Tuesday, 31 March 2009
Sunday, 29 March 2009
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
Sunday, 22 March 2009
- We're on a road to nowhere - Talking Heads
- The long and winding road - Beatles
- Help! - Beatles
- Do you know where you're going to? - Diana Ross
- Go your own way - Fleetwood Mac
- Going nowhere slow - Bloodhound Gang
- Runner - Mannfred Mann
- Under pressure - Queen
- All I need is a miracle - Mike and the Mechanics
- Run like hell - Pink Floyd
- Bridge over troubled waters - Simon & Garfunkel
- Road to hell - Chris Rea
- These boots are made for walking - Nancy Sinatra
- I will survive - Gloria Gaynor
- Bicycle race - Queen
- I'm going slightly mad - Queen
- Running on empty - Jackson Browne
- Raindrops keep falling on my head - BJ Thomas
- I'm walking on sunshine - Katrina and The Waves (original), also Dolly Parton (1996) and others
A couple of paragraphs really caught my attention. This one is from the previous chapter, but leads into the next.
The environment we're used to is designed to sustain us. We live like fish in an aquarium. Food comes mysteriously down, oxygen bubbles up. We are the domestic pets of a human zoo we call civilisation. Then we go into nature, where we are the least among equals with all other creatures. There we are put to the test. Most of us sleep through the test. We get in and out and never know what might have been demanded. Such an experience can make us even more vulnerable, for we come away with the illusion of growing hard, salty and knowledgeable. Been there, done that.
Psychologists who study the behaviour of people who get lost report that very few ever backtrack. (The eyes look forward into real or imagined worlds.)
Friday, 20 March 2009
Michelle kindly fetched me and Tracey from the airport; and so began our drive through to Prince Albert. I haven't been into the Karoo for years so it was quite amazing to be a passenger watching the changes in vegetation and distribution of rocks. By the time we took the turning to Prince Albert, off the N1, the vegetation was sparse and the rocks abundant.
The town is quaint - my first time there. Brookielace trim on the buildings, many tidy restaurants, cafe's and B&B's lining the main road and a big ol' church in the middle. We registered at the school hostel and headed off for lunch at one of the tidy restaurants, lapping up the beautiful weather. (History of Prince Albert)
I managed to sneak in about an hour's nap before race briefing. We then clambered into car and set off Die Hel. The road leading into the Gamkaskloof comes off the Swartberg Pass, about 2km from Ou Tol (and 15km from Prince Albert). I was glad to be sitting in the front of the car, especially going around the bends...
And then we turned off, starting down into Die Hel, on the same road we would be on until well after midnight. Again I was relieved to be sitting in front... I do get awfully queasy on mountain passes. I arrived at the bottom of the kloof with a cracking headache, which Panado dulled by the time we started at 21h00. It took us around 90 minutes to cover the 36km into the kloof. And then we drove a further 12km into the valley (40-minute drive) to the starting line.
The first 12km are easy going with very slight rolling ups and downs and the full moon was already up within 30 minutes of starting.
The real challenge starts when you start to climb out of the valley. Steep swithbacks climbing up and up and up. A couple of false summits too; and then a lovely long down at a good gradient; and then up,up, up again; and then down again and then a more consistent climb again, leveling off for the last 10km. I ran/walked this section with my friend Tracey; and by the time we'd covered 40km we were very much looking forward to be done with the dirt road. Nonetheless, the terrain was of a good quality, the full moon made headlamps unnecessary and we were making steady progress.
At Ou Tol, with 50km completed, we were welcomed by the aroma of pancakes. There was quite a queue of 50k finishers, so I skipped on the pancake and headed out to start the final 30km sections within 10 minutes of arriving. Tracey was doing the 50km and reported back that the pancakes were delicious.
The nice part of the hiking trail, just after turning off the jeep track. It got nasty on the descent.
Most of the next 9km were my worst of the whole race. After a lovely kilometre or two, we started descending - steeply. Very, very rocky trail with unstable footing and sharp downward gradient. My least favourite thing. I took it a bit slower than the guys, feeling the 200km in my legs from RAW Namibia two weeks earlier. It was a relief when the trail descended to the river, just below the Swartberg Pass road. As I got on to the road, I saw the guys disappearing around the bend. Ten kays to go.
The first part of this dirt road section is visually stimulating. A river runs on your right and the road runs with cliffs on either side. Thereafter it opens up... and the sun was warming the earth. I was feeling a bit lazy, walking in the shady sections. I saw no sight of the guys ahead.
Then, on to the tar road leading into Prince Albert. I couldn't remember what the section looked like as I hadn't paid attention on the drive out of town. I also didn't put more water into my hydration pack at the last river crossing - and I was clean out and parched. Michael, race organiser, found me on the road - must have been about 3.5km from the finish. He didn't have any water in the car, only Coke, which I don't drink. The only thing to do was run... so I did a bit of running and walking, pleased to see the sign marking the town's boundary. But then it was still a good way to go; and the irrigation canal running near the road had started looking very attractive even though I know not to drink from canals...
As I reached the houses I started looking for a tap. Saw one on the side of a B&B;and although the place looked quiet, the tap was just outside a window. Too risky. Further along I saw the perfect tap - on the front of the house facing the road; it even had a hosepipe attachment. I turned the top... nothing came out. With only a kay or so to the finish, I took it as a sign that I'd better just damn well run the rest, which I did.
Total time: 12h08. The silly part is that if I hadn't been such a lazy butt on the last 10km, where I was more than capable of running more than I did, I could have done a sub-12. If, if, if...
All in all I had a superb run. Feet certainly tired by the finish. This race comes highly recommended especially as the three course options (38km,50km and 80km) cater for different preferences. The best part was definitely the opportunity to run at midnight under a full moon. Good for your soul. Running heaven.
About the Swartberg Pass
The pass was planned and constructed by engineer Thomas Bain (1830-1893). Construction started in 1880 and took 8-years to complete. It was built with convict labour. The Pass was officially opened 10 January 1988. This was his last engineering masterpiece. In the second half of the 1800s Bain built 24 (another resource says 17) major mountain roads and passes (names you'll easily recognise - Baviaanskloof, Prince Alfred, Stormsriver, Cogmans and other) in the second half of the 1800s. His father, Andrew Geddes Bain, built 8 during the first half of the same century.
The pass is 24 kilometres in length and it stretches from Oudtshoorn to Prince Albert. It is an untarred road that winds in steep switchbacks, to the summit at 1583 metres above sea level. Dry-stone retaining walls secure the roadway; some 2.4km in lenght and up to 13-metres in height. Bain got the number of side drains and culverts right too; for a centuary the road suffered little damage from rain. The Pass underwent specialist maintenance from late-2000, after a few years of particularly heavy downpours. The Pass was declared a National Monument in 1988, its centenary year.
As for Ou Tol, which is now a hiking overnight hut... (from a document on the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism website highlighting places of interest, and their history, along the pass).
The foundations of the original toll house can still be seen at this spot. A small village also existed at this locality during the construction of the pass with a shop, butchery and school. Today nothing remains of this village. On May 5, 1888 notice was given to impose a toll at the summit of the pass. John F Mackay was appointed as the first toll official with a salary of £45 per year. He was responsible for collecting the toll and maintaining the road. A toll fee four pennies per wheel and one penny per animal was charged.About Die Hel (from PA Tourism website)
Gamkaskloof, also known as 'The Hell / Die Hel', is a fascinating valley near Prince Albert, where a small, proud community lived in isolation for more than 100 years. Access was on foot and horseback and harvests of dried fruit and wild honey were carried out by pack animals.
Legend has it that Gamkaskloof was discovered when trekboers lost their cattle and followed their spoor into the fertile valley. Petrus Swanepoel was the first to farm there and the valley supported the hard-working community until 1962 when a road was carved into the valley. A gradual exodus occured and the last farmer to leave was Piet Swanepoel in 1991.
Friday, 13 March 2009
But not for bad deeds; no, no. I'm off to Die Hel this weekend to run the 80km Hell Run. The race is organised by Michael Graz, a dear friend. Michael took over the running of this event from our common friend Paul Mitchell, after Paul passed away in late-2004 (route was initiated by JP van Belle; Paul turned it into an annual event). As this is Michael's last year to organise the event - now that he is living in Wales - I figured there was no time like the present to head South.
Hell Run will continue to be held annually, taken over by Deon Moller. Deon has been involved with the event since its inception - in fact, his whole family is involved. His wife's pancakes at Ou Tol are legendary. So the event will be in very good hands.
In addition to seeing Michael and Heather, another dear friend is visiting from the UK. Tracey and I ran our first half-marathon together and she was on my support crew for my very first adventure race in April-ish 1999, a 250km in the Drakensberg. We regularly orienteered together, winning the ladies category at the very first South African Rogaine, held at Suikerbosrand - placing 3rd overall. Tracey immigrated to the UK weeks later.
This weekend is all about old times, dear friends (present and passed) and running, which is what unites our spirits.
Here are some useful things to check out. I've just seen that Google Earth has updated their imaging of this area. Wow! I've never been able to see it before (the res was low - old format until now). Go check it out - looks phenomenal!
Google Earth placemarks
Saturday, 7 March 2009
Tuesday, 3 March 2009
One of my favourite-favourite Dr Seuss books is still Green Eggs and Ham. The tale follows a character, Sam-I-Am, who tries to convince an unnamed character to try Green Eggs and Ham. Sam-I-Am tries everything to get this dude to try this dish. He suggests different locations (here, there, anywhere, in a house, in a box, in a car, in a tree, on a train, in the dark, in the rain, on a boat) and dining partners (fox, mouse, goat). This guy just won't try them.
Monday, 2 March 2009
Day 4 - 50km stage
After passing through the 3rd and last water point on this stage we rounded a dune and landed in a dry river bed- cracked mud and all. We were heading West into the heart of Sossusvlei and towards Dune 45, where we would camp. From the waterpoint we had to exit the river and cross from the northern dunes to the southern dunes that line the valley. It's dry, hot and harsh terrain with loads of rocks underfoot that just radiate heat. As I started out of the river I saw these beautiful flowers. Loved the dead tree above the sand and the yellow and green below. I love my First Ascent hat. It's the best thing for these conditions. Got it for Abu Dhabi and now I wear it all the time.
Stage 4 finished on top of Dune 45. The previous photo with the flowers, near the last waterpoint for the stage, was taken in the vicinity of the far dune visible at the back of the photo, behind the cloud shadow. This was one of the hottest sections of the race. Crossing the valley I thought my radiator was going to pop. Lots of dead trees down there. Saw ostrich, gemsbok (oryx) and sprinkbok. I did a lot of negotiating with myself on this section; the deal was that if I ran to a certain dead tree I could reward myself with a bit of a walk... And the cycle would repeat over and over and over. My new mantra is "The more you run, the sooner you're done". Hahaha. Works well ;)
Beautiful evening light, looking at Dune 45, from our stage 4 overnight campsite. Absolutely stunning.