Thursday, October 16, 2014

Leisurely adventuring

I got back on Tuesday from a few days of leisurely adventuring. Leisurely-anything is a bit of a foreign concept to me so going off on an adventure designed to be relaxing... I loved it!

This was a camp-kayak-raft adventure on the Orange River, the stretch from Hopetown and about 45km downriver, including the magnificent Thunder Alley.

The drive from Jo'burg takes a good chunk of the day, especially if you stop regularly along the way. We spent the night in Hopetown at the most fabulous B&B, Die Stalle (very recommended) and got on the river around noon on Friday.

My friends were in a raft; I had the absolute treat of paddling the Fluid Do It Now, a sit-on-top whitewater boat.

I've paddled K1s, K2s, surfski, crocs, 6-person rafts and sea kayaks but never before a whitewater boat. It is incredibly stable and very responsive. It has no rudder, so you use paddle strokes to steer.

This stretch of river is mostly flat with a few rapids. Water was low and rapids were friendly. Going into the rapids, even pretty small ones, they can look quite large - but once you're in them the kayak just bounces through. It is helluva good fun and I'm hooked. I was totally chuffed on Monday when I made it neatly through the biggest rapid of the journey with ease. No swimming for me.

On Friday we paddled only for a few kilometres to a great overnight spot. We took our time to find a good spot that we could enjoy for two nights as we planned to spend Saturday lazing on the river bank. A farmer had also told us that a storm, blowing strong winds upriver, was due on Saturday. We found a great spot that was sufficiently sheltered by trees and with grass, beach-like sand and a nice river bank.

Although the wind blew upriver on Saturday, the weather was otherwise perfect - sunny and warm. Not good paddling conditions but perfect for sitting around watching the river and listening to fish eagles calling. Our day of camping was well timed.

We were back on the water on Sunday for a longer stretch to Hell's Gate, the entrance to Thunder Alley. Hell's Gate is more a nasty rapid than a waterfall and at low water it was particularly nasty.

With only two adults it wasn't an option to rope the laden raft through so we decided to portage the gear, camp overnight (it was late afternoon when we got here) and reassess the raft situation in the morning.

By morning the water had dropped further and even roping an empty raft was too risky so we decided to portage it to a safe put-in below Hell's Gate. Fortunately it wasn't a big distance to cover and although the whole portage and reloading of the raft took time, it was relatively smooth and easy.

Getting back on to the water in the kayak I had to negotiate a fast flowing current heading into a little rapid in a narrow channel. I was advised to just go with the flow (unlike in racing kayaks where you paddle into the rapid, with whitewater kayaks you let the water take you and you just control direction), keep my nose forward and to take care of the whirlpools. And obviously, if I swim, to keep my feet up.

Well, I cruised it like a pro (that's what it felt like anyway - probably looked messy!), missed the whirlpools and came out unscathed but with my heart rate most definitely elevated. How exciting!

Monday was a really long day but it was spectacular too. Thunder Alley is like a scaled-down version of the gorge below the Augrabies Falls. Rocky walls carved by water into the most incredible sculptures. Blue sky, swiftly flowing current, wind behind us (most of the time) and a few fish eagle spottings.

Although we'd intended to make it home by Monday night, we had a longer than expected day out there because of the morning portage so we only got off the water in the early evening. We spent the night again in Hopetown.

The bonus of travelling back on Tuesday is that we got to Kimberley by 08h30 - in time to see the Big Hole and have breakfast there.

The river is a wonderful playground for children with its sandy and muddy banks. Quite how they can handle being in cold water all day I can't quite fathom. We did a float-downriver 'swim' and my heart almost stopped with the cold... Yet I remember having a high tolerance too for the cold when I was a child. Quite incredible this is.

I don't have photos to show you of the river and scenery... yet. I left my camera in the car for the whole of the river trip. I'll get photos in a few days and will add in some of the river and surrounds (I had my camera back in hand for the Big Hole).

The river... b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l! And especially as it contrasts to the harsh Northern Cape terrain (rocks, scrub vegetation, sand and heat) away from the river. And no other people around. No mobiles or internet either. So, so, so peaceful and simple. Just perfect.

This camping-paddling way of leisurely adventuring has won me over. It has a bit of this and that together with a whole lot of adventure in the paddling and camping, with time in which to appreciate and enjoy where you are.

I made it back to Jo'burg in time for the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour premiere. The film selection this year is an interesting mix. There was only one short film that didn't really do it for me and one that I am convinced I've seen before. The rest had me enthralled.

Banff is not to be missed. Ever. I don't even check out the line-up, I just go. Always totally worth it.

You can get all the screening and booking dates from the Banff website ( - for most major centres it is 23-31 October.

Summer. Veggie Garden. It's happening.

I've been away from home for the better part of two weeks; first house- and animal-sitting for friends and then for a bit of adventuring. Coming home, the changes in my veggie garden are tremendous.

Unlike last season, I got off to a better start this season - with a focus on watering the plants regularly (and a good dose of water too). This is where I totally slacked this year.

I cleaned up my main bed in early September and put in compost from my own compost heap - my very yield. I only left in a few flowers and some mangy spinach plants from last season. And then I added purchased seedlings: cherry tomatoes from my neighbour as well as baby red cabbages, swiss chard (variety) and eggplant. And then I put in baby spinach and Asian leafy veg and nasturtium seeds.

On the herb garden side... The same neighbour who gave me the cherry tomato seedlings, gave me packets of seeds for chives, basil, thyme and fennel. I bought seeds for rhubarb and patty pans (in an empty slot in the herb garden as the main bed is full). And while I was away he bought some basil seedlings, which have gone in too. His wife loves the fresh basil for cooking; we should have quite a load this season. All of these seedlings and plants are coming on very nicely.

I've had a couple of spinach harvests already and I've spread the haul around to the gardener for our complex and to my neighbour, as he has been the most invested in the garden. It's an open garden in our complex and neighbours are invited to enjoy the produce (within reason).

Another neighbour recently donated a cement bench to this part of the garden - she wanted to move it out of her garden. It looks great.

And often when I'm working out there other neighbours pull in to see what is happening. The garden has community advantages beyond what comes out of it.

My new creation is a vygie garden; next to my tree tomato plants (nearing two years old). I really like vygies and this piece of ground really cooks in the sun so they should do well. It's not much to look at yet but should improve with time.

I'm enjoying the satisfaction of the garden and growth again. Once it is happening, maintenance is pretty easy and not too time consuming. Afterall, all the plants need from me is a little attention and lots of water.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The magic of FEAT

We had the most wonderful FEAT evening on Thursday night. I didn't get much sleep before airport drops on Friday morning so I've been a bit of a zombie and was so totally communicationed out. But I'm back...

Let's see... this was the BIGGEST FEAT event thus far with around 900 people in the Linder Auditorium. It seats 1060 so we weren't full; I have no doubt that next year we will be.

There are always things to improve on - and I've got a list. With a new venue there will be teething problems but as Linder will be FEAT's home for a long while to come, I've got the opportunity to iron out the kinks. BTW - my dates for next year are already reserved. I've got 1 and 8 October as options... I'll probably go with 8 October.

If you'll indulge me... more than anything it is my team at FEAT that are so special. I really could not pull it off (or get through the night!) without them by my side.

I always get through to the venue really early to get things ready for the people who have stuff to setup. When I arrive my AV guy, Johan (from Showgroup) - and his assistant Piet - already had the projection screens up as well as the LED lights for the back wall lighting. They really made the stage look amazing. The venue is actually an orchestra venue so adding LED lighting against the rear wood-panelled wall added dimension. We put up two huge screens, elevated and angled them and projected from the balcony.

I was totally impressed with what the guys created for me. I've used Showgroup in the past (Alexandra Theatre - Oct 2011 and 2012) and I've always gone to them without looking elsewhere because I used to work alongside them back in the day when I was doing tv camera work at events. Always professional. And they more than lived up to expectations. Without hesitation I'll have them back next year.

Alistair, an AR friend, is my sound guy and he has been with me for every event. He even came down to Cape Town with me in Feb 2011. Al makes sure that everything runs smoothly - sound being very critical!

My dear adventurer friend Ray came up from Cape Town for FEAT, as he does every year. He comes up either the day before or in the morning and kindly allows himself to be dogsbody for things that need doing. Floor decals, banners, parking signs, photo wall assembly, rigging speakers with mics, helping me to pack everything up afterwards. Ray has spoken on the FEAT stage twice. Not having Ray at FEAT would be like missing a hand.

My mom... Her involvement with FEAT starts months before and the amount of stuff she allows me to get her to do is vast. But more than anything she gives me unwavering support, which really keeps the boat afloat and my sanity intact.

Also on my core team is Kyle, who has run the slides for the past three years. Kyle was a speaker at the first FEAT in Oct 2010. Staci (the same crochet Staci) can handle anything. This year she took on the sales of FEAT Buffs. Lauren is so totally an old hand at the Guest Ticket Table where she passes on the complimentary tickets assigned to the partners of speakers, sponsors and media. She also handles a host of other issues that I don't even get to hear about (but I'm very certain they're there), like from audience members who don't know their seat numbers, can't find their tickets...

Maggi and Marcel did the photography again for me this year (they also shot Forest Run earlier in the year). I pretty much just leave them to it and from when they got involved last year I've been impressed by their commitment and attention to detail. Maggi is a whiz with the photo wall.

Willem and Tiaan are my videography guys and they've shot all the events except the one in CT. Back in the day I worked with both guys. We travelled around the country shooting all kinds of events and activities for about two years. Like the rest of my team, I just leave these two to it and they make nice-nice.

Heidi is a newcomer - but a long-time friend - and this was her first FEAT. She worked magic to make me look presentable on stage ;)

I brought in my young orienteering friends this year to be door ushers. It was the first FEAT for all but one and they are such FEAT fans now. Ant, Brad, Caitlin, Jess, Sarah B, Sarah P, Tim and Dylan were bubbling with excitement and enthusiasm. I printed floor plans of the theatre and seating plans for their section and didn't worry about another thing. As orienteers, they do maps. They were accompanied by Zoe (Staci's charming daughter) and Tayla (my mom's friend's daughter) - who I didn't get to meet.

Libia and Gideon kept an eye on things in the foyer. They've assisted me at many events going back - from being on my marshalling team for the Spur adventure events to guiding cars into parking at last year's FEAT. They thoroughly enjoy the variety of the events and are always game for anything.

For me, having a team I can trust is non-negotiable. There are so many things happening on the night and when each person does what they have to do, then it really is easy. And it was.

The talks were as diverse and varied as always. It is impossible to pick a favourite because each speaker and topic is so different. This year there were 10 talks and 14 speakers in total (four of the talks were by pairs).

One talk that will be talked about for a long time to come is definitely that by the young Wits Yacht Club sailors, Patrick Chappel and Alistair Moodie. They did the Cape2Rio yacht race in Jan and we've been in contact for some time. They were in the audience at FEAT last year. The pair came on to stage wearing their foul weather gear, which is what they started the trip in - awful weather out of Cape Town. And they took off layers during their talk down to their Speedos. That will be a hard one to beat ;)

 Planning the speaker order is a bigger deal than you can imagine - to get the right mix and flow and variety. Many of the speakers I only meet on the night so while I know the topic, I don't know what they're going to be like. I'm never disappointed because speakers are always a great bunch of people. This year the order really worked well.

To Alistair, Clyde, Cobus, David, Guy, Jacques, Patrick, Ryno, Sean, Squash, Steve, Tracy, Vasti and Vaughan - thank you. You are FEAT.

I also have the most amazing sponsors. They all got so much more involved this year and really pulled out the stops to have an awesome presence in the foyer. Sure, FEAT needs their money to make the event happen, but more than this I need them. Their support and involvement. And they were so totally there this year. Thank you Black Diamond, Fluid Kayaks, Powertraveller and Trappers.

Also in the foyer I had a bunch of adventurers with their books - many of them past speakers. I've read most of them and can highly recommend getting your hands on their books. Feedback from them is that they did sell some copies and they were also delighted to autograph copies that the audience brought with them to have signed. And also just to chat to people. Lovely interactions. I look forward to growing this aspect of FEAT. It really is a big deal to write and publish a book and FEAT is the best place to celebrate and share this.

The photo wall this year had a kayaking theme and we had a Fluid sit-on-top plus paddles, helmets, PFDs as accessories with a waterfall (kayaker dropping down it) backdrop. I look forward to seeing the photos.

Maggi and Marcel are busy editing photos, which will go up on Facebook shortly. The video footage is in with my editor, Anel (she has edited all FEAT events). Talks will start to go up online in the next few weeks. I enjoy watching them because I often miss bits during the night.

On Friday I spent a lot of time on the phone calling my team and speakers. I also spoke to my catering guys - they made up all the platters for the speakers and guests pre-show and also ran the bar.

"Your audience is fabulous," they told me. "Such nice people. We hope you'll be back again because we'll do anything you need, any time."

Yes, that's the FEAT audience.

I feel like a proud parent whose child is complimented by strangers for being good and well behaved and polite and well brought up. Even the audience does me proud.

So that was FEAT Jo'burg 2014.

My next adventure? Sleeping!

P.S. This post marks my 1000th blog entry. Goodness!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Recycling roundabout

A few years ago when I ran the Himalayan Stage Race in India, I had the fortune to visit Dehli and Agra (and revel in the congested 7hr / 250km drive between the two cities). There I realised what 1.3 Billion people means and also decided that as far as waste and consumption goes, there's little hope for us humans and our trash and the poor planet. There's just sooooo much of it!

Even so, I find pleasure in recycling and that itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny bit of hope that recycling my plastic, glass, metal and paper waste helps even a little.

At my previous home, I would put my recyclables aside for a friendly recycling collector, Gerald. I figured it was far more pleasant to find out what he wanted and to put it aside for him rather than for Gerard to have to scratch through trash for these items, which he then takes to a recycling centre to earn a little income. We had a good thing going. And then I moved (and Gerard moved on a short while later too - stable employment in the Northern suburbs at what I think is a furniture manufacturer; I hope he is still there - a really decent guy).

For quite some time there was a recycling centre at a local mall and I'd stop past every week or so to drop off recyclables. And then they disappeared it.

My local hardware store has bins outside - one each for the four recyclable groups; so totally insufficient for plastics. I phoned the people who manage the bins; their number was printed on the panels on the roofed frame housing the bins. It wasn't a very satisfying conversation. I've used it for a few weeks.

About two weeks ago I saw that the panels had been removed and the setup looks like it too is going to disappear.

So, I got online. In this day and age where the environment and recycling is so in, I can barely believe that in my area there are no recycling centres. My closest is a Pikitup Garden Refuse Site in Sandringham. Many of the Pikitup sites have recycling bins too. It's not convenient, but currently my only option. I was very impressed with the cleanliness and neatness of the site and the friendly guys who assisted me.

Pick 'n Pay has bins for batteries and light bulbs. But you've got to ask / hunt for it because it certainly isn't placed in easy view...

Yesterday I went to Makro. As I grabbed a trolley, I noticed that there were signs cable-tied to many of the trolleys promoting a Samsung electronics recycling facility - "Eat. Sleep. Recycle" were the words on the sign.

I asked two Makro guys where this was (I assumed it would be in Makro) and what electronics could be taken there - only Samsung, or any? They didn't know a thing about it (even though there were trolleys left-right-and-centre promoting this) so they took me to the Samsung guy in the electronics department. He didn't know, said he hadn't been told about it and suggested that I phone Samsung. It's enough to make me see red, green and blue.

"No," I told him, with a smile, "the signs on the trolleys are in this store to promote this service. You work here and you work for Samsung so you're going to phone them and find out and I'll come back shortly so you can tell me."

It was one of those days for me.

I went back a bit later and he took me to a container outside the doors where you can toss in any electronic products - and not just Samsung.

"See," I said, "now when other people ask, you know the answer."

I've just found this media release about Samsung's partnership with Makro (and DESCO - the recycler) on this e-waste recycling initiative and here's a list of drop-off points for South Africa.

Today I took an old happy-snappy digital camera (after about five years it had done one too many races and it had stopped working completely and Sony said it would cost more to fix than to buy a new one) and a printer (it has printing issues but can still scan) to the container. A car guard saw me and he wanted the goods. I told him of the issues and he still wanted them.

I figure that is recycling too.

My guess is that a lot more people would recycle if facilities were convenient, accessible and well managed. It really is easy to rinse containers and toss them in a tub to drop off once-a-week or two. It greatly reduces the amount of trash that goes into landfill. Like massively. And your eyes will pop at the volume of plastic in our lives -this is evident only when you separate your trash.

I don't know whether recycling everything I can is enough to save the planet... but it makes me feel better.