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x-post from a South African mailing list:

[DarknDirty] NYE Ride report: Are you on the Muffin List?

I arrived at the gate to Suikerbosrand at about 7pm on Monday night. I told the guard that I was staying in the guest house with Samantha.

"Ah," he exclaimed with a smile, "Are you with Barry?"

It seems I was on the Muffin List. This short list of 8 names were the people who had managed to get themselves mixed up in this crazy New Years adventure. I was let in the gate and followed the muffin pictures and directional signs to a three bedroom house available only to Department of Environment employees to book.

We cracked open the beers and ciders, started the fire, and put together a serious spread for dinner. I had brought freshly made bread dough to bake us bread in the fire, there were salads, roasted vegetables, special Jan toebroodjies (Afrikaans for sandwiches), and of course lots and lots of meat!

We threw ourselves at the food with hungry abandon, we would need the energy for our planned outing. At 10pm, we could wait no longer and kitted up for our ride. Sam and Reenen offered to ride support in the bakkie as they had been up at 4:30 doing some of their last Dusi training. We checked our kit and our lights and then Frequent Flyer, Cat-i, Holy Roller, 10NaciT, The Mummy and the superstrong Gerhard rode out of home base and headed uphill for the ridge.

Out the gate and onto the main road. Our lights scared some browsing animals that must've thought we were alien apparitions come to steal their souls and bolted across our path (well, maybe ungulates don't have such vivid imaginations but we startled them nonetheless!). We slowly climbed up the tar road going in the opposite direction to the signboards. We were unlikely to encounter any motorised traffic at this hour! It was a good thing it was as dark as it was so we couldn't see the immensity of the task ahead of us! Our lights slowly winding their way up the ridge, we must've looked like a string of Alpine hard men heading for a distant snowpeak. Whilst some of the faster members of our group disappeared into the heavens, Gerhard and I paced ourselves up the hill. Slowly, slowly we climbed until at last the route flattened. A little further on we found the perfect spot for our setup, just above a saddle on the ridgeline with the lights of Gauteng spread like a tablecloth in front of us.

We all started excitedly pointing out fireworks being set off all over Johannesburg. "No," said Sam, "that's Lenasia. Johannesburg is in that cabbage tree." Great minds think alike and nearly in unison we all exclaimed "How did they fit all of Johannesburg in that cabbage tree?!!"

But I digress. Bottles of champagne, a silver wine cooler, ice and even a small Christmas tree were pulled out of Jan's bag of goodies and we prepared ourselves for the stroke of midnight. It seems that no-one in Johannesburg can synchronise their watches, or their fireworks, so we picked a moment at random and began our countdown: "Five, Four, Three, Two, One... HAPPY NEW YEAR!!". More champagne was poured and more fireworks were celebrated. It sounded a bit like Baghdad up there with all the muffled explosions coming from all sides as big fireworks were lit and detonated.

Poor Sam carefully laid out a picnic blanket on the tar but she should've known better than to leave it unattended. In a flash, Cat-i and I had rolled onto the blanket and taken ownership of it! This is not our first attempt at blanket robbery and we worked together like a well-practiced team. The only unexpected move was Jan's nosedive into the middle of the blanket!

We sat there for a while, soaking up the champagne and giggles in equal quantities. It was rather strange to be able to see all the festivities in Johannesburg, and yet be removed from the action, surrounded by the trappings of Nature.

Sam and Reenen eventually decided that it was too cold and too late to be lying in the road on a blanket and left us to the task of finishing all the champagne. This was a task we took seriously, now huddled under the picnic blanket trying to escape the icy wind from our backs. At last the bottles were finished and we packed up before heading back down the hill. It was a good thing that we were all slightly inebriated as our natural tendency to swerve from side to side suited the switchbacks of the loong downhill back to the house. At a few minutes to 2am, we rolled into the yard, safely returned if less sober than when we left.

And so a very special New Years Eve was celebrated. I felt so lucky to be with a group of friends who live life to the fullest, and jump on board to take on the craziest of adventures. Thank you, all of you, for a year spent laughing, sweating, even swearing and wondering why I get myself into these crazy adventures, but most of all, the laughing. I know that 2008 is going to be more of the same!
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