Kyla (11) and Ruben (8) are no strangers to outdoor life. They have done multiple expedition-style trips on the Orange and Vaal rivers, and camping has been a part of their lives since they were babies. Nonetheless, I knew that a 3-day backpacking hike in the Vredefort Dome during the recent school break with Lisa and myself would push their limits a bit. They were very keen when I mentioned the planned hike to them, and as the day of departure got closer, their excitement grew. I sensed some trepidation mixed with the excitement, which is a good thing. Going gung-ho into an adventure often backfires.
Each kid carried a little backpack weighing around 6kg, which included 2 litres of water. We managed to squeeze their self-inflatable matresses, clothing, breakfasts and lunches into their backpacks. Lisa and myself each carried a 2-person tent, and we also took the kids’ sleeping bags in our backpacks.
The route was put together by Lisa, using sections of her Forest Run route to give us a good blend of technical trails and jeep tracks. We went through beautiful forested kloofs and scaled a couple of koppie summits to enjoy spectacular views.
On the first day of hiking, we covered 9km with a few long ascents thrown in. Kyla got a bit tired and complained early into the hike, but she got her second breath before we hit halfway. She probably realised that even though her legs were hurting, she was not going to die from it. Ruben started fast and chirpy, but got more grumpy as the day passed. I think he underestimated the challenge and needed time to adjust his expectations. Around halfway, I started telling them stories about hikes I did in the past, beginning with the story of my first hike – a 7 day mission in the Drakensberg when I was just 12 years old. These stories seemed to lift their spirits, I guess they could relate more to these than to more recent adventures I had as an adult.
Both ended the first day of hiking rather strongly, but as soon as we got our tents pitched, they complained of headaches, very dramatically. There was certainly some acting involved, but I don’t doubt that they had real headaches. Despite our constant reminders to keep drinking, there is only one way to learn to hydrate properly during a hike…
Day 2 was shorter in distance, only 6km, although it was no walk in the park, with a couple of steep ascents and descents. It was also uncomfortably hot, with temperatures in the mid 30’s (I guess) and not much wind to cool us down. The kids handled it quite well, but we had to stop regularly to give their legs and minds a break. They were certainly taking strain. I was worried and proud at the same time, witnessing my offspring facing the challenge and pushing on despite the heat and physical strain. There was some grumpiness displayed at various stages throughout the day, but never did they sulk or refuse to continue. Kyla developed three little blisters on her feet, one of which burst open with about 1km to go. She did not make a scene of it, she just stopped and said matter-of-factly that she has a blister before she removed her shoe to check the damage. Within a few minutes we were on the go again, and I never heard a word about the blisters for the rest of the hike.
When we arrived at our camping spot for the second night, the kids were noticeably in better spirits than the previous afternoon. No headaches, no pains. They proceeded to build a little kraal with rocks, and proudly showed off their handwork. The evening was spent talking about the hike and how it relates to life in general. It’s a tussle between the desire to teach them about life, and the awareness to not overburden them with issues that are not theirs to face yet.
Day 3 was the crux of the hike. Longest in distance at 10km, with some long ascents and steep descents, it would be the real test. Would they succumb to the fatigue that sets in after two days of physical effort and discomfort, or would they revel in their new-found mettle? I was betting on the latter, but you simply never know how little people will react.
Both kids passed the test with flying colours. No grumpiness, no sulking, no pains of any sort. They took the challenge head-on and not only did they march like two little soldiers, they did so with smiles on their faces and noticeable pleasure in their hearts. It was clear that they had a new awareness of their own abilities, and they certainly got more head-strong than they’ve been only 3 days earlier.
Throughout the hike, we made a point of pointing out where we have been and where we were going, whenever we had a good view of landmarks that they would recognise. It was interesting to see the change in their reactions over the 3 days; in the beginning they would say things like “that is far” or “that is high” and even “I don’t think I can do it”. On the final day, all we heard was “that’s easy” and “I can do it”. Mission accomplished.