Sunday 28 March 2010

In their 40s and hot

A friend turned 43 last week. He's young, dynamic, energetic and sporty - and he certainly doesn't 'look' or 'act' his age - whatever this means. And I can say the same for a bunch of friends who are now in their 40s. Perhaps this next observation is a thing of 'perspective with age' as I knock off those numbers towards 40; I think it is more because of the environment (sporty) in which I play.

Men in their 40s used to seem so old; so fat; so stuffy. But that was probably because in my teens I only knew 'old' people from a non-sporty environment. And, in this environment many are 'old' in their 40s.

Now, many years later, 40s are not far away and I have many friends in their 40s and 50s (and older) who are far removed from beer guzzing, tv-watching, boep protruding, corporate-ladder climbing, stereotypical mid-life years, which is a reality for many.

My perspective is most certainly influenced by my environment because I seen lots of young guys - late 20s and into 30s - who look like they have one foot in the hospital and the other in old age. But the guys I'm talking about move in the same sporting circles as me. They are fun, dynamic and energetic and they'd rather spend their weekends doing crazy races than sprawled on a couch watching sport. After decades of exercise and generally good lifestyle habits, they look younger than their years and their bodies are in great condition. These guys are h.o.t. The same goes for women.

Age is really just a number that marks the passing years. Where many get old before their time, an active lifestyle keeps you young in mind - and body.

Three 'L's Triumph

My ladies team for the first of the Kinetic Adventure Series events sported three 'L's; Lisa, Lauren and Lizelle. With regular Triumph AR member Debbie at a triathlon in preparation for Ironman, Lizelle happily agreed to join us for this superb event.

Pre-race: Lizelle, Lauren and Lisa

Held in the Muldersdrift area, North of Jo'burg, at Avianto (a wedding and accommodation venue), it was sure to be a good event; and it was. The grassy-ness, single-track riding, rough dirt roads and short paddle on the little river passing through the property, made for a well-balanced event.

We won our category (ladies teams) and received lovely trophies and vouchers for gear from the Kinetic Gear store. We're very fortunate to have our entries for the Kinetic Adventure Series sponsored by Triumph - the best sports bras around (I've been wearing Triumph sports bras for more than 15 years!). Thank you Triumph!

Lizelle, Lauren & Lisa - these transparent finishers medals had ribbons of different colours; nice touch.

Also, my thanks to Heidi, Stephan and your team of helpers and marshals. You seem to put in more effort with every events - music, banners, vibe, boats, medals, venues... Wow! Your hard work is really appreciated.

Friday 26 March 2010

The power of people (and PR)

After his two-and-a-half month long walk from Cape Town to Beit Bridge, friend Ray Chaplin is staying with me. And he's preparing to cycle from Jo'burg to Cape Town, on Sunday. The planning of any expedition is a major undertaking - permissions, people, equipment, sponsors... there are many puzzle pieces that must come together to make things happen.

Considering that he is cycling to Cape Town, a bicycle is a necessity. Almost three weeks ago Ray started dealing with a bike supplier, arranging to buy one of their basic single-speed classic designs. By Wednesday - yes, barely two days ago - they hadn't even started putting it together. Time for a change in plan.

I remembered that a few years ago my old friend from my varsity underwater hockey days, JC van Blerk, had gotten involved with the commuter bicycle brand, Johnny Loco. These super-sexy cruising bicycles are single speed and just so cool. It's the type of bicycle you'd ride to cruise the streets of Venice, the olive groves of the south of France, country roads in Spain and wine farms in the Cape.

So, I give JC a buzz and tell him that we're looking for a bike for Ray to ride. Without hesitation or questions he jumps in. So easy. JC's in Stellenbosch, so we ask whether there's perhaps a bike lying around in Gauteng - time is tight. He says that he has a buddy with one. He phones Philip, gets confirmation and by noon on Thursday - 24hrs later - we have a way-cool Johnny Loco in my car.

This classic Dutch-style bike (sans basket on the front) is a beauty. Her styling is elegant and she represents a life that is slow, relaxed and friendly. I could picture myself riding a bike like this and waving to neighbours and the local butcher and baker as I cruise by. It's a single-speed bike and nary a cable is seen as the braking system is a back-pedal coaster brake. There's not a quick-release anything and the cushy seat has springs - yes, spring - underneath. What a beauty!

This blog post is not just about this delicious bicycle (I'm going to give it a ride later today!), it is also a thank you to the people who pull finger to make things happen. Their actions speak about how they care about what they do as well as their belief in their products and people, like Ray.

When people are under pressure at work and overloaded, it is easy to understand how they can miss things. But what they forget is how important things big and small are to the person they're dealing with. This week I've seen a lot of issues with suppliers who disappear, don't return calls, delay in sending products arranged weeks in advance... frankly, it is unacceptable and it just says, "I don't care". Bad, bad PR dudes.

And then there are people like JC who, not even knowing Ray, have jumped in feet first. Others have stood by agreements and arrangements to enthusiastically make this trip happen.

I've been on a whole athlete sponsorship and public relations thing for my 'day-job' work for the past couple of months. Needless to say, I've been hitting my head against a wall (more on this in another post). And, sadly, I'm not too surprised. Local companies, wake up! Our local adventurers and athletes can do so much for your brand if you support and use them wisely.

In good faith, my buddy JC has lent Ray a bicycle; and now Johnny Loco is a name you know.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Wartrail wow!

I was asked a few times this weekend how I would compare Garmin Wartrail to adventure races and other multiday staged events. In short, I can't, because Wartrail is quite unlike any other event. Each of the three days is, essentially, a stand-alone event; one day of mountain running/trekking at 60-odd kilometres; one day of mountain biking at 135 kilometres; one day of river paddling at 60 kilometres. Wartrail is not an adventure race and it isn't the usual single discipline staged race. It's Wartrail. Simple.

In winter 2007 I took part in a girls' team, where I did the run and the girls, Lauren and Dalene, did the bike and paddle. This time I was in for the full experience; a wonderful experience.

The mountain run/trek day

With my travel and event companions Adri and Tommy. Adri, with her uncle and cousin, was our support crew; Tommy paddled with me on Day 3.

We set off from Lady Grey at 04h00; yes, way too early for me. I took the first section - uphill - very easy, warming up and settling in. With the sky begining to lighten just after the first checkpoint at the tower above Lady Grey, it was clear that we were in for a beautiful day. Not far from the tower I hooked up with Lara and Matthew, a mother and son (18) pair from Bloem. They did Skyrun last year and were making good pace on foot.

Coming around one of the outcroppings ('hills' on the mountain ridge), which we took to the left, we were caught by Roger and Kylie (photo on right) from Cape Town. They'd gone right. Roger was third last year on the run and he knows the route really well. I decided to stick with them as I've been up in the mountains before and I've taken slightly different routes on the various sections; and I knew of some better options - I just wasn't sure exactly where. Now I do. I also had one of the Garmin eTrex units, which were handed out pre-loaded with Adrian's route. It was interesting to compare with Roger's route, which differed slightly on some sections. 

Roger and Kylie were good company and they set a really superb trekking pace.

View to my left...

At Avoca, the fourth, of five, checkpoints, we picked up Tim and Piet. They'd missed filling up with water just past Snowden (third checkpoint). Minutes later a hailstorm hit. We pulled out jackets and walked through it - the hail falling, the wind howling and the rain lashing. Absolutely awesome. Just as the storm started to ease, I spotted a guy in a red jacket to my right, coming out from a rocky shelter. It was Tommy; he joined our little group too.

Winter Wartrail, June 2007 & 'Summer' Wartrail, March 2010

In 2007 I lost a chunk of time on the final approach to the Skiddaw trig beacon. This time, guided by Roger, I took the route to the right - on trail the whole time - and it was quick. Much better than my previous route! - now I know.

Group photo. Tommy and Piet at the back. Roger, Kylie, me and Tim in the front. We're at the start of the Balloch valley, now down from the mountains.

We reached Balloch with a total stage time of around 12h40. I had thought before the start that I'd 'try' to run more this time around (I've been on this sections three times before, since my first Skyrun in 1999 - I've hiked each time with very little running). I ran only a little, settling instead into a comfortable and quick trekking pace. There's only one section where I probably would have run if I hadn't been tagging with Roger and Kylie, but for the rest... I find this to be more trek-able terrain than runnable - for me.

Of interest, in chatting to John-Michael Tawse - founder of both Wartrail and Skyrun - about the first Skyrun I did in 1999, I mentioned that I couldn't remember any trails and that I thought we moved along the ridge a lot more, climbing up and down the peaks. He confirmed that my memory wasn't going wonky with age but that 10 years ago the trails were not all there and that the original route did go mostly along the ridgeline, up and over the peaks. The current route, which has been in use for at least the last six ofrseven years, is the one mostly pioneered by Bruce Arnett. It uses flatter ground below the peaks and is on trails most of the way.

At Balloch we had hot showers and a comfy campsite. I was in my tent by 8pm and asleep within 20 minutes. I woke up just before my six o'clock alarm for the second day's bike ride.

The mountain bike day
I had been semi-dreading this stage because a) I don't ride much (like maybe 300km a year... in races); b) I'm hard-pressed to remember whether I've ever ridden 135km in one chunk and c) my dear old bike is getting on (ten-and-a-half years old now!).

Looking back, down the 'softer' side of Lundean's Nek. This is where we go up. Over the top, the descent is delicious - steep, with loads of switchbacks... wonderful for going down; it would be a challenging climb if the route was ridden in reverse.

I had the most AWESOME day! I felt fan-tastic on the climbs, I whipped the downhills and after the second checkpoint, about 75km in, I started to enjoy the flats, which I generally find to be dull and hard work.

The route is very pretty, especially the first half, and going through the settlements is entertaining. Many children ask for sweets and chocolates, which is fairly standard, and then later, they run alongside shouting "Push", even trying to push my bike!

I finished in 09h03, very pleased with my day's ride. I awoke only with a sore bottom, which I'd expected. Yeeehhhaaaa!

The river paddle day
I'd been looking forward to this stage for weeks! I was initially planning to paddle a single kayak but as I wasn't feeling entirely comfortable in the single, I opted for a double. Two weeks before Wartrail my paddle buddy was unable to make it, so I hooked up with Tommy, who'd also lost his paddle buddy. This would be Tommy's first time on a river.

When we drove across the bridge into Aliwal North on Friday morning, I took one look at the Orange River and commented, "Geesh, that looks low!". I could see sandbanks. This was confirmed by Adrian, who said in the race briefing - with a snicker, "It's low, but it is pumping". He was right only about the first part.

There are a few small rapids on the first third of the 60km route. Tommy and I took them beautifully, especially the last and biggest of them all. We cruised down the tongue, hit straight into the stopper wave and bounced down the wave train. Tommy did brilliantly, keeping to my pre-paddle instructions of "When we go through the rapids, keep your paddle in the water". New paddlers instinctively lift their paddles out of the water yet you have greater stability with the blade in the water. This rapid greeted a number of swimmers.

The river was loaded with sandbanks and we almost had a clean run with the exception of a shallow bank now far from the end. Tommy climbed out and in two, three steps we were clear. Many others had less luck, having to drag their boats over the muddy obstructions.

This was my first time on the river and it really is pretty. The water was very low so we hardly benefitted from being pushed downstream by the current. We really had to paddle hard to progress swiftly.

I was a bit hard on Tommy during the paddle. We'd stop every hour to munch some food, drifting with the current. I don't think that I let us stop for even two minutes. And considering that Tommy had never paddled for this long (max probably an hour or so) and that he's fairly new to this, I was probably a bit rough. After the paddle Tommy mentioned this saying that he was glad I'd pushed him because it meant that we were done sooner. He really passed this long and hard paddle with flying colours. We finished in just over six hours, placed midfield and were the first double in.

We were totally thrilled with this and had a big suprise at the finish when Adrian presented us with a cheque. What a treat!

After three days of action and adventure is to good to be home and to look back on this really superb event. Wartrail is an event that cannot be compared to any other. You can do one, two or all three days; you can enter as a 'relay' team; you can paddle on your own or in a double. And, each day is really a whole event in itself but then after day one you change disciplines and do another full race... and then another.

To Adrian and your volunteers and sponsors - well done and thank you. Excellent organisation and logistics and overnight setup. These things really make this race special.

As a final comment... Wartrail has a very special tradition. My dear friend Paul Mitchell passed away in October 2004. That year he did Wartrail. He found Donovan and Garth is a state of 'disrepair' up on the mountain and offered them some of his chocolate cake. He got them on their feet again and off to the finish. After his passing, Donovan would bring chocolate cupcakes to the race for each of the competitors. I received one at Balloch at the end of the Winter Wartrail in 2007 and I was greatly touched by this gesture. Don wasn't here this year so instead we received marshmallow easter eggs at the Snowdon checkpoint, in memory of Paul and the spirit of assisting and guiding each other. It is incredibly touching that Adrian has established this tradition, which I, and Paul's friends appreciate more than my words can say or my tears of happiness - released unrestrained from fond memories - can show. Thank you.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Warrior on the Wartrail

This weekend is Wartrail weekend; a three-day event in the Eastern Cape. I went down to Winter Wartrail  in July-2007, when I took part in the event in a ladies team. I did the mountain running section and the other two girls, Daleen and Lauren, did the mountain biking and paddling stages. This weekend I'll be doing the whole thing.

I'm not concerned about the running and paddling because I'm most comfortable on foot and I've got months of paddling behind me. But the mountain biking... I don't ride often (mostly just at races) and I've only had a few once/twice a week spin bike sessions. And now I'm going into a 135km ride! Hey, it's not like I haven't done this type of thing before - but I already know that my butt is gonna be sore; and I'll have to spend the next day sitting on it in the boat.

I'm also really excited about the run because I haven't been in those mountains for years; and I'm sure it is looking beautiful. I'll have my little camera with me so I'll take some super photos to post on my return.

As for the paddle... my original paddle partner had to cancel two weeks ago, so I'm paddling with Tommy. We're in a stable Accord, so there are no problems there. This will be Tommy's first time on a river - and I think this will be his longest paddle. I have little doubt that we'll have fun in the boat. I'll be in the driving seat.

How wonderful to be a warrior this weekend, exploring amazing terrain and surrounded by adventurous buddies from all over the country. Lovely.

Monday 15 March 2010

Hello darkness, my old friend

Although I have been noticing the creep of darkness for a few weeks, especially at our weekly circuit training session, it was really tonight that I realised how winter is nearly upon us. Trees are starting to lose leaves and the sky is mostly dark by quarter-to-seven.

Today the sun set, in Jo'burg, at 18h25. In a month it will set at 17h51 and within the next six weeks the sun will sink below the horizon around 17h30. It will be dark an hour earlier than it is now.

I don't feel ready for winter.

Sunday 14 March 2010

A tide of thoughts

I met a really nice dog at orienteering this morning. His name is Dude and he’s a mixed-breed, SPCA special. A lovely face; he looks a bit like a fox.

My friend’s dog died on Thursday night – poisoning is suspected. She is understandably heartbroken and it will take some time for the all-consuming sadness to pass. Now more than a month since I buried ‘my’ kitty, Karel, I still miss his company; and I always say hi when I walk past the place where I buried him in the garden. Our relationships with pets fascinates me. Dare I say that many people have a need in their life for an animal companion, despite human friendships and partnerships. Indeed, where we have human relationships, we still feel a need for animal companions; but often when we have animal companions we don’t feel the need, as much, for human relationships.

I’ve been through a number of toll gates recently, encountering very friendly toll-gate attendants (women). A delight.

I’m busy reading ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ by Barbara Kingsolver – almost finished. She and her family moved to their out-of-town farm to spend a year eating locally and mainly from their own garden. She brings up good points about local eating – as in eating only foods that are in season and produced in your region. Consider the amount of food flying around the World so that we can have bananas, avos and other fresh produce all year. Major carbon footprint. She also discusses the theme of supporting farmer’s markets (local produce); the satisfaction of being able to feed yourself; the insipid taste of mass produced fruits and veg grown for their size, shape, colour and shelf-life rather than flavour versus heirloom varieties and the range thereof; and how food (production, preservation, cooking and eating) brings families together. This all revolves around the topic of “Do you know where your food comes from?” and how so many of the foods we eat contain ingredients we can’t even pronounce. In short, I like. Obviously easier in theory than practice but something I’d like to work towards.

The Haiti earthquake and resulting humanitarian crisis brought home how easily an ‘apocalypse’ can happen – and not only a natural disaster. On a smaller scale (actually, these examples would be a bigger scale without tremors and after shocks), consider how screwed we are without electricity, refuse removal and water coming out of taps. Remove electricity and we have cooking and heating (in winter) issues – aside from not being able to run lights, computers, refrigerators, traffic control, petrol pumps and every other modern convenience and necessity. Take away refuse removal and we have serious health issues. Cut-off water and we have are compromised in terms of drinking, cooking, showering, laundry and, most importantly, sewerage. If you live in a house, you can dig a hole and poop in your garden; but if you live in an apartment block? Again, major sanitation issues. Living in cities we actually exist on a fine line because failure in any one of these three systems can bring down the house.

Time and again, when passing through rural settlements in races, like at Swazi Xtreme, I think how fortunate the people are in that they’re essentially self-sufficient. They have crops, animals, water supply and houses. Many people who have flocked to the cities still have their ‘holiday’ homes in the rural areas, which they return to for their annual vacation and over holiday periods. They can just return there should disaster strike (though I fear they'd probably stay in the cities awaiting assistance). Me? I’d probably join the rest of the looters to grab what non-perishable edibles I can before fleeing the city for a spot I’ve seen out running where I’m fairly certain I can get water year-round. and hopefully I can grab enough food to keep me going while I wait for my veggies to grow. Best I stock up on seeds now...

As the bulk of the World’s population moves into cities, aid services become all the more important. At the drop of a hat (the hat under discussion being earthquake, flooding, volcanic eruption, tsunami, hurricane, viral infection) aid organisations need to get food and water to people; we’ve ‘evolved’ to a state where most people cannot survive without shops. I think it is frightening.

It is becoming rare to mingle socially with people and not to participate in discussions around the ‘state of our country’, especially with buffoons in the upper ranks constantly making headlines for bad deeds more than good (in fact, I fail to think of (m)any good deeds). I’m a regular talk radio listener so I hear the news like 50-million times a day; and it is 99% all bad. Then again, bad news sells better than good, so it is hardly surprising. I also have little inclination for mountain-out-of-molehill sensationalist news. I regularly turn off discussions because the constant complaining – about everything from potholes to electricity, to service delivery and the antics of drunkards, morons and polygamists is actually of little interest to me – especially after I’ve heard the same story a few times. Dare I say that I am resigned to things being as they are and not being surprised at deterioration nor expecting any improvement... Complaining is contagious and ongoing negativity breeds discontent and resentment.

I do believe that we should report potholes and street lights that are not working, pick-up the litter in front of your house and trim the lawn on the pavement, be part of your residents association (and not only after you’ve been hijacked/burgled) and make friends with your neighbours. And always, always go and vote.

My neighbours have an almost-ten-year old daughter, Mimi. They moved here in early January. She’s a lovely little girl and it is a pleasure to spend time with her. We have all kinds of interesting discussions when she comes to visit, which is sometimes after school or on weekends. She has been coming with me to orienteering and today she completed her third novice course and received her first certificate. I do the courses with her, explaining what to look for, instructing on how to orientate her map with her compass and pointing out significant features along the way. It will be a while before she can go out on her own.

Last Sunday I chatted to one of the moms about Mimi and children’s orienteering; her children orienteer and she is involved in the Young Orienteers Challenge programme. I don’t have much practise with children so I don’t know what is normal. Evidently it is normal for children to pay little attention to the map, instead scanning the area for a glimpse of their next control, which is often visible from a distance on novice courses. When she spots the control Mimi says, “I’ve found it!” and heads that way. I tell her she has ‘seen’ it, not ‘found’ it. There is a difference. I’ve explained how the map tells her where the control is and that she won’t always be able to spot the control from afar. According to Leila, this is common behaviour, which I’ve also seen adults do (they’ll grid search rather than focusing on the map, going back to a point of certainty and trying again). Children are also fixated on the stamps, badges and post-run lollipop. The good thing about this is that it makes them keen to return and complete courses. So, it is a great system.

Today, Mimi’s third event, we had a good 'run' and we made a breakthrough – two of them. Mimi is getting the hang of orientating her map to North using her compass – and keeping it that way as she moves and changes direction; and she’s getting a feel for distance. En route to the last control we spotted another within 50m of the previous one. She saw it, pointed it out but said that it couldn’t be ours. I asked her why she thought so. “It is too close,” she replied. She got a high-five for that correct answer. Last week she would have gone to it to check; this time she didn’t even veer in its direction.

I’m also surprised at Mimi’s ‘lack’ of fitness. She plays netball at school but hasn’t had much exposure to running. And, to be honest, I have no idea what ‘normal’ children can and can’t do because the ‘O’ children that I see regularly are hardly normal. They’ve been brought up in an active environment and running around an orienteering course is second nature. Mimi is running-tired by halfway on the one-point-something kilometre novice course. This will improve as we do more events. At the moment we do a bit of walking and running.

I’ve told Mimi that tiredness is a state of mind (the same thing I tell adults). And it seems I'm not the only one to think so. Here’s a lovely comment from Alec Alvierinos’ daughter Ruth, a regular sprint ARer. This comment was passed on to me by her dad.

“After a 35Km UGE AR when Ruth was just eight-years old she told me the following: ‘When I was really tired and could not go any more I pretended I was a horse and the rider was telling me to go!’”

This girl is going to go far.

Last week, driving back from orienteering, Mimi and I were chatting about the event and things we’ve been doing. She has heard me speaking about running, orienteering, mountain biking, paddling and general racing. She also sees me come home dirty after events. So she asks why I don’t speak about girl-things. My response: “But these are girl things! Girls can do any sports they want to, not just netball or tennis”. I find it very sad that school exposure is limited to sports-for-girls and sports-for-boys. Media is also to blame with next to zero female sports role models (maybe only one or two I can think of in SA) and everything else male-orientated; football, rugby, golf… [aside: we do chat about Lady Gaga, Johnny Depp and other girly gossip – this reference was sports related]

Also this week I asked her whether she and her friends skip or play games during lunchtime. “No,” she replies. “We just sit and eat our sandwiches”. This is not true for all schools, where children do play active games during their lunch break, but I do find it sad because it reeks of inactivity and physical inhibition.

I have a low tolerance for slow walking, like on pavements (adults, school children), in malls and in stores, where staff move unbelievably slowly from one point to the next whether five meters or 40. Add slopping feet sounds to this (I inherited the latter pet-hate from my mom). The way you walk - and the pace at which you walk - says something about you; your enthusiasm, your personality, your motivation. I have an overwhelming desire to clap my hands and shout, “Move it, move it”. I don’t. But I want to. We have amazing bodies built to move efficiently and swiftly. Walking slowly is body neglect, according to ‘Lisa’s Laws of Motion’.

I'm knitting my dad a scarf. Mimi came to me a few weeks ago looking for help with her knitting - something she's doing just 'cos, not for school. It was so much fun that I decided to 'knit something' - I made for the internet.

Every winter my dad wears a scarf I knitted for him about 15 years ago. Last year I asked him to get rid of it because it really looks terrible after too many years of wear. But he likes it. He refused saying that he'd only toss it out if I knitted him one to replace it. I searched online and found a really nice pattern using knit and purl stitches, the two basic stalwarts of knitting. I got wool and needles from a local haberdashery. I am having so much fun that I'm 3/4 done.
My mom has found a pattern that she likes, which I'll do after my dad's; and I've found a pattern that I like, which I'll attempt after that. The one I like demands greater technical skills (see pic) - like those dropped stitches that make 'holes' (eyelets) and other fancy stitches. It will be fun to learn these after so many years of not knitting.

While I have no inclination to ever knit a sweater, scarves are quick and easy. Knitted children's toys also catch my attention (my gran used to knit little people). Toys are fun to make and more fun to give away.

My great aunt (my mom's aunt) taught me to knit when I was about six, using two different coloured knitting needles. In late primary school I would occasionally babysit my mom's friend's children. I taught them to knit in the same way. And now I'm teaching Mimi (she's keen to try patterns now that she's seen my scarf). Knitting is a super skill and hobby that is rapidly being lost. Guys can knit too.

Exploring the Spruit on foot

It has been many years - since that Kinetic race where we rode the length of the Spruit up to the N1 - since I've been along the Braamfontein Spruit. Sure, I've done the section at Delta Park and near the Sandton Field & Study on foot and/or bike for orienteering and Kinetic's sprint races in recent years but I'm completely unfamiliar with the rest.

On Saturday morning we had a club run along the Spruit, from the shopping centre on Rustenburg Road in Victory Park. It's a great place to start from because there is ample parking and post-race colddrinks available.

I was accompanied by club members Tony and Francis; and Francis' friend Sheila. Francis is a star recruiter - she has brought friends with her to all kinds of events, introducing them to trail running, navigation and orienteering. Way to go! Gerhard met up with us on the road, a few hundred metres from the start.

Spruit runners near one of the many waterfalls, cascading down old stone walls. 
(L-R)Tony, Gerhard, Francis, Sheila, Lisa

We had a nice and easy pace, enjoying the sights and the river. The trails are in good condition - used by dozens of mountain bikers and a couple of runners - and we passed friendly people. True to AR Club fashion, we did a bit of a 'creative' section as we neared William Nicol - an overgrown section off the Braamfontein spruit (may be the Sandspruit?). We headed out for an hour and then turned around. It worked well.

Total distance, as measured on Google Earth, was around 14.5km. We took just under 2hrs, with lots of chit-chat.

More photos on our AR Club website.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Town to town runabout

I wrote about ultrarunner Dean Karnaze's runabout concept a few months ago. Having recently moved out of Jo'burg Tommy suggests that we take a jaunt from Springs towards Heidelberg and, possibly, beyond. And that's how four of us - me, Tommy, Tony and Wiehan - ended up running from Springs to Heidelberg on trails, tracks, roadside verges and wide-open dirt roads on Saturday morning.

Although we started later than anticipated, this at least gave the dense mist surrounding Springs a chance to lift. By the time we hit the road, the sun was out, illuminating this beautiful highveld day.

I'd done some Google Earth scouting to look for trails and possible routes between the two towns; and from the first it was clear that we'd be able to hit some trails. With good rains on Thurs and Fri, it was little wonder that we were splashing along singletrack for the first half hour surrounded by towering grasses and accompanied by red and golden bishop birds and an unexpected variety of butterflies.

Yes, this is a footpath - flooded

We deviated a bit from my proposed route, keeping to one of the main roads. Although we didn't mean to, it was probably a good thing because we were a little uncertain about running alongside settlements - but it is a definite option to try now that we have a feel for the area and people.

There are many pretty pans and marshes in this area; this probably explains why the bird life is so abundant. Shortly after this point we realised that we'd detoured a little too far west - so we dropped down an embankment, across the railway tracks and on to another road heading towards Heidelberg.

Off the R550 we hit this super dirt road leading to an outlying farmy settlement. There were bean (like green bean) crops - domestic use - growing on either side a bit further on.

I spotted this big sunflower and couldn't resist a photo. Sunflowers are my favourite! We were probably about 2.5hrs in by this stage.

Turning west, we were on to a smaller road. Saw two horses. They were kept from straying in this unfenced area by lengths of chain - just enough so that they could graze and move around a bit.

I really, really like little baby cows...

This river was absolutely pumping. As Tommy rightly observed, "Perfect for tubing!". But there was to be no such luxury for us. See that tower on the hill in the background? Heidelberg is behind and below. We still had a distance to run.

We hit the main road into the town (R42) and left it almost immediately, finding a parallel trail, which was great, until it ended after few hundred metres, taking us back on to the road.

Yehaaa! "Welcome to Heidelberg: Pride of the Suikerbosrand" We moved quickly along the road for a few hundred meters, sneaking down a trail (just near this sign) into Bergsig, a pretty 'suburb' of Heidelberg. We took one of the quiet roads running parallel to the R42, crossing back on to the latter where it crosses the N3 and heads directly into Heidelberg.

How many to go? One? "What?" Yeah, one. About three-hundred metres down the road we found another sign, just like this, but with '2'...

Shortly after hitting town we saw a banner for a local market. We headed straight for it to get munchies and colddrinks, both way too pricey for a small-town market. They have this market on the first Saturday of every month so our timing was good. Shortly after we made town, our lift arrived. Izaan, Tommy's wife, very kindly volunteered to be on standby to fetch us.

We wrapped up the run with a swim and time spent lazing around the pool eating marula fruit - still from last weekend.
As a result of this runabout...
  • We're fairly convinced we can get this route 100% on trails and dirt roads
  • We're thinking of a route to Heidelberg via Nigel...

Friday 5 March 2010

Spoon fed

Some people collect stamps. Others like wrist watches. I have a thing for camping/hiking sporks and spoons. My small collection started unintentionally years ago when my self-sufficient staged ultra running buddy, Bob (Virginia, USA), gave me a Snow Peak titanium spork (in late-2003). This is a true spork where the top of the spoon is warps into a fork.
Then, in about 2006, my mom saw the plastic Swedish-made Light My Fire spork (it isn't a true spork) at Heathrow airport. She bought me an apple green one. They've been available from Cape Union for some years (I bought one of the oversized salad-server ones there about a year ago).

My most recent acquisition is a Sea to Summit Ultra Light Aircraft Alloy long-handled spoon. It has a great shape and who can resist (I certainly can't) cutlery made from cool materials - like aircraft alloy? Adventure Inc are local agents and I've seen them at Outdoor Warehouse (certainly available too through Drifters and other outdoor retailers).

So what do I use these spoons and sporks for? I always take one to multiday races - usually the titanium spork because it has been to so many events and it is a kinda tradition. At home I like using them for eating desserts or other such treats.

It's a silly thing, but fun nonetheless.

Thursday 4 March 2010

Local hero, Alex Harris

During my decade and a bit in adventure racing I have met many incredible people - adventure sport certainly attracts interesting personalities that have competence, natural talent and very specific drive in common. Adventurer and mountaineer Alex Harris is one of these.

Alex did as stint as an adventure racer some years back, in between his expeditions to the World's highest mountains - en route to bagging the Seven Summits. As I recall he used to race with Kirsty Searle (nee Burrows), possibly first in the Adventure Dynamix team, which became - for the most part - Team 180 Adventures. I also have a fuzzy recollection of stories of Alex cycling to Harrismith to climb, and then cycling back to Joburg - just for fun. This was years ago so I may not have the story straight...

Alex has also visited Adventure Racing Club many times, always delighted to share his adventures and experiences. We last had Alex at AR Club after his successful self-sufficient, unassisted man-haul to the South Pole with Sibusiso Vilane end-2008.

Alex is a local hero and, for me, he has always stood out as a level-headed, calm, thorough and confident expedition leader. He has gained so much experience over the past 20 years in planning and organising expeditions. Alex is also approachable, friendly and always willing to share his hard-earned knowledge.

This evening Alex showed the programme that was produced for SABC (screened late last year) on his South Pole exedition. It made for superb viewing. An interesting and informative Q&A session followed.

In addition to a copy of Alex's book (see below), I also bagged this photo with Alex, an adventurer I greatly admire.

Rocks and Hard Places, 2nd edition
In 2004 I attended the launch for Alex's book, 'Rocks and Hard Places: A South African's journey to the highest mountain on every continent'. I proudly walked away with an autographed copy. A few years ago my book walked and I have no idea who I lent it to. Although I bought the new second edition tonight, which has an additional chapter, I would stll like my hard cover first edition back. So if you have a copy of the book, hidden away on your bookshelf, that reads "Dear Lisa..." on the front page, it's mine.

This lovely second edition (soft cover, full colour, lots of photos, 260 pages) is available directly from Alex and you can contact him at It is R250.00.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Playing in Phalaborwa

A few weeks ago I saw a note about a half marathon in Phalaborwa. I immediately thought of ARer Sakkie van Wyk, who lives there. He has been wanting me to come play for years. I rallied a few AR friends – Tony, Tommy and Izaan – to join me. We left Jo’burg on Friday afternoon for the northern tropics.

At Sakkie’s place, which we reached late at night, we were made to feel completely at home, taking over the flat on his property, which is the best and most organised AR toy room I have ever seen. I am totally impressed. After years of AR, Sakkie has collected loads of gear, which he uses to get local friends into AR.

We were up early on Saturday morning for the Marula Festival half marathon, which started at a gate to the Kruger Park. The first three of so kilometres took us slightly into the Park – I only saw two warthog just before we exited the gate. The rest of the route ran to the North-west of town; a pleasant route with the scent of the bush on all sides. I met up with a chap from Sakkie’s club at about 11km. Turns out Kevin is the guy whose wife received my old Salomon pack a few years ago (I was given a newer version of it so I passed mine along) – the pack is still going strong. ‘Dis world is be small.
Tommy, Tony, Lisa and Sakkie at the half marathon start

After showers back home, Sakkie took us to visit The Home of Amarula, which is the place where they process marula fruit for this renowned creamy liqueur. The visit includes a tot over crushed ice and a tour of the factory. As the Marula Festival was in full swing on this weekend, the factory wasn’t running. Marula trees are not farmed; locals collect from trees in and around town and they’re paid by Amarula for the fruit. After processing, the pulp is trucked to Stellenbosch where it is made into a spirit. This is blended with cream to make the liqueur, which is exported worldwide.

Lisa & Izaan drinking Amarula Cream (at ten-thirty in the morning!)

'Freak of nature' is a Mopani-Marula tree. It is naturally occuring and probably resulted when an elephant bashed over a marula tree, which injured the mopani tree. The marula branch grafted on to the Mopani trunk.

We then went through to the Phalaborwa open cast mine – yes, this was a Where is it? location on some time ago. The pit is impressive, as seen from a nearby towering dump. We spent some time up here eating ‘Lisa’s overflow sandwiches’ and learning about the things we could see around us; mining and materials, environmental issues, the dams and reservoirs, the land slump/avalanche that has cost the company millions and the new mining developments. It is absolutely fascinating.

The diameter of the pit is an incredible 2.5km. They no longer mine the pit, which is too unsafe and the foot is too small. There are tunnels under the pit.

We also got to see (from a distance) the monster trucks that carry tons of rock to the plant for crushing and processing. From up on the dump they don’t look very impressive. And then a regular double cab came driving along – looked like a Lego car in comparison. Cars drive around with an orange flag on a tall pole protruding from the rear. The reason? The monster truck drivers can’t see anything ahead of them for something like 60m. They have driven over cars before. These flags, which are raised to their eye level are vital on site. The roads driven by the monster trucks are separate to the regular roads. The scale of this place is astounding.

The top of the monster truck's wheel is taller than Sakkie

Our next stop was the airport, which is a cool place to visit. Sakkie was involved in the building of the new section. It has cute animal tracks leading to the baggage collection point and taps in the bathroom that are totally different to anything you’ve seen before. Metal animals add decoration and the ‘zebra skin’ floor is striking.

Our final stop was the golf course, which is absolutely beautiful. There’s a hotel and other stuff on site too. We had some cold drinks while looking over the greens. Wildlife often visits golfers – everything from little bokkies to crocs, hippos, ellies, lion, giraffe and leopards are seen.

We headed back. I was so sleepy that I crashed out, tv blaring, on a mattress on the floor for about an hour. Needed to recharge. We then took off for the Marula Festival to get our hands on Marula beer. The Festival area was crazy! Tony and I made like the locals and pushed our way on to the fields. We were directed by a tourism guy to a tent, where we found people swarming around some women with large plastic ‘vats’. They were helping themselves to the milky looking beverage. It seemed to be a ‘bring your own container’ affair. An old woman had a long and thirsty drink from a calabash container – there were certainly going to be lots of people on their ear.

We went back to the tourism guy in search of a cup or bottle – he gave us a 2l cold-drink bottle. We went back to the tent. The chaos had died down and we couldn’t see how to get or ask for some of the beer. A local offered me a 500ml water bottle filled with the beer saying, “Take. Take. For free.” He had a big slurp from the bottle before passing it to me.

Back at the house we gave it a try. Nasy stuff – barely drinkable. Well, at least we’d tried it. A braai and two hours later it was lights-out – we needed to be up by 04h30 to go riding with Sakkie and his mtb buddies at five. The locals have adapted to Phalaborwa’s heat and humidity by training either very early in the morning or at night; during the day is not an option.

What an amazing mountain bike ride! Sakkie and his buddies have cut kilometres of trail all over the place. Lovely smooth and winding trails. They’ve even put bridges across streams and over fences. ‘Sakkie’s Bike Park’ is an absolute wonder!

En route we saw a young hippo. He turned tail when he saw us, jogging down the road towards the river. When hippos run they have helluva cute hips and bottom – as seen from behind. Not wanting to have a close encounter, we climbed up an embankment and over the railway lines to a parallel dirt road.

Three hours later we were back at the house to chill and chat. Sakkie is a whiz with bikes and we learned so much from him in the time we spent there. We all learned the most amazing way to clean our bikes and Sakkie quickly showed us neat techniques for setting out gears and lubing our chains and moving parts. A week there and I’m sure he’d have me building a bike!

Shortly before we left for Joburg we headed out to collect Marula fruit. I’d seen a bunch of fruit on the ground while we were riding (there isn’t much fruit lying around because it is collected by the locals to take to the Amarula factory). Sakkie remembered me squealing when I saw it so he took us right to the spot. Marula fruit is fun to eat - I don’t get my hands on it often - and it has more vitamin C than oranges. My neighbours are now eating the fruit too!

Sunset from the car on the way back to Jo'burg

This was the most wonderful weekend and a lovely opportunity to get to know Sakkie, who I’ve known from AR – also from rogaines and orienteering - for many, many years. But with the rush of events we haven’t had the chance to spend much time together in any chunk. Such is racing. And lovely to meet his wife, Sarie, and son, Pieter-Ben, who are both avid mountain bikers. My weekend companions from Jo'burg, Tommy, Izaan and Tony, were super company ;)

Although this weekend of running and biking in such a wonderful setting was probably fairly routine for Sakkie, it was a really wonderful experience for us, especially with the balance of activity-but-not-racing and some time to chill and do touristy things, which you just don’t get at races.

Sakkie, Sarie and Pieter-Ben, thank you for having us with you this weekend. As Tommy says, “I can't get over what an amazing weekend we had in Phalaborwa, it feels like it was a dream”.