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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Milton

'Dream and Do' - Part 1

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

My year as an adventure instructor in Magoebaskloof.

Stanford Lake College: View of the lake and adventure centre from the climbing tower

I spent 2006 as a “dadL” and it was one of the best years of my life, so far. While working on this post, I realised there is simply too much to share in one article. Sit back and enjoy Part One, knowing there’s more adventure to come.

In a very special little pocket of indigenous forest and plantations in Limpopo, on the banks of a lake that runs into the top end of the Ebenezer dam, is a unique school called Stanford Lake College. The adventure centre at SLC runs a programme called “Dream and Do” which includes adventure classes for their high school students; inter-schools adventure racing; and adventure instructor training to train Dream and Do leaders (dadLs, pronounced “daddles”) like me.

Magoebaskloof hiking trail

Magoebaskloof is one of the most beautiful places in South Africa: tangled indigenous forest, pine and blue gum plantations, tea plantations and avocado orchards, all with the majestic Wolkberg mountains as their backdrop. Tzaneen is about 30km away and is itself surrounded by mangoes, bananas, litchis, citrus and plenty of bushveld.

Life 'on the mountain' was pure soul food! 🙂 Adventure was a daily reality, with the menu including mountain biking, overnight hiking & backpacking, kayaking, climbing, swimming in the lake, orienteering, abseiling and trail running. The scenery was absolutely stunning, the air was always crisp and fresh, and the community was tight-knit and knew how to LIVE.

My joints held up reasonably well that year. At that point, only my left elbow and left ankle were affected and I experienced some good days; some bad days. I wasn’t always able to join in on our morning runs as my ankle did ache from time to time, and I was never quite fit enough to do the longer mountain biking trips with the adventure racers, but I tackled pretty much everything else.

I learnt a few valuable lessons that year. It immediately followed my completing high school and was my first year away from home; I had never lived with a roommate before; I didn’t own a car; and Magoebaskloof is a little off the beaten track. Our training included testing ourselves physically and mentally, sometimes in very real survival-type situations. We completed personality tests, conflict resolution workshops, and personal development courses. We were encouraged to pursue the vision we had for the year and our lives: “Dream and Do”. Once qualified through the Adventure Recreation Association (ARA), we took over the scholars’ adventure classes, helped plan for and marshal various events and races, and worked with the adventure tourism companies in the area.

Floating climbing tower that had to be towed into the middle of the lake and back again…by us, in kayaks!

I still remember our very first weekend as a new “dadL” group… We arrived on campus, expecting to get to know each other and settle in before starting with official training and duties on the Monday; but we were told to get dressed and be ready for a walk… We set off from SLC without any idea of where we were heading and thereafter ensued a good six or seven hours of hiking in the soft, but persistent, drizzle that is characteristic of a Magoebaskloof summer. We summited the Iron Crown that day, the highest peak (2126m) in the Wolkberg mountains behind Haenertsburg. I remember the mist and drizzle collecting and dripping off my nose – everything was soaked by the time we were only halfway up the mountain – and I remember being able to see nothing of the view, thanks to the mist. But what a way to kick off the year!

My roommate and I shared a little thatched hut, affectionately referred to as “Annex”. It was very basic, with a few resident rain spiders and rather poor insulation, but it was immediately opposite the dining hall and became home for a year. Said head rain spider used to enjoy the bathroom especially, which meant that it was common to be sleepily having a midnight wee and be surprised with it sitting quietly at eye level on the window right new to the toilet! Yikes! But spiders and all, we felt safe and almost never locked our front door.

An adventure racing team at a race in the Free State: a quick transition between a running and mountain biking leg

Our daily routine involved exercising as a dadL group before breakfast; setting up for and facilitating adventure classes for the Grade 8 to 10 pupils in the mornings; and supervising sports, adventure race training, or recreational time on the lake in the afternoons. In the evenings, we sometimes went to one of the local pubs – the Iron Crown in Haenertsburg, or the Pot & Plow on the R71 – for drinks, burgers, pizza, and pool. Our dadL facilitator, Des, and I were a fantastic pool team, often winning the table and keeping it despite numerous challenges during the course of an evening.

Over weekends, I worked for Thaba Metsi Adventures (now Magoesbaskloof Adventures) as an assistant kloofing instructor. Warren and I used to take various groups down the kloof on a trip that combined tubing, swimming, and jumping off waterfalls, the highest of which was 12-15m depending on the water level. Being the junior assistant instructor, guess who had to always jump first and show the clients how it’s done? Me! Ha ha. What a fantastic experience, though: breathtaking scenery, helping people discover the pure joy of adventure, and the obvious adrenaline rush too.

Kloofing trip with Thaba Metsi Adventures

When there were no kloofing trips booked, or on Sundays, we used to have plenty of fun with the long-term boarders from Botswana and Zimbabwe, swimming, mountain biking, or messing around on the lake. Not a bad place to be 'stuck' at on weekends!

Badyn and Rhett having fun in the pool one weekend.

Being stuck on the mountain brought a few unique challenges too… We were broke gap students, many of us without our own cars, but we needed to make monthly groceries trips to Tzaneen to buy personal supplies (and for me to refill my chronic prescriptions of course). Two particular such trips stand out in my memory: one where Heidi and I caught a lift down with a school parent but had to hitch-hike back up to school (the lady who picked us up was horrified that two young ladies were hitch-hiking); and another where Schalk and I used JJ’s little Nissan bakkie. We had an almost empty tank, and almost empty wallets, so we free-wheeled much of the way down the Magoebaskloof pass, put in a grand total of R11 of fuel at the tiny petrol station at the bottom of the pass, and made it to Tzaneen where we could draw money, do our grocery shopping, and fill the tank for the trip back up to SLC. That probably wasn’t very responsible… Magoebaskloof pass is notorious for bad car accidents, but what an adventure!

Weather on the mountain deserves a mention too… Summer was wet and hot, and winter was ICY!

In summer, the fine drizzle that kept the indigenous forests so lovely and green also kept the clay-rich soil slippery and muddy. Many things that were multi-coloured to start off with soon became a medium chocolate brown. Laundry was done for us by the school, which was very convenient, but unfortunately, there seemed to be an ongoing problem of the tumble dryer being overloaded. Our clothes often smelt musty and didn’t always dry properly. This once led to two of my fellow dadLs needing to have mango worm larvae removed from under their skin! Eeek! For those who have not seen the abscess a mango worm can cause and how gross it is when it pops, you’re welcome to Google it, but it’s definitely not for sensitive viewers…

In winter, we were often greeted by frost on the grass, frost all over the outdoor benches, and even frozen dew drops in the trees first thing in the morning. As you can imagine, water-based activities in those temperatures were…interesting. Nevertheless, I managed to gather a group of about 20 brave staff and students to join me for a sunrise swim in the lake on the morning of my birthday mid-May.

In a separate demonstration of their adventurous spirit and bravery the following winter, the adventure racers along with a few ex-dadLs and staff members organised a night paddle across the Ebenezer dam. Edna and I shared an Epic on that trip… An Epic is a type of sit-on-top kayak that has two holes in each seat which allow a small amount of water into the bottom of the boat and balance its buoyancy. We tried to protect ourselves by wrapping cling wrap around our legs and bums, but it didn’t really work… To date, that is still the coldest I have ever been!!

As I said, on the mountain, we LIVED! 🙂

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