Thursday, 26 January 2017

Adventure activity and travel writing

I've recently been doing some writing for an old adventure racing friend at Dirty Boots, an outstanding adventure activity guide that has been around for more than a decade. It comes out as an annual print DL-book and over the years their website content has developed substantially to give people the option of a print or online reference.

Johan gave me a call last week to see whether I'd be available to do some writing for them as their writer has immigrated. Dirty Boots content is generally shorter pieces related to activities, operators and locations and for I'm writing content for their website. I look forward to copy editing and writing content for the 2018 edition of the book later this year.

Johan's first company and website, started some 23-years ago - long before Dirty Boots, was African Travel Gateway, which is managed by Howard. Johan connected me with Howard to write content for this website too and this morning I submitted my first piece, a 1300-word article on 'The best time to visit the Kruger National Park'.

I enjoyed putting this together as it meant time spent online researching different aspects of the park. I haven't been to Kruger in many, many years so I enjoyed reading up on the regions, animals, birds and flora.

If you're thinking about heading to Kruger, read my article on the African Travel Gateway blog.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Bert's Bricks 21 again

Last year I ran the Bert's Bricks 21 in Potch and with the earth completing its journey around the sun, it was again time for this novel road run. This time, I had company, with my neighbours Andrew and Ryan, a parkrun friend Lauwrence and my dear friend and old Jo'burg running buddy Jason.

Lauwrence, Jason, me, Andrew and Ryan
We were out of Parys by 05h00 to head to Potch and we got there with plenty of time to register, hang around and chat. This was Lauwrence's first 21 - and I think his first distance over 10km. He has been a regular at our Parys parkrun for about six months and runs a decent 21-minute 5km. He is built like a racing snake - light in build with long skinny legs. He is made for more distance.

The route is flat, with only a slight incline up to the Bert's Brick's factory at 10km. The novelty of this run is that runners can collect a marked brick at the factory and if they run all the way back to the finish with the brick, they get a 6-pack of beer. There are only 100 bricks.

Jason and I had a very easy outward run, jabbering all the way. It was surprisingly warm and within a few kilometres we were dripping with sweat. Despite the road being flat, it is fairly scenic out there with mielie fields and small holdings on either side of the road.

We spotted Lauwrence, with his brick, on his return (around 12km) and he looked bouncy and fast. Approaching the factory turn we saw Andrew and Ryan. They had brought along a small hydration pack and a baby carrier, respectively, to carry their bricks on their backs. Both systems worked very well for them.

Jason and I were fortunate to pick up two of the last bricks. We'd brought along pillowcases to hold the bricks. I did this last year and it had worked well.

The bricks this year were definitely smaller and lighter. These were grey pavers and not the thicker red bricks we had last time. They're easier to hold in your hand and less ungainly.

On the return we had the wind in our faces, which was far more cooling and kept the temperature down.

At the finish we claimed our beer, which none of us drink (I hang on to mine for visitors) and found our friends. Lauwrence had off-loaded his brick along the way but still clocked 1h30 for this first 21. We headed back to Parys and, with the sun up and bright, Jason got to see the hills of the Vredefort Dome area as we drove through.

It is the Sasol 21km in two weeks. I was last at this race in 2012 with Fred, Michael and Tommy. I'm working on my neighbours and some running friends to join me in Sasolburg on 4 Feb.

Monday, 16 January 2017

When your computer doesn't turn on

Monday. I turned on my laptop this morning... actually, I didn't manage to turn on my laptop this morning because it wouldn't turn on. My best guess is moisture from dampness around/near my laptop bag on Friday afternoon. Nothing was wet but it was humid and moist. I left it in the sun to dry out this morning but still nothing- so it is now at the shop.

I've been feeling quite out of sorts without my computer. I have a good backup but, of course, it is missing recent content and in the past two weeks I've created a bunch of new stuff. Fortunately, a lot of it is online and much is recoverable but there are a bunch of things I need - especially content from my email (no, I am not using cloud email). I do pick up my email on my phone, so I'm not completely out of it; but I don't run my email from my phone.

My computer is my link too - well, just about everything. Work, information, communication, hobbies, entertainment - it is all on my machine.

It is quite amazing how much stuff I do have 'in the cloud' with websites, banking, social media and a host of other activities not based on my computer - and often duplicated on my phone. The challenge is remembering all the passwords!

I'm sure my harddrive is ok and I'm hoping that I'll get lucky with prize #1 - that they can get my computer to turn on and run. Of course, if it can be properly fixed - all the better. Prize #2 will be just pulling the data off the harddrive.

I fired up my old laptop, which was a good one that I had for many years. Old faithful.

While I'm more disconnected than connected,  I'll make use of the time to do offline tasks I've been putting off.

Fingers crossed.

Running every road in Parys

I've got a new running game. I'm on a mission to run every road in Parys.

I started with this about two weeks ago and each time I go out I aim to run different streets, which I log on my Google Map.

I have a new weekly running buddy in my neighbour Andrew. Last week Wednesday, we ran an 11.5km route (orange) and will be making this a regular thing. Just as we got going, we bumped into another runner, Sarel, who was about to head out. We invited him to join us and as he will be running Comrades again, he is keen to join us regularly for some company. I'm planning this Wednesday's route with a view to colour-in more roads.

I like my new game and it is definitely a good motivator to see my map become more colourful with each run.

Friday, 6 January 2017

An impromptu 20km run

Yesterday early afternoon my neighbour gives me a call.

"Do you want to come run 21km with us this afternoon?" he asks.

'Us' is Andrew and his son-in law Ryan.

"Sure, sounds good," I reply.

"Meet us at 15h45 outside Ryan's place. Aisling is going to drop us off 21km away on the Venterskroon road and we'll run back."

As the section we would be running is part of the new event I'm concocting, I was in for sure. I met up with them, my GPS in my backpack to log the route.

I haven't run 20km since... about May, when I did a thru run of the Forest Run route! Aside from the 10km I did on New Years Eve, my runs haven't been longer than 5 to 8km.

It was hot out there when we set off a bit after 4pm. The route is dirt road for the first 10.5km and tar for the next half. We set an easy pace, with me slowing things down to walk parts of the hills.

Andrew (left) and Ryan (right)
The area is looking amazing. Views of the Vaal River, sightings of game, cattle, horses and goats here and there, and lush vegetation in shimmering green all over. The hills of the Vredefort Dome undulate the route.

A bit over two hours later we were back in town - ending on an even 20km with 346m ascent and 276m descent. We live around the corner from each other, which is convenient.

Good news for those thinking of running my AdventureLisa's Fun Run later this year, we ran the route in the opposite direction to what it will be run for the race - so you'll be going down more (on this section) that you'll go up.

I felt quite tired last night but am pleased to say that I'm none the worse for wear this morning. No stiff legs at all, which is surprising.

Yip, a good start to this year and a nice way to do long runs - by being dropped a distance from home.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Looking back on 2016

What a year! 2016 left me, like many others, feeling shattered. It felt like a year full of stresses and challenges and difficulties. But when I look back on the year, it also had a host of highlights that doesn't make it seem as bad as it felt.

The bad
Work was slow, too little and the lack thereof has been stressful.

Home life has been an adjustment living with two children one-week on and one-week off. As any parent knows, you can have a magical day with children and then the next feels like they've been swapped out for aliens.

A parent who grows with their children from the day they're born certainly has a higher tolerance-understanding-expectation level. As a 40-year old, single-for-most-of-her-life, jumping-into-the-deep-end step-mom, I don't.

This has been a steep learning curve and a big adjustment for me. Some days I do alright and other days I don't. This has brought with it a lot of emotional stress and when I'm in that groove, all I want to do is stay home and climb into bed, when I should be going for a run. And when I'm not running I feel awful and that doesn't help either.

I cancelled FEAT in October and while I was sad to make this decision, it gave me an opening to do other stuff. Usually, my June/July-Aug-Sept and part of October months are all about FEAT. The break was needed. I'm still undecided as to my plans for it this year but you'll find ongoing updates and stories of adventures and expeditions on the FEAT website.

Despite all of the good I had from 2016 (below), the year it left me feeling like there was a vice on my skull, a gorilla on my back and a cement block on my chest most of the time - with gaps of relief.

New Home
I have now been living in Parys for just over a year and I love this town! What I need to work on is taking more advantage of the close proximity and accessibility of everything. We seem to lose the plot and just get caught up in the normal stuff of work and family and responsibilities and commitments.
  • paddling more - the river is a block from home for white water and the paddle club is less than 5km from home for flat water
  • mountain biking more - we've got dirt roads all around plus venues with trails
  • trail running and hiking more - we've got the Vredefort Dome and my Forest Run route 15-25 minutes from home
  • running more - for my sanity I need to get more focus and run more. Last year was so bad that running more that I did in 2016 is not a high target!
A dismal year of running with few events and loads of inconsistency. I have a lot of work to get back to feeling like me again. I've concocted a new game to play - 'Running the roads of Parys'. Over the next few weeks I aim to run on every single road in the town and then wrap up with a run around the perimeter of the town.

I'm running Bert's Bricks 21 in Potch again (I ran it last year). It's on Sat, 21 Jan. I'm probably in for the Sasol 21km on 4 February.

Parys parkrun
Our Parys parkrun has been very much a part of my life a I'm Event Director here. Through parkrun I've gotten to make friends and get to know people in the town. I'm six runs away from achieving my 50th parkrun and this past year I volunteered on nearly 30 occasions - as Run Director or helping when Louis or Karen were RDs. I love it when friends come here to run.

We had low water most of the year so my white water progress has been negligible. I need to practice my rolls and spend more time on the river getting the hang of it. We also slacked off in winter and this summer with flat-water paddling at the club. Ruben had karate on Tuesdays (time trial) and Thursdays (training), which were our main paddling days. Fortunately this has changed, which frees us up to go paddle.

Mountain biking
I've had one ride this year, which is a good start. We've got an awesome 25km loop from home that I've done once. Such an accessible one to do... just to do it! I do ride my Qhubeka bike all around town for errands and smaller shopping.

Yoga (and dance)
I discovered yoga in town in August and have been going mostly once a week since. For the last few months Frances, our yoga teacher, has been in JHB a lot so classes have been a bit here-and-there. I've downloaded a bunch of yoga class videos, which I aim to get around to doing. Sure, I can self-practice, but I enjoy the company of people in a class. A video is a a kind of substitute for real people.

I'll be joining a dance class (solo dance) - probably starting from next week.

Although I didn't attend any orienteering events this year, I did create a map for Forest Run, part of which was used for the rogaine in September. I also mapped Parys Primary School and a section of the Vaal River from the paddling club for two orienteering activities for World Orienteering Day in May.

This year World Orienteering Day is on Wed, 24 May 2017 and I'll again do something at the school and paddle club.

Forest Run
This year's Forest Run was actually a huge project. In December 2015 I decided to move my event from the forests of Lakenvlei to the forests and hills of the Vredefort Dome. It took me just over three months from first scouting outing to hosting the event. These were busy weeks with long hours and well over 250km on foot where I had to scout trails in the area to see what was there, create a map, create three routes, find out who the land owners are, meet with each of them and get the event off the ground. Forest Run went very well although I really took a hammering and the event left me exhausted. 

With the map already created and relationships established, it is an easier journey this year and I can put more time into adding more special touches to the event.

Part of my map was added to and used for the annual rogaining event in September. The event went very well and the map was just perfect for it. I will be expanding the map and adding more detail.

I'm cooking up a new event for later this year - AdventureLisa's Fun Run. It has been on my mind for a few years and a bit of arm twisting by friends has helped to bring it front-of-mind again. Celliers and I brainstormed on the drive back from holiday and we'll go scouting soon. This area is perfect for it. Let's just say that it is substantially longer than five kilometres...

At the beginning of 2016 Celliers presented me with tickets to Chile. He'd managed to exchange his soon-to-expire air miles for flights. A week after Forest Run, we jetted off. During our time in Chile I blogged most days, using the mobile app to post from my phone. You can read about our adventures and where we went - with photos - from these June 2016 posts. A highlight was spending my 40th birthday trekking around Volcan Casablanca with Celliers.

In September I spent 9 days and 8 nights with a group of 16 year old girls on a hiking 'journey', which a friend and old AR teammate coordinates. It was an amazing experience to see these teenagers transform as they underwent long days of hiking, physical hardship and cooking their own meals. Every school would benefit from incorporating a journey into their Grade 10 curriculum.

In October my mom and I headed off to Spain to spend two weeks on the Camino de Santiago route. It was a wonderful experience with treasured memories of an adventure with my mom. Of course, I wrote daily and posted photos as we covered the 320-kilometre distance from Leon to Santiago.

Recently, over xmas, Celliers and I enjoyed a wonderfully restful and much-needed getaway - with thanks to friends who loaned us their cottage. A bit of walking, a bit of biking, a bit of paddling, a lot of reading, a lot of crochet and a lot of sleeping. Just perfect!

Furry friend
Returning from Chile in late June, I made a new friend. Kiska was a husky living across the road from us. An old fellow, he was put to sleep just before xmas. In the few months we had together we went for a few runs, some walks, hiking, rogaine scouting and had a few play dates and sleep overs. I was very very fond of this husky-boy and I miss not seeing him when I look out of my window as I type.

I feel as if I accomplished hardly anything, but my project list on my Ravelry says otherwise.

So, looking back, 2016 definitely wasn't all bad.

We've got new business projects lined up, activity and adventure plans, Forest Run planning and new event scouting on the cards... 2017 is set to be a non-stop year.

Wishing you too a year ahead full of adventures and bursting with health and activities. xxx

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

And some mountain biking too

With two days of rafting achieved in the past few days - and a bunch of runs for me, we took to the trails at Deelfontein for a dash of mountain biking on Monday. I've been out there once before to ride (and once for a run). It is a stunning property on the Parys side of the Vaal River - about 25 minutes from town. The trails here are extensive and cunningly crafted. There is a good mix with varying difficulty - from smooth cruising to rocky technical.

We took the children out there. Kyla has been resistant to biking but after seeing photos from a ride that Ruben did with Celliers a few weeks ago, she was keen to give it a try. She did incredibly well.

About 4.5km in Kyla got a puncture and unfortunately our repair kit hadn't made it into our backpacks (doh!). We had a brand new spare tube, still in its box. But the tube in the box was the wrong size - not the size on the box! She and I walked back while Ruben and Celliers completed the loop.

I think the puncture was actually an advantage because the section we rode was superb and she managed to easily ride the route with all but two short pushes. The next section would have been a bit more tricky with more rocks. The bonus of riding only what we did is that her confidence is solid now and she is keen to get out there again. We had a good walk back and enjoyed the scenery. The area is green and lush after recent rains.

We were only back at the finish for a few minutes when Ruben came riding up. Celliers was nowhere to be seen. Ruben said he'd left Celliers at a gate, which he was closing behind them. I waited a few minutes and still no sign of him. I ran along the road towards the gate. Nothing. I ran back and got the bakkie. No sign of him at the gate. I asked Ruben to guide me to the gate where he'd last seen his dad.

As it turns out, Ruben had left Celliers a bunch of gates back - like 2.5km back. While we were waiting for Celliers, he was riding back and forth looking for Ruben, fearing that he'd taken a wrong route. Minutes later, a short way up the road, we found Celliers, who'd decided to head for the finish to get me if Ruben hadn't made it there. While Celliers was worried about Ruben, I was worried about him -imaging him lying in a diabetic coma on the trail!

Of course we were cross with Ruben for leaving Celliers in the dust and not telling him that he wanted to ride ahead to the end, we were chuffed that he has gained the confidence to ride on his own, for 2.5km of trail, choosing the correct route - which he has only done twice before - to the finish.

Note to ourselves: instruct children on riding off on their own (which we don't mind if we know what their plan is) and drill them on protocols for getting lost / losing us.

Both children are keen to get out there again soon. MTB mission successful.

Running into the New Year

2016 was probably one of my worst years for running. Ever. Inconsistent, short, disrupted, unfocused. Some, but not enough. Never enough.

This weekend was a rocker. It started off with our Parys parkrun. Louis took on the Run Director role and so I ran. Hot, humid and a minute slower than my previous one! Perhaps pay-back for my week of doing nothing holiday?

On Saturday evening my mom and I went through to the Ou Jaars 5km/10km in Vanderbijl. We've done it a few times. This is a friendly and small road event where the 5km is two laps and the 10km is four laps. Same route as before.

What made this a winner this year is that I met up with my old friend and AR teammate  Roger there. He is out here with his wife from Australia, where he has been living for a few years (Jakarta before that and Scotland before that). We haven't seen each other for a few years. His folks also came along - I haven't seen them for a long time either. They were support crew for us back in 1999 at the 500km AR in the Cederberg!

I ran-walked the first 5km with Rog. We talked the hind leg off a donkey. He turned off and I ran than next five on my own. With a total time just over an hour, it was a good one and I was drenched afterwards.

I met up with Celliers and friends for a lovely New Years dinner - on a flat rock in the Vaal River.

Photo by Tanja
The next morning I was up at the crack of dawn to fetch mom and head through to Potch for the Potch parkrun. We had teamed up with Potch for a 'PnP' New Year's special. Potch parkrun at 07h00 and Parys parkrun at 09h00.

I was delighted to meet up with friends Nicholas and Stephanie Mulder and Alison Curtis, who had come through to take advantage of this two-parkrun special. Also, both of these New Year's Day parkruns counted towards the logs, which was an added bonus.

Not in focus, but evidence nonetheless. Me with Stephanie. Photo by Peter.
It was warm, even at 7am! There were mostly visitors at this event and most would be heading through to Parys too. By 07h30 I was in my car and heading back to Parys to set up for our event.

What a great turnout! We ended up with over 130 participants - many locals but mostly visitors. This is about the 5th or 6th time ever that we've been over 100.

Me doing the briefing. Photo by Louis.
parkrun is a volunteer-based organisation and events are made possible by people who assist every week with marshalling, timekeeping and scanning.

Gina (timekeeping), me (RD), Johan (timekeeping), Beatrice (tokens), Louis (scanning). Not pictured are Peter (photos) and Karen (turn-around marshal)
Since winter, we have allowed our volunteers to run early so that they don't miss out on participating. I made up my missed New Year's Day run yesterday (the venue had an event on Sunday afternoon).

parkrun has been very rewarding for me this year. Moving to Parys a year ago, I hardly knew anyone. Through parkrun I've made new friends and have gotten to know people in the town. There is hardly an outing to town where I don't get to wave and say hello to a person that I have met through parkrun. Being a small town and small parkrun (we usually have 60-90 participants), we have a lovely and friendly community where it is possible to know everyone's names. I like that.

This year I volunteered more than I ran and I missed a bunch of weekends when I was away through June, a chunk of September and October. I have now done 44 parkruns (only 6 different venues) and should make my 50th during February.

parkrunning is an excellent weekly time-trial event and my times certainly show that I need to do work on speed and fitness. I need to put in some regular track sessions and look forward to seeing my times improve over the next few months. April and May are the best months for PBs (cooler in the mornings, not freezing cold yet) so I've got some time to get some kick back into my legs.

Four runs over the weekend - a fine salute to ring in the new year.

When the river is up, we raft

Living next to the Vaal River, we pay close attention to the water level. We have a few spots in town - the bridge, 'town rapid' and the rapid at the golf estate entrance - that we keep an eye on to see how high - or not - the water is.

On Thursday afternoon the river was up - gates open at Barrage. Plans were on for rafting on Friday. Our plans were in a bit of a jumble. Too much water makes it too risky to take children on the river. They love the rapids but they won't love a big swim very much. Too little water and the oar raft is a drag that will get stuck on rocks.

It looked like we were in for 'too much' so we opted to leave the kids with friends and formed a 6-person rafting crew. As it turned out, the river had dropped substantially by morning but we had our crew and were ready to hit the water by 9am.

What a blast! It really is fun paddling a raft and Celliers gave us great lines. We had all the action with no swims. A well coordinated and committed crew.

Herman, Inke, Cor, Celliers, Jeanne-Marie and me
As the river was still looking good, we planned to hit the river again the next morning - two oar rafts with children. I ran parkrun first and then met everyone at the put-in. It was me and Celliers with Ruben and Kyla in our raft, and Jacques and Tanja with their boys, Henry and Andre, in their raft. Sylvia and Inke joined us in their kayaks.

Celliers on oars
This was a bit of a holiday jaunt for me. Celliers had the oars so I got to sit and enjoy the ride -looking out for fish eagles and goliath herons along the way.

Going into Big Daddy

Tanja & Jacques' raft (with their boys, Henry and Andre)

Kyla and Ruben. They learned how to get back into the raft on their own. This is an excellent skill to acquire - and they have it nailed.

Bombs off the raft
The river had again dropped but with good lines, we made it through all the tricky sections smoothly and didn't get stuck. But, we did have a near flip at Gatsien.

Our line going in was excellent. We'd gone into the last big wave and just as Celliers was digging in the oars to pull us through the wave, the right oar popped out of its holder and the left dug in and was got sucked in, turning the raft sideways and around.

Sitting at the front, I realised we weren't moving and could feel the rapid sucking at the bottom of the raft. I turned around and saw carnage - Celliers legs were in the air and there was water everywhere. I'm not quite sure what happened but we must have been turned around because water was pouring over the front. I flew over Ruben and Kyla, launching myself for the back to bring it down and at the same time diving for the side to grab the free-range oar. Shifting my weight helped and we popped out. Phew! The children has BIG eyes, but they loved the action and adventure of the near flip.

The river is up and down at the moment, the level changing from releases at Barrage and some from upstream rainfall. We're keeping a close eye on it as our next trip could be in kayaks - on some of the easier lower down rapids - practice for me and the children.