“I went for a walk in Africa at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains.”
– Karen Blixen, sorry, I mean, Gaynor Young!!!
I am usually unable to join my friends on their wonderful mountain and forest walks.
With my spastic right hand side, I find climbing the rocky twists and turns impossible to navigate. The photographs that they take are often displayed on our George Friends WhatsApp group. I peruse them avidly. Indubitably I would say to my friend: “B, those pathways don’t look too difficult. I’m sure I would have been able to cope with them.”
Patiently B would explain that I definitely would not have managed. They would have proved to be fairly treacherous for me!
Until last week.
The route for the normal Sunday morning walk was posted on WhatsApp by Jan. B said slightly hesitantly: “I think that you might be able to do this walk. The paths are fairly wide and not too steep. You would manage it.”
She messaged the other walkers and they were all enthusiastically welcoming.
‘I will not make them hold back and wait for me. I will definitely keep up,’ I vowed to myself while attaching my leg brace. The brace, whilst being invaluable as far as preventing me from over extending, would definitely be a drawback if I were mountain climbing. ‘Luckily Mount Everest was not quite on the cards today, I thought!
We arrived at Arendsrus to see an odd kerfuffle happening in Jan’s car. The door flew open and Jan fell out, clutching her eyes and coughing. Finn, her Jack Russell, had inadvertently put his foot on Jan’s pepper spray as she was parking. It had gone straight into Jan’s face.
“I was so stupid to put it there. That is Finn’s place. What was I thinking?” Jan laughed with tears pouring down her cheeks.
There was a certain joyousness amongst us as we set off. Six girlfriends who hadn’t seen one another for quite a while because of the lockdown caused the air to vibrate with laughter and fun. Six dogs scampered around our feet. I was ultra-conscious that I must not hold anyone up. So I set off at speed, walking quite a way in front. The mountains stretched gloriously upwards and all around were the differing calls of birds. The green iridescent crimson chested Sunbird made a lasting impression. It was quite a climb and I totally loved it. There was a myriad of flowers, fynbos and wonderfully shaped rocks that burst onto my consciousness like a breath of fresh jasmine.
“Gaynor, watch it, get to the left!”
I moved to the left in the nick of time.
Phewt! Phewt! Phewt!
Three mountain bikes sped past me in a whirl of dust.
“Shootenhauzen, why didn’t they ring their bells?” I gasped.
“They don’t have them,” Jan laughed, “they might get in the way if they have a crash.”
“But they just about crashed into me because they didn’t have them!”
“Ahhhh, but on these walks, all your senses need to be alert,” replied my mad keen cyclist friend.
We turned a corner and I came to an abrupt halt. In front of me was the most glorious little pond. I stopped and drank in the sight. What made it so special were the reflections of the mountains and trees all moving softly in the flowing depths. When we moved on, I didn’t immediately set off in hot pursuit of who knows what! I walked with my friends. I realised that I wasn’t holding anyone up. And so we continued on our magnificent stroll – together!
After about 50 minutes, B suggested that maybe we two should turn around and head back. She knew that I often struggled with descents. I was amazed to discover that going back was fine. My brace and stick made all the difference. I’m actually developing quite an affection for this gorgeous blue brace that makes me walk so smoothly!
The two of us made our way back at a leisurely Gaynor-Pace! I was able to take in and absorb so much more now that I wasn’t thinking: Go faster! Don’t hold anyone up!
I looked down at the city of George stretching out below me with the sea in the distance and said in an almost choked voice: “It is so beautiful, isn’t it?”
Not waiting for an answer, I continued: “I remember Mums suggesting I move to George. I was absolutely horrified. ‘Mums, George is for old people!’ I replied. And now, here I am. George is ‘my’ beautiful, little town.”
I walked a few more steps and then mused: “Maybe this means that I am getting old!”
We came across a dilapidated red Volkswagen. It was just like the VW that I had driven over thirty years ago. I laughed to myself thinking: Maybe this where she finally ended up! There was something strangely beautiful about this abandoned vehicle. I imagined the excitement she had caused when presented to her owner. And the driving of her owner with great joy, nipping nimbly between cars in a cheeky yet safe manner. Gradually, as the years passed, so this Volkswagen found her nimbleness difficult to keep up. Her chassis had been bumped a few times and her wheels were getting old. Her heart drooped when she saw a sleek BMW standing in the driveway with her mistress inside.
‘She’s got a new car. What will become of me? Will I be crushed at the scrap metal yard?’
She had seen friends of hers disappear in that manner.
Her mistress came across to her and patted her lovingly on her bonnet.
“You have been so good to me, my precious Belle.”
This was the name I imagined her being called.
“I’ve got a new car now. I’m not sending you to the scrap heap. I am moving you to a beautiful place in the country. You will sit outside this restaurant where I think you will be incredibly happy. Birds will alight and speak to you and there will be a constant stream of people who will pass you by, taking great delight in you. I will pop in and see you on my walks, so it isn’t goodbye.”
And today, I thought, here sits Belle, contentedly smiling at all the passing walkers.
B and I sat in the garden at Arendsrus soaking in the clear crisp air, eating muffins, drinking coffee and admiring Belle. A rewarding way to finish our climb of ‘not quite Everest!’
What this depressing period of confined lockdown has made me appreciate is that each day is a new experience. We can make of it what we will. What made this walk so special, wasn’t just the glorious perfect weather, the beautiful views and the nature surrounding me, it was that I was a member of the gang. I was with my friends and their dogs and would see myself in the ‘Sunday walk’ photos!
My heart leapt ahead of my body!