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a few S. Africa summer miles..

doug in co


We spent a month in S. Africa to see family and old friends, over Christmas. It's made me realize I'm ready for my retirement now.. 

At first I'd written about this further down, then decided that was burying the lede.

So here's the beg - 
My son is running Boston with the Boston Medical Center charity group. Here's his fundraising video.. 

That done, here's the story. Denver to Atlanta, a bit of milling around in the airport, then 16 hours nonstop to Johannesburg. Delta had overbooked the flight and then switched to a smaller plane. They offered $4000 each to be bumped. For three of us, that would pay for the entire flights, plus $2000 of spending money for living large on that wonderful inexpensive (in dollars) S. African food and wine. Unfortunately Delta couldn't guarantee anything in terms of the flight routing if bumped, most likely to LA then Thailand with a layover.  Or possibly NY, to Amsterdam with a 9 hour layover, then onwards. That would eat up several days of hard-earned vacation time plus discombobulate many of our other travel arrangements. Plus I really really hate the NY airports, all of them. Sadly we declined. 

It's still a bit unsafe to run on your own in Johannesburg so I did not. Instead there is a wonderful institution from the UK known as Parkrun. Free, volunteer-organized, 5k events every Saturday morning. There were several in range for me.


I picked the Delta park run as I used to live near there, and had run through the park many a time as a young man, back when it was safe to run alone. Also, this was the first Parkrun in South Africa, started by Bruce Fordyce . He's is the 9-time winner of the 55 mile Comrades Marathon, held the world 50 mile record for decades, London-Brighton 50mile race winner, etc etc.

Stiff from 16 hours on a plane with 9 hours of time difference jetlag, should be fine right ?  Dragged my old bones around the 5k of mud and singletrack, more of a cross-country than a 5k. 


Nicely organized, you register once with Parkrun to get a barcode, then it's scanned at the finish by a volunteer on their phone. Results and statistics are generated. There are T-shirts when you get to 50, 100, and on up, completed Parkruns. This was Parkrun number 508 in Delta Park with 450 finishers many of them walkers. I got 74th in 31:49 marking my first official 5k finish over 30min... ha. 

Notice on that screenshot of the various parkruns, the Discovery/Vitality logos. This is used by most of the private health insurance companies in SA. Logging a parkrun gives you points in the insurance apps, which can reduce premiums, get you a free smoothie at the Vitality gyms, discounts on fresh vegetables at the grocery store, all kinds of healthy living benefits. You can also link your Strava to Discovery and get those workouts logged. The USA is seriously behind in both Parkrunning and health insurance I feel. 
There are a few Parkruns in the USA, though it's severely hamstrung here by liability issues. 

Jetlag adaptation started, we flew down to the seafront town of Knysna with my wife's mother from Joburg. Helen's sister and husband have a house on an island in the lagoon there which is rather wonderful. The view from the porch looks like, 


The seagrass had a rotating cast of birds come to pick over the crabs and shrimp buffet. Honestly I could just sit on the porch all day to watch the tide going in and out. Definitely ready for my retirement. 
But like Granny Weatherwax, "I ate'nt dead yet"  so guess I gotta keep on moving.   

One day out to the Donkey Bridge, the old railroad bridge across the lagoon. It's no longer carrying trains so we can run on the side. It's very SA, rusty old side rails many of them broken off, and completely unsafe. If you fall off it's your own damn fault, don't call us. 


Another day in the rain, my older son had come out just for the week of Christmas so we ran together until he needed to do the tempo bit and sped away. 

If it isn't on Strava did it even happen ? 
Or as my brother-in-law Peter says, if you find me unconscious on the side of the road, please be sure to pause my Strava.. 


Pretty good views.. 


We went do a charity ride and run one day, for the Sabrina Love foundation. Notice the Discovery/Vitality points allocation mentioned on the website.

This was an interesting setup, no formal start or finish, just show up sometime between 6am and 10am, time yourself and submit times on the honesty system. The courses are marked with rather small tape flags which meant attention must be paid. Peter, my niece Allie and I were going to do the shorter MTB route while Ian ran the half marathon. On the drive over the bike rack failed so Peter's bike dragged on the road and became unrideable. Allie (16) and I went off undaunted. Quickly I realized she was going to be much much faster than me on the technical bits of which there were many. Just before this tunnel through the woods I'd failed to make a right angle turn after a slalom through rocks and trees, fell and winded myself. Allie was kind enough to wait for me though I could tell she was a little frustrated by the slow old man. But as I told her, after 60 you don't bounce very well and I would rather not. Bounce, that is. 


Meantime Ian was steaming along well on the road section of the half. So well, that he didn't notice a flag, and went miles off course. After 11 miles he thought something must be wrong. There wasn't any phone coverage so he kept on running up the mountain until finding coverage. Then he called his aunt back in Knysna, who called Peter who was back in Plettenberg town getting his bike fixed, who called the race organizers to mount a rescue.


Here's Ian with the rescue Landcruiser. They gave him a medal anyway.. 


Another day I'd signed Ian up to do a 1650 meter swim in the lagoon, a bit more than a mile. This was another charity thing, for Rotary Club of Knysna to raise money for swimming lessons. There's quite a lot of drowning in the lagoon as many children can't swim or even float. So Rotary decided to do something about it. 


Ian was game although a bit intimidated I think, his usual swim distance is 50yards in 20sec or so. A mile in 25-30min and 65 degree water is something else.  We had fun anyway. He beat me by a bit over a minute, 28min to 29. The medals here were cute wire sculptures of the Knysna seahorse


Here's one of them, in the Cape Town aquarium. 


Christmas and New Year's with family accomplished, we took off for Cape Town. As sister-in-law Nicole said, an entire house full of neurodiverse people and we're all still friends, not bad. On the way we stopped at a B&B up in the hills at the edge of the Klein Karoo. Good trails though not for running. A 5k route on the Klipspringer trail took me 45min, most of it walking either very up or very down, with rocks in. 'Klipspringer' is the Afrikaans name for a kind of small antelope that likes to leap from rock to rock, and it translates literally to 'rock leaper'. In 2006 when we visited SA, this was Christopher's favorite song even though he couldn't understand the lyrics - David Kramer's Klipspringer.

Here's the trail, 500 feet above the valley which was the only runnable bit of trail. 


A jagged little thing.. 


In Cape Town to stay with some old friends we used to do a lot of backpacking and mountaineering with. Heather reminded me not only did we work together, I used to be her boss. Well it's just a mercy we both got out alive. I went to the Rondebosch Parkrun. This was memory lane. I grew up in a small house just off the Rondebosch Common, and walked to my primary school across the common. It looked just the same and my primary school Forres is still there. It's a bigger run, 850 people, with start banners for the pace groups. I lined up with the 25-30min group. 


This has to be one of the most scenic parkruns anywhere, on the common below Devil's Peak and Table Mountain. On the slopes of the mountain is the University of Cape Town where I took a degree in mathematics. In my defense I was left unsupervised, a foolish youth. Now I'm a harmless old man, nowhere in the years did I find any gravitas it seems. Never mind, keep running. One and three quarter laps of the common, flat and paved, with only a bit of the southeaster wind on the home straight. The southeaster is known as the Cape Doctor as it blows away all the sea haze, clouds and pollution. Scours is maybe a better word than blows, the wind can be fierce. 

Did anyone see My Octopus Friend ? Younger son Christopher is a keen snorkeler, so we went to dive the kelp forests where that was filmed. The group is run by Cape RADD, a scientist who is trying to find alternative ways to fund his marine biology. They are studying among other things the catsharks also known as shy sharks of the kelp forests. The villain of My Octopus Friend was a pajama shark which ate one leg of the friend. We were looking for these sharks, pyjama, leopard, puffadder and more. The scientist is building up a database of the individuals so needs more eyes to look and take pictures of any shy sharks seen. Our T-shirts here say Citizen Scientist. Honestly I'm not sure how much use we were, think our $50 each for the dive was probably more help than our eyes. Christopher on the R, your humble on L. 


A leopard shark which I spotted. Their patterns are distinctive so this individual can be matched with pictures already in the database to see if he's known or new. 


A largish octopus in his daytime lair. He's in the crevice, just right of the white shells, with an orange tentacle draped across the entrance. Over the tentacle there's an eye looking suspiciously out at us. This one about 15 ft deep. The trick to finding them is to look for a pile of clean shells. That was lunch, or dinner maybe. They will take the meal back to their crevice to eat then discard the shells just outside. 



The house dogs and I needed a run so we went up to Silvermine reservoir. When I lived here this was drinking water and off bounds. Now it's open for recreation. The dogs and I had a lovely swim. 


Heather with her two very good dogs. They are trained field dogs, golden retrievers. Heather is in the market for a new puppy to train, so we got the whole pedigree of the various contenders, the sires and dames of the golden field dog line in S. Africa. Heather told us of the mating plans, "and I was glad to hear the mating didn't take as I don't like that bitch". "That bitch" in this case is the lady dog contending to be the mother of the next puppy.. 



OK I'm really running on here. Enough. Here's a couple of gratuitous scenery pics to finish. 

Hout Bay, from the Chapmans Peak road that I used to run on the Two Oceans 35-mile marathon. The race is still going though without me as I can no longer make the cut-off times. 


On the walk out to Cape Point, the end of Africa, with the old lighthouse on top. That water looks beautifully tropical. Unfortunately it is about 50 degrees in summer due to the cold Benguela current sweeping up from the south. 


Edited by doug in co

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What a marvelous visit to South Africa with a rich variety of outdoor activities.  Loved all the pictures.

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update on the Boston Medical and marathon fundraising - he organized a trivia night at the local pub and sold T shirts, $600 
T shirt sales in the hospital itself $1600 (!) 
Then he wrote to a number of corporations asking for help. Whole Foods wrote back to pledge $4000.. wow. 
I was fully expecting to have to write a fat check for the balance, guess my boy can hustle ;-) 

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