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Dave and I had enjoyed Stellenbosch so much on our way east, that we regretted having already booked our next night’s accommodation at Kleinbaai. But no worries! We hadn’t booked the next two nights, so we could easily turn around and come back through here again on our way back west, to Cape Town, so that’s what we did.
On our first trip through, we hit a couple of wineries, then headed east to the coast via the Franszhoek mountain pass. This time, after our Gansbaai hike, we scootled back to Stellenbosch that afternoon via the scenic coast road. I had the whole trip precision-timed: how far we could go on the Gansbaai hike before having to turn around, and what time we needed to be back in the car and on the road, in order to make it back to Stellenbosch in time to visit one winery before they closed.
We already had a map of all of the wineries, and the owners at our previous accommodation had kindly circled the ones that they highly recommended. The one that (a) was on their recommended list and (b) was on our route into town and (c) would be open that day was Blaauklippen – so there we headed.
One of the many lovely things about the Stellenbosch wineries is that they are all so different. Wine-tasting here is a bit different from what I am used to in other parts of the world. You generally have to pay for tastings here – but then they are a more formal and drawn-out experience, where you sit down and have five different glasses poured for you, which you enjoy in a leisurely way, one by one. Do not plan on hitting four or eight wineries in a day!
Blaauklippen, like all of the wineries here, is in a stunningly beautiful setting – the vineyards backed by rocky mountains. The tasting area was a casual sitting area outside, and the staff were very friendly and knowledgeable.
One of the other reasons that we had wanted to go back to Stellenbosch was because of its amazing “steakhouse” – the Hussar Grill – which takes such care of the meat, the waiters telling you how many days each of the cuts of beef has been hanging, and offering a great selection of wild African game meats there. The first time there I had kudu, which was exquisite – like the tenderest and tastiest beef you have ever had. This time Dave had ostrich. Another amazing night, enjoying great foods and very fine yet affordable wines (no plonk!).
The next morning, sadly, was our last here. We had a 2pm flight to Johannesburg, and from there, the next day we would be flying east to Upington, for our race in the Kalahari Desert. But the Cape Town airport is only about a half-hour drive from Stellenbosch… so we were able to get to one more winery before flying out. We selected Asara – with a more formal tasting room overlooking the wine barrel storage room (I am sure there is a better name for that…) which also doubles as a ballroom, with a fancy chandelier and space to lay out grand dining table down the central corridor.
Well, we had spent a lot of time in the car this past week. And on planes for a few days before that. Not great training for our Kalahari race, which was now only days away. We had loved Stellenbosch so much on our way through, that we decided we would stop here again on our way back to Cape Town. But we would stop and do a coastal hike from the village of Gansbaai first, before heading inland. A good chance for us to get some exercise, as well as to test our gear.
This was a real eye-opener of a hike – a great chance to see what towns back home like Tofino and Port Alberni could do with waterfront lands if they planned ahead a bit. The whole 7 km hike is along a narrow strip of shoreline, nearly all of it with residential land backing it. But the shoreline itself – the beaches and the rocky headlands and the cliffs – is all public land, and the trail that passes over here is beautiful.
The day was quite warm – nothing like what we were expecting in the Kalahari, but still a lot hotter than what we were used to back home – so this was a pretty good training hike with our loaded packs. I was quite surprised to feel hot spots developing on my heels – precursors to blisters – which I guess was due to the hot weather and my sweaty feet. I had worn these same socks and shoes, with the loaded pack, many times at home with no problems at all. A good little warning, for being proactive about taping those areas before the race started.
I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. This was a lovely hike, and there were whales just behind the break nearly the whole way. Dave and I really appreciated the chance to get a few hours of activity in, before getting back in the car to hurry off – our time in the Cape Town region was rapidly running out, and we wanted to get to at least one more winery in Stellenbosch today, before they closed.
I had always believed that Cape of Good Hope was Africa’s southernmost point. But on this trip I learned that Cape Agulhas, a tiny bit to the south but much farther east, actually holds that claim to fame.
I’m glad that Dave and I didn’t plan to go any further east than Cape Agulhas. Planning our trip from home, everything looks so close together on the map. But once you get here, there are so many places you want to stop at.
We’d arrived at our B&B in Kleinbaai at nightfall the previous night, just in time to have dinner at the quirky pub just outside this tiny seaside village : the one and only place we experienced our whole time in Africa where the cheap wine really IS just cheap wine. (Everywhere else, it is cheap yet world-class). This was plonk! Terrible! (The food was good, though).
We started reasonably early the next morning, with our first stop at Pearly Beach, 10 km east of Kleinbaai. You don’t need to take a boat trip to enjoy the whale-watching here! We could have stayed here all day, watching the southern right whales feeding just off the kelp beds and just behind the beach break, some of them with calves.
Our trip soon became a birdwatching expedition – first here at Pearly Beach, with sandpipers, whimbrels, and endangered African oystercatchers along the rocky shoreline.
We finally forced ourselves back into the car to continue eastward, towards the cape -when I spied a tree alongside the road full of weaver nests. I forced Dave to pull over and back up, and we watched the birds, lovely yellow cape weavers chattering and hanging upside down from their suspended nests. Little did we know how many trees like that we would see in the coming miles!
We still had not had a chance to buy a bird book, so we had no idea of the names of the species we were observing. We ended up making up names for most of them – our own private birding language. When our route eventually veered on to gravel roads, a sparrow-sized bird with a tail about four times the length of its body flew alongside for us and finally landed. We called it the tailbird.
But the birding became much more spectacular than that… as we came across flocks of ostriches! We passed a lot of wetlands, with all sorts of wading birds and ducks and geese. I named one of the ducks we saw the white-faced whistling duck (because that’s what it looked like and that’s what it did)… and later learned that I had got it pretty much right!
A distant flock of spoonbills was one of the highlights of our day, along with a range of small birds in brilliant shades of yelllow, red and green (later identified as weavers, bishops, and a malachite sunbird), and several blue cranes: gorgeous graceful cranes with long wing feathers than blow in the wind, South Africa’s national bird.
With all of the birdwatching, it took ages for us to make it to the cape. We were starved by the time we stopped for lunch, at a little hole-in-the-wall fish and chips stand around Struisbaai.
The cape itself was beautiful too, with some short walking trails around – a chance to stretch our legs after all the driving. The lighthouse here was constructed in 1848 – but by now it was already 5pm, and they were locking up so we couldn’t go in.
The drive back was fun too… a few fenced-in areas that we figured out were private game farm. The animals must have been sleeping when we drove through the first time, but now they were moving around.
Dave screeched to a halt a few times: “Wow – what is that?” It’s fun being in Africa – like being a child again, with all of the new animal names and bird names still to learn.
We finished our night with a drink and dinner at the Great White Restaurant – named for the sharks that frequent this area. (No… we didn’t go swimming here).
There is so much to do here, and it is so hard to figure out where to spend our time and what things to bypass. We’d already spent most of the first half of our day at World of Birds, and we wanted to make it all the way to the Cape of Good Hope this same day. But we would be driving right past the colonies of African penguins, near Simonstown. It would be a shame to bypass this – but if we stopped, we might not have much time at the Cape of Good Hope….
Well – who would drive past penguins? Of course we couldn’t! Their colonies are right on the edge of town, a stone’s throw from the highway. (In fact, there are signs on the highway warning you to lookout for penguins). It’s part of the national park system, and very well managed. We paid our entrance fee and had a quick walk around…. don’t have time to write much, we’re trying to get back on the road – but here are some pix!
This was a really worthwhile stop. But we didn’t have much time left to spend at Cape of Good Hope. So we got into the car and started driving – our last chance to see the point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet! Next blog post will describe that!
Well, this was fun! The day before, Dave and I had hoped to drive all the way to Cape of Good Hope (like an hour’s drive south of Cape Town) but we were waylaid by the wineries. So we tried again today… but he had noticed a turnoff yesterday for The World of Birds. We REALLY want to buy a good bird book to identify South African birds – so we stopped for a visit, not really planning to go in.
Well – we did, and it was amazing! There are over 300 species there – mostly birds, but also some mammals and reptiles too. It started 40 years ago as a private venture on rented land, aiming to house injured birds, and it has grown from there. We were especially impressed by the size of the enclosures. They are very large, so the birds can fly around. You can actually walk through most of them – very large habitat areas where you are right in there with the birds. And very impressive species – not so many small songbirds, but lots of raptors (kestrels, owls, vultures) and lots of wading birds such as ibises, egrets, herons and storks.
And a great collection of hornbills – very unique African birds.
What was especially nice to see here was how many of the birds were nesting – a sign that they are really well treated, and very comfortable in their habitats. They had lots of room to fly or walk around, and we could observe lots of natural behaviours.
So it was 1pm when we left there… still only halfway to Cape of Good Hope, not having even passed by the penguin colonies yet, not having even eaten lunch yet! So much more to do this day – more blog posts coming – but for now, some bird pix!
Dave and I had big plans for the day. Our friend Thamar, who we had hiked up Lion’s Head with the previous day, recommended that we visit the vineyards at Constantia, a short drive south of Cape Town (she lives in Constantia). So we planned to pop in there and visit just three of them, before continuing south, visiting some of the coastal villages, then down the peninsula to look at penguin colonies and hike around the Cape of Good Hope.
Well, wine tasting in South Africa is not how we are used to it. They sit you down at a table and serve you your wines, one by one. It is not fast – but it is very pleasant! We really enjoyed the relaxed pace – but we only managed to make it to two wineries (we had lunch at the second one) and it was already 5:00! Too late to get to the Cape of Good Hope-so that was our day!
Dave and I arrived here in Cape Town on Monday afternoon – pretty exhausted from the long long journey. The next day, yesterday, we poked around the waterfront, then met my friend Thamar and her husband Richard for a late afternoon hike up Lion’s Head, a conical peak on the side of Table Mountain, and then dinner.
I know Thamar from the one-week ultramarathon I did in the Himalayas two years ago. We were room-mates for the week, and we kept in touch – so I emailed her when Dave and I made the plans to visit Cape Town.
The weather was less than ideal… very grey and overcast, with enough of a drizzle falling that we got fairly wet on the way up. But none of us wanted to wimp out. Thamar kept saying it was a shame that we couldn’t see the view, or where we were going. We were fine, though, having fun anyway – but it was hard to know where we actually were in the fog!
A fun hike. The rain added atmosphere, and it was nice that things cleared enough that we had someviews at the end. And then lots of fun all together at a good local Mexican restaurant.
This was the “easy” day – provided you hadn’t pushed your body too hard the days before. Of the original fifty one racers who had aimed to complete all three days, seven had either DNF’d a previous day, or had chosen not to start today. So we were down to 43 aiming to complete the entire staged ultramarathon. We were a total of 78 on the start line, though, including the one-day runners. And today it was rainy… but at least not very cold.
We started again at Spirit Square, downtown Golden, but this time we headed in the opposite direction – over a covered bridge then along the Kicking Horse river on a wide gravel track, before veering into the woods. I don’t know for sure why this town was named “Golden” – but for anyone visiting at this time of year, the name sure makes sense, with all of the leaves turning colour.
In general, I am pretty slack in my actual “running” training – a lot of what I do is steep fast hikes, or long slow jog-walks, mixing up the jogging and walking. I really should do more runs without walking breaks – I’m sure it would make me faster. So – considering that – I was very pleased by how much I felt like running on this third day!
I may not be a great runner, but what I am good at is taking care of my body and pacing myself for multi-day races. So it was quite interesting to see that I was keeping pace with, or even staying ahead of, several of the women who had been running hours ahead of me the previous day. Especially on the uphills – there was nothing steep today, but the whole route was just gently rolling, up or down – and I was still able to run the uphills where they were reduced to a walk.
For much of the first half of the race I had a nine-year old following me! He actually wanted to pass me, but he was running with his mom and she kept reeling him in,reminding him to pace himself for the full 19 km. She’s actually a very experienced hundred-mile racer, very good with pacing and keeping Tristan fed and happy. I really love that, seeing kids out there challenging themselves physically, with the encouragement of parents who actually know how to make it a positive experience for them.
So that ended up being the first time in my life being passed by someone 42 years younger than me! (In my defense, I had run 55k the previous day. And I’ll add, in my defense, that 9yo knees take the downhills a lot better!). Tristan and his mom had been eating along the route, so when I stopped at the halfway aid station for a snack, they blew past me and I never saw them again!
It was a great feeling to make it to the finish line – always a good feeling, and even more so when it is a challenging multi-day route like this one. My biggest goal was to finish it uninjured – because I have only four weeks between this race and Dave’s and my one-week race in Africa! – and I finished it feeling wonderful! And quite pleased with my times.
Stage winner was – by along shot – California’s Jorge Maravilla in 1:39, a performance which put him solidly in front as three-day champion, for a total time of 8:27:58. Alberta’s Ailsa MacDonald continued her stunning performance – apparently she is new to trail racing, just transitioning from marathon running – taking first female and second overall with a total time of 9:10:03. I think we’ll be hearing more about Ailsa in the coming years!
This was a fantastic race, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The routes are simply stunning – in particular, the Day 2 ultramarathon day with the ascent along the canyon rim and then the ridgeline traverse. And it’s quite easy to get to – especially if you live in BC or Alberta (Golden is only a 2.5 hour drive from Calgary). The Golden Ultra race dates are already confirmed for the next three years: Sept. 23-25, 2016 and Sept. 22-24, 2017 and Sept. 21-23, 2018. I hope to be back running there again soon – maybe I’ll see you there!
Here’s my report on the Golden Ultra – one of my two goal ultramarathon races for the second half of 2015. (The other is Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (KAEM), which Dave and I are leaving for in a few weeks). Both are multi-day staged ultramarathons but, outside of that, they are completely different. The Golden Ultra is three days, with a huge amount of elevation gain and loss. KAEM is seven days, relatively flat, and in the desert – so sand in your shoes (and blistering) and self-supported. In other words, you have to carry all of your food and sleeping gear for the week – so we will be “running” (or perhaps a fair bit of walking!) with packs around 20-25 pounds in weight. Training for the two races is, of course, really different too. I outlined some of my Golden Ultra training plan a few weeks ago (basically lots of mountain hikes!), and here is my report on the race – first Day 1, other days coming soon.
The Golden Ultra’s three race days consisted of:
Day 1 (the Blood) – 5 km, but with over 1000 m vertical gain
Day 2 (the Sweat) – classic 55 km mountain ultramarathon (2700 m vertical gain and loss along the way)
Day 3 (the Tears) – a 20 km trail run on rolling, relatively flat, trails (total 400 m vertical gain and drop)
Sixty seven racers lined up at the start line for the vertical kilometre, at Kicking Horse Resort. Fifty one of them intended to race all three days of the Golden Ultra. This stage would be short – under an hour for the winners, and less than an hour and a half for most of the field. For the multi-day racers, though, the aim was to leave some juice in the legs for tomorrow’s big day: 55 km with 2700 m up AND down.
The day was cool and overcast – threatening rain, but not raining yet. Hard to know how to dress. It was chilly here at the bottom. No doubt it be a lot colder, and probably windy, too, at the top. On the other hand, the relentless uphill route would generate a lot of body heat. I chill easily, and tend to overdress for races, so I decided to try going light. I shouldn’t be much more than an hour. I just hoped that there wouldn’t be a long wait at the top for the gondola ride back down.
I wore a light long-sleeved shirt and compression shorts, no jacket. I was surprised to see how many people were wearing packs at the start line. Many were carrying water for this short race, but I suspect some were just carrying warm clothes to have at the top.
I also chose to use one pole. This race would be pure up, with an average gradient of 23%, and I intended to use my arms (and save my quads) as much as possible. I had planned on eating a handful of potato chips right before the start, to get some carbs and electrolytes in – but I had accidentally eaten half the bag! Oops. So my mouth felt pretty salty – but other than that, I felt really good.
The start line was right outside the doors of the Kicking Horse Resort, so most of us could walk straight out from our rooms. We shivered only a few moments before the countdown, and then we were off!
We had maybe 30 m of flat before the climbing started. The first section was on a wide gravel track, which was great for the competitors to get sorted out. The route curved to the left ahead, so I could see the field spreading ahead, led by Jorge Maravilla in a bright turquoise jacket. I was comforted to see that even he transitioned to a hike once the going got steep.
I had trained well for hills, and settled into a good steady pace for the uphill. I was more than halfway down the pack, but no one was passing me, and the people near me were breathing much harder than I was. A good sign! A light drizzle started to fall. The chips pig-out wasn’t sitting so well with me though… my mouth felt thick and salty, and I was now wishing that I had brought water after all.
But surprise! Thirty three minutes in there was small aid station. One quick gulp of water washed the salt down, and I was fine. From here we veered left, off the uphill gravel track we had been on, and now on to a very steep and rough grassy slope following along underneath the gondola route. It was very very steep and hard to get secure footing, so poles definitely gave a great advantage from here on. I was still feeling absolutely great, and it was here that I started reeling the people in.
Another 20 or so minutes later we broke out to a clearing and veered to the right,up some steep stone steps, now following the rocky ridgeline to the right of the gondola. This section of the route was absolutely beautiful! The steps were made of big irregular slabs of the pink quartzite that this whole mountain is made of. They took us up up up, winding between the stunted coniferous trees that peppered the ridge.
By now I’d passed a big pack of people. The next pack was far ahead, and I had little hope of catching them, so I just kept chugging up at my own pace (as Adam Chase put it to me later, “at that speed where you are just on the edge of uncomfortable”). The drizzle had stopped below, but now tiny snowflakes blew and danced around me. My thin shirt didn’t protect me from the wind at all. My hands were very cold but my core temperature was good: I just couldn’t stop.
And suddenly I crested a rocky outcropping and there I was – flags, the announcer, spectators cheering! And the gondola was right there alongside – no need for racers to chill down waiting for anything. I grabbed a slice of watermelon, shared a few congratulatory high-fives with other racers, and hopped into the gondola for my ride back down – and an impressive overview of the route that I had just climbed.
Jorge didn’t manage to maintain his lead. “Everyone ahead of me had poles,” he said. It was his first vertical kilometre, and he ended up placing second in his category and fifth overall. I found the ranking system for The Golden Ultra a bit peculiar – with an “Open” category for M and F under-40 racers, and a “Masters” category for those over 40 – but no “overall” ranking. I was very pleased with my time of 1:15:35. Top male was 49:05 (Geoffrey Richards, Kimberley BC) and top female 56:59 (Ailsa MacDonald, St. Albert AB, 56:59). First woman in my “Masters” class finished in 1:05:39, and I was fourth in my class! Feeling GREAT and ready for Day 2 – all my hills training this summer had definitely paid off.
They say there hasn’t been a lunar eclipse as good as this one for over twenty years, and that the next one like it is nearly another twenty years away. So how could we NOT go out to check out this eclipse of the supermoon? Especially considering that the day – and the evening – here in Port Alberni were crystal clear. Perfect viewing conditions.
They’re calling it a supermoon because the moon is unusually close to Earth (at the nearest point on its elliptical orbit) – so it looks bigger than usual. Especially when rising. The eclipse actually started before 6:00 pm here, but it hadn’t even risen above the horizon at that point here on the west coast. Dave and Valerie and I (and Xhosa of course) headed out from town just after 6:00 – into the sunset! Dave had a spot in mind, an east-facing slope above some logging roads, where he figured we’d get a good look.
We are going to Africa for a one-week race next month, so this was the perfect chance to try out some of the freeze-dried meals we are going to have to use there. We set up our chairs, and got Xhosa settled in her bed, which Dave had brought along for her, and her blankie and sweater on (she only looks tough). What a view – facing Mt. Arrowsmith – watching the sky turn pink then inky blue over the mountain as we ate packaged pad thai and packaged chicken and rice – wondering when and where the moon might rise.
I realized that we were missing much of the eclipse out here, and that the moon would be rising totally eclipsed – in other words, very very dark. There was still a dim glow in the sky over Mt. Arrowsmith, and I had a feeling we might miss it – not notice it until it was much higher in the sky. After a time I noticed a dim pink glow off the edge of one of Arrowsmith’s peaks, so I trained my binoculars on it.
And sure enough – it was the moon! Completely risen, its full disc barely discernable, just above the mountain’s edge. I quickly snapped a few pix while it was still close to the horizon – amazing how quickly it actually moves once you are looking at it through a telephoto lens. It was just past 7:30 when it came into view, and we stayed and watched the eclipse right through until the end – nearly 9:30. What a show!