I often wax lyrical about bravery, and am naturally drawn to people who bring out my own brave. I’m fortunate to know many such individuals; the life warriors that overcome varying obstacles to live big, fat, fabulous lives on ridge lines, in caves, in kloofs, inside waves and on mountains. I also know many brave souls that have fought against society’s labels, turned their lives in to meaningful adventures despite adversity, and I wish to surround myself with this kind of energy forever. I even stepped up my own brave sufficiently to marry one such person earlier this month – but that story is still in the making.
Today, I have a lot to say about sand.
Growing up, Kenton on Sea was our family’s annual holiday destination. Wiki says:
Kenton-on-Sea, more commonly known as Kenton, is a small coastal town on the Sunshine Coast, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. It is situated between the Bushmans and the Kariega Rivers, and lies approximately halfway between the industrial centres of East London (180 km) and Port Elizabeth (130 km).
We have a long history in this small coastal town, dating back to the 1970’s where my paternal grandparents, Frank and Maureen Stephens, owned the Main Street café that was, for generations, known as “Bells and Buoys”. During their courtship, my parents spent Rhodes University holidays assisting my grandparents in the cafe, in an era when the entrances were segregated by race and, other than the fresh produce sold by farmers at the entrance to Kenton, the cafe pretty much serviced the half loaf, ice lolly, general grocery, fishing bait and nicotine requirements of both locals and holiday makers. Today, the old cafe is a Continental Deli, with a single entrance.
By the time my parents had graduated from varsity, navigated my dad’s army conscription, married, settled in the Cape and produced two daughters, my grandparents had long sold Bells and Buoys, done a stint as museum curators in Cape Town, and returned to Kenton on Sea to retire in a humble face brick house with a view of the Bushmans River mouth. We visited them annually, and spent these holidays fishing for mud crabs, exploring rock pools and watching the small town grow and integrate.
My grandparents sold their Kenton home and lived out their days in an assisted care facility in Port Elizabeth, which is when we started renting various holiday homes in Kenton on Sea; it remained our annual dose of vitamin sea. These holidays were spent sleeping late and sneaking in to over 18 parties. There was some beach time in between, but in the dark pre-mobile phone days, the daily emphasis was on finding out who would be seen where come nightfall, and planning all the curfew negotiations accordingly.
Eventually my eldest daughter joined the annual Kenton escape, followed 7 years later by my son, and then little Em. My parents bought a large and accommodating home near Middle Beach, which has been one of the few constants in my life for the past 12 years. I’ve visited the Kenton house every year, twice a year when possible. These days, the holidays are focussed on maxing the beach time, walking the dogs, big family meals and plenty of Kenton running.
This year, Q, the kids and I arrived two nights after our wedding, and little more than a week after Ultra-Trail Cape Town. We got stuck in to regular lagoon swims, fishing off grandpa’s little cabin boat, and the wine selection. It was with some relief that we learned about a group run from Kenton to Port Alfred (a 25km coastal stretch) on 24 December. Legend had it, the group has tackled this run annually for many years, and there might even be a record book. The direction is determined by the wind, and the time by the tides. 6am was our kick off, with a gathering outside the infamous Robby’s Bottle Store near the entrance to Kenton. We trotted out of town, established all the essential information about each other (such as, who ran Comrades this year, who is doing Ironman next year, and how many friends, races and running goals we all had in common) and then proceeded over the Kariega River bridge, down to a rocky section of beach and off on the not-so-hard-after-all sand towards Kelly Beach in Port Alfred. I was the only woman in a group of 5, which always puts added pressure on the run.
The pace was pretty quick, but not out of my ability. The wind was nippy, but not too bad. The weather reports were peppered with extreme weather warnings from Plett all the way down the coast, but the wind was behind us so… easy, right? We (I?) felt relatively badass for the first 15 or so km. We held a good pace considering the shifting sand and the dance we were doing to avoid the waves that kept threatening our dry feet. The wind gained momentum and the chit-chat dwindled a little, other than the occasional comment about shorts vs tights. Tights would have been a smart move, sand hurts. Alex, coordinator of the run, pointed out that as the only member of the group that removes leg hair, I would be taking the biggest hit with the sand blasting.
The fun factor started wearing thin, but there is no way off the route. It is an incredibly beautiful coastline of rugged rocks, pale coloured sand and untouched, hardy bush. I knew it was going to be one of those brave-it-out runs, with possible bragging rights attached if I didn’t face plant. I also knew I had sand in every possible orifice and that sunglasses would have been a smart move, too. With each gust of wind came searing pain, and it simply did not let up. I stopped to try to do a Facebook Live link, thinking this adventure more than worthy of a live report, but there was no coverage. Instead, I filmed a short video, in which you cannot hear my commentary over the sound of the wind. The three Jozi guys pulled slightly ahead of Q and I, and I gave up dodging the waves. Wet feet were the least of our worries, and I was fed up with running up on to the softer sand with each hit. Head down, as far down as it would go, and run. There were some giddy, giggly moments where my watch said we were going 4.5min/km and there was no possible way of slowing down. I had that song stuck in my head, “Do you ever feel… like a plastic bag?”
Wind guru says the wind got close to 100km/hour while we were out there, and I can well believe it.
We passed a large old shipwreck, rusted and dark in stark contrast with the light coloured sand. I would normally stick around, take photos and establish its history, but I wasn’t keen on hanging about. I have since tried to contact the Port Alfred museum and tourism offices, but neither entity answers their phones… in peak tourism season.
With 6km to go, we were in line with a rather large monument high up in the bush on our left. I presume it has something to do with the 1820 settlers that “established” Port Alfred but I couldn’t find any accurate information on it, so we’ll just call it the Nearly There Monument, ok? Documented South African history isn’t terribly accurate, anyway.
With less than 1.5km of beach left in our journey, and legs that felt like they should be bleeding, an escape route appeared on the left. The kind owner of the beach house, sensibly in lock down mode in her home, kindly let us through her garden, on to the tarred road that would take us to the Kelly Beach car park, where our blessed pick up vehicles would be waiting. One of the pick up vehicles had beer, and cold Coke; magic.
And that was that. Done until 2017 I guess! It took two days to get all the sand off but, as always, it was utterly worth it.