Stubbornness can be a particularly unattractive quality, at times, I admit and when I hear words like ‘senior’ or ‘elderly’ referring to me, I tend to kick my heels in. My body, I believe, is still than of a marathon runner. I have not run in forever.
So it came to be that i was very reluctant to join U3A. U3A means University of the Third Age, a group of retiring men and women coming together now into their third stage of life. Not for me I reckoned, until a friend suggested I join her in a hiking group. With little going on in my life of COVID, I agreed, already mentally preparing myself for the stereotype of hikers dressed in the proverbial gear, sticks and lanyards, whistles and water bottles, wearing name tags with emergency details attached.
All true. Defiantly I pitched up with trainers and gym pants. You won’t find me with long pants that can transform into shorts and thermo tops, my London beanie will do just fine thank you.
The initial hike consisted of a group of fabulous people, experienced businessmen and women who had travelled well, lived well, full of dreams for the future and engaging conversationalists. Over the past few weeks, we hiked up gentle slopes, along incredible shorelines and for me, fell in love with nature, perhaps for the first time.
The truth is, I have missed out on years of discovery. Being so close to nature, trails into mountains and gorges that I would never have seen, stepping onto plateaus adorned with scarlet and white proteas, along rivers bursting from rain, I was transported to another dimension of views, of birdlife and fynbos. Forests and rock pools, surf and silence in the face of God. My companions and I have met penguins, cormorants, whales and baboons in their natural habitat. To say I have been educated and enthralled is an understatement. A new addiction, but a healthy one to hiking for hours, sore legs but full heart, identifying flowers and plants along the way.
The physical and spiritual benefits of hiking are endless. Taking oneself out of the normal daily routine to engage with nature off the beaten track brings one to a complete oneness with the natural world. A breathing space far beyond daily living where we are simply spectators, receivers of gifts, observers, not takers for one leaves only footprints and respect.
The last hike was trying. A route not meant to be taken, a massive climb on rock face, hanging, literally onto chains and washed away steps, it was terrifying. My trainers were useless on the cliff face, freezing cold in the unsuitable clothes, I was angry and feared falling down the mountain. This is not what I signed up for, get me down, and of course, it was a case of going back the same way, on my bum, not a pretty sight. It was only when we reached the bottom and looked up that I realised we had climbed a mountain – friends with hip replacements, dodgy knees, a little extra weight and the smallest dictionary of what ‘elderly’ people own up too, and we began to laugh, proud and together. We had done something incredible. Adrenaline rush, bursting pride.
Cannot wait to do it again. Hiking is a magnificent way to make new friends, be with old ones, out in the elements, pushing yourself to go further, do better, be silent and in awe. I have become stronger because of it, physically and mentally, grown as a person and most of all, appreciated nature as she should be seen. When I return to the UK I intend to explore the trails and wonders of mud island, and cannot wait to get back to the beautiful Cape to reunite and experience a new way of life, out in the open.
And I intend to be more prepared next time, so all hail to the hiking boots, the sticks, the thermo everything and going to hang onto the beanie who keeps me warm wherever I go.
PS. Find a local hiking group in your area and begin a journey that will make you genuinely happy.