'Dream and Do' - Part 2
Updated: Apr 9, 2020
My year as an adventure instructor in Magoebaskloof.
As I’ve started digging into my memories of my year at Stanford Lake College, more and more details and stories come to mind.
Although I described Heidi and my living arrangements in 'Annex', I neglected to mention where the guys stayed.
Just over a kilometre up the mountain from the school, at the turn off to Cheerio, was a little dirt road curving between the trees leading to 'Bagdad'. Bagdad was always the dadL ('Dream and Do' leader) den, but with a larger group, and a mixed group of men and ladies, Bagdad was the guys’ domain while Annex was ours. Bagdad was made up of a few small cottages, a laundry, a tool/garden shed, and an empty cement farm dam. The walk between Bagdad and the school campus was lovely: through the pine plantations and just the right distance to provide time for thought without being so far away as to be inconvenient. There was also a small collection of farm animals that kept the guys company, the naughtiest of which were a few little bokkies (pygmy goats) that used to jump onto the bonnet of JJ’s bakkie to reach the foliage they wanted to browse… Needless to say, they occasionally received a disciplinary slap!
Apart from the adventure activities already mentioned in Part 1, we bonded with the scholars in other ways too. Schalk joined the school rugby team and I joined the school hockey team, both of us playing matches and going on sports tour with the teams to 'Sportweni' on the South Coast in Kwazulu Natal. Part of the initiation for joining the first teams for these sports was for the guys to remove all body hair… JJ and I happily helped Schalk 'Veet' his legs as part of this process, ha ha.
I also got to know a few of the pupils a bit better through tutoring Mathematics in the evenings. Maths was my strongest subject at school and I really enjoyed it (I know… but honestly, I did!), so the headmaster asked me to help out by tutoring during 'prep' time (evening homework sessions for boarders). I tutored one or two Grade 8 and 9 pupils for remedial purposes, but also a few of the grade 10s in a group to help them catch up work they had missed during a three-month exchange programme to an international school. These sessions were both the most challenging and the most entertaining, for a few reasons… The group was made up of Nadine, a studious Afrikaans girl from Botswana; David, a more outspoken and slightly grouchy character; and Warrick, who was bright (great!) but also very easily distracted AND distracting (think along the lines of the charming class clown), and who also happened to be the headmaster’s son! As you can imagine, I had my hands full…
The adventure racers at SLC were a special group of kids. For those unfamiliar with the sport, adventure racing is where teams of two to six members participate in a multistage event comprised of different disciplines; including, but not limited to, trail running, mountain biking, swimming, paddling, orienteering, climbing, kloofing, obstacle courses and problem-solving. What makes this sport so unique is the fact that navigation is an integral part of the race and that participants will always be challenged with a curve ball or two. It could be anthing from first needing to build their own raft in order to paddle across a dam to guiding a blindfolded team member through an obstacle course.
Adventure racing teams have support crew, often referred to as 'seconds'. These are the people responsible for meeting the team at any transition point where they need to switch eg from running to mountain biking. In this particular example, the seconds would have the team’s bicycles, cleats, helmets, etc. ready and would receive and pack away their running shoes. I remember one particular race – I think it was the 120 km/3-day inter-schools event in Zastron, Free State – where one of the seconding teams forgot their racing team’s cleats at base camp… It took real grit, determination and heart for those kids to complete that mountain biking leg of approximately 40 km using running shoes on cleat pedals! Wow!
As dadLs we were often safety marshals at these events. At the same Zastron event, JJ was placed as a safety marshal on the dam that the teams had to paddle across. The funny thing was that he was given a rather old kayak-type boat and an oar! Not exactly a well-maintained craft that he could use to speedily respond to an adventure racer in distress. His expression says it all!
Occasionally, the adventure racers did give us grey hairs. The rule at SLC for any running or mountain biking in the surrounding forests was to go out in groups of three. If an accident or injury occurred, then one person could stay with the injured while the third person went for help. One afternoon, two of the Grade 8 adventure racers, Stephan (aka Klippie) and Ryan, decided to go on a training ride without a third companion. During the ride, Stephan fell and broke his collar bone and Ryan practically sprint-cycled back to school to fetch help. There we bumped along the dusty back roads in the school’s Toyota Siyaya minibus to find Klippie and take him to hospital in Tzaneen. I still remember how Des laughed at me for being a 'mommy': I had grabbed fluids of some sort, something sweet and wet wipes because I thought Klippie might be dirty, in shock, sweaty, or bloody from his fall… What can I say? Those kids really crept into my heart and I cared about them!
We had a chance to return the hair-raising favour one night when we took the racers on a surprise adventure… There are two routes from Haenertsburg down to Tzaneen: the Magoebaskloof pass and the George’s Valley road. Just before entering Tzaneen, the George’s Valley road runs alongside an old railway line that crosses the Groot Letaba River via a bridge a few storeys high. We blindfolded the adventure racers so they had no idea what was coming, organised an arm-on-shoulder single file line to lead everyone safely onto the bridge, and set up an abseil off the bridge into a boat waiting in the river at the bottom… Yeehaw! 😊
The year ended on a high note with the Salomon Adventure Challenge for Schools (SACS). This was our main adventure race event for the year and the participating teams came from schools in Lydenburg, Gauteng, Lichtenburg and even the UK. The event was split into a few days of shorter challenges around SLC, followed by a full day race in the Waterberg area. Challenges set up around the school campus included kayaking on the lake; orienteering in the forests; a problem-solving/obstacle course; mountain biking; and a kloofing challenge.
In those days, the kloof was still accessible to us for such events, as Magoebaskloof Adventures had not yet purchased the land and set up their more permanent zip lines for their kloofing tours. Schalk and I were stationed as marshals in the kloof, at two different points where safety ropes were needed to facilitate climbing or traversing down ladders, followed by jumping down waterfalls. Our base camp was a place called Bergplaas, just off the George’s Valley road, and from here we had the privilege of kloofing down to our marshal points every morning; waiting for the racing teams to come past our check points; and kloofing down to our exit path to hike back up to Bergplaas each afternoon. There was a fair amount of waiting both before teams arrived and between teams, but what a spot to be stuck for the day!
I enjoyed the environment and working with the kids so much that I was interested in staying on as a student teacher to complete a learnership in education through the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). The headmaster encouraged me to rather pursue a university degree as originally planned, advice that my parents were extremely grateful for at the time. I realised, too, that what I loved about that year did not necessarily involve teaching in a classroom environment, but rather the opportunity to walk alongside young people in more of a mentor capacity. I have since spent some of my free time between vet studies working at a leadership camp, but I will always remember SLC as that special place where my love and passion for nature, adventure and working with kids came together and were amplified.
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