Wednesday 24 February 2016

A rafting outing on the Vaal

After a day of immense sadness on Saturday, it was good for me and mom to get out on Sunday. We finally had enough water in the river to take the rafts out. What a treat to be able to launch rafts less than three kilometres from home! Ah, the joys of living in Parys on the Vaal River. The water was a bit up (90-100 cumec) - enough to cover enough rocks to give us a clear run. (Celliers says it was actually around 60 cumec. On Saturday it was higher at 90-100 but by Sunday morning it had dropped)

This was my mom's first time in a raft and she took each rapid like she'd done this a dozen times before.

We take out on Jacques and Tanja's farm - it's a leisurely half-day trip with a stop on an island for snacks. If one were to paddle fast (a kayak, not a raft), it could probably take two hours or less for the same distance.

Getting our kit ready and rafts inflated.
Mom and Ruben.

The Holtzhausen family raft

Boys playing bumper cars...

It is really challenging to get a non-funny-face photo of these two! Puffed out cheeks, wiggling fingers in mouths, hiding from the camera... This was the most 'normal' of the lot.

Start 'em young.

Kyla chillin'

Celliers teaching Jacques the lines through the 'Stepping Stones' rapid.

Saturday 20 February 2016

Goodbye, my kitten

20 years ago my mom and I returned from the Germiston SPCA with a little tabby girl kitten. She was tiny and scraggy and had caught our attention when we spotted her climbing the front fence of her cage. We thought she was a he until standing at the reception desk the lady writing the slip said, "Female tabby". We said, "Oh, we wanted a boy" but this little thing was snuggled up in my neck so we said, "Nevermind, we'll keep her". This was the best R30 we have ever spent.

I named her Bracken, after a mole; a central character in the book "Duncton Wood" by William Horwood. I liked the character and also the strength in the sound of word - perfect for a little stray kitten.

We took her home on 30 March 1996.

When she was young she was a fairly regular cat. She was always sweet natured, never one to claw and scratch - unless you tried to tickle her tummy. She ran up curtains, climbed our legs and spent a lot of time outside doing cat thing. She wasn't very affectionate. She didn't really do sitting on laps and wouldn't let us her pick her up to hold longer than 10 seconds. In her youth she was a pretty good bird catcher, leaving us gifts to show her affection.

Bracken. March 2012.
We almost lost her when she was 11 or so. She went to her vet for dental work (recurring tooth infection) and had a bad reaction to the anaesthetic and pain meds. Thank goodness she was a little on the overweight side because this certainly saved her life. She lost a ton of weight but recovered. She continued to have teeth issues. Even so, she never complained and still loved to munch her crunchies, although I doubt that she had more than three teeth in her mouth in recent years.

Bracken. April 2013.
Bracken lived in one home her whole life - until recently - and while I came and went - travel, races, living in a different house - my mom was her constant. There was usually always one of us with her. If I was away, she had mom. If mom was away, she had me. Only in her younger years did she go to kennels and for the few times when mom and I were away together, loving friends came to stay with her.

Bracken. September 2015.
I returned to live with mom and Bracken at the end of 2010. This 14-year old girl was no longer a young cat focused only on doing cat things. She took to sitting on my lap while I was working - as if she'd been doing it her whole life. We'd spend hours each day like this. I took advantage of her mature-cat affection, 'training' her to be a holdy cat. Initially I was delighted to be able to hold her for 20 seconds without her wriggling out of my arms and over the years we progressed from seconds to minutes until I could even walk around doing things with her draped over my shoulder.

Bracken. August 2014.
I can barely begin to describe how the past few years of being with this magical kitty has been. She has been deaf for some years but with this came more communication from her. Vocalisations to call us, because she couldn't hear where we were in the house (of course we came running). Affection in abundance. Communication between us on another level.

To say she was sweeter every day... So many days mom and I would look at each other bewildered. How was it possible that she could possibly be more caring, more attentive, more communicative and more sweet? Yet she was.

With her gran. June 2015
With gran. March 2015.
At the end of November last year I put our kitty in her cage and drove her the 125 kilometres to her new home in Parys. This was the longest drive in her life and her first time moving home. After two weeks indoors she took to her new, large garden like she was an old hand at moving home and settling in - although she only liked to venture out with one of us accompanying her. She had a bounce in her step and renewed kitten-ness. We think she must have been quite bored at her old home. This change was really good for her. She enjoyed watching the visiting monkeys in the garden.

Three weeks ago I went to Cape Town for a week and on my return I noticed an aged look to her face. Mom had noticed it too. Although she'd been a poor eater and very skinny for a long time, she seemed to have lost even more weight. I had sleepover with my girls on Wednesday night. Mom said she was drinking and peeing often. Diabetes or kidney issues were likely. We knew already that we didn't have long.

Sleeping perfection. We could watch her for hours. And we did. December 2013.
Yesterday she didn't eat. She wanted to but seemed nauseous. We took her to the vet here in Parys. Mom had checked them out when we moved. The friendly vet looked with sad eyes at our kitty. Her symptoms and white inner eyelids pointed to a very low red blood cell count and she said Bracken was very likely already in kidney failure. She suggested sedating Bracken for blood tests, the outcome of which would possibly have recommended a blood transfusion, which may have only given us another week. We chose to take our kitty home to love.

This morning I woke my fast asleep kitty-daughter, cuddled her and put her in her cage to take to the vet. It was an enormously hard thing for mom and I to do and we were with her, our fingers running through her soft fur, at the end.

We have buried her in my garden and mom and I will mosaic a paving stone to place over her.

This little girl has been a shining light of love and joy in our lives for 20 years. She leaves not a hole, but a gash in our hearts.

Bracken, my kitten, thank you for 20 years of love.

Friday 19 February 2016

More scouting outings

It really is the route planning and scouting part of event organising that I enjoy the most. I've now covered over 65km of tracks recently with some back-and-forth and no-trail sections included. I'm getting a clearer picture of the area and potential routes are coming to light. I've got two more pieces I'd like to trace early next week. And then to put it all together.

Here are some photos from yesterday.


One of the most lovely trees just standing there and waiting to be photographed.

Lots of runnable terrain in this section. 
Butterflies! The outside of their wings is black and white. Inside it is a lovely blue. 
Colourful grasshopper.

I love the glimpses of the Vaal River. 

I used quite a bit of my water to put out a fire left smouldering by a cattle herder. Low on water and with a big storm approaching I cut short my scouting. I'd put down 12km or tracks - my few hours out had been well spent. 

My faithful trail shoes' days are numbered. They have done really superb mileage over the past two-odd years

Wednesday 17 February 2016

My new Wonderbag

Our Adventure Racing Club AGM last week delivered more than I'd anticipated. We were kindly hosted by club member Jonathan Beattie at his Voodoo Lily Cafe in Illovo. It's a super venue with excellent meals, including great Banting and veg meals.

I arrived early and took a look around. Jonathan recently renovated and the space is lovely. And there on a rack I spotted them - Wonderbag.

I've known of these insulated, heat-retaining cooking bags for a few years - and now I have one. I've got the Medium, which can fit a pot from two to 10 litres in size. It's perfect for pretty much everything.

The Wonderbag is much like a non-electric slow cooker. In short, you get the cooking started on the stove, bringing the dish to boil. After boiling for a few to 30 minutes (depending on the dish), you put it into the Wonderbag, pull the drawstring tight and leave the meal to cook in its heat for two or more hours (depending on the dish).

It comes with a recipe book and there are loads of recipes on the Wonderbag website.

On Monday AND Tuesday nights I whipped up butternut soup variations. Both delicious. I sautéed the onions first, tossed in a bunch of veg, including the butternut, brought to boil for a few mins and then put the pot in the Wonderbag for about 2hrs. I then blended the mix and served. It was still piping hot.

The Wonderbag was developed by South African Sarah Collins and it is indeed a means to change the lives of women and children in rural areas. When firewood is limited, cooking is affected (and the environment, of course). If one can use fuel to only bring a pot to boil and then insulate it and allow the food to carry on cooking in its own heat, time and money and resources are saved. In a big way. Never mind firewood, even when money for electricity is limited, the Wonderbag is a big saving - using electricity for 10 minutes vs 45 minutes (or more!).

You've probably even wrapped a pot in blankets to keep the contents warm - same concept. Only now the retained heat is actually being used to continue to cook the meal. And, while the food is cooking, without worry for burning or the liquid boiling off, you can go off and do other things. This makes it a great time-saving device too.

We've got gas at home, which we installed in about April last year. We've got a 7kg gas bottle on it, which we replaced for the first time in January this year. We've been super impressed with our electricity saving and I'm sure we can do even better with the Wonderbag in our home.

The Wonderbag works well for dense meals like stews, is perfect for one-pot meals and does everything from soups to rice and bread and desserts. I'll definitely get the children into experimenting with meals that they can prepare, put into the Wonderbag and eat later for lunch or dinner.

With butternut soup a success, I'm in the process of trying the Tender Roast Chicken recipe to take to my mom's home tonight. For this dish it has to boil for 30 minutes before being placed in the Wonderbag for three hours.

This is a useful product not only for rural Africa - it is also for everyday energy, fuel and time conscious cooking.

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Hiking with girlfriends in the Berg

I returned yesterday from a most wonderful weekend of hiking with girlfriends in the Drakensberg. It has been so long since I've been in the 'Berg... and even longer since I've seen these friends.

Tracey and I met at gym (step aerobics classes) in the mid 90s. We'd been attending the same class every week (twice a week, I think) for a few months. One day Tracey came up to me, another friend alongside, and proclaimed, "You've been coming to class regularly for long enough that it is time we introduced ourselves. I'm Tracey".

And we've been fast friends since.

We started orienteering together, participating as a pair. And just before she immigrated we won the women's category of the very first rogaining event, which was held in the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve (a hot and rugged 8hr event).

The only sadness is that Tracey has been living in the UK for 13 years and so we've seen each other only a handful of times over these years.

If you're a long-time follower of my blog you may remember me doing the Midnight Hell Run with Tracey in 2009. I also saw her in the UK in 2008 when I travelled via London for the World Rogaining Champs in Estonia. We did some lovely runs on horse trails and paths and through farms. I also recall seeing Tracey here a few years after she left, when she returned for a holiday to visit her folks.

I hooked up with an old adventure racing friend, Erica, on Friday afternoon for the drive to Winterton. Tracey's sister lives in this little town. We met up with Tracey and her partner, Fay, at Charlotte's place.

Erica and I expected N3 South traffic to be slow getting out of Jo'burg and for the five-odd hour drive we chatted the whole way!

Although I've known Erica from adventure racing since the early 2000s, we only knew each other in passing. How much we have in common! I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend getting to know her. She is also based in London; I've had news of her via Tracey over the years.

This weekend was also planned for me to get to know Fay, the special person in Tracey's life. This was really a special weekend with three wonderful women.

Of course, the Berg is always a treat and I'm ashamed to admit that the last time I did overnight camping in the mountains was in 1996! I know! All of my other Berg visits have been fast one-day encounters, like various Mnweni Marathons and day hikes.

Our original plan was an out-and-back from Monk's Cowl to Keith's Bush Camp, up Grey's Pass and to camp at Vulture's Retreat.

At Keith's Bush Camp we met a charming group of hikers from Weston Agricultural College. With storms raging above, we decided not to head up the Pass. The boys kindly invited us to camp with them, even offering to make coffee for us. Very sweet. We declined their sweet offer and with changed plans headed down long the pass.

We made camp on a sunny spur and spent the evening watching lightning flashing in neighbouring valleys. The first big storm to hit us had us running across the spur and into a re-entrant. We got lucky because it passed quickly and we didn't get the worst of it. When the next storm hit shortly afterwards, we were in our tents. It was a lesser storm, thank goodness. And then the next storm passed... and the next. Apparently it rained more in the night. I just slept. Like a dead dog. It was quite a night with circling storms.

Our new route saw us waking up and heading for The Cascades and down Jacob's Ladder to the Drakensberg Sun. We had a few light showers and, for the rest, the day was hot and sunny.

We first saw the hotel at around 09h00 but it took the next nine hours to get there! One trail completely no longer exists and most of the other on this section were VERY overgrown. The only way to tell it is a path is because underfoot it is smooth and solid. We went through lots of scratchy lantana and also thorny brambles. Ow!

And so a magical weekend passed and we are left with renewed friendships, new friendships, tired feet, wonderful and treasured memories and some photos of our two days in the mountains.

At the start on Saturday morning. Monk's Cowl office. Erica, Tracey, Fay and me.

How neat is this. "Walking sticks for sale. Please put the money in the tin" Said tin was a Camphor Cream tub.

Heading up and looking back at the trail.

Erica looking towards Cathkin.
At Blind Man's Corner. Now taking the contour path to Keith's Bush Camp.

Heading into the wild yonder. Fay, Tracey and Erica.
Our original plan had us ascending the Berg from the left (Grey's Pass) to get up on top. We went to the base (Keith's Bush Camp) and then turned around.
The spur on which we camped (and watched storms building in the valleys in the far view.

Tracey and Fay waiting for the first storm to hit. Gatberg visible above their tent.

How lovely it is to play in the Berg.
Da storms... they are a-comin'

Brand new day. Ready to head out on Sunday morning.
Rain jackets on. Storms on the way.
A view of the Drakensberg Sun in the morning. It took hooouuurrrsss to walk around and get down.

Lower Berg scenery.

Overgrown trail through The Cascades. Very pretty area. We searched for another trail that is no longer there and then took this one.

Descending Jacob's Ladder. Shortly after we got lower a storm reached the top and there was lightning crackling above our heads!

On the correct trail. A very overgrown trail. Such a pity because this is a lovely section.
We went through lots of nasty brambles and scratchy lantana (I've always called this fern-like plant 'lantana' but my search online shows another plant to be lantana. Do you know what this is called? Ghastly stuff!) 

Late lunch stop. A perfect weekend with friends.
Although the world is 'small' - quick and easy access to countries by plane, the reality is that it is expensive to travel and thus, we don't see friends in other countries very often. We hope to get together to hike again in 2020 (give or take a year). I look forward to it.

Second Forest Run scouting outing

After spending another day out on the prospective new Forest run route on Wednesday last week, I shot off to Jo'burg and then the Drakensberg (more on this in my next post).

I spent most of my outing scouting another section of the area. The lower down trails are regularly used and are maintained; those up high haven't been used for a long time. I'll need to do some trail cleaning work on these. I did manage to connect this section with the one I played on a few weeks back. I'll be out there again next week - I'm looking for a more gradual descent to the finish and one more connecting option.

Here's a look at this second section of Forest Run.

There are a few sections with open dirt road, like this. Not a lot... These are to be really enjoyed for fast, non-thinking running.
Heading into a forested section.
A route following old mine diggings.
Apparently, this track is built along the original gold cart track commissioned by Paul Kruger. The cart would take the track through the hills to collect gold from the many mines and deliver it to Potchefstroom.
Ruins. There are a number in the area. Some ruins show European influence. After the miners left, it seems like the buildings were used by local Sotho inhabitants.
Many of the mines look like dongas or a long ditch-like water course. Here there are proper rock-dug tunnels.
Another mine tunnel.
It was a plumbago party out there yesterday with plumbago flowers in bloom all over the place.
A view from above.
And lookie what I found! Actually, what my shin found. Eeina! Stinging nettles! This plant met its end. I was off track and looking for trails to connect the two sections. Fortunately these seem to be rare out here and this was one of two plants I saw (after getting stung!).
An old reservoir. Empty.
There are a number of settlement ruins out here from the old Sotho inhabitants. Archaeology students come out here each year to dig and map these late iron age settlements.
On the return route from a high viewpoint - a welcome sight of the Vaal River.
 I'm not yet sure how everything fits together. I'm out in the area again on Thursday to run a few other trails I've heard of and some I've seen on Google Earth. I'm not sure what will still be there - an adventure ahead!