Tuesday 31 August 2010

Seed bombing

Yay! I'm going to be on Redi Direko's show on 702 tomorrow morning to do the Green Tip, about Seed Bombing. I first read about seed bombing on a website - a random find my mom pointed me to - and it immediately caught my attention.

Now that my lovely daisies are going to seed, I'm harvesting them (and tons more from the flowerbed outside a local park!) to make seed bombs for next season.

What, you're asking, is seed bombing?

It's all about beautifying vacant spaces, shabby pavements, 'bald spots' in parks, neglected neighbourhood flowerbeds, empty plant pots and bare roadside verges in URBAN areas with pretty flowers.

A seed bomb is a method of delivering seeds; it's a compressed ball of soil and compost, impregnated with flower seeds and it can be tossed anywhere. Seed bombing is a bit like guerilla gardening, without the committment to maintaining the garden later.

To make a seed bomb:
  • Mix clay soil (soil with a decent clay content packs together and hardens when dry) with compost - recommended ratio of 5:2, but it doesn't matter much. You can supplement soil plus compost with red (terracota) clay powder (from a pottery store) to bind the 'bomb' if your local soil isn't binding well.
  • Add water, slowly, as you stir, to get a firm mud-pie consistency (not sloppy!)
  • coop up enough of this mix to mould a small ball
  • Press in a couple of flower seeds. Some seed bomb recipes suggest adding seeds to your mix - one part seeds to 5 parts clay soil and 2 parts compost - I prefer to know how many seeds are going into each bomb.
  • Shape into a ball, rolling it between your hands until compact and rounded with a smooth (not cracked) outer surface. This will protect the seed bomb from predators (ants, other insects, mice and birds).
  • Place on newspaper and leave to air dry (about two days)
  • Store in a cool, dry place until you're ready to throw them
On your next run or walk, pack some in a pouch - toss your seed bombs into nearby vacant lot, wait a few weeks for the flowers ;) Tossing is a form of 'unobtrusive deployment' that can be done surreptitiously in broad daylight.

When to toss your seed bombs? Although tossing them just before a rainy period is good, it isn't necessary, as the seeds will stay dry, protected in the ball and ungerminated until it rains. Seeds readily germinate following the first rain. At least some of the seeds in each ball will germinate. Success is really dependant on what happens after germination... like, is there consistent rain, so that the seedlings don’t wilt and die?

Remember to select flower seeds appropriate for the sowing season and region. Drought-tolerant plants are winners. Visit your local nursery to see what seeds are available. Check seed packets for correct sowing seasons and sun requirements (full sun, semi-sun, shade). Daisy, sunflower, cosmos, poppy and nasturtium seeds as well as wildflower mixes are popular in seed bombs.

Select seeds that do not need to be dug 30cm into the ground. Seeds that can be sown in situ (scattered on the ground surface) are best.

Avoid invasive plants and don't throw seed bombs in or near natural areas. Seed bombs are for URBAN areas.

Soil and compost give the seeds a little nourishing 'home' to get started. Rain will get things going, breaking the seed bomb apart.

If you are covering a large area, disperse them about two seed bombs per square metre. In smaller areas, group 5 or 6 seed bombs to get a more lush look. At the end of the first growing season, birds and other creatures will disperse the seeds from the first year flowers elsewhere, and the growing cycle will begin again.

Seeds generally take 85-120 days to flowering - that's 3-4 months - so it will be a while before you can appreciate your handiwork.

Where to get lots of seeds? In early April I planted daisy seeds that I bought from a local nursery (R50 per packet!). I'm now harvesting the seeds, from my own garden and also from community pavement gardens (like outside Rhodes Park). I'm going to be using these seeds - an abundance of them! - to make my seed bombs for March/April next year. Daisies are currently going to seed, so make the best of them to make next winter even brighter with more and more and more daisies in Jo'burg.

Making seed bombs (and dispersing them!) is a great activity to do with children.

As my daisy seed bombs will only be good for March/April next year, I'm going to buy cosmos and sunflower seeds from a nursery to make seed bombs for now, that will flower for December. 'Cos I can.

* Content on seed bombs, recipe and images collected, edited and compiled from goodness-knows-how-many websites. Thanks to the authors.

Monday 30 August 2010

Green feet are happy feet

My dear friend, Michael, came out to SA just over a week ago. He has been working in the US for the past few months. Taking advantage of his time in the US, I asked Michael to bring a pair of the new Bikila model of the Vibram FiveFingers.

Barefoot running has been an 'in' thing for the last year or so, made popular by Chris McDougall's book, 'Born to Run'.

Two years ago, when I was still Gear Editor for Runner's World SA magazine, I received a pair of Vibrams (Sprint model) from the local agent. I'd only worn them a few times when my house was broken into and they were swiped, along with all my trail and road shoes! I've wanted a pair since.

My 'green feet' arrived on Thursday and I've spent some time walking around in them over the past few days, the first stage in my acclimatisation. This afternoon I'm going to give them a short run, on grass. It is advised that you slowly get into them, gradually increasing distance and introducing different terrain.

I've been running in my Salomon Slabs since the beginning of the year and I think that what I have enjoyed most about them is their 'unintrusive' structure. They're kind of like the 'racing flats' of trail running. It took a while to adjust to them on rocky highveld terrain, which they're really not made for (they would be great on smooth US and European trails). I have to take extra care with my foot placements to avoid clipping rocks, because the shoe offers little protection. But it works for me and my feet enjoy them. Highveld terrain does tend to eat them up. Fivefingers are the next step and I'm looking forward to this journey.

Selecting Team AR for Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge

Last week I finally chose the three people, from our squad of five, for Team http://www.ar.co.za/ for the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge (ADAC) in December.

This is the third year that http://www.ar.co.za/ has received an entry (incl flights) for this superb six-day adventure race. It really is a race of sun, sea and sand - lots and lots of sand.

In previous years (2008 and 2009) I have chosen the team outright from the written applications. But this year, because I received such early notification of our entry, I selected a squad of people - four women and two men - in early June. We 'lost' Ilze Jansen van Rensburg early on when an emergency eye operation took her out of racing and training for weeks.

It was definitely much harder this time to settle on a combination. It is really difficult to choose only three from five super people - all of whom are prime candidates. And, just looking at the three girls, two of them were in the winning pair and team at Swazi Xtreme!

After weeks of deliberation I settled on Adri van der Westhuzyen, Lizelle Smit and Steven Erasmus. Lizelle van der Merwe and Keane Ludick are our reserves and they will remain involved with paddle training and other team activities. It is very reassuring to know that we've got them with us in case something happens to one of us in the lead up to the events.

We've got company
For the first time, Team http://www.ar.co.za/ will have Souff Afrikan company in Abu Dhabi - that is, aside from our trusty South African supporters (Mark Joyce and his friends who always come out to find us on the course and to cheer for us).

Team Cyanosis (Nicholas Mulder, Clinton Mackintosh and Ryno Griesel - female still to be confirmed) and Hard Day's Night (Alex Pope, Jane Swarbreck, Tim Deane and Alan Neate) will also take on the sea and desert. Wooohooo! What a p.a.r.t.y!

Difficulty of ADAC
As I hadn't done a non-stop multiday adventure race for ages, I haven't had a direct comparison between ADAC and something like Swazi Xtreme. I can now say that despite the sleeping and unbelievable catering, ADAC is physically more demanding than a classic 350km non-stop race. At ADAC each day's stages are longer, faster and tougher.

I hadn't really thought about it too much until I asked Alex Pope, who raced with me at ADAC, how his blood sugar was at Swazi (Alex is diabetic). He said that it was actually quite high, which was in contrast to ADAC where it was often on the lower end of the scale, because of the high output. A nice physiological indicator of the pace at ADAC.

For now, our training focus is on paddling and foot - running. The race is being held in 'reverse' where, except for the prologue, we do the disciplines backwards. So, where the canyoneering was on the last day, it will now be on the first, followed by MTB, then desert trekking and then paddle. MTB is the one that is the least of my worries... it is on foot and in the boats where the crunch really comes.

In the previous years I've found gaps in our preparation in these areas. I hope to plug them for a better result. If we can maintain a midfield placing on the paddle and get three of the four optional CPs on the trekking stage, I'll be over the moon!

So, for now it is onward, with our sights firmly set on the race in early December.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Fighting bugs

I'm fighting some kind of bug. Had a cold going into Swazi Xtreme and a day after the race was down with full-blown flu. Took two weeks to shake coughing and lots of nose blowing and now it feels like I'm battling against something else.

Since the beginning of the month I've been working at a client's offices on a new contract. Lotsa bugs around there at the moment - not great for an immuno-compromised adventure racer.

Yesterday (Monday), driving to work, I felt like a zombie, even after a full night's sleep. Got home late afternoon and had a nap. Then slept from 11pm  to 7.30am. Drove to work feeling really sleepy again. At work I was chatting to the bunch and saying I was feeling helluva sleepy, when I shouldn't be, and that I thought I'd been having night sweats for last couple of nights. The one girl says she's had the same thing - drenched at night and also helluva sleepy this morning.

The bugs we've had in the office in the past week (only 6 or 7 of us there most of the time; another two come and go) include one guy down with meningitis and another guy off work with glandular fever (with full on rash too; he got it from his wife, who also works with us - she had it the previous week).

I ducked early again today, had a nap and now I'm ready to sleep again. No swollen glands or other symptoms, just feeling pooped.

Looks like I'll be paying my doc another visit... And all I wanna do is go running. But, for now it's back to bed for another good sleep.

Equipment upgrades

There are some equipment items that just last for years. I've got thermal tights that are five or six years old and still going strong; my backpack is four years old; trekking poles are also a good five years or more; a wind shell from early-2002; waterproof jacket from 2003-ish; drybags from the middle ages...

But there's one item that really does need regular replacing: headlamps. Technology is constantly improving to give more lighting for longer. I cringe when buying batteries (money down the drain, toxic pollutant etc) so the more lighting and value I can get for every set of batteries, the better.

In recent years I've had some nice Princeton Tec and Black Diamond headlamps. I recently went back to my roots and bought a Petzl Myo XP. I say back to my roots because my first headlamp was a Petzl Tikka.

The Petzl Myo XP is great. I like the diffuser thing because a beam makes me dizzy. It is great on batteries too. And the weight balance on my head is good. I like the small lighting part on the front - bigger ones bounce up and down on your forehead. Battery pack isn't too big nor heavy.

So, what made me decide on the Myo? I asked around. And since my buddies in Team Cyanosis use them and love them, I figured it would be great for me too - and it is.

There are lots of good lighting options out there. when shopping around, look at type of light (multiple LEDs, super bright LED, ultra LEDs etc), type and number of batteries (AA or AAA; usually two or 3), duration of lighting on beam settings, size of lighting unit and ability to swivel it, separate or incorporated batteries (i.e. as part of the lighting unit or as a separate pack)... this will give you a good base for comparison.

Races are ideal places to check out what is available. If you're running next to a team with lights brighter than those at Soccer City, ask them what they're using. Seeing is believing.

Monday 23 August 2010

A new angle on football

Found this pic while randomly looking for something else. Lovely silliness.

Sunday 22 August 2010

Holding on to today

Mmm... would you believe that I'm already diarising events for 2011?

As a child - perhaps around eight years old - I remember saying to a little friend's mom how I was looking forward to the holiday, or something like that. She replied, "Don't wish your life away." It was only many years later that what she said made sense.

Now, as I'm putting in dates for events next year, I am planning to do a number of events, but I don't wish that they were here already because I'm still trying to hold on to today as it slips away.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

New route, new discovery

At lunch time I had to head to Midrand, from Benoni, to fetch stuff from Cell C's warehouse for the 'Take a Girl Child to Work' thing tomorrow (one of my clients, an attorney, is hosting six girls for the day from neighbouring schools). Following directions sent to me by Cell C, I took the R21 North, then the N14/N1 south, getting off at Samrand. Long, long route. I overshot the entrance to the office park, turning around at Olifantsfontein.

As I was heading North on the R21, I'd seen the Olifantsfontein Rd and wondered where it junctioned with the N1 South (or Old Joburg Road as it turned out to be). My Jo'burg map book doesn't cover Centurion and Midrand; and my Pretoria doesn't cover them either. And I hadn't check Google Maps before leaving the office.

Overshooting was fortuitious because I 'discovered' the other end of Olifantsfontein Rd. I took this route back to Benoni and cut a good 20km off my return journey.

On the way I also noticed a really nice looking dam. It's off Olifantsfontein Rd between Old Joburg Rd and the R21. I saw water ski jumps on the water and a clubhouse-type building. The web address on a sign said http://www.base3.co.za/; they do cableski, wakeboarding, knee boarding - that kinda stuff.

New dam off Olifantsfontein Rd.
This could be quite a nice dam to paddle on... I wonder how friendly the peeps there are? Dam looks nice and clean. My Google Earth rough measurement give a 1.4km loop. Bigger than Emmies. GE pic of the new dam below; and a pic of Emmarentia Dam from the same eye altitude for comparison.

Emmarentia dam - from same eye altitude as new dam for size comparison

Tuesday 10 August 2010

The final Swazi Xtreme

This weekend's 10th and final Swazi Xtreme will take a couple of days to digest; and a while longer to get over the disappointments, frustrations and irritations.

I took part in the PRO event in a paired team with the accomplished ultra trail and mountain runner Bruce Arnett. Brad Neal, who was my support in 2003 and a teammate in 2004, took amazing care of us throughout the race. I haven't raced Swazi Xtreme since the 2006 Vlok & Fordyce race; in 2007 and 2008 I assisted on the logistics/organising side of the event (and I missed the event in 2009). I had been so looking forward to this year's race for many months.

Brad, Lisa and Bruce before the race start

Why am I disappoined, frustrated and irritated? Swazi Xtreme has generally always been around 250km in distance - anything from 220km to 280km. This year, short distance on the PRO course was in the region of 400km! The event was just too long. I didn't sign up for 'value': I signed up for 250km in 60-ish hours and a chance to chat to AR buddies around a fire. A 500km course, when it has been 250km for nine years, is not a pleasant surprise because it messes with planning and timings.

A 250km distance gives a good two-and-a-half days plus two nights of racing and the event, in recent years, has been structured to have teams finishing during the third day so that they can socialise, have dinner and then sleep a full night to drive home after breakfast and prize giving the following day. Indeed, even the event schedule says that teams would be in by 18h00.

"Teams are asked NOT to even consider driving home on Sunday night. We are concerned for your safety and we ask that you sleep on Sunday night, enjoying dinner, festivities at our comfortable finish venue; and only drive home on Monday after breakfast, when you and your support crew are properly rested."
And, I so wanted to sit around talking war stories with AR buddies since I've missed it recent years, getting back from the field - collecting CPs and dealing with logisitics - much later; its also a different feeling when you haven't been racing too.

After covering over 350km, as one of the few remaining official teams/pairs in the race, Bruce and I decided to skip the final 90km mtb leg to the finish at Simunye. We were in the final transition at the same time (around 16h00) as the placing teams, who finished around 09h00 the next morning. With no second to drive us home, we needed to sleep before hitting the road. At the second-last transition, when Anita handed over instructions telling of the hike and bike to come, my first comment was "But we'll only finish in the morning at prize giving; and we have to drive home still!". It was during the hike that we decided to withdraw at the transition. This is my second third DNF in 11 years across every event I've taken part in. Bitter taste.

Bruce got a puncture on the first bike leg; a pair of donkeys came to see what was happening

A few years ago I drove back from a race like a zombie. We were swopping drivers every 15 minutes because we couldn't stay awake; I swore back then never to do that again. The safety risk is just not worth it. And, seeing the teams coming in to the finish looking like hell and not even happy, Bruce and I were both relieved that we'd skipped on that leg.

But, as a result, we have a DNF result. And this is disappointing.

Aside from this, we generally enjoyed the event. Too much walking on dirt roads, which hammers the feet (even repetitive motion on a hard surface) and doesn't make for much in the way of strategic navigational decisions, which Bruce and I both enjoy. We're both ultra trail runners so trekking stages are the ones we look forward to. That said, I understand the logisitics of linking the race to transitions... but still. Mountain biking was ok; we really enjoyed the few sections were we were on trails and interesting terrain.

The CP was 'missing' so we took a photo. Here we found a pair, who'd been searching for 20-minutes, and Team Gijima. I don't hunt for CPs, so I took photos of them too at this sign board as proof of location. Turns out that the main road used to be slightly different and is now a smaller trail coming off the now main road, which can barely be seen at night. The main road, which we were on, terminates 300m above the old road. So, when we got to the T-junction, the CP was no where to be found (it was actually down the road).

Our favourite sections of the race were the two paddling legs. I've paddled on the irrigation canals before - the 2004 race. It is such fun and was even better in a K2. As for the river paddle; Bruce and I loved it. We had a smooth run through the rapids with great lines and tons of adrenalin. There was one rapid in particular that was my proudest achievement (I was driving) - a big thrill to negotiate it successfully. We also managed to miss most of the sandbanks, only hitting some towards the end where they were prolific. We waxed this leg an hour faster than most teams, to complete it in 2h30.

On the 20km road walk uphill from the river... the rain had just hit. This was actually a double rainbow.

This was the first time that Bruce and I were racing together. We got along well and raced well together. Bruce took control of the map, keeping me in the loop throughout. I consulted occasionally, throwing in my two cents occasionally. As a navigator, it is helluva difficult to keep my trap shut, but I think I did very well. It was only at one point on the third day - after messing around on stupid trails - that I said (strongly) something to the effect like, "I'm not playing around out here; we ARE going to go straight to the OPs and CPs." Bruce handled me well. As he took the map in hand, I commandeered the kayak; I like to drive and I'm damn good at it.

Hiking with Team Red Ants on Sunday morning; they were practically sleep walking after being awak the whole night. They left the bike-hike transition when we came in. We ate and slept for 2hrs. The spent these hours walking around searching for the road leading to the CP and up the mountain. We found them some three-odd hours after they'd left the transition...

It was great to be non-stop, multi-day adventure racing again and I do so love being in Swaziland. It was a treat to be warm, racing under the Swazi sun; coming home to this cold front was a major shock to my system!

Swaiz Xtreme has been a major part of my life for 10 years and in this time Darron and Anita have become dear and treasured friends; their children Kei and Paige are two of my favourite children and I love seeing them and spending time with them.

Maduba Farm left this out for us - water and buckets of orange slices; a lovely morning treat.

The conclusion of this tenth and final Swazi Xtreme is the end of an era in South African adventure racing; but I can totally understand Darron wanting a break from the year-after-year responsibility of presenting this event.

Children at the soccer field OP on the last hike. These children gave us some local fruits, which are not that nice. Taste is bland and they make your mouth dry.

Darron, Anita and all the special people who volunteer to marshal, put out checkpoints and who fulfill a wide variety of roles, thank you; for your time, encouragement and welcoming smiles.

Tim Deane (Team Red Ants) jumps into the pool above the waterfall

Brad - you are a gem, as always. Thank you for taking such good care of us. With you as our support, I knew that once the race started I didn't have to organise or worry about another thing ;)

Bruce, it was super to race with you and thank you for navigating us efficiently and successfully from one point to the next; very appreciated ;)