I have never been able to sleep well while camping. Even though the mattresses are comfortable enough and I wasn’t cold, I struggled to sleep. And I was feeling particularly exhausted. I was experiencing my deepest sleep at about 6am when Doug woke me up with coffee. It was still dark, and I felt a little confused. The sunlight slowly hit the valley, but it was bitterly cold.
After a quick breakfast of a banana and a fruit bar, we packed our gear and hit the trail. 50m from the hut we saw our first game. Some kind of buck. I’m not good at identifying game, but I do know what a zebra looks like and we saw some of those too.
My feet weren’t feeling great, but I thought “stuff it, I’m going to walk and I’m not going to be a whiny bitch”. No matter how bleak this all sounds, I was having a great time. I even carried Charlie’s pack for a while – to get a feel for a proper back pack. Despite the additional weight, it was much more comfortable than the thing I was hauling around. That settled it, I needed a proper pack. But my more immediate concern was walking.
So that we didn’t walk back the same way we came, we looped off the trail from the previous day and headed towards the Blesbok hut.
One of my favourite things about hiking is that every time you hit a different side of a hill or mountain, the vegetation changes. We set off more eland and the sun was out and it was another absolutely perfect, sunny winter morning. I even forgot about my sore feet. But by this time the skin had come off the blisters and I think I was just immune to the discomfort.
Charlie, Doug and I also settled into a kind of hiking hierarchy. Charlie spends most of the time in front, bounding along the trail effortlessly. I’m always moved by how Doug looks at her with pride and love and grins boyishly as he says “Charlie … she just walks … Never complains, just walks”.
I’m usually in the middle of the pack. And because of the extended time together, there is less conversation and more walking. This suits me great because it lets me get into my head. I’m outside and not really thinking, but somehow I am thinking.
Doug keeps a steady pace at the back. This is probably the most effective strategy, because he catches up without strain on every hill.
And then there’s more coffee, more snacks, more game, more beautiful scenery and I’m happy on the inside and feel like I could walk forever …
… Until I hit the wall 3km from Diepkloof, the most beautiful place in the world. I tried not to whine, I didn’t want to complain, but I hit a point where I really just couldn’t. My hips were sore, my feet were throbbing and the last few km seemed like an obstacle I just couldn’t face. This happened halfway up a hill, and with encouragement from Charlie and Doug I kept going. We would rest at the top of the hill.
But by the time I got there, I had hit my stride again and felt like I could do it. That feeling lasted for about 500m. I had run out of water again, I was uncomfortable and tired and weeping on the inside. I kept myself going because I was hungry again and I really wanted a burger. And a bath. And I would have done anything to be horizontal.
All of a sudden Diepkloof was a few hundred metres away. And I felt incredibly pleased with myself. For a relatively unfit individual, I had just completed close to 30km of walking over rough terrain and I didn’t die.
But a few things became very apparent to me. I need to accumulate significant mileage in order to enjoy the Otter Trail. I need tougher feet, because I do not enjoy having blisters. I need a proper backpack. And I love hiking and will do it a thousand times over, even if I hurt every single time.