Writing A Book

I think people should write down their stories. In particular I thought Charles Mason should write his as he has paddled one particular crazy-ass canoe marathon every summer for fifty years in a row! Insanity like that should be noted and recorded for posterity. Psychologists should be looking into it.

I mean he won the Dusi twice, paddled one Berg – and coined the now well-known law “Anyone Doing The Berg More Than Once Is Certifiable”; Started, then won the very first Umko; Paddled all the other races and multi-day marathons, sailed to Seychelles and wrecked the yacht on the beach, got a 1st-class degree, married a lovely lady and raised two sons. And some other stuff. But notably, amazingly and astonishingly, he made the Umkomaas River Canoe Marathon – the most feared of all South Africa’s river races – his own.

Here he is doing what some paddlers call ‘Taming the Umko.’ He’s in front wearing the yellow helmet:

Umko Dutton pics 2005 (594)

Ah! There it is, a pale yellow helmet:

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So I said ‘Listen, you should write your story. Your kids may not read it but your grandkids will.’ So Charles said/asked ‘Ja?’ in that quizzical, half-serious half-amused way of his and suggested we meet for tea at Rosie’s Tearoom. Which made me think it was actually now quite urgent that his story get written. Charles Mason thinking ‘meet for a drink’ meant ‘meet at Rosie’s Tearoom’ got me worried. He was obviously getting old. The project had taken on some real urgency.

At Rosie’s doiley-covered tea table his very first sentence was ‘You Know Peter, this is Quite Opportune. Next Year is the Fiftieth Umko,’ and promptly turned the focus away from himself and on to the iconic race which he had been instrumental in reconnoitering, starting, winning, keeping going and participating in. Did I mention every single one of them for fifty one years IN-A-ROW? He broke his boat and walked out in one of them, so fifty finishes in fifty one starts.

So the book title changed from Charlie Mason Fuckin WildWater Endurance SuperHero to ‘UMKO 50 years‘ and he became the font of Umko knowledge and wisdom and proofreader extraordinaire. So although I am responsible for all mistakes, I didn’t really know what I was doing, so we should actually blame him. Except we can’t – he didn’t get to proofread everything. Damn.

So we wrote a book, me and Charlie. Charles in longhand! On paper made from gumtrees by both Sappi and Mondi. He made a copy typist out of me. No wonder I made some mistakes. I took typing as a matric subject in Apache Oklahoma in 1973 and peaked at a blistering nineteen words a minute with ten mistakes. Also, while Charles has done fifty, and ten other okes have done over thirty, with 42 and 39 finishes being the next craziest after Charles, this half of the author-duo had done one. ONE. One Umko. So I did need some help in knowing what I was on about.

In my defence, I wrote the bloody thing cos it NEEDED DOING. Somebody had to do this! Anyway, between Charles and I we’ve done 51 Umkos and experience like that is not to be sneezed at.

The way we did it was to ask all paddlers who have ever paddled the Umko to send in their stories. Then we asked them again. And again. The emptiness of my inbox was deafening. An American paddling scribe – and paddling scribes are, in Charlie’s own description of rarity, As Rare As Rocking Horse Shit – wrote ‘paddlers are notoriously lax at recording their adventures.’ Correct. Bill Barron used to say ‘ka-rreck.’

So I had to go out like a roving reporter and fetch the stories that were not being sent in.

With Paul Chalupsky it was coffee in Durban North. After a wary start and quite a few questions, the floodgates opened. Five hours later I left with notes scribbled in my notebook, on the till slip, and on my phone. When I wrote him seeking clarity I got the usual ‘I’m not-so-email’ response. Thank goodness his new wife jumped in and sent clarifications and some lovely new tales.

With Herve de Rauville it was two quarts of beer and two bottles of quota red wine from his estate in the winelands. He’s not anti-quotas, our Herve. Seven hours later we had done the Umko plenty times with much steering back away from the inevitable topic if you’re talking to SA paddlers: The Dusi!

I nailed down Pete Peacock by going to PMB and meeting him at Owen Hemingway’s Pope’s Canoe Centre. Owen himself was a fountain of info and scandal! At that stage I was relieved to meet a paddler with verbal diarrhoea, instead of the communicative constipation I had been experiencing! While I pumped him for Umko info he sold me a boat. A beautiful orange plastic Fluid Detox. I must paddle it one day.

Like many, Kenny Reynolds agreed absolutely that he would write. Every time I saw him at KCC he would FOR SURE be sending me some stories. Soon. But it was only when I was with him scribbling in longhand that I got any scandal. Same with Ballie Roets and Tony Botes. I had to go to Crusaders – the drinking club with a canoeing problem – clubhouse for their tales. It looked like a bowling club. No?

I began to think this was a multi-year project for a patient, persistent saint, of which I am none of the above. Then a breakthrough! Some ancient pre-rinderpest okes had been forced to learn email from being in Australia. So Robbie Stewart and Rory Lynsky sent stirring tales. Their endeavours were re-doubled when a Viking character entered the fray and goaded them into having to defend their honour. Now we were cooking thanks to Rowan Rasmussen! Ally Maynard had to set the record straight, Porky Paul got his secretary to write, Rob Bourne-Lange had Leslye fire off his missives. Geoff Caruth was slow, but he has written a lot about the Umko over many years, so I could plunder his early writings, scanning the old Umko programs, then editing the OCR errors, then copy and paste.

Now the accusations started flying thick and fast. Especially thick. Everyone was the hero of their story and the furious howls of ‘That’s MY story you’re telling!‘ got the creative juices flowing. The introduction now needed the caution ‘Please take all the stories with a hefty pinch of iodised cerebos.’ The reason for the hyperbole, of course, is the river itself. The palpable fear before a race causes great excitement and nervousness – and garrulous relief afterwards. Charles summed it up pithily many years ago with another famous truth: ‘There’s No Better Laxative Than A Full Umkomaas!

Kingfisher heavies contributed aplenty. From the outset the project had the backing of the club. Travis Wilkinson, Terry Drummond and Ross Poacher helped out. Rob Davey actually saw that the idea became a reality. We all spoke and wrote; Rob brought the money in. Ernie Alder didn’t say no, but fokol forthcame until I met him at Circus Circus for a lengthy meal when his floodgates opened. He was no typist, our Ernie.

Rumblings from behind the boerewors curtain erupted and colourful lava spewed forth once Bruce Clarke, Brian Longley, Meyer Steyn and Colin Wilson started lying singing. These interlopers regard the Umko as their own and some Umkos there have actually been more Vaalies than modest, well-behaved paddlers! We may in fact need to look at the Donald Trump solution to keeping them out with a wall at van Reenen. Spoiling a good story with the truth is not their style. Swims which had been Natal-long became epic swims lasting ‘months underwater,’ and even this was topped by ‘eons holding my breath.’ Nicknames are a big thing in the hinterland, so I liked that and tried to get nicknames for as many paddlers as I could. Hopefully a few guys were annoyed at seeing their worst, most forgettable name in print. I decided from the outset not to censor any submissions. Customary Paddling Language was used as spoken, but even I chose not to put some unsavoury nicknames in the book!

I wanted recognition for the ladies who have quietly and without fuss done what us okes did. Much serious shaking of male heads kept the ladies out for years, in the sure knowledge that no woman could – and then, OK, should – ever do a race as challenging as ‘our Umko’ and anyway, out of the kindness of our hearts we shouldn’t let them into our remote valley. For their own good. Also, how would they possibly handle having to sleep in the big marquee with all the guys? By telling better fart jokes than the guys, it turned out. As far as I could tell, Colleen Whitton was the first lady to paddle in an Umko and Marlene Boshoff and sis Jenny were the first to finish one without a male in the boat. They were followed in random order by Antje Manfroni, Patricia Stannard, Lorna Oliver, Debbie Whitton-Germiquet, Diana Rietz. What’s more they wrote good stories and sent them in on time and electronically. Thanks ladies!

The breakthrough with the ladies came via Hugh Raw. His terrific MCP stories (he wrote of paddling with TWO ladies and making them carry the boat) needed responding to and challenging. And the ladies did just that.

PROCESS

Back and forth, checking and re-checking. Re-writing causes layout headaches, all well handled by Rob Davey and Jon Ivins, paddler, photographer and book putter-together-er. All the while badgering okes to send in their stories, with mixed success. To their credit every one of the paddlers I phoned cheerfully agreed to send their tale. Then they didn’t. Amazingly, some okes can win the race multiple times but writing a story defeats them. If I had a story about them, especially if controversial, I would send that to them and that often elicited a response, but not always. At least Robbie Herreveld was a great help with the results. He kept records and helped us complete the list of winners.

AT LAST!

The proofs arrived! We checked through half-size black-and-white proofs then the full-size, full-colour proofs:

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Then the books themselves arrived, happy day! Just in time for the race, where Rob Davey handed them out to paddlers in 2016’s goodie bags! They were pretty well received, I thought, warts and all!

Umko 50_2016 (1).jpg
– Nigel Briggs also wrote for the book – he wrote a book of his own on That Other Race –

The UMKO 50 years – The Story Of A River Race And The People Who Made It Happen can be read here. Don’t tell me of any errors, thank you! Actually, do. We’ll build your bulldust into UMKO 60 years.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Kayak the Ocoee

We hired a Lincoln Continental Town Car in Atlanta and put roofracks on. Dave the dentist and US paddler put us up for the night before we headed North. Chris Greeff, kayaking legend & trip organiser; Herve de Rauville, kayaking legend; two non-paddlers, Jurie the cameraman, Steve Fourie and me.

And off we went to the Ocoee River in Tennessee. Which was completely empty. Not low. Empty.

Then they turned on the tap at noon and we could paddle (most of the time, the full flow gets diverted to generate power! How criminal is that!!)

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– I’m in orange –

Here’s a description of the short stretch of river we paddled:

The Middle Ocoee
The Middle Ocoee is the portion of whitewater, on this stretch of water, paddlers and rafting enthusiasts, have been paddling for decades. Beginning at Rogers Branch and just over 5 miles long, this class 3-4 section of whitewater is an adrenaline junkies dream, crammed with waves and holes.

Entrance rapid gives you whitewater from the get-go. As soon as you launch onto the middle Ocoee you are in a class 4 rapid, paddling through waves and dropping ledges. It’s a fun and exciting way to begin your trip.
Broken Nose begins with a large S-shaped wave. Swirling water behind it will send you to a series of ledges. This is a great place for pictures, so smile.
Next, Slice and Dice: two widely spaced ledges, fun to drop, especially the second ledge. If done correctly, you can get a great surf here “on the fly”.
An interesting and humorous set of rock formations highlights the rapid, Moon Chute. After making your way behind the elephant shaped rock, do some 360’s in front of “sweet-cheeks,” then drop through the chute and over the ledge at the bottom.
Double Suck, an appropriately named rapid, where a good-sized ledge drops you into two hydraulics. Paddle hard or you might catch another surf here.
Double Trouble, which is more ominous in name than in structure, is a set of three large waves, which will have everybody yelling. This is another great photo spot. You won’t find an easier, more fun rapid.
Next is Flipper (No, it’s not named after the dolphin). Here, a great ledge drop puts you into a diagonal wave. Hit this wave with a right hand angle and enjoy the ride, or angle left to eddy out. Then enjoy one of the best surfs on the river.
Table saw was originally named for a giant saw-blade shaped wave in the middle of it. The rock forming the wave was moved during a flood several years ago, making this one of the most exciting rapids on the Middle Ocoee. The big waves in this one will make the boat buck like a bronco.
At Diamond Splitter, point your boat upstream and ferry it between two rocks. Once there get a couple of 360’s in before dropping through the chute and into the hydraulic.

Me on the Ocoee river

Slingshot is where most of the water in the river is pushed through a narrow space, making a deep channel with a very swift current. To make this one a little more interesting, see how many 360’s you can complete from top to bottom.
Cat’s Pajamas start with a couple of good ledges, with nice hydraulics. After those, it will look as though you are paddling toward a big dry rock, but keep going. At the last second, there will be a big splash and you will be pushed clear.
Hell’s Hole is the biggest wave on the river. Start this one in the middle of the river, drifting right. Just above the wave, start paddling! When you crest this 7-8 ft. wave, you will drop into a large hydraulic. Stay focused because just downstream are the last two ledges known as . .

Powerhouse. Drop these ledges just right of center for a great ride.
Once through Powerhouse, collect yourself and take out at Caney Creek.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Oklahoman Honeymoon

As I settled in the seat of the Delta Air plane en route to Texas and the Gulf I read in the newspaper that I’d scooped up where someone had abandoned it, that the one thing I did NOT want to be doing was flying over Easter.

When is Easter? I asked the stewardess. ‘Tomorrow’ she chirped brightly.

Change of plan Aitch, I announced: We’re going to Oklahoma instead of the Gulf. I explained and showed her the newspaper (airport congestion, overbooked flights – us on a cheap Delta pass). Aitch had been dreading going to Apache: ‘They’ll all know you and I won’t know anyone and I’ll feel left out and . . ‘

delta-small-plane

But now she had to face her fears. As soon as we landed at Dallas-Fort Worth we booked the next flight to Lawton Oklahoma, heading back north instead of carrying on south. There was just enough time if we scurried. Aitch decided she’d skip the loo and go once we were airborne. Mistake. It was a narrow little propeller plane like this, two seats a side, a narrow aisle, no airhostess, no loo. Ooh!

We landed in Lawton after dark and she made it. We set off further north for Apache in a rental car. Apache: My hometown for a year as a Rotary exchange student in 1973. Arriving on the Patterson’s farm outside town we saw a ‘yuge’ SA flag waving from the flagpole! Jim had borrowed an oversize flag from the SA consulate in Houston to welcome us!

Apache Patterson Lunch (1)

Jim & Katie Patterson, the loveliest couple in the whole of the USA were just the same as ever!

They welcomed us with open arms to their beautiful and comfortable ranch house and it was as though we hadn’t been apart for fifteen years (during which time I had received exactly two letters from them. ‘Well, Peter’ said Jim with his crooked grin and twinkling eyes, ‘We didn’t want to flood you with correspondence’).

Apache Patterson Ranch_cr
ApachePattersonRanch (11)

Katie took Aitch on a night drive in the pickup looking for owls. Both girls were suitably lubricated plus they took extra stocks of their tipple. They had the windows down and were hooting weird owl calls and hosing themselves. When they returned they were laughing uncontrollably, leaning against each other for support. They had seen a possum snuffling around and Aitch was fascinated – she always LOVED the little night creatures. Katie followed it offroad into the fields, keeping it in the headlights. When it stopped she manoeuvred so it could best be seen and whispered to Aitch “Shall I kill it?” She was surprised at Aitch’s distraught look of horror. Then she twigged: “No, no, not the possum! I meant the engine!”

They collapsed laughing when they both “saw it” and were still laughing helplessly when they got back home where Jim and I were watching ‘the ballgame’ – Basketball I think; OU I think.

One morning I woke up to breakfast in bed. It was 1st April, my birthday – thirty three young today – and Aitch delivered a tray of goodies!

Jay Wood & Robbie Swanda come for a barbecue; Robbie wears my Optometry rugby jersey (that I gave him in 1984, then regretted doing so! My only one!)
– Jay Wood & Robbie Swanda come for a barbecue Robbie wears my Optometry rugby jersey, number 8 –

Jim n Katie arranged a lovely barbecue poolside and invited my best mates from high school back in 1973. Jay Wood and Robbie Swanda had made the year unforgettable and here they were again, also with wives now; Robbie wearing the Optometry rugby jersey I had given him in 1984 when I visited after kayaking down the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon.

Jim unwraps the winter covers - Early for Aitch
– Jim unwraps the winter covers early for Aitch –

Jim even unwrapped the Caddy convertible from its winter covering weeks earlier than usual and presented Aitch with the keys. She drove as far as the gate and then said ‘I think you must drive now Koos.’

– Koos! It’s too wide! – You drive! –

All I got was this old tractor that I had driven for Jim back in ’73.

Here's what I get to drive (memories of 1973)
– here’s what I get to drive (memories of 1973) –

OK, in fairness, he also gave me the keys to the Chevy Suburban you can see in the background with the door open. Which was so much fun I missed the Rotary meeting! Now THAT was embarrassing! Unforgivable! Everyone was forgiving / understanding (‘well, you ARE on honeymoon, after all’) but that REALLY was a major gaffe! Damn! Fifteen years later and ten thousand miles away I have ONE meeting to remember and I forget it! *blush!!* We were out in the countryside looking for a Vermilion Flycatcher and I just clean forgot. We did see a lot of birds that day.

Well, our five day trip to Apache stretched to a week. Wherever we went all I got was an elbow in the ribs as the local inhabitants shoved me aside and crowded around Aitch. Every now and then one would mutter over his shoulder at me: “Now you look after this gal, boy! Y’hear?” Aitch’s dread of going to “my” hometown had turned into a reluctance to leave “her” hometown!

After ten days I sat Aitch down and said “Now listen girl, we still have things to do, places to go and people to meet. We can’t stay in Apache forever!” She was having a ball, reveling in the attention and she and Katie were getting on like a house on fire. I suspect on all their jaunts when they would breeze off in the Lincoln saying “Ya’ll stay home and watch the ballgame, y’hear?” that Katie was teaching her how to manage me and telling her how she managed Jim. Aitch obviously soaked up the lessons! It was Katie who had asked me as a seventeen year old back in 1973: “Peter, who do you think chooses the marriage partner?” Following my confident (wrong) answer she put me straight, telling me how, when Jim arrived for his first day of work at the bank in Oklahoma City she had turned to her friend and announced “I’m going to marry that man!”

So it was very reluctantly that Aitch agreed that I could book for the next leg of our extended honeymoon.

On, northwards, to Ohio to see Larry.

~~oo0oo~~~

PS: I forget if it was on honeymoon in 1988 or after the Grand Canyon trip in 1984, but I needed a haircut and went to the local barber, Rotarian Oscar Caldwell. He and his wife Sonia ran the shop. I had dodged them back in 1973, letting my hair drop down onto my shoulders. Their son Dallas was in my second senior class (I did three matrics: HS, second half of one in Apache, then first half of the next one in Apache).

Oscar and Sonia (both pronounced Oh! – Oh! scir and S Oh! nyuh) were full of beans and shit and could stir.

I walked into the barber shop and said to him while he slaved over some oke’s scalp – in my best Okie accent – ‘I have a complaint! I had my hair cut here in 1973 and I’ve never bin satisfied!’

He stopped snipping, stared at me over his specs, eyes widened and he said “Peedir!”

..

That I remembered. What I hadn’t remembered was a prank I played on Oscar back in 1973. Sister Sheila recently (2020) returned the letters I had written the family back then.

Oscar loaned me a projector to give a slide show and I asked if he wanted it back tomorrow. ‘No,’ he said, ‘That’s too late.’

I said How’s midnight tonight? ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’d prefer 4 in the mornin’.

We left it at that. I gave my talk. With me was my good Apache mate Robbie and fellow Rotary students Eve from Durban and Helen from Zim. We went back to Robbie’s house and jol’d. Then at 3.15am, we drove out to Oscar and Sonia’s farm outside town in Robbie’s Mustang. I knocked persistently and Oscar dragged himself to the door where I said Hope I’m in time! I thought you might be wanting to show some home movies?

He blinked, gulped, then fell right in: ‘Yes, Yes,’ he says ‘I did. Come right in.’  He led us in shaking his head muttering ‘This Boy’s Alright, isn’t he?’

He and Sonia then insisted we sat down and proceeded to show us way too many slides with total bullshit commentary : ‘This is a picture of Mars taken on our second trip there . . ‘

Robbie and I were hosing ourselves, Eve and Helen were falling asleep. Sonia then announced it was actually Oscars birthday, so we sang him HBD and left after 4am!

..

Remembered thanks to a letter written in Oct ’73!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Mkhuze’s Great

Some things I love about Mkhuze:
Those dirt roads between the fever trees (there’s lotsa tar too, these days).
Few people.
Polite people even at a lion kill (‘After you! No, after YOU!’).
Lots of birds.

– Fever tree dirt track Mkhuze –

African time; African efficiency. We had electricity – at times, but not at our site, which I found out after I’d set up camp fully. Couldn’t test, as the generator only runs from 5pm to 10am – which is plenty, but you can’t find out if your site is working if you arrive when it’s not running. No problem, I set up a field kitchen 60m away from my site. We had water – at times. Even hot water at times. The bins had monkey- and baboon-proof lids – some of them.

FRIENDLY inefficient staff: Got any charcoal? Yes. Where? There. So you go and look again: fokol. Go back. Doesn’t seem to be any. Yes, it is there. Where? I show you. None. HAU!! It was here! Screech of laughter: Hau! So she goes and fetches extra from the stores, hosing herself at the fact that ‘Strue’s Bob, there wasn’t any when she thought there was!

At the waterhole a sexy young thing with a 400mm lens got chatting away to this 59yr old. She musta been 19 in the shade. Burbling away about look at that and watch here for the pygmy kingfisher and have you seen the lions behind that bush and the poor wildebees calf lost its mother and the lions nearly ate it and etc. Fairly unusual for a Seffrican she was. My 17yr old can seldom string two words together to a stranger!

Very little ranger or staff presence so the ous were up and out on game drives well before the meant-to-be time of 5am.

Patrick the ranger on a game drive in his open top Landie stopped me – he recognised us from two previous visits when we went on drives and walks with him – and asked ‘Where’s the boy?’ Remarkable really, as the one visit was in May and the other in 2009! I spose we do stand out a bit. I told him Tom thought he’d rather be eaten by a lion than endure two teenage girls for six days.
~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~
Note to self: There’s LOTS that needs fixing with your camping equipment!
I forgot the braai grid and couldn’t find one in six shops in Mkhuze village 18km away. I took the wrong gas bottle, didn’t fit. No problem, the girls got cold food* and hot tea – I had grabbed the electric kettle from the kitchen as I left home.

As always, the fridge worked a treat, so in the heat they got plenty of ice-cold drinks and water.

Next time I’m gonna be SO organised . . .
~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~
*Don’t feel sorry for them! They got some toasted sarmies from the Rhino Dino once or twice – and Phindile also made us one lekker breakfast.

River trip Deepdale – Hella Hella

We left Bernie’s white Ford Escort at Hella Hella with the Porters, and drove round to Deepdale in my white Ford Cortina. Linda Grewar (who became a notable paddler herself – she later won the Fish river marathon mixed doubles with Bernie!) then drove my car back to Durban. ‘Seconds’! ‘Helpers’ ‘Chauffeurs’! What would we do without those wonderful volunteers?  It was winter on a low, clear Umkomaas and we set off happy as larks. Or otters. In our Perception plastic kayaks imported by Greg Bennett in his Paddlers Paradise daze.

Deepdale Falls
– how low can you go? –

We put in at the Deepdale railway bridge and drifted downstream, portaged around the waterfall – Well, you’d have heard a dull thud if you tried to shoot it at that level! Deepdale or Bald Ibis Falls. It was a glorious afternoon, warm and clear with hardly a breeze. We paddled at my pace which meant this was a two-day trip,  lots of drifting, lots of chat with my mate Bernie ‘The Jet’ Garcin, frequent stops, carrying back and shooting the bigger drops again. We stopped early, to camp while there was still light to cook by.

The night was as cold as a banker’s heart and I was in my sleeping bag straight after grub. Not so The Jet who first had to go through an elaborate foot-washing ritual in the freezing twilight. A long night on the hard ground, and off early next morning. We didn’t know how far we had to go. We knew some guys had done it in a day, so we weren’t too worried and kept to my usual blistering (!) pace. Bernie had stood on the podium in mixed doubles results in his day, so was no slouch. But he knew me and was resigned to (hopefully quite enjoyed?) my drift-and-gaze-in-awesome-wonder pace.

The rock gardens we’d heard about in Longdrop Rapid were wonderful. You’d drop into a little ‘room’ and find the outlet and then drop down into another, huge boulders all around you. We decided this would be very hairy in high water!

Deepdale Hella Kayak (5)

Dropping into a ‘room’:

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Deepdale Hella Kayak (9)

Bernie got wedged here. I made to rush back to free him, but he shouted “No! Wait! First take a picture!”

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Deepdale Hella Kayak (1)
look sharp territory

We paddled that whole sunny day with a leisurely lunch stop. As it started to get dark we quickened the pace, Bernie deciding we needed to get a move on. But night started falling before we got anywhere we recognised. Then we shot a weir we knew was not far upstream of the Hella Hella bridge and a nasty piece of rusty iron sticking out flashed past at eye height. We decided Whoa! time to call a halt. Bernie’s legs are a lot shorter than mine, and I knew the Porters well, so we decided I’d run to the farmhouse and drive back as close as I could get in his off-road Escort.

At the Porter farmhouse Barry & Lyn gave me a beer (‘um, forced a beer on me’ I explained to Bernie when he said “What took you so long?”). Driving back along the track down into the valley, a couple guys on horseback kicked their mounts into acceleration, just beating me onto the narrow track down to the river, so they had the benefit of my headlights to light up the way, and Bernie had the benefit of my taking longer to get to him.

Halfway down into the valley a fella on foot leaned in my window (it was slow going) and asked if HE could hitch a ride. “Sure” I said and THEY hopped in: Two guys, two dogs and a huge sack of maize meal in the Jet’s two-door Escort! Ahem, I’m sure Bernie won’t mind chaps, I said to no-one in particular.

Hella Hella from Deepdale

I stopped with the headlights on the two kayaks, lying cockpit to cockpit. No sign of Bernie. I got out and a head popped up, yellow helmet still firmly on his head. He had wedged himself between the boats. As he blinked in the headlights I saw his eyes widen as a guy in a trench coat got out of the passenger door. Then another. Then a mangy dog. Then another rangy dog with a curled tail. His mouth dropped when the two guys reached back into the car and hauled out a heavy sack. He said nothing. That’s Bernie.

We loaded and set off for Durban. After a while Bernie had to talk: Did I know he was surrounded by dogs growling the whole time I was gone? and what took me so long? and was I aware his car smelt of dog?

But he forgave me. He always did. He was a really good mate Bernie and I was very sorry when he buggered off to Aussie (not because of the dogs or anything, mind).

~~~oo0oo~~~

My second ‘hometown’ Apache Oklahoma

Apache was my ‘hometown’ for a year in 1973 as a Rotary exchange student.

Here you’ll find a collection of my 1973 Apache memories.

Former Apache resident Rebekah Cooksey (about ten to fifteen years after me, I guess) wrote “Top 10 Things Heard This Weekend in Apache, Oklahoma” after a return visit to her hometown. Her blog now seems to have disappeared, but I got these extracts from it.

Here’s Rebekah:

Small town Oklahoma defined my early life. My hometown was Apache. Population: 1500. Our school was so small we had no class electives; My class pictures between kindergarten and 12th grade included all the same people, generally in the same position.

I am the youngest of seven kids; Dad was a minister, Mom was a nurse. I think at one point we were actually below the poverty level but I have such great selective memory that period is all kind of blurry. I do remember being laughed at because of my clothes and wishing that we could live in a mobile home because some of my friends lived in them, and their homes were nicer than ours. While I had good friends (whom I still keep in touch with), I always knew I would move away because there really wasn’t anything there for me.

Those of you who actually read my blog (thanks, Mom!) know that my family and I went to Apache Oklahoma this past weekend to attend the annual Apache Fair.

Going to Apache is always a bittersweet event for me. Growing up in this small town of 1500 people was mostly a frustrating experience, and I spent my junior high and high school years plotting my escape. But even after almost twenty years of being away, I am tied to this place by my memories, my values, and my dreams for my own children — because the kind of town I ran from is exactly the kind of town I’d like to raise them in (but hopefully with a larger population by a factor of 10).

Why bittersweet? Going back reminds me of the many wonderful things about being raised in a town where everyone knows everyone, where the same families have farmed the same land for generation after generation, where the values are so traditional that Home Economics is a required course for girls and Ag Shop (agricultural workshop – welding, woodworking, leather tooling) is a required course for boys. But, it also makes me sad, because many of the store fronts are boarded up, the family-owned businesses have been replaced by Sonic and Dollar General, and the landscape is dotted with barns falling into themselves, rusted cars and vans, and, in general, signs of the struggle of the lower-middle class.

– the main drag –

The best way to describe it, I’ve decided, is ‘Mayberry’ meets ‘Sanford and Son’, with a Native American twist.

So, in a lighthearted way, I’m going to attempt to share with you some of the highlights of the weekend. Again, while this may appear like I’m poking fun – well, OK, it will be poking fun – but remember, I grew up here, so I’m allowed. I’m laughing with my fellow Apacheans, not at them.

Do you feel that breeze? There was a lot of controversy over the installation of one hundred and fifty wind turbines southwest of Apache because of the blight on the landscape. Not surprising: when you have been living with an unobstructed view of the Wichita Mountains for years, and suddenly someone proposes to build wind turbines across the horizon, that’s bound to put a bee in your bonnet. But the Slick Hills (as the foothills of the Wichitas are known) supposedly have some of the best wind in the USA. The Blue Canyon Wind Farm now produces the energy equivalent of powering 60,000 cars on the road. Now with gas hovering just under $4 a gallon, I don’t think the residents mind so much anymore.

– we’ll have to wait our turn to get on the bridge –

We actually didn’t stay in Apache for the weekend; instead, we rented a cabin in Medicine Park, a tiny tourist village about half an hour away just outside the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. If you can desensitize yourself to an over-abundance of junked out cars, scrap heaps, and crumbling mobile homes, Medicine Park is quite a cute destination and the natural beauty is astounding. Definitely worth a weekend trip from Dallas-Fort Worth. But my mention here is just about the one-lane bridge that goes across the river in Medicine Park and joins East Lake Drive with West Lake Drive. You don’t see many of these anymore.

In Medicine Park we found what must be the actual model for Tow-Mater from the animated movie Cars. Also in Medicine Park, we were amazed that the most beautiful real estate in at least a 200 mile radius is used by a waste water treatment plant is astounding to me. With a view of the Wichita Mountains, Lake Lawtonka and the surrounding hills, anywhere else this plot would be turned into million dollar homes (or, adjusted for Oklahoman prices, maybe $250K homes). Seriously, it made my heart sad to see the $32.5m facility sitting smack dab on top of the best view in the area.

wichita
– the nearby Wichita Mountains –

I remember when the blinking red stoplight was installed at the main intersection when I was in junior high in the early 80′s. It seemed like no time at all had passed before the light burned out. No one seemed to notice, really, and it took years before it was replaced. Clearly progress has been made because the town’s only stoplight was blinking when we drove through town.

– Hey, the stoplight is working! –
– Apache’s Rattlesnake Festival drew 60,000 people last year –

Rattlesnake Festival – Our little town of Apache is host to one of the largest Rattlesnake Festivals in the USA. The Apache Rattlesnake Festival was created by some local townspeople (one of whom was my high school best friend’s Dad) back in 1986, and features guided snake hunts, contests for the longest/heaviest/ugliest rattlesnake, an ever-growing flea market/craft fair, and a carnival. Last year, they had 60,000 people come through for the 3-day event, and Discovery America was there to film it. Pretty good for this small hometown.

Livestock Fairs – One of the big attractions of the Fair is livestock judging. Most FFA students have animals that they show at fairs such as this for prize money and bragging rights. This night was cattle judging night, so Jack and Luke got plenty of opportunity to see cows. I think this was the first real “Moo” they had ever heard, poor things. Usually it’s me trying to sound like a cow when I sing Old MacDonald.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Glimpses into Me — By Cooksey on August 20, 2008 Blog: MyKindOfMom – ‘Fraid Rebekah’s site has ‘gone off the air’!