A Day at OR Tambo International

It’s day 1 of the COVID-19 lock-down in Namibia. I’m reading through my blog posts and discovered this (previously) unpublished post below. It’s from roughly a year ago. When airports were busy places…

I mostly write about fitness. Mental and physical fitness. Writing about a day at an airport does not seem to fit…

Important note: Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, describes two operating systems of the brain. System 1 and System 2. System 1 is the automatic system. It generates thoughts, reads familiar words, recognizes things, detects objects and to a certain degree, assesses situations – among a few other things – and it does so whether you want it to or not. You can’t control it. You can evaluate it by using System 2. System 2 requires mental effort and since we are programmed to follow the path of least resistance, in most instances we just go with whatever System 1 says, being too lazy to utilize System 2. What follows is mostly the product of System 1 – a system I can’t control, only evaluate…

It’s 8 am on a Sunday morning. My daughter and I are in a queue at the check-in counters. Standing in front of us is a person. That much I’m certain of. What sex this person is, is anyone’s guess. It makes me uneasy not knowing whether someone is male or female. One part of me feels sorry for this person. ‘It’ must be a very confused individual. The other part simply despises the being in front of me. Shame on you System 1.

There’s time for a quick cup of tea before my daughter must board a plane to Cape Town. The bill confirms what we already know, yet it still shocks me every time: Airports are exorbitantly expensive.

After a long hug Elisbe makes her way through the boarding gates and with a final wave she disappears from my view. Suddenly I’m acutely aware of a big lump in my throat. Uncontrollably tears well up in my eyes. I turn my gaze towards a big billboard to my left, not wanting a stranger to make eye-contact with me in my moment of weakness. Airports have happy and sad sections. Boarding gates, at most airports, are located in the sad section.

I gather myself and head over to the happy section. The arrival hall at OR Tambo is a large half-moon shaped area. Passengers enter the hall through glass sliding doors. I take a seat on the bag on my trolley while my mind races to assess what’s unfolding in front of my eyes.

Loud shrill screams interrupt my brief stay in my ‘nothing box’. A place in my mind where I frequently spend time. I’ve come to believe that it is only males that can comfortably and indefinitely spend time in their nothing boxes. My head jerks up just in time to see the sliding doors open up to spit out a black women with long fake hair hiding behind an overloaded trolley. Her welcoming party goes nuts. She must have climbed a mountain or won a medal or something. Cellphones are in the air filming the grand entrance. The newly-landed pulls out her own device and starts filming in the opposite direction while hiding her face behind a suitcase. Silly.

The sliding doors continue to spit out a steady stream of travelers. System 1 is now properly in overdrive. Two grey heads. An old man and his wife. They’re on holiday. It’s their first visit to Africa. The man already looks tired. His wife is in his ear giving him directions, as if she’s been here before. Poor soul.

A middle-aged businessman. Neatly dressed in navy-blue trousers and a shirt with buttons. Short hair, glasses, laptop slung over his right shoulder. Brisk pace. Heading straight for the car rentals. He’s done this before. He knows where he’s going and when he gets there he’s going to make some money.

Then a pair of bulging biceps squeezed into a too small shirt. Tattoos everywhere. Seemingly wanting to be the center of attraction yet avoiding eye contact. Maybe another tattoo will up the confidence levels?

With every person emerging from behind the sliding doors it takes my mind mere milliseconds to blurt out an assessment. Some funny, some disturbing. Three middle-eastern women emerges. Dressed in traditional robes complete with full faced burkas. Please don’t explode. Again, shame on you System 1.

Complete strangers funneled together into an arrival hall. Each carrying his or her own baggage, heading into his or her own direction. Each one busy scripting his or her own story.

It’s nearing lunch hour. I still don’t have a plan for spending the remainder of the day. The best idea I can come up with is to find myself a room at the Airport City Lodge. At the front desk a name tag on a neatly ironed uniform reveals the receptionist’s name as ‘Happy’. This must be one of the coolest names on the planet. How can you not be happy when your name is Happy? Well done parents. Really, well done.

After liberating myself from my luggage I head back into the bowls of the terminal building. This is a new experience for me. I’m free to explore. I don’t have to police my luggage nor do I have to worry about being late for anything. Exploring the airport now turns into a beguiling, gripping and at times, mesmerizing experience.

Like I said, you’re likely to experience tales of happiness at the arrival hall and witness tears of sadness at the boarding gates. If you’re feeling emotionally drained and just want to stare at people, the food court is the place to be. I find myself a corner table where I can observe ‘traffic’ coming from both directions. From my table I also have an unobstructed view into the dining areas of the various other restaurants in the middle of the food court.

Across from me, at a table for two, are two overweight Asian women. They’re sharing a single ice cream on a cone. The one holding the ice cream would lean over the table and dangle the frozen delight under the nose of her ‘partner’. The partner would then give the ice cream a lick with tongue as large as a towel and offer an awkward smile as a ‘thank you’. I doubt whether they’re related…

Closer to me a colorfully wrapped bouquet of flowers arrives at a table for four. Seated at the table are what looks to be a newly-wed couple and a young mother of two. Carried by a bald, bulky man with a broad grin. A tiny blonde women leaps up from her chair and embraces what must be her husband. It makes me smile. Normal looking happy people are also to be found at airports. Shortly after the exchange of pleasantries a search party is assembled to track down the two toddlers who were hanging onto mommy’s skirt just a moment ago. It’s one of my greatest fears, losing a child at an airport.

I order a glass of sauvignon blanc. And the wine does what I intended it to do. It dampens the activity of that part of the brain that’s responsible for attention, motivation, planning and learning. It basically shuts down system 1 and awakens the reward centers of the brain. It hits the amygdala. The amygdala tells us how to react to the world around us. It tells us when we are threatened. Alcohol turns that down a notch. The strangeness of strangers becomes blurred, revealing uncanny familiarities. System 2 scolding system 1. If only we made more use of system 2 the world would be a much happier place.

Finding your Tribe: A tale of Vixens and Wolves, but mostly of vixens…

‘Sea Vixens and Sea Wolves’ is the name of a WhatsApp group. The people on that group taught me to swim without teaching me how to swim.

vixen /’viksn/noun 1 a female FOX (= a wild animal of the dog family) 2 (old fashioned) an unpleasant and bad-tempered women.

A vixen is a fox and it’s in a fox’s nature is to deceive. Some would point to Eve and even argue that it is in a women’s nature to deceive but I’m not that brave. Adam could simply have been hungry or more likely, could not contain his curiosity and therefore, him biting into that apple probably had nothing to do with Eve’s nature nor her intentions. A story for another time though…

I can however state with certainty that on the 16th of October (last year) I got ‘vixed’. Added to a WhatsApp group by a wily (I dare not say ‘old’!) fox. The group was called ‘Sea Swimmers’ or something to that effect. It’s now called (Sea) Vixens and (Sea) Wolves. Various people were added and removed but the core of the group consists mainly of a handful of particularly cunning vixens and the odd wolf.

Apart from being a female fox a vixen can also be a bad-tempered women. The vixens on the group are a bit of both, simply meaning they’re female (and therefore foxy) and each endowed with a fair sprinkle of bad. Of their tempers I cannot speak (yet), I haven’t seen it in action nor did I bear witness to any outbursts that might suggest an underlying bad mood. At best I can only guess. But bad-ass, definitely. That much I’ve seen for myself.

Early last year I posted about the challenges I’ve set for myself. One of which was completing a full Ironman distance triathlon. Of the three disciplines, swimming presented the biggest challenge. Prior to 14 January 2019 I’ve never swam the length of a pool. Ever. If I was going to do a triathlon I’d have to learn to swim from scratch.

Swakopmund’s mole is the product of a sea wall designed by a Mr Ortloff way back when. He intended to create a mooring place for large cargo vessels but ended up with a nothing more than a launch site for rather small recreational fishing vessels. Today, it’s where the Vixens and Wolves gather for their open-water swims. Prior to being added to the group I rarely ventured into the waters of the mole, preferring the heated swimming pool in the Dome to the cold waters of the Atlantic. All the time acutely aware that sooner or later I will have to brave the ocean if I am ever going to be ready for the triathlon’s open water swim.

The mole on a particularly calm and serene day.

Fact: There are 37 species called foxes of which only 12 are true foxes. Same with the group, only a handful of true vixens. Same with friends. Only a handful of true friends. The best known true foxes are the red fox, gray fox, fennec fox, swift fox, kit fox and arctic fox. The core of our group consists of two gray foxes, two red foxes and two swift foxes, oh, and a couple of wolves.

To fully appreciate the dynamics of such a mixed bag you need to know something about the temperament of each of the three represented species of foxes. Like humans, although belonging to the same species and even the same cultural orientation, no two foxes are the same. That’s important to understand. There are however some common traits…

The gray fox is a fairly secretive creature, preferring only certain hunting areas. A gray fox is also the only fox that can climb trees. She blends in well, nearly goes unnoticed if you will, but underestimate her at your own peril. She’s a master at bringing calm to chaos.

Red foxes are particularly cunning and smart. In fairy tales they’re the ones always getting away with the prize. It requires an entire pack of dogs and a herd of men on horseback to have any chance of tracking her down. They’re fiercely loyal, extremely caring and wise beyond measure. And the odd one has an Ironman medal somewhere in her den.

Swift foxes are as the name suggests, quick. Deceptively quick. They do things quickly. They move quickly, they smile quickly, they’re quick to encourage and I bet if you piss one off they’ll be quick to anger. We have two swift foxes. Both of them game for pretty much whatever is suggested. One of them runs like there’s no tomorrow…

I was added to the group by a gray fox. Upon adding me she inquired who was going for a swim that afternoon and at what time. The response came immediately. It was one of the red foxes who replied ‘awesome’ upon hearing that I joined the group – not knowing me from a bar of soap. And that pretty much summed up the collective attitude of the group. Eager to welcome almost anyone who wants to swim along – that is people with the same mindset, heartset, soulset and healthset. Since that day I haven’t been back to the pool in the Dome.

With each passing day I became more and more confident swimming in the sea. And then came the 8th of December. Most people on the group were preparing for an event called ‘The Jetty Mile’. It’s an open water swim starting at the mouth of the Swakop River and ending in the mole. With that in mind the group resolved to swim part of the course. This entailed an entry south of the Jetty, swimming around it and into the mole itself. Like always, we gathered at the mole. I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. I nervously patrolled the rocks on the outskirts of the mole. I did not like what I saw. To my mind the sea was in a foul mood (I now realize that on that particular day, conditions were close to ideal!). I was looking for an excuse to bail. One by one the vixens arrived, all neatly wrapped in their black swimsuits, making them look slightly more intimidating than they really are.

First to arrive was a gray fox. She gave the ocean one look, approved of the conditions and offered to make her vehicle available for taking us to the starting point. Next to arrive was a swift fox. Upon spotting me still nervously pacing up and down in my shorts and t-shirt she promptly yelled at me to get into my swimsuit and to do it swiftly!

I was beyond nervous. I gingerly made my way to my Landrover and opened the rear door. There lay my swimsuit and an orange safety buoy. A flotation device that makes you more visible in the water with the added advantage of doubling up as waterproof storage for things like car keys and a cell phone. For me however, it was something I could cling onto to keep my head above the water. It was my plan B should I become paralyzed with fear. Nothing to do with visibility nor storage!

I got into my swimsuit, my orange Plan B strapped around my waste. We got into the Cruiser and drove off. The talk was to enter at the Sea Rescue offices. To my utter dismay we drove straight past it and came to a stop at the Aquarium, adding another couple of hundred meters to the swim.

Very slowly I got out of the car and started walking towards the beach. I did not like what I saw. Waves broke straight onto the beach, the kind of conditions my parents used to warn me against when I was little, oblivious to the fact that what they were actually achieving was instilling a fear of the ocean deep into my psyche. It was this fear that was hardest to overcome and on that day there was no other choice but to confront it.

One by one the vixens entered the sea and made their way beyond the first line of breakers. One of the gray foxes kept an eye on me. Next to me a red fox was ready to assist should it be required (and like always the swift foxes were way ahead…). I waited for what I thought to be the perfect moment and made my move. Out of nowhere a wave hit me straight in the face. My goggles were gone. Excellent excuse to get the hell out of here I thought. Then came the calming influence of the gray fox. ‘Hey Johan! Relax, your goggles are around your neck. Forget about them for a moment and just swim.’ I obliged and gave a few flimsy strokes. After a couple of strokes I dared to look up and nervously felt around my neck for my goggles. I managed to put them on, swallowing half the ocean in the process. By then a red fox appeared next to me and asked me if I’m ok. I nodded – big lie. We started swimming towards the end of the peer.

I was breathing heavy. My heart was ready to jump straight out of my chest. I struggled to keep calm. I was thinking of everything except making an effective stroke. All my you tube videos’ advice blown out the window. All I was concerned with was not drowning. When I was a young boy we used to take walks on the Jetty. I would look down into the dark waters at the peer’s end thinking that falling into the ocean there would surely mean the end of me. Now I was swimming (or doing something that resembled swimming) in that very waters I so dreaded.

We took a breather just past the peer. We were now roughly halfway to the safety of the mole. I calmed down a bit and tried to remember my you tube teachers’ advice. I kept my head down and swam. My breathing calmed and for the first time I got a sense that I was actually making progress in the desired direction. Before I knew it I was rounding the rocks of the mole, the end was insight.

Reaching the beach that day was a big thing for me. It wasn’t pretty and it was by no means quick but I made it. My dream was still alive. I started preparing for the Ironman on the 14th of January. My first workout was in a pool. I logged 325 meters. It took me 47 minutes. On that day I swam 1800 meters in 42 minutes. I was extremely happy and I owed it to this group of amazing people.

On dry land after my first real ‘open water’ swim. From left to right: Me, Bobby Jo (grey fox extraordinaire), Naomi and Kirsty (Swift foxes of note) and Anja (cunning and quiet grey fox)

It didn’t end there. The next major milestone was the event itself. It came on the 27th of December. Conditions were truly horrible. The weather gods did not smile upon us. The sea was rough, the swell high. But when the gun went the vixens ran into the ocean and I followed because if they can, so can I, and yet again them just being there, them just being who they are, gave me the courage to face my fear and get my ass into the sea and swim. I took the long way around the peer that day and clocked 2300 meters in 40 minutes. To say I was stoked would be an understatement. I found my tribe. These were people that inspired me.

The group moments before the start of the Jetty Mile. From left to right: Elinor (red fox), myself , Lucy, Naomi (swift fox), Mike the wolf, Kirsty (swift fox), Anja (grey fox) and Birgit (another red fox)

Then on the 9th of February this year, I set off from the mole and swam to the mall. A swim of 3700 meters. The vixens did not join me on that swim. For company I had my wife following in a kayak. I felt at ease, I appreciated where I was and what I was doing. I completed the distance in 71 minutes. Only a few months prior to that swim the thought of doing something like that would not have occurred to me. I credit the vixens and the wolf for my progress.

The most amazing thing about all of this is that not a single one of them coached me on swimming technique. Not a single word of advice on how to swim. Just encouragement. Just ‘get your swimsuit on Johan!’ and ‘come on, you can do this!’ Just showing up and getting into the water and dragging me with them. They taught me to swim by being supportive. Next time you face a challenge or want to accomplish something that scares you, surround yourself with people that encourages. People that believes in you. People that pulls you up, who delights in your progress because life’s simply too short to keep company with doubters and naysayers.

Beware the vixen for she’s not quite what she seems to be…

Celebrating after the Jetty Mile

The Run

I found myself a coach and after nearly three months of following her programming I requested a week of ‘testing’. I wanted to know whether I was making progress and more specifically whether I was making progress at the required rate.

So, upon my insistence an entire week of testing was set aside. On Monday a time trial on a watt-bike was scheduled followed by a 10km run on Wednesday and a 1000m swim on Friday.

I was looking forward to the week but on Monday morning when the alarm went off, somehow my wheels also came off. Against my better judgement I ignored the alarm and decided to push the time trial out to Tuesday. Sometime during that morning my phone rang and without a stutter the HR manager of the accounting firm I was hoping to work for, shattered my hopes of rebuilding my professional career. I abruptly spiraled into a free fall of self-pity and in my mind scrapped a week of testing I was very much looking forward to doing.

The rest of the week was characterized by moodiness and inactivity, getting progressively worse as the week rolled on. By Friday I was overcome by guilt and shame (some ugly habits rearing their heads during the preceding days) and just as quickly as I had fallen into the pit of self-pity I decided to punish myself. The ‘punishment’ would be in the form of a trail run (I’ve never done a trail run before) to a little desert oasis, named Goanikontes, situated roughly 32km to the east of our estate. I have cycled the route hundreds of times before but have never had the inclination to run it.

At 4h30 on Saturday morning my alarm went off. Without my normal hesitation I got out of bed and into my running gear. It was still dark when I left. I resigned myself to the probability that the first 5km would be slow. The low-lying fog, coupled with the pitch black darkness made it nearly impossible for me to figure out exactly where I was. Despite my best efforts I could not locate the track which would take me out the estate and into the adjacent Swakop Riverbed where a single track would lead to the jeep track I was hoping to follow. I ended up scrambling over and through a ‘wall of boulders’ and crossing the riverbed a few clicks east of where I wanted to be.

As predicted the pace over the first 5km was slow. I eventually found the single track I was looking for and steadily built up a rhythm and a pace which I thought would be sustainable over the entire distance (having never run that far I was guarding against emptying the tank too early).

I was now totally alone, in the dark on a single track in the desert. I felt comfortable and relaxed and the only sounds were that of my hydration pack gently slapping my back and the monotonous pounding of my feet. My headlamp struggled to illuminate the track, managing only to reflect off the thick layer of fog covering the barren landscape. Not being able to see much further than a couple of yards in front of me allowed my mind to wander.

Apart from ‘punishing’ myself for not sticking to my training schedule I was also hoping for an ‘a-ha’ moment of sorts, some kind of sign or voice to explain why I haven’t been given the job I so dearly wanted. Seeking comfort and clarity at the same time. Up to that point nothing of the sort happened…

The second 5km’s flew by. I made a mental note to keep an eye on my watch, not wanting to miss the moment I pass the 12km mark which would signal the furthest distance I’ve ever ran. Breezing past 13 kilometers I celebrated in my mind by performing Fortnite’s ‘take the L dance’ (not that I can dance, in fact I don’t have enough rhythm to knock on a door…).

My next mental milestone would be reaching the 15km mark, which if I did my calculations correctly, would be approximately halfway there. At the halfway point I slowed to a brief walk and ate a small energy bar, gulped down a couple swallows of electrolytes before continuing at my now steady pace. Three more kilometers passed by before I was greeted with a spectacular blood-red sunrise.

Sunrise at 18km

Although feeling energized by the dawn of a new day it also woke up the monkey in my mind. With the desert being as flat as can be I was now able to see the track stretching into the distance, disappearing on the horizon. Suddenly being made aware of the magnitude of my undertaking the monkey promptly fired a barrage of doubt through my mind. ‘You have never ever run even half as far as you’re trying to do now’; ‘Soon you’ll be overcome by fatigue’; ‘Isn’t your legs tiring?’; ‘You chose the wrong pair of running shoes for this terrain…they’re heavy, they’re holding you back and will soon cause you to come to a grinding halt…’ My mind was now sifting through all sorts of messages of doubt and inevitably my paced slowed. A quick glance at my watch confirmed what I suspected – the last kilometer was more than half a minute slower than the average pace so far.

I chose to ignore the voice and to concentrate on my breathing, gently inhaling and then exhaling in two short bursts, ‘in, out-out, in, out-out…’ I was creeping up on the half marathon mark, a milestone that’s been on my radar for a while now. Not only will it be first time to that distance it would also mean that I have covered two-thirds of the run. I felt a real sense of achievement and even a tinge of gratitude upon running past the 21.1km mark. At that moment I also knew I was going to finish this without walking.

The last 4 kilometers were brutal. Not because of fatigue but because of the steepness of the decent into the riverbed and my own imaginary ‘finish line’. With every pounding step my quads exploded with pain, not knowing how to deal with the sheer impact of each stride other than by sending sharp bursts of pain through my upper legs. I remembered hearing once that you should not fight the slope but that you should ‘go with it’. I lengthened my stride and allowed myself to accelerate down the gorge towards the finish. This somewhat helped, either that or the thought that this will soon be over…

I reached Goanikontes with a sense of sadness. My run was over, yes I made it but no ‘moment of enlightenment’, no ‘lucidum intervallum’, no message or sign… It was only after I showered, lying flat on my back in the shade that it occurred to me that, although not profound or life-changing, I ventured into unknown territory, I operated outside my comfort zone and I achieved what I set out to do by simply refusing to give up (and a dose of belief). Something I will cling to in my quest to resurrect my professional career. In that sense I guess the run served it’s purpose. I will not quit.

There is no “I” in “team”

On the 7th of December 2018 I lined up for my 4th Desert Dash. A 24hr MTB race covering a distance of 373km and in the process crossing the Namib Desert from east to west.

I am in a 4-man team. Twice I completed the race in a 2-man team and last year I completed a solo. The 4-man format should therefore not present any problems whatsoever.

That was also the overriding thought during my preparations for the race. I’ve soloed this thing so riding a 4-man should be easy. Not necessary to train all that hard. Just show up in reasonable shape and the rest will take care of itself.

But the Dash had other ideas. Straight out of the start-shoot we were met by a nasty westerly wind that derailed our carefully worked out plan for the first two stages. I deliberately took it easy up the Kupferberg Pass on stage 1 knowing that stage 2 was straight into a headwind. The youngsters on our team were however either full of adrenaline or just simply over excited as they blasted up the pass hardly pausing to wait for me as I gingerly made my way up to the top. (Everyone can start strong but it’s not about how you start, it’s all about how you finish…a lesson that’ll be learned during the next 20 odd hours…)

I suffered through stage 2 and handed over the baton to one of the young guns who’s unenviable task was to deal with the unrelenting hills of stage 3. He did a stellar job but arrived at the halfway mark looking ragged and utterly spent.

Another youngster took over on stage 4, a flat stage and by far the easiest of the 6 stages. He arrived at the end of the stage cramping like crazy and for the first time the thought occurred that we might not make it to the end.

Pieter, my Dash partner for my two two-man finishes was on next, only he could not get himself on the bike! He had severe stomach cramps, was throwing up and already in a state of dehydration. We still had 126km to go and the possibility of a DNF was now real.

Summoning every ounce of willpower Pieter got on his bike and wearily started the 72km 5th stage. Waiting anxiously at the end of stage 5 word arrived that Pieter was found lying on the ground next to his bike at the waterpoint midway through the stage where somebody gave him valoids and something to drink (and persuaded him to again get on his bike and cycle to the end of the stage). In the meantime we arranged for the ambulance personnel to be on standby for his arrival. Pieter arrived at the end of the stage, grey as a ghost and went straight into the ambulance and onto a drip. There he lay for an hour while a little bit more than a liter of fluids slowly entered his system.

Pieter in the Ambulance, end of stage 5

Pieter is not a quitter, In fact he is one of those you would want to go to war with. Pieter still looked weak after the drip but he spent a couple of minutes walking around, allowing his system to cope with the added fluids and then looked us in the eye and said that he was ready to get going. The last stage, although shorter than most is by no means easy. A fair bit of climbing, thick sand and against the prevailing westerly breeze, it hammers in the last nails…

Just the fact that Pieter got onto his bike and was literally willing his body to the finish line gave me all the inspiration I needed to drag the team to the end. I went to the front and sat there dishing out a steady but brisk pace, the youngsters on my wheel and Pieter following in the slip. On a few occasions one of the youngster would come to the front to help with the pace setting but neither lasted more than a few minutes before slipping back onto my wheel again. Pieter did not say word, he kept his head down and clung to the wheel in front of him as if his life depended on it.

Team Radler at the finish

I’ve seen, and experienced this type of thing a couple of times. When you’re weak, you’re strong. Pieter could not have been physically weaker than he was, yet his courage and determination fueled me with a strength I did not think I had. Fitness wise I was not supposed to be able to operate at that pace for that length of time as I did on that last stage, but somehow I did. The mind is able to override the body, it is however most likely to happen when fueled by strength in the face of obvious weakness.

Pieter at the finish, all smiles

The 4-man Dash of 2018 proved to be my most memorable Dash yet. Even more memorable than the Solo attempt of the year before. It’s the tough times that linger longest…

A New Year, a New Mountain

It’s Monday 14 January 2019. A new year with new opportunities beckons. I’ve made a decision, I chose myself a new mountain to climb. No, wait, I chose two mountains to climb. Summits I intend to reach simultaneously. More on the second mountain later…

The first mountain involves the sport of triathlon. I’ve set small little goals throughout the year, all intended to make reaching the ultimate prize in April 2020 a reality.

I’ve never run a marathon, ever. In fact I haven’t been beyond 10 kilometers. I have also never swam further than 5 meters in my life. So, two of the three disciplines are going to present me with a proper challenge. The third discipline is cycling and I would like to think that I’ve got that covered.

Although I’m not one for dwelling on the past, I am a little pissed at myself for not grabbing the bull by the horns much earlier than January 2019. I’ve had this dream of completing a triathlon for three years now and, up to now, haven’t done anything about it. That all changed on the 14th. My brother send me a text message to meet him at the pool at 12h00. Like I said, I haven’t swam the length of an Olympic sized pool in my life. I figured I first needed a coach before jumping off into the deep-end. But on that day I decided, screw it, I’m giving this a go. I swam 325m. A small step for mankind but a giant leap for myself! Since then I bagged another 3000m. The point is this: procrastination will cause your life and your dreams to pass you by. It will steal your happiness and rob your life of meaning and purpose. Don’t stall, go out there and just do it!

In the meantime I’ve also ran my first 10k and a week later took 4min 30sec off that time! Needless to say that I’m very happy with my progress. That’s not to say that I haven’t experienced my fair bit of frustrations. Swimming is still far from easy and on most occasions I still swallow half the pool. But I intend on doing something about it. I found a coach and for the next couple of months I’ll work on my technique and get it right.

Looking back at the progress I made over the last couple of weeks I realised that the real rewards are to be found in the process. Yes, crossing the finishing line and getting the medal hung around your neck is great but it is only by embracing the process of getting there that the goal will be reached. Reaching small milestones, seeing progress and dealing and banishing the daily frustrations is where the fun lies. Too often the end goal overwhelms us and causes us to quit. Striving to be better, stronger and fitter each day will turn each and every step of the way into small victories worth celebrating and will keep you edging ever closer to achieving that goal.

So, whatever mountain you chose for yourself, get up and go climb it. Don’t delay another day.

Wines2Whales 2018 – Event Report

The W2W is one of South Africa’s most iconic MTB events and this year it celebrated its tenth anniversary. It is a three-day stage race contested by teams consisting of two riders each. Due to its ever-growing popularity there are three races to choose from. The Chardonnay took place from 26-28 October, the Pinotage from 29-31 October and the Shiraz from 2-4 November.

Entries are notoriously difficult to obtain. I was lucky to be invited to participate in the Chardonnay by Werner de Wet, a friend with whom I completed the Solo Desert Dash during December 2017.

All three races follow the exact same route, starting at the Lourensford Wine Estate en ending on the coast in the picturesque town of Hermanus.

Stage 1: 69km and 1650m of climbing

W2W D1The climbing starts straight out of the start-shoot up the Lourensford Neck. The temptation is there to get sucked in by the hype, nerves and excitement of the start and race up the hill but that would be something you’d pay for dearly later on in the race. The ideal is to get into a rhythm early and to race you own race.

Once up the the hill you are rewarded with spectacular views of Stellenbosch and Cape Town before descending down a long and steep downhill. The first water point sits at 18km. It’s then another 20km to the second water point at Idiom Vineyards but between these two refreshment stops is the notorious Vergelegen climb – the toughest of the entire race. We encountered temperatures in the high 30’s, low 40’s making the ascend a brutal affair. Shortly after the climb the track winds down through some vineyards which was also the scene of my first crash. At nearly 40km/h I missed a route marker and my attempt to turn only served to send me flying over the handlebars and into a vineyard. Apart from minor damage to my front brakes and ego I managed to limp into the second refreshment station unscathed.

Shortly after my fall – that white cycling jersey would never be the same again…

Shortly after the second water point, the Gantouw Pass – a compulsory portage section – provided the iconic challenge of the day. Carrying your bicycle up the steep incline in soaring temperatures was tough to say the least. The reward on the other side was some of the best single track in the country.

Day 1 was made all the more difficult by the extreme temperatures and a word of advice would be to take it easy on day one. The best is still to come.

Stage 2: 66km and 1350m of climbing

w2w d2Dubbed “Play Day”, Stage 2 is one of the race’s many drawcards, with sublime single track, manicured berms and mind-blowing descends. The first 25km flies by with the real fun starting as soon as you enter Paul Cluver via the new Rietvlei Roller. The thrills continue on the feature-laden rollercoasters of Raka, Swing, Ark, Cobra, Mamba, Boomslang, Pofadder, Jakkals and Pine Singles. Despite the heat and the exhaustion it is nearly impossible to wipe the smile of your face.

The Thandi switchbacks, which appear just after water point 3 at the 52km marker, are a sting in the tail before the thrilling, purpose-built KROMCO-PERI Bike Park.

On Day 2 I managed to stay on two wheels and it was definitely the most fun I had on a bike in a long time.

Day 3: Distance 72km and 1250m of climbing

w2w d3The third day is a challenging affair. Most of the climbing comes in the last 30km of the race so it would be wise to not empty the tank right from the start. The trickiest section of the stage is the Kat Pas descend just after the Houw Hoek trails. Caution is advised as this is a particularly fast descend on a rocky, loose and rutted surface.

The first water point (24km) is located at the Botrivier School where hundreds of school children line the streets, cheering on the riders. The next 20km takes in a large portion of the Wildekrans trails before rising to water point 2 at 43km. Its wise to pace yourself through this section as a nasty series of ups and downs await – the breathtaking Gaf-se-Bos and Hemel and Aarde trails will take your breath away (literally). The last few kilometres drop you into Hermanus and the magnificent Marine Hotel where we were welcomed by the very whales that inspired the event.

The FNB W2W is an event not to be missed and if you haven’t experienced it before it should be right up there on your bucket list.

Kaokoland – All Roads lead to Puros

The Community Camp at Puros is Kaokoland’s best campsite. I know, there are other camps with better facilities. But there’s not many other camps where you can be seated on the “throne” with an elephant showering in the cubicle next to you. The place is simply special.

Getting to Puros is half the fun. From Sesfontein you can either take the gravel road (D3707) or you can follow the Hoanib River to Amspoort and travel via the Ganias or Giribes Plains. I’d suggest the latter option (9 hours). Although, following the gravel road will take less than half the time, you’ll also arrive with less than half your teeth still in your mouth – the corrugations are terrible.

The camp itself is well shaded. Large camel-thorn trees provide ample shade and the ablution facilities is well concealed in the salvadora bushes scattered throughout the camp. Most of the time there’s running water, flush toilets and warm showers. The camp is however not elephant proof and when these mammoths do come for a visit it is not unusual for them the ‘interfere’ with the water supply to the ablutions.

But you’re not there for the toilets or the showers. You’ve traveled to Puros to experience a bit of Kaokoland’s magic. The camp is situated on the banks of the Hoariseb River. The riverbed is frequented by plains game such as Springbok, Oryx and Giraffe. I have alo been lucky enough to spot a lioness with her cubs 3 km’s downstream from the camp.

Then there’s the desert elephants. They love the Hoariseb River. Drawn to the riverbed by its many natural springs and ample food supplies lining its banks. They also like the camp, frequently visiting, especially “after hours”.

When camping at Puros it is a good idea to park the vehicles in such a manner that it forms a laager of some sorts. The idea is to keep the elephants out. They are curious and can smell an orange from a mile away. If you want some “action” during the night, stick a few oranges underneath your mother-in-law’s tent, and wait…

Like I said, the ablutions are particularly well concealed in clusters of Salvadora bushes. The bushes however do not prevent the elephants from entering a shower or a toilet cubicle. It was September 2012. We were camping at campsite no.3 (my favorite) when shortly after dinner auntie Karien went for a session on the “throne”. She was already safely seated when a large bull appeared between us and the ablutions. Pierre was visibly nervous knowing that his wife is blissfully unawares of the elephant lazily grazing on the branches directly above her. It was only when the elephant rounded the corner and entered the shower cubicle next to Karien that she became aware of her predicament. The only thing separating Karien and the elephant was a flimsy make-shift barrier of dry reads. The elephant, not bothered with Karien, proceeded to dismantle the shower plumping and after (what must have felt like ages for poor Karien) taking a drink, nonchalantly turned around and made its way out of the shower, past Karien and off  into the night. We had to “sedate” both Karien and Pierre with a 12 year old whiskey…

The Puros area also provides one of the best sun-downer spots the Kaokoland has to offer. After making sure there is no edible temptations lying around in camp, grab a cold bottle of sauvignon blanc and head out to the Jan Joubert Koppie. “The Hill” is situated on the eastern bank of the river and it takes about 15 minutes to get there from the camp. It offers spectacular views of the Hoariseb Valley. Enjoying a glass of wine while the sun sets over the flat-topped mountains to the west is a truly enjoyable experience.

If you’re going to visit the Kaokoland, make sure you spend at least two days at Puros. I’d recommend three.