Peter Peacock – ‘no recollection of surfacing – woken by water splashing in my face’

MEMORIES OF RACING AND TRAINING FOR THE UMKOMAAS MARATHON
In February 1972 the first Umkomaas waterfall to Goodenoughs weir was held. A road had been put through on the north bank of the river. Jimmy Potgieter and I decided to race in a K2 but unfortunately arrived late at the start. Drivers were already climbing into vehicles and leaving. We hurriedly jumped onto a full river and took off to try and catch everyone.
Neither of us gave a thought as to whether we were above or below the waterfall. We went around the first corner on the right hand side and I looked up and saw vapour above the river. I shouted to Jimmy who was in the front of the boat and he took immediate action. We u turned and attempted to paddle away from the falls as the strong current was running hard against the steep right hand bank prevented any escape there.
We sprinted for all we were worth and went precisely nowhere. We were just metres from the edge of the falls. The front of the boat suddenly veered off to the left and we both jumped for the nearest rock. Being at the back I was closest to the edge and all I managed was a desperate grab at a very smooth rock on the lip of the falls and I was over and on my way. I distinctly remember thinking this cannot be happening and looking up and then down which confirmed I was on my way down. I hit nothing on the way down and, as in those days we had no lifejackets, I began swimming up as soon as I could. I seemed to be going nowhere and the thought crossed my mind the perhaps I was disoriented and swimming down instead of up so I stopped swimming for the surface to see what direction I would move in. It didn’t help, time passed, I suppose seconds, and air was becoming urgent. I started swimming for the surface again thinking I would rather go out trying for the surface, even if it was the wrong direction.I have no recollection of surfacing and was woken by water splashing in my face at the top of the first rapid after the falls. Luckily for me I was alongside a submerged rock and I just had to throw an arm over it to get my head out of the water. I was exhausted and had been any further away I would have drowned in the rapid. I lay there retching until I recovered then ran back up the gorge to see where Jimmy was.
As I climbed up I was relieved to see a figure sitting on a rock right on the edge of the falls. In my haste I stubbed and broke my big toe. Once back on top Jimmy indicated he would wait for a helicopter. Looking around I saw some cattle and two herdboys watching. The cattle had rope (asbestos belting) around their necks. I asked if I could borrow it to pull Jimmy off the right hand edge of the falls.
I duly knotted two pieces together, tied the end to a large log of wood and walked upstream and threw it into the current to float it down to Jimmy. It proved impossible and the current kept pushing the log to the left of the falls. At this stage I was shivering with cold or perhaps shock and was wondering what to do next. The herders had watched with interest and at this stage asked how much money I had. I happened to have a R1 coin and for this princely sum one fellow agreed to take the log much higher upstream and swim it down to Jimmy, from where his friend and I would pull them both back to the bank.
I checked the knots, held the end running down the bank while he swam for the falls. Once together on the edge of the falls they both held on and jumped while the friend and I ran back with the rope. It worked and they both virtually bounced on the surface of the water to safety.
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Another epic happened together with Roger Collinson. We were to race in a K2 and arranged to join Tony Scott and Paul Chalupsky on a training trip from Josephines Bridge to Goodenoughs. Our K2 was not yet finished so we borrowed an old k2 for the trip. It was not up to it and it just wore out before Riverside. It was raining and on reaching Riverside we had to pull out. Roger stayed with the boat I ran off up the mountain to find assistance. I eventually reached a cash store but due to the wet weather, muddy impassable roads and a series of broken half shafts there was no vehicle available to fetch Roger. The store keeper was extremely helpful and offered horses and a guide. Duly rode back down to Riverside, arriving in the dark and rode back to the store in the pitch dark. The kindly owner gave us a bed and a ride back to PMB early the next day.

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During the Umkomaas marathon which I paddled with Roger we fell out at No.5&6. I was swimming with the boat trying to get to the bank. I looked back to see how Roger was doing. What I saw is indelibly fixed in my memory. Roger was hopping along on his one leg at speed, in what seemed to me enormous jumps (his crutches were in the boat). The river was full so it was at least a kilometre or so before I managed to reach the bank and Roger was not that far behind.

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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