“Be in the moment,” I’m thinking to myself, “Today is only nine kilometres. You can just go slow, take it all in.” The same grass fire from yesterday still burns. It covers the mountains in a light smoke so they appear a stack of all different shades of bluish-grey, lightening and losing detail the further away they are. We climb quite high to a ridge overlooking many peaks and valleys. Some of this climb I’m thinking of ways to describe this experience to friends but for most of it my attention is grabbed. Grabbed by small flowers, a bounding roebuck, a few baboons, fungi growing on rocks in strange patterns, spiderwebs in the half-dead grass, animal poo and then for a few seconds I admire the broader scene. Tom spends a solid chunk of his time thinking about his future bakery. Stone countertops and tables, white tiles, enough wall space for rotating artworks, all hopefully in a store on the corner of two tree-lined streets.
My thoughts are mostly right where I want them. Paying attention to little details in the immediate environment. Asking and answering soft questions with myself. Questions like, what creature is making these tiny little holes on the edge of the trail? Maybe snakes. But how would a snake dig the hole? It does not have the appropriate apparatus. Must be a little marsupial, maybe a bush rat or maybe a dassie.
Sitting on a giant boulder with a panoramic view of valleys and streams I meditate watching a slowly migrating troop of baboons.
By the time I look up, the wider scene has changed. Ten minutes of daydreaming the some peaks that were there before are now hidden by other peaks. Did someone move them? It is possible that I’m not actually going anywhere. That I’m on an earth treadmill and when I am not paying attention some giant thing is shuffling the landmarks around. Perhaps to confuse me or perhaps there is a good reason. It could be a vital task.
As the trail curves around a mountain a lone tree sticks out from the trail’s edge. The path is not visible beyond the tree, only more mountains higher than the one we are on now. Down the mountain to our left is an oak woodland by a large reflective lake. Among the woodland lies a cluster of round white huts. The oaks’ leaves are purple and black, some look orange from the sun. Smoke drifts up from one of the huts. It does not feel like winter in South Africa. It feels like Autumn in Oregon. A little bit of Arizona too. Funnily enough, I’m basing those claims on what I have seen on TV. I have never actually been to either of those places and can not for at least another nine-and-a-half years.
We cross yet another stream and arrive at Mzimkhulwana hut. Even though we had a relatively short distance to traverse today we have reached our destination quite late. We underestimated the distance and have spent a lot of time not walking but sitting or standing still. The sun will go behind a mountain before the end of an hour. None of the bunks in the hut have mattresses. There is no place to have a fire. There is no firewood. Despite this, we collect as much dead wood as we can find in the little patch of bushland between the hut and the stream. Once broken up and stacked, it looks like enough fuel to last us tonight with a little left over for tea and breakfast in the morning.
No mattresses and nothing to substitute them with we keep the fire going as long as possible. We drink scotch and play cabo (good two player card game) and stare at the fire until the last logs are fading into ash. I hope I am drunk enough to get to sleep on the wooden bed frame.