon 2000
comrades marathon 2000

Like Dusi, Comrades 2000 also attracted a bumper field and a record of over 24 500 runners. It was a privilege to be there. That was the year they launched the Amabeadibeadi Charity Fund. There were 4 bead colours: White for Cancer and CHOC, Red for Aids, Blue for the Community Chest and Green for the Wildlands Conservation Trust. I quite liked the concept and given that my mom had been taken by cancer I thought this was a good charity to support. Most people wore their sting of beads like a neckless, but I wrapped mine around my wrist and then never took them off. I continued to support the Amabeadibeadi charity for many years and two decades later, I am still wearing replicas of them. For me they are a daily reminder of life – and of death. As a special treat I make strings of the same colours for my family, but they seem to lose or break them quite easily.

After 2 years at Berry Bush BBDO, we merged with Net#work, a creative hot shop that wanted the international pull that the BBDO name provided. There was however no union, the ‘Berry people’ were soon squeezed out. Only 3 of us survived; Thuli the receptionist, Alfie the driver, and me, Clive the Strategic Planner. Mike and his creative team had scant desire or respect for a planner, they didn’t want to be led by reason or rationale, but Keith the CEO, Abdulla the MD and Boniswa the Client Service Director knew that Clients wanted to believe there was a strategy behind the work and that planners were necessary people. So it was that I began the art of ‘back rationalising’ strategies for some of SA’s finest creatives including the likes of Brad, Theo, Graham, Matthew, Stu, John, Phil, Tim, Donovan, Shane, Wing, Neo, Julian, Mariana, Rob, Brent, Jenny etc. etc. (Jenny it turned out was the sister of Tracey, Perrow’s ex-girlfriend from his Dusi winning days and when she worked out that I paddled she asked me who I was; to which I replied, “I’m Clive”; she said, “No, what’s your nickname, all you canoeing people had strange nicknames” which was true and so I proudly told her the CooNoo story.) Anyway, not all our communication strategies were concocted to suit the creative teams, but many were; I wrote dozens of award winning case studies on the effectiveness of the work and the new Net#work BBDO gradually became one of South Africa’s most renowned agencies ever. But let’s get back to the paddling tales…

For the Fish in 2000 Neil and I went again with Rod, Puc and Pops. We were in the Coelacanth batch, which I really liked the idea of as I thought it would mean an easier start than being in a seeded batch. I was wrong, we raced from the start and dropped our entire batch, making Keith’s look easy, to finish in a time of 3hours 6 and 29th overall. That meant that for day 2 we were then in the elapsed time start and had no help on all the long flats, but we kept 29th position overall and again won the first sibling’s title. I earnt my Coelacanth status for 10 finishes, despite having completed 11 due to our DQ in 1997. As with the previous year we didn’t wait for prize giving and Rod flew us back to the Vaal Dam at high speed in his Combi where all our families were spending the weekend.

Fish Canoe Marathon
Fish Canoe Marathon

Graham Bird won with Piers Cruickshanks wearing Dabs blue; this was then the end of a long Wits/Dabulamanzi dominance at the Fish, started first by Captain Verkerk then continued by the likes of Monty, Mark, Robbie, Neil, Copper, Tweet and Van. In the 18 years between 1983 and 2000 paddlers from Emmarentia claimed 10 overall wins. Youngsters Grant and Brandon van der Walt were busy being groomed to win by their father at our little dam, but those were possibly Emmarentia’s finest years, for those in search of winning.

That Christmas Pete and Tabs, Clare and Shaun were staying with Nev and Di at Kenmure, so we stayed at Millard with Wynne and Dawn. On Christmas Eve I walked from the farmhouse up Avoca; it took me 3 hours to summit. Avoca Peak, at 2743m is the highest point and 40km into the SkyRun, a 100km trail run from Lady Grey to the Wartrail Club. Much it follows the main ridge line of the Witteberge and Southern Drakensberg, making it SA’s toughest trail. John Michael Tawse walked the route in 1991/1992 before he set out on the first ‘test run’ in 1996 with Dr Rudi Tethhard and Joe Sephton. Wynne and Dawn had (despite all their smoking) done several and I always wanted to do one, but the 100km now seems a bridge too far. Anyways, I consider myself very fortunate to have been up Avoca. Later that day I took Joe Sephton on his first paddle on the Kraai River, after that he got two plastics from Neil to play in their rivers with his son Mathew and while they did use them for adventure races in the district, the paddling bug never really bit them.

In January Dee and I took Tim to his first day at St Stithians (Jordi was bleak not to be going with him) and then I left for Dusi. 2001 was a K1 year but Neil and I paddled in a double. We were the second boat over Camps Drift in the first K2 batch and we then led for the next 10km, but Roy Pepper and Rob Olliario were way stronger than us, and we ended day as the 2nd K2 and 67th overall. On day 2 we picked up 10 places to stand at 57th overall. On day 3 we shot everything cleanly including Island One and Two (which was big) and ended up as 44th overall and 2nd K2 in a time of 9hrs 43mins. I was very happy with this but not wanting to be like Waldi (who still brags about his ‘win’) we kept very quiet about this, although we clearly had no ‘bragging rights’ as we had failed to ‘win’ the K2 section. The real winner was the then Under 21 Len Jenkins who beat Martin Dreyer by 3 minutes while in the lady’s race Antje Manfroni won her second K1 title, beating Abbey Miedema by almost 10 minutes.

Dusi Canoe Marathon
The pictures show that even in 2001 life jackets were still optional on day 1, and we clearly chose not to wear them.

One of John Green’s friends and digs mates whom Neil and I had stayed with during Dusi the year before was Chris Kurz and he had mentioned his folks might let us use their holiday house overlooking Thompsons Bay. In March Dee and I spent a glorious week there with Pops and the kids, not knowing that I would go on to run part of the 2001 Comrades with his dad, Brian and several more, (he ran 18 Comrades between 1992 and 2009) or that Mark Perrow and Brian’s daughter Belinda would rebuild that holiday house to make it their family home. It’s a small world that we play in.

Thompsons Bay Beach

Our holiday there was actually built around going to Leebun and Mark Swain’s wedding at some remote spot on the South Coast which was fabulous party and while there I surfed at Salt Rock every day, badly like a Zimbo cross Vaalie, but I could stand up and surf ‘foamies’ and for me that was fantastic.

In April five of us from Net#work were spoilt when the Delta Motors marketing manager, Peter Whale told us they had had a good year, they were all off to Mauritius with their families, and we too could take our families. With that Dee, Tim, Jords and I went to stay at the Radisson in Mauritius. The hotel was lovely, the beaches were beautiful, the weather was glorious, the diving was great, the holiday was incredible. Peter Whale was a client like no other in that he wanted to build not just brands but friendships, and small world that it is, we would end up living in the same suburb, our kids would become school friends and Peter would ‘sponsor’ me in another sport, but we still need to get to that.

That same month we (Net#work BBDO) won the Cell C pitch and launched the brand and shortly after we launched Brand South Africa and then relaunched Nedbank. Those were interesting and exciting working days. I was made a director and shareholder of the company and thought I was set for life as we grew the agency from strength to strength; how naïve I was.

By now I was settling into a pattern where I would train for Dusi until January and then start training for Comrades, making me feel that I was earning my cooldrinks (Hansa). The theory was as I understood it, that you needed to have at least 1000km’s behind you between 1 January and the Big C Day and so I ran races almost every other weekend believing that ‘distance would make the difference on the day’. That year I did six 21’s: Cartoria, Pirates, BDO, Randburg and two of my own, three 32’s: Kellogg’s, Agape and John Hattle; two marathons: Pick n Pay and Wally Hayward and two Ultras: Loskop and Jackie Mekler, plus many RAC club runs. Basically, I did a lot of training to run Comrades in a slow time of 9hrs 52mins. But running, like paddling became one of my drugs, a necessary part of my life; along with my cooldrinks.

In July Neil and I wanted to run the Rhodes Ultra, so we made a family holiday of it and went to stay with Dee’s mom at the farm. I hurt my knee and had to pull out, but Neil still went and then ran most of the 50km with Kevin White. The snow was heavy, and the mud was thick; Hayden and I had to use snow chains on the bakkie to get up to Tiffendel from the Bidstone side where we manned a watering table, but I would rather have been running. The following day we went up to Tiffendel again; but then with Dee and Lo to take the kids bum-boarding and skiing. Much of that road was built and maintained by Dee’s late uncle, Leon Isted when he lived at Bidstone but sadly it is now deteriorating and will eventually become impassable.

New England Barkly East
Tiffendell
New England Barkly East

For Fish in 2001 Neil and I drove down with Pops; Rod and Puc had gone earlier to trip but I couldn’t take the leave. We had a good day 1 and shot Keith’s and Soutpans successfully but had to stop to repair a broken rudder cable and finished in 3hours 17, some 6 minutes behind Rod and Puc. Scatter was padding with Dave Ketley, they wrapped their boat in Keith’s and got a DNF. We had a good day 2 and sat on Robbie Herreveld’s wave to Craddock Weir which we then shot successfully to beat Rod and Puc by 3 minutes on the second day, but this still left them 3 minutes ahead of us overall, much to Neil’s disappointment. I wasn’t concerned – we had after all had a fantastic weekend.

Fish Marathon
Hansa Fish River Canoe Marathon
WITS Canoeing

Neil never could help himself from racing and always was competitive, and especially so when lined up against his brother-in-law’s; as I first noticed in paddling, then in cycling and then even in everyday life. Having said that Puc also was (and still is) ultra-competitive so I guess Rod and I balanced the boats quite neatly in those days. I often saw ‘contests’ that I didn’t want (nor could I afford) to get caught up in, which was one of the reasons why I never joined them in cycling, but those tales are still coming. We ended up 50th over all and again won both the Sub-Vet and Siblings awards. This was Neil’s last Fish, and it would be 13 years before I returned; but then back in my true Fish ‘n Chip form.

For Lowveld Croc we made a holiday of it and went to Nelspruit with Dave and Joy, Tobi and Liesl and all the kids. On the first day I put a hole in my boat and bailed at the 10km mark. Tobi wrapped his boat beyond repair. To make matters worse, his wife Liesl drove their Jeep into the back of Dave’s old Range Rover, putting a hole in the radiator and rendering it un-drivable. He gave up paddling soon after that. On day 2 there was much concern about hippo in the river and in the end the day was shortened. I paddled in a nervous group with Graeme Stevens, Dave Cox, Dave Tattam and Giles Walkey. Later in the day we took the kids to see the falls and then Tim and Brandon wanted to swim in a pool on the river. Fortunately, Joy said “No” as a few minutes later 9 hippos surfaced; it was scary to see how invisible they can be. I still paddle the Lowveld, although we no longer paddle the lower day 2 section, nor below the falls as we did in the 80’s, and as much as I love the river as-well-as the guys who make the race happen, I also believe that it is only a matter of time before we have a tragic hippo story there.

Having last paddled the Vaal Marathon with Neil in 1985 we went back for some distance training for Dusi. We had a good day 1 but blew on day 2. I was under the impression that we would be done in 2hours 15 but in the end, we needed 2 hours 55 of hard slog. It wasn’t much fun. The sponsor was OTIS and instead of T-shirts they gave us small map books of South Africa, mine has disappeared but Neil still has his. Back at the Vaal Dam there was lots more fun – both Luke and Tim skied for the first time with the assistance of a cradle like contraption that Neil had built to help take the stain off their arms.

I then went and did 50 Miler with Scatter. We went in his new Audi, listening to lots of very loud music and then had too many beers at Hebron Haven with Pops. Day 1 was stinking hot and we were put in the second last batch which meant we had to fight our way through all the ‘kippies’ but we had a good day. We spent the night at an aunt of his in Hillcrest and didn’t even have a beer. Day 2 was even hotter but there was good water and we had a lot of fun, no swims and got to end with an unscathed boat. We ended up 128th out of 537 boats. My one recollection is that we both had the same Adidas cross country shoes but they were disastrously slippery on the smooth wet granite rock when portaging Willems Chute. One of the things about traveling and staying with racing snakes (Neil and Mark – not Scatter) was that when I listened to them about what to do and what not to do, they were talking about the racing lines, not the fun lines. It would take me 20 years to learn that rather than slipping on the rocks and fighting in the bushes at that portage there is a far more enjoyable option to be had, but I haven’t yet got there. Scatter then drove us home at high speed with the volume of his tunes even higher and his voice louder still.

We spent Christmas at Kenmure after which Sue and Puc joined us at the farm for a few nights. Puc and I tripped the Kraai River down to Lissof and went up the Kenmure Hill before they continued on to Cefani where we were to meet them. After that we spent a night with Wynne, Dawn, Joe and Co camping at the Drumbo Caves and went to New Year’s Eve at the Wartrail Club. Then we joined up Neil and Lo, Sue and Puc and Rod and Jac’s at Cefani, a small Eastern Cape Resort that was to become our annual holiday spot and my ‘happy place’. 

Neil and I had bought a secondhand S2 and on my first day there we went out into a howling Westerly; everyone thought we were mad, but we thought it was good training for Dusi. The next day we out in such thick mist that we couldn’t see the beach and were tested coming home and only on the third day did we get clear skies, plus we got the privilege of paddling with dolphins for several kilometres.

Cefani

Puc and Neil were always into their toys and they had both bought kites, not kiddies ones but proper things, thinking they might one day get into kite surfing. One windy day Neil was busy playing and trying to do jumps or big air lifts when he got caught in the power band, lifted up into the sky, then pulled across and down into the sand. Still clinging to his kite strings, he was dragged face first, cutting his head open. Nurse Lo was not impressed. I tried once or twice but never knew what I was doing and soon gave up, preferring the idea of having my feet firmly on the ground. The kites went on many more Cefani and Vaal trips, but no one ever became a proper kite surfer. While there Dee’s Granny Mary passed so we went home via Barkly for the funeral and to be with Dee’s mom. That was an expensive drive home as my Suzuki Vitara had broken down and I had to leave it in East London and rent a car to get home, but I was driving a GM marque, so Peter Whale was very good to me and sorted it all out. 

For Dusi 2002, a K2 year, we were seeded in A batch, but there was a bun fight going down Earnie Pearce Weir and we swam. Day 1 was a blistering 42 degrees, but we settled into the race and ended up in 62nd place. On day 2 we took the wrong portage down Ngumeni, then swam below Hippo Rocks and lost 5 places to stand at 67th overall. In the 4 Dusi’s and 5 Fishes we did together these were the only 2 swims we ever had. On day 3 we had a fantastic day dicing the Edmonds brothers, shooting Island One and Two as well-as the Pumphouse Weir sections which took us back to 62nd overall in a time of 9hours 45mins, which we were very happy with, having not trained too hard at all.

Dusi River
Dusi Canoe Marathon
Dusi

That year Herrie’s appeared out of retirement and partnered with a young relatively unknown Debbie Lewis to win the Mixed Doubles section in a new record time, coming 36th overall. It was also a good year for the Rawlinson family. Stuart had partnered with Jacques Theron and they came 5th, Dave was with the Pope and they were the first master’s home and an incredible 8th overall while Alice had partnered with Abbey Miedema; they were the 2nd lady’s home and 48th overall having been narrowly beaten by Antje Manfroni and Jeanette Walder, a super-athlete who later married Martin Dreyer.

Martin Dreyer claimed his third win, this time with Deon Bruss, meanwhile Perrow had paddled with Colin Wilson to claim 13th overall and 1st Sub Veterans. After this Mark started paddling races more socially with friends and family, recruiting everyone from his father-in-law Brian, to his wife Belinda, and their daughters Alice and Kate and basically joined the ranks of the Fish ‘n Chips, something I always respected in-that although he became somewhat heavy, he never lost his passion for paddling.

In 2002 I did my first Midmar Mile on zero training after learning about the Natal Iron Man: a combination of Comrades, Dusi and Midmar. It was a long drive to Howick for a short 33minute swim but another excuse to get out and about and to go spend time with Pops.

In April John and Cath got married at The Bend in the Midlands. It was a proper party as it was always going to be and from there we went on to stay at the Umngazi River Bungalows. Dave Mitchel was there with his family as were the Beals and Tredoux’s. I had a surfski and surfboard with me but there was no one else to go out with so I only paddled the on the river and the surfboard hardly got wet. I ran everyday (while Dee and Jordi were horse riding on the beach and Tim was off fishing with a Gillie), the highlight being when I went to Port St Johns along the coastline. There was no trail and it really was tough, plus I got the tides wrong, so I came back along the roads. That 38kms took me 4hrs 38. We went home via Durban where we stayed at John and Cath’s place while they were away on honeymoon, and there I surfed twice a day. My diary reported that despite my limited abilities, I loved it.

My training for Comrades 2002 included five 21kms: D&T Pretoria, Agape, BDO, Brooklyn and Randburg; three 32kms: Sunrise Monster, VodaWorld and J Hattle, two marathons: Slowmag and my own at Umngazi and two ultras: The Korkie and Jackie Mekler, plus many RAC club runs. Despite putting in almost 1400 kilometres training, this was my slowest Comrades ever: 10hrs 39minutes. It was then that I started to write my name on my vest; it was fantastic as I got amazing support from literally everyone on the roadside when I came past: “Hello Clive!” “Go Clive!” “Looking good Clive!” It was like I was a well-known celebrity. Fame at last. Nowadays Comrades numbers have been personalised and include the runner’s names, but I was 10 years ahead of the organisers. Go Clive!

comrades marathon

Shortly after Comrades we had to move our boats out of the racks at ‘Coppers House’. Colin Simpkins had bought what was the Dabulamanzi Clubhouse which he then rebuilt it into the great big thing that it is today after the club committee had finally got permission to build on the dam itself, next the diving and sailing clubs. Although the plaque says that the new Dabulamanzi Clubhouse was officially opened July 4th 2004 we actually moved in in early 2003; but I will share more on this shortly. 

In September I went to London to present at the BBDO Telco Hub Conference. It was fantastic, because Virgin was a client, so I got to fly Upper Class and experience the joys of a bed on a plane. While there I took leave to catch up with old school and varsity friends: Jonno and Margs, Stalker and Georgie which was great and at the Conference I got a prize for the best paper – about the launch of Cell C. It was a week of way more fun than work, but I had put in the hard yards to get there. I got home on a Sunday morning and that night Dee flew to Budapest for her work. We thought we were quite the jetsetters.

After 9 consecutive trips to the Fish neither Neil nor I made it back there in 2002, but we wanted to do Lowveld Croc, so we made a family weekend of that and went to stay at a place the Tattam’s had in Dullstroom. On the first day Dave wrapped his boat and that was the end of his race. Neil broke his paddle and was lucky when someone later lent him a spare, while I got off lightly with just one swim. In the evening Dave took the boys for a drive in his brand-new Hilux Bakkie, but he got stuck and they had to walk back to the cottage. I then used my little Suzuki Vitara to pull him out – much to his embarrassment. On the second day Dave took the boys fishing, Neil and I paddled. I was very happy to get back to doing both days rather than just one.

2002 marked my 10th 50 Miler, that year I got Pops to second me while Dee took the kids through to Durban to stay with John and Cath.  I had a very pleasant and easy day 1 in a new (new to me but secondhand) Tomcat then Pops and I went to join Dee at John and Cath’s. Dee and the kids came out to the start of day 2 at Inanda Dam and then followed us down the river. I swam at the bottom of Little John and then spent the rest of my day paddling with Stan Freiman, finishing the day in a slow 4hours 15minutes, before going to lunch with Pops John and Cath and then driving back to Jo’burg. We clearly didn’t take afternoon naps in those days.

In December we went to the farm for the Kenmure Centenary dinner. I was sick as a dog and missed the whole thing. We then left the kids with Wynne and Dawn and went back to Jo’burg for 5 days of work before driving back to the farm for Christmas. While there (although I was still not well) I had done a lot of plumbing in the cottage (whenever I went to Kenmure there was work waiting to be done) but on this occasion as we were leaving and guests were moving into the cottage, a pipe burst in the ceiling (full of 100 years of dirt and dust) and filthy brown water rained down on Di’s white bed linen. It was a proper mess and Di was distraught. I fixed the pipes and then we drove to Cefani.

Like all good Vaalie’s we went straight to the beach when we arrived – just as well, because it rained flat out for the next 5 days. I was still felt poorly, so Pops took me to see a local doctor who then sent me to a specialist to have a scope and he discovered I had ulcers. The doctor, Stan Wheatly asked me where I was from and told him we were staying at a little holiday place called Cefani – he smiled and explained that his holiday spot was across the river at Viskop, next to the Fenn’s. I was very relieved that he had found the source of my longstanding discomfort and drugs soon sorted me out.

Umngazi River

With that I was soon back to enjoying paddling, running and the Cefani playground. One highlight was that we always got to paddle with dolphins which really was very special. A lowlight that year was when I had paddled up the river alone late one evening and found a dead man in the river. The police came out the next day, went up in a couple of Arks and came back with him in a body bag, but they weren’t allowed to transport him, apparently only the local mortuary could do that, so they left him on the beach. Very few families were seen out there that morning.  

Dusi 2003 was a K1 year, Neil didn’t want to paddle so I went back in a single. After years of paddlers and families descending on Pops before a race, that year I was his only squatter as Dee had also stayed home. Day 1 was scorching hot, so much so that the tar on the roads was melting. Back in a K1 each day now became over an hour longer, day 1 was 4 hours. Day 2 was mercifully cooler, but the river was low and although I shot everything cleanly, I still needed 4hours 51. Day 3 was hot again and I was very happy to make no mistakes nor have any swims, although I did go back to portaging Island One and then putting back in to shoot Island Two. Pops and I went to see John and Cath’s new mansion where we had too many beers before going back to Howick. I got up early to go and join Dee and the kids who were staying with Dave and Joy Tattam on the Vaal River and got there to discover that Dee had bought a new car, a little A Class Merc and a puppy, another (then little) Great Dane, Sabbie.    

Dusi Canoe Marathon
Dusi Canoe Marathon

Jonathon (Jomo) King passed in March 2003. He was a man who lived large, was revered in rugby circles and was a legend at Dabs who amongst other things founded the prestigious “Balls Club”. I always loved his somewhat thought-provoking epitaph: “When you review the video of your life, you’d better make sure it’s worth watching.”   

In mid 2003 it was decided that Wits Old Boys, the likes of Mark and Neil et al, were still too dominant and overshadowing the students who needed to grow their own culture and club, and with this Wits Canoeing became ‘students only.’ All the Wits Old Boys joined Dabulamanzi. Initially it was a bit strange in that the older Dabs and Wits guys had enjoyed a solid rivalry for many years at the likes of the 8hour Enduro and even time trials, but this soon blew over. It was not really a major issue for me, I had not actually gone to Wits; I joined when I arrived in Jo’burg, plus by then I had already been running in Dabulamanzi Club Colours for some years. Anyway, this move was essentially the end of an era and the end of a Canoe Club that had been so very dominant for so many years. The students continued to share Emmarentia dam, but their numbers were never big and within a few short years the Wits Canoe Club and the once iconic yellow colours ceased to exist.

Talking paddling, running and club colours, shortly after this Peter (Boet) O’Connor suggested that there should be recognition and reward for flying the Dabs colours at away races. His proposal was that for every Berg or PE-EL paddled you could claim 4 points as they are 4 day races, 3 for Dusi, 2 for Fish or any other 2-day races and 1 point for every 1-day race that was outside of Jo’burg. I thought this was a great idea and responded with two questions or requests: Could I also claim points from my Wits days, and given that I had run a few Comrades in my Dabs colours could I claim for running races too? He told me to “f#@k off on both points” and to consider myself lucky if I even got points for Dusi or any other race with any running. Boet had been infected with Polio as a child resulting in the debilitation of his legs (although he has a strong upper body and is still a powerful paddler) so I thought I understood his stance on running, but some years later I discovered that his wife Jill has run 9 Comrades for which he has immense respect. That initiative never did get off the ground; but I still think it was a good idea and guess I should get Boet to propose it again, but only if he will include both of my (perfectly reasonable) requests, otherwise I might have to argue with him that it should only be for river races; given that he has the third most PE2EL’s to his name and those 14 epic races could be worth 56 points.

I missed the 2003 Umko because I had to attend a briefing on the launch of a new Isuzu. I was not happy with the Client Peter Whale, but it was probably a good thing as that was a big water year, not really for K1 paddlers like me. My diary said that the river was up at 10 foot although I don’t know what the level was when they raced, I guess you could ask Bruss and Stott who won. The upside of the Isuzu briefing was that I later went to the media launch, a 3-day, 5-star camping affair in a dry riverbed somewhere in Namibia, putting the vehicles through their paces during the day, drinking late into the night. It was good fun.

In April we stayed a few nights with John and Cath in Durban where I surfed North Beach while Tim surfed an artificial wave at The Pavilion; then we went back to Umngazi. One day we had a braai at Flat Rock with the Fieldgate’s, Beal’s, Farenheim’s and the Tredoux’s, where the kids swam and fished. While there Tim went out to the back line with his boogie board, I thought he was in trouble and swam out to help him, but he easily caught a wave in, leaving me floundering in the surf. I once again did my run to Port St Johns along the coast and then back on the roads – but this time in a slow 5hours 6 minutes. That year Jordi caught a beautiful Rock Cod in a tidal pool, but I ‘lost it’ when taking the hook out; something she has never forgotten. We went back via the farm to see Hayden and Wendy’s renovations, getting home on the Saturday night so that I could go and run the Fordyce 52 in the Suikerboss Nature Resort on the Sunday. Madness.

Umngazi River

For Comrades 2003 my training was still about quantity rather than quality and that year included four 21kms: Cartoria, Silicon, Remax and Brooklyn; one 32km: Kellogg’s; five marathons: Pick n Pay, D&T Pretoria, Nigel, Harmony and Umngazi and four ultras: Om die Dam, Voltaren, Jackie Mekler and the Fordyce 52. I did 1,255 kilometres then got flu the week before the race so I nearly didn’t run but was very happy to manage a slow 9hrs 59minutes. My diary said that I still liked running but asked my diary the question, “Now that I have 5 Comrades will I get to 10?” I was clearly thinking of a Green Number.

The best run I have ever done is undoubtedly the Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge. This is a 50km trail run that starts at the Royal Natal Campsite in the Drakensberg where you climb over 1450­ meters, going up a hiking path, past the Mahai Falls, up to Witsieshoek, then up to the Sentinel Car Park, up the Zig Zags and then the chain ladder before crossing the Tugela River and getting to the Tugela Waterfall. On a clear day you are rewarded with the most magnificent views imaginable before you scramble down the Gulley and then wend your way back down to the Campsite.

We stayed at the Cavern, a lovely, warm family hotel, where the girls planned to take the kids horse riding while we went up the mountain. The day started out as wet, cold and windy but miraculously turned to sunny and dry for the zig zags and the chain ladder. Neil and I ran together, it was hard work on the way up, but we flew down the last 10km’s and ended up finishing the 50km’s in 7hours 16minutes. Despite the weather, Pops as always was out and about, busy watching yet another race of ours, but it did cancel the horse riding. That night we had a family party with Pops, Nev and Di and Judy Green and Jonathan Egner who were also staying at the Cavern.

Mont-aux-sources

For Lowveld Croc we once again made a family weekend of it and Neil and Lo, Dee and I went to stay with the Tattam’s in Dullstroom. It was a wet and cold weekend, not pleasant for paddling but we all survived both day 1 and day 2 which made it worthwhile. Brandon, Luke and Tim all had motorbikes there – they too had lots of fun and after that Tim started nagging us for a bike of his own.

Dulstroom

After Lowveld there was a role reversal in that we drove down to Howick for a race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, but this was for a cycle race, the Ama Shova Shova, and now I was the driver, Dee the participant. In November Neil and I did the two-day Klip River race in a K2 as the start of our preparation for Dusi. We came 20th. That weekend South Africa lost to New Zealand in the quarter finals and that was the end of our Rugby World Cup. England became the first European country to win the RWC after they were tied on 14–14 at full time against Australia and then and kicked a drop goal in the final minute of extra time to win the match. The next weekend Dee cycled the 94.7 in 3hours 34mins.

In December 2003, instead of going to the farm, we went straight to Cefani for Christmas and spent three weeks there. This was also the first time that we stayed ‘upstairs’ in the secluded chalets rather that down at the bottom looking over the lagoon. Our neighbours were the Slaters and friends of theirs, Bruce and Justine. Scatter has always loved his rum and could drink for the A team, but one-night Neil got brave, came ‘upstairs’ and made the fatal mistake of challenging him to a Captain and Coke drink off. Bruce joined them, I stayed true to my Hansa. A couple of bottles were squashed, Neil was violently ill and spent the next 48 hours either clinging to the toilet bowl or in bed. Lo was not impressed. Pops and Stacy were also at Cefani that year and they did much of his nursing.

We then all spent New Year’s Eve down at Neils and Lo’s place, looking over the lagoon, letting off flares and sky lanterns. The Slater’s had arrived at Cefani with a 10day old son, Andrew aka ‘ThrogMorton’. That night, Dorne as a new mom was tired and wanted to go home early with Andrew so she got in their bakkie and then accidentally hit the stay of an electricity pole. The whole thing came down, the power cable snapped and the whole area was suddenly plunged into darkness, creating some confusion and unhappiness. It was much like load shedding, but this was 4 years before it actually arrived. We thought about stories to make up but eventually did the right thing and owned up. Eskom were brilliant and came out to fix it before Scatter was out of bed on New Year’s Day; they were still a world class utility back then.

Cefani

January 4th 2004 was Hayden’s 30th so we packed bags and drove to the farm for one night. We all dressed up as Cowboys and Indians and had a good party. The next day we were back at Cefani. On one windy day Dee took the kids to movies in East London and I ran to Hagga Hagga. The outward leg was into an Easterly and on soft sand, it took me almost 2hours. I had a Coke at the hotel and then ran home with the wind on my back and on hard sand in a time of 1hour 20minutes. On another day we walked to the rock pools and found an octopus – it was first time I ever saw or touched one. As usual there was lots of paddling with Neil, Puc and Scatter, mostly out and backs and we always got to see dolphins but on my last day there I was out alone having a quick last paddle when a lone fin came towards me. One moment there was a shark swimming next to me, the next it was gone, I had no idea where it was or what its intentions were so I paddled back in as fast as I could. I was terrified and quite relieved to be going home.

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