Return to Grootvadersbosch

Firstborn Daughter and Her Boyfriends’s appetite for trail running was dramatically diminished after that disastrous attempt at a two-day stage trail in Grootvadersbosch a few weeks ago. Six weeks ago, to be exact. Firstborn Daughter had been nursing her injury for most of that time and had only recently attempted a few short runs on the road. Feeling that they may be more suited to tar than trail, they had entered the Cape Town Marathon – her second marathon and his first – and over the few weeks since their entry their ambitious goals of running a sub-five have been whittled down to just finishing and not dying.

We had, months ago, before our Big Trail Adventure, booked for a weekend of trail running back in Grootvadersbosch. The idea had seemed less appealing now that we had had a taste of that mountain. But deposits had been paid, forms had been filled in. We were committed. I was still looking forward to it, though. I’ve been lucky. I have no injuries and I’ve been running fairly regularly since (shortly) before the Mauritius Marathon. I haven’t been near the trails since Grootvadersbosch, so I was nervous about the elevation and the terrain. But it was going to be fun. Of course it was. Definitely. Right?

Getting away from home and work is never easy for me. There is always just so much on the ever-expanding to-do list, and the Friday morning – the get in the car and road trip morning – was no different. The contractors who were supposed to fit some blinds felt that time was elastic and that I didn’t really need to know when they would arrive. I had get to Home Affairs for a whole list of ID admin, which would definitely take hours, and I had to get documents emailed to an insurance company – documents that eventually took ten attempts over a week to send to them, as they kept insisting that the emails had no attachments. And The Kid had to be fetched from school. And we were out of dishwashing liquid. And, since it had been raining all week, clean, fresh-smelling running kit was in short supply.

But, eventually, hours after we had originally intended, we set off. We were in pretty good spirits, despite our apprehension. Her Boyfriend played his jams – basically the same three songs multiple times – and I allowed the stress of work, the house, dealing with my dementing dad, and life in general slip away. Trail Lab, the company running the weekend’s programme, had taken care of everything – accommodation, food, drinks, goodies and even massages. As long as I had my running shoes, I would be fine.

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Canola fields and giant, puffy clouds leading the way.

We arrived at the Moodie farm where the farmer was waiting to take us and our luggage up the muddy road to where we would be spending the weekend. Jack, one of the Trail Lab organisers was at the door, ready to welcome us in. Everyone was genuinely friendly and helpful and trying their best to make us feel at home. Firstborn Daughter and Her Boyfriend were guided into the first room and I was led down the passage to my room … where I discovered that I would be bunking with a total stranger. I needed to adjust. I had thought that I would probably have to share a room but I had tucked that thought away where it wouldn’t bother me too much.

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The rain, which had been bucketing down all week, had stopped, leaving clear weather for the weekend’s running. And just a bit of mud. 

The room was beautiful. The rich, gleaming wooden floors and the beautifully restored antique chairs and twin beds with their crisp white bedding created a homely, welcoming atmosphere. The bathroom was massive, with a shower and a large bathtub. I could picture myself floating in it after the next day’s run.

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The bedroom I ended up not sleeping in.

On the bed was a welcome note, a range of goodies and little squares of paper, laminated, containing useful tips. For example, next to the pair of surgical gloves was a note that read ‘Did you know? A pair of surgical gloves fitted over your fabric gloves provides necessary waterproofing on rainy runs!’ On a pack of sun wipes the note read ‘Sun screen wipes are light and easy to carry in your pack for longer runs when you may be at risk of sweating off your sun screen. They are also especially useful for runners with thin hair who are at risk of scalp burn.’ So, there you have it! Two useful tips and we had hardly set our bags down.

The goodies on the bed included a tub of body butter, a pack of pretty tissues, a carry-size bottle of Dettol hand wash, an envelope of sun wipes and a mini first aid kit. On the bedside table was a Consol bottle – I love those glass bottles. And these were just little warm-up gifts. Our ‘goodie bag’ (read: giant waterproof duffel bag) was waiting for us in the lounge. That contained a whole range of useful things, including a thermal top, a windbreaker and two running tees for the weekend’s trails.

We congregated in the spacious lounge where some of the other Trail Labbers were already warming themselves by the fire and sipping drinks – tea, coffee, hot chocolate, red wine, all efficiently prepared and served with a smile by Michelle, aka Super Woman, who is Jack’s wife and Trail Lab partner.

We settled into some comfy chairs and started chatting with (read: cross questioning) the other guests. Some of them had done a Trail Lab or two before and I was curious to know why they would return. Surely there is only so much to learn, and one lab would be enough? ‘Just wait,’ they told us. ‘You’ll see. It’s just so much fun, you’ll sign up for the next one immediately.’ Tiny-winged ZAR floated past my eyes and I thought I would do just that: wait and see.

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The lounge, the food, the fire, the company. (Photo: Terence Vrugtman)

It transpired that these guys were all pretty serious runners. They had been running the trails for some years and had done numerous scary (for us) races. We were so out of our league! What the hell were we doing here? (Apologies to Radiohead … but yes, I felt I might be a weirdo and that I didn’t belong there.)

Next thing, Firstborn Daughter was calling me to follow her down the passage for a word or two. ‘Now what?’ I wondered. Had I already offended?

Nope. She had gone to ask if we could shift rooms. She was worried about me being unhappy in my appointed room, where I would have to share with someone I didn’t know and who had not yet arrived. We were being shifted to a cottage outside the main house where we could all three be together.

‘But I’m fine,’ I insisted. ‘I’ve wrapped my head around it. I’ve adjusted.’

And I had. Really. Kind of.

‘No you haven’t,’ insisted Firstborn Daughter.

And so, feeling really bad about causing trouble already, barely half an hour after our arrival, I hauled my bags from the room and followed Jack to the cottage. My accommodation had changed from having a warm wooden floor to one with a cold cement floor, a room with a cupboard to one without, one that had a luxurious bathroom that I would share with one person to a dinky, cement-floored bathroom (with a toilet seat that shifted precariously each time one sat on it) that I would have to share with two people. My tiny single bed with the brown bedspread was in one corner of the room. When I lay my head on the pillow I would have the privilege of looking at the two of them on their queen size bed that looked fit for royalty. I’m sure it was just the other day that I got to sleep in the big bed and the kid got the little bed in the corner.

The renovations obviously hadn’t reached the cottage and I couldn’t help but feel that I had downgraded somewhat. This abode definitely had a more rustic feel. Firstborn Daughter was most offended by my lack of gratitude and said that she would never step in for me again – I could sleep in a leaky barn, for all she cared. Oh well … a leaky barn it will be, then.

Soon all the runners had arrived and the farmer turned up to ferry us back to the main farmhouse where dinner would be served. I climbed onto the back of the bakkie, as I am quite used to doing, and heard Michelle mention to Jack that I should probably sit in the front, with the driverhn. I smiled to myself at the concern for my brittle, aging body, and stayed where I was. I was expecting no special treatment just because I had stopped colouring my hair. She clambered in and sat down in front of me. ‘Don’t you want to sit in the front?’ she asked. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Because I’m the oldest?’ This was met with some good-natured mirth and we set off back down the dirt road, so gunky with thick, sticky mud I was amazed that the heavily laden truck was able to haul itself through.

I’m certain most people would expect a canteen-type service on a trail running weekend. You know, queueing in a large chilly room, decorated in a shade of mental hospital green, gloomily illuminated with a flickering fluorescent light, clutching your tin plate in your shivering hand while you wait for someone to slap some overcooked slop onto it. By the time you make it to your plastic chair and chipboard tressle table, the food has turned into a cold congealed pile on your plate. We’ve all been to some version of this – I’ve even stayed in one or two hotels that offered this kind of luxury.

Not at the Moodie farm. Oh my word! We walked into the genteel setting of a bygone era. Long wooden tables were set with linen placemats and napkins, silver cutlery, wine and water glasses, flowers and candles … so many candles. Candles hung from a chandelier above each table, they were set in candle holders mounted on the wall, they stood in clusters on shelves and sideboards and were interspersed with small flower arrangements down the centre of each table. Stepping in from the cold into this room one felt instantly warm, welcome and just, well, happy.

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Our Downton Abby-style dinner

A bowl of homemade broccoli soup and farm bread was set in front of each of us. Wine and other drinks were served. Everyone started chatting as if they were old friends. The room was filled with laughter and our hosts, Michelle and Keith Moodie, moved about us like the serving staff from Downton Abbey, whisking away plates, bringing more wine, serving dessert and making sure that no one went hungry.

Soon it was time to pile back onto the back of the bakkie and get some sleep. Saturday was going to be a big day. The first run, about 22 km, would be at 6:30 am (we canvassed for a later start, but it fell on deaf ears). There would be massages in the afternoon and another run in the evening.

As we got into our beds, duvets tucked up to our chins, eyes wide and terrified, we revealed our apprehension: how were we going to keep up with these guys? They were all super athletes – even the ones who weren’t super athletes were super athletes compared to us. We were like kids frightening each other with ghost stories after lights-out.

Michelle (Trail Lab Michelle, not Moodie farm Michelle), had attempted Leadville last year, along with Jack. After coping perfectly well with the 3 000 m altitude for the two weeks prior to the race, altitude sickness kicked in on race day. She started vomiting at about 30 km and the medics pulled her from the race about 50 km later. Or something like that. She was determined to get back into the race and they had a hard time keeping her from sneaking back onto the field. She had unfinished business with this race and was heading back this year to show Leadville what she’s made of.

Stronger stuff than us, that’s for sure.

We were feeling almost paralyzed with anxiety (okay, I was). All the other weekenders seemed so experienced, so confident, so fast … so hardcore! They were real mountain people. They got their kays – many kays – in on the trails, not the roads.

We were the wussies. We never going to be able to keep up with them, and our inadequacies were going be revealed in the morning. If the car weren’t all the way on the other side of that dark, muddy road, and if it weren’t that we had never mastered the art of travelling light, we might have done a runner in the night, disappearing without a trace.

But morning followed our angst-ridden sleepless night. We lined up. We set off. And it was tough. The crisp air, glorious light, clean forest smells and amazing views helped to shift our attention away from the steepness of the climbs, the briskness of the pace and our complete lack of any kind of trail running talent. But we had expected to be challenged. In fact, we had expected to suffer. Nowhere on the entry form were we given the ‘make this a walk in the park’ box to tick.

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Heading into the sunrise for our first run of the weekend.

And we didn’t really suffer. When I looked at the profile of that run on Strava on Monday morning, I thought I must have had run amnesia: of course we must have suffered! But we were supported every step of the way. Being on that breathtakingly beautiful trail, sharing the company of relaxed, like-minded, good-natured and good-humoured people, never being left to stagger about on our own, dehydrated and delirious, meant that negative thoughts and self-doubts were kept at bay, our minds were taken off our tired legs and off the distance still to cover.

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One of the river crossings along the trail. There was no point in trying to keep our shoes dry. 

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A waterfall and smiles along the way. 

Firstborn Daughter decided that the run would not be complete without buying some land and so, moments after sailing past me at about the 18 km mark, confidently calling ‘Run with us, Mom!’ she hit the deck. I watched as she crested a small incline and rolled my eyes as her ponytail and arms whipped in the air and her head disappeared out of sight.

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No time for tears. Walk it off!

She had just recovered, more or less, from her last Grootvadersbosch ordeal. She was just getting back on track, training for the Cape Town Marathon that is coming up in about six weeks. And there she was, a red-faced heap on the ground. Again. What is it about the 18 km mark that brings her to her knees? They hauled her up and got her walking immediately. She had fallen just next to a stream and walking through the icy cold water was the best remedy. We had about 4 km to go to the end. I left her with Her Boyfriend and the lovely, kind, patient organisers and jogged on ahead. I meant to stay just a little bit ahead but found myself pulling further and further away from them. Bizarrely, I wasn’t feeling horrendous. I didn’t want to walk. I had come through more than 18 km of up and down mountain trail and I was still feeling okay to run.

I would finish the route, I thought, and then go back to walk with them. I was feeling a bit guilty about not staying with them. But she was well taken care of. There was no reason to miss out on training again. And she didn’t have very far to go.

I reached the house, where the elites were lazing about in the sun, shoes off, looking fresh as daisies, eating frozen grapes. Some were just getting a bit of a breather before they headed out to do the whole thing again. Just for fun, because 22 km of trail is just a warm-up. I got hold of some trekking poles and headed back out towards the trail (I’m thinking of referring to trails as trials from now on). The last kilometre or so was a steep descent along a slippery, narrow and quite uneven single-track. I figured an injured ankle was going to take some strain along there and some trekking poles would definitely help.

The climb back up was … well … a little bit tough, I’d say. The hop-along group had made good ground, though, and it wasn’t long before we met up. Firstborn Daughter was in good spirits, as was Her Boyfriend. Jack had managed to keep them entertained with his stock of running stories and tips, and everyone seemed all the better for a nice long walk in the veld.

Firstborn Daughter announced that she and trails were definitely done for a while. She was sticking to road. Nice, solid, even, predictable road. Road that doesn’t jump up to bite you just because you started thinking about food.

‘Okay,’ I said, and made a mental tick on the calendar. How long would this new abstinence last? Possibly a bit longer than it takes me to stay off wine but not very much longer.

Pre-lunch, post-run recovery drinks were kindly brought to our room. I don’t know what they were, but they were icy cold and served in pretty glasses. And they were delivered. Such royalty, we were. And the hot shower in the rustic bathroom was the best ever, especially since we had special goodies to wash ourselves with, as the fairies had left more gifts on the beds while we were out running: a tub of fragrant scrub, handmade by Super Woman Michelle, a little wooden scrubbing brush and some Epsom salts.

Massages were scheduled for later on that day. I am wary of massages. They tend to be bloody irritating. I can’t stand someone pretending to know what she’s doing as she fiddles about on my body with weak hands and wormy fingers. I can’t stand having to pretend that oooh, yes, hmmm, yes, that’s wonderful, so relaxing, hmmm … Nghaah! So I just kept quiet each time the next group of people was invited up to the sports masseuse’s house. Eventually there were only the three of us left. The other two looked at me. Oh, alright! Dammit!

It was late afternoon already and the Boyfriend and I were convinced that a night run was out of the question. There was no way we could run another step. We would have the massage and come back for a nap. The night run was to take place at six o’clock. Our massages were at five and five-thirty. With a bit of luck we might get back too late and miss the ordeal.

But not a chance. Jack was on it. He arrived in time to fetch us and get us back to the house for the race briefing. We would be doing a night run. Yep. We would. Unless we could hide in our room …

The massage … oh, my word! I am a convert! After half an hour of having my sore leg muscles squeezed and rubbed and poked I felt like a new woman! My legs felt more rested than they had when I got out of bed that morning.

And so it was that I dutifully got ready for the night run. Her Boyfriend wasn’t keen. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Someone throw in the towel,’ he said. I got up to go. ‘You really don’t have to run,’ I said. We were all there to get out of the weekend what we wanted, and if he didn’t feel up to the run, then that was up to him. No one was going to force him.

But, of course, once I was up, he got up. He wasn’t happy but he was up.

The night run was a scavenger hunt. We were given headlamps, maps and Suunto watches with the locations of the treasures already programmed in. We could go to the locations in any order but we had to be back within an hour. Points would be deducted for the minutes after the hour.

Her Boyfriend and I were teamed up with one other person. The two of us were a bit worried about the one-hour time limit. We didn’t think we could cover that amount of distance in an hour. ‘How far can you run in an hour?’ he asked our teammate. ’10 km,’ she said confidently. Her Boyfriend and I exchanged worried looks. Oh, no. Another trail warrior. We were dead. ‘But on trail,’ he asked, just to be sure. ‘I can run 10 km on trail,’ she said, brushing her hand across the map as if to brush away our stupidity. And uselessness. We stopped asking questions.

After a brief deliberation we set off in search of the first location. We were feeling remarkably fresh. It was strange. We were so convinced that we were too shattered to take on a second run, and there we were, running up hills as if we had been resting all week. The teammate wasn’t quite keeping up but she was probably pacing herself. She had been running trails for about eight years and probably knew far better than us how to save her legs.

We had to navigate to each location, find a magazine that would be hidden there and tear a page from it. We would later use words from each page to create a story to be told at dinnertime. We started off really well, racing like excited kids from one treasure to the next, laughing and calling to each other across the darkening landscape. The cool night air filling my lungs, the semi-darkness, the smell of moist grass being trampled under my feet, running wild without anyone telling me to stop … I was a small child again, away from the disapproving gaze of adults. Free.

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Her Boyfriend, leading the way on our night run. (Taken with NightCap Pro)

I had no watch, but the other two had, and so, being of no use in terms of navigation, I felt a bit like ballast. In the effort to be of some use, I became the self-designated page carrier. But I had visions of myself dropping a page each time I stashed a new page in my belt and ending up at the finish waving one miserable, crumpled, sweaty page. One can find so many, many things to worry about, even when having fun.

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Great shot of the night run snapped by Terence Vrugtman.

And then it all went south. Just after we were the first to arrive at a treasure, and having just earned ourselves a bonus point. Which goes to show: one must never be too happy. We were running along towards the next treasure, Her Boyfriend up ahead and Teammate and I bringing up the rear. Suddenly she stopped, held up the watch and pointed up the side of the hill. The treasure was this way. Up. Not along the path we were headed. We peered into the scrub. It was quite dark by then. There appeared to be a path. It was narrow and a bit overgrown but it was a path. So we set off along it. Her Boyfriend called out from somewhere in the darkness.

‘Where are you guys?’

‘Here,’ we called. ‘It’s this way!’

He came running back and stomped up the path to where we were waiting. He and I looked at each other. We looked down the way we had come and back at each other. We weren’t convinced about this route. The path was quite overgrown and becoming more so as we climbed up. Our ‘I can run 10 km of trail in an hour’ teammate’s pace slowed down some more. We stood on the path, looking up and back the way we came. It was definitely not looking like the best option. We should have, at that point, been firm and just said that this clearly wasn’t a path and that we should stick to the jeep track. But we didn’t. It seemed we had gone so far along it that it would be best to just stay with it. The Suunto said we had only a few hundred metres more to go. How long could it take?

Well …

I checked the time. It was late. We had lost a lot of time trying to bundu-bash our way up the hill. The last faint flecks of twilight had been replaced by darkness – the kind of deep darkness that one finds only in the countryside, far away from village lights. All we could see was whatever was illuminated in the circle of light cast by our headlamps.

‘If we’re going to stick on this path we need to pick up the pace,’ I said, hoping that Her Boyfriend and I would be able to step ahead of Teammate and speed things up a bit. But, no. She stayed firmly in front and led the way at what seemed to be a stubbornly slower pace. But I could be making this up. Maybe I was just horribly impatient at this stage. Her Boyfriend started flailing his arms in despair and desperation. His competitive edge, which I didn’t know existed, had kicked in quite strongly, had become a monster, in fact, and he saw the win disintegrate in the darkness. This pleased him not at all. It didn’t please me much either, but I felt bad for Teammate who must have, at this stage, realised that this was all a big error and must have been starting to feel a bit sorry. It was best not to show displeasure. I thought about ticks and snakes and other things that sting and bite in the dark. Things that fly up into your face and into your ears. Things that wrap themselves around your ankles and trip you. Zombies, even. Then I thought of Firstborn Daughter, and how angry she would have been had she been there, how tight-lipped she would have been, and started giggling. It seemed that there was a great chance of us spending the night thrashing about the undergrowth, staggering about in circles, tripping over rocks, and not finding our way home before dawn. And I giggled some more.

There are no shortcuts to anywhere, I reminded myself. No free lunches and no shortcuts. Myths, both of them.

As for Firstborn Daughter, Her Boyfriend and me: we don’t need to sign up for an adventure race. Every race we do is a damned adventure!

We must have spent the better part of an hour stomping along that overgrown cow path before we finally emerged onto a less treacherous path that seemed as if it might actually lead somewhere. Our ten-trail-kays-in-one-hour friend had started to fade. She was lagging behind. We decided to let her trail behind us, calling back to find out if she was okay, rather than slow down our pace to stay with her. It might inspire her to keep up. We found one more magazine, tore the page from it, and started to make our way back to the house. Everyone would have finished by then and all we could hope for was that we wouldn’t get lost on the way back.

We set off on the jeep track, strangely even more energized than when we started. We were running and not even thinking about tired legs. Slowing down just seemed like a completely ridiculous notion. We kept checking back for Teammate’s headlamp, and kept calling out to her.

‘Are you there?’

‘Yes. Coming.’

‘Are you okay?’

‘Yes. I’m tired now.’

‘Are you still there? Where are you?’

‘Here. Coming.’

Running across the wide, open field, I felt weightless. The run seemed effortless. The landscape seemed surreal under the dark sky. We could see the warm glow of lights somewhere in the distance and assumed they were from the house where we were supposed to be by now, getting ready to go for supper.

Then we saw a car’s headlights coming towards us. They had sent out a search party. We had been out there that long!

The car pulled up next to us. It was Christiaan – the super trail runner. He was going to take us back.

‘Not a chance!’ I said. ‘No way!’

We were running back. We may have been late but we were not being driven home.

‘Have you lost a team mate?’ he asked, looking concerned.

‘She’s back that way,’ I said. ‘She’s a bit tired. I think she might appreciate a lift.’

He headed up the hill to fetch her and minutes later pulled up next to us again, this time with Teammate in the car, to check if we were certain that we didn’t want a lift. Most certainly we were certain. He gave us directions to the house and off we ran … taking a wrong turn and ending up at the wrong house. Grateful that no one noticed, we retraced our steps and … headed down the wrong road again …

‘The next road! The next road!’ called a voice from the darkness. This time our stupidity had been seen.

We finally made it back to the house – me laughing my idiot head off, the Boyfriend grimacing through his humiliation. We were so late that everyone had already showered and dressed for dinner. They were sitting about, drinks in hand, waiting for the Three Stooges (or The Losers) to make their way home.

Never a dull moment …

Sunday morning was to be our last trail run. We didn’t know how long the run was to be and we weren’t really sure if we wanted to run. Saturday had been eventful. We had covered about 31 km of up and down trail and we felt we had kind of done it. But I didn’t want to miss out. I stayed in bed until the last moment, hesitant to go but afraid not to. Her Boyfriend was adamant: he had done his bit. Firstborn Daughter was staying off her injured foot. It was just me doing it for the team.

The morning’s warm-up run set off at a fine clip. I started to feel a little bit panicked. This wasn’t even the run. Not even the warm-up, in fact. It was just the commute – we were just running from our house to the house from where the run was supposed to start. We squelched about the sticky mud. The cows had walked along the road earlier that morning and had churned it up quite nicely. One could film a version of that famous scene from Ghost in the middle of the jeep track, if one wanted.

We arrived at the starting point house and I walked to Firstborn Daughter and Her Boyfriend, who had driven to the house with the photographer.

‘This was a very bad idea,’ I said. They assumed that I was just feeling a little bit tired from the weekend’s run, and probably also exaggerating a little bit.

Before I could say any more, we started our dynamic warm-ups and then it was time to start running. Again the group set off on what felt like a rather brisk pace. This wasn’t quite what I felt geared up for. This is how one ends a run, not how one starts it. I watched as Teammate scurried along with the group. Surely she can’t keep this pace up for 12 km? She couldn’t keep up with us last night?

I started feeling more and more anxious. Michelle stayed with me. I was keeping up, albeit at the very back, but I knew there was no way I could do this for the rest of the morning. Determined to at least try to pace myself, I wasn’t running flat out, which I would have had to do to keep up with them. Then I started feeling annoyed. I didn’t want to be the idiot at the back. I didn’t want someone sitting at my heels as if I’m an invalid, running with me to make sure that I’m okay. I was being unreasonable, of course. If someone didn’t stay at the back, making sure that the last person was okay, they would be remiss in their job. I had run with enough groups where the last person is left for dead to know this. I had tried to point this flaw out to other group leaders often enough. But I didn’t want to be that person. I had had enough of being the one at the back.

I saw the rest of the group weaving their way between the trees as if they were vampires in the Twilight Saga, and stopped dead in my tracks.

‘This is ridiculous,’ I said. ‘I can’t keep up this pace for the next 12 km.’

‘They’ll regroup just now,’ said Michelle reassuringly.

‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘I’ll go on my own run. Really, it’s okay. I’ll see you later.’

She looked terribly upset. I felt awful. Close to tears. Was I dumping my issues onto her? Had the weekend’s running opened up some floodgates?

‘It’s okay,’ I insisted. ‘Really. I’ll be fine. I’ll see you later.’

I turned around and ran back the way we came. I was miserable. The glorious morning felt ruined. I had joined the group because I was afraid of missing out, and I was missing out anyway. It was too late to change my mind. But I didn’t want to sprint across the trails. And I didn’t want the whole group to have to slow down because I’m slower than they are. My logical mind told me that a fair number of the other runners wouldn’t be able to hold that pace either. They would start falling off. I had probably overreacted. But the pace had been stupid. Maybe not for everyone but certainly for me and certainly for some of the others.

I ran back towards the house. But I didn’t want to go and sit around the house and mope. I set off on the route that we had taken the day before. I crossed the river. Got my shoes wet. Started to feel better. Then I made my way up the jeep track, which had also been trampled by cows and turned into a clay pit. I didn’t want to go off onto one of the trails on my own. I didn’t feel unsafe but I also didn’t want to be irresponsible. People might start looking for me and if I got onto the trails in the forest I would have no cell phone reception. It would cause all sorts of worry. I headed back to the house.

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Cow-churned trail mud

My cell rang. It was Firstborn Daughter wanting to know where I was. They were looking for me.

‘Why?’ I wanted to know. I was fine. I was back at the house. I hadn’t signed up for the army. If I didn’t want to run with the pack I didn’t have to.

Then I heard Jack’s voice outside the bedroom. He had come to the house earlier to look for me, to check that I was okay, and couldn’t find me. He had been running up and down trying to find me. I felt even more terrible. Ugh. Causing trouble. Again. I apologised for causing stress. I specifically did not want to cause stress by being the heffalump chugging at the back and making it a long day out for whomever would be assigned heffalump duty. And still I had caused stress. I had missed out, looked stupid and caused stress.

I had a shower, made myself some coffee and sat in the sun in the lounge. It had all been an amazing experience. Our hosts were gracious and generous, passionate about the work they do and just all-round amazing people. It had been a privilege to meet them and to be there on those breathtakingly beautiful trails. Sunday morning had been a bit of a glitch. But the weekend itself and all we had gained from it had been incredible.

My mood switched back and forth between wanting to get home and not wanting it to end. I had had enough of people. I had been energised by being with them but now I was feeling drained. More trails, yes. More runs, yes. More of just being in that incredible place, yes. But enough of people. It was time to be alone now.

There was a short farewell talk and handing out of more gifts – little prizes for each person. Jack made a point of addressing each person, saying something about him or her, showing that each person had been noticed and appreciated. I was given a little light to attach to my shoelaces for the next time I strike out on my own.

And then we said our goodbyes. Got ready to make our way to the car. And still they had more to give. Michelle gave each person a little glass jar filled with trailmix to nibble on the way home. I was blown away by this amazing couple. In my thank you email to them I said:

‘But you guys were like a Verimark advert: “… but wait, that’s not all …!” Always there was more – more food, more drinks, more surprises, more information to share, more of yourselves to give.

Your tireless care, creativity, attention to detail, generosity, hospitality, genuine interest in each person, passion for what you do and all-round menschness were an inspiration.’

They really were inspiring. And they took the sting out of the trail. We might actually, slowly but surely, eventually, get the hang of it.

 

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