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George's Moments in Memory

I too have struggled to journal this adventure. Next time I think we must structure dedicated journal writing time into each pilgrimage day so that we can discipline ourselves to capture our experiences as we go. It is all too overwhelming when one looks back on such a kaleidoscope of feelings, pictures, laughs, insights. So here are a few vignettes of my journey.

 

Embracing Addo

 The deep green valleys opened beneath us, and with child-like whoops of delight everyone took off into the bush. A glorious playground had suddenly appeared and the only appropriate response was to dive in and play to your heart’s content. One by one, they gambolled past me, skipping and jumping, giving out little gleeful giggles and clucks of contentment. Of course it wasn’t long before gravity and roots connived in conspiracy and ambushed Neville, sending him burtling into space and spekboom. “8 out of 10 for dangerous move,” quipped someone, “but buggerall for style!”

 
This is why we are trail runners, I thought. It’s not enough to just look at a mountain, a valley, a view. That’s like admiring a painting on the wall. Like children we want to play with the paint on the canvas, sploosh it around, feel the textures run through our fingers, breathe in the smells, and smear ourselves all over. We want to flow with the contours, sweat up the slopes, yell down the hills, and feel the branches scratch our legs and caress our arms. Ours is not a spectator sport; it is a contact sport with the great outdoors, taking great gulps of freedom one moment and being slapped breathless the next. Greeting old friends of stone and stream, and standing silenced in the presence of pure mystery. Ah, aahh, aaahhh we moan in delight, the gratitude so deep and strong it almost aches inside. So we let it out in sighs and screams, and give ourselves over to it.
 
And so it was as we embraced Addo. Past crooked cycads, standing in ancient indifference, tripping along slippery switchbacks, down down down into the forest. Pulled by gravity, gripped with excitement, bouncing along in feverish fun - under the trees and over the rocks, around the trunks and between the vines, quick foot there, side right here, hop rock there, light step here, push off there, triple tread, double jump, skip a stone, down down down. Obviously we were bubbling over when we hit the campsite and woke everyone up – how can anyone hold such happiness inside?
 
I watched it all with the joy and pride of a mother hen as her chickens chirped and cheeped in merry abandonment about her. My dream was to create a space for people to relish the big outdoors, the bigger picture, and the even bigger Presence. And here it was all happening! Thank you, thank you, thank you.
 
 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
 
 

 … Though I walk through the valley of darkness …

 
 It was the end of the road for me. I had staggered out into the darkness at 3.30 a.m. in a bid to make some headway before everyone else started out, and in a desperate attempt to warm up my right leg and overcome the excruciating pain that was debilitating me. The early start wasn’t a problem as I hadn’t been able to sleep anyway, and it was a relief to be doing something positive, even if it was just crawling out of the church hall and hobbling off into the night. The first kilometre was pure torture, and I nearly turned around a couple of times, but I figured my screaming ligaments, tendons, muscles or whatever would warm up and carry me with  some remnant of grace and hope, so I pushed on.
 
The night was cold, crisp and silent but at the same time warm in spirit. I find the dark very friendly and am never lonely on my own, so I felt both held and free.  This was virtually the only bit of tar road on the whole trail, and it came at a time when I most needed a flat surface. I said a quiet ‘thank you’ and walked in the middle of the road, guided by the dim painted white line at my feet.  By this time I had managed to develop a kind of awkward shuffle that was least painful and I was starting to delight in those magical hours which presage every dawn, poised and pregnant with potential of what can be. But deep down I had this growing heaviness, this gnawing realisation that no rebirth, no miracle was waiting for me. 
 
I collapsed at the side of the road, my dream in shatters. I had done about 285 km, but that would be as far as I would go. I would never run those final few metres down to the Knysna lagoon and dip my feet triumphantly into the water, as I had pictured myself doing, every night for the past four weeks. The dawn gently fingered its warmth into the valley, but I felt none of it. I was a pathetic heap of agony curled up on the ground, unable to see beyond myself. Later I would remind myself that my real dream was to create an opportunity for others to enjoy, and that my participating was just a bonus. But at this moment I lacked such perspective or wisdom, and felt just a deep, dark sense of sad resignation. Later I would also find out that I was suffering from a stress fracture of my right femur and realise that I had pushed myself way beyond what could be expected of my poor body, but at this moment I felt only like a physical failure. So much for the mature leader of the Pilgrimage project who wrote of “journeying more mindfully, more soulfully”! I was clearly on a very different sort of pilgrimage to the one that I had envisaged. 

Linda's Loving Log

(from Linda's blog at www.lindadoke.blogspot.com)

 

A couple of months ago, Craig and I took part in a few days of something very special. It blended our love for trail, for South Africa, and for feeling in touch with the natural beauty around us, with the special pleasure of sharing a wonderful experience with like-minded people.

 
It was unique.
It was small in scale, big in dream, and huge in reality.
It was a pilgrimage – a South African experience that had a start line, a finish line, and involved a special journey in between. That journey was not about speed or style, form or fashion. Rather, it was all about immersing ourselves in the moment, feeling and seeing and hearing everything around us all at once, and being one with ourselves, each other and our environment. 
 
It was Indlela yoBuntu, affectionately known as the Pilgrim Trail – a no-stress, no-pressure 582km trail run on dirt roads, farm tracks and mountain paths, over 13 days, from Grahamstown to Knysna. 
 
The concept was the dream of George Euvrard, a Rhodes University professor who I met several years ago at the Midnight Hell Run. George is a special man – he’s humble yet wise, gentle yet strong, and by his own admission, he has a knack of seeing the positive in everything. He’s one of those wonderful people who dream big, and have the faith, energy and determination to turn their dreams into reality. 
 
George’s dream for Indlela yoBuntu is that of an African pilgrimage of hope, symbolising the way of Ubuntu. He dreamed of the idea of a pilgrimage from Grahamstown to Cape Town, taking more than 60 days, and covering over 1 500km. The idea would be similar to the world renowned pilgrimage the Camino de Santiago in Spain, just without the religious history attached to it.
 
Instead, this pilgrimage would be seeped in cultural relevance, enabling those who cover it to experience and explore some of the big questions of life in an African context – the experience of the wilderness of Africa, the huge blue skies and deep nights, being in harmony with that around us, hearing and seeing the life stories of the people and environment en route.
 
Logistically, however, this would not be easy to make reality. Much of South Africa’s land is privately owned as farms and game reserves, without the “right to roam” enjoyed by hikers in much of Europe. Crossing private farmland and reserves in our country requires permits and permissions, and is notoriously difficult.
 
Tackling this challenge one step at a time (‘scuse the pun), George split the route in half, and in 2011 he walked from Grahamstown to Knysna by himself, following a carefully researched route that he’d envisaged. The success of his recce showed such a pilgrimage was indeed possible, and he set about planning the inaugural Pilgrim Trail for 2013.
 
He invited a small group of like-minded runner friends he’d met at various endurance events over recent years, and set a date of 1-13 September. In George’s words, this would not be a race, but rather a training run… for life. Between 30km and 60km a day for almost two weeks – in your own time. Run when you want, walk when you feel like it, swim when you’re hot, take the time to enjoy the views, smell the fynbos, be a part of the life around you.
 
Craig and I were only able to join for the final three days – from Vaalwater in the Klein Karoo through to Knysna via the magnificent Prince Alfred Pass – and that time, short though it was, had us hungering for more. The full contingent – Laura and Brian Bannatyne, Roger Steel and Kylie Hatton, Kim van Kets, Filippo Faralla, Neville Keevy, and George and Gwenda Euvrard (Gwenda cycling) – set off from the monastery outside Grahamstown on Sunday 1st Sept, eventually arriving in Knysna on a sunny, blue-skied Friday 13th.
 
And what an incredible experience it was. No attempt to describe it can do the pilgrimage justice, suffice to say that there’s nothing quite like sharing with like-minded friends the richness of being surrounded by the simple, uncomplicated beauty of the Africa we love so dearly. 
 
The Pilgrim Trail may have covered +580km on foot, but everyone crossed the finished line on the final day with their souls energised, recharged and rejuvenated. A pilgrimage is an intensely personal experience, and different people take different things from it. But guaranteed is the growth such a time enables, and every soul is the wealthier for the experience.
 
It was the pilgrims themselves who put it so beautifully in their musings about the Pilgrim Trail:
Laura Bannatyne on the concept of Indlela yoBuntu:
“We are a band of travellers, and this is envisioned as a spiritual as well as physical journey, an opportunity for contemplation, reflection, fellowship, and pilgrimage learning. This is also the guinea-pig run: we’re the trail-blazers of what will one day become an established route, continuing beyond Knysna all the way to Robben Island. One day the Red Girl will mark the way for pilgrims to follow on the rocks, walls and gateposts along the route. But for now she can travel with us, swinging from our packs.”
 
Kim van Kets on the incredible scenery:
“Of course, the itinerary doesn’t even begin to describe the thrill of an early morning leopard and honey badger in a Baviaanskloof valley, the adrenalin rush from a massive puff adder, the hospitality of the communities who fed us and allowed us to sleep in their NG Kerksaals and on their farms.  It doesn’t do any justice to the camaraderie that develops between the runners over 13 days, and it cannot convey the heartbreaking beauty of the landscape.”
 
And on the camaraderie of trail running:
“Is it possible that running together makes us better people or brings out the best in us?  Is running the magic ingredient for instant and genuine Ubuntu and if so can we force the whole world to go on multi day trail runs as a matter of extreme urgency? Shall we start a running revolution?”
 
I say YES! let’s go forth into 2014 and start that (trail) running revolution! 
 
Here’s to ubuntu, to the joys of discovery, and to sharing them with like-minded crazies!
 

Laura's Patches

 

An introduction, overview, and explanation.

 
How does one convey to the general, interested reader the highs and lows, the beauty and wildness, the companionship, growth and challenges of 13 days on the trail?
 
13 consecutive days, a journey of 580-plus kilometres by dirt and farm roads, single and jeep track, across the garden of the Eastern Cape from Grahamstown and on into the Western Cape to the edge of the lagoon at Knysna. Not your average trail run. Certainly not a race. This was dubbed a “Pilgrimage” and as such an extra dimension was intrinsic to the whole undertaking.
 
The dream and brainchild of friend and neighbour George Euvrard, and inspired by the Camino de Santiago in Spain, Indlela yoBuntu is planned as an African pilgrimage walk from Grahamstown to Cape Town. When fully realised it will offer participants an opportunity to contemplate what it means to be fully human from a South African perspective, and to learn how to journey more mindfully and more soulfully. The full trail will end at the humble prison cell of Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, challenging our notions of what constitutes greatness and forcibly bringing home the true meaning of ubuntu.
 
Two years ago George had pioneered much of the route solo, making his way from place to place along his proposed route and seeking food and shelter where he could find it, before a combination of flooding in the Baviaanskloof and a spontaneously detaching retina had forced him to return in haste to Grahamstown. George is an academic as well as an avid ultra-distance trail runner, with the Wild Coast Ultra, the Hobbit 100, and many other long-distance trails under his belt. He has described his inspiration to set up a pilgrimage and to explore pilgrimage learning in the South African context in a couple of academic papers, as well as to friends and groups of runners. Then, with a little encouragement and with Gwenda at his side, he put the theory into practice and made it happen with group of like-minded friends. 
 
For 13 days from 1 September 2013 we followed the route that he had pioneered, lacing together a trail from the Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery just outside Grahamstown to Alicedale, over the undulating hills and up the Kromme River Valley to Zuurberg, through the Addo Park to Kirkwood, through the dry, dramatic noorsveldt and on to Mannetjies, then to Pinnacle Gorge, next skirting the Cockscomb Mountain and dropping into the hardworking Gamtoos Valley, before traversing the entire length of the Baviaanskloof over three days and clipping the Karoo then heading for Uniondale, cruising down the Prince Alfred Pass to de Vlugt, and finally jogging up and out and at last down to Knysna. Mainly on wide, quiet dirt roads, links by beautiful tracks and trails across farms and veldt, this was an epic and unforgettable journey.
 
All of us in the group were seasoned trail runners: Kylie Hatton, Roger Steele, Filippo Faralla, Kim van Kets, George, and my husband Brian Bannatyne and myself were no strangers to long trail days and hard effort. The younger members of group are well known for podium places in tough events, and for pioneering adventures of their own – but even Kim, who had circumnavigated South Africa in her “Tri the Beloved country” adventure had never run so far without a break. 13 days, nearly 600 km, without a rest day. Days of 30 to 60 km. It was uncharted territory for all of us.
 
Collectively we were daunted, individually we each entertained our own thoughts, hopes, and doubts. Fitness-wise, I was completely unprepared. Brian and I had been married a month before, and my time had been taken up completely with work, study, and wedding planning from the beginning of the year. In the months when I should have been putting in solid long, quality training kilometres, if I ran 20 km it was a very good week indeed. The Pilgrimage was to be our runnymoon. Brian was well into his training plan for the forthcoming Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (as was George), but for me this was always going to be an exercise in careful self-management, in avoiding blisters and injuries, and sustaining the body and mind. 
 
We were accompanied on our journey by George’s wife Gwenda, (handily, a clinical psychologist!!) who cycled sections of the route, and Peter Edwards, who drove the support vehicle, ran along with the group at times, and generally provided a solid dependable presence whilst we “took our souls for a stroll” as the lettering on our shirts bravely stated. Towards the end, we were joined by trail legend Linda Doke and her husband Craig joined us (with Tenzing, a dog of great presence but uncertain pedigree). Kim’s family also joined us, with adventurer Peter quickly becoming ensconced as the wayside maker of tea and bringer of good cheer , ably assisted by their delightful daughter Hannah. 
 
I have found it impossible to create a single, coherent, all-encompassing account of this journey, and it has emerged since we returned that others have been beset by this difficulty too.  It’s been frustrating and almost physically painful for me to be unable to write about something that I want to describe and share.  I have felt hobbled by my own inability to organise and present the experience. Time and again I would sit with the stapled pages torn from my Pilgrimage journal, read through the bullet notes, and begin something that would founder in a morass of over-description, retrogressive explanations and spiralling diversions.  Messy, convoluted, dense, and doughy. Not at all the way I wanted to depict the freedom to do nothing but run for a fortnight. 
 
Finally, a solution came.  At a gathering at her house, Gwenda told me over coffee that she also could not envision a whole Pilgrimage story, but was enjoying writing short pieces of poetry that captured particular aspects of the journey. 
 
I have never written poetry, and am not about to try, but the idea of dealing with the thing a chunk at a time certainly appealed. Keeping things in order and not leaving things out was still a concern, though.
 
A little later, Gwenda showed another friend a present she had made for her daughter – quilted table mats – thus giving me the second key to unlocking my Pilgrimage story: Patchwork.
 
So that’s how I decided to write, in patches that can fit together almost at random. The pieces will be different sizes and shapes, maybe with some rough edges and hanging threads, either stitched or pinned together, but they will make a fabric. They don’t need to be consecutive or complete, because somewhere else in the patchwork, another piece will contain that pattern or texture, will show that detail or reveal the missing part of the picture.
There may even, here or there, be a little embroidery…
 

Beginnings

 

A faint smell of woodsmoke, and she takes shape before me. She’s ancient, but here she is in a new form, her old red ochre on rock now burned shiny-brown into a little block of pine: a poker-work symbol for our journey.

She seems to step out so lightly. She is lithe, limber, her head is held high, she seems carefree and almost jaunty. Who was the Red Girl, and what was her meaning to the artist who captured her essence on the wall of a cave? A child of a travelling people, just beginning her journey into womanhood.

I wonder about her story.

I’m working my head into the Indlela yoBuntu pilgrimage, starting my own traveller’s story by making wooden tokens in the tradition of the shells and palms of the pilgrims of bygone days, for the members of our group to carry. We will set off from Mariya uMama weThemba monastery outside Grahamstown on Sunday morning, and make our way by backroads and wagon trails to the shore of the Knysna lagoon over the coming fortnight.

The dream and brainchild of our dear friend and neighbour George Euvrard, this is a group endeavour. We are a band of travellers, and this is envisioned as a spiritual as well as physical journey, an opportunity for contemplation, reflection, fellowship, and pilgrimage learning. This is also the guinea-pig run: we’re the trail-blazers of what will one day become an established route, continuing beyond Knysna all the way to Robben Island. One day the Red Girl will mark the way for pilgrims to follow on the rocks, walls and gateposts along the route. But for now she can travel with us, swinging from our packs.

It’s a daunting prospect, this pilgrimage: a multi-dimensional challenge, and not in the sense I’m generally used to. I’ve done lots of long, multiday extreme events, but never entirely on foot for this far, and certainly never for this many days. And for me, it’s always been a race: months of training followed by a competitive event, striving against the terrain and my mental and physical shortcomings to try and get to the end as fast as possible, and hopefully ahead of as many other people as possible. I love the wild and often harsh mountain and desert places I’ve raced through…but I have always raced through them.

So: This is not a race, it’s a journey. 13 days of travelling and discovery. Virtually no training, and certainly no competition other than the distance.

It will be an exercise in careful self-management, in avoiding blisters and injuries, and sustaining the body and mind. It will be a tough physical journey from Grahamstown to Knysna, 577 km in measured distance. It will be a group effort as we encourage and help each other to our goal, walking, eating, sleeping and learning together. And for each of us it will be an intensely personal journey.

Honeymoon couple rFor me, it will be an important part of the transition from Laura Forster to Laura Bannatyne. Just a few weeks ago, Brian and I were married. I changed my surname to his after 30-odd years - more than half a lifetime - of saying and signing a different one. Time for a change, and not just of name. Being married is a change of heart, a change of focus and a change of priorities, and it changes the view of the future. For us, in addition to all the other things it will be, this pilgrimage will be two weeks of becoming husband and wife, the beginning of our journey together as a married couple. We share a love of the outdoors, of nature, of trail-running, of bird-watching, of geologising, of history, and of course, of each other.

How fortunate, at the beginning of our life together, to have this opportunity to share so much, to grow, to discover, to experience the beauty, hardship and satisfaction of this journey with each other and with friends. To be able to step out of “life”, and to be able to really LIVE. No rush, no pressure, no work, no admin, no need to do anything but jog on, jog on, all day, every day, for two weeks, and into the future together, where we trust many more such adventures await us. “Some honeymoon!” cried one of our wedding guests.

Some honeymoon, indeed!

 

 This is it!

We were sitting in the refectory of the Mariya uMama weThembaMonastery just outside Grahamstown, putting away the last of a hasty breakfast as the sun rose on the first day of our big adventure, the 575 km Indlela yoBuntu Pilgrimage from Grahamstown to Knysna. 
 
The group members had come together the evening before, travelling from as far away as Cape Town, Durban, and East London, and from nearby Adelaide and Grahamstown. We had dined convivially in the Refectory (to the mild dismay of the monks, for whom the sharing of supper is intended to be a time of quiet reflection on the day rather than an opportunity for garrulous recollection of dubious shared ultra-distance endurance experiences). Later we gathered round the fireplace in a cosy sitting room to discuss as a group our reasons for joining the Pilgrimage, our personal hopes, expectations and fears. The mood had become introspective. We had retired early to our rooms in the Monastery’s guest bungalow. 
 
We rose before dawn, but few of us had spent a peaceful night.  Nerves and excitement began to mount, and whilst we tried to observe the monastic rules of quiet and contemplation (requested particularly during meals and before eight in the morning), it proved futile with the prospect of a 575 km, 13 day journey ahead of us.  Clowning and shushing, we made a Great Noise. Small wonder we had the refectory to ourselves.  
 
But then, with the sunlight brightening through the trees, it was time to go. With plates cleared tidily away and chairs pushed neatly under tables, we shouldered our hydration packs and filed down to the car park to be sent off with a blessing. We linked hands, bowed our heads, and tried to calm our thoughts into the contemplative and mindful mode appropriate to “pilgrimage” rather than the frenetic “race” mode which we are all far more accustomed to at such times. After blessings and prayers for protection, guidance and mercies, we turned and took the first steps together on our journey to Knysna.
We were really doing this. We were leaving.
 
The monastery proved to be a haven in more ways than one. Walking up to the gate on the Highlands Road we were met by an blasting icy gale – and a warm welcome. Friends and well-wishers waited there to see us off, some on foot and on bikes to accompany us as far as St Cyprian’s, 19 km away. From that point we would be a merry band of travellers, ten souls running, biking and supporting, determined to meet the challenges of the terrain, weather and distance, with whatever physical and emotional resources we could muster as individuals and as a group.  We would blaze this pilgrimage trail together.
 
We ranged in age from early 30s to late 50s: amongst us a farmer, lawyer, academic, designer, writer, economist, psychologist, surveyor, teacher…we were all travellers.  Some were in excellent running form, others hardly trained at all.  One was thoroughly and blissfully medicated for a recent root canal, one took within them the bitter seed of disappointment, planted long before and preparing to germinate. Most of us were married, two very newly so, some going solo and some in pairs, some with two-leg kids, some with four-leggers left behind. All of us had done some pretty epic endurance events in our time, though few of us had done anything quite like this before. All of us were apprehensive, but eager, so eager to begin the adventure we’d been planning for so long.
And at last we were on the road and moving west. The group quickly strung out along the winding dirt road in the early light, the sun rising behind us and the gale battering us from the front.  
 
We were really doing this. We were running.
 

NevToast

When Nev’s toast hit the Refectory floor butter side up, I realised everything was going to be OK. “It’s a sign!!” I cried, inanely shattering the Great Silence. Neville waved his knife in disagreement. “No.” he said, calmly dusting off the underside of the toast on his running shorts. “I buttered the wrong side.”
 

 

Kim's Joy

Kim reaches Knysna(from Kim's blog at www.kimvankets.com)
 
At the risk of being repetitive, I would like to say (again), that running  for me is all about JOY.  Running joy is  maximised  if  it occurs somewhere beautiful and if there is an element of adventuring (absent in the suburban Tuesday evening time trial).  I love knowing I am journeying with a purpose from point a to b (instead of doing an out and back or circular loop)  and  I especially love it if I have no idea what to expect between the two points. To combine all this with great (though somewhat bizarre) company and stretch it over 2 weeks – well those are ingredients to create running joy second to none!  When George’s dream of the 600km Pilgrimage (actually 582km) from Grahamstown to Knysna along historic ox wagon and settler routes started to become a reality and emails were being exchanged thick and fast, it became impossible for me to think of anything else.   I simply had to be part of this amazing pioneering journey, the FOMO would be too much to bear if  I was left out. 
 
There are not a whole lot of people who are able to run 600km in 13 days without injury.  Lets face it, there are not a whole lot who WANT to do so in the first place.  And of course even if you are both able to and want to – there are not a lot of people who can wangle the time off.  But I was determined to do so and so the negotiations and planning began…
 
On 31 August when 8 runners congregated at the Monastry in Grahamstown, filled with anxious excitement (and simply unable to observe the Great Silence), I knew there would be a story to tell.  And indeed there was. But how to tell it in a way that does it any justice at all?  When I returned home after 2 weeks of tough and blissful Pilgrimaging and was wandering around in my zombie-like state of post expedition depression, I made one or two attempts to explain to a couple of people what made it so special. I almost immediately gave up when I realised that I wasn’t articulating it and they werent getting it. Its just simply impossible to make someone who wasn’t there  understand.  But I plan to try anyway, even if its just to create a record of it all for me. 
 
The plan was to set off from the Monastry and run along the Highlands 1820 Settler farm roads to Alicedale. The next day we would head to Zuurberg and then through Addo to Kirkwood.  From Kirkwood we would run across private farms making our way to Pinnacle Gorge along the foothills of the Grootwinterhoekberge.  A big climb through the fynbos up and over the mountains just to the left of Cockscomb Peak would reward us with glorious views of the Gamtoos Valley, Jeffrey’s Bay and the sea, and the rugged Baviaanskloof in the distance. A long descent down the mountain to the Elandsrivier road and then on down into the Gamtoos would follow. We would then head up the river valley to Cambria and into the Baviaanskloof Park and battle a long pull up to Bergplaas. Steep ups and downs would follow through the Baviaanskloof  as we progressed the whole way through the park to Zandvlakte (special permission had to be obtained to run through the park accompanied by a back-up vehicle in case of trouble with buffalo or rhino.)  Our next destination was Bokloof  via Donkerkloof and the legendary wild fig forests,  along the upper Baviaans Valley farmlands, a big climb up the Niewekloofpas, into the Karoo vlakte and beyond to Uniondale.  The final stretch to Knysna would follow  “ die ou wapad” over the hills to Avontuur,   down Prince Alfred’s Pass to De Vlugt and then through the mystical Knysna forests to the water’s edge of the Knysna lagoon. Whew!
 
Of course, the  itinerary doesn’t even begin to describe the thrill of an early morning leopard and honey badger in a Baviaanskloof valley, the adrenoline rush from a massive puffadder, the hospitality of the communities who fed us and allowed us to sleep in their NG Kerksaals and on their farms.  It doesn’t do any justice to the comeraderie that develops between the runners over 13 days and it cannot convey the heartbreaking beauty of the landscape.  
 
Now I like my privacy and my own space and my own BATHROOM as much as the next person, but there is something about communal kakking off and communal living that creates a great dynamic.  (When I try to explain this, many of my mates think there is something deeply wrong with me and that I am possibly more suited to some weird military type existence than nice family life. ) Maybe it comes from spending my formative years in dorms, but there is something very awesome about the comeraderie of sharing hardship and beauty all day and then all going to sleep within chatting distance of each other.  Its lekker being part of a herd, it reassuring to hear everyone breathing and grunting and shuffling around in their sleeping bags (or fluffy leopard printed duvet and blankie, in the case of Neville).  When we werent all sharing a kerksaal or a shed (even Brian and Laura, the honeymoon couple!) I would end up in the singles dorm with Filippo, (Engineer, running guru, known for his yellow feet and 20 000+ words a day), Neville (enthusiatice, fabulously politically incorrect Mcguyver and goat/citrus farmer and all round good guy) and Peter (lovely mature student,  back up car driver turned runner and dispenser of oranges and all good things).  As a married adult when do you get to to do this kind of thing? (And why would you want to?) Its only on the self sufficiency races in the Kalahari and in the goats hair tents in Turkey, the Kerksaals in the Baviaanskloof  that we experience the instantaeous bonding of the tent family/herd.  Its hilarious to chat about the day’s anecdotes, to mock each other for our oddities, to have deeply serious conversations, to shriek with laughter and be irrepresibly silly and the opposite of our usual professional or responsible selves.  Its hilarious to lie in your sleeping bag and watch the different preparations for the day (Filippo methodical and organised: ankle strapping, nipple covers, sunscreen, matching kit, carefully packed bag, well planned snacks. Neville (totally hapazard and disorganised remembers to apply sunscreen when fully clothed and sunscreen at bottom of pack).  How do you even begin to describe the daily appeal of this bizarre scene to someone who wasn’t there?  Without triggering suggestions of therapy?  And how do you explain how bereft you feel when ones’s odd tent family/herd all go their separate ways?  The seperation anxiety is almost too much to bear.
 
There is another dynamic that is interesting and wonderful to observe as the herd/tent family begins to develop: in the first 1-4 days, individual ownership of sunscreen, lipbalm, chafe cream, water, clothing, footpowder, dark chocolate, peanut butter and earl grey tea is very evident.  As time passes however, there is a seamless transition from individual to communal ownership of everything: the communal lip balm is passed round wordlessly, everyone slurps from the same bottle and dips into the same communal vaseline jar.  There is less concern for oneself and more for each other.  The strong will take care of the weak and the next day the weak link will be strong and return the favour.  We happily and without giving it any thought, wash each others “smalls” (Fillipo terminology), rub each others feet, examine each others chafed backs, make each other comforting beverages and share our chocolate biscotti.  How does this happen to virtual strangers in a couple of days? Is it possible that running together makes us better people or brings out the best in us?  Is running the magic ingredient for instant and genuine Ubuntu and if so can we force the whole world to go on multi day trail runs as a matter of extreme urgency? Shall we start a running revolution?
 
Maybe part of the magic is the extreme simplicity of it all.  There is no juggling or multitasking or complex agendas.  Every day is the same. Get up, eat, run from a-b, survive pain or fear or getting lost, eat, sleep.  Repeat.   It’s the ultimate holiday for ones’s head.  It’s the most relaxing thing in the world.  I have always believed that our bodies are for hard work and our brains are for fun and survival and problem solving and for telling stories.  But we seem to have it the other way round most of the time.  Our bodies sit at a desk all day and our brains wrestle with all sorts of exhausting and complex issues and come the end of the day our bodies are unexercised and our brains are exhausted.  Its all the wrong way round.  Ass-about-face to quote my running mate, Colin. Maybe we are better people when we have things the right way round?  
 
Ant then there is the other thing – the ability to derive such INTENSE delight from the most ordinary things that we usually take for granted that we become almost tearful with joy: the pure delight of getting clean, lying down, drinking a cup of tea, eating an orange (oh my NERVES those oranges of Neville’s!  Were they really that good or was it just the “original thirst” kicking in?) Putting on clean socks.  The anticipation of a Padstal.  The experience of a whole day of prolonged and extreme Padstal yearning followed by the reward which is better than the fantasy.  Laurie Lee once said in his fabulous essay on Appetite: “It is a long time now since I knew that acute moment of bliss that comes from putting parched lips to a cup of cold water. The springs are still there to be enjoyed—all one needs is the original thirst.”  Well the herd knows exactly where to find the original thirst!  It certainly hasn’t gone anywhere.   
 
And then there is the heartbreaking beauty of the landscape.  The Eastern Cape is woven into the fiber of my being.  Aloes and Ngunis, acacia, river euphorbia and spekboom make me feel as if all is right with the world. I love this place with a possessive passionate fierceness that makes my chest hurt.   The sheer drama of it. The fact that it is simultaneoulsy sweet and wild and terribly uncool.  The fact that the land and its people have suffered harship and emerged stronger because of it, is so evident in the landscape. The fact that so few people know it like we do. What a privilege to have run  and sweated on so much of it.  There were days on the Pilgrimage when I had to restrain myself  from lying down in the dirt and pressing my face against its red earth heart and trying to put my arms around this tragic, beautiful,  hardy, soulful corner of the earth that I call home.   How do you explain that to people who werent there?  But certainly Neville, and Brian and Baas George and even those of my herd who don’t claim it has home, they all felt an element of what I am trying to describe.
 
The companionship and fun and LAUGHTER were really just in another league.  You get to know your trail running mates  very intimately and very quickly.  Everything is fast forwarded.  Its usually impossible to spend virtually every minute with someone for 2 weeks, day and night, in good moods and bad.  I spent more time with Kylie and Roger on the Pilgrimage than I have with my best mate in the last decade!  It was astounding to be welcomed into their space and never made to feel for one minute that I was encroaching on their couple time.  I didn’t mean to run with them initially, I didn’t mean to run with anyone and imagined that I would spend hours on my own, it was such a happy surprise.  I also didn’t imagine that we would laugh so much. In an effort to entertain and distract each other we swopped stories and anecdotes, debated  countless issues, explained our personal timelines, and constructed the MANLINESS spectrum tirelessly.  I will never be able to hear the name “Eugene”,  the word “TAUT” (torte?) or think of the concept of a “race baby” without collapsing as if I have been shot.  Most days my intercostal muscles hurt more than my quads because of the absolute hilarity of it all.  I missed them (and everyone!) so much when we all went home that I was beginning to worry that I may have become unstable as a result of the Pilgrimage, like all the dudes who went off to war and had nothing in common with their families when they returned.  I worried briefly that I may  live out the rest of my days in need of therapy, fondling quarts of beer in dingy pubs and pining endlessly for my brothers in arms.  (Oh my nerves, that reminds me of the impromptu Dire Straits evening at Vaalwater with Neville and Filippo!  Brother’s in arms indeed!)
 
As we were running into Knysna, I watched Kylie in awe. She was running determinely with 580km in her legs and no food in her stomach (after battling all sorts of horrible stomach and nausea issues without ever whinging or having a humour crisis) and realised we had transcended friendship in the last 2 weeks.  She is without doubt one of the most legendary women I know.  I would go to war with her.  [Kylie I know you think I was joking when I said I’d go to war with you (and on one level I was joking) but I meant it too and it’s the ultimate compliment from one MANLY woman to another. ]  And Laura is much the same.  I would look at them both in amazement as they battled with root canal pain, colds and sinus, stomach issues and still managed a 60km run with a smile day after day.  I was feeling 100% fit and well with no illness or injury and still had to dig deep on some days to go the distance.  You both inspired me, challenged  me and made the sisterhood proud!  
 
One of the endless discussions we had (promted to some extent by the pain George was battling) was the question of finding the line between being a hero and an idiot.  How do you know, especially in the heat of the battle, when you are going too far?  When do we stop having admirable follow through and become reckless and foolhardy?  When are we beginning to push our bodies too far and risking permanent injury or even death?  How do you find that line and make wise decisions when so much has been invested in a race/expedition?  We didn’t ever quite get to the bottom of this but I found a quote which pretty much sums up our dilemma:  
 
The edge: there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” Henri Bergson
 
What a privilige to have shared this experience, and what an impossibility to do it justice in writing!
 
 
 
It is essential to include this for those who haven’t read it:
 
Appetite
By Laurie Lee (1914—1997)
One of the major pleasures in life is appetite, and one of our major duties should be to preserve it. Appetite is the keenness of living; it is one of the senses that tells you that you are still curious to exist, that you still have an edge on your longings and want to bite into the world and taste its multitudinous flavors and juices.
 
By appetite, of course, I don’t mean just the lust for food, but any condition of unsatisfied desire, any burning in the blood that proves you want more than you’ve got, and that you haven’t yet used up your life. Wilde said he felt sorry for those who never got their heart’s desire, but sorrier still for those who did. I got mine once only, and it nearly killed me, and I’ve always preferred wanting to having since.
For appetite, to me, is this state of wanting, which keeps one’s expectations alive. I remember learning the lesson long ago as a child, when treats and orgies were few, and when I discovered that the greatest pitch of happiness was not in actually eating a toffee but in gazing at it beforehand. True, the first bite was delicious, but once the toffee was gone one was left with nothing, neither toffee nor lust. Besides, the whole toffeeness of toffees was imperceptibly diminished by the gross act of having eaten it. No, the best was in wanting it, in sitting and looking at it, when one tasted an inexhaustible treasure-house of flavors. 
 
So, for me, one of the keenest pleasures of appetite remains in the wanting, not the satisfaction. In wanting a peach, or a whisky, or a particular texture or sound, or to be with a particular friend. For in this condition, of course, I know that the object of desire is always at its most flawlessly perfect. Which is why I would carry the preservation of appetite to the extent of deliberate fasting, simply because I think that appetite is too good to lose, too precious to be bludgeoned into insensibility by satiation and over-doing it.
 
For that matter, I don’t really want three square meals a day—I want one huge, delicious, orgiastic, table-groaning blow-out, say every four days, and then not be too sure where the next one is coming from. A day of fasting is not for me just a puritanical device for denying oneself a pleasure, but rather a way of anticipating a rare moment of supreme indulgence.
 
Fasting is an act of homage to the majesty of appetite. So I think we should arrange to give up our pleasures regularly—our food, our friends, our lovers—in order to preserve their intensity, and the moment of coming back to them. For this is the moment that renews and refreshes both oneself and the thing one loves. Sailors and travelers enjoyed this once, and so did hunters, I suppose. Part of the weariness of modern life may be that we live too much on top of each other, and are entertained and fed too regularly. Once we were separated by hunger both from our food and families, and then we learned to value both. The men went off hunting, and the dogs went with them; the women and children waved goodbye. The cave was empty of men for days on end; nobody ate, or knew what to do. The women crouched by the fire, the wet smoke in their eyes; the children wailed; everybody was hungry. Then one night there were shouts and the barking of dogs from the hills, and the men came back loaded with meat. This was the great reunion, and everybody gorged themselves silly, and appetite came into its own; the long-awaited meal became a feast to remember and an almost sacred celebration of life. Now we go off to the office and come home in the evenings to cheap chicken and frozen peas. Very nice, but too much of it, too easy and regular, served up without effort or wanting. We eat, we are lucky, our faces are shining with fat, but we don’t know the pleasure of being hungry any more. 
 
Too much of anything—too much music, entertainment, happy snacks, or time spent with one’s friends—creates a kind of impotence of living by which one can no longer hear, or taste, or see, or love, or remember. Life is short and precious, and appetite is one of its guardians, and loss of appetite is a sort of death. So if we are to enjoy this short life we should respect the divinity of appetite, and keep it eager and not too much blunted.
It is a long time now since I knew that acute moment of bliss that comes from putting parched lips to a cup of cold water. The springs are still there to be enjoyed—all one needs is the original thirst.