Thursday 28 April 2022

This time last year

With the City Nature Challenge on iNaturalist starting tomorrow, it marks one year since I discovered this amazing resource and almost a year since I developed a thing for fungi. This time last year I wouldn't have known that Trametes was a genus of fungi and now I know the difference between Trametes and Stereum as well as many other genera and fungi categories - from gilled mushrooms, polypores, brackets, stinkhorns, jelly fungi, bird's nest, puffballs and earthstars. 

In 12 months, I have logged 495 observations with 205 confirmed different species identifications.

With this in mind, I started thinking about this time last year...

This time last year work was incredibly stressful as the factory was dealing with huge challenges with their rebuild. I hadn't had YOLO products for almost seven months, kayaks were only just coming out, and orders were queued to be fulfilled for local and international. We'd hoped that 2021 would the THE year - just as 2020 was aimed to be THE year. Come mid-April, I was sent packing for a few days by my colleagues to spend a few days away with Rusty - and no internet or mobile signal - because I was actually just so cracked and broken. I'd taken massive emotional strain.

While this year is not free of challenges, there has been a lot of progress. I keep reminding myself that start-ups take 3-5 years. We're approaching year four since launch and two of the years included COVID lockdown, no power, major factory move and rebuild, and the global shipping crisis (still ongoing). I very much feel like we're only really in year two now. That we're still here is quite something.

This time last year I was working from home, which I'd done for the bulk of the past 21 years. The office section at the factory was completed mid-June 2021 and I moved into my office around end June. My plan was to do mornings at the factory and afternoons at home. This didn't happen on the first day and it hasn't since. While I have the freedom to come and go as I wish, the bonus of being the boss, the reality is that I'm generally tied in.

I loved working from home because I got to be with Rusty and Rosy all day, every day. I do like being at the factory because I can be on top of things and I'm in the thick of the action. I also like that my files and work things are all in my office at work and not in my home, which has always been the case. I still work a lot at home at night and on weekends, but all I need is my laptop. We're a small team on the office side (different companies, related, but same space), plus there is the Adventure Base Camp kayak store with my right-hand lady Mpho. This makes for good social interactions in the day.

Thankfully, I have a 6km / 12-minute commute to work each way. As the days get shorter with the approach of winter, I'm finding my time out to be challenged. When working from home, I could quite easily be out the door at 4pm, be out with the dogs for 90 minutes and then pick up where I left off. I leave the office mostly after 16h30, get home, grab the dogs and then have an hour before it gets dark. I'm finding a disconnect (and flagging motivation) between walking out of the door at work and starting up again at home.

I miss the dogs during the day, especially my Rusty. At about 11 years young, the clock ticks and I feel like I'm missing out on so much time with her. Sometimes I take her to the factory with me and if my mom is away, I take all three dogs with me. They like the factory but it is definitely more fun for them to be home with a garden to play in and their granny to throw balls.

This time last year I was three months into working with a biokineticist to remedy my not-a-knee-injury knee injury. By this stage I'd been out of running for eight months (only walking/hiking). As I recall, I was improving in terms of muscle group balancing and strength and getting knee inflammation under better control. Not great, but better where I was mostly hiking with light trotting occasionally.

My recent experience at the chiropractor - working on my big toe joint - has changed things completely for me. I'm inflammation free for the first time 20 months! I did two parkruns in April. Port Alfred over Easter weekend was a fast and flat 26:03 for me. I'm chuffed with my time considering that it was my second 5km run both this year and for many months. 

This time last year I had not done any of the higher hiking trails nor any of the '6 Peaks'. 

Since November, I've done two >20km hikes and three (one of them twice) of the 6 Peaks. I do not yet see myself doing the 6 Peaks FKT route any time soon - more because of the downhills than the ups.  I'll see how I'm doing in six months. 

This time last year I was still relatively new at dog school. I'm still a novice, but I know more than I did a year ago. I only started Rosy with agility this year and she is loving it - it suits her temperament. Rusty passed her first assessment last year with something like 98% and she is in the advanced class.

I'm really the weak link for the dogs because I don't do enough homework with them. I'm trying to do better and succeeded yesterday in a better way to keep the dogs separate (and quiet) while I work with them one-by-one in the garden. I built some DIY jumps

This time last year my household had two dogs - Rusty and my mom's Rosy. We now have three.

Bella, a maltese who originally was my mom's neighbour's dog in Parys, came to live with us in September. My mom would often babysit Bella. She went to a new home prior to my move to George. Then, middle of last year, her owner came down with serious covid, was in and out of hospital and her family took her two dogs to an SPCA. This poor woman! She died shortly after Bella was rescued by my mom from the SPCA. Bella has become quite the little trail dog.

This time last year I didn't own a drill, sander or jigsaw.

I now own these powertools and I know how to use them. In February, I did my first furniture DIY when I built a kitchen cabinet - with two sliding drawers - from repurposed pallet planks. Designing, sanding, measuring, cutting, painting, assembling, screwing - all on my own. It came out really well and was a good learning project. I have a bunch of other projects I'd like to do and now I have more confidence to do them. I've subsequently started an online course on furniture design and construction for beginners (making slow progress).

This time last year I was living in a house that irritated me. Six weeks after arriving in George, I moved into a house that I would rent for the next 13 months. It was actually a really sweet house with an excellent kitchen and a heavenly shower. But, the house had a number of issues that drove me crazy. When it rained, water would pour out of the back retaining wall, carrying silt from the embankment across the paving outside the kitchen. Water would continue to trickle across the paving for weeks with ongoing light showers. Mud, wet, dogs and nearly-white tiles inside. I swept a lot and cleaned floors a lot. The circuit board in the garage (yeah, I turn my geyser on and off) and the short and steep driveway that had visitors laying down rubber. I don't miss these.

At the end of January, we moved into a lovely house not far from the first. It is an older house with less fancy kitchen and bathroom but it has solid bones. The living area is bigger (previous living area was the size of a matchbox) and the back garden is enormous - it was the spacious, simple garden that won me over. And my landlady is really sweet. The dogs love the garden.

This time last year I wasn't into open water swimming (for no other reason than just that I wasn't into it). 

Since December, I've done a bunch of casual open water swims, I joined a friendly masters swimming club and I put in some pool sessions in March. This past weekend I participated in my first 1-mile swim event.

It often feels like I'm one step forward and two steps back so it is good to look back on this time last year to see how things change and that they do change to put life into perspective.

Sunday 24 April 2022

Altra Lone Peak 6 trail shoes

Almost two weeks ago I took the plunge and bought a new pair of trail shoes. Now that I'm on the mend, with thanks to three chiropractor sessions, I'm getting back into the regular running game - and not just trotting and hiking.

Needing more toebox room, I decided to try Altra.

I've never gone for them before purely because of their puffy sole. I was in very tactile, almost racing-flat trail shoes for many years. As my big-toe joint needs some TLC and the Altra has a wide toe box, these ticked the boxes.

I've gone for the Altra Lone Peak 6, in the ladies, which is almost the first - if not the first for me to be in a women's trail shoe. They fit perfectly from the start and are feeling really good.

I ran the Port Alfred parkrun in them last weekend and I've enjoyed three short runs in them this past week.

As much as I was delighted to get the shoes, as I told my chiro, I felt like I needed to go home and have a little cry about the money spent. New shoes are exceedingly and, dare I say, prohibitively expensive. Running is not a cheap sport.

I hope that this is going to be my best purchase this year and that me and these Lone Stars will enjoy many hundreds of kilometres together.

Big fungi find today and City Nature Challenge 2022

It has been slow on the fungi-finding front these past few months with occasional sightings of interesting things - above the normal split gills, cinnabar brackets and the like, which are present year-round.

Today, I scored.

We did a Vagabond social outpaddle this morning on the Touws River in Wilderness. The top end of the river connects with the Half-Collared Kingfisher Trail, which I've done twice. Near the kayak stop, I remembered seeing jelly fungi in the area, so I went to take a look.

OMG! So many wood ear fungus. An explosion. Magnificent. In the same spot there were a number of other fungi, most of which I knew or recognised.

Then, this evening I took the dogs out. The overcast morning had turned into a magnificent afternoon - cool and clear. We took a trail up through the forest and all along this one I found hundreds of fungi. I have never before seen so many individuals. The abundance was incredible. They looked to mostly be pine ring (Lactarius deliciosa), which is edible. I'm not 100% sure of the identification but it is the most likely. 

Further up I found one of my favourites - sticky bun (I love the dough-like texture of the cap) and then more and more others. The poor dogs had to be patient.

The annual City Nature Challenge 2022 on iNaturalist comes up from 29 April to 2 May and marks one year since I discovered iNaturalist and almost a year since I discovered the world of fungi, which are abundant here on my doorstep in the forests around George. I've learned an incredible amount this past year and I know that I've barely covered an ice crystal in an iceberg of what there is still to learn. 

For the City Nature Challenge, I'll log observations of items other than fungi and aim to expand my species count and my general knowledge of what is out here. I'll be aiming to find items that I've never seen before so that I have fresh species identifications on my iNaturalist log.

The iNaturalist app is great for quickly uploading from your phone. I like to use the browser version on my laptop when I'm searching to identifications.

The City Natural Challenge is a global initiative. There are many regions in Southern Africa that participate so become a citizen scientist and hop on board.

Of course, observations can be logged throughout the year, and not just in this one week. But take care... It is addictive (in a good way, of course).

Saturday 23 April 2022

First Open Water Swim event

This morning I participated in my first Open Water Swim event - a one-mile distance in the Swartvlei lake in Sedgefield.

I started doing a bit of swimming in December when my friend Marcelle and I would paddle out to a quiet spot at the dam, swim a bit more than a kilometer and then paddle back. We had about three such outings over the Xmas / New Year period and it was awesome.

In mid February, it must have been, I discovered the Fish Eagles Masters Swimming club here in George when I went with Carine to a casual open water swim at the dam. I did about 1km, enjoying the experience and swimming for the first time with a swim buoy towing behind me.

My mom expressed an interest in swimming so we joined the club at the end of February and we went together to a bunch of sessions at a nearby school pool on Friday and Saturday afternoons. My attendance was good for a few weeks but now I haven't been since late March - a combination of working late, rainy afternoons, other commitments and being away.

When a note about this event popped up on the club group - a fundraising swim in nearby Sedgefield, it looked like an opportunity not to be missed. I'm glad that Carine gave me a nudge to commit to it as she was planning to go along too.

I hadn't done anything that could really be called training, but I'm a decent swimmer, I'm generally fit and I figure that 1.6km open water is easier than 1km in the pool with tumble turns (I still think it is).

It was a small group of swimmers - not more than 100 - stood on a beach at Pine Lake Marina on this slightly chilly and overcast Saturday morning. I don't have a swimming wetsuit so it was to be straight swimming cozzie for me.

At first, the water was quite numbing and it took my breath away. I had to focus on my breathing as I started off in the shallow water. I liked seeing the grasses and creature holes in the sand as these passed beneath me. It took a while for the water to get deeper.

The route was a triangle - clockwise from the beach to a buoy, then the hypotenuse across to the second buoy and then back to the beach.

I felt very much on my own. I caught some swimmers and then only occasionally saw the aquamarine-coloured cap of another lady on the secon and third legs. 

I'm not that practiced at keeping an eye on where I'm going. My technique is not too bad. This time I was looking for the kick splashes of the swimmers ahead until I could see the buoy clearly. 

My friend Mark, who was swimming just behind and to the side somewhere of me apparently, said I did zig-zag a bit (I thought I'd been mostly on track). 

What I did find is that I would zone out, enjoying the meditational feeling of being in the dark water with regular metronomic strokes. Mid-stroke, I would look to see where I was going and then I'd swim normally. I had to keep reminding myself because I would think, "Ok, next one" and then miss it because I was just so connected to the swimming. I certainly left some of the intervals too long before taking another peek at my destination. It doesn't help that aquamarine cap was a bit offtrack - she definitely went too wide and I had one eye on her off to my side on that second leg.

I almost felt like I was swimming better as the distance climbed. Smooth, relaxed and enjoying it.

Back on the beach at the finish, children from the children's home for which the event was a fundraiser handed me a medal and they were cheering swimmers as they emerged from the water. Very sweet.

Coming out of the water, I wasn't that cold. The brisk temperature proved to be not as bad as I'd expected and I seem to have retained sufficient heat. At the finish there was a hot drinks vendor and pancake vendor (thank you Gerrie for the pancakes). A quick change into warm clothes, hello to some club members and other friends who were there and then we were off home to George. Back by 11am - a good morning out.

My shoulders feel like they've worked but otherwise no adverse effects. It will be interesting to see if and where I'm stiff tomorrow.

I'll definitely do other swim events but, with winter now on the way, I think I'll be waiting for the new summer to kick in.

Tuesday 5 April 2022

New paddling discipline for me - learning surfkayaking

 There is not just one type of paddling - or one type of kayak. 

If you consider bicycling, there is road, track, downhill, cross-country and general mountain biking. And within these are a range of bicycles with different gears, brakes, frames, geometry, handlebars, suspension, forks, price tag...

It is the same in paddling with flatwater, whitewater, touring, racing, surfski, canoe polo, marathons, sprints, slalom and every variation imaginable within these and a range of kayaks for preference, stability and performance within each discipline.

For me, paddling began with paddling whatever was provided at events or that I could get my hands on for adventure racing. Later it was more K2 (Accord) with a dash of K1 and sometimes other models. And then it was learning whitewater on another brand of plastic kayaks, then an Epic V7 surfski and then our Vagabond Kayaks. My personal fitness/touring kayak is the Marimba model (longest and fastest in our range), I learned the basic skills in whitewater on the Usutu sit-on-top and I have my own Pungwe whitewater creek kayak. I also have a Design Kayaks sit-in touring kayak, the Endless.

I don't have a very good sea constitution so I generally avoid anything that has me bobbing on swell. Thankfully, anti-nausea tablets work well and so, a few weeks ago, I hit the surf to learn to catch waves and surf 'em on our Vagabond Dumbi surfkayak. I'd only ever paddled the prototype on a wild and awful day at the sea (it wasn't pretty).

My first session surfkayaking, at Vic Bay here in George, saw me swimming quite a bit as I struggled to find the right balance and body positioning. Sea waves are not as strong as an equivalent-sized river wave and they move slower. I see a wave coming towards me and expect to be slammed by it, but instead the nose of the Dumbi punches through easily and I maintain course. 

In catching waves to surf them, I am learning about timing and also just how hard and fast I need to paddle - not as hard or fast as I expected.

Waves that look like 'baby waves' from the beach feel a lot bigger when they're higher than your head height. Fortunately, they don't hit very hard.

Session 2, a week later, went better with less swims and better control. I needed to work on my body positioning (how much to lean back or forward at different stages of the 'surfing cycle') and paddle strokes.

Session 3, on Sunday, was the best yet. Tide was out and waves were low. I stuck to the baby waves to really get my sea legs and a good feel for this discipline. Only a few swims and lots of surfing. A sure progression. Importantly, I felt a lot more relaxed too.

Before hitting the sea on Sunday, I did a stint on the local dam to try to roll the Dumbi as I had never tried before. As luck would have it, I rolled it on my first attempt but then struggled later with only a few successful rolls out of numerous. I'll need to do some work here so that rolling becomes reliable and second-nature. Right now, I don't even think about rolling in the sea because there is so much else I'm focusing on. But with a bit of work and improvement in technique, I should nail it. I can feel my stiff intercostal muscles from this session.

Being on the up in the skills stakes feels good and I'm looking forward to the next session.

Saturday 2 April 2022

46 Days of...

 My annual pre-birthday challenge is fast approaching. As it will be my 46th birthday, the challenge has to start 46 days before my birthday. This makes Day 1 on 4 May 2022. 

This challenge has always been about running. Back when I started this, for my 35th birthday, my running had not been as consistent with only 2-3 sessions a week compared to the 5-7 that had been my norm. This challenge, that saw me doing at least 4 or 5km a day, served to remind me how easy it really can be to get out for 30 minutes. 

This served me well for a few years and each year this challenge got me back on the straight and narrow, refocusing my attention on the importance of me.

Since I've had Rusty - 5 years now, getting out hasn't been an issue because I get such joy from taking her out and being out with her. Rosy has been in my life for 2.5 years now, living with me for just over a year, and she has added to this. Getting out is never a problem when pairs of brown eyes stare into your soul to ask you to take them out on the trails.

Last year's challenge didn't feel like a challenge and so I need to change things around a bit.

This year it will be

46 Days of YOGA

I love yoga, especially ashtanga and vinyasa flows. There have been periods of my life that have included regular yoga sessions and I've always found that it serves me well. I just haven't been good at making time and space for yoga for way too long. I miss it and need it.

There are excellent classes available online and there is a teacher, Lesley Fightmaster, whose videos I discovered a few years ago, that I really enjoy. 

So, this will be a fitting challenge because it is something I have not been doing and really should be doing. The challenge will force me to commit. I'll aim for at least 30 minutes per day for the 46 days in the lead up to - and on - my birthday.

First chiropractor visit, first parkrun

19-months after waking up on a Sunday morning with a swollen right knee, I'm still not 100%. Sure, I'm out on my feet every day, I can go hiking, walk the dogs and I can trot along the trails. But I can't run. Like properly run. A good, sweat-inducing run. Well, I can physically run, but if I do, I can expect inflammation.

In August 2020, I went to the physio the day after waking up with an inflammed knee. No structural problems found. It got worse, triggered, as I discovered six-week later, by my new trail shoes, which I'd been wearing casually and that left me limping and sore. 

In early October 2020, I saw an orthopedic surgeon (I was taking my mom there for her post-hip operation check-up). I had x-rays, he checked me out and proclaimed that there was no structural issue.
In mid-October 2020, I saw our local GP, who removed 5ml of fluid from my knee, did an ultrasound to check the soft tissue and confirmed no structural issue.

I then saw a biokineticist (twice) and the physio. 

Then I moved from Parys to George.

I couldn't do any of the exercises given to me by the bio - too painful. Instead, I walked daily - initially only 1-2km and later further, wearing my old road shoes. And daily stretching.

In February 2021, I started with a local biokineticist. She tested my knee and confirmed no structural problems. I then started on a programme to activate glutes, balance left and right (I'd been favouring one side for months), and achieve the correct relationship between muscle groups - like quads and hammies (my quads were too strong). The first three months were the most intensive and then I checked-in every few weeks. 

I remember August-September 2021 being pretty good as I was doing quite a bit of mileage in scouting and preparing for my Checkpoint Challenge event for World Orienteering Day. But then something set me back.

We're now in April 2022 and I'm so tired of not actually knowing what the problem is and why I keep having inflammation flare-ups. I've got low-grade inflammation regularly. I'm not in any pain and my mobility is not compromised, but I know it is not right.

I toyed with the idea of going to a chiro for some time because I haven't had a proper check and assessment since October 2020. I've suspected that the issue is still muscle/tendon/ligament and not bone/cartilage but I've had no plan or way forward out of this, and I've been terrified of doing too much for fear of long-term damage of any sort. 
"Chiropractors are trained to diagnose, treat, manage and prevent disorders of the musculoskeletal system (bones, joints, and muscles), as well as the effects these disorders can have on the nervous system and general health."
Sounds like what I was in need of,

On Friday afternoon, I had my first session ever with a chiropractor. His assessments confirmed that there was no structural problem with my knee - meniscus great, patellar tracking spot on, and joint mobility all normal.

He did find a discrepancy in leg length related to tight right glute and sacroilliac joint and right shoulder sitting a bit higher than left. He sorted this out

In June 2020, I slammed my right big toe into a rock. Head-on collision. I don't recall it giving me any worry until after the knee started and I've suspected it to be a factor. Videos of me on the treadmill at the bio show good form and no problems with foot landing or toe off, but of course this can be part of the problem. X-rays in October 2020 showed joint inflammation and signs of osteoarthritis, which the orthopod confirmed could be as a result of the impact. It has messed with my toe mobility - I can't lift it much. This can affect the toe-off when running and walking.

The chiro worked on my big toe joint, getting more mobility into the joint. This made a big difference.

All in all, a good experience. I'll see him again on Wednesday when he'll check how the SI joint is doing, work on toe mobility and check in on the knee.

Since the George parkrun got going again in October 2021, I've been volunteering - most of the time on barcode scanning. Until this morning, I had yet to run a parkrun since pre-lockdown. 

The house I moved to at the end of January is 1.5km from parkrun, so I've been running to and from parkrun every Saturday. I've been thinking of running early, before the start, and then doing my volunteer duty, but I just have not had the confidence to do so. When a clock is ticking my brain switches into another gear. 

I did think that today would be the day... It was raining early so I figured I'd just do my normal jog to the start, which I did. Just after the start, I began packing up the start items when I was told that only one barcode scanner was needed, another guy was in place, so I could slot in with handing out tokens or collecting tokens. I was picking up dog water bowls when I thought - well, maybe I should run!

I knew it wouldn't take me long so I told the team that I was going to run and that I'd hop into a role when I got back. Off I went. This was maybe three minutes after the start with a trail of walkers leading up to the gate.

I know the trails of the route very well as I'm on these at least once or twice a week. It would be muddy and there are lots of tree roots on the one stretch. I enjoyed passing all the walkers and catching the slower runners, moving steadily up the field. I had two little walkies on hills, and ran the rest. I ran easily and comfortably, focusing on footfalls and posture and form.

My finish time of 32:32 means that my real time was likely just a sub-30, which on this course is rewarding for me for a first running. I'm not unfit - I walk, hike, swim and paddle with odd jogs - but I'm not up to scratch with running at all. Women's winning finish times on this course are not often under 24 minutes and this summer have mostly been over 25.

This was my first parkrun run since 14 March 2020. I have now done 105 parkruns and I've volunteered 127 times (72 of these as Run Director). 

I'm itching. Itching to run hard and fast. I've been really contained these past 19 months. I started running as a teen and I've hardly let up in almost 30 years - until now. My frustration has been tempered by enough other activities and a crazy work schedule. I haven't really had the capacity to deal with my knee situation because I haven't known what it is. This has been eating away at me and has had a big psychological impact.

My knee journey is not over. The knee is the symptom probably of transference from my toe. While slamming it into a rock was the start, the new trail shoes were the trigger that set off this whole situation. Bio helped, keeping active helps. 

I'm hoping that we're now going to find a long-term fix - one that will see me back to the activity that I love most.