A Change of Pace

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“You ready Beth?”
Elizabeth fought back giddiness as she looked along the cable snaking between the Outeniqua yellowwoods.
“Umm…I suppose so.”

Sandy smiled at her, “Tell you what, I’ll go first & if I don’t fall to my death you can come after me.”

Elizabeth had to laugh at Sandy’s cheeky smile & sarcasm. It took a lot of convincing from her friend to get Elizabeth to the starting point of the canopy tour or away from her home & comfort zone at all. After the messy breakup with her boyfriend a few months before she hadn’t felt like doing anything, especially not go camping for the first time in her life.

She did have to agree with Sandy’s point though that the Tsitsikamma forest is one of the most beautiful places in South Africa, if not on earth. Sandy was right about Ken being all wrong for her & she was right about the forest. Still, there must be a better way to experience it than hanging 30 metres from the ground.

Sandy climbed into her harness with only minimal help from the guide. Elizabeth was not surprised given all the adventure sports she participated in. Her friend slid off down the cable to the next platform, controlling her speed with a pigskin glove on one hand.

Too soon it seemed to Elizabeth, Sandy reached the platform & waved back at her. It was her turn. She fumbled with the harness, embarrassed at showing her nervousness. After lots of help & explanation, she was off, inching along almost unaware of the stunning surroundings. She reached the platform.

“Well done Beth”, said Sandy, “Wasn’t that fun?”

“Sort of. I was scared though.”

“It will get easier once you’ve done a few more sections.”

“There’s more?”

“Oh yes. That was just the beginning”, said Sandy with a laugh, “One down, nine to go.”

The platform shuddered. Elizabeth clutched the railing in fright.

‘What was that?”

“Just another guy coming down, he got the cable swinging a bit that’s all.” The man attacked the slide as if there were a prize for getting to the next platform in record time. He came closer & bounced onto the platform, shaking it even more.

“Woohoo, this is awesome! Hello ladies, admiring the view I see.” Elizabeth looked at his chest, then up at his face; he stood at least a foot taller than her. His camo shorts & tight pastel pink golf shirt showed off a large well-built frame, on purpose no doubt. Ugh, a pink shirt! She took an instant dislike to him. Her first impression was that his ego was even bigger than his body. Sandy though looked impressed,

“Easy tiger, you’ll come off just now.”

“Nah, unlikely. Anyway, it’s not so far down.” They both laughed. She held out her hand,

“Sandy, as in the bay.” He laughed,

“Very good. In that case I’m Cliff, as in tall & rugged.” Elizabeth thought to herself that it should be Alec, as in smart, but kept quiet.

“And just who is the silent beauty here?” He thrust his hand towards her.

“I’m Beth.”

“As in…?” He said & Sandy laughed again.

“Leave her Cliff, she’s a bit shy. Do you want to go past us, looks like we will just hold you back?”

“Sure. If you don’t mind.” He clipped onto the next cable, “See you later maybe. No staring at my shorts from behind now hey.” With a laugh, he slid away.

“Idiot”, muttered Elizabeth.”

“Don’t be so serious Beth, he’s cute in a cocky sort of way.”

“Well, I don’t like him. He’s so arrogant.”

“Why don’t you go first this time & I’ll follow you. We can swap at each platform.” They finished the course, Sandy, with confidence & Elizabeth less so. She started to enjoy it near the end & felt sorry when the almost three hours slipped to an end.

“Let’s head back to the site & relax for the rest of the afternoon, it’s too late to go anywhere else now. Tomorrow we go to Plettenberg Bay & look around”, said Sandy. Elizabeth agreed although she would have just as easily have sat around relaxing the whole time. Sandy always wanted to do new things & Elizabeth was happy with tried & tested. They were different in many ways yet had been best friends since high school.

They drove into the campsite & crunched along the gravel towards their stand. As it was not school holidays the site was almost empty with only a few tents & caravans scattered here & there. One site caught the eye. A silver land cruiser stood next to an off-road camping trailer with all the gadgets: roof tent, kitchen unit, large canvas awning etc.

“Look Beth, it’s your friend from earlier.” Elizabeth looked. Sure enough, it was him, leaning back in a camp chair lifting a beer can to them in greeting as they passed. Sandy waved back & said,

“Haha, looks like he has enough kit there for an expedition & ten people. Wonder how long it takes him to get that rig up & then down again.” Elizabeth thought he was just showing off his toys. She also knew that her friend believed in simplicity when camping, the less kit the better. It was a hard job to convince her to take an electric kettle & instant coffee.

They sat for a while outside Sandy’s modest dome tent & enjoyed cold drinks. Before long Sandy jumped up & dragged Elizabeth off to walk the Mouth Trail. They crossed the Storms River via the well-known suspension bridge & back again over the two new smaller bridges. Despite her initial reluctance, Elizabeth enjoyed the walk. Spectacular scenery surrounded them the whole way & she could see why Sandy regarded this campsite as one of the best in the country.

Supper was simple but delicious. Chicken breast with instant cheese & mushroom sauce mixed with pasta all cooked to creamy perfection by Sandy in a single cast-iron pot. After all the activity Elizabeth felt exhausted & turned in early. She struggled at first with the unfamiliar stretcher & sleeping bag combination, but soon mastered it & fell fast asleep within a few minutes. Sandy sat outside drinking a quiet glass of wine & looking up at the sky. The clouds started to bunch together & hide the stars. It looked like there might be some rain coming. Before going to bed she packed all the cooking equipment back into the trailer & double checked the guy-ropes just in case.

Elizabeth woke with a scream. She dreamt that something cold & clammy slithered over her in the night. Trying to sit up she realised it wasn’t a dream, she was trapped & couldn’t move. A loud howling & hissing noise terrified her even more.

“Relax Beth, it’s just the tent. A mother of a storm came up in the night & it’s collapsed.” Elizabeth fought her breathing under control & looked around. A glow came from somewhere near the floor.

“I’m down here. Roll out of the stretcher & come to me. I’ll help you.” She was blinded as Sandy reached out, sweeping the beam of her headlamp across Elizabeth’s face. Trust Sandy to be able to find a light in the middle of chaos.

When they were both safe on the floor Sandy wriggled around & turned the two stretchers on their sides to make a small cave for them under the wet nylon.

“Keep still. I’m going to try to find the zip so we can get out of here.” Sandy was still fumbling around when a bright light shone through the fabric from outside.

“Anybody inside there?”

“Yes”, they both said.

“Hold on a mo for me.” The beam of light danced as the tent was pushed & pulled.

“Got it.” They heard the zip open. The noise of the storm tripled & stray raindrops invaded the interior. They crawled out through the narrow entrance & flopped onto soggy, mushy turf.

“Ooh, fancy a spot of mud-wrestling to add to the fun do we?” Elizabeth groaned as she recognised Cliff’s voice. Why did he have to be the one to rescue them?

“Run for the laundry next to the bathrooms, I’ll meet you there. Just want to check the other sites quickly.” They did as he said & stumbled across the site heading for the electric lights that marked the ablution block. Elizabeth noticed that Cliff’s tent-trailer was folded up & closed. He must have stowed his kit away & taken the awning & tent down as soon as the storm started. Perhaps Sandy was wrong about it taking him ages to pack up. Her meticulous nature had to admire the efficiency.

Inside the laundry, they found two other campers, an elderly couple who stood wrapped in blankets. With bewildered looks, they uttered greetings in muted Germanic voices. They held cups of steaming coffee & Elizabeth realised just how cold she was now that the initial panic had subsided.

An assortment of cups, tubs & a portable gas stove stood in a corner of the room. Sandy scratched around to see if she could get some more coffee going. As she lit the gas the door opened letting more rain & Cliff in.

“Everybody alright here? Good.” He looked at Elizabeth with a tenderness that surprised her. “You doing ok there Miss Beth, as in nothing?”

The previous day she would have wanted to slap him for a comment like that but now she smiled at his teasing & nodded. He was still as loud as before but had gone out of his way to make sure everybody was safe & as comfortable as possible.

“Thanks, Sandy, good work there. Can you carry on with coffee? In the meantime, I think something stronger while we wait for the water to boil.” He fished in the pocket of his large waterproof jacket & hauled out a half-size bottle of old brown sherry. “Not quite St Bernard dogs & barrels of brandy but it will do hey.” Everyone in the room, Elizabeth included, laughed. He hunted out some plastic cups & poured the sherry.

“Any damage to your trailer?” asked Sandy.

“It seems to be all in one piece. Very nice with all the bells & whistles but more trouble than its worth in some ways. Give me a decent tent any day.” He saw Sandy’s questioning face. “Oh, did you think it’s mine. No way. I do my camping in a small tent & off the back of an old pick-up. That whole rig belongs to my parents. They bought it to do some touring. My dad’s just retired & they moved to the coast but an outfit in Johannesburg supplied the trailer. I wanted to get a break from work anyway so I said I’d bring it down for them & camp a few nights with it to make sure everything works.”

Sandy grinned at Elizabeth with a look that said she approved. Elizabeth blushed. Cliff dragged off his wet coat & handed out cups of sherry. Elizabeth noticed he was again wearing the pink golf shirt, pulled on as he got up. It looked like there was more to “tall & rugged” Cliff than initially met the eye, most of it pleasing. But the shirt would still have to go!

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