I've shown you some of the pictures, now let me tell you the story:
In August my friend Truda and I joined 19 other women to walk 301km through Namaqualand in 10 days. The adventure is called the Namaqua 301 Eco-ultra Marathon and is organized by Frik and Lizette Olwage and their team at Africa Eco Ventures.
This experience has touched me on so many levels that it is difficult to write about it all in one post.
Firstly there is the physical challenge of walking 301 km's in 10 days. We did more that 30km's on most days.
Secondly there is the beautiful, beautiful piece of God's creation where we walked through. The scenery made such a huge impact on me.
Thirdly, spending 12 days in the company of 20 other women,19 of whom I've never met before, was an adventure all on it's own!
And finally there is the mental and spiritual impact an experience like this have. It is something which doesn't happen immediately but surfaces piece by piece over time. Even now, weeks after I've finished walking I still think about it daily and I get these sudden flashes of insight and revelation about myself and my life which I've never had before...
A typical day was divided in four or five shifts varying between eight and twelve kilometers each. We usually started with an early morning shift followed by breakfast. After that came two more shifts followed by lunch. The day concluded with a last short(ish) shift which brought us to about four in the afternoon. By then we were footsore, tired and very glad to get out of our shoes!
My favourite part of the day was the early morning shift or 'breakfast run' as we called it. We started very early before sunrise. The air was crisp and cold and our bodies were still stiff and sore from the previous day's walking, but the day was awakening, the moon was on it's last descent and the first colours of morning were visible on the horizon. It was an absolutely glorious time to be outside. Our bodies were warming up, our minds were waking up and Nature was saying "You can do it!"
My body was behaving much better than I anticipated. All through my training and right up to the day the Big Walk started I was doubting my fitness. I was worried that I would not be able to complete the challenge. But I surprised myself! My feet were VERY sore. You know, that deep pain inside your feet from, well, too much walking. I had a few blisters, but not as bad as I expected. The best thing was, from my ankles up I felt great! I never felt too tired to do the next bit. I loved the scenery we were walking through, I loved talking and joking with my fellow walkers and I just loved ... walking.
Our walk started in Pella, in the Richtersveld, on the banks of the Orange River. We were all nervous - not knowing what the next 10 days will bring and already past the point of no return. We started with a 17km walk through the Date Farm, a wonderful oasis in this harsh land. After a hearty brunch back at the guesthouse we continued with another 17km walk through beautiful river beds, rock formations and huge swarms of gnats(!) to the Pella Mission Station where we were received by the nuns and treated to home-made scones and tea. We completed our first day and walked 34kms! Sore feet could not dampen our spirit - we might actually survive this!
The next two days we walked through the Goegap Nature Reserve and the Skilpad Wildflower Reserve . My legs and feet were finding their rhythm, I was settling into a pace and friendships blossomed. As each person found their own comfortable pace, we settled into small groups who somehow always ended up together. Our little group were made up of some great personalities and we giggled as much as we suffered! These two days' walking were completely overshadowed by the awesomeness of the countryside. Namaqualand was in full bloom. There were flowers as far as the eye could see. We stopped a lot and just gawked at the spectacle. We never even noticed that we climbed quite a few hills and on both days walked more than 30kms.
What we did notice later that evening, back at our Kamieskroon guesthouse, was the wind howling around the corners, rattling the windows and getting us all nervous. We were preparing to scale the Kamieskroon Pass the next day and were in no mood to fight the wind as well...
Morning came and the wind was still going strong. Our breakfast run was a 10km fight against a strong and icy wind. After breakfast we started up the pass but was stopped by Frik after 4kms as the wind was literally blowing us off the road! We then drove over the pass and started walking again on the plateau above Kamieskroon where we were a little more sheltered from the wind. This area was beautiful with little mountain streams and farmsteads along the way. We stopped for lunch on one of the farms where we were treated to homemade 'boontjiesop' and farmbread by the lady of the manor. We couldn't have asked for anything more luxurious and comforting!
The morning of day 5 dawned with the icy wind still howling relentlessly. We started with our breakfast run in the picturesque little town of Leliesfontein. The sun was just rising and we shared the dusty streets and quiet awakening of the day with a few children already on their way to school. We walked mainly downhill throughout the day with the wind pushing from behind. We had to 'brake' all the way to stop ourselves from breaking into a run. It was hard on the knees and very tiring! We walked all the way to Garies, a small town at the bottom of the mountain. I have never been so happy to see a small quiet country town before! From Garies we drove down to Vredendal were the next phase of our challenge would start. We were now halfway, with 150kms under the belt!
The morning of day 6 started with a breakfast run again, but this time we were walking on a working grape and tomato farm. The scenery was completely different from the previous few days but still as beautiful as ever. The main part of the day was spent crossing the Knersvlakte. The rolling fields of flowers had now given way to an arid area covered in quartz gravel and succulent plants. It was beauty on a different level. The gravel was difficult to walk on and the end of the day saw as all tired and a bit frazzled. As usual Frik had something up his sleeve and took us for a wine tasting at the Lutzville Vineyards. Nothing like a glass of wine to ease the pain and soothe the soul...
The wind saved us from walking up Kamieskroon Pass on day 4, but there was no way of escaping the pass up the Cederberg waiting for us on day 9! Frik set us off one by one. We were going to conquer this mountain on our own - no group support. Slowest walker first. Guess who that was...
Here's what I wrote in my journal about the experience afterwards:
"I started off first as I was the slowest, and by definition perceived as the weakest. I did not dwell too much on the Pass in the days preceding the climb. The challenge was lurking in the back of my mind but I never acknowledged it by talking about it or discussing it with others. I somehow knew it was going to be my personal test. Once I set off, I knew I will only stop once I reached the top. I will not slow down, look back or doubt myself on the way. And that is what I did. I expected people to overtake me, but surprisingly only Rene did, and only very near to the top. And I cheered her. Reaching the top of the mountain was a personal victory for me. I felt great! Fantastic. Literally on top of the world."
The top op the world was only 13kms into the day's walk though, and we had another 22 to go before evening. We had some rain the previous day and could only do 19kms and had some catching up to do.
The last day in Lamberts Bay was a bit of a bittersweet affair. We had 20kms to go to get to the 301km mark!. We were looking forward to the finish line but were also a bit sad to get to the end of this fantastic experience. We walked along the coast, the first 10kms in heavily overcasted weather and the last 10 in pouring rain! What a way to end. Our shoes were soaked but we didn't care - we wouldn't need them tomorrow...
It has been one of the best things I have done for myself, ever.