This weekend we went hiking. An 11.5km hike through the mountain range, valleys and grassy plains of Suikerbosrand, close to Heidelberg. It took us all of 4 hours and 15 minutes in the scorching sun.
The guide books and internet proclaims it as an area of surprisingly varied flora which includes a large number of grass species. It lists white stinkwood, the highveld cabbage tree, ouhout, sweet thorn and the common guarrie as some of the trees in the area. It also boasts about the fairly extensive range of mammals that can be found in the area. Indeed we did spot quite a number of buck, including Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Blesbok and some other that I couldn’t recognise from a kilometer away. We also spotted a few trees. And lots and lots and lots of grasslands. Up and down, up and down, grass and grass and grass wherever you look.
Let’s just say that if you ask my kids, they will tell you that it was pure torture. Their tales about the headaches, the scorching sun, the lack of trees and endless uphills and downhills may lead you to the conclusion that I am a very bad mother, who drags my kids along on torturous walks instead of doing the movies and ice-cream thing more favoured for a Sunday outing.
But I think once the dust has settled, and their sunburns have healed, they may be able to look back and see what I see, and that is a couple of very brave girls who managed to show perseverance, and made me very proud. Always the optimist!
As you know by now, I am doing the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu at the beginning of May, and have been exercising to get to that illusive level of ‘moderate fitness’ which is required to do the almost 45km trail. And I realise that being able to do 10km walks around the Joburg Zoo and Zoo lake, and 30 minute runs in the mornings, does not mean that I can do a multi day hike. So, I wanted to do a longer hike and my friend (who is training for Kilimanjaro in August) suggested Suikerbosrand. The hike fell on a weekend that I had the kids, so I gently probed to find out if they thought they were up to it. The kids are both very active and do ballet, swimming and netball, but I had my reservations, especially about 11-year old Anya, as she is a bit lazy and struggled to complete a 4km walk at Zoo lake with us a few weeks ago. Admittedly, the girls both wore ‘secret socks’ with their trainers instead of proper socks, which I only discovered halfway into the walk, so I wasn’t sure how much of the complaining was due to their feet hurting from the socks and how much of it was due to genuinely being tired…
But I needn’t have worried, because they were very keen on the hike. We did a fairly long hike with my cousin a bit more than a year ago, along some waterfalls, which included a number of steep climbs and they absolutely loved it. Anya excitedly asked if we were going to climb some real mountains or just walk around a garden again…Well, real mountains it was!
Suikerbosrand is about an hour’s drive from our neck of the woods, and we were meeting the rest of the hiking group at 8:00am on Sunday morning for an 8:30 start. Which meant that we had to get up just after 6:00 on a Sunday morning, meet my friend at 7:00 at her house and start the long drive to Suikerbosrand. Getting out of bed was less of a mission than I expected, and after packing small backpacks, lots of water, snacks and a camera, we were on our way.
We met the rest of the group, and started the hike shortly after 8:30. After the first two uphills, our guide, who looked a bit haggarred after apparently doing about 500kms in the last 6 weeks as part of research for a book, decided to pull out of the hike. I guess this was a warning sign, which I completely missed in my eagerness to do the hike. Luckily the hike was clearly marked and we were told that at the 6km mark, the road splits with a choice of a 10km hike (difficult) or a 11.5km hike (easier). So, off we went…
At the first clump of trees, we stopped for a breather. Yes, we were all out of breath by then, having just done the first significant uphill. But I was still feeling confident and fairly fresh. Unfortunately at this juncture, 14-year old Bianca started complaining that she was developing a headache. We quickly diagnosed this as probably dehydration and suggested she drink some water. And set off again.
After about an hour we reached a summit with a beautiful view of the valley and had a bit of a rest. At this stage our guestimate was that we had done about 2-3kms, which meant that we were probably in for a 4 hour hike. And by now, both girls were complaining about headaches.
The next bit was downhill, so slightly easier, but it wasn’t long before we reached the next uphill. Now Anya was literally dragging her feet along. I kept trying to encourage her to walk a bit faster (“I don’t want to finish this hike at 5:00pm this afternoon!”), but it was clear that she was very tired. I even tried the bribing route, saying we will get ice creams on the way home. The thought of KFC Crushers seemed to do the trick for a little while there, and she picked up speed for a tick. Then she started to do the equivalent of the Shrek Donkey thing on a hike, asking how long until we reach the rock with the metal plate on it, indicating the 6km mark.
Shortly after this, we stopped for a 15 minute break, all sat down and tucked into our snacks. By now it was around 10:30 and really getting very hot. Above 30 degrees Celcius hot. And we were soon to depart the shaded area again. By this time we estimated that we had done around 4-5km, so not quite halfway yet!
For the next stretch, until we reached the 6km (actually it was 6.8km) mark, Anya did some tree hopping, stopping every time she reached a tree and I had to convince her over and over again to carry on. We were all very happy to reach the junction and unanimously decided to take the ‘easier’ 11.5km route. At least we were now on the home stretch. At this point Bianca told me that she was “never, ever, ever, ever doing this again”. Like in never.
Unfortunately, the easier route still had a couple of uphills, so not having anything to compare it against, I cannot say if it was a good or bad choice, but I can tell you that walking up 200 to 300 meter uphills in the 12 o’clock sun is no joke! At this stage Bianca, who was walking behind me, remarked that I was burning on the back of my legs. Stupidly, I did not put sunscreen on my legs, although I did meticulously lather it onto my face, arms and neck. I could feel that the sun was pounding down from behind us, but was a bit more pre-occupied with the task at hand, actually making it up the hill without collapsing. When we got to the top, Bianca told me (in case I didn’t know) “Mom, I just want you to know that I am hating this.” I replied that I was very proud of how far they have made it so far and that I doubt whether many of their friends would be able to do it. She replied “No, because they have a life.” Ouch!
Once again, I had to convince Anya to get up and tackle the next stretch. She did not want to alight, so I told her there was only one way to finish and that was to start walking again. This did the trick and we started walking again. By now, every uphill was greeted with a “Not another uphill” by Bianca. And we were all out of water by now. Luckily, some of the fellow hikers took pity on the girls and shared some of their water.
I cannot tell you how happy we were when we finally saw a clump of trees and a thatch roof in the distance, which marked our destination. The last few hundred meters saw us just dragging ourselves along and by the time we reached the car, both girls had their shoes off already and were walking on the tar road in their socks. Bianca was now complaining about how badly she smelled, and we all looked forward to finally taking a shower at home.
Bianca did tell me that it was not the hiking as such, but the fact that there were no trees and that it was so very hot, which was the big issue. Apparently they will both go hiking again, but only if it is in an area where there are lots of trees and running water.
I have been handed a white flag, but I am pretty sure that they won’t be as forgiving the next time around…and I have also created a new swear word in our house. I am pretty sure the word Suikerbosrand will never have the same meaning in our house again!
And I learned three lessons from the whole ordeal…
- I definitely need to work a bit more on the upper thighs as they were stiff for days afterwards;
- Next time we definitely need to take more water and less snacks; and
- I need to preferably wear long pants, or at the very least put sunscreen on my legs. Three days later, and my legs are still a cerise pink colour!