I shove my hands deep into the pockets of my jeans to warm them up. After adjusting the straps on my backpack, I shove them in again. The sleeping bag is off-centre. I adjust it, hands back in pockets. Hands out as I almost trip over the edge of the trail, then back in the pockets.
Tom and I have just left the tarmac and joined the bush outside of Underberg, South Africa. Between us we carry four days’ food (fruit, nuts, biltong, boiled eggs, noodles, rice, beans, bread, peanut butter, two blocks of chocolate, and a bottle of scotch). As well as cooking utensils, sleeping bags, and a few items of clothing. The trail we are hiking is called the Giant’s Cup Trail. The trail is 48km long and takes four days. We will sleep in forestry huts along the way. This time of year, the weather is fine with an average maximum of about 18 degrees. Ideal weather for hiking, just hot enough that you do not need any extra layers. The hike hovers mostly just below an altitude of 2,000m but sometimes pokes above. Some far-off peaks have a little snow on top. At night, temperatures will fall below zero.
As we walk alongside a cobbled stream, my pack settled, I try to think my own simple thoughts. Thoughts about right now. About the stream swimming past, about the water trickling down a sandstone rock face to our left. Despite my attempts at controlling my own thoughts, I find myself thinking about the guide book in my back pocket, about how far we might have come and how long until we stop for morning tea. What will I eat for morning tea? Being the first day I better not eat too much, but today is also the furthest we walk so I need to eat enough to keep my energy levels in a good place.
How far have we come? Where is that pool with the wooden bridge we should have come to by now? How am I supposed to get paid to be a writer? Do I keep pursuing a job at one of the magazines I read? Or do I make a compromise and find anything that will pay for now, follow the dream later on down the track? I try to keep my mind in the present, to find peace. This is a self-defeating aim, I know. A bit of a contradiction. Thinking hard to not think too much. Regardless, I keep trying.
We cross a pool, hike up under a waterfall and then around a mountain and stop beside a boulder for some biltong and nuts. In the plateau below, a section of forest is on fire. The thick smoke drifts across the path a few hundred meters away. No birds circling the smoke, shouldn’t they be on the hunt for prey escaping the flames?
I bore Tom by telling him about the Kerouac novel, “The Dharma Bums” and how I relate it to this trip we are on. As I finish my spiel I remember my favourite line from the book, “Comparisons are odious.” The irony slaps me in the stomach. Here I am implying that we are in a similar situation, on a similar journey to the characters in a book, when that very same book taught me never to compare two things because nothing is ever the same.
Gazing down a grassy valley we sit down again to watch a herd of elands (giant cow slash antelope, look ‘em up) nervously stumbling along in front of us. Tom screams at them to see how they react. They don’t. Two young bucks butt heads at the back of the line. “Dude! stop running into me,” I imagine one saying to the other.
“The ants go marching three by three; hurrah, hurrah,” I chant out loud.
“The ants go marching three by three; hurrah, hurrah.
“The ants go marching three by three, the little one stops to chuck a wee, they all go marching, gotta get out of the rain. Gotta get out of the rain.
“The ants go marching two by two; hurrah, hurrah… and so on.
More and more I am forgetting about life. Still I think of the extraneous. How far until lunch, what will we eat there, how long until we reach the hut, what will I be like in five years? Except now I spend about half my time staring at the landscape around me and basking in the refreshing lack of human presence.
On a long sloping rock by a bend in a stream we take off our shoes and shirts and lie in the sun reading our books. We both nearly fall asleep but are stirred by the knowledge that the last leg of today’s hike has not gone anywhere.
It should only be a short walk to tonight’s hut. And then a long series of short walks. Three more days of it. Should be sweet, right? Yeah…