Quite frankly by rights Kurt Radzom should have accepted a formal leadership position in Quo Vadis on George Malan’s hasty departure from the Club after the 120km Amatola Hike in 1989. Instead I naively accepted the role. Not that it conferred a large stipend or prestige, but insofar as the duties were involved, it was more akin to that of an Executive Secretary’s role.
For the most part Kurt was the eminence grise in the Club in that he unwittingly exercised power and influence over the Quo Vadis Hiking Club without holding an official position. He had the singular distinction of my deferring to his judgement on numerous occasions. How did this situation arise? Quite simply it was due to his preeminent sense of good judgement which I valued greatly at all times. Walter might have been the indefatigable hiker with his unremitting energy but Kurt brought a different dynamic to play not only by his steadying sagacious influence but also his generosity of spirit and also financially as far as transport was concerned. Especially as regards the distant hikes and canoe trips, Kurt would unfailingly arrange a vehicle. Instead of travelling separately, we travelled as a group which became an extension of the hike itself.
Kurt is undoubtedly the stalwart in the Club as he was a member when I joined in 1988. With his magisterial bearing and his unfailingly debonair sartorial dress sense, Kurt’s demeanour befits that of the elderly sagacious statesman that I have always viewed him to be. Being slightly more than 10 years my senior and having achieved more in life than most could expect in ten lifetimes, I have always been in admiration of Kurt. This esteem was further buttressed by his scintillatting athletic prowess but more on that later. His charming and urbane manner belie a steely determination to succeed in what he does.
Kurt has always been this own man whilst simultaneously being a team player by always deferring to the greater good of the group. An iconoclastic streak was revealed when I encountered Kurt for the first time on the Blyderiver Hike. In contravention of George’s strict dictum about gourmet meals, he and Mike Brown had contrived to arrange a five course breakfast at the Bourke’s Luck Potholes’ Camp with a full spread of food with napkins. In his risible annoyance, George bore the act of defiance as an insult.
The adage “Toys for Boys” elegantly encapsulates Kurt’s attraction to cars especially fast, powerful ones. As such this seduction evidenced itself in a rapid succession of new vehicles probably at the rate of one every six months. Once the initial blush of the romantic tryst and dalliance had subsided, Kurt would discard the vehicle and stalk his next prey: always the best with all the trimmings and fittings. Such was Kurt’s enchantment with all things mechanical. This predilection also surfaced in other ways such as hiking equipment where the latest and greatest would always be in evidence.
All people are a product of their upbringing. In this regard, Kurt’s Prussian roots although seemingly superficial, had an enormous tap root which was the wellspring of his personality. Unlike the more insouciant Bavarians, there were close similarities to my father-in-law, a native of Hamburg and a northerner like Kurt as well. Both bear the same hallmarks of fastidiousness. This manifests itself in an inordinate attention to detail, cleanliness and order.
This trait was only embedded in my consciousness on the Amatola Trail when Kurt graciously agreed to use his Kombi to travel to Hogsback. Due to normal usage, blades of grass had been transferred into the vehicle much to Kurt’s chagrin and annoyance. Without further ado, he commenced spring cleaning the Kombi even though it would probably be soiled again on the return trip.
Being aware of Kurt’s fetish, I monitored his actions closely from then onward. It quickly became evident why external frame packs were so beloved by Kurt. At every stop, Kurt could be espied patting the pack into a rigid rectangle as if this act would somehow enhance the pack in some untoward or ephemeral way. Maybe he was attempting to create a faux avant-garde pack. It might well have been a nonsensical act but it was symbolical of Kurt’s being. In his own way, he probably rated the rest of us as indolent and nere-do-wells for not emulating his behaviour.
Not surprisingly, as Kurt became inured to the South Africa manner of doing things, he became less fastidious but not quite. Certain inane acts would remind one of Kurt’s residual Prussian streaks albeit well-disguised within an otherwise outward South African façade.
Insofar as Kurt’s sporting prowess was concerned, he was the consummate sportsman. Without the need for the requisite training, Kurt, who had only commenced his running career in his mid-forties, managed to obtain a silver medal in the Iron Man and narrowly missed a silver Comrade’s Marathon by a few minutes. Such was his innate ability.
What Kurt never appreciated about a runner like me was the dedication and commitment that was required to be a mediocre runner whereas Kurt with his natural turn of speed would easily complete the Comrades.
The year 2000 is a case in point. I had been training assiduously for months whereas Kurt by mid-March had barely commenced training. Feeling somewhat concerned about his progress, I offered to give him a lift to the Randfontein 32km race. My goal was to complete the race at a 6 minutes per kay pace but by the third kilometre, noticing Kurt in some distress, I bade him farewell and accelerated my pace. At the 27km mark there was a long slow pass out of the valley where my pace slowed to 6.5 minutes per kay. Who should come sailing past me without some much as a sweat was Mr Radzom? His dictum of “I train on the first half of the race to run the second half” had born fruit again. No further affirmation is required of Kurt’s innate abilities.
What probably irks Kurt in hindsight is that he never extended himself and attempted an extraordinary feat such as a 2:45 or even a 2:30 marathon. No-one will ever be able to comprehend Kurt’s true potential and more’s the pity for it.
His natural ability shone through inadvertently in other ways. When hiking the Golden Gate Trail some 8 years ago, Kurt fell on a slippery rock. With a gymnastic flair he righted himself in mid-fall and instead of a nasty tumble, he landed gracefully on his feet. If the same fate had befallen any one of the rest of us, we would have fallen like a pocket of potatoes straight down with severe consequences for themselves and the continuation of the hike itself. This is an affirmation and a tribute to Kurt’s nimbleness and agility.
Kurt will always be one of true greats of the Quo Vadis Hiking Club and when he eventually elects to retire from active hiking, which hopefully is not imminent, his non-attendance will leave an irreplaceable void in the soul of the Club.
My gratitude to a true friend and outstanding fellow hiker is heart-felt.
These tributes to outstanding individuals need to be articulated not as a eulogy at their funeral, like I sadly had to do at Walter’s, but rather when they are still amongst us.
Kurt, I salute you.