On a typically hot summer’s afternoon, Saturday 14 January 2012, two intrepid adventurers on horseback trotted into town.
Quite frankly, this is not the kind of thing that often happens in a sprawling urban metropolis like Cape Town.
What horse-mad youngster, growing up with tales of cowboys venturing into the Wild West, the thrills of the US Pony Express, or crazy expeditions like Tschiffely’s horseback ride from Argentina to Washington DC, recently traced by South African Marianne du Toit (in her book Crying with Cockroaches: Argentina to New York with Two Horses), has not grown up with the longing to do something similarly adventurous?
Barry Armitage and Joe Dawson, the main protagonists of a daring expedition known as The Ride – Into the Unknown, had ridden more than 2,000 km since they set off from the Dalton Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu Natal.
They were joyfully welcomed at the eastern entrance to the leafy green suburb of Pinelands by a large posse of cheerful riders, excited horses and neatly turned-out carthorses, with the carties on their best behaviour. After a brief rest in the shade of some trees, the convoy set off down Forest Drive all the way through Pinelands, before turning right into Alexandra Road, and onwards to their final destination at Oude Molen Eco Village.
Barry and Joe are not newcomers to this kind of endeavour (have a look at their excellent, informative and up-to-date website).
In August last year, they tackled the toughest horse race in the entire world: the 1,000 km multi-horse Mongol Derby across the wilderness of the Mongolian steppe (in the end, Joe came 5th, and Barry had to retire because of a broken shoulder) (see the official website). And the year before that, in November 2010, they completed a ride they called The Ride of the Peacemaker, in which they traced the 10-day, 950 km route followed in 1842 by the historic figure of Dick King from Durban to Grahamstown.
That expedition was/is still being screened on television, and the Ride of the Golden Horde (as they called the Mongol Derby) will come to our screens in May 2012.
Their most recent exploit, titled Into the Unknown, originated from a rather flippant comment made by Barry a few years ago, when he was preparing to move from KwaZulu Natal to the Cape: “I’ll ride my horses to Cape Town.”
Three years later, so he did!
In 10 weeks, Barry and Joe managed to cover the 2,000 km from KwaZulu Natal via the appropriately named Wild Coast, the scenic Eastern and Southern Cape, and down to Cape Town.
“They will be throwing themselves at the mercy of the goodwill of the people of South Africa; needing places to stay, feed for their horses and themselves, while travelling slowly through their beautiful country, while raising funds for equine charities.” (See their Press Release)
Despite encountering some serious challenges along the way, Barry, Joe and their four horses – Pat and Jack, Cola and Cherokee – arrived safely in Cape Town right on time.
They had been accompanied much of the route by their amazing support team – Leanne Black and Natalie Basson – who were driving the Toyota Landcruiser and ferrying the second set of horses plus all kinds of gear in the trailer, from one destination to the next.
“Riding slowly is a new experience for Barry and Joe giving them time to appreciate their country and its people. They will self film their journey; their experiences, the people they meet on the road and those who put them up for the night. From simple mud huts to some of the best hotels the country they will take what is offered, or sleep on the roadside with their four horses.
They have also extended an open invitation to all South Africans: the general public, the many people who have helped realize their previous expeditions, members of the media, and celebrities to come out and meet them on the road, or to bring their horses and join The Ride for a day or two. Along the way they will raise cash for their equine charities of choice and look for ways to help hands dig deep into pockets to contribute.” (Press release)
Have a look at the journal entries Barry and Joe published along the route, accompanied by some stunning photographs, and check out their on-the-fly video clips on Vimeo – and you can see how much they must have enjoyed their adventure, despite – or perhaps even because of? – the difficulties they had to overcome.
As Joe eloquently puts it:
“When you put yourself into a challenging situation and don’t give yourself the option of pulling out then you simply have to take the plunge and embrace the moment. It is at these times that one learns the most about life and oneself.”
Along the way, they encountered helpful people, cheerful hospitality and riders coming to join them for a day or two. They also endured injuries to themselves and to their horses, and had to tackle rain-swollen rivers, slippery cattle paths, and fences blocking their route. They sheltered in abandoned buildings when the rain pelted down, and slept in luxurious accommodation when fate smiled upon them. They were grateful for the occasional day ‘off’ to recover, deal with administrative matters, sort out accommodation, tweak their route, and wash dirty clothing. They were also interviewed on local radio stations, and constantly boosted and encouraged by the generosity, friendliness and hospitality of ordinary South Africans.
“There is nothing better than flying along on a horse through an amazing landscape, slightly lost and not quite sure what is to come and realising the truth of what it takes to accomplish what these legendary men of action and their horses did: a real privilege,” says Barry.
They had clearly touched a chord in many South Africans along the way, as became evident from the welcome they received when they arrived at the easternmost end of Forest Drive.
By 15h00, a group of supporters, photographers, journalists and a crew from SABC3’s “Expresso” Show had assembled at the roadside. Kendre Allies of Oude Molen Stables had led a group of riders through Pinelands to the open grassy area on Jan Smuts Drive, and more clusters of supporters and riders and their mounts were waiting at various places along Forest Drive.
The tension was mounting, as we speculated among each other which route they would be travelling; we knew they had been at the Epping HQ of the Cart Horse Protection Association, one of the charities being supported by The Ride. (The others are the Highveld Horse Care Unit and the Coastal Horse Care Unit.)
Suddenly, loud whistling and shouting raised the levels of excitement to fever pitch – the convoy had been spotted trotting across the bridge from the Forest Drive extension to the north, rather than from Viking Way to the south, as planned originally. Photographers sprinted across the intersection to get a good vantage point, and – there they were!
Like two cowboys coming in from the wilderness, sporting wild and rugged hairstyles and straggly beards, Barry on Jack and Joe on Cherokee trotted down Jan Smuts Drive and turned right into Forest Drive, before stopping on the grassy verge in the welcome shade of a cluster of trees. They had been escorted all the way from Epping by a whole convoy of colourfully painted horse carts and neatly turned out cart horses.
Although they must have been exhausted after so many weeks on the road, they greeted every single rider with a handshake and a warm smile. After a brief wait, during which the TV crew and assorted photographers got some footage, they set off down Forest Drive.
I raced back to my car, and scrambled to get back onto Forest Drive ahead of them, as I wanted to catch some more shots of them further down. I pulled over next to a cluster of people, waiting in the shade on the handy grassy verge that runs almost all the way along Pinelands’ main thoroughfare. A few minutes later, the entire convoy appeared, and there was a flurry of activity, with the cart-horses trotting along the road, and the horses being ridden along the verge, kicking up dust as they dodged between the trees. It was absolutely thrilling!
As soon as the convoy had passed, I rushed back to my car, and zigzagged via the backroads to my next destination – the traffic light at the end of Forest Drive, where they would be turning right into Alexandra Road. As there’s no parking on the road itself, I parked right at the big entrance to the Two Rivers Urban Park, before sprinting all the way back to the traffic light, just in time.
They turned down Alexandra Road and continued straight to the main entrance of Oude Molen Eco Village, opposite the Pinelands train station. Dozens of photos later, it was back in the car, and down into the Village.
By the time that I reached the parking area in front of the Millstone Farm Stall and the Oude Molen Stables, Barry and Joe had already dismounted from their horses to a rousing welcome. Everyone was milling around them, really eager to see them and their gallant steeds close-up, and to snap some photos, but also aware that they might need a bit of space.
Right in the middle of all this happy deurmekaar, the TV crew interviewed them, as they stood next to their horses, looking both tired and jubilant.
Clearly, this is not the end of the road for Barry and Joe, nor, perhaps, for their rugged steeds – Jack and Pat, and the beautiful pintos Cola and Cherokee.
For it looks as though these intrepid explorers have planned several more expeditions of this nature: The Ride of Harry Whackalong Smite from Cape Town to Grahamstown in May 2012 (which sounds like it will be a race against time!), and The Ride of the Dandy Fifth from Hectorspruit on the Mozambican border to Port Nolloth on the northwest coast of South Africa in September 2012, some 4,500 km away. And if they can raise some funds for worthy charities along the way, so much the better.
As Barry explains:
“It’s about finding out about the events that have shaped a country and what it took physically for individuals to do the things that shaped history.”
His logo – Adventure, Inspire, Discover – perfectly captures the spirit of their expeditions.
Inspire us, they sure did.
When they trotted into our City that Saturday afternoon – on horseback, for goodness sake! – they reminded all of us that the Spirit of Adventure lives on within each of us. Yes, perhaps it is buried deep within, beneath the heavy weight of responsibility and commitment and duty and the imperative to put bread on the table and have a roof over our heads.
But sometimes, all we need is a spark that ignites the fire in our bellies, the longing to step outside our comfort zones, and to transform our lives from the mundane to the extraordinary – to live, now!
So, Barry and Joe, Cola and Cherokee, Pat and Jack, Thank You for reminding us!
I wish you all the energy, enthusiasm and perseverance you will need to overcome any difficulties on the way and to succeed, whatever you may do, and wherever you may go:
Voorspoed, Barry and Joe! You are an inspiration!