Day 3: How’s YOUR Monday been?
Words: Kirby Kruger
Pictures: Geoff Brink
What day is today?
I mean, YOUR day. OUR day, at the time of writing, is Monday morning. Early. It's 12:10 -early.
Get comfy. This is a long post.
On Saturday morning I put up a quick and neat little go-get-'em blog post where I told you guys how we all woke up at 2:30 on Saturday morning to get Alan, Johnny and Donna to Blue Lagoon so that they could begin unicycling back home to Cape Town. All the way.
Remember how stoked and overwhelmed we all were?
We're cute that way.
This time of writing, (the beginning, I mean), is Sunday evening, close to 11 PM, is Day 2 of the Freedom Revolution Unicycle Tour.
Let me tell you about our past 48 hours.
So the three unicyclists left at 4:00AM, and I was left with the Purple PeopleWagon. For anyone not familiar with the nature of Durban's Blue Lagoon beach parking lot, (i.e us), Saturday mornings are the vomity receptacles of Friday night's leftover car parties, a game which seems to involve everyone bringing their cars and braais to one spot, and playing all of their songs on their car stereos, at the same time. And then attempting jovial, conversational banter over it.
So I, Geoff Brink, Jamie Falconer, and some fifty appreciative and slurring people who had no business being behind any vehicle with a steering wheel saw off these three plucky unicyclists, in their mulit-coloured neon gear. Well, Alan prefers orange, Donna is red, and Johnny likes green or yellow. So, I say mulit-coloured, but I mean within that range of colours. I took off in the PeopleWagon (which is, along with my Macbook, banana guard and sunglasses pouch, is purple), and decided to embrace a busy day ahead.
See, I had to, first of all, get a blog post up. And send off some emails. And make some calls. By nine o'clock, I was supposed to meet the unicyclists at the Indanda Dam, at a point we'd calculated using a combination of Google Earth, some geological maps, and a pretty vague national roads map. So we knew where we'd find each other.
Oh, see, I have a thick, detailed folder of all the maps and the rural routes the team will be moving through – footpaths, Jeep-tracks, grass fields – the challenge is to find a way to find them on their off-road route, whilst driving on roads. With a car. After I did my blogging, I decided to find the Inanda Dam first, and wait there for the riders.
Now, jee, I don't know anything about Durban. I mean, nothing. My maps? Are all national road maps. There are some major roads that show up, but that's it, y'know? And the Inanda Dam shows up as a little blob amidst some nameless roads. So, eh, I drive towards an area that looks close-by. Umhlanga seemed like a good idea. It wasn't. Nor was driving towards Stanger. I eventually stopped and asked for directions at an Engen Garage. As I start asking how to get to Inanda Dam, pointing carefully to the blue squiggle on my roadmap, I look up and see a big friendly green tourist board with the route and the exact place I wanted to be, mapped out like somebody had tried to make a map even Winnie the Pooh could understand. Sheepish, I got back to the PeopleWagon, and the two of us drove down to Inanda Dam, exactly like the big green friendly tourist board showed.
I arrive at a small waterfall. In the sense that, yes, water can fall, when elevated above some rocks of any height. I notice a small winding footpath leading to the waterfall, so I figure the unicyclists would appear over the yonder hill. Cool. It's almost 9 o'clock too – and then Johnny calls and says he thinks they might take a little longer than he thought, and might only be at the dam at around 12. Sure. I decided to drive back to Durban, maybe do some more writing, get some more information about the places we'll be staying at in the next week.
Okay, so I got lost enough times on Durban's highways to actually just buy a detailed Durban road map, along with an Eastern Cape roadmap for next week. I'll condense my morning with that. I was in Game, paying for a shovel and ten bags of Ziplock bags, which is by no means an awkward purchase combination, when Johnny called me to tell me he and the others were at the dam. It was twelve o'clock – dang, I'd gotten myself pretty turned-around that morning. Still, no matter, I paid, got to the PeopleWagon, and drove up to the dam – but, no unicyclists. Hmm. I called them: where were they? "At the dam, where are you?" Some detective work made me realize they were at the dam wall, while I was at a tourist-y mini-waterfall. Dams, man. Dams.
By the time I found them, Alan and Donna were napping under a bridge, and Johnny was mincing around, shirtless. I'm sorry, that sentences makes them sound lazy. They were taking a break because they'd cycled 30 km, through Andrew King's newly-mapped, completely offroad pathways, struggling to navigate with a combination of paper maps and a Garmin GPS, in high Durban humidity. These guys? Were kinda pooped. And here I was, feeling kind of cranky because the car got a little hot when I left it in the sun. Despite this, they seemed to be in good spirits – although Donna decided to sit out the last leg of the trek. Man, this lady dislocated her arm six weeks ago, did something crazy to her back four days ago, and is STILL riding. She is a tiny, feisty trooper. In any case, Donna joined me on our next simple mission – to get ourselves to our rest point for the evening, the Indigo Skate Camp. A skate park! Cool, right? So after some trial-and-error-driving in Hillcrest and finding a castle (we think), we got ourselves orientated and descended into Inchanga, The Valley of a Thousand Hills. We knew we were in the right place because we calculated we'd driven past about a thousand hills or so, even before we saw all the signs that said "The Valley of a Thousand Hills". From here, our journey was a big, green descent into winding cork-screw roads spiraling around rolling green hills, past tall fields of waving grasses, kids running up and alongside the PeopleWagon, rural rondawel huts dotting the landscape…
Wait, who would stick a skate park here? This couldn't be right. We must've taken a wrong turn. Again. Donna and I were deliberating this point and wondering if it would be faster to turn around or keep going along the route until we hit a main road again (we were driving an unmapped road, here – our guide was another road sign we'd found in front of the Tourist Information booth, which was closed when we got there). We were so not in Kansas anymore – until we popped up over an incline and saw the Indigo Skate Camp sign right in front of us.
Oh. Right, then.
Skater-esque signage aside, this didn't look like much of a skate park at first. There were five blue, round huts surrounded by a fence, some chickens and cats skulking around, and a group of small kids in matching yellow shirts staring balefully at us. A tiny gap-toothed girl in a pink dress suddenly materializes out of nowhere and squeezes through everyone else, takes me and Donna by the hand, and cheerily leads us to the half-pipe and bowl at the back, where the owner, Dallas, is sitting in a tree with three other dudes. Dallas is a dude with a single silver lock capping the tip of his mop of black hair, and is wearing skater shoes and no shirt. He laconically gestures at us and grins, completely relaxed and at ease. In a way, his calm demeanor kind of performs a double trick of both calming Donna and I, and instilling in us the urge to kick him in the head. It's a complicated emotion.
The Indigo Skate Camp does turn out to be incredibly hospitable, though. They explain to us that each of the five huts is, essentially, a different room in a house- living room, kitchen, bedroom, guests room. They've prepared a hut for us, with a simple floor, four mattresses, sheets, duvets and covers, and pillows. They've also cooked us a delicious vegetarian meal – mashed butternut, cabbage, rice, and chakalaka. They tell us that they'll keep food for Johnny and Alan, as they're expected to arrive at around ten, and that seeing as we plan on leaving extremely early the next day (2:30 AM again), they'll set aside breakfast things for us, and hand us muesli, milk, fruit and coffee to take to our hut. I, for one, find myself feeling sheepish – we've been received with unquestioning, welcome arms.
Their shower is an outdoor one. You know what? All showers should be like that. The water is lovely and warm, and the shower itself is huge – it's quite a zen feeling. As I step out of my loofah zen, washed and smelling of Radox Herbal Smoothie, Geoff and Kim pull up in their car. Geoff and Kim! Geoff had called earlier to suggest we meet up at the camp, and I told him he could find directions to get here on the Indigo Skate Camp's website, which he did. We promised to call, and didn't – because reception came and went at the camp. Yet here he was: what a rad freaking' dude. Geoff Brink, everyone. We recommend him. Geoff and Kim sat with us for a while and chatted, Geoff entertaining the local kids with his eerily accurate imitations of barn yard animals, taking pictures, and impressively chatting to kids in Zulu.
At around nine o'clock-ish, Donna and I suddenly got cellphone signal, and received some distressed-sounding messages from Johnny. They were at Marion Foley Causeway, 5 km from the skate camp, and a location Donna and I had identified using our paper maps and the iPhone Google Maps app. So we geared up to go pick them up, with Geoff following us.
Except, when we got there, we couldn't see them. We tried calling them – could they see us? We were right on the bridge.
They couldn't see us. And they couldn't talk loudly. They were hiding, they said.
What just happened?
One of us was in the wrong place.
Donna and I were certain we'd found the right bridge. The map, Google Maps, and everything we had all added up. We were positive.
Johnny had a GPS and is actually a really smart dude. He was positive.
Sooo, now what?
We drove on. And followed the road. Once or twice we stopped, tried calling them, tried convincing them that they'd completely screwed up and that they were completely off from where they thought they were. Each time, they politely insisted that they were exactly where they were meant to be.
We kept driving.
In the dark.
With no idea where our friends were.
Have you ever been lost as a kid? Like, seriously, messed-up lost?
This was worse than that's ever felt.
Eventually we drove past a police station, and took our entire map bundle into the office at 11:00 PM and tell them that our friends are lost, that they're where we've marked a big red X on the map, and that we really needed their help.
They look at each other, scratch their heads, have irate conversations with each other in Zulu. Eventually they tell us they'll take us to them.
I'm embarrassed to say that we drove all the way back to where we thought the causeway was, and some 800m ahead, took a concealed right turn – where the actual bridge was, and where Johnny and Alan had hid in the tall grass. The bridge we found, was a small bridge over a small stream. Not the Umgeni river, like we'd been meant to follow.
Egg. On. Face.
Johnny and Alan looked spooked. What had happened, was, a gentleman appeared before them in a field, wielding a big stick, and clearly vocalized his intention to beat them with said stick. It turns out, they were trespassing. He had a whole bunch of friends who were ready to join in, too. Having the advantage of being on, well, unicycles, the the guys managed to somewhat diffuse the situation by making people laugh – but the guy with the stick still wasn't having it. He further declared himself to be an important chieftain, and unimpressed with the government, and demanded to know what Johnny and Alan were going to do about a system of government which allowed unicyclists to trespass across whatever farm fields they liked. Luckily, Johnny is well connected, and assured the gentleman that he was a personal friend of Helen Zille, and was going to make it a priority to speak to her about some issues, as well as addressing the Gentleman with the Stick's current electricity issues. He went as far as giving him his cell number, and was eventually allowed to leave. Along the way, they went on to discover that it was Saturday night in Inchanga, and that the same party rules as demonstrated by the frequenters of Blue Lagoon seemed to apply. Except, here people did things with Zulu shields. And assegais. And pointy sticks. And they did a whole lot more running and waving of pointy weapons than the Blue Lagoon crowd did.
Being chased by Zulu shields and assegais, Johnny and Alan say, is probably the key element in their decision to hide.
So, being reunited was a big relief for everyone. Back at camp, Johnny and Alan grabbed a shower and some food, and we all tried to make sense of the next day's movements on our maps. No time for rest yet, and we'd have to get up early in the morning. As it turns out, I woke up in exactly the same position as I'd composed myself in for paying-attention-to-map purposes, except, I'd fallen asleep, so my eyes were closed. Pretty neat trick. I woke up because Johnny's phone rang at 5:30 AM. This conversation is best presented as a dialogue, recounted by Johnny:
CALLER: Hello. Do you remember me from last night? With the big stick?
JOHNNY: …. Yes, I do! Very well!
CALLER: Good! I wanted to make sure you were doing alright. You know, I am a chieftain. You have permission to ride anywhere in the valley.
JOHNNY:… Wow, we…thank you very much!
CALLER: Call me if anyone gives you any problems. I am a chieftain.
JOHNNY: Thanks! Thanks, I will!
So, that's how Johnny makes friends in high places. They have diplomatic immunity in The Valley of Thousand Hills. What've you got?
This has been Day 1. Are you following? Is this a bit long? Go take a break. Get something to drink, fetch a biscuit. I'm not done yet, but we should take a break. Go ahead, I'll be right here.
Okay, I now have a confession to make.
I'm writing this, 2km away from the Minerva Nature Reserve resort we're meant to be staying in, from inside the Purple PeopleWagon. We can't get it up the mountain to where these people live. The road's too slippery, and there is a sheer drop to our right. Donna decided early Sunday morning that she wasn't going to make the journey, so I picked her up, and we spent the day road-tripping to Pietermaritzburg. We met Johnny and Alan at a pre-arranged intersection earlier, so they could nap in the van, out of the rain, for a bit, and then told them we'd meet them at the Minerva Nature Reserve.
That's all we had to do, was get to the Reserve. Unfortunately, due to some shaky over-the-phone directions, we got turned around, and only got a really good idea of how to drive to the lodge as the sun started setting. It was really, really cool though. There's mist everywhere, and the mountain pass is narrow, overgrown with low-hanging trees on either side, and, oh yeah, sheer drops. We're really high up.
Although we have a problem now, because we can't get the car up through the last 2km we need to drive to get to the farm. See, it's been raining, so the road is muddy and slippery clay, and we can't get traction to move up without skidding. And if we skid, we risk the undesirable result of falling off the mountain or whatever we're on. So we called for somebody to fetch two bags Donna prepared for Alan and Johnny, and told them to give it to them and to deal with our situation in the morning. Well, actually, they've tried. They wanted to send a tractor down, but it won't reverse. So we're stuck here till morning. As far as I can see, the best way to get out of this is to let the PeopleWagon reverse all the way down the mountain pass. But we'll do that in the daylight. But, for now, Donna and I are camping out in the van for the night.
This is Day 2. Alan and Johnny have safely arrived at the Minerva Reserve farm, they've informed us, after cycling 70 km through misty uphills and sheer darkness, guided by the mere light of their headlamps. They're tired, but sound a lot more chipper than last night – the navigation was much, much more straightforward, and almost nobody chased them with sticks that day. They also only started off at around 9 in the morning, wisely deciding to sleep in a little and overrule the original plan of waking up at 2 AM again – a decision we all respected and honored.
By the time you read this, we'll be in motion with Day 3. I can't promise daily updates, because our internet connectivity is sporadic. You may have noticed, though, that when there's signal, we all Tweet through @TheCBProject like crazy. The Tweets pop up on this page but you should follow us. You know. Retweet us. Tell your friends. Stuff like that.
It is now 1:20 AM. I am now anticipating a quiet evening in my office. Until the sun comes up. Then maybe we can see how high up in the mountains we are, because it's pitch-black, now.
I hope that you have a wonderful day.
UPDATE: DAY 3
It's almost six o'clock in the evening and we have had, well, a pretty successful day. Donna is taking a break today, and Johnny and Alan are cycling 63 km up to the Allendale farm, where we are being hosted by Ian and Dana Waddilove, and what they've done for us, in contrast to the stressful past 72 hours we've had, is like coming home and winning everything. They sat us down and served us coffee and tea and pastries, stoked up two fire-places, offered to do our washing, have shown us to our wooden-hut cottage rooms, and just about threatened to adopt us. In fact, so cool are they, that they picked us up from where we parked off alongside the road when we called them and asked them for directions, because we were muddy and cold and lost.
This morning Alan and Johnny arrived at the PeopleWagon at seven in the morning, and began assessing the situation. Alan amiably suggested Donna and I hike to the farm house with our backpacks and maybe get showered (although maybe this was more of a plea, seeing as how we'd spent a night in the hermetic confines of muddy Toyota Quantum after spending a long day driving in it and, you know, sweating.) Archie, the farm-hand, escorted us up to the house and told us to watch out for snakes. "We kill about, um, one puff adder a week, here," he said.
"If one of them bites you, you're screwed unless you're close to electricity," he added.
"The only way to stop the poison from spreading is to let electricity run through the bite, that's how you stop the spread", he drawled.
"There are a lot of snakes here."
We walked on, quickly.
We didn't realize that Minerva Nature Reserve also has a museum. The owner, Malcolm, has been hoarding antiques since he was in Grade 3, Archie says. There is an impressive and eerie warehouse full of treasures – old cars, ancient petrol pumps, old typewriters, Coca-Cola bottles, and bizarrely, an engine from an airplane owned and donated by John Travolta. There's a serious treasury of old machines, and a train carriage that's been converted into a bar – altogether a creepy setup for something on the top of a mountain, but probably worth a visit during dry weather.
Freshly showered and breakfasted, we headed down back to the car.
Champ that he is, Alan managed to reverse the PeopleWagon far enough to get to a section of the road wide enough to turn it around, and roll on out and away from this spooky mountain.
So now, Donna and I are toasting in front of a fireplace, surrounded by wet dogs and warm toasted muffins. It's been an intense two days. Two days? Man. I'm not sure if I can really describe what it was like to spend three hours in the mist, unpacking and re-packing the PeopleWagon to try and distribute weight evenly, shoveling gravel onto the road to create traction, dragging mud in everywhere, or the kind of glum resignation in realizing that, yes, your home for the next seven hours is a mud-caked purple van, get comfortable. Putting it into words doesn't really make it seem like a lot. Maybe it isn't.
Amongst this, I'm very much in awe of these guys. Donna, too. I mentioned that this chick dislocated her arm, right? She knows her limits and gives herself a break where she needs it, but she's a tiny little pocket-bomb on one wheel, and she's gonna bounce back. She is a fierce one.
We're expecting the guys at around eighths tonight; the distance they have to cover is only something like 46 km, but they have some serious uphill climbs to battle through.
And they've only got one wheel each.
41 days to go.
Special thanks to Geoff Brink for pictures!