To Sleep Perchance to Dream – Namaqua Quest Day 2

So if expectation did not meet reality on Thursday, today was much more so!Before I complain, I’d like to give a shout out to all Sanparks people. You do amazing work and you make our nation proud. Thank you to the rangers, the volunteers and the good people who run these beautiful parts of our country, making them accessible to us and visitors from across the world.Goegap Nature Reserve is spectacular. What I discovered today is the ocean that I spoke about yesterday was actually a glacier. The mountain face we climbed up today gave us the clues about the glacier and the striations on the rocks provided grip for our shoes as we climbed.

The glaciated volcanic mountains

The rocks are really impressive and the quiver trees peppering the almost barren landscape are a true delight. We saw some springbok….so close to Springbok. Although, talking to some people after the race, we may have imagined those! Quiver trees are really quite unusual. I was reminded of the Joshua Trees in the Mogave desert. It seems the most unusual trees grow from the barren desert.

Helen and I didn’t know how close the finish was at this halfway photo stop!

There was not much time to see anything else because the race, sold as a 10km, like this blog, ended too soon at 6.7km.

Yours in the barreness.

SlowCoach

Running Taught Me To Make Gin

Hot on the heels of one of the biggest disappointment in my life, (it seems so dramatic when I say it like that, but I’ll explain), I ran the Bugs Bunny trail run, hosted by My Road Less Traveled, yesterday. It was such a hard route. 3.5km of sheer climbing over technical slippery rocks and gravel. Of course, that’s just up my street because I’m so dumb! The harder the better. It’s just more fun for me when it’s impossibly hard. I wonder why that is. I guess life has been quite good for me. I’ve had a good life. Things have come easily to me and so I choose difficult things because then I feel like I’ve earned them or I get a real sense of accomplishment from the overcoming. I choose jobs that I have no idea about and stretch my mind and my abilities sometimes way beyond what I’m capable of, but I learn and I grow and it makes things exciting.

Hence my new hobby, making gin. I’m not really a drinker and I don’t really like gin. So who better to start up a gin making business than me? I really don’t do easy stuff! I started making rudimentary gin earlier this year with a bottle of vodka and a few herbs and flowers and spices. Nice. I love the creative process. I love the scientific process. And it turns out I have a bit of a hand for this. Everyone has been liking my gin. So EP and I discussed a few times and we figured that we would start a gin-making business. We discussed the market that we’d like to capture and we got the ball rolling. This is what running has taught me about making gin:

  1. In order to make gin, you need vodka. I’m not going to explain the whole process, but I decided to make my own vodka. I bought a still which is a machine which separates ethanol from water in a fermentation. Vodka is ethanol. Yes. Vodka is ethanol. Watered down ethanol. To make ethanol, you need fermented sugar water. No. Sorry to burst your bubble, but most vodka is not made of potatoes because the amount of fermentable sugar you get from potatoes is just not worth the effort. To make sugar water, you need water and sugar and a bucket and a spoon and you need to have run the Comrades Marathon. I know that might seem strange, but while I stood over the 20 litres of water with a six kilogram lump of sugar at the bottom, stirring continuously, it helped to be able to tell myself that I had run the Comrades Marathon and so I could finish this. 3 hours. I stirred that fucking bucket of sugar water for 3 hours. And if I had not been able to tell myself at least 8 times that I had finished the Comrades Marathon, I would not have been able to dissolve all that sugar.
  2. Once your sugar water is prepared, you add yeast and some other stuff to start the fermentation. The YouTube video said 20 degrees. The instructions on the packet said 28 degrees. I’ve made bread and I would argue it should be 34 degrees. I trusted the video because at the end of the video, the guy ended up with a lot of vodka which is where I wanted to be. The yeast I used is called Turbo Yeast and promised a 7-10 day turnaround. We were in the middle of a heatwave so I took the fermentation out of what had become the distillery and put it in a cupboard. Checked the temperature, 22 degrees. Perfect. And then I waited. 7 days. The fermentation was going bloop bloop bloop in the cupboard. Evidence that the fermentation was not complete and the yeast was still turning the sugar into alcohol. 10 days. Bloop bloop bloop. 12 days. Bloop bloop bloop. I’m not a patient person. But running has taught me to be patient. It took me two years to run the Comrades Marathon after I had fully anticipated I would run that race 8 months after I told Daniel I’d run it with him. Actually, that’s still so funny, knowing what I know. So two years to be ready to run Comrades had prepared me to engage with this bloop bloop with love and patience. At day 13, I went on a distilling course. And I found out things that I wish I didn’t know. I almost gave up. There are so many legal hoops to jump through, just to get a shot of vodka into your kitchen and that’s without making gin and without selling the stuff. I also found out that my yeast had been struggling along at 22 degrees when I should have been taking full advantage of the heatwave! I move the fermentation into the kitchen where there is adjustable underfloor heating and dialed the heating up to 30 degrees. I also realised that my fermentation had probably run out of oxygen so I whipped some air into the fermentation and continued the bloop bloop process. 15 days. Bloop bloop bloop. I’ve got this dog. He’s curious and clumsy. He investigated the bloop bloop and knocked the air lock out of the bucket. I could have killed him, but I fixed it and continued the bloop bloop process. 18 days. The bloop bloop appeared to have finished blooping. Finally! The fermentation was complete. Allegedly.
  3. We opened a company called CocoJade Distilleries and we opened a business bank account. All that stuff moved forward. Nothing moved as quickly as I had wanted. Exactly like my legs. Like EXACTLY like my legs. After the fermentation was over, I had to clarify the “wash”. It’s called a wash once the fermentation is complete. Then I had to degas it. It’s full of carbon dioxide after fermentation so you have to get rid of all of that gas. Picture a big 21 litre bucket of Coca-Cola needing to go flat. You can either stir until you need to remind yourself of your Comrades marathon or you can pour that bucket into another bucket, let it settle, pour the bucket back into the first bucket and let it settle and then do that over and over until the wash is flat. Less requirement for a Comrades reminder, but my back…..20 litre buckets full of fermented sugar are heavy, yo! I filtered it a few more times to get a very clear liquid to put into the still. Then on Saturday, I sat the entire afternoon distilling the wash into acetone, methanol and ethanol, leaving the water behind. It’s a process, I tell you. You have to watch it all the time and adjust your cold water flow to keep the condenser at the right temperature. And you need to be patient. Yesterday, I wanted to give up on the first hill at Bugs Bunny. What was I running this for? It was hot. I hadn’t trained. My back was sore. This was only going to carry on being hard. Just. Give. Up! Making vodka is hard. It takes so long. It takes so much time and sugar and water with no real guarantees. Just to make vodka requires a million forms. If I want to sell vodka, I need to navigate a thousand very expensive legal processes and get all sorts of permits. I won’t be able to do it from home because you can’t make gin in a residential area and our business model doesn’t really warrant a huge property and and and. Sometimes I just want to give up.

As it so happens, yesterday I didn’t give up. I didn’t die. I didn’t come last and I really enjoyed my run. My legs are a bit hungover today which is to be expected because I hadn’t really trained properly and I hadn’t been doing the necessary gym work. And that’s how running has taught me to make gin. Saturday’s distillation produced vodka that was less then perfect. I’m so hard on myself that I fully expected that it would come out perfectly. I was so disappointed. How could my vodka not be perfect? But if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t do everything perfectly in preparing the wash. Maybe all the sugar wasn’t dissolved when I put in the yeast. I should have fermented at 30 degrees for the whole time. I should have stirred it up properly in the beginning, feeding the yeast with oxygen. I should have kept the dog away from the bloop bloop. I should have checked if the fermentation was really over before clarifying. Ag! It got what I deserved. It wasn’t perfect vodka, but it was good enough for a first attempt. I didn’t win yesterday, but it was good enough. I never win, but I suppose it’s always good enough. Running and making gin are teaching me that sometimes you just have to do things that you love with love and the rest will follow. Keep going forward with commitment and focus and eventually, you’ll get over the big mountains and you’ll enjoy some of it and you’ll come to a point near the end where you see an impala leaping gracefully past you and you’ll remind yourself why you didn’t give up and you’ll be grateful that you didn’t give up.

Wish me luck with the gin. I have also decided that I will help someone else create a vodka making business and they can supply me with the vodka I need to make gin because making vodka sucks. I’m going to try one more batch of vodka and then I’ll hand that over to someone else who wants to make perfect vodka. I want to make gin and that’s what I need to focus on. Today I start the second part of the legal hurdles that I will have to navigate. It’s actually like Inchanga where you’re half way up and you can see the rest of it winding up and up and up in front of you. I seriously feel like giving up on this one, but I won’t. At least if I start, I can evaluate the merits of going forward.

I’ll be sure to take you on my gin journey. I might even get to like gin, kind of like I eventually got to love running!

Yours in the love of running and gin, I think.

SlowCoach

Trail Runners FFS

I feel like I ran a marathon today. I only ran 15km today. My feeling might have something to do with the fact that the 15km race I ran was called The Beast and, when we set off at 7am, the temperature in Pretoria was already at a balmy 23°C. Sold as the toughest race in Pretoria, it is an incredibly tough trail race up and down rocky slopes with little shade and, as you can imagine, sweltering conditions. But I’m not here to tell you about Pretoria’s toughest race. If you want to find out how tough it is, then come run it next year.

What I’m here to tell you about is trail runners. They’re a funny bunch, actually. I think I’ve spoken about this before. Trail runners have gear. Lots of gear. They have buffs and trail shoes and gaitors and go pros and fancy watches and compasses and maps and hydration packs and all sorts of gear that road runners just don’t need or care to drag with them on any race. Aside from the gear, trail running seems to attract people with little to no communication skills whatsoever. When you run a technical trail, you can kind of understand because there’s no real opportunity for conversation. For starters, the trails usually don’t allow people to run two or more abreast so you’re either in front of someone or, as is usually the case with me, you’re behind someone (or some many). This means that you can very seldom hear the person in front unless they’re shouting. Added to that, you really have to concentrate when you trail run. You can’t zone out and chit chat and day dream on trail runs. I daydream occasionally and that’s usually about the time I find myself eating red sand. It’s always red in South Africa! You have to concentrate because there is all manner of obstacles in the path. Stones, rocks, tree roots, grass fronds, lizards, snakes and grasshoppers all lie in wait, trying to catch your toe and send you flying. So it’s often not a good idea to be chit chatting away to your friends on a trail run. That then appeals to a strange type of person who can run for hours on end with no-one except the voices in their own head with whom to “chat”.

This becomes a problem for me. Because Trail running attracts people who are less inclined to be chit chatty, they’re less inclined to be chit chatty about important things. Today, I swear I wanted to punch some people. There were 3 races on the go today. There was The Beast which was 15km. There was something slightly less Beasty which shared 10km of the 15km route and there was a mini Beast which was 5km. By the way, my buddies came 1st, 2nd 1st and 3rd in the 15km (Well done Thabang, Tranquil, Maphuti and Fiona) and my buddy came 2nd in the 5km (Well done Nina. Hope you feel better soon) You’d think that with all these great buddies, I would suck less. Sadly, not.

Where was I? Oh yes. I wanted to punch people. The 15km and the 10km shared the same route and the 10km started 15 minutes after the 15km. 10km races are much faster than 15km races and soon, front runner 10km runners were looking to come past us 15km runners at the back. The first few got out the big girl, and boy panties and shouted, “Coming through on your right!” before they were breathing down my SlowCoach neck. And then came others. I’m not sure what’s wrong with them. There was a girl who ran up behind me and then stuck on my tail for about 500m (which is a long way in trail running) without saying a word. Eventually, I helped her and said, “Let me know if you’d like to pass.” She whimpered meekly, “Yes, please may I come past?” For fucks sakes!!! By this time, all her fellow 10km runners had caught up with her and there was a stream of traffic behind her waiting to pass me and it looked like it was my fault, when all she had so do was whisper in her meek, pathetic voice, “Coming through on your right”. That’s another thing, trail runners. Don’t shout “Coming through!” or “Left” or “Right”. How the fuck must I know what that means? How do I know from any of those what your expectation of me is? You’re behind me, I can’t see what you’re thinking! I can’t see what your body is doing! Be specific. Say, “Please move to your left.” Or “I’m passing on your right.” Or “Coming through on your right.”. That tells me everything I need to know. I know what you’re about to do and I can gather what you expect me to do from those statements. And then for the love of all things traily, say “thank you”. You won’t die if I move to the side for you (even if you didn’t ask) and then you gasp a “thank you” as you go past. I promise, you won’t die!

I met a lovely lady called Robyn today as we both moved to the side for 10km runners who all took advantage of our kindness and didn’t even give us a sniff, never mind a thanks! Really, trail runners. You really have to up your communication game. I’m not asking you to strike up a small talk conversation or to debate the merits of existential studies. I just need you to communicate your expectations so that we all have a nice run. Where you’re not bearing down on me so heavily, forcing me to run faster than I need to and I’m not holding you up from your PB or special placing. And say thank you. It will make you seem nicer and not so fucking weird.

Yours in the love of communicating clearly,

SlowCoach