“You’ve got a good job, own a house, when do you buy yourself a new, reliable car?” they asked.
Somewhere, somehow, I became aware of the Put Foot Rally, and during 2016 it started bubbling up to the surface of my mind. My answer to the question simply was that I have a reliable car. “I’ll show you. I’ll do the Put Foot Rally with it.” And so a couple of work friends and I started planning. Wiaan also wanted to go, but his love for air-cooled flat fours resulted in his dad, André, procuring a ‘71 Bayview Kombi. And so the little idea quickly became a seven man, two car team.
We met for a few braai’s (that’s South African for barbecue, but with real wood and real meat) at André’s house, discussing routes, border crossings, things we’d like to do, places we’d like to see. André, somewhat of a veteran traveling through Southern Africa doing missionary work in the past, provided massive, detailed maps spread out across the large dining table next to the fireplace. While plotting and planning on the physical maps, Peter took notes digitally, and at some point a rough draft of our planned route was complete. It was at this point that the reality of the trip truly sank in. The table was cleared, meat was served, and beers were had.
As we decided to wing most of the trip, most of the planning was just administrational. André wanted to show us Damaraland in Northern Namibia, and my only criteria was to spend a night on the pans in Botswana, whenever, on the way up or down. I spent almost a year working on mines in Botswana, during which time Top Gear’s Botswana Special incidentally aired. As I was tied down with work with little to no opportunity to travel and explore, it became a dream to see the sunset and the night sky from the pans for myself one day. The rest of the trip we would see how far we get and hook up with other teams. And so, only one night’s stay was booked. A brave choice, but one which provided an immense load of freedom, and fun, for that matter.
Most of our work went into prepping cars, documents, and ourselves. The expensive part, of course, was the cars. Since Spotty is a daily, I spent a few bucks to make sure everything is in top order for the trip, but without scratching where it doesn’t itch. I replaced the windscreen which had a tiny crack, had the petrol tank cleaned out, as there were some air lock issues, and took the gearbox in to replace a quirky syncro on second. Although Wiaan offered to help with putting the gearbox back, I was drenched in flu, and decided to not invite more people to the confined space under the car, and I needed to get some miles on the box, so went at it alone. The moment the input shaft’s splines slipped into the clutch, the whole neighbourhood could hear me celebrate. That was one of the toughest one man jobs I had attempted on a car.
Spotty’s petrol tank and gearbox wasn’t the only things being pulled. The Kombi had a few heart transplants of its own. The first pull was to do a proper rebuild, and spruce it up a little, you know, while you’re at it. The 1600 was bored to 1900, and was allowed to breathe some more air and fuel by putting on a bigger carburetor. Things didn’t go exactly as planned, though, and by the fifth time round and a new barrel on number three, the Kombi seemed happy enough to tackle the road for a dry run. Unfortunately, Spotty was still missing a gearbox, so my Opel Rekord 380 GSi V6 aka Vonkie (meaning Sparky) had to stand in for the trip, providing the same shell to test packing arrangements. By this time Peter had also informed us that he wouldn’t be able to join the Rally anymore due to unforeseen personal commitments, so we were down to 6.
We were invited to do our dry run on friends of Wiaan’s farm at the foot of the Langeberg on Heidelberg’s side, with the Kruisrivier spilling out of the gorge mere meters away. Unfortunately, we only had a weekend, so had to leave straight after work on Friday, but everything was tested and packed the night before, and the whole trek departed the office complex together as soon as the last line of code was committed.
The trip wasn’t without incident, however. We were handed opportunities for valuable lessons like, Don’t park over a blind rise on the N2 – especially at night, How to do off road hill descents with vehicles never designed for such tasks – especially at night, How to orientate yourself with your new gear when pitching your first camp – especially at night, and many more fun titles. But eventually camp was made, and so was food, and soon, the sounds of 6 grown men sleeping.
The next morning we decided to brunch at Diesel & Crème in Barrydale, and the two crazy endorphin junkies, Wiaan and Grant, decided to run there through the Tradoupass. Run. For “fun”! That’s in excess of 20km in a still hot April, through a mountain pass. But there’s no pills for some kinds of crazy, so off they went with a little head start while Tim and I challenged our manhood in the stark contrast of the cold mountain river.
We all made it safely to Barrydale for our milkshake and brunch. It was here, though, that I had serviced my phone for the first time in a day, and learned of my dear cousin’s passing earlier that morning after a complication from an operation earlier that week. He was in good spirits last we spoke, and we had arrangements that I would visit him that Monday. I’m thankful for the great company I was in, with everyone in the crew supporting me and still making the adventure memorable for good reasons. On the way back, I decided to walk the farm to our campsite, and Tim and Wiaan immediately offered to join. Much later that night, after the fire had died, Grant gave me some pointers to take my first photos of the night sky.
The next day we started breaking camp after breakfast and coffee, as one does. Recall the lesson in making camp at night? I have procured myself one of those fancy pop up tents which I haven’t used in a while. So while setting up at night was as simple as throwing it somewhere and look for it, getting it back in the bag is quite a different ballgame. I was the source of much entertainment for the better part of a quarter of an hour. But this small sacrifice proved invaluable during the actual Put Foot, as once you’ve figured it out, it’s still the quickest tent around, and I had ample opportunity over about three weeks to get mine back.
Some Put Footers from the Western Cape area gathered on a lovely wine estate outside Paarl where Igor resides on the Sunday afternoon for lunch, so we opted to head through Tradoupass once more in convoy to take the R62 back home via Worcester and join the fun on the way back. This was the second time we had such a get together before the actual Rally, which was a great initiative to start learning people and make friends before we even set off on our journey through Southern Africa. Many of these people also has a wealth of experience to draw from, and most of all, they’re all a bunch of fun.
Notwithstanding some issues, we all made it home safe the Sunday late afternoon. Spotty was imbued with a clean petrol tank and a smooth gearbox, and by the time the weekend of the Rally arrived, we were sure we were ready.