I just don’t get hiking. What is it about carrying a chafing rucksack loaded with dehydrated food, being harassed by mosquitoes, and sweating profusely in the midday heat while plodding from point A to point B. I mean come on, we live in an age where we have TV to watch sport – usually just an arm’s length from beer filled refrigerators.
My response when my girlfriend mentioned that she’d just booked us on a 4 day urban trail hike with 10 other friends, during a weekend of superlative sport -viewing, was that of disgust. I relaxed somewhat when she mentioned that we didn’t have to carry our own bags- except for small day packs, the tented camps were already set up, and there was a 70 year old woman accompanying us. Noticing my edgy reaction she mentioned that by the end of it, it’ll seem like a walking meditation and we’ll be all zenned out and one with nature. Awesome! Especially as I’m not a Buddhist.
Urban trails run through the mountains, forests and fringes of cities. The one we were about to trudge along started in the Southern Peninsula, near Cape Point, and made its way towards the city by the way of the back-stage of Table Mountain. In 4 days we were to cover a distance of 69km- a distance I’d never consider doing in anything less than a car. But here I was in Simonstown with 11 other people who were considerably happier, and fitter than I was. The majority of them had cycled the peninsula in some race, run marathons, and could hop into a swimming pool and swim 20- 30 Olympic sized lengths. There was the 70 year old woman in tow which did give me a bit of hope and all I had to do was stay ahead of her to save face.
While we waited for our two guides at the pickup point we did what was most urbanite hipsters would and found the nearest coffee shop to top up on stimulants- coffee, and carbo-loaded with chocolate croissants. Instantly I felt better.
The first day, we were told, was going to be roughly 14km’s, relatively flat, scenic and should take between 4-5 hours. One guide leading and the other bringing up the rear the 14 of us headed towards home- which we’d only reach in 4 days. Making sure that the septuagenarian stayed behind me I started out mid pack. The first kilometre was great – I could even lift my head as I walked. But soon my feet were aching, and knees creaking. While passing a famous dog’s gravesite- wishing it was mine- and having an all- too- short rest at a dam all I could hear over my gasping breathe was “blah, blah blah,” as my fitter companions effortlessly discussed, whatever. Even the 70 year old was laughing and joking with one of the guides – much to my irritation.
Our main packs and food – for the whole hike- had thankfully been ’sherpa’ed’ ahead. With all my energy bars, chocolates and sweets already scoffed, it was an exciting cheese sandwich and good old flavourless H20to get me through the last 2 hour stretch to my waiting cot.
Mid- afternoon, they stood, I sat, at the top of a ridge overlooking one of the southern- most lighthouses in Africa. An evocative sight, made even more beautiful by my light headedness and the lights and stars flashing in my eyes. Below us, nestled at the foot of the ridge lay our oasis – the tented camp .
Showered and barely alive, we sat on the rocks just next to the camp, some marvelling at the sunset. I marvelled to be over my ordeal and wine tightly clasped in my shaky hands.
7.30 am, the time my suffering started as we departed on day two. Self -catered breakfast down, day bags packed- we were off on the first part of the 21km trek- 8km’s along an immense beach. If tired feet and tetchy knees weren’t enough I now also had to contend with burning thighs and exhausted calf’s- adding to my already upbeat mood. The previous days blah, blah, blah had quietened down as the group, marched single file along the water’s edge towards the car park where, I prayed, someone was going to pick us up and drive us the rest of the 13km’s. As we rested halfway, the informed guides enlightened us with the history, flora and fauna of the area-like I cared.
And then the pain and dread really began. The next leg of the hike was straight up a steep ridge leading to Chapman’s Peak road. The steep incline conquered, my co-hikers marvelled at the massive beach and blue water beneath us with little concern for me, on all fours – whimpering. My life flashed before me as our direct route up Chapman’s Peak and Noordhoek Peak was pointed out. Both peaks summited and un-interrupted views of False bay and the Atlantic, the group revelled as I, prepared to feign altitude sickness when I noticed my elderly adversary quietly leaning against a rock, sipping water and loving every moment of what she was seeing.
Stumbling into the eco friendly, tented camp, I bolted for my comfortable cot stretched out in a two- man, spacious tent. The view of the tarp ceiling was a lot less appealing then the surrounding mountains and Fynbos, but on my back was the only place I could be while my gasping subsided.
Sitting around the fire listening to meat sizzle we silently sat underneath a clear, dark, sky. The fully equipped kitchen and communal area was not the place to be on such a perfect evening as we ravenously ate our own supplied food of notable proportions. An eight hour hike can do that to you.
With the most strenuous day behind us, others excited, we were off once again on our way towards the city. A cooling fog rolled around as we descended sheer slopes and rock-strewn pathways carefully negotiated and lead by our guides. At one marvellous point, the fog broke and we found ourselves perched high above Hout Bay and its guarding sentinels.
And then it happened…!
In my usual position, second to last, meandering along a flat stretch of grassland- still a day out from home, I managed to lift my head and witness, in the distance, the backside of Table Mountain stretched flatly before me. My breathe returned, along with my strength and energy. For once I felt good. Scared, I considered shouting for a doctor.
That evening I sang in the shower, contributed coherently to the conversation and even managed stay up late with the rest of the grownups.
The last day’s 15km hike was a breeze. The sun was bright, the air cool and clear and I was raring to get started. I could breathe, smell, lift my head and feet, and experience all the surroundings as one. I felt the freshness of the forest, I heard the trickle of a stream and I enjoyed the taste of my food.
I had made it, not only had I beaten my elderly strider but I felt one with nature and my day pack was still half full with energy bars and sweets.