After several intense weeks of work, we finally had some time off and wanted to do something fun and active as a family. In pandemic times, a hike seemed the most attractive option but after our crazy six-hour hike in search of Botswana’s highest peak, we were nervous about venturing out on new terrain, especially with kids. There are not many marked (or well-publicised) hiking trails in Botswana but after a vigorous search online, I found three mountain biking trails close to Pilane which is a short drive from the city. We downloaded the GPX files for the trails which formed a neat loop – we would start on Intro to Super Snake (1.2km), then onto the Super Snake (1.4km), and finally onto the Side Winder (0.8km) which would take us back to Intro. Given the short distances and modest elevation gain, we were confident that the kids could handle it.
My son Thiwa was extremely excited, repeating several times that this was going to be a “wild adventure”. Knowing he doesn’t enjoy much physical exertion, my worry was he might tire quickly. But my husband Ditiro was quick to point out that we’d be back in an hour so he would be okay. We set off around 11:30 and grabbed a quick cappuccino on our way out. We took the right turn off the A1 to Pilane and wound our way through the picturesque little village. On our way out of Pilane, we turned off the main road and onto muddy jeep track until we spotted green tags in the trees, the trademark sign of a bike trail. We parked our car under some shade and two slender dogs emerged from a nearby farm, wagging their tails politely.
Ditiro loaded our water bottles into his backpack and we set off with great excitement, smiling brightly for the camera in our purposefully coordinated orange and camouflage outfits. Given what transpired later, I say this with some sarcasm at our highly misplaced priorities…
The Intro To Super Snake was easy to navigate – flat and mostly free of rocks. The trees along the path had started to take on some autumn tones and the pale blue skies scattered with puffs of clouds formed a beautiful backdrop. The cool air temperature was perfect for a midday hike.
But with the good rains this season, the grass, now dry, was extremely long and within the first 20 minutes the kids started what would become a losing battle against the relentless thorns and sticky seeds. We had to stop several times for them to pull them off their socks, sometimes even having to remove their shoes to do so.
I was desperate for the kids to enjoy themselves so I tried to keep them focused with positive and motivational words – “This is such a great adventure guys!”; “You guys are doing great!; “How lucky that we are out here, huh?” “What a beautiful day!” But as they continued to moan and groan about the thorns, I took a more hard-line approach, “Just IGNORE the thorns!”; “Don’t be SILLY!”; “Come on kids, it’s not THAT bad!!”
The turn off Intro onto Super Snake led to a short climb and descent over a small hill. The trail was quite windy and rocky but aside from the sticky seeds which continued to terrorise the kids, it was a lovely section and at one point gave a pretty view of the village in the distance.
Ditiro spoke animatedly about returning to this trail with a bike and pointed out many details in the dense bush – the greyish lichen on the trees, intricate spider webs, the wild berries (motsotsojane) which we offered our bemused children and various insects and spiders, a huge army of ants and a persistent bumble bee that was determined to land on my hair.
Admittedly, at this stage, the thorns had become a nuisance for me too and I regretted wearing running shoes instead of trail or hiking boots. For the poor kids, the sticky seeds were now in their socks, shoes and on their track pants. Mistake No. 1. Inappropriate hiking gear. I now changed my hard-line approach to wild promises of expensive hiking pants and fancy hiking boots from Cape Union Mart, a good hiking store in town.
Ever the innovative child, Kaia decided to remove her socks so the thorns wouldn’t irritate her as much. Thiwa followed suit and for a little while this kept the discomfort at bay.
I think we were an hour and a half in, when Thiwa declared it was time for a snack. Ditiro and I looked at each other and then one of us had to explain that we had deliberately left all the snacks in the car because “we’d only be gone a short while!” Mistake Number 2. I can still hear the incredulity (perhaps disgust?) in Thiwa’s voice as he said “You LEFT the snacks in the car?!”
I quickly brushed him off with “We will be back before you know it”. And indeed, we might have been… had we not decided to take the Side Winder which according to the map would take us very close to our car. Mistake Number 3. There are just no words to describe what happened next and if there is any picture that speaks volumes, it is this one…
I don’t know the last time someone rode the Side Winder but from the rocks, the overgrowth and thorny thicket of trees, I’m not exaggerating when I say it must be YEARS. Up to this point, our main complaint had been the onslaught of thorns, but there was always a path as well as green tags (even a green tyre) to assure us that we were on the right track.
But now the real bush-bashing began. No path, no green tags… nothing but wild thorny bush on sloped and rocky terrain.
And to make matters worse, just as we got to a section where we could see the approximate location of the car down below, there was a galvanised fence supported by sturdy posts blocking our path. This fence must have been put up after the Side Winder was created, cutting off the path, which now explained the ruggedness of the terrain we had just traversed.
We walked along the fence trying to find a place to jump over or crawl through but both the fence and path along the fence were impenetrable. Ditiro then said we should make our way back to Super Snake and cut across a field that seemed to be in line with our car. Just look how close we had been to our car when the fence had blocked the path!
As a parent you know how bad it must be if even your children give up on the whining. The thorns in our shoes (at this point Kaia was literally hobbling as her sockless state meant her shoes were now full of thorns); our rumbling tummies… none of that seemed to matter anymore as we battled our way through the thicket, completely aware that snakes were probably lurking in our midst. And then as Ditiro clutched onto his phone in true modern-day pioneering, my daughter’s voice, strong and brave said – “This is an adventure but it’s not really fun, is it?”
Friends, I couldn’t be the hero anymore. I couldn’t be that motivational voice of reason, that brave commander telling the troops to keep their chins up. I just responded, “You’re right my girl. This is not fun at all.” And with that gentle acknowledgement, we continued on our journey.
Like brave soldiers, the kids understood the plan and walked in silence as we headed back to Super Snake and then through the open field. The field was much easier to navigate and the blue dot on Google Maps started getting closer and closer to the car.
Then as we emerged from the grassy field, there in front of us, sat a rusty, beat-up Chevrolet truck next to a dilapidated house. The kids ran to it with excitement. The thorns, scratches and hunger didn’t seem to matter as they hurriedly clambered in, marvelling at its seatless interior.
They asked questions about how old it was and how it had come to be there. It was marked Made By Steyns – Box 742 Pretoria. From what we could ascertain it had been used to pull a drilling rig that we had seen on our drive in. We now knew we were very close.
Almost 3.5 hours (and ONLY 4km!) since we had started our hike, we saw our car. Take a moment to feel our jubilation and listen to our celebratory shouts as we removed our shoes and hopped into the car. We immediately tucked into the snacks and soda sitting right where we had DELIBERATELY left them. As we drove towards the main road, I felt such disappointment that the hike had been a disaster. But once we were safely on the main road, the kids chatted excitedly, with one of them declaring between a sip of Coke and a bite of chocolate, “You know, if it wasn’t for all the thorns it would have been really nice!”
I looked at Ditiro and smiled. It was not the hike we had planned but it was certainly the “wild adventure” Thiwa had anticipated. It will probably be the hike that stands out long after beautiful trails are forgotten. Maybe this was just the dose of excitement we all needed? It’s either that or my poor children have been put off hiking forever! What do you think?
I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.