Just like that, the man in the middle of my Facebook cover image, had died.
Theunis Esterhuizen had a heart attack during a pit stop of a group ride with his mates at 96 Winery Road. I was on a father-and-son outing in Worcester, congratulating a Jaco on his pending first-born, when Rob conveyed the bad news. Oh, the irony.
It was only while driving back over Du Toitskloof pass later that afternoon — a road we shared many times on a bicycle before, that the idea of his parting hit home. I saw my darling 4-year-old fast asleep in the rear view mirror and reflected on how Theunis had dealt with what I believe no parent should ever have to endure — the passing of his son Luan, six years ago.
The silver lining lies in the many images of a super proud Oupa Theunis and Luan Jnr, either babysitting, boating, cycling or just fooling around. This gentleman (with the two rubber arms) lived for his family & friends — and despite being 24 years my senior, he was always up for a challenge.
Theunis was an absolute treat to be around (as you’d expect from someone with ‘The-Unis’ as his email address). I have had the privilege to share well over 150 hours on a bicycle with him, which is more than enough time to get to know his stand-out character. Here are some of my fondest memories.
Did you know that his first ever Audax ride was the 600km?
Talk about starting off with a bang! This is where the cover image originated and was taken towards the middle of that epic ride in December 2014, with Rob, Theunis, Eugene and myself in a very hot McGregor.
Then there was the 300km when we crossed Franschhoek pass towards Theewaterskloofdam (in the middle of the night, in the rain), when we had to stop and lift a Toyota Corolla that was stuck in the the road off a giant rock wedged underneath it. It took half-a-dozen of us to do so and I doubt the driver’s wife was going to believe him when he arrived home and tried to explain why he was late…
With just his first four Audax rides Theunis already completed the whole 200-300-400-600 series, including the Tour-de-Windfarm. His infamous sensitive rear forced him to become a saddle expert and he probably went through more units than your typical product tester, as on the 1000km test ride.
Things didn’t always go according to plan and it was especially during trying times that we enjoyed his witty remarks. Like on the inaugural 1000km when we sat in Calitzdorp, abandoned and pondering our next move over a bottle of breakfast wine (a zesty white), before he mounted the pump trolley.
And on the sweltering 300km, when he taught Rob some Afrikaans by summoning Hendrik to come and collect ‘die twee ou lappe onder die boom’.
During yet another casual 200km, the two of us ambitiously left the pack behind to go ahead with Wimpie for the homestretch from Malmesbury — but the pace was way above our pay grade and our wheels came off in spectacular fashion, within striking distance of the finish line.
Then we came up with the bright idea to cycle up and down Swartberg pass and in November 2016, Rob, Theunis, Carinus and myself set off for Oudtshoorn. After a couple of laps up and down, the cold mountain won. Undeterred, we continued exploring the next day and spent the night on a farm outside Merweville. Special memories.
In 2017 Theunis was going for a Super Randonneur award. He ticked off the 600, 200 & 300km rides, but when it came to the 400 there were no other participants. Properly motivated, he completed the 400km completely solo and achieved his goal. Legendary.
Did you know his last official Audax was also a 600km?
The two of us opted for the scenic route and added many extra kms in doing so, but with good reason — early morning pies at his friends’ bakery in Gansbaai and open roads through Elim before lunch on the beach in Struisbaai and a quick night stop at the familiar Herberg in Robertson.
I think Chris still popped in to say hello at the final checkpoint in Wellington after we descended Bainskloof. We chatted away, completely lost track of time and finally had to sprint back to Vrede to arrive with just five minutes to spare — now proudly holding the record for the slowest local 600km BRM. Good times.
Theunis covered over 5000kms as a Randonneur and went on to complete the Munga in 2018. We shared a couple of beers the night before and that ride with really meant a lot to him.
And now, as I close the office door in the sunset of a quiet Sunday afternoon and cycle down the path from where so many of our shared adventures have started, if feels surreal to think there won’t be another with him.
Godspeed Theunis. You will be missed, but not forgotten.
- I’ve loaded some images here.
- The 12.15*-2pm slot on coastalradiosa.com this Saturday 25 July will be dedicated to Theunis and you can WhatsApp your messages to Gideon on (063) 368-3916 before COB 23 July.
- There will be a virtual memorial for Theunis on 24 July at 11am SA time. Please forward to anyone you know would like to join but can not physically be there either due to Regulations or distance. Join at https://us04web.zoom.us/j/7506578795… with Zoom Meeting ID: 750 657 8795 and Passcode: k8VBc5