Thursday 28 November 2013

Being foxy

As part of my initiative to broaden my horizons by attending different types of talks, I ended up tonight at the annual John Orr Lecture presented by the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering at Wits. The lecture was given by global strategist and scenario planner Clem Sunter.

I've heard Clem often on the radio and I've read bits and pieces that he has written - I always enjoy hearing what he has to say. He's a superb speaker and I was spellbound. I don't even know how long his talk was - it was that good. I could have listened to him for another hour! Clem is speaking again at Wits on 22 May 2014 - details not yet available.

He passed on an incredible load of information and thoughts and concepts and scenarios - the fundamentals of which can be found in his books. I haven't read them but I'll definitely tuck into his 'fox' books.

I need to do a bit of scenario planning myself and having been to Clem's talk tonight I feel like my mind is moving into a better space to conceptualise and plan for next year (and the next and next).

Route finding adventure

I've just had a few days goodness-knows-where... in grassy mountains of the Transkei, near Lesotho. It was completely new terrain for me - passing through towns and villages that I never even knew existed. I was out there to help a friend with scouting for an event he's been working on. He needed a navigation-runner person to link some sections of the route. I'll tell you more about the event when he's ready to let the cat out of the bag.

I haven't played with 1:50,000 topographical maps for a while so it took a bit to get my eye into distance judgement and interpreting the contour lines - reading the gradients of slopes and adjusting to what hills are and aren't represented. The 20-metre contour interval is quite a height.

My companion for this outing was Wayde, an old AR friend. A most suitable adventure companion - strong on foot. On Monday we approached the first section and were instructed to find a route from where we were to a pick-up point on a road - some distance away. We were also to consider water-drop options, that could be accessible by vehicle.

We started from here - where the photo is taken from. And heading for about the point on ridge where the down-arrow is pointing - and then along the ridge.
What a most wonderful outing we had! We didn't run, but instead walked - enjoying the scenery, taking photos, encountering friendly locals and looking at route options. And what a pleasure to have a map in hand and to just go anywhere we wanted to.

Wayde at a river crossing.
A little baby dung beetle with a little baby dung ball.
Loads of horses out here. Baby season too. This foal is all legs.
Lookin'back. That purple X... that's where the landscape photo above was taken from. Our start point.
We found these really cool rocks. Table top-like and just standing there on top of a mountain surrounded by grass.
And then that was the end of a glorious Day 1.

For Day 2 we had a shorter outing - with no maps. We were essentially on part of a hiking trail. I was itching for maps because in terms of a race route Wayde and I think that there's a much better route option. The hiking trail is beautiful and sometimes a little difficult to follow - so it made for a nice little 'sans maps' adventure.

Nice start to the section - rock art.
Cattle country. Also lots of sheep and goats. 
Our find of the day! Wayde spotted this rock pool at the end of a spur, a bit off the trail. We went to investigate. to the left and right and ahead of the pool, the spur just drops away with cliffs. It's not a deep pool - maybe 15-20cm of water - but potential for a nice little splash when filled with rain water.

Mr Froggy

A good two days of play (and a day of travel either side to get there). A wonderful treat to visit a part of South Africa that I've never been to and to navigate new routes. I do get a kick out of route planning.

Friday 22 November 2013

Foot off the accelerator? Hardly.

I thought that once I'd finished the English course my foot could come off the accelerator and I'd be able to juggle less balls... But there's hardly been a moment to breathe.

Forest Run & my chance to run
Forest Run entries went online this week. The date for Forest Run was set not long after this year's event and unfortunately it clashes with the Addo event (this year we were a week apart). The races are totally different in terrain, they're spread far apart geographically and as I've only got space for 150 runners anyway, it's no biggie.

But, a new race hit the calendar this week -  a 70km up here in Gauteng, which will serve as the SA Trail Champs -  a qualifier for the World Trail Champs. I was flattered to be offered the opportunity to have Forest Run as the SA Trail Champs event, but I declined because my event doesn't have the elevation gain nor steep ascents nor technical terrain that the qualifier should have... So runners that were planning to do Forest Run are having to decide which of the two races to do.

For me, the decision is easier. As I'm organising Forest Run, I'm taking the opportunity to be a participant and so I've entered the 70km. I can pour my energy into making Forest Run wonderful for my participants; and then stretch my legs on this new course. So while the events split participation, the timing is quite nice for me personally.

Festive Metrogaine
You'll have read on here about the Festive Metrogaine on 30 Nov. This is going to be fun. I'm marginally involved - all credit goes to Sarah, Stephanie and Christie and their helpers from WITSOC. I'm a peripheral 'consultant' - these experienced orienteers have it all under control. I'm planning to run and to get a taste of my own medicine by running my event format.

Open navigation coaching evenings
On Wednesday evening we had the first of what will be regular, structured navigation coaching sessions. Although I'm planning and organising, I'm ably assisted by fellow orienteering coaches to keep the groups small. The objective behind these sessions is to provide more activities and skills advancement for our club members - and also the general adventure racing community. Other people getting involved are trail runners and mountain bikers, particularly for events with navigation elements.

We were lucky to miss the rain - it poured before the session and cleared to usher in the most beautiful evening. We had 11 participants and look forward to even more at the next session on Wed, 5 Dec.

On the AR Club side we've got some fun activities planned for early in the year.

Mini-FEAT Jo'burg
Back in my home base for mini-FEAT in Jo'burg (Monday night), I had my usual structures in place. Maggi was on hand to take photographs - we've got some lovely ones of the speakers Wiam Haddad and Stephen Venables. It was a superb night and both talks were captivating with magnificent images. I'm aiming for 2-3 mini-FEAT events a year.

Wiam Haddad spent 13 months on Marion Island. A lovely seven-minute talk about his experiences.

Our first foreign featured speaker, climber, mountaineer, adventurer and author, Stephen Venables. He spoke to us about his sailing-climbing adventures in the Far South to the Antarctic Peninsula, Tierra del Fuego and South Georgia Island.

A pic for my 'brag book' - with Stephen Venables and Wiam Haddad
Run recce
I'm off on a run recce on Sunday - not for an event but to assist a friend. Back on Wednesday. A few days of running is just what I need.

Other things
I've been giving my veggie garden a bit more attention. The patty-pans are forming, eggplants are getting bigger, Swiss chard is growing, butter lettuces are getting big, sorrel has been growing out of control, my tree tomato tree is taller than me now and laden with its first fruit, the artichokes have been delicious and the nasturtiums add lovely colour to the beds.

Crochet has been slow... I started a new blanket project at the beginning of the month. Progress is slow. I'm aiming to create a landscape image (green hills/grass, tree, blue sky, cloud, sun and flowers) from squares. Last night I pulled off patterns for a bunch of xmas decorations, which I'd like to try my hand at making.

I'm doodling here and there. Gonna take my drawing book with me to the run recce. I'm sure to find loads of inspiration from the shapes and patterns of nature as well as lots of fresh air and no computer.

I'm looking forward to a quieter time in December when I really need to make space to think and plan instead of just reactive doing.

This is most of what I'm up to. There are always other games afoot. Phew!

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Forest Run entries open

This is the eventing week eh? *grin*

As you know, I had a few days out in the forests at the beginning of this month to prep the route for Forest Run 2014. I'm really excited about the changes - especially the direction flip, which I'd been planning on since I first started thinking about Forest Run over 18-months ago.

I'm sticking with the two course distances of 35km and 62km. I'll probably drop in a 6-8km route for runner supporters.

Entries are now open. You've got 3.5 months to get race ready. I hope you do.

Festive Metrogaine (30 Nov)

Every year the Wits Orienteering Club organises the annual festive O event – it’s often a mixed bag of fun, novelty courses. Last week they gave me a buzz and asked, “Can we do something this year using a Metrogaine format?”.

Of course! As I haven’t had an open week to plan a Metrogaine event before year-end, this is a wonderful partnership that also sees these experienced and capable youth getting into this type of course planning.

The event is on Saturday, 30 November with the start at 08h30 from Zoo Lake. You'll find full event info here - Please pre-register online - we need to know how many maps to print.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Talks and TALKS

My first mini-FEAT event happened in Cape Town on Thursday night - kindly hosted by Mountain Club of South Africa (Cape Town section). Mini-FEAT events differ from the annual FEAT in that there are only two speakers: a local adventurer who speaks in the regular seven-minute FEAT format and a foreign, visiting speaker who has a full-length slot. Our speakers were Kyle O'Donoghue (expedition cameraman) and British adventurer, Stephen Venables.

I haven't been in Cape Town for ages and it was a superb trip with a lot of meeting and mingling and theatre venue scouting from when I got down there on Tuesday. I felt like I was going into the event blind, not quite knowing the setup and without my usual setup of a theatre venue, trusty sound guy... and also it is comparatively easy to organise a mini-FEAT as there are two talks, not 10 and there is little of the regular FEAT bells-and-whistles but still a FEAT-ness and vibe. Mini-FEAT has been designed to be a quick and easy event to organise to make use of visiting adventurers at short notice. So, without all the usual hubbub, I kept feeling like I had forgotten to do something.

Well, a wonderfully supportive crowd came through and it was a treat to meet some people, who I know well on email, in person and also to see some people who I haven't seen for ages. As with FEAT, the audience was quite an esteemed one with adventurers from many disciplines coming through to hear the talks.

The evening rocked and feedback from those who have been to FEAT and to 'regular' talks was very positive. They love the FEAT twist with the 'opening act' and general FEAT vibe. Indeed, mini-FEAT is here to stay and events will pop up as and when I hear of visitors coming to SA shores.

There were also many in the audience who have attended lectures and presentations by all kinds of top-notch adventurers and they all said that they thought that Stephen was the best yet. So, it's not just my over-enthusiastic bias and Shackleton interest that rated Stephen one of my all-time favourites too. Telling my mom about the talk afterwards she asked how long his talk was (broken by an intermission) and I couldn't tell her. It's the type of talk where you're so enthralled that 45-minutes feels like five minutes.

This mini-FEAT 'series' is a two part installment with Stephen Venables heading up to Jo'burg and he'll be speaking at mini-FEAT in Jo'burg on Monday night. Yes, THIS monday night - 18 Nov. Although we don't have ticketing facilities at the Victory Theatre on Monday night, you can book your tickets online up until the start - and with a bigger space we do still have seating available.

There are talks and there are TALKS. This is the latter and whether you're into adventuring yourself or not, it's the kind of talk that will have you spellbound regardless.

Earlier this week I went to a brilliant talk at GIBS by Tony Leon. He was the SA ambassador to Argentina and I recently read his superb book, 'The Accidental Ambassador'. GIBS brought Tony up from Cape Town to speak as part of the Latin American Film Festival that they were hosting (I did a three-movie marathon on Sunday afternoon/night - excellent!). 

Attending Tony's really informative - and entertaining - talk reminded me how many talks are on the go all the time - across a range of topics. Wits University has regular lectures, which are open to the public and it is probably the same for UJ, Tuks and other universities around the country. Looking on the GIBS website, they have some really interesting Forum events - for a fee of R200 - R250 (the Tony Leon talk, being part of the festival, was free to attend - what a scoop!).

I'm going to try to keep my eye on what lectures are happening because I really enjoy these, especially those outside my usual sphere of topics and interests. It would be nice to attend a few every year.

The best reason to attend any talk is because you don't know much about the topic. Nice way to learn new stuff.

Friday 8 November 2013

Visiting y los latinos

A few weeks ago a guy I know - not very well - posted on Facebook that he welcomed visitors. He has cancer. He was first diagnosed back in 2008 and since has done extraordinary things between treatments and when he's been in better health. He's not doing so good at the moment and has been confined to bed for a few weeks.

Our paths have crossed over the years here and there - similar circles. He remembers travelling back with me and teammate from Swazi Xtreme a few years ago. I'm not so good post-race; I don't remember much...

Last week, as I was finishing with the English course and getting my freedom back, I dropped him a note to ask, "Can I come visit?". We set a date for this past Friday.

But before this, last Wednesday night, I went to a Spanish class. We read a piece about the cultural difference between 'los latinos y los gringos' - the Latin American people and Americans.

In short, los latinos will warmly greet people, even if they don't know them. They're very expressive and they'll give people a hug and kiss in greeting regardless of their relationship to the person. I found this during my time spent recently in Argentina. I felt like a long-lost friend or family member and I was so warmly welcomed. Also, los latinos will arrive at each others homes, unannounced, and their children play together without pre-set play dates.

Gringos, on the other hand, are more reserved with unfamiliar people and physical contact is limited. We (I definitely fall into this category too) book 'appointments' to see our friends, we rarely just drop in and we set play dates for children.

On the whole, when friends call and say they're in the area, I'm delighted to have them stop in for tea. Not for endless hours, but definitely for a catch up. It doesn't happen that often but I do enjoy a nice visit. On the other hand, I never drop in on people unannounced. I like the idea, but I've never gotten the hang of it.

I am getting better at inviting myself for a visit with friends - otherwise months go by without seeing them. Families, children, work, play... and next thing you know two years have passed.

I like visiting (and being visited).

And that's why when I saw Jaco's visitor request, I banked it and accepted as soon as I finished the course.

Here's something interesting...

On arrival I gave Jaco a doodle that I'd made especially for him - mountain bike wheel inspired as he is an avid mountain biker. His was the third doodle that I'd made.

Two things came out in the course of our conversations. He wasn't sure why I was visiting, especially as we don't know each other very well. I told him I'd seen his post on Facebook and thought I'd accept and come visit. He mentioned that he thinks some of his visitors come out of guilt or such emotion because he is so ill.

Well, I don't feel this because I don't really know him. He's a guy, who is unwell. We share common friends and interests. And he asked for visitors. I'm free range and I like visiting. That simple.

When I gave him the doodle he looked puzzled by it. I explained that it was just a drawing I'd made for him. He mentioned that visitors sometimes bring him stuff, like photographs and such. Again he picks up a guilt / pity / sympathy element from these. I explained that it is my new hobby and that this was the third one I'd made - the first two also given away.

Visits - and odd gifts - can be just what they are.

I'm aiming to visit Jaco again but he isn't doing very well this week. His family are now updating his Facebook page.

I think this is one of the things that appeals to me about heading back to Argentina for a few months. I like the culture and I could do with learning about visiting and hanging out from them.

On this theme, a few weeks ago I set a play date with one of my oldest friends. We've been friends for about 32 years now but we don't always see each other that often (out of sight but never out of mind - xxx) We've got a sleep over tonight - I'll spend the evening with her (and her husband if he's around) and tomorrow morning we're going running at Groenkloof (she lives quite close to Groenkloof). Her regular running buddy will join us too. How nice is this!

Si, es maravilloso para visitar amigos.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Prepping for Forest Run 2014

Actually, I didn't do a lot of running the past two days. A mix of walking and running and planning and looking and checking...

I was out in the forest scouting and planning the route for Forest Run next year. I couldn't use my original planned route this year because when I arrived in the days before to tag the course I'd found the grass to be up to my eyeballs and really thick so I had to amend the course. But this time around forestry have said that they'll cut the trails for me; they have to do it a month later anyway in preparation for the fire season, so they may as well cut some of them early for me.

This gives me a lot more freedom and so these past two days I traversed some of the original course, some of the course that was run this year and I tried out some other sections.

Let's just say that I'm sooooo excited because I'm cooking up such a superb route for Forest Run 2014. I really enjoy this part of route planning. I've got my maps, my GPS logs and now I play on Google Earth to tweak things and measure distance options.

This area changes dramatically in the four months between now and 1 March 2014. The rains have been late - only arriving in the last two weeks. I was there in October last year for orienteering coach training and we were soaked! When I was back there in November it was lush and green and wet and there were flowers everywhere. The area is probably a month behind this year.

They have recently had good rains so the grasses and reeds are starting to turn green. Flowers will be out in the next week or three and the streams are running. But across many sections it is actually quite dry. Crunchy underfoot too. The bonus of now is that everything feels a lot more open with big spaces, big views that are not 'crowded' by long grass and dense undergrowth - in places.

Just driving out here makes my heart soar and once I smell that lovely scent of pine... oh-la-la!

Conditions were sweltering! At Lakenvlei Lodge they told me about a huge storm last Monday that brought so much hail it smashed the reeds around the dam and tore leaves off the trees - evidence was all around. They said that there was so much ice from the storm that they couldn't drive on the paved road and had to use a tractor to clear it.

When I'm out there I stay at a place a few kilometres from Lakenvlei and the chap there, Uli, said that it had been pretty cold there and until two nights before my arrival he'd had a fire on in the evenings!

That was a far cry from my starting out temperature of around 28C on Tuesday mid-morning. I took my watch off my wrist to monitor the temperature and at one stage saw the reading on 33C - and it is humid out there. Frying! Wednesday was much of the same. Hoping to beat the heat, I set off a bit after 7am and it was in the mid 20s already then!

Entries for Forest Run will open in the next few days. I'll fill you in on my cunning plans then ;)

Forest Run will be on 1 March 2014. There's 30-odd kilometre route and a 60-odd kilometre route. I'll probably put in a 8km route for friends/family/supporters of runners.

In the interim, some piccies for you.

A most-welcome dripping fire hose. This was on Tuesday at about noon. Cooking at around 31C. And humid. I really needed this cooling off.

So, I see these young cattle on the other side of the fence (neighbouring property) and they see me. They start coming towards me. And their friends come too - from all around. When I turn my back on them they edge closer. The Case of the Curious Cows?
How Now Mr Cow... can you perhaps tell me where I am?

Luckily no falling trees around here!

Hey, where'd the trees go? On orienteering maps, green shows thick vegetation so what should have been here were young trees with thick undergrowth. Now, no trees. Gone. Forestry has been pretty busy - I found a couple of recently felled quadrants.
Being out here on my own... a lovely time for reflection.

In the four months between now and Forest Run, this places changes so much! It looks very open at this time of year because the grass is low, flowers are not yet out and the reeds in the vleis are low. But in four months - grasses higher than my head! Forestry will be trimming the tracks for us - thank goodness!

Here I'm trying to show you a 'steep' ascent on the Forest Run route. Ja, it's like not so like steep eh? It's a gentle gradient, much like everything else out here. Gently, soothing, kind and friendly.

This is the view that the 30km runners should see as they turn for 'home'. I say should because the view could be obscured by long grass... As for the 60km runners... that green circle marks the fire-watch tower - you'll be heading there (it looks further away than it really is).

Rains have been later this year so it is still quite brown and dry. They had good rainfall over the past two weeks so the vleis are wet and the dams are full. Green is starting to cover the area.

Although I prefer my trees upright, living and covered in leaves, I'm a sucker for these piles of wood because of the scent. OMG - the scent. Couldn't resist sniffing the length of this pile. I'm so the freshly-cut-pine scent addict!

Doodling adventure

It's been over a week now and I'm hooked on doodling. Tonight I went to 'Night of 1000 Drawings', which is what got me started on this doodling thing in the first place. I contributed three A5 doodles and all three sold. Yay!

This is a really neat fundraising concept. The event opens at 18h00 and you get an hour to look at the drawings. They received something like 2,000 submissions and they all go up. You buy a numbered sticker for R100 and at 19h00 you can place your sticker on the image that you want to buy. Then, at 20h00, you can claim your picture.

The pictures range from absolutely awful ('I'll just draw anything and won't even try and I'll hand it in') to children's scribbles to fairly decent drawings to very good. Some were paintings, others pencil drawings, others in pen... a total mix. Some pictures were happy and thoughful, there was also lots of toilet humour and others were a bit disturbing - definite problems coming out in the artwork... But, that's the thing; there really is something for everyone.

There were quite a few that I liked and I didn't even get to see everything upstairs - but I had to choose one to place my sticker on. I was initially going to go for this bunny... but the guy standing next to me put his sticker on it first.

So I ran around to the other side of the row where my second choice (but, actually I think it was really my first choice from the start) was hanging and I placed my sticker with delight.

This is the picture that I bought.

It's a bit of a ramshackle house. Farmy. I like.

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Forest Run fun

I'm out here in the forests finalising the route for next year's Forest Run. Magnificent! My heart soars just to be surrounded by these trees. Saw a jackal yesterday!
Was cooking yesterday.  Up to 33C. The guy from the place where I'm staying says that upnuntil three nights ago he had a fire on in the evening. Crazy place this. Starting early today to beat the heat.

I've taken some nice pics but signal is barely Edge so will post when home on Thurs.