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

Finding Balance

Finding balance – a never-ending quest

I’ve always struggled with it and in a quest to figure out why, I decided to get to know myself better. Eckhart Tolle once remarked “It is my opinion that true change cannot happen – whether for an individual or for society – without addressing the fundamental question of ‘Who am I?’ at the deepest level.” And so I enrolled for a Life Coaching course.

And sure enough, the course starts with a series of lectures and exercises aimed at not only getting to know yourself better, but also to uncover the many limiting beliefs we’re all clinging onto. Once we know who we are, we can then begin to understand why we react to situations and challenges in the way we do. It then becomes easier to identify the pitfalls and the potential situations where we’re prone to slip up. Most of us tend to beat ourselves down. It is a common occurrence. We are bombarded with images and ideas of who and what we’re supposed to be, to such an extent that we cannot come to an alternative conclusion, other than to think we’re not good enough. Or we’re not making it. It’s like a circus elephant being tied to a peg in the ground. From being a little elephant it was made to belief that it can’t move the peg, and guess what, even when fully grown it doesn’t even try to move it because it believes it can’t. (That’s a topic that deserves a more in-depth discussion, so more on that later).

After getting a better grip on who we are, and what it is we should be believing about ourselves, we are then ready to start identifying the areas in our lives that are not in balance. Areas that need our attention. Not all of us will necessarily have the same ‘life areas’, but for most of us these 7 areas will cover all the bases:

  1. Social and Family relationships;
  2. Career and Education aspirations;
  3. Money and Personal Finances;
  4. Health (Fitness), Recreation and Leisure;
  5. Life’s Routine responsibilities;
  6. Contribution and Giving Back to society;
  7. Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Health.

I won’t bore you with what follows next, but the process of identifying that which needs attention, and then taking action to rectify or improve that area is a rewarding one. One that taught me a couple of things:

  • Everything is everything. Say you identified Life Area 7 (mental, emotional and spiritual health) as the area of priority, the minute you start ‘working’ on that area, you’ll notice improvement in all the other areas as well. An improvement in one area, is necessarily an improvement in all the others. An improvement in your mental and emotional health will lead to better decision making. This will positively impact on your relationships, career aspirations and personal finance. An improvement in health and fitness will see an improvement in how you handle life’s routine responsibilities, etc. etc. Never underestimate the impact and value of even the tiniest of improvements.
  • Balance is not a static state. Guard against complacency. As you continue to grow and see results, the impulse to pause will creep up. Yes, take a minute to reflect and pause to celebrate the small victories but don’t be lulled into the illusion that ‘you have arrived’ or that ‘you have made it’. Balance is a precarious thing. Our lives are constantly changing, our circumstances change, the challenges we face change, so no, there’s no ‘finish line’. Obtaining and maintaining balance is a constant endeavor. As long as you’re living, there’s work to be done. There will never come a time when all your life’s areas are 100% aligned with the visions you’ve set for each. Commit to a life-time of learning and growing. You’re either growing or you’re regressing. Don’t let the impulse to coast interrupt your momentum.
  • Embrace the process. Good things take time. Great things take even longer. We live in a world where we want what we want when we want it. Instant gratification dictates our actions, and in the process it wrecks our dreams. Success takes time. Stop resisting this truth and embrace the struggle. Learn from your mistakes. The true value lies not in the medal hung around your neck but in the long, hard path trodden to accomplish it. Let go of the end game. Fall in love with the process. Live in the moment. Show up for life with enthusiasm and commitment. Like I said, there is no finish line, there’s only the journey, so stay in it, be patient. It’s the journey that gives your path meaning.
  • And lastly, don’t confuse balance with mediocrity. I’ve made that mistake, it is counter-productive and even destructive. Being balanced does not mean you can’t give a 100% in each and every area of your life. Yes, you can set lofty fitness goals and still be a good dad at the same time. Yes, you can have a successful career and still be a loving husband at the same time. You can contribute towards society and still find time for personal growth. The closest you’ll ever feel to ‘having arrived’ is when you lead a balanced life.

Life is a long and often complicated walk and each one of us has our own story to tell. The obstacles encountered along the way can either trip you up or launch you onto a better path. You decide. We are capable of so much more than what we believe. Change is not only possible, it’s our mandate. It is never too late to change. If a new path is what you’re looking for, keep on looking, you’ll find it and when you do, stay patient, stay consistent and watch small steps turn into giant leaps – leaps towards becoming who you really are – who you were meant to be.

Six Months In – A Great Time for Reflection

At the start of every year I inevitably set some goals or at least do some planning in terms of what I’d like to achieve for the year. This year was no different. In fact I posted on this blog about two very specific goals for the year and elaborated on only one of them.

It’s exactly 6 months to the day since I started training in earnest for reaching one of my two goals – finishing an Ironman Triathlon. It’s been a steep learning curve and at times I experienced real frustration and even fear. Frustration and fear to such an extent that I genuinely doubted whether my goal was a realistic one or not. The fear and doubt all relates to the swimming part of the triathlon. Prior to the 14th of January 2019 I have never swam the length of a pool.

Looking back at my training log, I recorded 325 meters of swimming on that very first day. It took me more than 50 minutes to complete that distance and not once throughout that session did I swim further than 25 meters without stopping to gasp for air. The very next day I recorded 450 meters (all still done in singles) in 42 minutes and two days later, 500 meters in 35 minutes. On the 7th of July I recorded an unbroken swim of 2000 meters in 41 minutes. That’s not quick, in fact is downright slow but compared to that first swim it’s a vast improvement.

The training sessions between that first swim and the effort of the 7th of July was characterized by immense frustration and constant doubt. Very seldom did I return from the pool feeling that I’ve made progress. For the most part I believed I was not making any progress whatsoever – because it didn’t feel as if I were making progress. And that’s why it is necessary to every now and then, just to pause and to reflect. To stand still and to take stock – because feelings are misleading.

Very often people, as the year drags on, gets derailed. They loose focus and enthusiasm and it is mainly because they neglect to reflect. We constantly need to remind ourselves why we’re doing what we’re doing. We constantly need to refresh, adjust and refocus. Reflection affords us the opportunity to not only remind ourselves of our goals and the reasons for chasing them, it also provides us with a true measure of progress. A measure not influenced by feelings or how we stack up against others. Using others as a yardstick will inevitably lead to disappointment. Similarly will conclusions based on feelings lead to despair.

Measuring progress should be based on the truth and factors within our control. The truth is that I have no reason to doubt myself. The truth is that I made progress and that with every passing day I’m edging ever closer towards reaching my goal. The truth is the perfect antidote for expelling fear and doubt – and a sure way to realize this is to take time to reflect.

And the same holds true for life in general. Live a life based on feelings and you’ll be up and down like a yo-yo. You’ll be unbalanced and inconsistent. Live your life based on the truth about who you actually are and you’ll become balanced and grounded. You’ll still have your ups and downs but you’ll no longer be led by your emotions. Your security will be the fact that you’re grounded in who you are which means that for others you’ll become mature, consistent, decisive and strong. Only way to discover who you really are, is to pause and to reflect. Ask yourself from which perspective do you live. Feelings or Facts? Ask yourself what changes you can make to live your life more consistently based on the truth of who you actually are?

Making time to reflect might just become the best decision you’ve ever made towards altering the course of your life from being an up and down roller-coaster ride to being on a steady path in pursuit of your goals.

Making the case for Going Green

I’ve recently picked up a book by Rich Roll, called Finding Ultra, and it provided me with the push I needed to explore what a plant-based diet has to offer. In the past I’ve experimented with a Paleo diet and for some time I followed the strict version thereof with good results. Before delving into the ‘why’ of following a plant-based diet I’ll share a few thoughts on dieting in general.

The first is that no two bodies are the same and what works for one is not necessarily going to work for the other. The second is that you should not blindly listen to or follow any health guru or expert. Do your own research, experiment with different food types and protocols. Listen to your body, it’ll tell what works and what not.

Then be clear on the ‘why’. If you can’t convince yourself why you’re doing something, you’ll give up on it. That simple. If you are going to make such a change you are guaranteed to be met with resistance and even ridicule. Funny how all your junk food eating friends (and even family) suddenly become nutritional experts the minute you mention you’re going vegan…

I have three big reasons for experimenting with ‘going green’. The first is that I’m constantly seeking to maximize my athletic performance, stave off the onset of illness and disease, and ensuring optimum long-term wellness for myself and my family. It’s about living healthy for me. I’m a long way off from finding ‘my ultra’ but I’m trying to and at the moment, relishing the challenge.

The second reason is about changing habits. I have many bad habits that I’d like to get rid off and if I can succeed in changing the way I eat, it’ll give me the confidence and courage to change the way I live. Altering habits (eliminating the bad ones) is the first step in creating a sustainable and stable foundation for long-term wellness. It’s about becoming better (not only fitter).

The third is that by going green I contribute to making this planet better. And without boring you with statistics and data, chew on this: The population is growing and we’re not doing a very good job in feeding all the mouths. Our methods are not sustainable and they’re seriously harming Mother Earth in the process. Every day you take your animal products off your plate and replace them with plants – not only are you immunizing against the many chronic lifestyle diseases, it saves (on average) an extraordinary 1000 gallons of water, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds of CO2 equivalent and one animal’s life. That’s something worth doing – at least I think so. (Animal agriculture is the the number one culprit when it comes to almost every man-made environmental ill on the planet. It accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector combined. It accounts for 91% of Amazon destruction. I can go on, the stats are alarming…it’s responsible for mass extinction and buggering up the ocean. Ok, I’ll stop there.)

Following a plant-based diet does not have to be complicated. If it’s overly complicated it is not sustainable and trying something you can’t sustain is pointless. In short, eat plant-based whole foods and stay away from processed food. Look to eat all kinds of plants. Every meal, all the time. All colors and sizes and as simply prepared as possible. Try to eat organic and opt for locally produced when possible. There’s a million books on this, get your hands on a few of them and follow the advice with regard to recipes and shopping lists. It’s easier than you think. Oh, and if you’re an athlete and worried about protein, you don’t need to be. The research has been done, there’s ways to manage that and the info is available and free of charge.

When I switched to eating plants this happened: Meal prep and cooking time were greatly reduced. Chopping up an avo, a couple of tomatoes and adding veggies like oven roasted butternut and beetroot took mere minutes, leaving me with more time for reading, exercising etc. Sunday lunches used to be a big thing in our house. A leg of lamb would be placed in the oven, cooking for hours on end. Preparing Sunday lunch literally took the whole morning to do. Now instead of standing guard in front of the oven we can actually get out of the house and go do stuff.

Plant-based meals are cheaper to prepare than meat-based meals for example. I live in a country where chicken is considered a vegetable. People here eat meat, and lots of it. Not buying meat has greatly reduced my grocery bill.

I lost the last few stubborn pounds I could not get rid off while eating meals that included animal products. Weight loss was not my greatest motivator and neither should it be yours but running and swimming, and even biking is just so much easier without carrying any ‘excess baggage’. Granted, I’m training harder and longer than ever before, but I’m sustaining it on a plant-based diet. Power increased while weight decreased. The benefits are obvious and more importantly I’m feeling good. A recent visit to my internist confirmed what I was feeling. Reduced cholesterol, reduced uric acid, higher levels of ‘good cholesterol’ etc. Point is I’m fitter, healthier and stronger than ever before. And the numbers confirm it – both in terms of athletic performance and medical evaluations.

For me it was and still is much more than changing the food that goes down my throat. It’s about changing who and how I am. It is as much about long-term wellness as it is about becoming a better person. Eliminating bad habits while at the same time eliminating limiting beliefs. It is about taking on challenges I previously thought was impossible to conquer. It is about slowly but surely unlocking the deep reserves of human potential I, and each one of us, are carrying inside of us and speeding up the journey towards becoming the best and most authentic version of myself. So far so good. I dare you to give it a go.

Becoming a Happy Camper

Camping per se means that you left the comforts of home and embarked on a journey. So many people meander through life without ever leaving their comfort zones. Although death is tragic, there’s nothing more heartbreaking than being alive and not living. Note to self: Magic does not happen in a comfort zone, it happens beyond its borders.

It is an old cliche, life is a journey and if you want to experience the magic of truly living you’ll have to leave your comfort zone and wander bravely into the unknown. In order for your journey to have purpose and a realistic chance of success you’ll need a good and proper base camp.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a base camp as ‘a camp from where people start their journey when climbing high mountains.’ Another (wikipedia) definition specifically refers to a base camp as ‘a place of preparation’. I like both definitions. The first implies that a base camp is required when chasing lofty goals while the other suggests that a base camp is where you prepare yourself before setting off for the summit (your goal).

It’s therefore clear that your base camp needs to be well stocked with whatever provisions, tools and equipment you’ll need on your journey to the summit. It should be a place where you’ll receive nurture and rest before tackling your objective. It should provide you with shelter while waiting for the perfect opportunity to push for the summit. It should be a place where you receive encouragement and advice from people sharing the same values and goals.

Your base camp should be inhabited by the right people. Pick the wrong people to man your camp – negative personalities – and you’re setting yourself up for judgement and criticism that will most probably deflate your spirit and derail your progress. It is of crucial importance to pick the people you confide in wisely. In other words, the strength of your base camp community will ultimately determine your success.

They say that you’re the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time. Take control of your inner circle and if necessary upgrade. Actively seek out positive and inspirational people and spend time with them. Seek their counsel and advice. Look for those who share your values and values your dreams.

If you are currently surrounded by people who drag you down, who constantly questions your actions and bombards you with criticism born out of jealousy, its time for some tough decisions. These decisions will be even tougher if these nay-sayers are the ones closest to you. Excising them completely from your life might not be an option or even possible but you can choose what you share with them. You can de-escalate the intimacy of the relationship. You can deny them space in your head by carefully choosing what you share and what you don’t share with them. Sounds selfish? Self-respecting people won’t tolerate negative relationships and neither should you. Maintaining such relationships might be sign of poor self-esteem. You might think that you don’t deserve better relationships. Discard that limiting believe. You owe it to yourself to surround you with people that inspires you, that elevates you and most importantly that believes in you.

Banish the negative, pessimistic personalities from your base camp. Time spent with them is time wasted. It is that simple. Making it into base camp already shows that you’ve committed yourself to a hero’s journey. It is time to stop being the supporting actor and act like the hero.

Another thought about the people in your base camp is this: The overall health (or strength) of the camp depends on the health of the individuals and the health of the individuals depends on the health of the camp. Successful mountaineers know that they must spend as much time, if not more, in tending to their base camp as they do on actually climbing mountains. Devoting too much time on reaching summits will lead to the deterioration of the base camp. That’s why a man constantly climbing the corporate ladder might return one day to find his house in shambles and his spouse gone. The other side of the coin also holds true. The wife thinking that just being in base camp is her summit cannot understand or empathise with her husband’s need for achievement and reacts to them with jealousy and never-ending demands that he must devote more of his energy to the home. Sooner or later the husband will suffocate and flee the camp.

The ideal is then for a community or relationship to exist for the primary purpose of nurturing each of the individual participants for their individual journeys towards their own goals. Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other but actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation or loss. The ultimate goal (in life) remains the (spiritual) growth of the individual, the solitary journey to peaks that can only be climbed alone – for it is the sacrifices made on behalf of the growth of the other that result in the the equal or even greater growth of the self. It is the return of the individual from the peaks he or she has traveled to alone which serves to elevate the base camp community (or the relationship). In this way individual growth and that of the people you surround yourself with are interdependent, but it is always and inevitably lonely out on the (summit) growing edge…

Getting your base camp right (well stocked and manned by people that inspires you) will not only launch you onto those growing edges but it will make the return from those edges the highlight of your journey. Similarly, so will the summits reached by those around you fill you with the same gratitude and purpose as the summits you conquered yourself.

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.

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.