An early morning start with mist whirling around us was the introduction to Mbona Private Game Reserve. A cooler day compared to the week of hell hot that we have had, was a welcome relief. Six of us set off, ably led by our leader from Karkloof Conservancy, up a steep slope into a natural forest. With no view being available we looked at what was closer to us.
Previously when I did this hike, I was so focused on the beautiful views, that I did not pay close attention to the wonders of nature much closer in my visual space. After the beautiful rains, and the heat, the slopes we alive with a variety of different flowers, all beautifully draped with dew crystals. Vast expanses of bright red paper flowers could not be captured with a camera. The mind memory has to take these photos and keep them in my head. The mist kept us focused from forest to grasslands and back to forest. Clambering through the path to the incredible giant Yellow Wood forest. These trees are giants in their natural habitat. A story book feeling. So peaceful, with the noises of nature being calming and easily receptive to the human ear. We sat in silence for a time without speaking, without any interaction, to enjoy the sounds of living nature. I could have stayed for much longer and just listened and looked. The return journey continued to be shrouded in mist. We found the most incredible Lemon Wood trees with hollow centers and all branches coming out of the hollow center being solid, large and incredible.
From ringing stones, to flowers, to fungi to spider holes we enjoyed all. With a sense of awe at natures creation our hike was slowed to a pace that allowed us to truly interact with nature. To slow down. To be tactile. Enjoy the natural smells. To feel emotionally, mentally and physically.
In today’s world of frenetic functionality we need to stop. We need to give ourselves time to regenerate away from screens and everyone else’s opinion. We have to have time to be creative, interactive and to find solitude. Be happy and comfortable in our own skins. This hike was all of that and more.
On the weekend of the 9th October, Ali Engelbrecht, took to the road to compete in the Virtual 125th Boston Marathon. Residents of Howick are possibly familiar with the site of the pink peak hat and Women In Business T-shirt pacing the streets. As a long distance walker and a seasoned virtual competitor Ali couldn’t resist the opportunity to participate in an international marathon. Added to which her virtual team mates, affectionately known as Bernie’s Bitches, had all registered to participate. FOMO (fear of missing out) set in, but was alleviated by a very kind sponsor who entered Ali, and it was all systems go from then on.
This was her 1st ever Marathon and she walked it, every single kilometre of the 42 kilometre distance. The support, encouragement and incredible feeling of accomplishment made the tired muscles all worth it, said Ali. Midlands Hiking Club members, ably led by Hettie Randall set up a relay of support vehicles and fellow walkers. Friends and family encouragement along the route was incredible. Starting and finishing at WESSA Umgeni Valley was extra special as this is Ali’s ‘happy place and space’. The sunrise start to the Boston Marathon was spectacular. Beautiful clear morning with the promise of a great day ahead and the rain stayed away. From WESSA, Ali headed up Karkloof Road, past Karkloof Market, the Old Mushroom Farm, Karkloof Club, Karkloof Conservancy, and past Karkloof Canopy Tours, turning back to walk the route in reverse, finishing at a “real” finish line set up by the well wishers at the WESSA entrance. Even though this was a virtual event, there was the feeling of rapport with her fellow Canadian #BerniesBitches viz Janet Black from Surrey, Mela Williams from Manitoba, and Martha Franklin from Ontario. In constant contact with one another the updates on each one’s progress was detailed. Approaching the finish, Ali admits to being very emotional with friends and family waiting for her, together with her beautiful new rescue dog Willow. Yes, I was tired, she said. Yes there were many moments when she questioned her sanity. Would she do it again….., her answer “Oh hell yes”!
When asked to explain the interesting team name and how she came to be part of a Canadian group, Ali laughed and said ‘they are crazies but they keep me sane’. In 2019 Ali participated in her first long distance virtual challenge to complete 2,019 kilometers in 2019. In 2020 she did the same, walking 2,020 kilometers. Through these two challenges Ali became virtual friends with Janet, Martha and Mela. They decided in their crazy wisdom, to create a team and virtually walk across Canada from East to West in The Big Canada Run Challenge. A distance of 8,000 kilometres. Of course a name had to be found for this virtual and ‘international’ team. Janet has a rescue dog named Bernie and we had become very fond of Bernie and her antics, explained Ali. Bernie had become the team mascot, therefore the name Bernie’s Bitches became our team name. The team certainly stood out with a name like that and they fast became a group to be reckoned with. The postings on social media of their walking and running adventures being enjoyed by all who follow them. In 2021 they all participated in the 2,021 km challenge, plus they registered for the Big Canada Run again, but this time they upped the target to 10,000 kilometers. This challenge they are currently completing.
Virtual challenges are possibly more difficult than in person ones. There is usually no support, no encouragement from onlookers and all supplies have to be carried by the participant. Since her first event in 2019, Ali has learnt, by trial and error, what to carry and to carefully plan her routes, sometimes not very successfully, she laughs. Competing in many virtual events, organised across the globe, including the Comrades Half Marathons, Ali has amassed several incredible medals and made virtual friends with many walkers and runners from around the world. Ali explains that the virtual tourism is amazing, as she gets to ‘visit’ many of the local places of interest and learn first hand from the residents of the towns and cities where other participants reside.
We asked Ali why she participates and what drives her to do this virtual walking. Her answer was simple, its cheaper than anti anxiety medication, it’s the best stress reliever and she gets to meet and interact with incredible people. Ali had dedicated her walking to an awareness campaign known as #Walking4Women where she endeavours to raise awareness of how far, the average South African woman, who is reliant on public transport, has to walk to get to and from work every day. The average distance walked is 8 kilometers a day just to get to work and back. Ali appeals to management, leaders and the public to be kind and empathetic to all staff who need to sometimes just sit and rest their legs before commencing work. “Think of how far they have had to walk, whilst you may have only had to drive your car”.
Follow Ali on Facebook to keep up with her walking adventures. If you would like to support Ali by sponsoring branded walking apparel please contact Ali on email@example.com
The idea behind a pilgrimage walk is to get in touch with oneself and leave the troubles of the world behind for a short while. The pilgrimage gives you time to decide what is important and what is not. Getting one’s priorities in the right order.
Yet amongst all this self reflection there is also the opportunity to discover new interests, places, knowledge and friendships. I tend to get so bogged down in the day to day activities and the roller coaster of life, that I forget to appreciate the amazingness of nature. Being away from home, although always good to be home, sometimes I need to leave to give myself space to just be. Having a few days in which to be ‘irresponsible’ and not having to think or make decisions is truly good for the soul, heart and emotions.
I recently took part in my second Sungazer Trail along the Historic Route. It’s one of the shorter trails, but incredibly interesting. The first day gave me a chance to really unwind. 22 kms of gravel road, with incredible Eastern Free State scenery. Arriving at Holhoek it was liberating to take off my hiking boots, have a hot shower and put my feet up. A communal braai and home made Gluwein rounded off an incredible day.
A Free State breakfast, of a gastronomic nature, started the day off before we left to explore the dinosaur footprints and eggs. I cannot begin to explain the awe that I felt being in a place where millions of years ago the giants of the world roamed. To be able to be right up close to all this evidence was a treat. To tread where this mighty giants roamed was humbling. I want to know more, I want to be part of this excavation. I want to be part of this amazing discovery. We even came across a wonderful Bushman Painting.
Getting back to Holhoek, we finished off a second round of breakfast, thanks to generous catering. We then set off to our next destination at Uniondale. Uniondale was like landing in heaven, with soft beds, hot baths and showers and catering to absolutely die for. Do not expect to loose weight when on a Sungazer Trail. That aint ever gonna happen. Ending a short pilgrimage in a place like this was so special and the kindness of the staff was wonderful.
Where is my next adventure? Who knows? I take them as they come. Hopefully I will post more often as I really would like to keep a diary of my journeys that I am blessed to be able to participate in.
So often we walk/run without noticing the small things around us. We always looking for the obvious, and yet the small little things in life are often as interesting if not more so. All my life I have walked in the Umgeni Valley but only last year and again this year did I notice the fungi growing out of an ant hill. Not knowing what it was, the fungi became affectionately known as Thingie Fungi. On a hike during the course of last year, in discussion with a fellow hiker, I discovered that ants farm fungi. It helps with their food storage and breaking down of the food into edible units of food.
Made me think about how oblivious we, as humans, generally are. We look for the obvious but don’t investigate the not so obvious which quite often solves a problem or offers an answer. Like the ants use fungi, why don’t we as humans co-exist and help one another. In the current COVID crises we are looking at the virus and seeing death, destruction, financial ruin and devastation. Yet if we just take the time to look, investigate, try something new we may find the answers to the success we so desperately seek. Look away from the obvious and look into what’s not so obvious.
Add to that the beauty around us like the sunsets and even the scary snakes in our paths we can appreciate life and what it has to offer. In the obvious we take for granted that snakes hibernate in winter. Yet this winter I have seen more snakes than in any other year. They cross our paths and we cannot be held to ransom for this block in our path, go around, jump, hop or skip over the obstacle. Again don’t look at the obvious there is always something to be grateful for even if it seems like a block in our plans. The winter cold brings with it beauty as well as obstacles, but that should never stop us from reaching for our goals.
My goal to complete minimum of 10 kms a day for the month of July to celebrate and raise awareness of those who have to walk to and from work. Lets not let the cold, snakes and daily chores stop us from getting out there and enjoying what life and nature has to offer us.
Two years ago I came home from a particularly wet and muddy hike. Left my very expensive, incredibly comfortable hiking boots on the tail gate of my Land Rover to dry. Completely forgetting that they were there, I drove off the next day with the boots still on the tail gate. The boots obviously fell off and some lucky person picked up a pair of amazing boots who had travelled many thousands of miles on my feet. I was very sad as those boots and I had history and many memories.
I tried various other hiking shoes and boots but didn’t find anything that suited me or felt right. Today I received a pair of Hoka Hiking boots that I had ordered online and decided I would take a chance on. A quick diversion here. I discovered Hoka walking/running shoes through interactions with the various international virtual walking/running groups that I am part of. I fell in love with my #Hokas. For the first time in many many years I do not suffer from burning balls of my feet during and after a walk. I decided that if they can make shoes that fit my soles then they can be the soul for my hiking boots.
Couldn’t wait to take them out for a trial hike. Off I headed into my favourite valley this morning. WESSA Umgeni Valley is my happy place. Tried these new boots on grass, dirt, rocks, steep inclines and sandy rocky banks. 10 kms later I arrived back home with comfortable happy feet and a smile on my face. Have fallen in love with my new hiking boots. Looking forward to many miles and memories to be made.
It does make me realise how blessed I am that I can purchase a pair of beautiful boots for my leisure and pleasure, whereas there are many who cannot afford a pair of shoes. Be blessed, stay humble and be kind.
“Kind words and kind deeds keep life’s garden free of weeds”.
Not sure who wrote this but it certainly strikes a cord given the current crises the world is facing right now. The feelings of anxiety, stress, fear which are constantly eroding confidence and planning. It takes nothing to be kind, to smile, to share a compliment with someone. So why are we not doing this more often.
Walking almost every day I come across many different persons. Some are quietly avoiding me and not wanting to make eye contact. Yet when they do and I greet them with a friendly tone (through my mask) their facial features (eyes) light up. Just a simple good morning with a happy tone can make a difference. There are those who greet back wholeheartedly and a short conversation takes place. Usually leaving me feeling good about the positive interaction. These regular walks mean I get to recognise an number of people coming to and from work. We have a lovely routine of a hello/howzit how are you. It’s inconsequential conversation but with the right tone you can make a difference to someone. Those who are finished with a night shift are tired, having to take care of someone needing mental, emotional and physical help. A kind word goes a long way with someone who is tired.
The cashier at the supermarket has been on their feet for a long shift. Be kind. Be nice. Leave them feeling like you really appreciated the work they do. You like to be appreciated, offer the same in return.
During 2019 I took up the challenge to venture further afield than my usual walking routes. Thanks to KZN Trail Running I discovered some unique and varied places to walk and within a hour or twos drive from my home. Places that were previously unavailable to the public in general were now open to me via KZN Trail Running. Approximately 50% of my 2019 mileage was through this organisation. What fun I had. Meeting new people, chatting, learning about different places and spaces and the variety of people, their professions, their family, their love of the outdoors.
Of course a far amount of mileage also took place in my favourite valley WESSA Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve. As I child I grew up walking this valley as it was part of my dad’s farm. My dad being the original founder of Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve. I have walked this valley for most of my life and there is always something new to discover and see. This is my happy contented space. The place I love to be, the place that calms me, the place that sets everything in the world right, the place where my dad has his final resting place.
Other mileage during 2019 was through various formally organised races. SPAR Ladies, Deloittes, ECR Long Walk, Mandela, Rhino Run, Martizburg Marathon, to mention a few, and a couple of virtual races thrown in. I attempted the Longest Day for my 60th birthday, with the aim of completing 60 kms in 12 hours. Just made it but did it.
Walking has taught me a lot about determination. Set your sites on a goal and achieve it. Doesn’t matter how long it takes you, some days the mileage takes longer than others, but the journey is to be enjoyed. I never look for personal best times, it never concerns me how long it takes me. I set out with an idea in mind of how far I want to go. Usually I end up walking further as I get so engrossed in the scenery and the surroundings, that I forget how far I have walked. Walking has also allowed me to unlearn the planning of every journey. Just go out there and enjoy and who cares where you end up. One day I got so engrossed in the beauty of the forests that I landed up getting lost and having to walk a far longer distance than anticipated. Thank goodness for tracking devices as I was able to back track using my tracker.
There have been some days where I just felt that I couldn’t go another kilometre. There have been days when I just haven’t had the energy to go out and walk. There have been days when I have had to resort to the dreadmill to keep up with mileage. Days when I question my sanity in getting myself involved in various races, virtual and actual. 2019 did teach me that every day is to be enjoyed. Hitting the age of 60 somehow brings a certain realisation that you are not invincible, but you can finish what you started.
Let me start off by introducing myself and the reason for #Walking4Women. My name is Ali Engelbrecht. I am the voluntary CEO of a non profit organisation know as Women In Business, which is a social networking platform for entrepreneurial women.
At the end of November 2018 Facebook had a pop up advert for a group of virtual walkers. The challenge was 1,200 miles in 2019, called the Invincible Challenge. I had just finished a couple of years of studying part time and I needed something useful to fill my time, but something that wouldn’t be indoors. Having grown up on a farm and been an avid walker all my life, I decided I would take on this challenge.
During the course of 2019 I virtually met my other Invincibles. We interacted on a closed Facebook group. As the year progressed friendships were formed and a spin off was I became a virtual traveler and I became an informal ambassador for tourism in South Africa. We shared photos and personal trivia, laughed and encouraged one another and as we each reached the target of 1,200 miles, we celebrated. By the end of 2019 we decided that we needed to do another event so that we could maintain the common thread and stay in touch.
2020 brought many many challenges. The first one being 2,020 kilometres in 2020. The second one being the Lock Down due to COVID. Being in lock down and trapped within one’s own home and property created challenges but not insurmountable ones. I am very fortunate to live on a small holding. Mowed a maze of paths around the property and was able to enter many other virtual challenges and keep up my mileage for the 2,020 km challenge. The big bonus was to be able to work from home. Instead of spending two hours a day on the road to and from work, I used that time to walk. The mileage added up very quickly. We are now half way through the year, my mileage is 1,586 kms completed to-date.
A group of us girls, who are now firm virtual friends, decided to join as a team the Big Canada Race. 8,000 kms across Canada to be completed within a year. We agreed to our team name #BerniesBitches (story for another posting) setting off on 1st July to cross Canada virtually. Our Team Captain Bernie (a dog) and her mum Team Leader Janet have been instrumental in getting us organised and running (well in my case walking).
Throughout the 1,200 mile challenge in 2019 I came across other walkers on the road or on trails and just chatted in general. As a walker you are generally at the back of the pack and a lot slower than the majority. But you do get to talk to some amazing people who have such interesting lives. On the roads I chatted to many women walking to and from work. As the months progressed I realised that what I thought was invincible and fantastic was actually not. Many women (and men) who only have access to public transport to get to and from work, walk at least 1,200 miles in a year. The #Walking4Women awareness campaign was born. Through this #Walking4Women campaign I want to create awareness around how far women have to walk to and from work, and for employers to be empathetic towards these ladies. Often they have to stand for long hours at work making them leg weary. Creating awareness hopefully will make employers more understanding and supportive.
Having had many adventures over the last 18 months with the long distance walking, creating a following on social media and sharing the insights of the gorgeous places I get to walk, its now time to start recording these adventures.
More posts to follow. Explanation of Team Bernie Bitches also to follow in future posts.