8. Iron Man Days

Dusi 2011 was dedicated to the Pope, but I was booked into Buffalo City for my first taste of an Iron Man. I should have worked out who I was playing with when I racked my bike and the guys around me laughed, saying I needed therapy and a bike that was younger than me. It was an old steel framed, no-namer; but really? I had a good swim, battled into a strong headwind on the ride up to Berlin, flew back down the hill in torrents of rain and then enjoyed ‘my strength’, the run, to finish in 6hours 14. Then I had to rush for the 17h00 flight back to Jo’burg. That was a family affair as cousins from my mother’s side were also there. Greg Tucker finished in 6 hours 19, his wife Joanne in 6 hours 48 and Russel in 6hours 27, so I claimed the family win. They stayed over in East London to enjoy the after party and Greg ended up spending the night in the cop shop; naughty boy.

With the half behind me I decided I needed to attempt the real thing, the full Iron Man and off I went to Port Elizabeth where I stayed with my cousin, Russel and Kim Tucker. I had however buckled and bought a fancy new carbon frame bike; new for me but not new, the back stays had been broken but having fibreglassed lots of damaged boats in my paddling years I knew it could be easily repaired and bought it for a steal. I finished my first full Iron Man in just over 13hours; it was more like a challenge overcome than anything else. Although I really did enjoy my day in PE and particularly the swim, I have to say that the ride was disappointing because although I don’t mind my own company it was strange to be out there for 6hours and not be able to talk to anyone (because of their no-drafting rules), so it totally lacked the camaraderie aspect ultra’s. Then, after 4km’s in the water and 180km’s on a bike, the 42km run is tough, but at least then there are lots of people to talk to, and the best part of the run is the local support as half the city come out to watch ‘their race.’ It was a long day, but I did feel fantastic on the red-carpet hearing “Clive Evans, you are an Iron Man.”     

work in progress

Later that year I went to my 6th Ithala, getting a lift with Rod Penaluna who was paddling with Mark Perrow. Dave and I were again in our K1’s but neither of us had done any training and it was a long, slow 5hours 49 out on the river. Also there was a certain Jan De Neef. While it is one thing to paddle and survive testing, technical rivers without much talent or great genes, it is another thing altogether to do so with only one arm, but Jan copes remarkably well with his unique paddling prosthetic and to date he has completed 5 Ithala’s, several Umko trips, 15 Fish River Marathons and 20 Dusi’s. Respect.

Ithala Canoe Challenge
Mark Perrow and Rod Penaluna. Me in a hole. Jan De Neef and Nils Bungee

Apart from the river itself and the wild, raw beauty of the valley, What I always liked about the Ithala was that it was just a 1day race, so you didn’t have to worry about boat repairs for the next day plus it was too far away to ‘do a runner’, meaning you had to stay the night and enjoy that all important business of enjoying cooldrinks with mates. As I reflect on this, it makes perfect sense that the people who have finished more Ithala’s than anyone else include the likes of Bryan Slater and Paul Hay. Sadly, the race was cancelled in 2012, I didn’t make it there in 2013 or 2014 and due to drought and sponsorship issues, 2014 was the last time the Ithala was held. This is a race that really needs to be revived; if you have never been it is well deserving of bucket-list status.

In December, Tim represented Gauteng at the Inter Provincial Water Polo Tournament in Cape Town. We had become part of a ‘travelling wilbury circus’ that went to literally every game and tournament. Dee and I loved watching the school, club and provincial matches and despite the fact that the polo calendar clashed with the likes of Dusi and Fish, I was quite happy to watch the sport instead of paddling, knowing that those school days would be a very short window of time. With this we drove to our 10th holiday at Cefani, via Cape Town. Once again, I used Cefani as a training camp, and this year I had a young Jarryd Sparg to train with – he had started really early and was already preparing for the 2013 Half. That year John and Cath, Nev and Di stayed on the fancy side of the river where they were far more comfortable.

Shortly after this Jordi did up a picture on her computer of our beach holiday friends including the Slater, Attridge, Page, Evans, Green, Hogan and Allen families. Missing were the Collier family and the Buhrs family who we would only meet later, but now another 10 years later we still look forward to each-others company at Cefani.

Cefani Holiday Resort
From left to right, in the tree; the Slater Family: Scatter, Dorne, Nicola and Andrew. Below them the Attridge Family: Puc, baby Rae, Sue, Sean and Megan. Below them the Page Family: Rob, Di, Sadie and Teneille. Top to the right of the tree the Evans Family: Neil, Lo, Luke, Julia below them the Evans Family: Dee, Clive, Jordi, Tim. In the balloon the Green Family: Amy, Charlotte, Cath and John. The Hogan family: Sarah, David, Pru and Niall. Below them, the Allen Family: Simon, Emma and Liesl.

Three weeks after our Cefani holiday I was back in East London for the 2012 Half Iron Man and was very happy to sneak in just under 6 hours. Alice Rawlinson smoked me by 20 minutes, and I beat Genelle van der Riet by 10 minutes, but that was before she started to become a racing snake. With ‘The Half’ under my belt I went back to Port Elizabeth for another ‘Full.’ Peter Whale and General Motors spoilt me with an Isuzu ‘sponsorship’ – they were looking after a group of elite athletes, but they also had a lucky draw for 6 ordinary participants, and I was very fortunate to ‘win’ one of the prizes. With that my entry fee was covered plus I got look like a racing snake; I got a quality Isuzu branded tri-suit, while everyone else wore the title sponsor green bib of Spec Savers. In 2012 the PE wind hurt us properly. The swim was fine, but the cycle was not. The route has since changed, but in those days we did 3 sixty kilometre laps heading north from Hobie Beach toward the harbour before turning left onto the M9 and up a hill towards Walmer and here the wind was so strong that some people were blown off their bikes. It was hectic and no records were broken that year. I needed 13hours 26minutes to get to the end and did a lot of the run with a guy from my Net#work days, Tian van den Heever who finished just 2 minutes behind me. Genelle ran well and finished her first Full in 12hours 40 while Joanne needed 14hours 41.

Iron Man port elizabeth 2012
Iron Man port elizabeth
The Real Iron Man Clive Evans aka Coo

Although I seldom paddled, I still followed the sport and watched the Olympics with little expectation; we only had 2 canoeists there. Bridgitte Hartley then had the honour and distinction of being the first South African paddler to win an Olympic Medal when she claimed Bronze in the Women’s K1 500m Sprint in London. With the exception of Caster Semenya who won Gold in the Women’s 800m, all of SA’s 2012 medals came from water sports with Bridget in Canoeing, Chad Le Clos winning a Gold and 2 Silvers plus Cameron van der Burg winning Gold in Swimming and Sizwe Ndlovu, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and James Thompson winning Gold in the Men’s Lightweight Four’s Rowing. Bridgitte excelled not just in sprints but also at marathons, in the rivers and on the sea, but an Olympic podium and her euphoric smile on the day surely trumps all. Personally, I would be stoked just to go and watch.

Olympic glory

While our Olympians were competing for glory and gold, we were on holiday in Mozambique where we paddled or swam with dolphins on a daily basis; that was glorious. Jordi wanted to get into scuba diving, and despite her having no qualifications the locals were quite willing to allow us to dive together. 

Diving in Mozambique

Then in September I was retrenched from JWT. Although I was never spellbound by that agency in the way that I was with Net#work BBDO, this was different and perhaps a harder pill to swallow as people who I considered to be weak and inferior were getting rid of me. Disenchanted with the management of agencies I decided to join the ranks of freelance consultants, not an easy game to enter when one has spent over 20 years with the safety-net of a monthly pay-cheque.

Another December came along, and we made our 11th trip to Cefani. Jake had finished school and was off to TUKS where he was to study and focus on his dream, to row for South Africa at the Olympics, but he first joined us at Cefani for a few days. Here I have to say that as paddlers who face forwards and look where we are going, we (I) like to think of rowers as ‘backward people’- so I often told him that one day he will see the light and convert to canoeing, but he has remained resolute in his commitment to going backwards. That said, he did have a lot of fun out on the water with us, going forwards, and has confessed that he would love to do a Fish or an Umko with Tim someday.   

In January of 2013 I didn’t go back to the IM Half in East London, instead I booked into the Midlands Ultra at Midmar – because it was way cheaper. Anything with the trademark IM logo it seems is costed in US Dollars and is very expensive. The Ultra swim was good, but the cycle and run were not. For the ride we went out on the R103 before turning onto the Dargle Road, but there were no road closures, the road had no real shoulder and most motorists had little time or patience for us. Then they ran out of water on the out and back run. It wasn’t a great experience at all, but I chalked it up as good training for another ‘Full’ and the cost of ‘buying cheap.’

Meantime I missed a good Dusi. 2013 was a K1 year and Lance Kime upset Hank by stealing the win while Sibonelo (Eric) Zondi came third. He was 1 of 9 Change a Life paddlers who made the Top 30 while 18 black paddlers made the Top 50. For the men, the Dusi was clearly becoming more and more colourful and a Silver medal was becoming harder and harder to earn. Robyn Kime won the ladies Dusi creating history when she and Lance became the first siblings to win the men and women titles. Robyn won in a record time of 9hours and 7minutes, 1hour and 7minutes behind Lance, as the 35th K1 over all. Zondi went on to again win the Non-Stop Dusi in a new record time with Andy Birkett, who came 4th in the Dusi.

I was joined in my training efforts for my third ‘Full’ by Liesel Allen’s boyfriend, a cyclist (and prolific womanizer) by the name of Tim Rowland. Tim actually wrote and published a book about all his ‘conquests’ – of which there were more than I have had hot breakfasts. Anyway, he lived around the corner from us and appeared to have retired at very young age, so he had lots of time on his hands, as did I, then working for myself from home. With this we would spend hours training out at the Cradle or in the 50m pool at Saint Stithians, but he did little in the way of running, despite my protests that ultimately a triathlon is all about the run.

We went to PE together and stayed with Russell, Kim and Willow where Tim  won them over with his great cooking and smooth talking. The Gods were kind to us, the PE wind didn’t blow, and the people of PE were kinder still. Although the cycle is terrible in that you can’t talk to anyone, the run is brilliant as half the city come out to support ‘their race.’ While there are some desolate spots, much of the course is lined with people urging you to keep going. Willow was our greatest fan, as her homemade T-shirt suggested. I had a good day and finished in 12hours 27,  along with a friend of Genelle’s, Wynne Westaway. Tian, from my Net#work days did 12hours 55, Tim was strong on the ride but blew on the run and limped home in 13hours 17, while Genelle was the fastest of the people I knew at 11hours 12.

Although I only did 3 Full Iron Man’s, I still believe that for weekend warriors like myself, Comrades is far tougher. I averaged 13hours at Iron Man versus 9hours 35 at Comrades, so although Iron Man is a longer day, at Comrades there is no floating or freewheeling, if you are not running or at least walking, you are probably in trouble. Then there is canoeing and the Dusi where I averaged about 12hours, but that is over 3 days, where you get to sit down for much of the time, plus if the river is flowing it assists you and a refreshing splash of water is almost always at arm’s length, so for me, Dusi is actually the easiest. And I believe, easier still if you share the load in a K2. That is of course, assuming you can balance in a boat and get down a technical river in one piece. Ooops, I forgot about cycling. If you are a weekend warrior and do things like the Amashova, Argus or 94.7, then sorry, these don’t compare. Sani 2 Sea however does, but it’s also over 3 days, has more downhill than uphill and is mostly done sitting down, so Comrades is still tougher. Things like the Cape Epic and Freedom Challenge are in another league altogether, not for weekend warriors, so let’s not even go there. Having said this, I do need to say that for the racing snakes, focusing on glory and gold, all must be equally tough.

Iron Man Port Elizabeth 2013
Iron Man Port Elizabeth 2013
Iron Man Port Elizabeth 2013

While staying with Russel I saw several pictures and medals from his sporting youth when he had done the Full Iron Man, the Freedom Swim and the PE-EL Texan Challenge. Although I love the sea, the PE-EL never really appealed to me but a seed was planted for the Freedom Swim, an ice-cold 7.5km crossing from Robben Island to Bloubergstrand, where the hardcore swimmers don’t use wetsuits, but I hate the cold.

Talking about hard core and swimming, Paul Hay died tragically in late 2013 while swimming, not in a river, but in a pool. Paul was a stalwart of ERK whose father Gundu farmed Carisbrooke on the Lowveld Croc, so who knows how many times Paul paddled the upper and lower stretches of that river or the Elands. Paul has the honour of being the first ever winner of the Ithala Challenge when he was victorious at the inaugural race with Grant Morshead in 2001 and had completed 11 Ithala’s and 28 Dusi’s when he passed. He was fond of saying “there’s no remarks column,” but all who knew Paul would happily add more than a remark or two.

Paul Hay and Grant Morshead on the Ithala

Another tough guy who also passed in 2013 was Willem Van Der Walt, a colossal, selfless figure in Dabulamanzi and South African paddling who never shared his Cancer pains and slipped quietly away. His boys, Grant and Brandon excelled under his coaching.

Work-wise I was struggling with freelancing, I missed the company of others, plus I didn’t have a consistent flow of work or income. Fortunately, I met and partnered with Dallas Glover at The Strategy Department; a great balance of working for one’s self but with a salary – when our Clients paid us.

In early December we went to East London for another Inter Provincial Water Polo Tournament. Tim was then in the U19A Gauteng team, this would be the last of his school day tournaments. When we got there, South Africa and the World was in mourning; Madiba had passed. On the polo front, Tim’s team won. It was a big thing. After that Tim only played at a social level, but a good friend and man of the tournament, Lwazi Madi would go on to captain South Africa at the Olympics.

Waterpolo Interprovincial tournament Winners 2013
Left to Right. Bottom to Top. Claudio Fernandes. Ethan Hunter. Alex Kuttschreuter. Jason Chemaly. Roarke Olver. Dan Trininic. Bruno Fernandes (Manager). Luke Hunter. Lwazi Madi. Vaughn Thompson. (Coach). Josh Allan. Tim Evans. Jason Pope. Chase Peers. Tristan Norman. Vlad Trininic (Coach)

We flew home to Jo’burg and 5 days later drove back to East London and Cefani. While the beach at Cefani is beautiful, (you can walk down to Cintsa for 3km’s, or up towards Hagga Hagga for 7km’s on pristine clean, flat sand before reaching a rocky 5km section) the sea is not the best for surfing, there is seldom a good swell there, but that year we had some of the cleanest, most picture perfect waves ever. After that holiday I used these pictures for my Facebook profile and it was a work friend, Michael Cook, who told me that this was surely my “Happy Place” – how right he was.    

Cefani Resort
Cefani Holiday Resort
Cefani Holiday Resort
Another beach day

Dusi 2014 came and went without me and I started getting FOMO, so I resolved to not miss it again, but as we know, life happens. Meantime Andy Birkett won again, this time with Sibonelo Zondi, while Abbey Ulansky (Miedema) clinched her 9th title with Robyn Kime, equalling Marlene Lowenstein’s 9 wins.

In March Dabulamanzi hosted the 5th High Altitude Surf Ski Championships. Oscar Chalupsky gave a surf ski clinic, the sponsors, Flying Fish couldn’t give enough away and there was a party to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of our club house and the roof wetting of the new bar and braai area.

Then I went to the biggest party I have ever seen, the Hong Kong Sevens. New Zealand won the Cup, and the Boks won the Plate, but this wasn’t about rugby, it was about fun with old mates. It was Glen Roelofsz’s idea to get the Class of ‘64 together for a 50th reunion and in the end, he recruited 7 from UBHS including Neil and I, Jonno Payne, Leo Huizenga, Andrew Swanepoel and Gavin Welsted plus 3 from Martizburg Varsity including Shane Luke, Dave Saint and Peter Roberts. I wasn’t going to go but then my air ticket and accommodation was paid for, thanks guys. The party at the stadium each day was big but the after parties out on the streets were unbelievable. Almost all dress to impress and colourful wigs were my passport into many interestingly different circles. If you like a party; go to the Hong Kong Sevens with good mates. What fun!

Hong Kong 7’s

In July Neil and Lo joined us in Ponta, Mozambique. We paddled a bit, swam with dolphins, spent lazy days on the beach and drank lots of 2M and RnR’s (Cheap Rum and Raspberry Juice) at the infamous Fernando’s Tavern in town. Well, most of us did but Luke had taken an oath not to drink in his final year at school, so he stayed with straight Coca-Cola. What a good boy, although now that he is a bit older, he has started to find a liking for beer. Pop’s would have been concerned, but I suppose that this has been good for his training days and his piggy-bank.

Happy days

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