From the starting point it seemed easy enough though, especially now that it was only 30km, how hard could that be, compared to 75km of Mossel bay? The route was of loose small rocks at the beginning and everyone was optimistic including your’s truly. I remember saying to one member of the well-known strong teams in the competition that this is going to be ‘child’s play’. I’ve done most of the difficult routes like Mossel bay Vasby, Mossel bay Khoikhoi Stamp, Polsmoor, Kanaland, Gaansbaai Endurance walking competitions to name but the few, so I did not expect much difficulty with Tulbah.
As I sat on top of Tulbah Mountain, thinking if only I could get water, I could exercise this advice (pour water over my head and the back of my neck), and maybe I would feel better, but where was I going to get water from? I only had a half 500ml of energy drink and was hoping to keep that until I could see the next water point a mile away. I had begged my team members to please leave me behind I would be OK and I would find my way back once I feel strong enough. I promised them that if I am not feeling better I would call in and tell them and they would send in help and they promised to call every 30 minutes just to be sure, and they did.
It was embarrassing really, within only one kilometer into the walk I had realized that I was having difficulty breathing. It was like my nostrils were closed, the oxygen I was breathing was not enough to sustain by labored breathing. I was feeling more detached second by second. So I breathed thorough my mouth which was a very bad move. Within seconds it was like I’ve been chewing gravel and swallowed it without full processing it. The pain was so excruciating as if someone had sand-papered my chest inside.
My walking shoes were finding it difficult to stick to the ground, and you can blame that to my legs turning to jelly. I kept on stumbling and was afraid I would break a leg. My heard was swimming and lolling as if I hadn’t have enough sleep. My vision distorted, try though I did close my eyes, when I opened them my vision was still nowhere near improvement. I did not understand what was happening to me. I’ve never been an excellent sports woman even at school level I have to admit. I played to the best of my ability though that could never have won me a Sports Woman of the Year Award, but this was pathetic, I though grudgingly.
I tried all kinds of sports I could get myself into at school but was not an excellent athlete, with the bird frame body I have my primary school teachers always hoped at first, until they realized that I lack the energy to go faster. In athletics, I easily got tired, even at 100m or I would drop the baton, who does that really? Even asthmatic kids did better than me.
So I tried something I knew I CAN DO, walking. Walking is easy right? I mean you walk for kilometers no end but the end result is you’re walking, how difficult could that be? I grew up in very rural areas where walking very long distances was a daily ritual. I had to walk 6 kilometers to and from school every morning and afternoon throughout my junior and high school, raining or not no school bus. Or a long walk visiting friends or relatives living far away, so walking was my thing. I might have not be a serious athlete or played any particular sport with excellence but I knew I could walk.
Maybe it wasn’t so wise after all really boasting that I had competed in the great Mossel bay Vasby 75km for the first time with the known killing beach walk and had earned a bronze medal. Or that I had also competed in the Gaansbaai Endurance walk and came up with a silver, and today I was going to scoop a gold medal. Although I wasn’t just pulling his leg, I just couldn’t help but remind the competition that we were there to win. I had actually competed in almost all the small competitions including the ones I mentioned and received medals although not gold yet and I reckoned I was fit. My team members kept talking about how difficult this route was on our way to Tulbah but I just discarded that as non-optimism.
Try though I did I increasingly found that I actually walked better with my eyes closed. That was impossible though because we were not walking on a tarred road but on a part of route that had a mini-stream with dangerously slippery rocks. I kept on walking and tried to guard my steps but it became difficult with every step. Especially because we were the first team in front and there were groups of people behind us anxious to pass and there was only one path and I was being very slow on it. My team mates tried to put me in front of the team for morale. One dragging me with a makeshift bandage rope tied in my middle and other pushing me from behind but they eventually understood that I was a semi-hospital case.
Someone from another team joked as they passed us and I realized he was from the team I had boasted about my achievements to earlier. “You guys are a strong team ‘dragging a trailer all the way to the finishing line’, typical competitor of cause. Being a hospital case on top of the mountain where no vehicle could ever reach was a very dangerous joke. The closest we had to paramedics in any case were wild-fire fighters, standing at the water points a kilometer apart. Now if I happened to get very sick on that top of the mountain maybe I could get help, but help from a paramedic seemed better than that from a wild-fire fighter.
So I decided that they must leave me there at least I could make my way back to the starting point we had left behind in an hour and some tens of minutes ago. I would rest then make my way half way down and find the support vehicle at half a kilometer back, have lots of water then get back to the starting point with my spikey tail between my shack legs. Although it was very disappointing for my team mates to leave me behind they had to continue now individually with the competition.
I surely had let them down I thought, we were not very good contenders to the gold medal but together we knew we could make it. I was feeling very bad about that more than I was feeling bad about my immediate predicament. I had broken the team spirit, now they had to compete a woman for herself. Every team passing me lying on the ground felt sorry for me and asked if there was anything they could do and I said no, I was fuming inside. Even the elderly teams over 50’s were going strong and I was almost half that age, what was wrong with me? Having trouble finishing even the first two kilometers of the walk.
Lying there I realized that feeling sorry for myself and disappointing my teammates are not every attracting words put together. I was giving up and I felt helpless like that no good for anything child I had been in primary school over again. Oh! And the reality of why I suddenly lost energy hit me, I was even embarrassed to admit to anyone. I did not eat breakfast, I fashionable skipped the every first and most important meal of the day, so I was hungry, jeez! The added strain on my body was draining my energy source and guess what, there was nothing to drain from because there was no food in my stomach, how foolish of me?
I always get anxious so much that eating becomes difficult when I’m going to travel to a faraway place. So I usually just take my food with in the morning and eat when I arrive but that morning we were a bit late and just minutes after arrival the walk was about to start. I couldn’t eat and since it was just a mere 30km I thought that I will make it, but I was very wrong. And guess what? I hadn’t heeded to the organizer’s advice, (if you don’t have back-up help carry some sweets, energy boosting chewable tablets, banana, headache pills etc. in a moon bag around your middle.)
Fuzzy though I was, I was determined to walk and finish my walk, now that I knew I was not really sick but I did not have the strength because I was just hungry. Although I was very behind my team, I was definitely going to finish the walk. Giving up was not an option where I am concerned, and besides endurance walking was a newly found passion, the only thing that I thought I’m good at, giving up on it would be betraying that thought. Jelly feet, shaking hands, swimming head, distorted vision and all, I attempted to stand up and walk. I could not let this Tulbah Mountain defeat me. Even though there were very few birds on that mountain, but those small things appeared be laughing at me, the looser!
Instead of walking back towards the camp though, I was walking up the mountain in the direction of all the other teams that had passed me feeling sorry. I was damned if I was going to give up and be beaten by a 30km route? Never! The first team I passed could not believe it. One wide-eyed member exclaimed, “Did you just wake up from the dead? Unbelievable!” “Oh yeah and I’m here to stay”. I said edging past the team, still weak and shaky but was determined to go forward. As I continued in the route one thing and one thing only was on my mind I was going to complete this route no matter what. I could feel that I was getting stronger and stronger as I went up the mountain. Maybe the sight was helping me to get stronger surrounded by the mountain brush and Cape fynbos, the fresh air on top of the mountain helped me regain my strength.
By the time I made it to the next kilometer I had recovered and feeling much stronger. So my next goal was to catch up with my team mates. They were not going to believe what they were going to see. They kept through to their promise to call every 30 minutes and a few times I told them I was heading back to the starting point. When they called every time after that I would tell them that I’m either nearer the starting point or I have arrived and I’m well. So with that re-assurance they walked on full speed to the finishing line. They were as surprised as every competitor I had passed on the route, when I came into their view a few meters to the finishing line.
They kept asking how I did it. I was definitely a semi-hospital case and they’ve seen that when they left me behind. We made it together with my teammate across the finishing line. Although we did not win the gold medal for the firstplace because of distance between team members and check point reporting technicalities, I was nevertheless proud of myself for enduring!