Sometimes, you embark on a weekend away with certain expectations. And lo and behold they are met, and you return. Happy. Sometimes, those expectations are exceeded and you return battered, bruised and confounded. Ecstatic. This latter option is the outcome of following (I will never again bandy about loosely the word “hike”) the Harkerville Coastal Trail.
I was not sure that I would be able to join everyone else on this uhm … following, as I had quite a bad cold in the week. Nevertheless, I woke up early on the Friday still coughing but feeling OK, so packed (stuffed) my bag and drove to meet the first few fellow followers. We then hooked up with two more and off we went in a luxury minibus, thinking … “Ain’t life grand!”
Let’s fast forward … Arrive at Harkerville Hut just before dusk, look at squeaky plastic covered mattresses with dismay, braai and drink a bit of wine, guava wine even, go to squeaky bed, throw fellow snoring follower with paper wad, wake up to sun shining in face, only to realise it’s raining… I never managed to get a parka and I somehow omitted to pack coffee (amateur mistake… ginger tea, really?).
We set off regardless, looking like some weird humpback sect, covered in plastic macs shwishing along in the forest. Wow! We were surrounded by breathtakingly incredible beauty! We walked for about 2-and-a-half hours, had a quick lunch (it started raining again) and then after a while …. we could hear it! The ocean! Yeah!
Little did I know. The proverbial chainsaw was starting up in the basement. I must have been in full puppy mode when reading up on the hike, because nowhere do I recall reading about the sheer drop we had to descend to get to the coastal part of the hike. So … being the trooper that I am, I grit my teeth, thought of rainbows and unicorns, and clung to the rickety railings for dear life, pretty much descending on my butt. But, at the bottom, I cheered internally, “Yay! Not so bad, after all.” At the bottom, you can’t fall. Mr Bean moment of accomplishment.
Cue cellar trap door creaking open. It’s when we reached the bit where there were chains bolted into a rock face that I lost the last bit of colour in my face. There it was, mere meters away from me. Ready to pounce. My. Worst. Fear. And I could not turn back. Suffice it to say, I gave quite an Oscar performance (not the Cliffhanger kind, but the snot-en-trane kind). I was petrified beyond belief! I don’t think I’ve ever realised the power of adrenalin until that moment when I crashed down on the beach on the other side.
But followings being what they are, there was no time for Oscar performance II, so I willed myself through the rest of the scramble along the coastline. Up the steepest hill known to humankind (must be!) onwards to Sinclair Hut, where upon arrival I promptly searched in vain for a shower, and turned my desperation to unclog my sweaty pores to a steel mug and an outside (cold water only) tap. Whatever, I’ll take it! I didn’t sleep that night. I could hear everything, see everything. It was like being on some drug, I suppose.
Needless to say, the morning did not start well. My mood was in pieces. My body ached, but predominantly my feet. My toes, my necessary toes. And the day started with a downhill. More pain, more scrambling. More hanging from impossible rock formations. Nails gone, hands scraped to shreds, legs scratched, bumped and bruised, but the will … surprisingly steely. At one stage, all I could manage was “What the fcuk am I doing here?” while clawing my way along a ledge.
The long and short is. I had no choice. I had to face the angry, roiling sea beneath me a few times. Those fears needed not only to be faced, but eventually ignored. No turning back. Onwards, forwards. Hug the mountain. Leave bits of skin and flesh behind.
But importantly, I was not alone though, through none of this. I wasn’t the only one on a journey of some kind. Being pushed, dragged and carried along. None of what I accomplished was possible without the other followers on this particular trip. New friends, you venture? That sounds so naff. But not. Maybe I’m being a drama queen. But how then did we manage this feat and still laugh through it all and afterwards, despite the pain, mental fatigue and physical exhaustion? Cracking jokes and being grateful that at least we didn’t have to do the whole trail with a tin of paint and paintbrush like the person who had to paint the little footprints (“Follow the white voetjies”) and arrows at awkward places. We only had to follow them. And why then, on our way back in the minibus, did we howl at the full moon in unison?
I’ll tell you what I think. It’s only when we seemingly have no choices that we make the best choices. It’s only when we remove fear, that we start to glimpse reality. And since there is no fear in love … well, what is more attractive and comforting than that? I howled because I could. No fear, just love, even if only for one day.