Wheels24 reader Gordon Robertson shares his experiences from the 'Love your Nuts' rally; a campaign to raise testicular cancer awareness.
Cape Town - The whole idea of joining this rally started earlier in 2016. And since then, my life has not been the same.
The Nuts & Bolts Rally was founded by Pieter Andersen from Malmesbury. The Rally is an attempt to explore some of the 1 625 560km of unpaved roads on our beautiful continent whilst metaphorically illustrating the fight against cancer and how necessary a healthy, unwavering support system is.
A total of 14 cars took part in the first event in 2014.
Over the last three years the rally has become so popular and successful that the organiser was forced to limit entries to a maximum of 100 people per trip.
In June 2015, my friend Ben Wiggins and I purchased a 1984 Toyota Cressida with the intention of taking part in the 4th Nuts & Bolts Rally, from September 25-27. We managed to convince our wives that this was a splendid idea and, since the car cost us only R7200, they even agreed to join us on the trip.
Essentially, it was all for a good cause. The Nuts & Bolts Rally is an initiative that raises money, amongst others, for the Love your Nuts project on testicular cancer awareness.
We started by making a list of the repairs and improvements we wanted to do to the car, and we also jotted down the names of potential sponsors for this adventure of ours. On closer inspection of the car, by now nicknamed HMS (Her Majesty's Ship) Vaalkatryn, we realised that we might have bitten off a bit more than what we could chew.
Assessing the damage
The damage and wear and tear caused to Vaalkatryn by its previous seven or so owners left us with a lot to do in a short time. Again we made a list this time of friends with the knowledge and skills to help us with the work that needed to be done. Of course they could not charge us for the work they were to do, as this was all for a good cause, remember? At this stage, both Ben and I had become pretty good negotiators/beggars.
As the big day drew closer, the picture of the huge challenge we had created for ourselves, became a lot clearer. We spent long hours on the Vaalkatryn to get her as ready as can be for her maiden N&B voyage. Our typical evenings would by now, include a list of the things to do that evening, as well as a braai in the driveway, next to Vaalkatryn.
At this time, the other competitors were doing very much the same as us, and the regular updates and pictures on the rally's WhatsApp group laid a foundation of excitement that I hadn't experienced for a very long time. We were counting the days, and the pressure we felt to get her to the starting line kept us awake for long hours.
Before we knew it Saturday September 25th had arrived and we set off for Windmeul Kelder in Agter-Paarl, with a car heavily loaded with all the goods and consumables that our wives thought we needed for the four-day road trip. When we arrived at the start, most of the other teams were already there. The energy and anticipation felt were just about electrifying and overwhelming. Just before the start all the competitors got together for a group photo and a quick briefing and, after all the preparations, we were finally part of a convoy heading for Ceres via the Bainskloof Pass.
Our toughness tested
In Ceres we filled up with fuel and headed to the R355 towards the De Mond campsite, where we were to spend the first night. As we got to the first gravel road, most of the teams stopped at a roadside picnic spot, for the first of the many roadside braais of the trip. The rest of the route was completed without any major incident, and this paved the way for the roadtrip of a lifetime. Tents were pitched at De Mond where, once again, everyone partook in a braai made with meat supplied by the organiser.
Early the next morning and with very little sleep, all the teams got ready for possibly, the hardest day of the event. There was quiet anticipation in the air.
The teams knew that it was the day we had to cross the Tankwa to Sutherland and conquer the mighty Ouberg Pass.
We stopped on route at the Africa Burn tent site for a quick braai, after which everyone set off onto one of the toughest gravel roads for old cars. Just outside the Africa Burn site we had our first major breakdown, when an oil pipe on the gearbox burst. With assistance from Riaan van Wyk and Ruhan Fourie (Team R&R who was the eventual overall winner) in an immaculately restored Datsun 280zx, we got on the way again.
About 20kms further down this unforgiving road, another one of the gearbox pipes burst, leaving us with no spare gearbox oil. Once again Team R&R came to the rescue, while some of the other teams went for a skinny-dip at a farm dam next to our unfortunate Vaalkatryn.
We managed to get some oil from one of the rangers at the Tankwa Karoo National Park, but unfortunately he only had about half a litre of oil, so we decided to fill the gearbox with ordinary engine oil.
Problems with all the cars
Anyone that knows a little about cars will know that this is not the right thing to do, especially when you want to drive over the mighty Ouberg Pass with a 30 year-old automatic car that has seen better days.
At the foot of the pass we caught up with some of the other crews that had encountered problems on their way up this majestic piece of landscape, used for years to trek livestock to lower lying areas, during the harsh Karoo winters. Approximately one third up the pass, the unavoidable happened, and our gearbox started slipping due to the foreign fluids we had fed it.
Some of the other teams had also stopped along the same stretch of road with a variety of problems, and one of the biggest team efforts since the Great Trek, took shape right there on the Roggeveld mountains. It literally felt as if we were trekking 'barefoot' over the Drakensberg.
All the teams pulled together now, to get all the cars to the other end of this major obstacle. Approximately three hours after we arrived at the foot of the pass we reached the top of this 23km brute, with a huge amount of blood, sweat and maybe even some tears spilt on our trail. What a feeling, when we pulled into the Verlatenkloof campsite for a very welcome potjiekos meal, prepared on a fire of course, by the owners Willie and Alta de Lange.
It was here that the organiser, Pieter Andersen, told us of something he saw on this trip for the first time in his life: an enormous hearse piloted by Bokkie Swart and Erich Herbst coming up the Ouberg Pass, with guns blazing. In the early hours of the morning with tired bodies, we got to bed, but not before everyone had shared their version of the day's adventures.
Soaking up the scenery
In the morning, after a quick refill of the right fluids and fuel for HMS Vaalkatryn, we left Sutherland behind in the direction of Laingsburg, through the Moordenaars Karoo, a less known but beautiful part of the Karoo. This section of the rally was probably included for the competitors to recover from the previous days' battles.
Well, as we settled in for the scenic drive on this winding road, we heard a loud bang followed by a very loud scraping noise coming from Vaalkatryn's underbelly. Team R&R had taken up their regular place behind us and saw it happen. By the expressions on their faces as we stopped, we knew that this was a serious one!
HMS Vaalkatryn decided to get rid of her fuel tank, just filled to the brim with fuel, dumping it unceremoniously on the hard Karoo gravel road. A plan had to be made and, two hours later, we set off again with the fuel tank fastened to the spare wheel and the underside of the boot with tie straps. About 10km down the road we were welcomed by one of the other teams that had gone ahead to start a fire for yet another roadside braai; the best Karoo lamb on an open fire, in the heart of the Karoo…
Priceless! Due to the loss of time we missed one of the other highlights of the event: most of the cars had fallen in behind the big hearse, driving slowly in the style of a funeral procession, through the town of Laingsburg, continuing then on towards Warmwaterberg Spa near Barrydale, for the night break. We arrived at the spa at 23h30 only to find the other teams very surprised to see us, having heard of our earlier troubles during the day. A fire was lit for a late supper and we pitched our tents for a well-deserved rest.
The final day of the event broke with a nice fresh cold front and greeted us with much needed rain in the area. The remaining teams that were still in the event had a scrumptious, extended breakfast at Diesel and Crème in Barrydale, where we all reflected on the events of the past 3 days. By now this felt like a big family reunion, and I realised how friendships develop as you go through tough times together and help each other towards a common goal.
We all set off on the way to our final destination, the Matroosberg Lodge, through the town of Touwsriver. Another beautiful road with yet another roadside braai on a dry river bed followed. The route was driven without major incident and for a change; Team R&R could also enjoy the journey without having to help us along the way.
The day ended with a tremendous prize-giving function against the backdrop of the snow-covered Matroosberg range. The festivities continued into the early hours of the morning in the comfort and quietness of the snow falling on all the spent yet victorious vehicles. It is with great pride and a new-found emotion that I reflect on an event that made me realise what life is all about. The saying that a stranger is a friend that you haven't yet met springs to mind and I think of all the wonderful people we met on this epic event, all in the name of charity.