Shoeweeeeeeeeee, have I forgotten what it takes to camp, in the wilderness, on my own.
Don’t get me wrong, I was hardwired for the simplicity of wilderness living, the city makes me soft…no, the adaptability of human nature to things more comfortable to psyche and body is what catches me unaware. It’s a foreign concept for me, this thing called comfort. I have a burning question: Are we hardwired for comfort or struggle? I worry I adapt to what is in front of me and before I know it I am living a reality that I didn’t necessarily choose. I’ve never been one for comfort but lately my choices have been interesting to say the least. Hence heading to the Cederberg on a whim for some much needed perspective and shaking off the comfort and convenience of city living. The Cederberg is a sacred space due to the adventures I’ve had there, the people I have shared them with and of course because it is the Cederberg. A wilderness area of roughly 71 000 hectares of mountains where one can roam free until your heart’s content. Roaming free is an activity high on the priority list.
My child brain likes to remember growing up in a kombi, a tent or an overlander exploring back routes through some of the remotest areas of our country and continent. My parents did a spectacular job instilling adventure within us, both my brother and I fly those flags well. From an early age I was schooled by and among the natural wonders of our planet. I knew the names of birds and trees before I could properly talk and I could identify animal spoor long before my relational skills kicked in. I was raised to listen to bird calls and animal sounds that ultimately gave away their location. The textures of trees and the shape of their leaves told me what type of tree I was looking at and what properties it contained in order to survive in that specific area. I somehow thought the rest of my life would be spent either in a kombi, a tent or an overlander - adventuring, exploring, discovering. There has been a lot of that but I haven’t roamed free and I haven’t seen the inside of my tent in a while.
One thing I didn’t expect to feel on arrival was discomfort. But, here I am, after a chilled four hour drive feeling slightly intimidated by all this open space. Daunting is the word that comes to mind, at the sight of other campers. I note my introverted state of being and how uncomfortable people make me. Strange to feel uncomfortable in a place I know so well. This Wilderness area was an all time favourite for two years of my life in 2017 and eighteen, my second back yard, yet the discomfort continues. I sift through my feelings, pondering the concept of community and why I feel so alienated from it and by it. I find my bearings and a campsite, pull up the Jimny and take a moment to take it all in. I relish in managing to return to the sacred Cederberg this time by myself, for myself. I still can’t climb or trail run due to those torn ligaments in my right knee. But this was not a climbing or a running trip, this was a homecoming to myself. Re-calibrating. A trip to remind me of who I am at my core when stripped bare, away from city and society, where they can not have a say. Slowly, effortlessly my ingrained rhythm of self returns and I celebrate that I have not forgotten what it means to come alive where there is nothing. A sigh of relief as I trust my second nature of fending for myself. Are we only the product of our psychological patterns, are we ever free from our past?
I take my time to pitch the tent. Methodically. I find joy in the steps it takes to arrive somewhere, the destination seems secondary, also the destination comes with a different set of emotions that only arrive after the journey is done. Part and parcel of this thing called life. Intrigued by how liberating it feels to make a piece of dirt my home for a few days in the wilderness. Again that question – are we hardwired for struggle or comfort? We limit ourselves immensely by choosing comfort, surely? Choosing the road less traveled, the one with most resistance, are we not strengthened, shown how strong we can be and where our weaknesses lie. We become strong without measure, we can think outside the box, we get creative with our circumstances and we are more willing to choose life. Struggle and discomfort brings out the best in us, the worst in us but I am convinced it shapes us into who we never could dream of being. Still pitching my tent. Effort. Strong winds. Thirty degree weather. Dust. My tent goes off like a tumbleweed in an old school western movie but at fast forward speed. I push through the pansy side of myself and ignore the moment of possibly wanting help. Instead I pull from memory bank and remind myself that no one has ever pitched my tent for me, that means you’ve done this a thousand times and you can do it a thousand and one more times. When I choose to push through tough times instead of giving up victory is sweet. Pitching a tent in windy conditions without anyone there to help builds character and always leaves me with a sense of accomplishment when I sit inside this canvas dwelling ready to turn in for the night. I admit that it’s not all positivity and perseverance though. There were moments of wanting to frommel the tent back up, pack it all in and head home. Sensory emotional overload in the middle of nowhere. Flood gates of heaven opened. Despair, heartache, isolation. Loneliness that made me catch my breath. I stood on the edge of falling apart. Can it be that I store emotional chaos within the four walls of my life in Cape Town, nowhere to unpack, unfold, unravel until the arrival of spaces desolate of the confines of every day structure and expectation.
I flopped into my tent. Overcome by emotion. I didn’t stop the tears. Releasing the weight of all that life presents and the things a lifetime can not gift; saddened by how we can’t possibly learn all there is to learn in one short existence; embracing deep sorrow over opportunities lost, about not having control over life working out, about not knowing, not understanding; letting go of not being able to keep all those I love safe and out of harms way and lastly of not being able to fix all that is broken within and without. How utterly alone I felt in a place that once brought me so much warmth and love and joy. I decidedly convinced myself that I’ve been hardcore enough for one day and maybe a nap was in order. I slept for an hour and headed out for an afternoon explore. Conclusion for the day – feelings help, crying helps, naps for the win!
Afternoon walkabout took me to the waters edge of a river near by, mountains silhouette against the soon to be evening sky. Barefoot, dust, belonging once again to earth beneath my feet. There was time to admire the afternoon light play with the shadows of trees curving above my tent. Light and shadow dancing to the rhythm of the wind. I sat mesmerized. Grateful for the smallest of window opportunities where time seems to stand still. Lately, I yearn for time to stand still so that I can take in more of what one single moment presents, I want to taste memories, touch feelings and be witness to all the colours emotions make us feel. I want to tell my story through the moments in my soul, through what my eyes are witness to and what light and dark and sounds experiences are truly like, what the warmth of sunlight on my skin does or the soft mist of water landing on my face from a nearby waterfall. If all of these experiences within these moments were a language we could convey in words for others to understand you would know that life can only be beautiful, we’re just too busy to notice. Life is this sacred unfolding of minute to minute moments and when we’re not so rushed to get somewhere getting there is beautiful, every single day. I ease into my surroundings.I lit the fire. Enjoyed sourcing wood. I sat down in the company of one. At eight I turned in for the night. The rustle of the sleeping bag as one gets comfortable. The change in sounds the day exchanges with the night and the ever flitting, guiding, unforgettable stars only the Cederberg can deliver. I haven’t lost touch with the wild woman within was the last thought before drifting off to dreamland. Sleep was imminent.
A slow morning in the quiet of the mountains. The sun hasn’t reached that part of the earth. A slight chill as I unzip the tent and let the day in. Gentle light as the sun hides behind the mountains edge. Coffee time. A morning ritual I rarely pass up when in the mountains camping. One night out in a canvas dwelling and all that’s priority is the ritual of making coffee. All is right with the world. After copious amounts of coffee I headed out for the day. Backpack with a good old peanut butter sarmie, enough water, some fruit, a warm jacket, headlamp for in case, no shoes - off I go.
I have missed the safety of the Cederberg. The most dangerous would probably be an unexpected movement of a dassie (those things are so damn good at camouflage), thorns in my feet and the Puff (adder) and Cape Cobra that also has free roaming on their high priority check list. Pepper spray is a definite precaution, but just to create some distance not to spray people in the face. Of those there weren’t any and I had the mountains to myself. I spent three hours on a walkabout. Letting things filter through me, flow over me and immensely enjoying the simple act of walking, wandering with no real purpose, the purpose is in existing. I miss that. I am easily distracted in the city and easily it’s mistaken as the lack of productivity. Out here the distraction leads to unexpected explorations and exciting finds. I am easily overwhelmed by demands and expectations from people and their needs, out here nature can expect all it wants from me and I will gladly bring it. I am at a cross roads in my life I think. One where people and nature are fighting for equal rights in my life but nature has always had the upper hand, no contest. Although nature is unpredictable it doesn’t scare me, it enlivens me. Nature might be unpredictable but it is not pretentious. Nature evokes a sense of safety within me, it calms me. Step into nature and chaos turns to calm. I am not convinced about people unfortunately. Mostly it seems that calm turns to chaos when people are involved. This be the cross roads you see - comfort for me equals simplicity in nature, not spending time with people.
I’m trying to find balance. Whatever that means. Peace at the order of each day is right up there with roaming free. People are unpredictable. Mostly come with ulterior motives. Pretentious at the best of times. Perplexed by the intensity that people need each other. Drowning in the expectation of showing up and carrying emotional burdens that aren’t mine to carry. I might just be in a season of my life where I am gathering all that I lost growing up, handing back all those emotions I had to unfairly hold. Gathering myself, for myself not in order to prepare it for someone else. I am in a season of replenishing and I have nothing to give. Are we all scared? Again are we only a product of our learnt psychological patterns, a product of our past or can we rewrite our future and is there enough time to do so? I find a shady rock. Eat my peanut butter sarmie. My thoughts are free out here. No right or wrong. No need to shout and scream or to say a single thing. No pressure to be anywhere, to be seen, to be anyone. Time with self draws a good outline of who I want to be, who I keep on wanting to become. Shaped by nature, moulded by survival. For the longest time I have only managed to identify with the girl who goes on adventures – I knew who I was when I was climbing a mountain, running a trail or surfing some remote secret spot along our South African coast. But who am I now? Now that I don’t adventure daily or as regularly as I would like to.
A certain facet I’ve been missing lodged itself within. The facet I discard when I let society in. The strong willed practical competent outdoors woman stands abandoned at the door, for now I should wear dresses, be presentable and brush my hair. I have a certain skill set that has been my go to for most of my life. Bring this skill set home I whisper to myself. I struggle, this skill set is clearly not the one used for societal city living. Peacefully accepting that it’s all I’ve ever known. For the longest time I have identified with my outdoor skills and capabilities as the only facet of myself worth bringing, now that I actually have to function in an everyday societal norm as part of a living it’s hard to bring the whole if you haven’t come to understand in full all the facets of yourself. So I guess what I’m saying albeit with caution, is that I want to show up (not necessarily with a dress or brushed hair) but I do have the desire to connect although there is more quirk than practical mannerisms in my social relation but wanting to connect I really do. For now, the woman with wild mannerisms still lives within but it’s probably time to get connected and learn about the possible comfort of letting people in.
Packed up and headed home. I have a different set of skills to get under the belt.