My Surprise Birthday Adventure
On my 24th birthday last year, my husband and I were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and I had what we would call a ‘trail birthday’. It’s considered to be extra special if you can celebrate your birthday while on the trail. And that’s what I got to do. I had joked to my husband that maybe I should walk 24 miles (38,6kms!) for my 24th birthday, and he took me seriously, and apparently so did I, and that’s just what we did. I spent my birthday completely disconnected from the world, surrounded by nature and in the company of my favorite person. Steve carried a chocolate muffin for me, which we had after supper and he sang happy birthday to me in 3 different languages! A simple celebration.
So after that experience, I longed for an outdoor trail birthday again this year. Knowing this, Steve planned something special for me and told me on the eve of my birthday we were going for a 2 day hike. The only information he told me was that it was about 50kms from Sir Lowry’s Pass to Franshoek. So we packed all that we needed and on the morning of my birthday we set off on our grand (but mini) adventure. It turned out to be a hectic 2 days but so great in the end.
We had an amazing trail angel, David, my dad-in-law, who dropped us off at the trailhead. While on route, we sipped on hot coffee in plastic cups while we chatted about the route and where we might camp. When we arrived, we took a quick photo and quickly set off, realising the wind was quite chilly and we wanted to keep warm. We didn’t need to walk for very long before we had a lovely view of Table Mountain from a distance. A view you don’t see very often. Feeling very unfit we began a long uphill, which turned out to be about 1000m of elevation gain. There was a lot of water on the path, we often found ourselves rock hopping to avoid getting our shoes wet and came across many small streams and some great waterfalls. This was a wonderful relief with the terrible drought we’re facing, and it brought back memories of hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The day passed quickly and after an afternoon snack, we began keeping a look out for a place to possibly camp. We were walking on steep ground, with little flat areas for a tent. We eventually found a lovely spot, protected from the wind, flat enough to sleep on and close to a stream for water. Steve had planned a gourmet camping dinner for us: pasta with fresh onions, mushrooms, pepper with olive oil. A luxury dinner for us. But he soon realised that he had forgotten his lighter at home, so he couldn’t light our stove and therefor we couldn’t have dinner! He felt so bad that I should have no dinner on my birthday, but it was the thought that counts, and we had crackers and cheese instead.
It was a long, cold night of sleep and we woke up with stiff muscles and signs of blisters on our feet. After about 150 days of camping together, we have become quite the experts at packing up camp, and like a well oiled machine, we packed up, did some stretching and we were ready for another day. We were hoping to get off the mountain in the early afternoon so we could enjoy Franshoek before heading home, but that was not to be. We were walking on ‘open’ trail, but it was hardly open with many kilometers of overgrown path. It took hours to make our way through thick protea forests and endless spiky bushes. Just after lunch, the trail became wider and easier to walk on as we got closer to Jonkershoek. We were greeted with stunning views, overlooking Stellenbosch to our right and a gorgeous large canyon which was the start of the Berg River. We had a break to enjoy the views as we recovered from our tough morning, our feet aching with blisters.
Looking down the canyon, Steve informed me that we were going down it, following the river, and eventually coming out of it at the end to meet up with his parents who would be waiting for us there. I tried to find a path down, but it seemed it was almost vertical, so once again I had to put my trust in my husband, hoping he knew what he was doing. We started going downhill, on a very sketchy overgrown trail, which only became harder and harder as we went. At one point we were surrounded by the spikiest shrubbery we had ever encountered, getting our arms and legs scratched through our clothes. After about an hour, we crossed the river, and the path became much easier, wide and manageable. Finally, we were on the home stretch!
We were both feeling sore. My right ankle was a bit bruised and swollen from twisting it, and my left calf was giving up on me. Steve seemed to be painful everywhere, and had developed a large blood blister on his foot. But one thing we are is determined, we can persevere together. I have learned that it doesn’t help complaining, and all you can do is keep going. It took us many hours longer than we hoped but finally got off the mountain at about 7pm in the dark. We hobbled along on a gravel road to meet up with my in-laws, I was relieved of my pack, as we made our way to the car.
Apart from feeling sore, we were incredibly hungry! I was craving stuffed chicken breast, so we found a restaurant that had something like that on the menu. In the end, I got to have chicken cordon bleu, which satisfied my food cravings and got me out of my hangry state. We were too tired to have dessert, and after a long day we sat in the backseat, falling asleep as we made our way home.
Now I know that doesn’t sound like a very appealing birthday to most, but it was perfect for me. I love it when Steve plans something for us to do together, even if he didn’t realise how hard it might be and even in he forgot the lighter at home. It was good quality time for us, doing something that we both love, surrounded by nature and keeping life simple. And so starts the possibility of a new family tradition… Spending the day hiking with the special people in your life.