We're so totally in the Karoo. We spend a rest day in the delectable little Hofmeyr, and stayed with our tremendously funny host family, the Moolmans, who had us in stitches the whole evening. Partly from being funny, and partly because they fed us so, so much.
Here are a few pictures of our week, update to follow soon!
So, whoever said the Karoo was flat, lied.
Well, it’s flatter than the Drakensburg. A lot, actually. And we’ve definitely had fewer problems with rain and getting stuck in mud. The PeopleWagon really appreciates that.
Although there are a lot of acacias around. And those plants have like the most unfair natural advantage ever. Apart from having ridiculously huge, white thorns everywhere, these plants actually communicate with each other chemically and become poisonous when they sense an attack (i.e something chewing on the tree). Ever notice how giraffes never seem to just eat the whole tree of whatever kind of leaf they’re nibbling on? Acacias talk to each other. So, there is absolutely no winning against these things, ever. Johnny and Alan (mostly Johnny) got like million punctures a few days ago, and ran out of tire slime to fix it until a quad-biking farmer came to their rescue. From acacia thorns. So, just a heads-up, Human Race. A new contestant has slowly and quietly entered the ring.
Thank you to everyone who has been sending thoughts and regards to Neil, me and the Cronje family. The support has kept us going. I guess that it is time to give some more details about what happened, now that things are finally looking up. I’ll try to summarize a very difficult 2 weeks.
Neil was knocked over by a large truck (the 16 wheeler kind of truck) whilst on his motorbike, coming home from work, on Frans Conradie Drive (Northern Suburbs) around lunchtime on December 7 . He is uncertain as to what actually happened, and there were no witnesses. It seems that the truck knocked him over to the side, pushed the bike onto his leg, and the truck then drove over the bike. The truck did not stop. Thankfully, a doctor noticed the bike and then my dad on the side of the road and stopped to help. He was in a critical condition. There was extensive damage to his left leg, with multiple injuries elsewhere: broken leg bones, shoulder blade and pelvis. For the medics out there, his hemoglobin was 4 when he went to casualty at N1 City hospital – that is critical. He was in severe shock from blood loss, his leg was bleeding, and more injuries were being discovered.
Initially it was thought that his leg would need to be amputated. The surgeons have so far managed to save the leg, but will need to reassess in 5 weeks time. Most of the muscle in the calf was lost. By some wonder, there was no head, brain, neck or spinal injury. The next few days in ICU were very serious. Several surgeries took place to stabilize and clean up various wounds and injuries. It was thought at one point that it would be best to anaesthetize him and mechanically ventilate him as he was struggling with pain control. The doctors also had concerns with his heart and lung functions. Thankfully, this action was not necessary.
For 10-odd days, this was the news that I was receiving. The support from within the family for each other, and from friends has been incredible. Neil had a bumpy few days, with the general trend being that of a slow improvement. He was recently transferred from the ICU to the ward. It is thought that he will spend around 6 weeks in hospital before being able to go home. However, there is really no knowing exactly how long it will take. What is known is that he has a long recovery ahead. His leg is severely damaged and might still need to be amputated, although this is looking less likely as days go by. His appetite is slowly returning, but fluctuates on a daily basis. Flashbacks to the accident have been a problem, but are now settling down. He is constantly tired, but working incredibly hard at his recovery. He has had a lot of visitors which have lifted his spirits in spite of making him tired with the effort from conversing. The past few days in the ward have been really positive. Physio has started, dressings have been changed, skin grafts inspected. Strength is returning, and his sense of humor is back. He is causing trouble for the nursing staff, which is a great sign! Things are on the mend.
When I was first told about the accident in Rhodes, details were sketchy. The story continually evolved. “Facts” changed as more was learnt. He was fine, then ill. Stable, then critical. I was ready to go home on the next bus, train or plane. However, my dad convinced me to stay. He told me that he wanted me to continue riding. This was a constant message from him, through all the ups and downs, in spite of how sick he was. The family also discussed it at length, and we all spoke about the possible outcomes of the accident. The difficulty was in knowing how serious things really were – the story kept changing as new details emerged. Throughout it, I was told by my dad to ride. It was very difficult. I still don’t know if I did the right thing by staying, even though things have turned out okay.
I was inspired to ride the Freedom Revolution Unicycle Tour by children who do not have shoes. In spite of all the things that could be stopping them from receiving an education, they persevered in getting to their schools. My Father, Neil, is now a stronger inspiration. The bravery, courage, dedication and strength of mind that he requires to sit in a chair for 1 hour per day, through physical exertion and pain of the mind and body, is humbling when I consider the trials of this Tour. My journey of 44 days to Cape Town is childish compared to his journey of months to learn to walk again. If I stop, I hitch a lift back to Cape Town. If he stops, he stays exactly where he is. He can choose to give up as many people would. But he hasn’t, and I know that he won’t.
I hope that this synopsis gives those who have followed the trip some insight into the accident, and some insight into what’s been going on in my head. This tour was always going to be challenging journey, in ways that I knew I would not be able to anticipate. This accident was one of them.
When I was compiling content for the website, I came across these words by David. I knew exactly what they meant but had no idea what my journey would be, I don't think any one of us did.
FYI, David Waddilove is the founder of the Freedom Challenge Trail. If you think our journey is mad, it's not! David ran it from Cape Town to Durban as training for the Comrades which happened a day or two later. WTF!
For the few out there who joined our journey recently, you may not know that I, Donna was one of the riders who was to embark on this journey across our beautiful land, regardless of the obstacles that may be presented. Yes, those obstacles came, and they were big, then they got massive. I pushed them aside and persevered, the only way I know how. What obstacles, you ask? Firstly, I am not as experienced a unicyclist as Johnny and Alan. As far as woman riders in South Africa go, I'm good, as far as woman riders across the world go… I'm not so good. I was going to be the first female unicyclist to ride the Freedom Challenge. Hahaha… not this year… you're not ready and there are more important things that need attending to. Besides having the biggest sign possible presented to me, I persevered. What was the sign? Well, 6 weeks before the tour started and 1 week after we received our geared hubs, I dislocated my right elbow, you know, the everything arm. Now any sensible person would know that it's time to admit defeat. Oh no, not stubborn me (a trait I can attribute receiving from my father). I did everything possible to ensure my involvement in the tour as a RIDER. Joined the gym and rode on strange static two wheeled instruments that are supposed to mimic a bicycle. Did hikes with a heavy backpack. Bought a elbow brace to prevent hyperextension. I created my dream world. Johnny and Alan were gracious enough to respect that. They dropped the hints but I still ignored it. Nothing was going to stop me but the trail.
I rode half of day one, did the whole of day 3 with a bit of strain, didn't want to give up. Then came the following day. I was too tired but I got up, stubbed my foot the night before so it was ah-nah. I struggled so much on that day. Early that morning we tried to call Kirby but no signal, we had to persevere, there was a lot of walking. Johnny even rode ahead to get to Kirby quicker so she could collect me. He got horribly lost and by chance and the grace of all things good we found each other before dark. We all continued the walk to Ntsikeni. That was the day the trail defeated me.
Now what? To the van you go Donna, ok. I enjoyed the van, we navigated through rain, mud, treacherous roads and had sleep overs with the Purple PeopleWagon. It was fun! Then I started getting bored and my mind went to the dark side. I got grumpier by the day and projected my mood, it was tense and I created it. Then Neil had his accident, tragedy had hit the Cronje family. Johnny fluctuated as his fathers condition fluctuated, but he stayed because Neil insisted. As tough as it was for Johnny he respected his father's wishes and pedaled on, today is Christmas, in a CAVE! Neil I think, is at home wearing a red sock and a Basutho blanket.
This brings me to the next part of my story. Fathers, the ones that have been their since the start. I am the only team member from a divorced family and therefore my father is both of my parents. 1 Year ago my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 colo-rectal cancer. He has passed his first sell by date. And is now on his second, he is virtually bed ridden. In one year I have seen my father's body deteriorate and because all his efforts haven't shown results, his spirit has died. It's not easy seeing your father perish and being unable to take the suffering away. It's been hard to deal with. Without flinching I left the tour to spend the festive period with my father and my family who are nursing him at this time. Leaving my beloved boyfriend, incredible housemate and new found friend to fend for themselves. It's brought about reflection and placed priceless value on what I/ we are experiencing. Being with my father was important, it has made him lighter in spirit and he feels loved, we all want to be loved! Love is easy to give.
The journey has been tough for all of us. Today is Christmas, I am in Joburg and the rest of the team are, I hope, safely at Studis Damse Drif getting ready for the day ahead. My efforts to find out if they have arrived safely have failed, not a single contact number is being answered. There was no reception all day yesterday, nothing on twitter and no responses to text messages. Tonight they sleep in a cave, what a wonderful thought. But regardless the last 3 days have been hard, I'm not sure if it's harder than the usual day on the tour, but remember it is day 29 of the tour. Alan was flat the day before yesterday, he even slept through dinner which is unlike Alan, he can eat you under the table. The Baviaans turned men into boys and Kirby had to change a tire on the Purple PeopleWagon. To top it all off, there was a problem with accommodation 3 nights ago and they only got to rest their weary heads at 12 in the evening. Yes, LIFE is happening!
Yesterday, we received an e-mail from a gentleman named Marnitz, who along with La-Hoff School in Klerksdorp have collected about 200 pairs of shoes. You need to understand that this was unexpected, people are helping us achieve our goal of giving 2000 pairs of shoes to children of South Africa. I've been struggling to come up with a solution to find the money do this. We've all put in our personal savings into the project, taken a loan and are far away from giving those 2000 pairs of shoes. Then this e-mail arrived filled with generosity and the combined efforts of a community, one of the many pockets in SA. How could we refuse that, these shoes have been collected with integrity and love. There was a spark and I released that we don't need money to do this, WE NEED SHOES, everyone has a pair of fairly good shoes that they don't wear anymore, well not everyone, that's why we're doing this and that's how we do it. Financially, it's been tough of late, recession is something that still lingers. The goal of the tour is to buy 2000 pairs of school shoes through the Bobs for Good Foundation for children. Things don't always happen the way we plan, situations change and we need to adjust.
It's time to open all those wonderful gifts that someone purposely gave you. Enjoy this time with your family and friends, I can't express the value of it.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas filled with light.
I wish the Boswell, Cronje, Kruger and Read families an exceptionally Happy Christmas. Your children are incredible and you should be proud of them and their efforts. The Kisogloo's will be having a rather large loud Greek Christmas and ripping Nik (my father) off about his current hairstyle.
To Alan, Johnny and Kirby, I love you guys and well done, your over the half way mark. You're nearly HOME! I look forward to rejoining the tour on the 28th and seeing the Christmas photos you guys produce.
Thank you for coming back to check up on the Team and taking the time to follow our progress… and reading about what Christmas meant to me this year.
Perhaps there will be reception during the course of the day so that we can speak to Alan, Johnny and Kirby.
… So they had a really short ride today and got in at mid day. Freshened up and hopped in the Purple PeopleWagon to get some reception and a christmas lunch in Willowmore. Kirby managed to send some photo's to include in this post. Enjoy!
BTW, it appears as if Kirby is mastering the art of unicycling, go Miss Kirby!
The PeopleWagon rumbled up to the farmhouse and the engine sighed as I turned off the ignition and climbed out, coughing in the settling cloud of dust. Three awkward ostriches scattered out of the way, tripping over each other, rubber necks swaying, serpentine. Wiping his hands on his shorts, the farmer extended one hand in a handshake and jerked a thumb at the house behind him.
“They’re in there,” he said sheepishly. “We looked for you, but I guess you found us.”
“Thank you so much, sorry for the confusion,” I replied.
“THERE you are!” Johnny and Alan appeared, grumbling, at the doorway as chickens and small children scattered underfoot.
“Today, has been a bad day,” Johnny muttered.
“I hear that,” I said, scooting crates and bags in the PeopleWagon to make room for the two unicycles and riders.
“Got caught in the rain, did you?” the farmer asks, eyeing my trousers, soaked up to the knee.
“Thank you for the coffee! And the bananas! And the rusks!” Johnny calls out, climbing into the PeopleWagon in order to tactfully avoid further small-talk-induced delays. I’m left to stammer an apology and thank them for finding Johnny and Alan and keeping them till I’d found them.
Oh, see, the events that led up to us all meeting up last Tuesday evening, December 21, involved both driving and unicycling parties having spectacularly terrible days. We left our chintzy game lodge rooms in Kleinpoort early in the morning – I, to drive to Uitenhage to pick up some pre-Christmas supplies, Johnny and Alan, to do their regular one-wheeled thing. About twenty minutes after we’d left, Alan phoned me to ask me to get tire slime – he’d all but destroyed his wheel at the hands of a malevolent acacia thorn. It was a hot day, for the most part. Until the skies opened up and barfed rain all over what all the maps told us was a “dry, arid land”. By this time I’d returned from my 200km-there-and-back journey into the Urban Pre-Christmas Wonderland, and was on my way towards the farm we were supposed to be staying at for the night. It was here that rain suddenly pelted the earth with the fattest droplets I’d ever seen, at a sharp 35°angle for maximum range and efficiency.
This is the weirdest rainstorm I’ve ever been in there. The skies suddenly frowned, dark clouds spread like an angry man going red in the face (except, black in this case), and the faucet opened up. I should back-track a little and mention that I’d made things a little difficult for myself because I called the farm while I was still in Kleinpoort and asked for directions how to drive there. The guy on the other side of the line sounded very confused but stoically gave me directions, landmarks and distances, and then asked me what the deal was.
“We’re the Freedom Challenge riders!” I declared.
“The cyclists!” I wavered.
“So, what, you guys want to camp here or something?”
It turned out that this guy pretty much didn’t know anything about two unicyclists and a PeopleWagon driver wanting food and bedding at his place for the evening, at all, and was on his way to becoming very angry at my cheek. So I called our booker, Meryl, who up to this point had done an excellent job of our bookings – every place we’ve been to has served us vegetarian options. Now, really, what I should have done was hang around the sandwich shop in Kleinpoort like an obedient problem-solver and waited for Meryl to call me back. Instead, I got in the PeopleWagon and started driving according to the directions the previously kindly old man had made me repeat to him.