It’s six o’clock on a Saturday and the regular mountain bike crowd shuffles in at Northern Farm. I park, take my bike off the rack, and start to gear up. Buff, sweatband, helmet, glasses, gloves… creating a “professional” appearance as I wait for Bannister, who’s late as usual. Bannister was my “Tread Buffalo” partner for this year’s Dusi2C and next year’s Sani2C. This puts us in a special category, created by the TREAD folks, for teams whose combined body weight exceeds 180kg. Bannister and I are currently tipping the scale at 223kg. – By Adriaan van der Westhuizen
While sitting there, I notice a pale white Landrover 110 Defender, badly weathered, crawling up the jeep track, loaded with spare parts, junk, bags, stones and bricks. “Rescue” painted above the right front wheel, in huge red letters, and I can’t help but to think that this Landie has seen some adventurous places.
Bannister rocks up eventually and after he’s kitted up, smeared sun block and checked his appearance in my car’s side view mirror, we’re ready to roll.
We leave the parking area and hit the first long downhill, wheels whizzing in the cold autumn air. As we reach the first climb, my reluctant body reminds me of the detox phase I’m going through, barely surviving on twigs and leaves, whereas Bannister is on this extremely strenuous training spree, pushing his body to the limit every day, running, cycling, swimming, zip-lining, jumping to conclusions, flying off the handle, you name it. So needless to say, I just can’t keep up with the man.
He leaves me behind on every hill. And what’s more annoying, is the way he looks at me, sarcastically as I crawl up the hill at a much slower pace, hanging over the handlebars so far that my tongue just clears the dirt road, in an attempt to prevent the front wheel from lifting.
At the top of the hill, the next surprise awaits me. “We’ll be doing the Black Route today,” Bannister informs me, as he shoots down the next ridiculous descent with stones flying over my head, together with the young thorn bush he’s just uprooted.
There are different trails at Northern Farm, all marked with a specific color to indicate its degree of difficulty, and black, of course, is the worst kind. But Bannister convinces me, letting me know that I can do with some “technical exposure to improve my mountain bike skills”. Peer pressure can be so intimidating and I submit….
At first the route seems fine, not too difficult, except of course for my fitness level, reminding me that this is probably the worst idea that I’ve had in a long time, except for that one time when I gave my name to Readers Digest….
After 20km of pure agony my body starts warming up and I manage to stay within sight of Bannister. Eventually, I manage to catch right up to his back wheel, very close…. Too close to see the eroded trench looming up ahead. And that was the last thing I remembered….
One moment I was on my bike, and the next, on my back, staring at the clear blue sky. Then Bannister’s huge face blocks out the sky, his mouth moving, but no sound. All I can hear is a faint buzzing noise, like the reverse gear alarm of a front-end loader. I look at him puzzled, not sure what was happening, and then his voice breaks through, together with some other guy’s, Ian, who I learned later on, is the one who maintains the roads and trails at Northern Farm.
“What happened? Are you okay? Can you move your arms? Your legs? What’s your name? How old are you? What’s Newton’s first law of physics? What’s your DNA structure? Are you married? Do you have children? Are they Caucasian….?” One question after the other, trying to establish if I’m suffering from concussion. I can just say that if the fall didn’t cause brain damage, the questioning sure would.
Ian, knowing exactly where we are, flicks out his mobile, punches in a number and gives short decisive instructions, and it isn’t long before a pale white weathered Landrover, comes rattling through the undergrowth, with “Rescue” painted in red on the right front mudguard.
Ian helps me to strap my bent bicycle to the rack and I climb into the Landrover, slowly, carefully. Pain everywhere… from my toenails to my eyebrows. The Landrover makes its way back to the road with the driver carefully selecting the route between rocks, ruts, trees and bush. Every single bump reminds me to get to a doctor ASAP.
By the time I get home my whole body aches. I’m so sore and stiff that I battle to take my shoes off. I manage to wash most of the mud, dust, dirt, blood and sweat off before going to the medical centre, only to discover that Saturday is the wrong day to get injured, because the place is packed with the sick, lame and wounded. I wait for what seems like a lifetime while people stare at my badly bruised face. An old lady across from me, reading a three-year old Cosmopolitan, looks up at me: “Walked into a door, did you?” I try to correct her but give up. Who’s going to believe that a 50-year-old man would do this to himself on a bicycle?
Eventually my name is called out. I lift myself out of the chair, carefully, in case my insides rip out and splash all over the tiled floor, and move towards the doctor, barely visible at the other end of the long hall.
The doctor examines me and his icy cold stethoscope reminds me that my nervous system hasn’t shut down just yet.
Next, he pulls out the biggest syringe I have ever seen, (except for the one my father used for the cattle on our farm, when I was a child), draws it full of cortisone, and sticks a needle the size of the Big Six Cortina’s exhaust, to the end of it. He instructs me to bend over, like I’m able to do that, with my whole body stiff and sore.
“You might feel a little pressure,” he warns me, as he jabs the exhaust needle in all the way to the hilt, straight into my pale vulnerable butt cheek. I lose signal for a few seconds and just lie there on the bed, naked buttocks in the air, with a tiny red blood dot, where the needle came out. Then he sends me off to the X-ray department, which is another 50 metres down the passage, and would take me another 20 minutes to get there.
The radiologist, a moody big lady with folding muscles under her armpits, informs me that I have to wait because she accidently derailed the sliding door of the X-ray cubicle when she leaned against it… I’m beginning to think that there’s some kind of conspiracy against me and I wait once again.
The doctor looks at the X-rays and confirms two cracked ribs. I get a shopping list, all in Latin, and go buy a pharmacy.
The next morning when I rolled out of bed, ever so delicately, I got the fright of my life when I looked into the mirror. The scratches and bruises looked even worse, with my silver unshaven beard pushing through them like grass through a badly paved driveway. I realise that I’ll have to shave before church and attempt my umpteenth shave with my disposable Bic blade. But it was so blunt that I managed to carve chunks of flesh from my cheeks, chin and throat. In a desperate attempt to stop the worst bleeding, I grabbed my styptic pencil and applied it generously to the open wounds.
Now, for you who don’t know what a styptic pencil is, it’s a white cylindrical bar, about the size of a typical Lip-Ice bar. Looks like a piece of blackboard chalk. It’s basically the same stuff that’s used to stop the bleeding during boxing matches. I ran out of the stuff a few weeks earlier and when I went to the pharmacy for new stock, the lady couldn’t find me a ‘styptic’ pencil, and gave me a ‘caustic’ pencil instead. To me it seemed more or less right and I bought it.
So here I am, applying the ‘caustic-styptic’ pencil to the bleeding gashes in my face, and eventually manage to stop the worst bleeding. I arrive at church and people ask me what the scars and bruises on my face are all about, and I tell them of my horrendous fall the previous day. They pat me on the back sympathetically; and put my name on the prayer list. At the end of the service I decide to go and have a quick look in the mirror because people get a fright when they look at me, spilling their tea and rushing their hysterical children to the cry-room after I’ve greeted them… I go home, realising that something’s seriously wrong somewhere. And when I look in the mirror, I almost faint…
The caustic pencil has caused dark brown-black stains all over my face. Almost the same color as the black mark that they make on the nail of your thumb when you vote on Election Day. Looks like a voting booth kicked the living daylights out of me. No wonder people were frightened… I mean, I even scared myself! Sarie, my wife, Googles “Caustic Pencil’ on her tablet and folds over laughing. Apparently a caustic pencil is used to burn warts off one’s skin, and here I am literally painting this ‘acid’ all over my face!!!
I realise that there is just no way that I can go to work the next day, with a face bruised as badly as an overripe banana, and I try to get the stains off. First, I grab the ‘Vanish’, a pink liquid designed to remove stains from clothing, and it smells good too, but it doesn’t seem to work. It will remove henna ink from unbleached linen but it won’t take voting stains off one’s face. So I go one step further, more radical this time, and go for the hard core chemicals….. Jik. I literally wash my face in the stuff. It burns like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my 50 years of life. I feel spikes of pain running to and fro between my face and bellybutton and I stare down to my feet through red watery eyes, just to check if I haven’t lost control of my bladder. At least the Jik removes the worst stains and the next day at work, I tell people of my fall, leaving out the ‘caustic’ bit, when they ask me about the bruises and marks on my face….
Adriaan van der Westhuizen is a committed ‘TREAD Buffalo’ reader and MTBer with soul! When not looking for trenches and enjoying the trails, he passes his time as an engineer.
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