I cannot recall how old I was, but I must have been in High School because I never owned a bike in Primary School. Either that or I had foolishly borrowed somebody else’s bike. In what can only be described as an act of utter insanity – in retrospect – we would race down one side of the Third Avenue Dip in Newton Park, Port Elizabeth as fast as possible and then up the other side. Then one had to take into consideration the factors which bedevilled this race: a narrow winding road, fast cars and road hazards in the form of pot holes, rough patches and bumps all in strategic places. Amazingly none of us was killed or even seriously hurt.
This is the story of this mis-adventure.
Main picture: The Third Avenue Dip in Newton Park which the road submerged due to flooding. The bike races were from the top of the hill near the houses. By the time one “hit” the bridge. one could be doing at least 80 kph.
In the Port Elizabeth of 50 years ago, the only road linking Newton to Mangold Park was the precarious Third Avenue “Dip” – as it was colloquially known – through the Baakens Valley . Before the construction of the William Moffat Express Way it was the main access road between Walmer and Newton Park. The 3rd Avenue dip was built in 1957 and still is a very popular road used as an alternative to William Moffat.
Whenever the Baakens River was in spate, the detours to take would be Target Kloof or Circular Drive both of which were inconvenient as they were not nearby. Whenever it rained heavily, the kids in the neighbourhood would all congregate at the bottom of Third Avenue in the hope of witnessing a car stalling on the water submerged bridge. Some of us even silently wished for something even more calamitous such as a car being washed away in the surging torrents.
We never did have our deepest desire fulfilled. Discretion was the better part of valour for most motorists.
Then one day peer pressure prevailed. I bowed to the inevitable and agreed to participate in one of the bike races through the dip. It would be my baptism of fire. I readily admit that my agreement to participate in a highly dangerous challenge fell squarely under the rubric of stupidity. Foolishness or even injudiciousness was too bland a word to encapsulate the moronic inanity of my perilous decision.
An air of feigned disdain pervaded the group.
None of us could display a lack of resolve by bailing at this juncture.
We all had to dispel the notion that we were wussies.
As we sauntered down the half dozen blocks, the rules of the game were elaborated upon. We would commence a quarter of the way down Third Avenue. A marshal strategically placed at this point would warn us of traffic approaching from behind. The only way in which one could remain in the saddle was by avoiding the road obstructions. In practice that meant using the whole road. First there was the steep descent – the mine shaft – immediately after the last houses, then the right curve where one cycled on the right hand side of the road.
Then it was straight again. Immediately after the low water bridge, the tar on the left hand side was patchy and uneven. It was best to move over to the right hand side again.
Of paramount importance was focusing on the ever present threat of potholes. A moment’s delinquency in this regard, would result in one renewing one’s acquaintance with the tar – from close-up. In one’s foolhardy attempts to avoid all the potholes, one would be immune to any shouts from the marshal about cars approaching.
In fits of bravado, some of the more experienced cyclists even made vaulting claims about their top speeds and narrow misses.
The alternatives were stark: be a wussie or be a hero
A collective delusion prevailed.
A visceral tug-of-war erupted within my bowels. Which would prevail?
Wussie or hero?
The social ramifications of the wussie option were too harrowing to contemplate.
A boy racer I would be.
With indecent haste, I was off.
On the steep descent I exercised caution by not pedalling. Howls of disgust rose from the peanut gallery. My emotions were an amalgam of fear and excitement, of sheer hell and unadulterated catatonic fear.
It had been a rash wager.
The bump at the bottom almost was my last.
I had forgotten the patched road on the left.
Fortunately speed saved me.
It was over and I had survived.
BUT NEVER AGAIN
I had passed one of the rites of passage of a Newton Park boy.
Maybe it was my age or maybe it is the angle at which photos are taken of this road, but viewing these photographs after 45 years they no longer appear so daunting let alone death defying.
Some historical trivia
Very close to the low water bridge, which is often under water after big rains, stands a bench as a monument to David Baillie Lovemore. Lovemore was the person who pioneered this road through the Baakens River. He was also instrumental in the creation of Savage and Lovemore, a construction company in 1957.