We spent a wonderful morning doing a guided sidecar adventure from Sea Point to Eden on the Bay, stopping for hot chocolate and milkshakes before making our way back. Rod and I have been on a few bike adventures, but Damian hadn’t had his turn until this special occasion, taking a tour in a WW2 Vintage bike and sidecar. Highly recommended for anyone wanting a different experience of Cape Town.
When we were first asked by the Chaeli Campaign if we were participating in the Cycle Tour this year, I said we were giving it a skip as circumstances didn’t allow for me to be prepared enough to take part again. When they called again and asked for my reasons, I didn’t quite expect the call to end the way it did…
1. Damian had outgrown his buggy – no problem, the Chaeli Campaign had a spare buggy he could use
2. I hadn’t done any training and didn’t feel I could get fit enough to pull Damian a third year, especially with a bigger buggy – no problem, the Chaeli Campaign would find someone else to do the pulling this year.
Those two issues resolved – we were entered again for my 4th and Damian’s 3rd Argus cycling for the Chaeli Campaign.
I was quite relieved to be honest at a shortened route of 47km as the morning of the Argus was the first time I had been on my bike since last year’s Argus.
Damian was a little disgruntled at a 02:26 tour (after our 9 hours last year and 7 hours the previous year) – as Wolf, the amazing volunteer cyclist who pulled his buggy, said: “Damian thought is was only the first lap of four!”
I finished in 02:46 – trailing in 20 minutes after Damian and Wolf, with the support of Wolf’s brother, Ingo who stayed back with me while the team went ahead.
All in all it was a great day in support of the Chaeli Campaign and showing solidarity for the firefighters who battled the raging fires in the preceding week.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.