Life is full of contrasts and contradictions. Your life, my life. And somewhere in it all is the real truth of that life. But it doesn’t jump out very often. You have to dig, and hunt and gather. You have to try, and then learn something new and try again. You often have to live with provisional, temporary answers because they are the best you can do for now. You have to accept that the search for meaning is never over and look for opportunities to turn rocks and smell flowers.
An old Campaigner from the Karroo taught me the power of paradox in finding an authentic way forward. The trick is to accept that while something is true, it is not the whole truth. Its apparent opposite might also be true and only when you put them together do you come closer to the truth. Bear with me here because this is totally about trail running.
It is true that men are stronger than women. Look at the big picture of race results. But that’s not the whole truth. It is also true that women are stronger than men. Look at the one that finished ahead of you in the last race! The truth is that (for most of us) gender has very little to do with our running strength.
It is true that running trails gives you a fantastic feeling of freedom because it is simple and natural. It is also true that, unless you live in an ideal location, it takes greater effort and discipline to find good trails, get to them and run them.
The truth is that trail freedom takes cost and commitment.
A recent trip to the Karroo reminded me again of the power of pursuing paradox rather than having a simple version of truth.
It is true that I’m happy as a trail shoe in mud when I’m back to basics running in the mountains with everything I need in a small pack. The higher and rougher the better. Yay! I feel so connected to myself and at peace. And, as much as I love those harsh, high hills, it is also true that I love the lavishness of one of our luxury lodges. The richer the thread count, the better. My happy home is caught in this creative tension.
The 26th UTi Rhodes Run gave me the first for a whole cold, exposed day. I ran my third and proudly claimed my Permanent Snowflake (#1001, if you’re wondering).
The day itself contained such opposites. It started bright and clear and promised warmth, so that some road runners ditched their weather kit in the kloof. But Auntie Mavis waved a white surprise up her impossible incline.
As I stood drinking hot chocolate and chatting to Darryl at the highest check point, he pointed over my shoulder to a wall of weather approaching. Soon I was running along in a snow storm until I got to Uncle Dave who gave me a salty sheep’s balls.
If you want to know the truth about Rhodes you have to immerse yourself in the space between these things.
The next day, as Edna and I drove down towards the coast again, the austerity of the mountains made way for the lushness of the Addo Elephant National Park. There we parked on the stoep of the Riverbend Lodge where no need goes unmet.
We ate gourmet, slept luxurious and guided gently to rare sightings of wildlife. Sundowners were served from white clad tables set up quietly amid whispers and smiles.
Between that demanding dance along the daring edge of the Drakensberg, and that rest in the relishing recline of Riverbend Lodge, lies the deepest truth of what gives me peace as a person. When you think you’ve got “It”...Look! Listen! Expose your perspective to the other side. Discover a seemingly opposite true thing and come closer to the truth.
It’s not easy – you have to try for the truth. Get confused. Dig. Hunt and gather. Form provisional ideas. Expose them. Strengthen them or change them.
But above all, don’t stop trying to work it all out. Run when you can; walk when you must; crawl if you have to; but don’t stop moving.