South Africa: The Mountain, Part 2

Monday in South Africa. I wake up before my alarm goes off, and make sure to get myself out of bed and moving. Today’s a big day. My new friends, Brendan and Muriel, are picking me up to hike to the top of Table Mountain. I’m not much of an outdoor enthusiast, but Brendan is a hiker/climber/surfer. He knows the mountain well, and will be my guide for the day.

They pick me up at 8:30AM. I’m automatically translating time zones to home in my head now…2:30AM at home so no one’s awake yet. A quick post to Facebook before I head out the door. I don’t know when I’ll get on wi-fi again, and someone should know what I’m doing in case I die on the mountain. I squirrel myself into Brendan and Muriel’s car, and off we go. There are options for roots, but I don’t know anything so I let them pick. I’ve already warned them that I don’t climb because of my piano fingers, and I don’t do well with exposed cliffs where there’s a mountain on one side, a foot wide path to walk on, and a precipitous drop. They know my limitations.

We pick a path, and it starts with just some steep paths. It’s hard hiking, a fact that the burn in my thighs is reminding me of, but it’s also manageable. We keep working our way up, heading into a gorge in the mountain. Now, we’re starting to scramble up little chunks of rock that involve me thinking about where to put my feet to climb up. Muriel is a beast, and Brendan jokes that she has one pace for everything. Brendan is practically a mountain goat, and seems to navigate with ease. I’m feeling the months without running training and gym visits now, but I’m motivated to do this.

After a few bouts of scrambling up rock faces followed by flat paths where we cross over to another chunk of rock to climb, we eventually start just going up. We are climbing up the ravine. The burning in my legs has gotten worse. I know I’m paying for this tomorrow, and probably adding grey hairs by the minute. We reached a flat outcropping, and paused for tea. About an hour and change into the ascent, and we’re probably half way up. The view is spectacular, and Brendan and Muriel have packed tea. It was a wonderful moment to spend with new friends, suspended in air and time.

But the mountain still beckons. We pack up, and continue slogging. My legs were thankful for the break. They aren’t fresh, but the fire has faded into a familiar ache in every step. ‘Friends with the pain,’ I think. I’d like to tell you more about the rest of the ascent. The beautiful flowers…pincushions, proteas…I don’t even know what else. Birds and their songs in the air. All I hear is the voice in my head saying, “One more step closer. Don’t stop.” Brendan seems to know when I need a moment to rest my legs before pushing ahead. Maybe he heard it in the heaving gasps of my breath.

It took a little over three hours, but we reached the top. This was no Lion’s Head. I had gracious guides leading me up he mountain, helping me find the right path for me to reach the summit. Once we reached the top of Table Mountain, we continued hiking our way around to the main area where the cable car takes the less athletic (and less crazy) to the top. Now, I was able to think and talk. We shared some of our dance stories and histories. I pulled my camera out for photos, and started enjoying myself.

Eventually, we started making our way down, a different path with a more regulated descent. It’s a bit hard on the knees and muscles. I think we all reached the bottom a little battered, and glad to be done.

The day ended with dinner at their place, and a little dancing. They had asked me about taking a private lesson with me while I was here, but I suggested we just call it friends hanging out and talking about dancing. Much like everyone I meet here, Brendan and Muriel have been incredibly generous to me, and the least I could do was share what little I could.

Throughout the day, I also learned more about them, their passions, about their advocacy for ethical veganism. I can’t say I’m down for that, but I appreciated the conversation, their deep convictions and values, and the way they practice those values in their life. They are two truly amazing people, and seem to make each other better. I hope some day I have a partnership like that. I may not suddenly be vegan, but I do know that my time with them has changed me. I have been to the mountain top. I have seen the world from new points of view. My deepest gratitude to my guides.

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