How paddling earns me sloth credits

2012-02-15 00:00

Last year Chris Hornby wrote in The Witness about competing in the Dusi as a rookie paddler. He explains why he’s doing it again.

OF all the questions people ask you when you tell them you’re paddling Dusi this year, the most obvious is often the hardest to answer. It came from my daughter, Ciaran (seven): “Why?”

As usual, kids get it right on the button. Why indeed? I have done one already, and am fortunate enough to own a car, so it’s not like I can hide behind the old “well, it’s February and I am keen on a swim in the sea” gambit.

I would like to dredge up something about camaraderie, spirit and sense of accomplishment, but I suspect it’s something more along the lines of a dog who finds a snake and although he knows it could mean his death or at very least extreme pain, he can’t resist going back and trying to bite it.

We are so massively overcivilised that we all need a dose of something from a darker place to shake us out of our complacency. Who wants to wake up at 80 and realise you spent your whole life sitting down: in front of the computer at work, driving the car home and rounding it off with a few hours on the couch in front of the TV?

I have come to think of events like Dusi as gaining you “sloth credits” — which are almost like carbon credits, but for inactivity and general modern living. This is not purely a physical credit, but has elements of psychology and spirituality to it too. It’s an extremely neat theory, and when it becomes famous, remember you read it here first.

For the purposes of understanding, I will start with the better-known “gym credit”, where for up to a week after a gym session and up to two months after joining a new gym, you can forgive yourself for eating just about anything because you “are working out” and need the energy.

The sloth credit is a little more complex: it encompasses all the benefits of the gym credit, but has a few additional features. All those dark, brooding moments you spend plotting revenge on your boss, and those times when you lie awake at night wondering if you career is on track or if you’re just delusional — those all get taken care of with the sloth credit. If you tackle an event like Dusi, Sani2C or Comrades, you will know there comes a point beyond which all those concerns, which seemed so important and looming, simply cease to matter.

It’s easy to test: find a worry that causes your stomach to contract into a tight knot. Let’s say it’s filing your tax return (ouch, that’s a little close to home, but I’ll persevere). Cast your mind over it (ouch) and feel the twist of anxiety. Now you jump into a boat and head downriver towards Durban. As you pass Witness Weir try the test again. Okay, still there. Continue on downriver and up over Campbell’s portage — perhaps even Guineafowl — but I guarantee that by the time you fall out at Mission three hours later you will be able to think of tax returns not with fear but with desire.

So when my youngest, Riley (five), asks me why I am running with a canoe on my shoulder, I simply say: “Because I am a sloth!” She laughs and says, “Daddy! But a sloth is very lazy!” And at the end of the day, so am I. If I carry the canoe far enough it makes it far easier to file my tax return.

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