I write this from my camping chair, overlooking the Namtib biosphere. I have rocky mountains behind me, a savannah grassland in front of me, and red dunes peeking out in the distance. Namibia is an incredible place! But before I expound on our time here, let me give you a quick catch up on our remaining time in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
After I last wrote, we braved the corrugated roads of the park and drove north, into the heart of the Kgalagadi. The camping was luxury! We had our own bathroom where I could even leave my toothbrush for 3 days!.. our own washing up area.. and at my final count about 5 black back jackals that hung out at our camp after dark. Terrifying, but a great African experience. Very coincidentally we bumped into some old friends on holiday from Johannesburg, and we really enjoyed seeing some familiar faces. I think I’m becoming one of those annoying people who try and strike up conversation with anyone, so it was great to find people who actually wanted to speak to me. Lola and Lincoln loved hanging out with their kids and thought themselves rather brave adventurers exploring the camp for a couple of days together. They spent hours covering themselves in all available dirt, and had to be reeled in after dark as they didn’t see these jackals as much of a threat. Yikes!
We had some incredible encounters, including a herd of about 12 giraffe grazing on the side of the road, and finding a pride of lion at a watering hole. If you haven’t seen a lion up close let me lay it out for you; they are huge! They hung out around our car for a while and were almost head height at our Prado window (it is not a low car!). Staring out into the face of a lion had my survival instincts kicking in full swing. I can’t understand why that makes hands sweat and voices go squeaky, but there I was, squeak-yelling at the kids to close their windows as a lion sauntered up to Lincoln’s door, while my sweaty hands manhandled the camera in all the excitement. The lense-cap from our camera is still MIA from all the commotion!
After all the excitement of the park we headed out the Mata Mata gate straight into Namibia. We arrived here a week ago, and I must say, on first glimpse, I wasn’t all that impressed. It was dry and dusty, nothing grew, and to make it worse, the roads were all sand. Urgh. But then we stopped for our first night at an unpretentious farm on the side of a high-way (made of sand), and got to enjoy a night of absolute stillness under the stars. It is a very black sky that blankets Namibia at night, and a very blue one during the day. We discovered the colours here are more vivid, even though at first everything seems brown, after you’ve been here a while you see the colours all around you. The sunsets are magical. You have crimson sky to the west, and if you turn around a rainbow of colour fills the sky to the east. The dust is everywhere, but you can forgive it its intrusion because of the magnificent sunsets it incites. Taking beautiful pictures is easy because there seems to be a permanent filter on the lense. But I’m beginning to wonder if the filter is on my eyes. I was always the person swearing never to go to Namibia because it was too dry, now I can’t stop telling people how amazing it is. It’s another one of those places you can’t adequately describe to people. My language of the place does it no justice. It’s a ‘feel’ place. The emotions this environment stirs up leave you wanting to see more, explore more. It’s vast and barren and largely devoid of people, but it gets into your soul.
That is until you hit the tourist spots. Big sigh. We seem to be here during European peak season. The country boasts a population of about 2 million people, but there seem to be double that in French, Italian and German tourists. It is heaving, in as much as a country this barren can heave 😉 Thankfully, there are some off the wall stops we’ve managed to find that seem legitimately local. One spot was a roadside ‘coffee shop’ with the best apple-strudel and homemade rusks we’ve tasted. It was conveniently located at the exact spot that Lincoln had a rather severe on-set of car-sickness. We enjoyed the delicious goods while poor Lincoln walked in circles around a rather beautiful garden creation, made out of old car parts, crockery and desert succulents. We considered driving back that way just to stop in there again, but thought Lincoln wouldn’t be impressed with us, especially given his propensity for car-sickness on those rolling dune roads.
We had to do a bit of a U-turn after we headed into Namibia, and headed back down towards South Africa so we could experience the Fish River Canyon and the Ai Ais hot springs. Unfortunately the hot springs are incredibly touristy and you aren’t allowed in the natural springs at all. You are allowed to soak in the warm waters of the hotel, which are pleasant enough, in an un-natural-chlorine-filled kind of way. You can see the place was once charming but it has unfortunately become a little run down and lacks the magic you’d imagine it had. It is still a phenomenal area to visit as it allows you to explore the Fish River Canyon from the end point of the 90km hiking trail. We did some exploring in the canyon as well as going to see the view from the top. It too, is extreme. It is similar in many ways to the Grand Canyon in the States, but thankfully lacks the size of those crowds. We did some geocaching with the kids and running around the top in an almost desolate landscape, before returning to the much frequented waters of the Ai. As much as we complain about it, it was nice to have some water to soak in, and it was hard to convince the kids we needed to move on. But we had ghost towns and desert landscapes to explore, and many more dirt roads ahead of us…
We have just arrived in Swakopmund, and finally have enough wifi to load this post. It means we are a little behind in communications, but will have another post to get you all up to speed soon.
As I sit here watching the sun rise over the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, I am struck by the extremes in Africa. Yesterday we got sun burnt… this morning as I scrambled out the van with numb fingers, desperate for a cup of warm tea, I found the kettle water had frozen over night. I mean it’s not like we don’t know Africa, we have lived here our whole lives, but I feel like the African bush is a different place. It’s run by different rules, and it’s ruthless. You can’t be soft here or you wont survive, maybe that’s why so many people fall in love with the place. It’s raw and it’s brutal, but it shows you life in a way that city living just can’t. It makes you see things differently, or maybe it just makes you see things for the first time. Life is fragile.
I must be honest here and say that I have not always been a lover of the African bush. I always begrudged the dust, and the bugs and moaned about the long hours you have to sit in a car. But then I married Shaun, and he and his brothers couldn’t accept my attitude. They told me it’s because I hadn’t been to the right bush. I hadn’t experienced it properly. And I’m beginning to see why they have always felt the way they do. Growing up in my family, we normally did action packed holidays. This partly comes from my mothers inability to sit still, but also because with 6 children, who could possibly imagine a 5 hour game drive! So we ‘did’ holidays instead, and loved it. It meant that the limited experience I had had driving through bush hadn’t left me with any real experience of it. It has taken 15 years of life with Shaun (and 9 years with my animal mad kids) for me to get to this point; where I love the idea of the bush enough to head into it for 6 months. No amount of cream seems to moisturise my dry skin and my cell phone doesn’t like my fingerprint anymore because the tips of my fingers are like sandpaper, but this is all trivial. Yes Dad, it would seem I’m finally toughening up 😉
We have been in the Kgalagadi for 3 days and have been spoilt with what we have seen. We have done 2 game drives, some of the time just appreciating where we are, and at other times marveling over the game around us. We stumbled apon 2 cheetah moments after they killed a springbok and we got to experience a raw moment of life. Even Lola (for the first time) could understand the need for the springboks sacrifice. It was a big experience for them. Seeing it first hand, and not on animal planet, made it easier for them to understand and accept as a part of life. The following day we found black back jackals cleaning up the same spot and got to watch them quite closely as well, a real treat. The kids are natural spotters (they must get that from Shaun) and have found everything from birds of prey, to lion (amazing!), african wild cat, mongooses, meercats, cape fox, and numerous species of buck. Their ability to spot birds is what blows me away, and the kids are loving the Roberts bird app and identifying the different species. They are teaching me so much!
Camping in Kgalagadi has been a vastly different experience to camping at Augrabies falls where we were constantly harassed by monkeys and baboons, and could barely open the kitchen for fear of a cheeky monkey flying over our shoulder to grab a bag of whatever it could get its hands on. It made the camping experience rather stressful, but it did teach us the need for a kettie, and the skills to use it. We all now have one, and are hard at work honing our talents. Staying their did give us an opportunity to explore the incredible falls, spend hours playing on the rocks, and do a beautiful walk to Twin Falls and Moon Rock, down river. Shaun had a lot of work to get through and I tried to get through a fair amount of school with the kids, as well as wrapping up any necessary things before leaving the country.
We have been staying in Twee Revieren for the past 3 nights, and although our camp here is fenced, we are aware that a stray lion could make its way in (as one did 6 months ago). This has kept us alert, but has thankfully lacked all the drama of camping with the monkeys. We are now heading up to Nossob (or Nobbie as Lincoln calls it) for another 3 nights. We are then out the country! The dunes of Namibia are calling and Shaun is chomping at the bit to show us this dry piece of heaven. I am reserving comment until I have experienced this desert land…
Catch you all in a few days time.
Love S & M & L & L
After months of radio silence, we’re back! We hope to incite a lust for adventure by supplying your inbox with a gentle stream of African road tripping images, wildlife shots and general Wuth family shenanigans. Hopefully they’ll burn a desire in your heart to head out into the wilderness and experience the beauty in this world. Maybe they’ll be enough to satisfy your desire, but either way, we hope they give you lots of enjoyment. A glimpse into our life for the next 6 months, the good… and the not so good 🙂 So before all that begins, here is a little bit of what we’ve been up to and how we got here…
We started off the year by taking our kids out of school so we could home-school them – we did this for many reasons, but partly to figure it out before we left on our adventure. What we didn’t realise at the time was that home-schooling and working would leave no time for planning the actual trip! So fast-forward 6 months to our anticipated leaving date and Shaun and I found ourselves in a perpetual state of mania trying to tick our way down our to-do list. We were impossible to pin down and even more impossible to get any concrete plans out of. After the property market in Cape Town fell through the floor, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to rent our house out, let alone sell it, and this meant we had a pretty flexible leaving date. But then a wonderful family on their own years adventure from Spain wanted to move into our house and suddenly mid July became a hard deadline! Our leaving date had moved from plan A, to plan B, all the way down to about E before we finally had lift off. It was a bit of a soft launch though and it only shot us 800 meters up the road where we stayed with friends for 2 nights – we just hadn’t managed to tick the last few things off our list. On our second take we managed to get all the way to Stellenbosch, a full 50mins drive from our home. The only reason we made it that far was because we had booked a 4×4 course so we could learn how to drive our vehicle before heading off into the wild blue yonder. Anyone would think we had no heads to screw on, and I think by the time we left we had our entire extended family in a state of paranoia about what we were about to attempt. Luckily (in this case), Shaun and I operate in completely different spheres, so put together we seem to have covered most of the bases (we think) and although we had a rather tumultuous start, we seem to have found a bit of a groove. After 10 days on the road we are all settling into it.
Learning how to 4×4 was actually a great start to our adventure and we’ve already had to apply our newfound knowledge. We’re hoping to avoid as many blow-outs as possible. Turns out there is a lot more to driving a 4×4 than just sticking it in drive and ploughing over things, who would have thought! We started our trip by spending 3 nights at Kogel Bay Campsite between Somerset West and Kleinmond. It gave us 3 days to sort out our packing. Re-pack and re-pack again, and go back into town to get a few more last minute things, and have some more gadgets fitted to our car. Shaun has really settled into this African adventure by over-engineering the socks off our gear. He has fitted solar panels, bought battery packs for our battery packs, and ‘smart’ charges that make all the charging that much more efficient. I think we should be ok for power.
While Shaun has geared us up, I have played tetris over and over again to make sure we have used our space wisely, and have the things we need close at hand while less necessary boxes get packed at the bottom. What this means is that I know where everything is and Shaun knows how to make everything work. If you take one of us out of the campsite everything grinds to a halt, but I’m sure after another few weeks on the road we will have grasped the whole picture.
The kids have been very good at getting stuck in and finding tasks that they can manage. I’ve actually been quite impressed. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a fair amount of nagging that goes on, but that is normally me trying to get them to do school work. Unfortunately Shaun and I have been trying to fit in some necessary work as well which has thrown off a couple of ‘packing up camp sessions’, so we’ve arrived in the dark at multiple stops which is never ideal. Luckily we’ve managed to keep morale high most of the time, but every now and again the wheels go rolling off and we all just have tea and go to bed
After Kogel Bay we headed inland to Tankwa Karoo for a few nights. There is lots of nothing and then some more nothing. It is desolate and barren, but in a strange way still beautiful. You can watch dust swirl down the road, catch the occasional springbok bounding past, and if you’re quiet enough, hear your blood flow more slowly through your veins. We did some work and school and chilling at viewpoints, and started to feel the stillness of Africa a little. After testing out our new suspension on some of the worst corrugated roads I’ve ever seen, we headed to Sutherland for a night to check out the Southern hemisphere’s largest telescope (S.A.L.T.) and do some star gazing in the coldest place in South Africa. It was worth all the corrugation to get there! The stars were out of this world.
Then it was off to Namaqualand to run in the daisies, and we weren’t disappointed. It was a little early in the season, but they were still spectacular. So was the landscape surrounding Namaqualand with its granite domes and interesting vegetation. Definitely a place we will come back to explore on foot. It is quite unlike anywhere else in South Africa and looks ideal for a hiking trip.
We are now on route to Augrabies to camp next to the roar of the falls. Here’s hoping our last week in South Africa is calm and enjoyable. Catch you all on the flip side.
Honestly, I am as surprised as anyone that my kids are prepared to put up with us. I keep expecting them to disown us, to beg for parents who don’t think that wandering the mountains whilst lugging all their gear on their backs is great holiday fun. But they have surprised us at every turn.
Escaping into the Cape Fold Mountains might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but lucky for us, it seemed to be the tea of choice for our children. Parenting win!
Most unlike us, Shaun and I decided on a route about 2 weeks ahead of time, leaving us plenty of time to worry about other things, like Shaun’s recent brush with decrepitude. Turning 35 seems to have come with a bag of niggles, most notably his ITB showing him the finger every time he runs more than 5km’s. This was a mild concern but we hoped taking it slow and making sure his pack wasn’t too heavy would mean his leg suffers no further disrepair.
So lightness of packs being the order of the day, I took the kids shopping to choose what they would like to eat on the hike. Having their buy-in is crucial for a successful hike. Their buy-in meant we came home with 6 bags of sweets, chocolate flavoured oats, and ‘lime and black pepper’ tuna (they assured me this would keep their protein levels up). After sensibly applying my ‘adulting’ brain and getting a few more essential items like coffee and biscuits, ok, and some biltong and cous-cous for dinner, we were ready to get the packs packed.
Food and ‘stuff’
Our thinking is this: Most importantly, the kids have to enjoy the hike or it’ll be our last!
In order to achieve this:
1. Make sure we have slightly more food than we think we’ll need.
2. Make sure a large portion of this consists of sugar.
3. Make sure there is as much caffeine as sugar.
4. Have at least 1 energy gel for each of us per day (just in case the wheels come off the children’s wagons, mother looses her sense of humour, or dad gets wobbly legs).
If we can get points 1 – 4 right, we’ll be hitting our most important objective (refer to above)!
So once we had decided on food, chosen the barest of essentials for clothing, got a sleeping mat and a bag each, and packed the tent, there was nothing more we could do but distribute the weight as fairly as we could.
Lincoln tips the scales at a hefty 22kgs – we decided 5kgs was the max weight he should carry.
Lola clocks in at a marginally higher 24kgs – so she should also have no more than 5kgs on her back.
This obviously leaves the bulk of the weight to be distributed between Shaun and myself.
I weigh in at 64kgs – this means absolutely nothing because I can only carry what I can carry. I mean if I can’t pick up my pack, what’s the point. So I packed it until I required assistance standing up, and then repacked it because I forgot to pack any clothes, and then when I couldn’t take any more, Shaun had to take the rest. My pack weighed in at 22kgs.
Shaun’s beefy 72kg frame had to carry the remaining 27kgs.
It worked out to us carrying roughly 1/3rd of our body weight each, with the kids having more freedom to run with a lighter pack. The trick is getting them to think they are much stronger than you are because they can go so fast, then they really shine!
Where did we go you ask?
We chose the Grootvadersbosch / Boosmansbos Nature Reserve which is just past Swellendam. It has well established hiking trails (which would help us avoid mistakes of the past) and being springtime, was bound to have incredible fynbos.
The downside is that it doesn’t have a large selection of routes to choose from, just 2 well maintained paths leading up into the mountains for roughly 16km’s, at which point you find 2 very rustic huts, next to an icy mountain stream, with accompanying frozen pools… Bliss. So this was where we were heading.
16kms up is a little too much for our kiddos to do in one day however, so we decided we would camp out at the 8km mark, and break the ‘Up’ leg into 2. Coming down would be easier so a long return journey we weren’t so worried about. That left one day in the middle where we could do a day hike or explore the surroundings. Solid logic (for a change).
Day 1 – We go Up!
The start of the hike is never the best, we were all taking strain under our full packs and were anxious to get past the dirt roads and into the real wild, where the rivers run uninhibited and the wildlife roam freely. Luckily it didn’t take too long… Before we knew it Shaun was standing on a snake, Lola was gathering insects and Lincoln was wetting his shoes in all the mountain streams. It was lovely (it would have been less lovely if Shaun had been bitten!). We started munching our way through our heavy loads and already the stresses of the world were slipping away.
We only began hiking at midday and by the time we stopped for the night the kids were shattered. ‘Just’ camping at the 8km mark was easier said than done. The trail was beautiful and winding, but totally devoid of any terrain flat enough to pitch a tent on. We eventually cut our losses and pitched our tent right on the path. What we lost in comfort we made up for with our view. It was extraordinary.
We had an enchanting dinner of cous-cous and salt, while enjoying the evening’s entertainment of watching the clouds roll down the mountain into the valley. Pure simplicity. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. You can’t imagine the perfection of an evening like that; you really have to experience it. Utterly soul replenishing.
Day 2 – We go Up some more!
We greeted the morning with sore hips and crooked necks. The world had never looked better. We had an ocean of cloud in front of us, and a warm sun above our heads. The kids were clowning about, and life on the mountain was peaceful, if a little windswept. We had the remaining 8km’s to get us to the big river and swimming pools high up in the Cape Fold Mountains.
After coffee, breakfast and packing up our gear (in that order), we set off along a path probably not walked by a 7 and 8 year old before. We reminded the kids how epic they were, and hoped that would give them a good boost for the tough day ahead; we needed them firing on all cylinders. You’ve got to play the cards you’ve been dealt – Lincoln likes the encouragement of being told he’s a super star, Lola likes being given sweets. So having sweets and protein bars at the ready, we hit the trail. We had a big mountain to climb.
Going up can be slow going, so we continued with games stared the day before, being the ‘favourites’ game (whereby someone chooses a subject and we all have to guess each other’s 3 favourite things), and ‘20 questions’ (this was particularly amusing, but they picked it up quickly). It kept the kids very entertained until Shaun and I couldn’t keep up with their pace and they left us in their dust (well this is what we told them). In full disclosure, this was also a bit of a tactical manoeuvre from our side; if we let them get the lead on us it fires them up in a big way, it becomes a game of ‘we must stay ahead of mum and dad’. It’s a winning move.
This is what waiting for mum and dad looks like…
…and more waiting
…and some catching.
Luckily after a short lunch there wasn’t much walking left before finding the river and the huts. This left us an entire afternoon to play in the pools and lounge like lizards in the sun. After a hot morning of hiking there is little better. There were no cold beers, but there was ice-cold mountain water. The kids were pooped and it took us a while to work out that Lola hadn’t drank enough water from her camel bak and was pretty dehydrated. Luckily we had packed the rehydrate so we had her gulping down bottles of it, but not before she said “We aren’t hiking tomorrow. Not negotiable.” So that sealed it. Once the rehydrate kicked in she had so much energy we could have sent her down the entire mountain and back up again; it’s amazing how the body shuts down when not fuelled correctly. But the enthusiasm ship had sailed, and we said if they didn’t want to they didn’t have to. We would have an ‘off’ day.
We pitched our tent inside the hut as it had no window or door and the nights were chilly. It did give us a very flat surface to sleep on and some shelter from the wind, which was much needed. (We were doubly grateful when it started raining on the following night).
Day 3 – Mary and Shaun don’t know how to sit still.
Good hard sleeping, interspersed with gale-force wind that made the corrugated iron roof sound like it was going to lift off the hut. But we were all there in the morning, more or less chipper, and ready for an adventure.
Lola was ready to eat the floorboards out the hut, so we began with breakfast. The men slowly made their way out the tent and joined the day, although more reluctantly today. Lola with her will of iron was still adamant that she was not hiking, so of course Lincoln followed suit. Shaun and I had been gazing at the final mountain peak looming in front of us and agreed that we couldn’t be this close to the summit and not get there, so we decided we would do it independently, as a trail run.
Hitting the trail up the final peak had me fast realising what a good thing it was the kids weren’t heading up. It was completely overgrown and had me wishing for Lincoln’s shin guards. At that point I was thankful for Lola’s stubbornness of will. Saying I was nervous going up on my own was an understatement. I was at the top of a mountain range, on my own, summiting the final peak. There was obviously no cell reception, and no way for me to get hold of Shaun if I needed him. I was super cautious.
Sitting at what felt like the top of the world like that, reminded me how we all need that time, and we all need that space. It was awesome that I could come down from that and let Shaun loose for his slice of peace and freedom. It’s like pushing a little ‘reboot’ button on life.
The kids spent the day playing make-believe games, collecting insects at the river, wading through the rock pools and trying to catch tadpoles – the most quintessential childhood day. I am so happy they could have that break from the busy-ness of ‘real’ life. There should be more carefree days like that.
The evening was spent lying in the grass staring at the clouds, chatting, laughing and taking ridiculous slow-mo videos of ourselves. The most perfect family evening together.
Day 4 – My kids are my heroes.
I would love to say we awoke in the morning after a wonderful nights sleep, but it was windy. Like really windy. The kids and I were less perturbed and managed to catch our zzz’s quickly, Shaun on the other hand, unbeknownst to us, made out into the night in search of rocks. Yes, rocks. I awoke to what I can only describe as the sound of the hut collapsing in on us. I had a panicked moment of thinking this was the end of us all. The sound was like nothing I had heard before; a banging-crashing-scratching sound. Ok, it was probably just that it was so incredibly loud, and it woke me up, at which point you obviously can make no sense of anything. A man enraged from lack of sleep, hurling boulders onto the corrugated-iron roof of our hut, was in actual fact none other than my lovely husband who was, yes, a little irritated with the incessant rattling and thumping of the roof sheets, but was as he puts it, ‘gently tossing’ rocks onto the roof.
So aside from minor heart failure mid way through the night, we awoke to a peaceful, serene morning; rain gently falling and mist rolling peacefully past the door of the hut. Absolutely beautiful, until I realised we had to hike all the way down the mountain in that! I panicked. I had visions of the children flat out refusing, of tossing their cookies and stamping their feet, or worse still, sulking the whole 14.5km’s down the mountain.
Conversely, everyone was in such high spirits. By the time we had packed up camp the kids were doing push-ups and star jumps to warm up before heading out into the frigid weather. I was amazed. The walk, although initially so misty we couldn’t see anything, cleared up to reveal the most incredible mountain cliffs, gorges plummeting down next to us, and carpets of flowering fynbos.
Beautiful though it was, it was still freezing cold, and the kids and I put our second pair of socks on our hands to keep warm. It would have worked a little better for me if Lola hadn’t stood in a puddle and wet the pair on her feet, meaning her ‘hand’ socks moved south, my ‘hand’ socks moved onto smaller hands, and Lola’s wet foot socks failed dismally in warming up my numb fingers. But such is life.
Despite the cold, or maybe because of it, the kids flew down that mountain faster than I have ever seen them move. They kept up a constant pace of 4km’s an hour, including breaks, I was positively having to scuttle in places just to keep up. It was a perfect hiking day, and I was sad to be heading on the ‘out’ trail. The fact that the kids needed almost no motivating whatsoever certainly helped, and we got to our car about 2 hours earlier than planned.
As we drove down the dusty road towards civilisation, I found myself gazing at the mountain ranges we were leaving behind us, and wondered how long we could live in them before needing to return to the comforts of home. There is a time and a place for everything, a wise man once said.
It has taken me 4 months to finish writing about my first half iron man. I don’t think I have a good excuse for it, I think I had just reached my limit on thinking about it. I have spent the last 4 months re-living the race and what I could have done differently, but here, I will just give you my account of race day. Some of it might be overshare, but it’ll give you a good idea of what it was like. After taking a challenge that looked from the outside like an incredibly crazy thing for me to even attempt, I owned it. I didn’t smash the time I wanted, but it’s done – finished! I’m alive, although I didn’t manage that part on my own (see below for details). I have, in hindsight, likened this race to childbirth. The pain isn’t as intense – obviously (men don’t go thinking you know what childbirth is like now) but it does leave you in awe of what your body is capable of. I’m pretty sure as the days pass and the memory of the pain fades, I will want to tackle the challenge again.
For those who haven’t done a triathlon (or Ironman specific event) you might find the details interesting, or at least informative. It might put you off wanting to try, but don’t let it! Race day details are seldom fun when you live it, but in hindsight I think most people are pleased they did it.
This is my day in review:
4.30am and the alarm signals the end of a difficult nights sleep. In a way, starting the day is welcome. After such a build up, I was looking forward to getting rid of the nerves. So up to breakfast we went. Getting food down your throat before 5 in the morning is always a challenge, but it has to be done. We sorted our gear the day before, putting ‘swim to bike’ transition gear in one bag, ‘bike to run’ gear in another, and ‘street wear’ in a separate bag that hangs at their respective ‘finish lines’. We took our bikes to the transition area and racked them the day before too, so all our gear was ready and waiting. The only thing left to do was arrange bottles of juice and make sure we had our nutrition sorted.
5.30am had us walking down the East London peer, on route to the transition area and start line. It is imperative to re-orientate yourself with where your bags hang and where your bike is racked. When your bike hangs amidst 2200 other bikes, best you know exactly where your number is so you don’t get lost during the race. You’d be surprised at how many people take the wrong things in their flustered state during transition. In a recent ironman event overseas one of the pro’s ended up running the 21km’s barefoot as she couldn’t find her shoes in transition! So, re-orientation, last minute touches and bottles done, it was time to head down to the beachfront with the 2200 other competitors to suit up for the swim.
6.30amby this point in the game, you should have a pretty good idea of how long it will take you to swim 1900 meters, so your start time is left up to you. If you start amongst swimmers of your speed, you will be swimming over fewer people and have fewer people swimming over you, both very advantageous if you’re not looking to drown. Pick the pen with your estimated finish time and wait for your start. Oh the nerves!
7.15am my time had come. Thankfully Shaun and I swim at similar speeds so we could wait in looming fear together, huddled like seals amongst the other wetsuit clad participants. All I could think was; don’t forget to put your goggles on! And then we were off. The water was magic, after training in the Atlantic in 11 degree water, East London’s Indian Ocean felt like a hot tub by comparison. Starting with people of a similar speed was the cherry on top, we swam as a pod instead of a school of piranhas, making it a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The conditions were close to ideal and there was only a mild current. The fact that the swim was 300meters further than it was supposed to be didn’t bother me at all, I could have swam happily for hours, but the bike was waiting and out I had to come.
Swim time: 40:01 minutes – 1900m (in reality 2200m)
Transition time: 6:20 minutes
(This is how long it took me to run from the sea up to the transition area, find my ‘swim to bike’ bag, get out my wetsuit, into cycling gear, find my bike and run out of the transition area – you only mount the bike on the road)
I started the cycle feeling strong, and ahead of the crowds, which was a great feeling. I could find my pace on the road and start notching the hills off the race profile. There is no slipstreaming allowed in triathlon so it doesn’t matter where you begin. The 90km cycle is gruelling, you have the same amount of climbing in the first 45km’s as you have in the whole Cape Town Argus, it is no walk in the park. 10km’s in and my stomach was protesting, I could feel it was full of air but I was far more focused on climbing the hills than I was on trying to burp the air out. Whether this would have helped or not – I don’t know, but what I thought would pass only got worse the further I went. By the 45km turn around point I was so sore and so emotional that when somebody shouted my name and some words of encouragement, I dissolved into a whimpering mess, trying to stifle my sobbing so I didn’t attract the attention of the race marshals who were told to pull anyone who looked like they weren’t coping off the course. At this point I reminded myself that I was half way through the most gruelling part and all I have to do is make it back to transition and I can walk the run if I needed to. Getting back to base was harder than you would think given that we’d done the climbing on the way out, but East London has a howler of a wind, and it blows right into your face on your return. All you can do is grit your teeth and sink as low as you can onto your bike to minimise your wind resistance. I drank my fluids and I forced my granola bars down my throat, keeping to our race plan of when to eat, even though it was the last thing I wanted to do. I would be thankful for this later. I was pleased as punch when I rode along the East London pier towards transition, all I wanted to do was get my running shoes on and hit that last leg. This was undoubtedly a mind game and mine was working over time.
Bike time: 3:29:43 hrs – 90km
Transition time: 5:12 minutes
(This is the time from hopping off your bike, handing it over to get racked, running to find your ‘bike to run’ gear, getting out of your cycling gear, getting your shoes on and running out of transition)
It was at this point that I was hoping for a miracle. My stomach still wasn’t happy and I was hoping that standing up straight would help straighten things out… It was wishful thinking. My legs were feeling ok, I had juice in them at least, but I couldn’t put any juice in my tummy. Without being able to top up the tank I knew my legs would eventually give in, but I just couldn’t do it. I grabbed some water from the first water table and after taking a sip I had to walk for a few minutes to prevent it coming out again. This turned out to be the routine for the race. I tried periodically to get some fluids in because the temperature was around 34 degrees and I knew it was crucial, but I had more luck with squeezing the water soaked sponges over my head and drenching myself to bring my body temperature down. I think the volume of fluid I took in on the cycle was my saving grace. I put my head down and thought of why I was doing this race, but when you are that tired most thoughts are random and fleeting, leaving you fixating on things like peoples shoe colour and how many bands they have on their wrist (you get a band for each lap you do). All I wanted to do was get to the top of the hill and score my second band, I knew once I had it I would be home free. Well, not quite home free; I still had 5km’s to get back to the finish, but that’s nothing at the end of a race this long. I would have crawled it if I had to; it’s amazing what your body can accomplish when you put your mind to it.
Run time: 2:18:17 hrs – 21km
As I made my way over the finish line I couldn’t have been more relieved. It was without a doubt the hardest race I have ever done. I was in more physical discomfort than I have ever been in a race, and not from sore muscles or tired limbs. I mean they were tired, make no mistake, but whatever had gone on with my stomach was beyond anything I could have prepared for. It’s incredible how as soon as you don’t have to carry on, your body seems to loose the ability to keep itself together. Suddenly I couldn’t take another step. I literally collapsed in a heap. I sat that way, not getting up for food, or looking for Shaun, until my body suddenly screamed ‘BATHROOM’ at full volume. Apparently when your body is chronically dehydrated, it is unable to absorb fluids or food, and your stomach actually rejects it. It comes out either end with large amounts of gusto, leaving you shaking uncontrollably, and largely unable to move.
Thankfully a good Samaritan was on hand to call the paramedics and alert Shaun to where I was. I was hooked up to a drip and rolled off on a stretcher to the medical tent, where I had to have 2 bags of fluid injected intravenously, and lie there until I stopped shaking. When I finally managed to accomplish this, I had missed all the festivities and largely ruined the excitement of the end of one of our biggest races. I was still suffering the effects of dehydration and my stomach felt battered and bruised and full of air, leaving me with little to no appetite and feeling very sorry for myself. After all the excitement and all the training, to have been thrown off my game by my stomach was rather depressing.
Shaun obviously had an ordeal waiting for me outside the medical tent while I recovered from my 60/40 blood pressure (not for the first time), and he had some stern words for me on taking care of my body and not carrying on when I am clearly in no condition to. It’s hard to accept that sometimes there are times when no matter how hard you have trained, and no matter how much you want something, it’s better to take care of yourself than to almost die reaching your goal. A bit melancholy, but true none the less.
I have no regrets, but that’s because I made it out alive. In hindsight, I should have stopped when I realised I couldn’t take in any fluids, especially on such a hot day. It was one hell of a race, but I am so glad I can say that I have done it. I have opened a door I never expected to open, one where you glimpse exactly what your body is capable of and what your mind is capable of overcoming. I’ve often wondered just how a person gets through big, physically challenging events, now I’ve gleaned a little more understanding, and it’s addictive!
Friends and family have asked, despite everything, will there be more? There really is only one answer …most certainly! Hopefully with a little more finesse.
As the year screams by and we hit the second school term like a herd of stampeding wildebeest, we realise how important it is to stop and take a look around. It’s May for crying in a bucket. We seem to have snoozed through 4 months of the year already and before we know where we are, our kids have lost another tooth, decided sleeping at friends is way cooler than sleeping at home, and taken up computer games as their official hobby. How did this happen? Snooze through another stretch and we’ll find them driving out the front gate yelling, “See you after first semester!” It terrifies me. I’m no longer creeping closer to my mid 30’s, I find myself in a head on collision with my 35th birthday and no way of avoiding it. How did that happen? Where are the brakes?
Luckily, the Easter holidays meant we could escape for 3 nights in the Cederberg mountains, about as close as we could get to hitting the brakes on life. Just the 4 of us, mountain paths for miles, with all we needed slung over our shoulders. We could do as we pleased, governed only by the sun and the stars; no technology, no phone calls, no work… nothing short of bliss.
The kids have been nagging to do a trip like this since Shaun and I did a similar one last year for our 10 year anniversary. They made sure we knew what their requirements were. They wanted to:
1. climb lots of rocks, 2. sleep in a tent, 3. swim in a clear mountain pool, and 4. not do too much hiking.
Knocking our intrepid Wuth exploration genes into the background, we set about planning a route that was low on mileage and high on fun! Then we started with the practicalities of what we were undertaking; we put the kids’ packs on their backs and filled them up to test how much weight they could carry.
4.5kg’s, that’s it. It is 1/6th of their body weight, but it doesn’t go a long way in covering what they need for 3 nights in the mountains.
To put it in perspective, they could carry their clothes, and a camelbak bladder full of water. So Shaun and I equipped ourselves with some lightweight packs with extra storage space so we could carry the additional sleeping bags, mats, bottles and food we would need. We also had to take a 4-man tent as opposed to a 2-man one, which added an extra 4kg’s. At this point we were extremely grateful for all of our ironman training – it was going to be necessary.
Logistics taken care of and packs filled to overflowing, we set off for the Cederberg. Thankfully we had called ahead to check on the level of the rivers to make sure there would be water on the route we had decided on, only to find out that the route we had planned had been devastated by a fire a few months earlier. This meant a last minute change of plan. No major shake up for the gallant Wuth clan, we amended the route, ensured there was water available in the rivers, and hit the trail. Not before we could each stuff 2 white candy Easter eggs in our mouths of course, it was the Easter holidays after all.
We started our hike at 5pm and we had an uphill climb of about 3km’s before reaching an area flat enough to pitch our tent. We had worked out our route based on the Slingsby maps and quickly realised that they were not entirely accurate. At 3km’s up we realised that it was more like 5km’s until it flattened out. The kids were troupers, pushing through the first gruelling stretch like mountain goats. The 4kg packs turned out to be perfect in weight for them, and they could surge on ahead of us while we laboured under the weight of 4 days’ worth of food and 10 litres of water. Thankfully the kids happened upon a perfect little patch of flat ground that looked out over the Algeria valley, just as the light was reaching its last faint breath. It was perfect. Even a dinner of cold rice and biltong wasn’t enough to dampen the children’s spirits, and they went to sleep happy, with the stars an unspoiled canopy above us.
Day 2 we awoke on top of the clouds, a soft white blanket stretching across the valley in front of us. We were alone on the mountain, dazzling sun rising to the East, and a day of exploring ahead of us. A cappuccino and bowl of hot oats completed the perfection, and off we set to conquer the remainder of the mountain.
Our morning was spent lazing next to hundred-year-old oak trees on the top, and bathing in the fresh river that meandered its way across the summit. Lola found (what we decided were) leopard footprints, and we tracked them across the top as they crisscrossed our path, causing great apprehension as to whether they were hiding in the rocky ledges nearby. After consulting our less than trusty map (although we weren’t aware just how untrustworthy at the time), we decided to follow an old path down a gorge on the mountain, to a point where there were 2 large pools at the main river below. In theory, this was a great decision, in practice, something else entirely. The ‘old path’ turned out to be an ancient path. In fact, there was almost no path to speak of. To make matters worse, there had been a fire in the past few months, which the ranger had neglected to mention when we asked about the route. The fire had proved handy in that it cleared the route of overgrown vegetation, but was a hindrance in the loose rocks and ground it left in its wake. Had we realised the length of the descent we were undertaking, we might have changed our minds. At the time however, we could only see bubbling mountain pools (in our minds eye), and the shortest route of getting there. Damn our overzealousness.
As is the Wuth way, we spent the rest of the day scrambling down the mountain getting covered in soot, cutting our shins on the overgrown vegetation and apologising to the kids, telling them this was not our best work, and really not what we’d had in mind at all. As the sun began to set and we still had not located the path at the bottom of the gorge, Shaun set down his pack and relentlessly combed through the scrubby bush that surrounded us so at least we’d have a path to set off on the following morning. Thankfully, after about 4km’s of walking in what Shaun describes as a ‘scientifically-exploratory-fashion’, plotting markers on his watch at intervals of where the route was supposed to be, he finally found the dregs of the path. It was like finding a needle in a haystack. It was incredibly overgrown and was going to be no fun to follow, but it had to be done if we wanted to get to the river, and home. We had to settle for a small stream to collect water and wash in, but judging by the children’s glee it might as well have been a water-park. We were all exhausted, the children had been such troopers and we knew there was another gruelling day ahead of us, so we made camp on the first flat rocky outcrop we could find, and let the emotions of the day wash over us as we watched the stars climb into the sky.
Day 3 greeted us with blue skies and happy children, the rough patches of yesterday all forgotten – kids are amazing that way. We knew it wouldn’t last long with what lay ahead, so we let them goof about in their ‘fort’, and eat their breakfast leisurely on the top of ‘look-out’ rock, enjoying the quiet and the stillness of the morning. After getting the kids to put on their pyjama pants underneath their hiking pants to protect their legs from the scrubby bush, we were ready to hit the road. Well, not a road at all really, it was more like walking through a hedge. It was dry and rough and scratchy. We lost the path every couple of meters and had to beat through the bush to find if again. We crossed several river gorges with no water and scrambled up sheer rock faces. I’ve always said I’m not sure how we landed up lucky enough to have such resilient children, but yet again we were in awe. With the promise of a large river pool in the distance, the children pushed on. We carried them (and their packs… and our packs) when we thought the bush was too tall and the scrub too rough for them to walk through. We’d manage about a hundred meters and then have to put them down to catch our breath. It was relentless going. After about 4 hours of bushwhacking, the path finally opened up and we could actually see our feet in front of us. It was glorious! We made quick ground after that and got to our lunch spot and river pool not a moment too soon.
The water was cool, crystal clear, and sweet. There is something special about drinking water that has come straight down a mountain, untouched by other people, unfiltered and un-chlorinated. Swallowing the odd tadpole didn’t seem to bother the kids much either, but the tiny, 1mm leeches sunning themselves on a rock in the middle of the river disturbed them quite a bit – not enough to deter the skinny-dipping however.
We could have stayed all day and all night in that fresh, cool, oasis of ours, basking next to the river in the dappled sunlight, but we had a fixed amount of food and we were quickly nibbling our way through our dry crackers and oat bars. Lengthening our stay wasn’t an option, we had to head for home if we wanted to be eating anything on the way there. So after soaking ourselves clean and washing our clothes, we set off. It was a steep mountain we had to climb before we found any flat ground to camp on, so we pulled out the big guns; we told the children they could eat as much chocolate as they liked when they got to the top. I’m laying it out for you: this is how we get our kids to do these ridiculous things. There is no magic to our ways, simply lots of cunning… and a large sack of treats.
We couldn’t keep pace with the kids up that mountain. Sure, we had added several litres of water to our packs, but they were fast. They needed no encouragement. They, in fact, were encouraging us. What I had expected to be one hell of an awful climb, turned out to be the easiest of the lot! Thank you Lindt!
The top of that mountain was like being on a bridge between 2 worlds. Reality and civilisation loomed in front of us, while freedom and escape lay behind us. It was our last night on the mountain, and it would be a lie to say we were glad the hike was coming to an end. It was the break we had all needed. It was full of difficult climbs and treacherous descents, baking hot weather and worries about our choice of route, but it was also full of jokes and laughter, incredible views and learning more about each other, appreciating food for the sustenance it is, and water for its life giving qualities. There was nothing we took for granted, because everything we took we had to carry. It is an experience I would encourage every family to have together, an escape hard to replicate in the concrete jungle of convenience that is our world.
We woke up on our last morning to the sounds of utter silence. Not many creatures live that high up the mountains, and it is strange to have only the gentle breeze keeping you company as you watch your tiny cooker boil water for your morning coffee. The stillness sits inside you, like a tiny pebble dropped into a lake, the ripples moving through you and over you. But the sun waits for no man, and the descent back to reality began, breakfast over, tent packed up, and off we set.
It was a long walk back; we definitely didn’t get no.4 of the kids’ demands list right on this day. It was beautiful and rugged, but hot and devoid of water. We watched 2 Verreaux eagles soaring above us for hours as we covered the 14km journey back to our car. Whether they were the same 2 we had seen on the previous days I can’t be sure, but they were a constant reminder to me of why we were doing this trip. Their grace and power was beautiful beyond words, it was awesome – in the true sense of the word.
Scraping the last of our sense of humour from the bottom of the barrel, we managed to keep ourselves together until we reached the campsite at the end of what-should-have-been-a-morning-but-turned-into-almost-a-full-day’s hike. There was really only one thing we all needed at that point and anyone within eyeshot could have told you … a shower. It really is the everyday conveniences you come to appreciate after 4 days in the wilderness. I have been trying hard to teach my kids appreciation, but all it takes is a holiday like this for them to realise all they have back home. Suddenly running water and a toilet take on a whole new meaning.
Despite the buchwhacking, the heat and the fires, the kids had an absolute ball. There were times they lost their sense of humour, and times Shaun and I doubted our sanity, but that happens no matter where we are. It was such a fantastic holiday we’ve decided to make it a bi-annual event. Now we’re all looking forward to the resurgence of some warmer weather so we can do it all again!
It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never lived in Africa just what it entails. How after weekends like this, Africa and its many complexities reverberate in your bones, the challenges right on your doorstep can shake you to your core. Cape Town is always plagued by fires at this time of year, having our annual rainfall in winter means summers are usually dry, but this summer is worse. We have enough water in our reservoirs to last about another 60 days, after that we are the mercy of the Rain Gods. Fires have been raging on our mountain sides like they normally do, but Friday night’s fire took hold in a far more devastating way. It started in a shack in the informal settlement Mandela Park, located in Hout Bay. With shacks built one upon another with barely enough room to walk between, let alone enough room for fire-truck access or even firemen with hoses, the fire wrecked devastation, burning roughly 1000 houses, claiming numerous lives, and leaving a yet unconfirmed number of people, but estimates are around 10 000, with virtually nothing.
Living in the Hout Bay valley has been a sombre experience this weekend. We watched as thousands of people covered in soot, carrying what few possessions they could carry out of their homes, amble their way down to the main road, as blackened leaves and ash rained down around us. Sometimes all people could carry was the young, disabled or the elderly, while they left everything else to burn. We are used to fires, we – sadly – are even used to homeless people, but this was so different. Listening to the sounds of exploding gas bottles every few minutes, which sounded like bombing, made me feel like we were fighting our own kind of war. It seems wholly unfair; people who have so little, losing what few possessions they have.
There is a huge disparity between rich and poor in South Africa, and a natural segregation that comes with it. One of the positives of living in Hout Bay is that our children grow up with their eyes wide open, aware of people who have less, and those that have more. We see their houses, we spend time with them and we share stories. When devastation like this happens our children are virtually on the front lines. They see the queues of people waiting for food and water, and we are forced to talk about these issues, the fact that we have so much more than so many people in the world, and there are things we can do to help. Sharing our clothes, our toys and our food with people who have lost what little they had seems the least we could do. As much as I want to protect my children from the big-bad-ugly world, I also want them to know how privileged they are, I want them to know gratitude, and I want to teach them that they have a responsibility to give back to people who need help. We are not alone on this planet; we are each other’s keepers.
Residents of Mandela Park doing all they can. Photo credit: Sullivan Photography
It’s so easy to look past what’s going on next to you, think that someone else will deal with it, rationalise why it’s not your problem, but if we all did that who on earth would help? Thankfully Hout Bay seems to have a lot of people who don’t behave that way. There has been a spur to action to the point where there is no bread left in most of our shops, the shelves are being cleared by Hout Bay residents who are buying food and dropping it at designated locations where volunteers feed, clothe and medically attend to those affected by the fire. Organisations are rallying to collect funds to purchase new school supplies and uniforms for children who have nothing. The community at large seems to be doing wardrobe ‘clean outs’ and donating clothing to people with nothing more than the pyjamas they were wearing when they ran from their shacks in the middle of the night. It really is something inspiring to see, when your community and your neighbours stand up and do what they can to help. They give what they can give, and pass on all the love they can. I have seen more than a few onlookers in tears and heard parents talking about their children not being able to sleep because they are worrying about their friends from school who live in Mandela Park. Let us hope this care and concern carries on, because our community will need help for a while yet, with thousands homeless and many of them needing trauma counselling and support. We all need to do our part, whatever that part is, and we need to keep doing it after all the hype dies down. Thankfully the Hout Bay community has an incredible track record of pulling together. They are a beacon of light in a country that is still torn by inequality and racial differences. Despite our many problems, and we have them – make no mistake – there are few Hout Bay residents that will turn a blind eye on what’s going on around them.
After a heavy weekend, our own disappointments pale into insignificance when looking through the smoky haze of unfairness that surrounds us. Our own problems shouldn’t be ignored, but a disaster like this certainly puts them in perspective.
Love and thanks to all those volunteers out there who selflessly continue to give of their time and energy.
FYI – As of Monday morning there was still no electricity or water in the whole of Mandela Park, including the area that was unaffected by the fire. What most people consider basic human rights, are inaccessible for a large portion of the Hout Bay population. So while our attention is needed by those directly affected by the fire, don’t forget to check in with others from Mandela Park, make sure they have a way to prepare and cook food, enough water for basic ablutions, or offer those you know, at the very least, the opportunity to get clean at your house until water pipes are mended and electricity restored.
I’m not sure where to begin, it feels a little like I’m in a confessional; it has been many months since I last wrote an article on my training. But documenting my training each week got boring fast, I can just imagine how dull it must have been to read about it, except for a few sadistic friends who find their amusement in my discomfort – and fair enough. It’s laborious enough to actually do the training, writing about it every week seemed a little self-absorbed, and quite frankly lacked the passion with which I have tried to tackle this training journey. When I began all of this I wanted to give you a run down of what it takes to get an everyday mum to the point of ‘race ready’ for a half iron man, but you are going to have to settle for a nervous account of where I am instead… 2 days from the start line. I can tell you no amount of training takes away the nerves! Every niggle and twitch of a muscle begs for further inspection. And every free minute has your brain obsessed with logistics, nutrition, transitions and gear. I am all consumed.
But I will save you from my brains anxious misfires. There are things I have learned along this journey that might mean something to you. So instead of blabbing on about my current state of mind, here are my points to ponder and my lessons learned… Maybe some of it will resonate with you. Maybe even inspire you…
“We will never be as young as we are now.” These lyrics (from a song called ‘As We Are Now’ by Saint Raymond) rang more true than I wanted to admit. If we don’t grab today, and use it, we’ll look back on this time and say, “why didn’t I do … when I was young and full of energy?” I don’t always feel full of energy, but I am wise enough to know that’s not going to improve as I get older. This is probably the best I’m going to feel for the rest of my life. Scary right? So grab this moment, and the next, and do something you’ll be proud of when you look back.
Overcome the scary things; don’t let them stop you. “You swim 2km in the sea?? But aren’t you scared of sharks?” … I can’t tell you how many people have asked me this question. And the answer is YES, I most certainly am! But I am also scared of vehicle accidents and I still drive a car. It’s about focussing your attention on what matters. You can’t control everything, and this has been a great lesson for me. I was a nervous wreck the first time I swam any distance in the sea, to the point where I thought I would vomit from the nerves. The second time, it was better, much better. I panicked twice while I was in the sea and chuckled at myself when I looked at my heart-rate graph after the swim. There were 2 notable spikes and I know exactly what I was thinking when they happened. My third sea swim was better again. The spikes this time round were from pushing hard, not panicking hard. It’s about getting into a rhythm, almost a meditation while you swim. You focus on what you know will get you to the end, when doubts creep up you silence them by focussing on what matters. It’s an incredible exercise in silencing your thoughts.
It’s easier than you think to turn into a hypochondriac. I’ve always liked the fact that I have a pretty level head. I’m a good person to have around in a crisis; I don’t panic. When it’s not a crisis however, I know just how to get myself into a knot. Shaun has documented my transition from nonchalance to quivering wreck over something as commonplace as a shin splint. This little terror that took hold of my leg was enough to send my once chilled mind over to the dark side. Fear can creep up on you when you’re not looking, and most of us aren’t. Recognising your fears for what they are, giving them due thought and then dismissing them is an important part of the process. Letting every ache after a training session throw you into a fit of worry is unwarranted, and needs checking at the door.
It’s embarrassing to admit, given my age, but I have never really tried this hard or trained this much for an event. I am as much afraid of failing as the next guy, and for most of my life I have let this stand in my way, not wanting the judgement I thought trying might bring. What I’ve realised is when you start trying, and you actually get into it, the journey becomes enjoyable. It doesn’t make race day any easier, and I still feel compelled to ‘race’. I’m not sure exactly who I’m racing, I’m certainly not going to win, but I feel like I’m racing an idea I have in my mind of what I should be able to do. But what I’m trying to say is there is so much enjoyment around trying; in the preparation and the camaraderie, that despite being fraught with nerves, and having a stomach made of jelly, the experience is exhilarating.
Having said all the above, I might say something very different on Sunday after the race! But I’m hoping not. I’ve put a lot of myself into this training, but not more than I had to give, and I think that’s made for a balanced last couple of months, and a positive outlook on the experience. Here’s hoping the weekend is as fun as the training has been! …. I’ll keep you posted 🙂
10 years ago, in our naïve youth, Shaun and I thought a honeymoon on the ski slopes would be awfully romantic. Log cabins, evenings around a roaring fire with mugs of hot chocolate, and long walks in the snow. This was of course before either of us had ever tackled the riggers of a ski slope. Our romantic notions were quickly put in perspective on day 2, when Shaun enrolled us in an advanced ski expedition which had me skiing backwards down a ski slope, on my head, simultaneously crying and spewing profanity, while South Africa’s only championship skier (who happened to be heading up the expedition) tried to talk me down the rest of the slope. After encouragement and guidance proved fruitless, even by the professional, I was tucked in behind him and guided down the slope in the same way I now do for my kids. This may or may not be the same day he ski-piggy-backed me down a slope (can you imagine the embarrassment) while Shaun made his own merry way down with all the glee of a 5 year old. It didn’t take long for me to figure out how our marriage was going to go. It was going to be adventurous, and tangibly challenging. It was going to push my limits and test me physically, and with every test I would learn more about myself, seeing more of what Shaun seemed to see from the very beginning. 34 years of life and I am still learning about me. 10 years of marriage and I don’t think there is much I have done that has surprised Shaun. There is more validity than is given credence in the old adage: Marry someone who continuously challenges you to be better, to be your best you. Find someone who’s going to push your boundaries, introduce you to places you’ve never heard of, and inspire you to do the unimaginable because they genuinely believe you can. If you’ve found that person, hold onto them. There is no greater gift.
Bearing this honeymoon ‘baptism by fire’ in mind, fast forward 10 years and wanting to climb Kilimanjaro as a 10 year anniversary holiday seems normal to us. Given we didn’t want to leave our munchkins alone for that length of time (and the expense of getting there) we settled on something closer to home, but no less majestic.
It seemed like an obvious choice, and a perfect escape. We wanted to do something together that we couldn’t do with the kids, use the time together to really be together. 10 years of marriage is an accomplishment, and a privilege. We wanted to honour that by doing something worthy of that feat. I can’t think of a more solidifying experience for a marriage than climbing mountains with your life on your back, and your love by your side. Sometimes you walk hand in hand, sometimes on your own. There is talking, lots of talking, remembering what it is to just shoot the breeze and laugh about silly things together. No constraints on your time, no one expecting anything from you. Just being together. Sometimes there’s negotiation, and sometimes stubbornness, but let’s be honest, what’s marriage without some stubbornness. Hiking requires encouragement and consideration of your partner, a reminder of 2 of the most important elements in any marriage. It’s not easy-going the whole way, but you’re doing it together. That’s what makes it fun and worthwhile.
We didn’t want to stray too far from the norm, so as is customary, we bit off a little more than we could chew. We started off with 4 days of hiking, but after deciding to squash it into 3.5 days in order to get home to see the kids, it required our walking faster than we had initially planned.
We arrived in Sandrif, central Cederberg, on Friday afternoon. After a minor deliberation we headed straight up the mountain so we could camp on the top instead of in the campsite at the bottom. It was our anniversary after all and we wanted something a little more romantic than the snoring of fellow campers around us. So after filling up what seemed like an excessive number of water bottles, we hit the mountain. Saying it was steeper than we had anticipated is an understatement. We hadn’t weighed our packs before we left (probably a novice error) so we ‘guestimated’ the weight at around 30kg’s in Shaun’s pack (I could barely lift it), and around 25kg’s in mine. I had about 3 litres of water, almost all the food for 4 days, my clothes and sleeping bag and mat. Shaun had about 5.5 litres of water, the cooking equipment, camera, kindles, tent, his clothes and sleeping bag and mat. I couldn’t have carried more, and declined his generous offer of an additional 2 water bottles tied onto my pack. After starting up that hill I patted myself on the back for my wise decision. We stopped periodically for Shaun to sit down and put his head between his knees so he wouldn’t pass out. An anniversary scraping his remains off the bottom of the mountain would have been slightly less romantic. To put the extremity of the mountain in perspective, we managed to walk 4 km’s in 2 hours! It was slow going, but the top was worth it.
We enjoyed an anniversary dinner of cous-cous and bolognaise sauce, which I managed to sneak up the mountain in my pack as a surprise ‘treat’ for dinner. There was no champagne or hors d’oeuvre, but there was scintillating company and a sparkling sunset. There are no words to explain the calm and beauty of a night alone, on the top of a mountain, with only the one you love for company.
A perfect anniversary dinner 🙂
After a peaceful night’s sleep and a sunrise awakening, we began our first full day’s hike. It took us across the top of the mountain and through arches of towering rock formations. We spent 2 hours over lunch basking at a rock pool enjoying each other’s company, and the next half hour in a domestic dispute over which way we should walk. Shaun was keen to bush whack over the top of the mountain, forging our own route to the base of the Tafelberg peak, while I was rather keen to keep my shins in tact and follow the tried and tested path around the base of the mountain and back up at the allotted point. Obviously my argument was more sound, but it did add on an extra 10km’s of walking. By the end of day 1.5, and 18km’s of walking, watching the stars come out was about all we could manage. We spent the night in a cave at the ‘almost’ top of Tafelberg.
The milky way from the top of Tafelberg
The ‘real’ top of Tafelberg we summited the following morning, without packs! It is virtually a sheer rock face and requires ingenuity, scrambling expertise, and a ferocious sense of adventure to reach.
Well. Worth. Every. Gruelling. Moment.
You really do feel on top of the world and the view is all the more rewarding knowing how hard you worked to get there.
After descending and collecting our packs from the cave, we ventured forth on our intrepid way, making a long journey to the most serene water hole, aptly called Crystal pool, where we made the most of the icy water and basked on the rocks, while devouring abundant dry crackers and sharing our rashes of tuna. I realise it may sound daft, but a more romantic scene you’d be hard pressed to find. This may, in all likelihood, require repeating the exercise yourself to believe it. It sounds strange indeed, but it was pure beatitude.
The 24km’s of walking on day 2.5 was everything I could have wished for and more. We crisscrossed through valleys of interchanging vegetation, and spent hours in lush surroundings with nothing but birdsong and flowing water to interrupt our solitude. We ‘tracked’ leopard footprints (tracked may be a strong word, leopard may also be a strong word, but in our excitement we went with it) and fired our best guesses at birds that soared above us. After paths of unruffled serenity, we found a perfect camping spot on the edge of a peak we have fondly named ‘Anniversary mountain’. From our vantage point we could watch the sun set, and rise, from the luxury of our tented paradise.
Packing up to leave our spot the next morning was eased only by the thought that the quicker we did it, the quicker we could get home to see our kiddies. This was the carrot we needed to get our stiff arses up and moving. The weather for all 3.5 days was nothing short of perfect, but this last day was a scorcher. We had to summit only 1 mountain on our return journey to our trusty steed, another 24km’s away, but it was a torturously hot mountain. Thankfully we hit it early and spent the rest of the day pouring water on our clothes in an abortive attempt at keeping us cool. And, with a Garmin for company, we were able to count down the km’s to the shower blocks at the camp and the air-conditioned comfort of our beast (a KIA Sorento – not a horse, in case you were wondering).
To seal off a truly romantic weekend, we showed the staff at the only fast food restaurant around, just how quickly a hamburger can be consumed, before blazing through a 3 hour journey to make it home before the kids’ bed time, so we could kiss those soft, delicious cheeks we had been missing for 4 days. Day 3.5 was worth the hustle. It was the gravy on the mash potatoes. The frosting on the doughnut. We love our kids, obviously. But we really really actually like our kids too. Like we want to spend time with them because they are awesome people. It makes us want to go home to them.
We knew we had pushed the limits to get home to them early. We have pushed the limits every year since we’ve had them, and we were doing it before that too. Sometimes the limits aren’t physical, a lot of the time they’re mental, but every limit pushed, stretches and shapes you. It defines your resilience and points out your verges. Although certainly not all pleasant, I am thankful for the challenges we have faced. They have shaped memorable moments, and made the sweetness of each day that much purer.
With the gift of hindsight, would I choose skiing for our honeymoon a second time round? Well, no, because we’ve done it already. Now I might choose a voyage to Antarctica, or summiting the Matterhorn… There are so many limits waiting to be pushed, and I count myself amongst the lucky ones to have found the steady hand at my back, pulsating encouragement and a quiet assurance in my abilities.
Yes, I’m 3 weeks behind on filling you in with my training. I know I know, this wouldn’t be the first time my time management skills were called into question. In effect, it sums up what my days are like at the moment. Juggling kids and their activities, work, writing, home stuff and training is leaving me scrambling for time and dropping more balls than usual. Certain balls can’t be dropped, lest they break, but luckily children are pretty pliable, I work with my husband, and the house will wait. So I guess I have it easy. Unfortunately writing does get side lined though.
Making training a priority is a luxury I count myself lucky to have. I have older children who understand what Mom and Dad are doing, a supportive family and a husband who constantly encourages me to push myself. I wonder sometimes what it must be like for people who don’t have a support network. How they fit training in around full time jobs and getting home late to their kids and spouse. It puts my life in perspective and I count my privileges daily. Counting those helped me get through week 4…
Week 4: …Moping.
Monday was a rest day after our first sea swim and bike day on the Sunday. The kids were on holiday and taking a day out to just chill with them was awesome.
On Tuesday I went for a 35km solo bike ride. The idea of riding on my own is a nerve-wracking process; I avoid it as much as possible. It is never so bad when I am actually out there, but the thought of heading out on my own is scary for some reason. A fear I know I will have to get over because Shaun can’t hold my hand through all of this. “Man the f*** up” or “put on my big girl panties” comes to mind, but panties are not something you want to wear when you go cycling and I think woman are tougher than men, so I’m going to make my motto: “Woman up and just get on with it”!
Wednesday we were heading off for 3 days away with the kids in Kogelberg Nature Reserve, so we had some breakfast, packed the car, and on the way stopped at the gym for an hour weights session before continuing with our journey. We managed to fit in some good upper body and core work, a nice bonus before 3 days of pigging out – as is customary on holiday 🙂
On Thursday we managed to walk 3km with the kids in-between beautiful sheets of rain. We had hoped to fit in more hiking but the weather encouraged us to put our feet up and soak in the solitude as the ground soaked in the water.
It rained for half of Friday as well but by midday the sun peeked out and we headed off up the valley for an 8km hike with the kids. At the top of the valley Shaun decided to turn his hike into a 24km run and he parted ways with us while I walked down the valley with the kids. I know we couldn’t both have done that distance with the kids, but I felt sad and despondent about the limits my shin splints were putting on things. Although I was happy Shaun had had a good run, I actively had to count my blessings so I didn’t grump on our trip back home.
Back in CT and feeling sad I didn’t get in a blissful long run, I headed off for a good Saturday morning swim to burn off my frustration. 2.2km with drills had me feeling more purposeful again. Still no fins, more arms than kicking, but getting there.
Sunday Shaun and I did a 65km ride with hills! Up Kloof Nek to the top of Signal hill is a view to work for, but by golly it’s worth it! We then rode back to Hout Bay and over Chappies, to Noordhoek, to meet Shaun’s brother for breakfast. Hills and more hills. This better be making my legs strong!
Thoughts on conclusion of Week 4:
Getting back into the swing of things. My shin splints don’t hurt so much and I’m looking forward to being able to run again. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be sad at not being able to run for 2 weeks, I would quite probably have wet myself laughing.
…and because I’m behind you get a double whammy!
Week 5: Feeling good about my training and getting into a good pattern.
Monday was an upper body weights and core session, at gym.
Tuesday was rest.
Wednesday had me swimming 2.4 km with drills and no fins. More arm work than legs still but I got into a great rhythm. My swimming times don’t seem to be getting much faster but I’m waiting until my legs are allowed to get involved before getting despondent about that.
Thursday was cause for celebration! FIRST Run back!! Only 3.5 km’s which took less than 20 mins (as emphatically instructed by my physio). Followed by Watt bike in the gym for 35 mins – quite hard. And planks. My legs didn’t hurt!! Whoop whoop. Not even a little bit!
Friday Shaun and I cycled 45km to waterfront and back. He had me doing some sprint work on the flats, issuing instructions like; “If at any point you feel like you could be going faster, go faster”! There is no wonder I had sore legs afterwards.
Saturday I rested. Tired, sleepy legs. Felt like I had a knot in my left calf so made sure to ice and rub it down with Arnica after giving Shaun’s legs a warm up rub for his race on the Sunday. A wife who’s a massage therapist… Shaun doesn’t know how lucky he has it! 😉
Sunday the kids and I supported Shaun at the Gun Run. We raced between viewing spots and drank hot tea while we waited for him in the early morning light. Other than that I rested. And had FOMO. (He did a personal best by the way and came in just under 1.30, earning himself a silver medal!)
Thoughts on conclusion of Week 5:
I’m feeling nervous getting back into running after not doing it for 3 weeks. Worried I’ll set myself back by hurting my shin, and concerned I’ve lost some of my running strength. But it’s good to be stepping back in. Feeling tired, but pleased with the training I’ve been doing. For me… this is some pretty consistent training!