For the love of adventure, hockey and charity

24 October 2014



Words & Photos: Keegan Longueira

Keegan Longueira

From the arid, dry landscape of the Karoo to the lush Cape Fold Mountain, I have had the privilege of travelling through our beautiful country on my bicycle and taking in a plethora of sights few people get to see when touring by car. Yes, there were times when I would have happily traded my two wheels in for the ease and comfort of four. However, a spectacular sunset at the end of an open road, the shy smile of a local as you peddle past, the smell of the earth in its purest form or the call of a eagle as it soars high above you are just some of memories that come with slow travelling and make every ache, pain, frustration and scary moment so worthwhile.

Keegan and Brent on their adventure from Witbank to Ballito.

So when I asked a friend to join me on an adventure of a lifetime, I didn't imagine it would be quite so hard this time round. Now, I wouldn't call myself the most experienced adventurer, but I do feel my experience in the field of long-distance cycle touring is right up there with some of the crazies of this world. My friend, Brent den Bakker, had never cycled more than 45 km in his life and now I was asking him to hammer out big distances day after day. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I suppose.

Sitting down one evening over a glass of wine, which may have given us that extra bit of confidence, we plotted and planned our route. Starting in Witbank, it would take us through the flatlands of Mpumalanga, along the meandering roads of the Free State and up and down the undulating hills of KwaZulu-Natal to Ballito; a distance of around 650 km. There was however one crucial question that needed to be answered and that was, “Why are we doing this?”

We decided we would ride for cancer and set a target of raising R20,000. In addition, both Brent and I love hockey and are actively involved in the sport in our province, so with our common interests in adventure and hockey, we decided this trip would be the perfect opportunity to merge the two. And so it was arranged that the Travelling Pinks, a primary school hockey team that has played all over the country raising money for cancer, would go on tour to Ballito. We would cycle down while the girls and their families would make the journey by car a week later. Simple? Far from it.

Day 1

The first day on the road offered a glimpse of the difficulties I had seen in past trips. Riding hard against a strong headwind, it was a tough slog to the small town of Standerton, 145 km away, where we checked into the beautiful Olive Lodge for the night, complements of the owners. Looking forward to enjoying the lodge’s wonderful facilities after a hard day’s ride, a further treat was in store for us when we found out that my girlfriend and Brent’s wife, as well as his family, had been following us in their van. We spent the remainder of the day relaxing together and later indulged in a fantastic dinner; luxuries I knew would disappear on day two.

The Travelling Pinks, a primary school hockey team that has played all over the country raising money for cancer.

Breakfast on the side of the road.

When travelling, you get to meet some really characters; old and young.

The Travelling Pinks, on tour in Ballito.

Some of the hills we had to conquer were massive.

Day 2

Traditionally, day two is always tough for me. My legs are tender and stiff and the mind has usually taken a beating too. Nonetheless, we were up bright and early, eager to push on. Within the first 20 km, we had experienced the wrath of Mpumalanga. The azure sky was soon replaced with black, angry clouds, thunder clapped violently overhead and not even the blindingly bright lightening could penetrate the mist that was waiting to embrace us. To compound this already unpleasant situation, a headwind pounded us as hail and rain pelted into our faces. Now almost invisible to passing motorists, we headed for the dirt path that ran alongside the road. Although safer, it was terribly muddy and slippery.

Two hours later, the clouds finally cleared and we returned to the road. At this point, we had only managed to hammer out 20 km. Our pace was painfully slow, but not as painful as Brent’s right knee was becoming. From hardly doing any cycling to doing more than 200 km in two days, his body was crying out for rest and I could tell he was in some serious pain. Having never been in a predicament like this before, I didn't know what to do. If we didn't speed up, we would end up sleeping on the side of the road and there was a strong possibly of another thunderstorm that night. This was something we really needed to avoid. After much deliberation, we managed to limp into Vrede and find a small doctor’s surgery, who administered a scary-looking injection into my teammate’s knee. A mixture of various pain killer and anti-inflammatories, nicknamed ‘the Free State threesome’, the doc’s concoction helped numb the pain and we made it to our accommodation just as the heavens opened once more.

There was a bit of an awkward silence in the room as Brent and I both contemplated the difficulties of continuing with his injury. However, our faith wouldn't allow us to surrender and we agreed to keep going.

Day 3

Day three dawned and everything came together nicely. We averaged about 23 km/h on the road to Harrismith, despite a serious 40 km/h wind and dust storm just outside of the town. When we finally reached La La Nathi Guest Lodge in town, we looked like two Trojans returning from a victorious battle. This four-star lodge proved to be everything two battle-weary adventurers in need of some love and attention could wish for. Great service, warm and friendly staff, a relaxing and inviting atmosphere all combined to make our short stay here most memorable. After an excellent meal at the restaurant, we retired nice and early o the comforts of our feather-soft beds.

Day 4

On day four, most of the morning was spent climbing out of Harrismith and the hills took a toll on Brent’s knee. After a brief rest and breakfast on the side of the road, we flew down Van Reenen’s Pass at about 80 km/h before the road flattened out once more for some easy riding over the next 20 km or so. The good times were not to last as we were confronted by another 40 km/h wind, which seemed to came out of no where but had every intention of trying to push us back in the direction we had just cycled from. Although we were exhausted, we were desperate to get through the last 60 km. However, conditions were against us and the fear of sleeping out in the bush became very real once again. I can’t recall ever being that desperate or tired in my life, so when we came to a little bridge, we stopped to say some desperate prayers together.

Back on the road, our speed had dropped to well under 10 km/h, even on the steep downhills, as we struggled on through another 10 km. We finally came to rest at a garage, but were still about 15 km off our target and it was getting dark. Thankfully, Mike, a passerby, offered us a lift to the guest house, where we collapsed after showering and devouring some two-minute noodles and corn.

Day 5

This was our last day on the road and our plan was to cycle as far as we could before our support team picked us up and took us through to Ballito. While we enjoyed our last few hours on the open road, the girls were preparing for their first match against KZN Coastals U13 the next day. After another full day of climbing hills we arrived in Mooi River, shattered, and met up with our support team.

Later that night, Brent and I spoke at length about the journey and how it would shape our future. The answers weren't clear, but I had suffered and bled with a great man; I was very proud of him.

Hockey tour feedback

With the girls all kitted out in pink and rearing to play, we made our way to Penzance Primary School. They were spectacular hosts and had invited the entire school (some 500-odd children) to come and watch our first clash for cancer. Penzance managed to claim a narrow 1-0 victory in the end, but although we had lost this fight, all was not lost in our efforts to raise funds for cancer. The KZN Coastals made a generous donation to our cause, bringing us much closer to our R20,000 target.

The next game took place two days later, at Riverside Astro, against the local club. They were a strong side, but the pinks were coming together nicely and the game ended on a draw. Back home, people were donating money after seeing what these soldiers in pink were doing for cancer.

The last game was against the Madsen Hockey Academy, a side that is coached by the legendary South African hockey player Kelly Madsen. To the absolute delight of the girls, Kelly gave an hour's clinic before the game, and perhaps this was the deciding factor in the game after the Pinks managed a 1-0 victory.

And so came the end of an absolutely incredible two weeks of adventure, charity and love. We'd fought for cancer both on the bike and hockey field and won. We had achieved our target of R20,000!

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Welcome to the 24 October 2014 issue of DO IT NOW Magazine.