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.
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.
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… 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.