Away weekend #2: Garden Route: Winter in wonderland

More photos than usual because I couldn’t cut it down to 3-5 like I normally do. This was a pretty amazing road trip. I can see now why it’s called the Garden Route, and it actually was quite a lesson in contrasts. The basic set of activities was the following:
• Friday: leave Cape Town before dawn, drive northeast into the Great Karoo (which is basically a big desert of scrub brush). Have lunch in Prince Albert. Take a 72km narrow, windy, single lane dirt road over the Swartberg Pass, through the Klein Karoo (Little Karoo), and to a B&B in Wilderness for dinner with some friends of Keith’s.
• Saturday: run on the beach, visit to one of the best farmer’s markets in the country, drive east into the Eastern Cape to lunch at a cheese restaurant called Fynboshoek, back west to Tsitsikamma National Park where we rented a cabin by the ocean. Eat in (smoked fish, roasted pumpkin, and salad).
• Sunday: travel WOD, breakfast of eggs, tomatoes & mushrooms, smoked fish, avo & berry yogurt (heaven), 2-hour hike, lunch among the wine vines at a wine farm, drive to Knysna via Plett, check in at Rastafarian township B&B (awesome!), dinner at a curry restaurant called Firefly.
• Monday: pre-dawn Rastafarian ceremony, hang out around Knysna, eating & taking photos, browse a used bookstore, eat a dozen oysters for lunch, say hello to the only other American on the fourth of July, dinner at the house of a lady in the township, out to meet some friends of Keith’s.
• Tuesday: up again before the dawn, registration and ferry ride to the start of the Featherbed Trail Run (15km), run through some fantastic scenery (this was the raison d’etre for the trip, after all!), breakfast, drive back to Cape town, train CrossFit, take-out dinner in Stellenbosch with my Babson professor, who taught the course that brought me to South Africa.
• Bed.

Most of the journey I was amazed by how varied the country is, and how much some of it reminded me of some parts of the States:
• Great Karoo reminds me of what I imagine the American desert west is like, including what a frontier town would look like, in the shape of Prince Albert. All that was missing was the tumbleweeds and the Western-style buildings!
• Wilderness reminded me of California, specifically Marin County
• Where we had lunch at the farmhouse resembled Vermont, as did part of the drive back
• The coast at Tsitsikamma is very similar to the Maine coast (with fynbos)
• The massive resort at Plett was like a little bit of South Padre Island in the middle of South Africa
• Knysna is like a big version of Carmel … VERY California

By the end of the first day on the road, Cape Town and all my stresses and worries and hopes and fears felt very, VERY far away. It was actually a nice rest, and time for reflection.

Here are some vignettes, thoughts, and descriptions of what stood out from the trip:
• This country is breathtakingly beautiful. Then again, so is Vermont, and California, and Cambodia, and places I haven’t been like Peru, and Rwanda, and Chile.
• Frakking in the Karoo would be (will be, I’m afraid) a great shame.
• Love the small town feel of Prince Albert, how everyone knows everyone and everyone keeps their exteriors artfully arranged. It’s almost like something out of my vision of 1950s America.
• Definitely, travel with a travel writer when you can. They know all the best secrets.
• I should really get a digital SLR and learn more about photography, because I really quite like it. Of course, I should also really start doing charcoal again. And read some of the dozens of books that I need to read. And, and, and. Well, life is full of choices is it not? But really … I used to enjoy art so much, and it’s important to have a creative outlet that forces you to slow down, and disconnect.
• Driving the Swartberg pass was amazing, especially to the Two Minute Puzzle soundtrack. Glad I got my car fixed, though, a few months back it would not have survived that trip along the rutted dirt road. But wow, what a single-lane road … so glad we didn’t encounter any cars going the other direction along the narrow parts, and glad there was only one muddy curvy section where I was feeling a tad nervous driving!
• The guesthouse in Wilderness was absolutely stunning, and I really liked the town too. Must holiday there some time.
• Running along the beach with the wind at my back was quite fun (apparently I looked like a Reebok ad, especially with the colors involved). Running back with the rain whipping up and rain in my face was fun in its own way.
• This ankle remains too sprained for my liking: running in sand and uneven surfaces is not what it should be.
• Two cool farmers markets in as many weeks … I really wish Cape Town had something similar.
• Lunch at Fynboshoek: definitely worth going off paleo. Brie on toast with honey and thyme, homemade focaccia, selection of something like 8 cheeses (my favourite was the cream cheese, actually), fresh greens salad with toasted shaved goat cheese. And some of the best coffee all trip.
• Alje (the cheese farmer who runs Fynboshoek) is a lovely person; very salt of the earth. How cool to go from studying microbiology to inventing your own cheesemaking methodologies. And the dogs and cats … perfect. Just perfectly chill, and perfect.
• Cabin by the rocks with the surf crashing outside … also perfect. Breakfast outside by the ocean … a plate full of protein, dassies, and sun.
• Love that I can invent my own workouts. Hate that my own ideas are a bit over-ambitious sometimes. Also, 400m runs really hurt. So do burpee box jumps (onto the braai, hehe).
• Outdoor lunch at Bromon would have been much better in a season where the wine vines had leaves. Guess I’ll need to come back.
• Knysna is COLD. Like, really, I was unhappy almost the entire time I was outside there.
• Firefly: logo looks a hell of a lot like the TV series, so I had a good laugh about that. The food was art. Definitely want to come back here, too. Yes, this trip was as much a culinary orgy as anything…
• Staying at a township B&B was quite an interesting experience. It’s far too cold to have to take a cold shower. I have a whole new appreciation for township life.
• The music in the Rasta ceremony was absolutely beautiful, with one song blending into another such that I couldn’t even tell the transition. Then again, music has never been one of my talents. When I was at St Paul’s I used to pass by the music building and hear all these amazing sounds coming out and feel like inadequate, and wished I could do that. But of course at St Paul’s to survive even a little bit you had to excel at at least one thing, and my things were sport and art. I can’t say I regret that I never learned music but I have always had a deep respect for it.
• I’ve never seen such big oysters in my life. Tasty, too!
• Dinner at Mamma B’s house was quite interesting. Good to know that she faces the same issues we face in working at the grassroots level, although on another level if a woman living in the townships buts up against a culture of dependency that doesn’t necessarily leave a lot of hope. But we must have hope; without it we’re all in big trouble. All of us.
• In meeting Keith’s friend and her younger brother we sampled a dessert with strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate mousses. Damned if I didn’t prefer the strawberry.
• Driving back into the township through the pouring rain with water everywhere, curvy roads, two guys with a trashbarrel fire … I’m not even kidding, it was like driving through a video game.
• I was amused by how amused Keith was at spending the Fourth of July with a Yank.
• I really do have a problem with not eating paleo.
• I was seriously, SERIOUSLY cold before the race, but it was absolutely stunning that whatever thoughts I had about not running next year are now gone. A couple other things on the race: 1. It was kind of nice to just run, rather than race (couldn’t race because my ankle wouldn’t allow it). 2. It is very annoying to run a trail race with a gimpy ankle. Really took out a lot of the enjoyment. 3. Did I mention that the scenery was to die for? I especially loved at the top, curving single track through fynbos ranging from bright brick red to bright green and yellow, with yellow sand, and views down on Knysna. OMW. 4. The Reebok ZigTech’s actually did quite well grip-wise … my arches weren’t so happy afterwards, but really, the grip was great!
• I hadn’t seen such varieties of shades of green since Vietnam. And the yellow canola blooms … also, stunning. Unfortunately there weren’t safe places to pull over, and I did want to be able to get home to train in the evening so fewer pictures than I would have liked.
• A 15km trail run does tend to tax the central nervous system. When I have to struggle to do 5 pullups and am already tired in the third round of pushups, you know 10 minutes of Cindy isn’t going to be a lot of fun.

So happy on yesterday evening to reconnect with my Babson professor. I discovered some similarities I didn’t realize we had in our personal lives … heck, she even does Kundalini! But that was lovely; it’s one of those stories like the story of how Laa-Laa recruited me to CrossFit that I just wind up telling over and over, because people ask. But the mythology, and the story is important.

I think this goes along with people not learning things before they are ready: we don’t remember facts, we remember stories. We don’t remember narratives, we remember vignettes: a smile, a frown, a look, a touch, a feeling. We also do so much non-verbal communication … that’s why I generally hate the phone. Actually it’s amazing when I can connect with someone well on the phone; it means we have a very genuine connection.

So it’s now about 2 ½ weeks before I head back to the U.S. for 3 ½ weeks. While I am excited, I’m also nervous and there are quite a few things I need to do both to prepare and then once I’m over there. Looking forward to some things as well: seeing old friends, resolving incompletions, and spending some quality time with my team while we’re in California.

• “I can turn almost anything into a competition.” – Ellie
• “Why must you intellectualize it?” – Keith
• “I don’t count those as real people.” – Keith
• “Right here, right now, it’s as good as it needs to be.” – Keith
• “I hate to tell you that. You’re fairly unique.” – Keith
• “I don’t mind being a bad influence.” – Keith
• “No, it’s not that you’re a New Englander. There’s a deeper fundamental crisis.” – Keith (I was saying how I liked Dunkin Donuts coffee….)
• “I can’t hear through the American.” – Keith
• “You’re the captain of our team now. Don’t fuck this shit up!” – Graham
• “You can find miracles. You can choose to ignore them. Or you can look at them and see them for what they are.” – Elizabeth
• “But some things are important enough to try even if you’re sure to fail…” – Pierre
• “Farmfest IV: Ellie’s in town”, has potential to require traffic control 🙂 ” – Jason (he knows how to flatter a girl … and hey, what could possibly go wrong??)

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