Pete ‘fatboy’ Geach – ‘always know when the river gods are sending you a message’

2 hand-written stories

It was one of those big years. They started building up in 2000 and culminated in the highest level I have ever paddled in 2005. It was still the old format, first-day-first. There is nothing quite like descending into the valley knowing that even the Approaches to No.1 makes one hyperventilate hours before you begin.

My mates Cliffy (Softy) Andrews and Kevin (Kevlar) Middleton have done a number of Umkos together and, like all of us, have seen their fair share of boat admin.

Softy, a hulk of a man, has the strength to steer the boat from behind and will on occasions second-guess you, leaving you rudderless at the pedals. If he had both legs he might have given Usain Bolt a run for his money. Kevlar, wiry and always fit. One might confuse his comments and enthusiasm on the river as aggression, but a more solid soldier behind enemy lines you could not ask for.

It had been a torrid day out. 5&6 had done most of the damage. By the time they limped in they were exhausted and a little shell-shocked. Neverthless we got to work on their boat straight away. Another man you would always want in the trenches with you was one Meyer(tjie) Steyn. Always pro-active and leading by example. He was busy cooking the perfect resin and catalyst mix, having torn away bits that were no longer necessary. We toiled up and down getting more glass, more resin, cloths, sticky buns and beers.

They were regaling stories of their epic day, still in their paddling kit. “And look at these ‘king shoes” Softy pointed out. “I bought them this morning”. The sole was barely attached to the upper.

The boat was now covered in plastic packets and left to cure. As we made our way up tp the tent for some dry clean kit, with splashies, paddles, lifejackets & helmets slung across his body, Softy approached  the two students who were manning the Tripper Landy. They were also looking a bit exhausted, but not from patching boats. They were on their third case of Hansas. They were taking their job of not leaving their station very seriously.

As Softy kindly obscured their horizon and ther afternoon sun, they looked up. “Spot the mistake” Softy said as he made his shoes yawn like a hungry PukMan. They looked at each other for a moment to consider this higher grade question.

Then one of them perked up and said “Yes – I’ve got it: You’ve only got one leg!”.


This was the new format: Second-day-first, but my partner Kevin (Kevlar) Middleton was unhappy. He was hicupping uncontrollably. He had recently visited his GP who deemed it necessary to give him a thorough check-up. “Surely they can just take a blood test these days!?” he said. “Don’t worry about it, Kevlar, I have also suffered the indignity of the rubber glove treatment. So don’t think about it.”

But Kevlar had been violated and the more he thought about it, the worse his hiccups got.

Now this affected our normal grooved paddling efficiency. Every hiccup was like dealing with another uncovered water meter in the big smoke. This is not what you want at the start of the Big Day, and when we found ourseves swimming in the Approaches I felt a dark foreboding. We sneaked No.1 and approached No.2. Those large boulders going down past the island needed to be negotiated before the big hole at the bottom of No.2. We skirted one and then hit another and we were over. There was no holding the boat this time and it was ripped away down into the waiting hole.

Kevlar and I were now marooned on the island with batch after batch breezing past. “Here is our salvation, Kevlar”. The sweeps arrived on a decent raft. We hopped on and were instructed to paddle on our driver’s command.

We hit the very same submerged rock. I was “high-siding” enthusiastically one moment, the next catapulted back into the water – the last place I wanted to be. Kevlar reached out to grab me like Michaelangelo’s “Finger of God” as they slipped past.

Umko Geach Finger of God

The one sweep on my side also landed up in the drink with me and without hesitation, once he got his footing said “Jump in and swim like this” – he was gone.

Marooned again and more than slightly pissed off with my predicament, I coerced myself, “Just go now, I can see them waiting for me in the pool below”. I dived in and almost immediately tried to find my footing again. I had two splashies on and they were acting like (DRO_E) anchors as they pulled me down into the current. With the much stronger current tugging I managed to take off both splashies, blow up my Tripper juice bag and only then reluctantly jump in, all the while trying to swim away from the hole.

Safely in the pool now I inspected what was left of our boat. TRASHED is the word that came to mind. We took out the cables and carried on in the calmer waters to No.4.

Two figures were running around frantically waving their rescue arms. Graham (Tweet) Bird and Martin (Machine) Dreyer had come unstuck in No.4.

“There is an ambulance here guys” our helmsman explained. I took one look at Kevlar and said “That’s our ride back”. Always know when the River Gods are sending you a message loud and clear. Martin and Tweet took our places on the raft.

“Roofie” Ride is a term used for new army recruits in the back of a SAMIL20. The ambulance trip was worse.

Kevlar eventually recovered from his hiccups but that marked the end of an exciting era for him and I – Pete (Fatboy) Geach – having done the bulk of my ten Umko’s with him.


Author: bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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