The Doring River, Alone – Day 3: Wild Horses....a Close Call with Satan

The following morning arrived overcast and chilly. The slight breeze didn’t make it any warmer so there would be no lazing around camp this time round. It was a stark contrast to the perfect weather I had experienced the day before and also on the first day. This trip was almost a representation of life, the wheel did indeed turn and as would soon be discovered, not everything would be hunky dory.

I left my camp at 08:30 and got back onto the water. The next pool I paddled very slowly and at the end of it I came to an establishment. There were several chalets here and a few people actually. This is the put in point for most of the commercial trips. Immediately below was a rapid I scouted from the top. It was pretty simple. I went down and out of the inquiring eyes of some people sitting outside in the odd ray of sunshine that would thrust itself out from behind the clouds like an accusing finger. I did not wave at these people and felt as though they were the ones that shouldn’t be there. At the time they were probably thinking the same about me. Still, I just wanted to get away from them and back into my little world.


The view from camp on the third morning.


The morning of day 3 was overcast, windy but started off with a bit of sun here and there. This was an awesome camp!


The level had once again dropped during the night, as would be expected...


Just down from my camp as I drifted along.


The only place I saw people at the entire time.


The rapid below where the chalets were. Very simple and straight forward.


From below this rapid there were a few more much smaller ones for several hundred metres and it was quite a change from the usual short, pool drop I had run most of the way. After running a few more rapids I stopped at a beach on the right at 09:30. It was just to check my position and to walk around a bit. The weather was still not looking great and now the sun was not coming out at all. I paddled further down until I got to a horizon line. In the article before I described a rapid which was almost a kilometre long and showed a photo of it. The rapid I spoke about was actually this one, seems I was confused. It was long with a hole to avoid at the top, but actually very easy. And, as I said in the previous article, a hole at the bottom which was easy enough to avoid. It was 10:15 when I got to that rapid. The reason why I know this is simple, I can check the properties of my photos and tell a little story all on their own.


The longest rapid I encountered on the river.


A closer look. There was a hole on the right I had to avoid but that was it. Again, pretty simple.


More Doring River scenery.


The twisting rapid where I had lunch after it.


A wider view of the twisting rapid with the island show clearly in the middle. River left looked like it had some cool lines in it.


After this the river idled along for a long time with only tiny rapids, but mostly, just flat water. It was still good to clutch out and even though the sun wasn’t shining, my spirits were still high. I was enjoying the day, just like the others. A while later I paddled down a fun rapid which had an island in the middle. It twisted left around a blind corner but I was quite confident that the river wouldn’t hold any nasty surprises. Below this I stopped on the beach on the right to check my position and to eat some more sardines. As I was eating it began to rain lightly. It was then 11:25. At 12:30, I came across an overhanging rock on the right a few metres above the water level. I could see some sort of manmade objects in there and decided to investigate. This was obviously a commercial rafting camp that was presumably owned by Bundi. To be honest, it wasn’t the type of place I would have enjoyed staying in but as a low impact camp for commercial trips it serves the purpose well. At the time it was raining lightly and I considered staying here for the night. But then I knew that if I posted pictures of myself sleeping here for the night, someone, somewhere along the line would have a fit. It was also not ‘right’ I guess. Although I had all of my own sleeping gear and would not have used the mattresses or anything else that was there. I decided to carry on paddling.


Some rain while on the river. This was taken with my little waterproof camera - I took this along, as well as a Nikon D80.


The commercial camp is up on the right. Don't camp there - there are better spots anyway.


The commercial rafting camp. Quite organised and I'm sure it's a big hit with clients. Hmmm... clients... tut, tut, tut.


The rapids from here down were very small and as I got back the rain increased in intensity again. The wind picked up to about thirty five knots and this made paddling very difficult as it blowing into my face. With rain pelting down onto my boat like the beat of a thousand drum sticks as I soldiered on. The slower moving water made progress difficult and if I stopped paddling, I was blown upstream within about five seconds. After a while I climbed out onto the right to check out a possible camp site. As I moved into the bush I noticed a donkey. They are peaceful, stupid animals although I didn’t trust them as I was well aware that many are horribly abused by their captors and I surely had no idea of the history of this one. I thought it wiser to move along and perhaps take something on river left. The going was really tough but I knew I didn’t need to go far. My shoulder began to ache. Eventually I found a spot on river left where I got out. The wind blew like crazy and the rain didn’t stop. I walked a length of beach for some time before find a grassy spot which looked quite good. There were several large hoof prints and the grass had been ripped up. Because of the situation and the rain I wrote it off to cattle and thought nothing more of it. Yes, out of all the spots, this was the perfect little place to camp. It took a while to motivate myself to set up the tent in the rain and eventually I did. It was a quick affair and actually not as bad as I thought. I tied the tent to my boat to stop it from blowing away and then rigged it up as fast as I could to make sure the inner didn’t get too wet. All my dry bags I left in the vestibules and then I got dressed into some dry clothes. After some time the rain stopped for a brief moment and I could get out and take some photos. It was then 14:00.


Standing in the rain with the waterproof again, trying to motivate myself to set up the tent. Note the nice green grass.


Lot's of wind and rain at my camp!


My tent nicely set up in the rain. Note the window and the green bush just above the boat in the background. These are talked about just now...


Not long afterwards the rain came down again. I made myself some classic beef curry from Back Country Cuisine. It’s an awesome freeze dried meal made in New Zealand. All you do is add half a liter of water, let it stand for ten minutes and Bob’s your uncle. Simple and ultra tasty, although bloody expensive at about R90 for the bag which is supposed to feed two. After one of these, you’ll be stuffed! This one was reserved for when the weather wasn’t too good in an effort to raise spirits and it worked wonders. This was the ideal time. I slept a while after that and when I woke up the wind was still pumping but no rain.


Cooking in the rain. See the packet of food next to the stove? Hmmm, yum, yum!


The maps and GPS just making sure that I was right on target.


Camp 3A later in the afternoon.


This looks like an ordinary plant, right?


Wrong! Those green little things are what us South African's call Devil Thorns. When the plant dies they become brown and fall off, but remain rock hard and can really hurt like hell when stood. Even when green they are very sharp and will hurt... Always wear shoes when they're around.


It was 17:30 then and I decided to take a few photos as the sun was even coming out! What a splendid evening. The last bit of the paddle had been fairly unpleasant but now things were looking good. I decided to explore the area a little and walked downstream for a few hundred meters. As I climbed up some rocks I saw two horses grazing peacefully about three hundred meters away from me. I didn’t want to alert them of my presence but as I was about to walk away the one saw me. I stood there to make sure that he saw me and turned half away so as not to appear as a threat. He eyed me suspiciously for a little while and then carried on grazing. I casually walked off back towards the camp as I thought that there may have been some people nearby. Back at camp I walked a little up the hill and took more photos and just waited for the sun to set.


Looking upstream from my camp.


Looking towards the other side of the river. Note the wind on the water.


A beautiful piece of life growing in a crack in the rocks.


Some type of plant growing near to my camp.

As I sat there, the horses arrived into the clearing where I was camped. Hmmm, this was interesting. Because I was a bit away from my tent I walked down to about twenty meters away from it and made sure they could see me. As they moved around, I made sure they could see me all the time. The one horse which had given me the eye earlier had a good look again. He didn’t seem to be too bothered and carried on eating. In the fading light I took several shots of them, most of the photos not coming out very well as I didn’t have a tripod and the howling wind was not helping my stability problems. As they ate, they got a little closer and the one horse, let’s call him Satan, became fairly agitated and would make some noise and shake his head. I wondered why. Satan would run around several times, throwing his head up and whinnying as he did so. Then he would return to his chore of feeding on the grass around him. It was most disconcerting. When I was small I used to go for many horse riding lessons on a Saturday and I really enjoyed that. Last year I managed to ride again and it was really great. I would not consider myself very knowledgeable on horses or their behavior but this was definitely a little unusual. I took the last photo of Satan and his friend at 18:38. The sun was long down and it was getting dark.


Camp 3A where I sat and watched the remainder of the day slip away.


Looking upstream from camp.


Sunset on day 3.


Satan (on the right) and his friend on the left....


As I stood there, admiring the horses, I wondered more about them and what would happen when it got dark. Surely nothing I thought nonchalantly to myself. Suddenly, Satan threw back his ears, made a horrible noise and galloped towards me at full pace. It all happened so quickly but I knew that standing my ground would surely result in several broken bones or worse. The only option was to dive into the tent and I broke a world record climbing into it and zipping it up. When Satan started his sprint he was only about forty meters away so I had to be quick. He galloped past and then stopped just behind me. My heart beat really fast and I suddenly realised that things weren’t looking good! I could hear him drawing deep, fast breathes through his nostrils and he whinnied several times, combining that with the breathing it sounded like he was hissing. I’m sure he actually was. As he was standing so close I could also feel the vibrations through the ground as he mashed his hooves to the ground in a show of anger and dominance. As I sat in the centre of the tent, clutching my knife, I wished I wasn’t there. For about two minutes, maybe more, he stood there, sounding really angry. The inside of my tent as a huge part which can be unzipped to reveal a mosquito net and then a small window in the actually fly sheet to look outside. I slowly turned around and looked through the window. He was standing about five meters away, ears back and looking right at me. I turned back again like a terrified child and tightened my grip on the knife in an attempt to console myself. I was scared. I knew that if he ran over the tent I would surely break bones and probably be forced to flee into the cold river which was about twenty meters to my right. This didn’t sound like a good ending to the trip. But on the other hand, he would probably not do that. Most animals would not, although elephants and lions have no problem flattening a tent to get at what is inside.


It was horrible sitting in that tent and I even though several people have laughed when I’ve told the story, it was no laughing matter at the time. Here I was, exactly 9.9 km from the take out, but with no one around. I remember thinking that I still wanted to enjoy this trip and I wanted to do so many more things with my life. At the time, it felt like this could be the end. I don’t give a rat’s ass what anyone says but when you’re in that situation with a roughly 450 kg angry beast, versus a meager 85kg Adrian Tregoning alone in a tent then life doesn’t seem that optimistic anymore. I felt helpless and hated the feeling. A mixture of fear and anger began to brew inside of me. Before I could think anymore of what would happen Satan galloped full pace past the left hand side of my tent. He was gone, for now. It was then that I noticed the wind was still blowing and that the tent was making a bit of noise. I’m sure he didn’t like this tent on his turf. Immediately, I regretted not camping at the overhang I had found earlier and regretted even more that I had camped on the only piece of grass in the area, Satan’s grass!!!


For about five minutes I remained motionless, hoping he wouldn’t come back. The wind carried on but I couldn’t hear the horse anymore. With agonising slowness I zipped open the right hand door and thrust my face into the dirt outside in an effort to peer out – I saw nothing. The zip closed stealthily again and I carefully open the left side. Again I could not see anything and cockily zipped up the tent at full pace. At that instant Satan fired up and came roaring back to my tent. This was like a true horror show where one is taunted without being able to see anything. He was now in front of me and there was no window there. The entire performance carried on for about ten to fifteen minutes, probably even a little more. All the while I said nothing. I remained totally silent and only the only sounds were the tent flapping in the strong wind and of course, Satan. A bloody long time I can assure you. There was no Horse Whisperer stuff going to be happening on this day!


At the last ‘attack’ Satan came huffing and puffing and tore up some grass which must have been about forty centimeters from my humble little tent. About thirty seconds later he made more noise and kicked my boat with all his might. The entire tent shook as the boat had been kicked onto the tent and without even a hesitation I shouted, “F********K OFF!!!!” with all my might and climbed out of the tent in a flash, clutching the knife will all my strength and ready to kill, no matter what the consequences. It was a powerful surge of adrenalin and I know from past experience that when I get really angry my vision blurs. I don’t even remember getting out of the tent but Satan got quite a fright and by the time I got out he was a few meters away already. I shouted again at him and taunted him to come back, shouting that this was my spot and my camp! Satan’s friend hung in the background and didn’t do anything.


As I stood there reality came back to me and I realised that should he come back again I would not be able to do any damage should he come at full sprint. I thought of quickly starting a fire but everything was wet and it could take a while. There was only one thing I could do, get off his damn grass! He circled around some bushes and came back again. I met his charge and ran towards him in a mock charge and looking back now I was definitely a different person from the one cowardly sheltered in the tent moments ago. I refused to be abused like this and reacted as I felt was right. Satan moved off a little and stamped his feet from about thirty meters away. It was a bad, bad situation. Now I would have to go into the tent and pack up everything within seconds. During that time I cursed and swore and made as much noise as possible. It made me feel better and directed my fear towards anger. It was also to try to intimidate the horse. Every loose item in the tent was thrown hurriedly into a dry bag. There was no time to roll up the Thermarest and when I squashed out the air the sound aggravated Satan again. I hurled more insults and jumped out of the tent to show that I was now a man possessed and would react violently to anything that came my way now. He backed off a little and I was surprised as to how close he was. Back in the tent I finished off, threw the bags out and disassembled it. There was no time to pack the boat and every dry bag was just clipped to the outside of the boat. The tent was thrown onto the seat, my helmet clipped onto the bow and all my paddling gear shoved into the foot well.


I glanced back in the darkness to see if I had forgotten anything and then dragged my boat down to the sand, watching my back. There was no space to actually sit in the boat but I took out the tent, jumped into the seat with my legs over the sides and positioned the tent back onto my lap. The wind was still blowing as I pushed off into the ominous water. Without a PFD, without a helmet, without a spray deck or anything like that I would have to be careful. If I capsized, I would probably lose some of my camping gear as the buckles won’t survive the current I was trying to cross. The dry bags on top of the boat and dragging in the water didn’t make the ferry across very easy. Eventually I reached the other side but felt only a little better. It was dark, I was cold, shaken up and now I would have to set up a camp again. I took a photo of the boat to remember the occasion. I will never forget it anyway. The time then was 19:12. So that means my entire ordeal lasted 34 minutes and it only took about 3 minutes to pack up everything. Truly horrible.


My boat and all my belongings after being forced to cross the river at night.... I'll never forget that! :-)


There was a tiny spot to pitch the tent on but I decided I’d build a fire first. Stupidly, I had visions of Satan swimming across the river and complete his unfinished business. This fuelled my need to make a fire but even when I used my stove to burn some dry twigs I could not get one started. I was on an exposed area with the wind blowing and every piece of wood around was soaking wet. I gave up, cursing, and set up my tent. Once that was done I tried once more but in vain. The ordeal had exhausted me and I realised that I should just climb into the tent, away from the wind and try to warm up.


As I lay in the tent I thought about Satan for a long time. I couldn’t believe that a horse could become so angry. The piece of grass I was camped on was clearly a place where they spent a lot of time and now the churned up area and the hoof prints became clear to me. Perhaps they slept there at night, who knows? I lay there for about an hour and a half, checking the GPS from time to time, as I collected my thoughts. What a weird experience. I thought I would dream of my next solo mission that would involve a handgun…


[It must be noted that I am a real animal lover and would rather hurt a human than any animal. The use of the name Satan for the horse is only in jest. I will most definitely ride horses again and would love to own a Friesian one day. To me, these are the most beautiful of horses, both in looks and nature. One day…]


Wow, what an interesting day it had been. The wheel had turned and now I was sure it would turn again for the better. Tomorrow would be a new day. Eventually sleep overtook me and for the remainder of the night I slept deeply and peacefully.



Photography by: Adrian Tregoning

Words by: Adrian Tregoning.


Next article: The Doring River, Alone – Day 4 (final day)