travel, hike, eat. repeat.

my adventures are often on a budget… and always clumsy.

Archive for the tag “hike”

here’s why | blyde river canyon, south africa

blyde 3There are places I’ve traveled that I wish I could do over. Have a do-over. Can’t we all be granted a few of those? Mostly, that’s everywhere and everything I’ve seen, with few exceptions – like the time everything I had was stolen in Ko Phi Phi or when I threw up for two straight hours on a small fishing boat headed to snorkel with whale sharks in Mozambique (both are wildly embarrassing. Moving on…). But there are some places that with age, developed interests and whatnot, I desperately wish I could transport myself back in an instant and experience it through my eyes now, as the person I am now.

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(What am I blathering about? Does anyone ever know?)

Anyway. Today, at least, the blabbering is about the Blyde River Canyon in South Africa. It’s one of those places that I’d use one of my three genie in a bottle wishes to get a do-over. It’s pretty special.

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Blyde River is one of the largest canyons in the world. As I remember my history lesson when I visited back in the ancient year of 2008, it’s smaller only than the Grand Canyon here in the US of A and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. It’s vibrant – green with lush growth and made of red sandstone. The river runs through the cracks and crevices, spiraling around towering boulders, and the cliff edges jut out precariously – natural benches on which to take it all in. I mean, no amount of photoshopping could enhance this place or beautify it. It’s naturally awe-inspiring, breathtaking and spectacular.

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Blyde sits along the so-named Panorama Route, a stretch of land in the southeastern part of the country – near to the city of  Durban and Kruger National Park, dotted with natural landmarks. I made my way to Blyde on an overlanding trip the semester I studied abroad in South Africa. We hit the road running in Cape Town and criss-crossed the country – through Swaziland, down along the coast of KwaZulu-Natal, up through Kruger National Park and back through the Panorama Route. While we pitched tents every night in the abundant campgrounds that dot the countryside, there are hostels, inns and hotels in all of the towns and major cities. To access the destinations along the Route, you need to rent a car or join an organized overlanding tour.

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The Canyon and other destinations along the Panorama Route are certainly set up for tourists. They’re well-maintained and marked. So few people go, though. You have to want to go there, plan that to be a destination. It has to be purposeful, and not many people make Blyde a purposeful visit. In my humble, modest opinion, that’s a HUGE mistake. But, I mean, less crowds and more beauty for us, right?

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In the past few years, I’ve settled into myself, into my hobbies and passions and found this endless, abounding love and deep appreciation for being in and exploring nature. If I could go back to Blyde, I’d spend the most time there I possibly could. Maybe I’d never come back! I’d hike, camp and devour it whole.

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This final picture is courtesy of GraniteNet. The other images are my own.

Here’s why you should visit Blyde River Canyon:

  1. Natural playground (hiker’s daydream)
  2. On of the three largest canyons in the world
  3. Proximity to Kruger National Park, Durban and the rest of the Panorama Route
  4. Off the beaten path
  5. Spectacular views (photographer’s daydream)

If a genie granted you three travel wishes, what would they be?

hike | hemlock overlook

In my former life job as a TV news producer, my boss once told me, “It’ll be a lot worse than this,” as I hesitantly made repeated calls to the same retired government engineer, from whom we needed a quote. “When there’s a tragedy, we’ll be knocking on victims’ doors, ambushing them with a camera. It’s the reality of the job.” I think I would’ve quit before doing that, on the spot, on location. Fortunately, I quit before I was ever faced with the decision.

I was reminded of all of this while taking in the abundant coverage on the Newtown shooting this weekend. I, honestly, avoided as much of it as I could. I didn’t shy away from the truth of what happened, the horrific nature of it. I welled up with emotion and pain and hurt every time I thought about it and saw images from Connecticut. I felt unsafe. That bubble mindset, that shell of self-preserving protective thought, “It won’t happen here, to me,” disappeared for me this weekend, it disappeared for all of us. Those gunshots tore through our protective layers and left me raw and exposed. I felt like there is no cover, there is no bubble, there is no protective shield anymore – that’s what it means to take the lives of children, of babies, of little ones. It means we lose our footing, our sense of safety, our source of pride in living in a good neighborhood, a protected house, a well-meaning community. It shatters that mindset that we so desperately need to stay sane.

So I went hiking.

Losing myself in the woods, somewhere picturesque with leaves un-raked, fallen how they fell and runners and fellow hikers stopping to chat and pet Theo, “hello,” – I needed that this weekend, to reconstruct my sanity, heck – to find some sanity. The sun was shining, and the water was glimmering in that shine, and crisp air kept us rejuvenated but our jackets zipped. In the woods, with Theo running and fetching and sniffing like nothing in the world could be wrong and Zander and me incorrectly reading trail marks and wandering knowing we’d come out on the right side no matter which route we took – it felt like a piece of sanity and clarity and relief from the insanity on the other side of the trail.

We woke up tired and Zander sore, but something kept pushing us along, and I’m so glad we went, and I’m so grateful for the peace and tranquility and community of a set of woods and a well-worn trail.

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Hemlock Overlook is an easy 4 mile loop with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain…… if you figure out the trail markings! There’s a complicated set of blues, reds, yellows markings. The good news is that if you just start hiking, you can’t get too lost, and if you do, you can make the loop and out-and-back and head back the way you came. It’s beautiful – marshy on the river shore and rocky near the water. It’s a very dog friendly hike, even off leash. I recommend LocalHikes for more information, including directions. Bonus! The hike entrance is mere steps from Paradise Springs winery – the makings of a perfect day.

sneak peak: old rag

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I did two crazy things while hiking Old Rag this weekend:

  1. I threw a temper tantrum near the peak.
  2. I ran the last mile.

Forget the first one, forever. (Let’s never talk about it again, mmmk?) But did you read #2? I ran the last mile of the 9 mile hike that is Old Rag. As Liz Lemon would say, “I want to go to there!”

Wait. Wrong catchphrase.

“WHAT THE WHAT?!” There it is.

I can only claim temporary insanity (Zan would beg to differ on the “temporary.” See: crazy thing #1 that I did).

So here’s what happened…

Zan and I had reached the assumed summit and were starving and half-dead, ready to set up camp for lunch. We’d managed the 5 mile ascent without breaking off our limbs. We’d traversed the uneven terrain and navigated the extensive class 3 rock scrambling section leading to the top. We’d done all that without collapsing even once (there was that one rock that I hallucinated to be a bed, but that’s neither here nor there). We scrambled to the tip-top of a super duper high rock and took in the 360 degree view. For 20 seconds.

Snap.

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Snap.

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I took two photos, circling and cheerily announced, “Ready for my sammie!” and began the slow, painful descent to a sitting position, before I realized no one was listening. I think a few kind tree branches leaned in, lending a leafy ear. Zan was 20 feet ahead, hiking onward.

I called out. “Zan! (Zan! Zan!)” I yelled three times to create my own cool mountain peak echo.

“Where ya goin’?” I was casual, cool, laser eyes locked into the back of his pack, that held my sammie.

Grunt. Gruntgrunt.

Yes, I nodded. Sure, I see. He saw a higher peak that way (point). This isn’t the summit.

I grunted back.

“I don’t WANNA go. THIS is the summit. UGHHH SAMMIE GIVE ME SAMMIE.” Grunt. Grunt.

(Our communication talents are unique and should not be tried at home.)

He had the sammies, and so what could I do? I gave a reverential salute to my perfect peak and the breeze hugged me in return. We scrambled, climbed, scraped hands, skipped rocks, held on to branches, scooted through crevices…

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…and finally arrived where Zan had grunted and pointed – to the “summit over there.” It was an astounding… clump of barren, brown trees obscuring the view on all sides.****

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I HRMPHD, loudly, in his direction.

Zan HRMPHD back.

We HRMPHD and HRMPHD.

Two hikers passed us, probably thinking, “By golly, those two need a sammie.” That’s what I was thinking.

You know that point when you’re too tired to see the solution that’s right in front of you? We were so ungodly far beyond that point.

He grunted.

I grunted.

I broke off a branch and threw it.

He tore off the tree trunk and chucked it over the edge.

We beat our chests.

I cried.

He cried.

We slept standing.

We woke still furious.

We sighed.

I finally regained enough energy to properly stomp my foot.

I whined. “I just need a hug.” (And a damn sammie on a beautiful overlook, but I kept that to myself, in the name of compromise and conflict resolution. I truly handled the argument like a totally sane adult.)

We hugged.

I checked the time.

4.5 minutes had passed.

We walked back 50 yards, and alas, a perfect picnic peak shone bright and glimmering in the afternoon sun and we had a wonderful, quiet picnic… and then I played like a 4-year-old on the rocks and made Zander take 100 photos of me doing so.

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Ahem, where was I?

Oh right, the time I ran a mile on a 9 mile hike (I thought we promised to never talk about that other thing?!).

We reached the fire road, finally, oh god, after Zan had destroyed his tendonitis plagued knees, and my body could not take one more single step downwards (seriously, I’d rather climb up than down any day any time any where – YOU NAME THE PLACE). The fire road is 2.5 miles. It’s the longest 2.5 miles of anyone’s life, or at least the lives of people who are not in spectacular shape and are very tired after summiting Old Rag.

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This is the road that never ends… yes, it goes on and on my friends!

I made it through the first 1.5 miles without too much of a problem (except for a desperate need to pee that ended in a trail crouch – high five to all women!). We reached the trail head, were in the home stretch, had only a mile to go, and the damn fire road, it had the nerve to veer downhill. I don’t know what came over me. It was too much to place one foot in front of the other, baby step like, so I slowly picked up my pace until I was jogging.

It felt so much better to jog downhill than to walk. So I kept jogging.

And when the land flattened out, I kept jogging.

And when the trail turned into the paved road leading the way to the parking lot, I didn’t stop running.

A man walking his dog, white beard and all (does Santa have a mountain home in Lurray, Virginia?), laughed as I ran past. “Didn’t get enough of a workout on Old Rag?!”

I kept running, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”

Then I was at the parking lot, and then I was at the car, and then, I fell down beneath a tree and fell asleep for 100 hours.

Okay, that happened 3 hours later at 7pm at my house.

But I did take weird photos of myself, in my deathlike state, post 8 mile hike, post 1 mile run.

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Zan caught up after walking like a sane person, looked at me lying pathetically immobile on the ground, shook his head and said, “You’re crazy, and I love you.”

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 ****I’d like to note that no matter what Zan says, we did not find the true peak 10 minutes after our lunch, and there was certainly not a sign leading that way, and it was definitely not an even higher, better view-affording outlook with picnic spots. NO MATTER WHAT ZAN SAYS.

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