Vaughn and I were married on a sunny day in November, a small ceremony with close family and a few friends. Edward’s double duties as ‘father of the bride’ and ‘best man’ were interrupted when he had to run off in search of the minister who had been watching rugby and was nowhere to be seen. My little bridesmaid, eighteen-month-old Megan, spied her mother at the far end of the church and tripped on her long dress as she ran down the aisle.
Soon after our wedding, we moved into our own house to begin our new life together. Edward lived with us, and Vaughn’s two daughters spent every second weekend and half the school holidays with us.
Every winter Vaughn and I allowed ourselves one luxury hiking weekend, which meant that instead of tents or communal huts, we stayed in a decent chalet with decent beds and decent hot water showers.
The first time we stayed at Tendele in the Drakensberg Mountains, we planned to spend a full day walking, then return for a civilised meal of fillet steak and salad with a bottle of red wine.
We set off in our dry-macs and hiking boots, carrying water and snacks, binoculars and camera. The route we had chosen should have been thirteen kilometres, which was manageable in the day. We started off well, following the yellow hoof prints. The sun came out and the dry-macs went into the backpack.
As I huffed and puffed to what appeared to be the peak, I found a brief levelling off before the next peak. The mountains went on and on and up and up, never seeming to reach the ultimate peak. Somehow our eyes must have become blurred, with sweat in Vaughn’s case and possibly tears in mine, because we found we had inadvertently lost the yellow hoof-prints and were now following the blue ones.
Twenty one kilometres later, just as dusk was falling, we saw Tendele in the distance. Too tired to even make a cup of tea, we fell into bed for a brief snooze before dinner. We never did wake up for that steak.
A less luxurious spot was Mount Everest, which was only three hours’ drive from Johannesburg. The wind whistled around our tent at night and we were generally in bed by seven o’ clock. The walks were good, and one time we were accompanied the whole day by a friendly brown dog. Fortunately that was not the day that I had my first experience with a chain ladder.
The chain ladder was the only means of access round a sharp corner where the rocks fell away to a deep crevice. I looked at it in horror. And panic. There were animal droppings around, which I pointed out to Vaughn. Even the rabbits shat themselves when they looked down.
But I either had to go on, or walk the ten kilometres or so back the way we had come. So I took a deep breath and tried not to whimper or look down. I was on it. I edged along, my knuckles white and my palms sweating into the rust created by sweat from earlier nervous hikers. Then it was over. My feet were on firm rock. But never again, I thought!
However, we did come across another one, and it was very high, but that was where the dice had landed, so the choice was either up the ladder or down the long snake back.
Before I met Vaughn, he had spent a lot of time under water. He was a keen scuba diver and belonged to a club that organised a dive trip somewhere almost every weekend. Vaughn joined them less often after we were married, but when he did go, he included Edward and myself in the trip.
One time it was arranged for the whole group to stop overnight in a tree house. I had rather grandiose ideas of an elegant little fully equipped cabin placed neatly in the fork of a huge tree. This was not a bit like that. It was big and on several levels. And it involved ladders. There were no furnishings or equipment, just bare boards. Fortunately we had brought plenty of food and water and enough beer to put us all to sleep.
We elected to sleep on the top level, so we put our sleeping bags up there before it got dark. The roof was barely a metre above the level of the floor, so we had to wriggle in and claim our positions. I was between Vaughn and Edward. At bedtime we negotiated the ladder, Vaughn first, shining the torch down, then me, followed by Edward. I snuggled into my sleeping bag and gasped. There on the ceiling an arm’s reach above my face was a spider the size of my hand. As we shone the torch around, we saw there were about twenty spiders. And we were stuck there because the level below us was wall to wall sleeping bodies.
I did realise the spiders were probably harmless rain spiders, but the thought of one landing on my face was too horrific. So I tunnelled down into my sleeping bag, pulling it right over my head and sealing the top as best I could. I must have fallen asleep like that because I woke up with a throbbing head. In the morning the spiders had all gone and the campers on the floor below us didn’t believe our story.