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Cool Runnings

by Sean Houghton in November 2012 - Piece of Pi

At least once a day, normally twice, I try to go for a run. Actually, to call it a run would be doing a disservice to genuine athletes. Even calling it jogging would be rather flattering. More accurately, I go for a plod. I may not be the fastest, or run further than anyone else – but I just love it.

I have never entered a competitive event – although I did once run over Chappies to Hout Bay, up Constantia Nek down through Tokai, up and over Ou Kaapse Weg and back home again – just to see if I could. I could. Although I found out why organised marathons have so many water points. I was so desiccated when I got home; I thought the touch of a water-filled glass to my lips would cause me to collapse from the inside into a pile of mummified dust!

So now, I just stick to plodding in solitude around this wonderful valley in which we enjoy the privilege of living. You see, the problem is once you’re in a race, or running with a group of people – the end becomes the goal. Get there before the others. Set your PB. Count your steps. Check your pulse. Keep an eye on your watch.

When running, the big event for me is NOT running through adulating crowds as I stagger towards the finish line. The most important thing is what happens between my first step and my last. After that, it is over and I look forward to the next time.

When I run, I want to enjoy every step, every second, every heart beat. To experience something between each inhalation and exhalation is to live my life to its very fullest.

Life in the 21st Century is so busy and stressful that days and weeks meld together into months and years and questions about where they all went. So each day I make the effort to go running. Summer, winter; rain or shine; freeze or furnace; south-easter or north-wester. Each day I remind myself that today is a special day that will only live for a day and then be gone forever. If I can experience one special thing, if I can make one new memory, today will live with me forever instead of blurring into the mists of time.

The Noordhoek Valley is so rich in visual splendour, so magnificent in setting that every run reveals something new. A day-charging sunrise pouring over the sky from Fish Hoek as my dogs bound alongside, heading towards the rusty remnants of the Kakapo.

A soul-soothing sunset, drawing the curtain on a perfect day while running down Ou Kaaps. The spring sun, filtering through new green leaves round the Common and the Farm Village. Phosphorescent blues competing with
the brilliant white of the beach seen from the fire hut perched atop the rocky crags above the Valley. Sometimes the air is so pristine, the light so radiant, that every line, form, shadow and scene takes on a clarity and depth that I can almost reach out and run my hand over the myriad textures.

Occasionally I see a secret moment in the life of one of the Valley’s smallest citizens. There are so many little creatures that cohabit with us, if we just take the time to see. I’ve seen dassies on Chapman’s Peak; a caracal once on Ou Kaaps and several mongooses and genets.

Once I saw an adrenaline-junkie tortoise just leaving Noordhoek Road. Another time I rescued a chameleon from the middle of the road while patient (and some not so patient) motorists stopped to let me pick up the soon to be ex-chameleon.

Sadly, not all the things I see on the road are alive. Guinea fowl, snakes, cats and dogs are all victims of our automaton-like get-therenow society. A squirrel, a tortoise and a mole (could you believe) have also been done-in by careless drivers. How fast does one drive to hit a nimble and alert squirrel? How hard is it to avoid a treacle-treading
tortoise or mole? Although these are the sad exceptions, please implore everyone who lives in, or visits, our Valley to drive with caution.

Where else in the world can you run in the most inspiringly beautiful surroundings and look down and see a whale and calf swimming by, as once happened going up Chappies? One morning, in the semi-dark, I had a heart–stopper when an unseen whale wallowing languidly in the calm sea boomed a resonating sound rather like a grunting hippo
disappearing down a giant gurgling drain pipe! A description that would make sense if you heard the reverberating sound. It sent my pulse racing – but not from exertion!

I regularly marvel at the sight of otter spoor on the beach. Rarely do I see these busy but wily creatures. One morning, however, on the outward run, an inquisitive otter kept a close eye on us from the water as we ran by. The return trip revealed its spoor heading up the beach.

In the early half-light of one September morning, I saw what looked like a game-trail of otter spoor heading into the waves. So many, so closely packed that I could not see how many there were. A little way down the beach the scene was repeated, this time coming out of the water. Looking ahead several hundred yards, through the murky light, I recognised the loping shapes of a closely bunched group of otters.

They were too far to be able to count. They startled a flock of resting seagulls and then disappeared. When I reached the area, the single game-trail was there, sure enough. But when it reached the seagull roost, evidenced by the feathers, footprints and fowl foul, the trail split up as the otters must have made an opportunistic dash at the
birds. Amazingly, there were nine different spoor! What a rewarding sight! I had always perceived otters to be solitary creatures and learnt firsthand this is not necessarily the case and, more importantly, that our wetland is home to a very healthy family of otters.

So let me encourage you, my fellow Noordhoekers, to get out there and enjoy the wonder of our Valley. Whether you run, cycle, jog, walk or plod, you will be rewarded with unique and wondrous sights and scenes. More importantly, you will be able to suck in air to the top of your lungs, throw your arms wide and celebrate your life and where you are blessed to live it.

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