Hugh Bland – viva free enterprise in the valley

Hugh Bland Graham Mellor

Using free enterprise to get to the 1993 prize-giving on time

Not the best Umkomaas for a person competing in what was to be his 10th unblemished record of finishes. It all started about twelve kilometres below St. Elmos on the second day with, if I have to be honest, some bad driving.

This is probably the worst place to break-up, so the spot was well selected. A two hour walk (with indigenous trees to take our minds off the loss of a boat and not finishing that tenth Umko – aloes, euphorbias, acacias, etc). Numerous swims across the river got us to Riverside and joy of joys, a vehicle (thanks Colin Roets) and club trailer (thanks KCC).

At Riverside things began to improve and this is worth remembering: The tentacles of the entrepreneurial informal sector and the distribution of SAB products reach far and wide! Riverside store, open on Sundays with a deep freeze full of bitterly cold Castle, Ohllsons, Stout and Carling. What a pleasure, despite what previous Calvinists might be thinking!

A few hours of hot sun and cold beer later we left in what should have been an orderly retreat from the Valley. Not to be! After taking a wrong turn and heading east on the top of the trailer in a canoe, and with fifteen other victims of the river, the wheel stub on the trailer sheared.

The next walk was on! We set off in good spirits! Joe Nel, myself, some erstwhile doctor and friend managed to get a slowly moving 19-footsack Nissan 120Y to give us a lift. Some sharp negotiating got us (only just, due to the cars condition) to Highflats. (Map reading course required for Colin!) The rest of the clan arrived shortly after in a 7-tonner going like the wind. This lift was followed by 15 of us being bundled into the back of the yellow police van to Jolivet which was the konstabel’s boundary. I wish the police would put governors on their vehicles, as the driver was another Scheckter in training. Despite careful looking we could find no celebrities’ names scratched on the roof of the vehicle. From there a lift to the National Road at Pennington with a very kind Indian man who took us way beyond his house.

Now came the true test – who was going to give a lift to a motley crew of smelly, unshaven semi-dressed canoeists? The answer wasn’t long in coming – the entrepreneurial informal sector to the rescue again in the form of a Hi-Ace, lured to the side of the road by a flapping R20 note! Along with his existing residents all 25 of us were soon rocketing on our way to the Umkomaas turnoff. Great music and much later we arrived.

Our last lift was now needed and it came in the form of an elderly Italian gent and his dusky mistress. He thought he would only take five passengers but the other ten wouldn’t take no for an answer (we were a bit like Old Fort Road casual labourers!).

So – six vehicles later – we got to prize-giving just in time. Where we didn’t get a prize.

Morals of the story:
1. Don’t break your boat!
2. Money talks – always take some along!
3. Free enterprise rules!

Finally: A big thanks to Colin “Ballie” Roets and our comrades on this 1993 marathon.

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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