Horseback Safari

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When Damian heard that everyone was going horseriding, there was no way he was going to be left out – horseriding is one of his favourite things to do, as is it mine. Damian battles to sit on a horse properly because of the spasticity in his legs, so he has only ever been led around on short rides, and most recently, only bareback as he can’t sit on a saddle anymore. When my brother, Graham, said he had booked a horseback safari my heart sank a little as I thought Damian wouldn’t be able to go after all. “Can’t you hold him and ride?” he asked. I wasn’t so sure. Yes, I have ridden like that with him before, but only in an arena and for a short while – never a safari in a game reserve amongst animals. Seeing Damian’s enthusiasm though, I couldn’t say no, especially on hearing that children as young as 8 could ride on the trail horses and no experience was needed, so I felt pretty sure these horses would be calm enough.

When we arrived though, we were told it was not allowed, but after Graham insisted that I can ride and have been riding forever, the guide agreed that if we accepted responsibility for the risk and signed the indemnity. To be honest, I still wasn’t so sure I could do this. They brought me a little grey gelding, Chicca I learned a bit later was his name. I got on first and then Damian was helped up. The second concern was the saddles – they were all western saddles with a high pommel which meant I couldn’t put Damian on a pillow in front of me as usual. But we managed to get him in the saddle between me and the pommel, and then I put his arms through the sleeves of one of my little jerseys and then tied it behind my back just to be able to keep him upright while keeping my hands semi-free to control the horse, though I did keep one arm around Damian’s waist and used the other to hold the reins.

Soon we all set off and I was impressed with the kind and gentle horse we were riding, as well as all the others. We saw a lot of game – springbok (including black and white varieties), other buck, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and some bird life. Damian was in his element and not in the least bit afraid – contrary to the girls who were squealing from time to time as their horses picked up speed or veered off path.

We were in the saddle for and hour and a half and at a few points I got a request from Damian for me to buy him a horse. He was loving every moment. As a keen horsewoman most of my life, this was an experience I had dreamed of sharing with Damian that I didn’t know would ever come true. It was the ultimate adventure for us to share and definitely tops many on our list.

 

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Cape Town Family Holiday

With my brother, Graham, visiting with his family from Seychelles, and my mom from East London, Damian and I were thoroughly spoiled to be included in their holiday adventures and getting to have a much needed time of fun now that we are back home before we get back into work.

It started with a visit to the Two Oceans Aquarium which is always a treat for kids. With the abundance of sea creatures there is sure to be a favourite for everyone – mine being the tiny seahorses. We also got to see the penguins being fed, as well as the rays and turtles.

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The following day we parked at Kirstenbosch gardens and took a family stroll through the grounds and making our way to the other entrance where we took the Sightseeing Bus to World of Birds. Damian and I had already visited the previous week, but he loves spending time in the enclosure with the squirrel monkeys which are all fascinated with his wheelchair. From World of Birds we just enjoyed a scenic trip around Cape Town where the rest of the family got off at the Waterfront and Graham, Damian and I carried on to complete the round trip to fetch our cars at Kirstenbosch.

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The next outing was Ratanga Junction. While I assumed I was just having a day pass to take Damian on the toddler rides, I was almost horrified to get a full-pass – this meant I actually had to get on some scary rides. My first mistake was letting my family convince me to go on the swing boat… I have never hated something so much in my life. It was the worst feeling ever and an experience I will never repeat. White knuckled, I closed my eyes and prayed it would end. Damian enjoyed the carousel, choosing a lion to ride on, he also loved the little cars on a circular track, the mini-ferris wheel and other kiddy rides. As for me – 6 year old Eva was insisting I go on the water tube with her. Eventually I agreed, but got half way up the stairs when my fear of heights kicked in and I returned to the bottom. Eva was having none of that though. “We are going to conquer the fear in your heart” she told me as she took my hand firmly and led me back up the stairs, rubbing my shoulders to relax me and telling me not to look down. “I promise I won’t let anything happen to you” she assured me. I actually really enjoyed that ride and went on it again. Next she convinced me to go on the Monkey Falls ride – not as horrible as the swing boat, but rather scary all the same. I’m glad I did it, but I won’t do it again either. Last up was the junior rollercoaster. Again, Eva marched me there, but I couldn’t climb on. I had to watch it go around twice first so that I could count exactly how many seconds I needed to endure… 60 it was. I kept my eyes closed and counted to sixty. I didn’t enjoy it, but again glad I tried it. When we approached the exit everyone else started yelling “More! More! More!” while I begged to be let off first before it went around again.

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A Hout Bay boat trip to seal island proved to have the same effect on Damian. He is definitely a “land-lubber” and hated every minute of being out at sea. I on the other hand, besides comforting Damian all the way, enjoyed the trip. The skipper was very skilled – getting the boat right up close to seal island in the rolling waves. As soon as we could see the harbour again, Damian relaxed and let himself enjoy the trip back in.

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In preparation for our horseback safari, Graham took all the kids for pony rides to familiarise themselves with horses. There was a show day at the riding school in Hout Bay so we got to enjoy watching some jumping first, followed by lunch, and then returning for a lovely little outride on some sweet ponies.

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Pick ‘n Pay Cape Argus Momentum Cycle Tour 2014

I wasn’t planning on doing the Argus this year. Although we wanted to, financial and logistical reasons prevented us from entering. However 5 weeks before the race, I received an e-mail from the cycle tour offices asking if Damian and I were participating. They told me if the only reason was that we hadn’t entered, it wasn’t too late and offered complimentary entries for Damian, myself and a support rider. I didn’t need much convincing, but asked for a few days to give the practical aspects some thought, and after asking my good friend, Anton, if he was prepared to be my support rider I had made the decision.

We arrived in Cape Town late Wednesday evening, in time to take our bike and buggy in for a service on Thursday and to make our 9:30 meeting with the organisers on Friday morning for the special needs teams briefing of safety issues, medical points and everything we needed to know in case of emergency. We were told that winds of 50kmph were expected for the day. Just the opposite of what we were hoping for. Cycling and pulling Damian’s buggy is challenging enough without the added difficulty of strong winds. The wind tunnels into Damian’s buggy doubling the weight.

I woke at 3:30 am on Sunday morning to hear the wind blowing heavily outside. As tempting as it was to snuggle back under the covers, I got up, kitted up and had breakfast – leaving Damian to sleep until the last possible moment before dressing him in his cycling clothes and heading out the door at 4:15am. We arrived at our designated parking just before 5am and began hooking up the bike and buggy. Anton arrived soon after.

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Damian and I all ready to go

I met with Chaeli to receive Anton’s jersey and then with Erick and Johann from the cycle tour office to get our Tracker device. A quick photo before we joined the rest of our group to be escorted to the start. While pinning Anton’s number onto the back of his shirt I checked if he had his start card with him now that he had changed shirts only for him to realise he had left it in his car! Our first bit of panic… “I have to go with our group,” I told him, “do you think you can find us at the start?” He assured me he could and off we went through thousands of people and blustery wind towards our start chute. Surprisingly he found us pretty quickly. “I just looked for all the flags,” he grinned, referring to the compulsory flags all the special buggies and hand cyclists had attached.

I was glad I had put a jersey on Damian and brought his blanket as it was a chilly morning outside. With the wind gusting through, we stood shivering while waiting to load into our chute. Then the countdown began and we were off.

As soon as we crossed over the mat and went between the buildings we hit a wall of wind tunnelling through. Two other riders pulling buggies were off their bikes and trying to get through with the wind pushing the buggies across the road. Anton had Damian’s buggy by the handles and two bystanders rushed over to help us push through the tunnel, with Damian crying in fright. A bit rattled and shaky we continued with the wind causing intense resistance and me feeling my ability to finish diminishing with every pedal stroke. As with every ride I know that the first 10km are always the hardest for me, but this time was different, this was incredibly tough. Anton offered to take over but I didn’t know if it was allowed. “Let’s just get past this section then I will phone and ask if it’s allowed.” The only other option was withdrawing from the ride, and so early in that was disappointing. At the first timing mat, around 11km, I phoned in to ask permission for Anton to take over pulling Damian for a bit, I was exhausted, and with it granted, we headed up the rest of Edinburgh drive where, cycling behind the buggy I discovered the reason for my intense struggle – I had left the brake on Damian’s buggy on!  No wonder I battled as I did… my first 10km… up a hill… into the wind… with the brake on! It doesn’t get tougher than that!

At Simon’s Town we stopped to take Damian to the loo, drink some refreshments and swop over again. Anton, took us up Smitswinkel as well when I struggled too much. From Cape Point it was an amazing ride – it is always my favourite section as the wind turns and we fly along that stretch at great speeds, then turn off to one of the most spectacular sections – Scarborough and Misty Cliffs. The wind at Kommetjie was really strong again, so I told Anton that if it was tunnelling at Chapman’s Peak like it was at the start then I wasn’t going to risk taking Damian through. “You call it,” he said and we continued until Noordhoek where I stopped to let Damian stretch and go to the loo again. For the second time, I asked Damian if it was too much, if he wanted to withdraw and go on a sweeper bus. “No! Go!” he told me, so I knew we had to finish. I knew we weren’t going to make our 7 hour cut-off, but that didn’t matter to us, winning for us was just trying, and hopefully finishing. At the base of Chapman’s Peak Anton took over again and took Damian up the steep climb. From there I decided he had done enough hills for me and I would tackle the last stretch and the infamous Suikerbossie. I ended up walking a lot of the way up but from there we just pushed on towards the finish.

With 1km to go, one of the motorbikes (whether photographers or support vehicles I’m not sure) came up alongside me and the rider stood up, hooting and pointing us out to the crowd, insisting they cheer. He rode next to me all the way to the end doing this, telling me “500 metres to go… 300 metres… only 150 to go!”

We crossed the finish line in just under 9 hours to the commentary of “Now this is a family outing, but wow times have changed… Mom is doing the pulling!” This was in line with a lot of the comments along the way. When I was pulling Anton got comments like “I hope you’re going to take over at some point”; “What, babysitter’s day off?” or “C’mon dad, why is mom doing the work?” and the like. When Anton was pulling I got comments like “Get off and push him!” and “He’s earning serious brownie points” or “Wow, you really have him by the short and curlies!” A lot of these comments made me realise the extreme compassion and willingness of Anton to do this from his heart for Damian. When people assume that he is the father and that it is a supreme act of devotion as a father to take his son on the Argus,  that sentiment is multiplied a million fold when it is actually just a friend or support rider. Mostly we received tremendous support, encouragement and congratulations from all of the other cyclists as well as the supporters on the roadside which helped keep our spirits up and our motivation strong.

I learned so much from this ride. I learned the value of being properly prepared in advance – it would have made the difference between a 9 hour Argus and a 6 hour Argus. I learned to recognise my own limitations and accept help – this was the first time I have let anyone else take over pulling Damian and it was terrifying for me to watch someone else pull him and not be in control myself, my heart was in my throat each time I watched Anton pick up speed with Damian behind him and did my utmost to keep as close as possible all the time. I also got to see the ride from the perspective of a support rider – holding back all the way when riding without weight to keep at the pace of a rider pulling weight. I have great respect for Peter, my support rider from 2013 and for Anton this year. Also by riding on a bike without weight and cruising up the hills, I realised with very little training I was still Argus fit – but I was not fit enough to do it with a buggy and wind. A big reminder to keep my fitness levels up throughout the year.

Overall, it was my toughest physical pursuit yet but once the Argus bug has bitten you can be sure you will return – so next year we will be back! Definitely with a lot more training, and as we have realised, with a bigger buggy needed as Damian has now officially outgrown his little red roadster. Damian was a star passenger – 9 hours in a buggy without complaining, urging me to carry on when I was ready to stop. And when we were back at the car I got a big smile and a “Thank you Mom.”

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Deirdré, Damian and Anton after the tour

A huge thank you to the cycle tour offices for making this possible again and for the lengths they go to to ensure our safety and inclusion. Also thank you to Cycles Direct, Sunningdale for quick and efficient work on our bike and buggy each year and good discounts. And to the Chaeli Campaign for support and love and great inspiration.

A Hike through Robberg Nature Reserve

I has been a while since our last hike – farm life has been keeping us busy with adventures of a different kind – but when the opportunity arose to hike through Robberg, Damian and I both jumped at the chance. A fellow volunteer joined us so we were happy to have company on what we had been told was a difficult walk. Our aim was the lighthouse, which is at the point – and the longest route of 9.2km. I thought setting out that it was a bit ambitious for me to attempt a 9.2km hike with Damian on my back on rugged terrain, but I went with the mindset that we would give it a go and see how much we managed.

The pathways as well as the surroundings are so diverse within this relatively small area – rough stoned paths transform into large, smooth-pebbled paths and again into rocky stairways, then yet again into beach sand trails through bush and fynbos. Not long into the walk I noticed a strange smell which got stronger as we progressed. As I wondered about this odour harassing my senses, the tribal barking sounds below alerted me to the source – the seal colony playing in the water far below us.

Up rocks and down rocks, through bush, over beach and down dunes – in a shorter time than expected we found ourselves at the point. Standing on the rocky ledges with the wind whipping through our hair we watched seals diving through the tumultous waves below and we are almost certain we saw a large fin break the surface and slice slowly through the waves…

We tried to make our way up to the lighthouse through dense fynbos, but realised we couldn’t get through from where we were, so decided to continue around the point for the full round-trip trail. The last photo I took was of a little rock lizard before attempting to climb down a steep rock face – where my camera went crashing down into the rocks below. Our companion went to retrieve all the pieces and we couldn’t find one of of my rechargeable batteries. Loathe to ‘litter’ in a nature reserve, I was worried about leaving it behind. “Do you think it will be bad if I can’t find it?” I asked. “It’s not so good for nature, I’m sure – but nature took it from you so there is nothing you can do” was the response I got. The signboard indicating our location and the rest of the route showed two areas with skull and crossbones – advising of difficult sections on the route.

“Everybody says everything is dangerous in South Africa,” our friend commented, “but so far I have found it is just a warning to be cautious.” So we decided to continue along the rocks, with the waves crashing close by. Soon we found the section we assumed we had been warned about – it involved some serious rock-climbing. Not one to back down without trying, I gave it my best attempt with Damian on my back before deciding it was actually too dangerous and too difficult with a child on my back. Some other hikers were climbing down from the other direction and told us it only gets worse further on and they wouldn’t advise that I continue with Damian. So we turned around and went back the way we came – adding quite a number of kilometres to the expected length of our walk.

The way back took considerably longer – perhaps because we were considerably more tired and it was extremely hot by this point. When we got to the last stretch, our friend decided on an alternate route which provided more shade – and more climbing up rocks. My legs were shaky by this point but just one foot in front of the other got us closer to the end. I was rather relieved to see the carpark – though Damian was adamant he wanted to keep walking…

It really was one of the most magnificent hikes I have done – but also one of the most difficult. We estimated we walked between 12 and 14 kilometres in total – quite something with 20kg on my back.

Road Trip Adventures

It has been a while since I shared on our blog – this doesn’t mean we haven’t been having any adventures. Quite the contrary actually, we have been having so much adventure I’ve been struggling to find time to do what I love – write and blog.

At the end of June 2013 we decided to take “a 3 week holiday” and go on a road trip – and we are still on that road trip! It began with a weekend on the Garden Route, stopping in Swellendam to visit the fairy sanctuary and spending a night in Wilderness and The Craggs, stopping in Port Elizabeth for lunch with new friends (fellow adventurers) and then our first long stop in East London with our family. After a week there, we made our way through the Transkei to Lidgetton in the Kwazulu Natal Midlands. What was meant to be a one week stay turned into three weeks with visits to Ushaka in Durban and the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo, before reluctantly tearing ourselves away and heading back to East London. A car incident had us stuck in East London until mid-October before we set out to Plettenberg Bay where we were to volunteer for two weeks en route back to Cape Town.

We made it back to Cape Town for just under a week – just enough time to write my exams and put all of our belongings into storage before making our way back to Plettenberg Bay – where we are still volunteering and having a wonderful farm experience.

Our road trip adventures up to the point of leaving East London can be viewed on our travel blog “Warrior on Wheels Travels” and I promise to write about our three months of volunteering shortly – I just have so many photographs to sort through and share.

Railroad Adventures and Riding for a Cause

On Sunday 16th June, we joined Elton Davids for the last home stretch of his #domore ride from Knysna to Cape Town to create awareness for the Chaeli Campaign’s goal of raising funds for the new early learning centre.

We had enthusiastically agreed to join several weeks ago, but in the rush of everything to do with our new life situation, it was only last moment that I realised our transport dilemma… it was the first time we would be doing an event where the start and finish were at two different places – approximately 18km apart. Usually, I can get myself and Damian and our bike and buggy wherever we need to be on our own. But this time was different, and not being someone who likes to ask for help, I swallowed my pride and asked a few people – all who couldn’t help on this particular day. I pondered over every possible person who may be able to help and went to sleep Saturday evening with a blank list.

Knowing everything always works out for us, I woke up with fresh hope on Sunday morning and a great big dose of inspiration. I phoned Cape Town City’s transport 24/7 advice line – and after going over a few details, on the second phone call I had my solution. We would take the train! Damian was shrieking with laughter at the craziness of this plan. I had no idea how I would manage Damian, his trailer and my bike – but it was our only option – missing the ride was not.

We parked our car at Chaeli Cottage, hooked up the bike and trailer and cycled the short distance to Plumstead train station. Our first challenge was the stairs leading up to the ticket office and no ramp. I carried the bike up and a kind young guy appeared and helped me carry Damian in his buggy up. I bought our tickets – R9.70 each and R10.00 for my bike – and got some tips from the ticket office lady about where to change trains to get to Thornton.

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Plumstead station is very neat and peaceful on a Sunday afternoon, and there were a few others waiting to board. I asked a security guard to help us get onto the train when it arrived and he was very obliging. Damian was beside himself with excitement, waiting for our 11:21 train.

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DSCF0321The guard helped us on quickly and soon we were rambling through all of the stations in the Southern suburbs. I started to feel a bit nervous when I saw how quick the stops were and how little time I would have to get off with the bike and buggy – not enough time to do both. I was also nervous I would miss our change over in Salt River as I don’t know the order of stations in that area. Another traveller very kindly offered to get off at Salt River to help me, even though it wasn’t her intended stop. She helped us off and pushed my bike through to the exit and found a security guard to help get us to the next train. Salt River station was a bit hair raising. It wasn’t the picturesque and peaceful station that Plumstead station was. It was busy and crowded with bustling passengers. We needed to cross the railway bridge, and fortunately there was a long ramp option. The security guard pushed my bike, and I pushed Damian. He waited with me until the 11:55 train arrived headed for Thornton, and helped us board. I quickly found another passenger who was getting off after us and he was happy to help me get off at Thornton. We managed this with speed and precision without causing him to be left behind on the platform during the quick stop.

My second bit of alarm was finding ourselves alone on the platform with no guards, exit, or ticket office in sight. Fortunately we soon spotted the only other couple on the platform and asked for directions. The man offered to push my bike out – over the railway bridge! No ramp in sight – only stairs. I took Damian out of the Riksha as there was no way I could carry it up with him  in it. A vagrant appeared out of nowhere and carried it up to the top, where I took over and managed to carry Damian and push the buggy down the stairs, with the man’s wife guiding it from the front. At the bottom of the stairs Damian went back into the buggy, we hooked it up to my bike and the man pointed us in the right direction. Thank goodness for GPS enabled cellphones as I had no clue where I was or which way to go from there! I found my way the 1.1km to the Denneboom circle which was to be our meeting point – 20 minutes early!

I was blown away by how willing strangers were to help and how they seemed to appear just when we needed them. I also learned that sometimes, instead of stressing and asking “Who can help me?” it is much more empowering to remain calm and ask “How can I help myself?” The experience of making a plan and making ourselves vulnerable to a new adventure left me with an absolute joy and gratitude for being alive. It also gave me courage to make the decision on an adventure that has been brewing in my heart and thoughts for a while.

The rest of the group arrived shortly after – Elton, who is the man cycling from Knysna to Cape Town to create awareness, along with two ladies who joined him at Bottelary, a friend of his and Peter, who was my support rider in the Argus. We set off from Thornton at 1:30 and headed out into a chilly wind bound for Chaeli Cottage. As before, Peter gave me a push up some of the hills,  while the other Peter would frequently ride up just in front of me to give me a slipstream. I started to take strain towards the end, and Elton came up next to me and put his arm around me to give me a push up some of the climbs. We arrived at Chaeli Cottage and were welcomed in by some wonderful supporters, followed by much appreciated refreshments.

It was an amazing day in the company of people with incredible spirits and an eagerness to #domore.

 

 

 

Two Oceans Half Marathon

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When Graeme Keehn called to ask if Damian would like to join him on the Two Oceans 21.1km half marathon – I didn’t think I’d need to convince Damian. I was right. After doing the Gun Run with Graeme last year, Damian told me he wants to go again – and next time I must stay home! I love to be with Damian on his adventures, but the Gun Run made me realise my limitations – so I was thrilled that Damian would get to join in the Two Oceans experience.

The evening before, we were at a Good Friday dinner and just before 8pm Damian told me it was time to go home because he was doing a run in the morning. I was moved to see his enthusiasm! For me, it was a little challenging to get Damian to the start by 5:30 am. This meant we needed to leave home at 4:30am to make allowance for traffic – which meant I needed to wake up at 3:30am to make allowance for my slow start to the  mornings!

I am so grateful that Michelle offered to join me. She met us at home at 4:30 and we travelled together – very much welcome having help to find my way. We met Graeme and his daughter at the parking lot, quickly got Damian comfy in the jogger and off they went to be at the start in time.

We three ladies took a slow stroll to the start, waited to hear that Graeme and Damian were off and then found the Wimpy as soon as possible for early morning coffee. We then made our way to the finish line to peek through the crowds to see the two superheroes crossing.

I wasn’t there along the route to gauge Damian’s experience- but if you look at the grin below… it is obvious how much he enjoyed it!

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