Pilgrimage Partner

With the idea of one being on a journey through life combined with my inherent adoration of nature, I pledged to do a long distance overnight hiking trail at least once a year. So I marshalled few of my friends and basically convinced them to do the Fanie Botha hiking trail in Graskop to walk 43km over 2 nights. This is a review and reflections of that experience.

After doing the 45km 3 night trail In Magoebaskloof last year, I knew preparation and planning were going to be key. I’m not the type to make the same mistake twice. So the planning was quite tedious and in most cases unpleasant, but it had to be done. Planning included computing the costs involved with the trip, the food to bring, utilities that would be needed, and a working plan to get into some sort of fitness. Unfortunately we overcompensated and brought more food than required, which became an extra load we had to carry on our backs. I also found out that no amount of time spent in the gym would be enough to prepare me mentally and physically for this hike. Just like no amount of university training fully prepares a graduate for a job. One had to learn on the job.

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We started the hike at the Graskop hut and spent a night there. For that first night, we did some ice breakers to get us into the mood of hiking and to create some kind of synergy with each other as most didn’t really know one another. With no electricity and having had cold showers, it definitely seemed like we had totally entered the hiking mood. We then walked to the President Burger hut located 23km from the Graskop hut the following day. We spent a night at the president burger hut, after being drenched in the rain, and then slightly dried by the little sun that was there. The following day we walked in a circular path 20km back to Graskop hut, this time probably more prepared for what the trail might bring. Fortunately for us this time the sun brought a sense of relief from what we had endured the previous day. At the end of the day after some drizzles, the appearance of a rainbow bid us farewell and we knew it was a trip well worth it.

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The view and scenery was breathtaking, and sometimes seemed unreal. Almost like one had to see it just to believe it. Fresh air, flowing streams, mist, pools and waterfalls, lavish green plantations, valleys and hills, rock formations were all consistent features of this trail. My senses were heightened.

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In the midst of the beautiful scenery, this time not being naïve, I expected the difficulty to kick in. Walking distances of 23km in a day down a valley to depths of 1.5km and walking up from that valley at the steep and wet slippery slope with a 15-20kg load on your back was not ‘a walk in the park’. It was blood, sweat, toil and maybe a drop or two of tears. There is a big cost and price to be paid to enjoy such beautiful scenery; fitness, will, and pain bearing (a lot of it).

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My role during the hike was to be last man in the walking line to make sure that no one was left behind during the procession. I walked to the pace of the slowest member of the pack. So I was not quite the fierce leader leading from the front, directing the pack and setting the pace. No, I was in the background. The struggling members of the pack needed my encouragement and company. Even the leaders in the front consulted me every now and then to seek advice on directions or reading the map. I realised I never really needed to be in the front to become a leader. That is the kind of leadership I want to build; leading from the back.

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So when somebody says they are “pushing”, by definition it means that there is resistance. It means that they need to apply a force greater than the resistance to keep moving; yeah, just like the Newtonian laws of motion. And basically that was exactly what one was doing during the hike; pushing. In the midst of the difficulty, it was really about taking a step and the consistent will to take next.  Even when you felt pain in the knees or heels, one had to push through it to take the next step. As one pushes through the pain, the body becomes numb to the pain. That is a big lesson for one’s pilgrimage through life.

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I came to the swift realisation on how one could live a simple life. The utilities we needed were basic, the food as well, and everything we needed for the 3 days on the hike was on our bag packs. In fact the more you had, the more it would weigh you down. In the civilised world, people are constantly looking for ways to acquire possessions and material wealth thinking it will bring them fulfillment and happiness, but there in the wild one learns that they need to break free from these possessions, and that true fulfillment and happiness doesn’t come from man made things.

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The other astonishing thing with Fanie Botha hike was the type of people I met on the hike. They were mostly the type of people I wouldn’t meet through my normal circles of friends. They included a soldier who walked the trail to keep fit and studied African culture and history, and I was most certainly intrigued with the insight he shared, a Swiss girl who was on a gap year, a German touring the country,  a young man high on drugs with an interesting outlook on life. So the conversations at the bonfire were insanely interesting.

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I guess the pinnacle of the hike for me was walking with her; my beloved. She is tiny and was far the smallest in the pack. I thought she would struggle through the trail. But to my surprise she was leaping round like a deer. I watched as she walked through the steep hills of the Fanie Botha, she never uttered a word of complaint even when it was clear to me that she was in discomfort. She kept on taking tiny steps. I made her laugh, and she made me laugh as well. I made her smile, and she did the same. We talked about our dreams, we admired the scenery, and we kept pushing. Even when my knee started giving up, she was my encouragement. As we were walking, I came to the vivid realisation that God has blessed me with the best partner for my pilgrimage through life.

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