"It must have been miserable up there," the woman said to me as I ran past her and her husband who were wrapped up in jackets and scarves as they faced the steep incline snaking up into the cold, thick mist.
“No,” I replied, “it was a privilege.”
AND IT WAS. IT ALWAYS IS.
Table Mountain might be a heritage site to the rest of the world but it means so much more to me. Over the years, the back table has been a better companion to me than many of my more flaky friends. It has heard my yells of joy and held my tears.
There are few things more exhilarating than sprinting down its jeeptrack after sweating up its twisting challenge... and nothing beats watching the sun’s first rays breaking over the spine of the Hottentots Holland while standing at Overseers Cottage, with water dripping down your neck from when you gulped greedily a moment before.
It’s as certain as dusty ankles that the God of All Things Trail lives there and runs that route regularly.
If you’re in any doubt about that, come and join me one day – and look at the dogs. Their sheer pleasure preaches it.
Dashing amongst the dew-laden proteas, slurping from the streams, flopping wearily into the sloot that runs next to the track, making new friends (four-legged and two-legged), you realise the divinity of the trail. Seeing how ecstatic dogs are to be on the trail, who could doubt that the place is, indeed, sacred?
A few years ago, broken by a beautiful bully and a series of bad choices, I went through a period of depression. I was also facing massive change in my working environment. So, when it all got to be too much for me, I’d escape my misery, grabbing my shoes and whistling for Troy so we could hit the trail.
That dog and that track saved my life. They were unmoved by my many complaints about how I was an undeserving victim of misfortune. Instead, they presented me with challenges to overcome and, in the process, helped me to make decisions. They both helped me to change.
Troy was a magnificent creature. As a powerfully-built dog in the prime of his life, his muscles rippled under his taught tan skin when he ran. I can vividly remember a small child pointing at him and calling out, “Look, Dad, a muscle with teeth!” as we ran past.
Troy was also incredibly disciplined. He knew he had to wait for his command to eat, did not come into my consulting room unless invited and ran obediently at my side on a verbal leash.
He also saved me from myself.
In the depths of an extreme emotional darkness early one morning, I stood on the edge of that beautiful track and was overwhelmed by a devastating sense of loss and fear and failure. I looked down the sharp drop and across at the sun cresting the distant mountains and contemplated the complete relief I could have if I just ended it all right there.
My running buddy walked over to me and put his wet muzzle into my hand.
He had always let me lead before, but he instinctively knew it was time to break with routine: He took the lead. He bumped my leg with his shoulder, hard and repeatedly, not stopping until I got up and started moving again.
A year later, celebrating my renewed emotional health, I whooped as I wound my way down that same track. At the top of the drop, I stopped and gave Troy a huge hug, silently thanking him for being a light on that dark day.
The next morning, he developed inexplicable internal bleeding on his spine. He died in the afternoon.
“It MUST be miserable running up in the cold mist on the mountain trail early in the morning!” the woman pressed.
“No, ma’am, it really isn’t. Nothing could be further from the truth,” I responded.
It is a pure privilege to run on such a track, where I can taste the truths it reveals about me, feel my vitality and celebrate my potential. It fuels my sense of self- leadership and inspires me to help clients I work with to develop into great and effective human beings. It also strengthens my courage and sharpens my insight.