I wasn’t sure if my legs were trembling from the weight of my backpack, or from sheer terror as we started our decent into the Fish River Canyon. The path was extremely steep and my feet slipped on the loose gravel while I struggled under my hefty bag, gingerly clambering down large rocks. I grasped onto one of the metal safety poles and it came out of the ground, tipping me precariously over the edge of a rock. I started to wonder if I was crazy!
An hour and a half later I finally reached the bottom of the ravine, a stark paradise with a deserted sandy beach leading to the edge of a wonderfully cool river pool, the steep canyon walls rising up on either side of me. This would be my life for the next five days, walk for a few hours, stop for a swim and a snack and finally find a scenic spot for our group of eight to sleep for the night under the brilliant Milky Way.
I had to carry everything I needed for the five days: warm clothes, food, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, stoves and cooking utensils. Thankfully the water in the river was abundant and delicious so I did not need to add water to my already heavy pack.
The realisation that I could actually survive on what I can carry on my own back for almost a week was profound. It was a truly life changing experience, surviving only on what you needed (ok, add some whiskey and chocolate for the evenings!). This made me realise how much ‘stuff’ I have back home. House, scooter, bicycle and cupboards filled with clothes, kitchen utensils, toiletries and the loads of other useless junk I have collected and accumulated over the years. I began to ask myself: Do I really need all this stuff, or could I give it away to someone who might have a greater need for it?
As it was our first ever overnight hike (talk about jumping in the deep end!) my husband Richard and I planned every meal and snack down to the last rice granule. We weighed and portioned each item, I even drew lines on my lunch rations to ensure I didn’t eat too much in one day. It really made me think about how cavalier I am about food and about the food that I waste in my day to day life. Luckily any food waste I have at home goes to the dogs, worm bin or compost bin (in that order).
I also had to carefully consider the packaging that my food for the hike came in. You have to take all your litter with you in the canyon, so any heavy items such as cans or glass were out. It always amazes me to see how much packaging our food comes in, but now that every gram of weight counted I was looking at the food in our cupboard in a totally different light. I decanted most of my food into reusable zip-lock bags (which also hardly weigh anything) so that I would not be lugging heavy waste packaging with me for days.
Imagine how my shopping and eating habits might change if I had to carry around all my food (and its packaging) with me each day!
There was no way to keep my food cold either, so all food had to be long lasting. I rely on having refrigerated and frozen foods so much at home, so I really had to think hard what to take with me. I took some apples, naartjies and an avo that luckily didn’t get too squashed. A cucumber was a great fresh snack, and lasted very well, as did my block of cheese, although it became very sweaty near the end. (Luckily I love sweaty cheese!)
Although it was tough at times, this hike was by far one of the best experiences I’ve had and I intend to do a lot more hiking in the future. As for Richard, when I invited him on another hike, he politely declined: “no thanks, I’ve done my hiking for the decade through a glorified ditch”!
I am hoping that this trip will have a lasting impact and be the push that I need to start trimming down my life of ‘stuff’ and start to live only with what I really need.