The long road

2016-01-15 08:01
Shea Karssing is a nature lover, misophonia sufferer and, sadly, a Scandinavian sun worshiper.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Shea Karssing is a nature lover, misophonia sufferer and, sadly, a Scandinavian sun worshiper.

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5.15 am, March 28, 2015, R103, Balgowan

I HATE using the car heater, but it’s a must for these early Midlands mornings. In fact, I sort of hate getting up this early in the first place, but the Big, Long Day is looming. Two months to go.

Perfectly on time at 5.30 am (5.26 am, in fact), I’m at the bell to meet Rachel for our training run through the Lidgetton valley.

“Hello friend, ready to do this?” I greet her.

“Let’s go,” she says, our breath steaming out in front of us in the icy morning air.

We settle right into our running rhythm, lungs tight and fighting the cold, constricting air.

It takes a kilometre or two before we’re warm enough to talk about our training the week before, our training in the week coming, our next race, what we had for breakfast, what we plan to eat before the Big, Long Day, how we plan to deal with pre-race bathroom woes. Yes, our minds are Comrades-consumed.

4 am, April 11, 2015, Mediclinic Howick Hospital

After vigorously scrubbing the sleep from my eyes with cold water and hastily pulling on my running vest, I’m the first one waiting at the designated meeting spot, punctual to a fault.

Spirits are high as we peel bananas, rub Vaseline in crannies we didn’t even know existed, and laugh at my hairy knees that I missed when I shaved.

5.10 am, April 11, 2015, Estcourt Shell Ultra City

The VW Caddy is veering and feeling unbalanced, so we steer into the Ultra City to check the tyres. The back left gets a pump and we are back on the road. No time for a toilet stop.

5.30 am, April 11, 2015, R74

Clunk, clunk, clunk. The tyre is shredded into slivers of useless rubber and we’re driving on the rim. The six of us clamber out the car and, as the only girl, I step back to let the men replace the tyre with the spare. Which they have just discovered is completely flat.

5.38 am, April 11, 2015, still just off the R74 off-ramp

Plan B: someone will stay with the car, and the rest of us will hitch a lift to Bergville. Apparently, I’m meant to show some leg on the side of the road, but it doesn’t seem to be working yet; perhaps because no cars have passed by in the last eight minutes. Surely there must be some people coming past for the race? Then again, surely they did not have a shredded tyre and a flat spare, and have actually made it on time for the 5.30 am race registration.

5.41am, April 11, 2015, still just off the R74 off-ramp

On the side of the road, showing some leg.

With 20 minutes to go until the race starts, I’m starting to resign myself to the fact that we’re going to have to wait until a Godlier hour for rescue, then turn around and head back home. The main thing upsetting me is that I’ll now have to do a looooong run in the afternoon without the fun race-day atmosphere.

Then, like a BMW Batmobile, a sleek sedan slams on brakes furiously from its 160 km/h speed. Four of us strip down to our race scanties and get into the back seat of the car before asking where our charitable chauffeur is going.

Inside the black Beamer, some kind of gangsta gospel is blasting from the speakers and the car has the stuffy smell of car heater mixed with tomato Big Korn Bites. Oh, it’s because the passenger is eating them (barbeque flavour, my mistake), washed down with Fanta.

“Please will you take us to Bergville? We’re running a 52 km race at 6 am.”

“Are you going there?” — we all say at once.

“We’re on our way to a funeral, but we can take you,” says our saviour, swigging a sip of a 500 ml Monster Energy Drink.

And with Gansgta Gospel mixed with G-force and barbeque Big Korn Bites, we speed into Bergville.

5.58 am, April 11, 2015, Bergville

We’re at the back of the pack behind the race starting line, already breathless with adrenalin from our high-speed race to Bergville. I smile as the start gun symbolises the end of one journey and the beginning of another. I quickly look behind my shoulder at the majestic Drakensberg mountains, then look in front of me to the rainbow of running vests bobbing over and under the hills to Ladysmith. I don’t look back again.

3.28 am, April 25, 2015, Greendale Spar, Howick — Rachel

Rachel pulls into the parking lot, surprised that my car isn’t there. She looks at her watch.

“Shea’s always early,” she thinks to herself, “but I suppose it’s not quite 3.30. And she told me last night that she’s house-sitting, so maybe it takes a bit longer to get here from there.”

3.36 am, April 25, 2015, Greendale Spar, Howick —
Rachel, watching the clock

We need to be in Hillcrest before 5 am and we still need to pick up Bonnie. This is very unlike Shea.

“You have reached the voicemail box of Shea Karssing. Please leave a message.”

Let me hang tight until 3.40.

3.40 am, April 25, 2015, Greendale Spar, Howick —
Rachel, watching the clock

“You have reached the voicemail box of Shea Karssing.”

I’m worried.

Rachel vaguely remembered me describing to her where I was house-sitting and her car glugs through the thick, soupy mist, up and down the dimly lit streets of Howick, looking for any sign that I might be there.

3.52 am, April 25, 2015, misty streets, Howick — Rachel

I can’t find her, but I can’t leave. I’m seriously worried.

Plan C: Rachel drives to my house and wakes up my mom.

“Don’t be worried, Renee,” she says, her brave voice belying her anxiety, “but I don’t know where Shea is.”

“Let’s go to the house,” mom says.

3.58 am, April 25, 2015, the house — Rachel, Mom

Hooting, shouting, no response. Rachel hops over the fence, but her blood runs cold when she’s in the garden. There’s an old Mercedes parked outside the house, its boot open and ready to load whatever the thieves inside are taking, hopefully not my dead and bound body.

Adrenalin hurtles Rachel back over the fence, just as mother’s instinct launches my 57-year-old mother over the fence in her dressing gown.

4 am, April 25, 2015, the house

It’s always a bit scary house-sitting for someone on your own. The midnight creaks sound foreign and the wind teases you through alien nooks and crannies.

I wake up suddenly to the dogs barking. The heat starts to hammer against my ribcage as I open the curtains and see headlights shining into the driveway.

I check the time on my phone. It’s dead. There are headlights in my driveway. I’m meant to be waking up super early for the Comrades route tester in Hillcrest today. My battery is dead. My alarm didn’t go off. I’m horribly late. The reality dawns on me, and I scoop up what is hopefully all my running gear, lock the door and run outside in my T-shirt and panties, mortified. I hate, hate, hate being late.

5.10 am, April 25, 2015, Kearsney College

We’re late. I hate being late. Time to pound the tar.

4.15am, May 31, 2015, Durban

I can’t believe the Big, Long, Day has come. It’s today. Trying to keep as calm as possible, I check and double-check my kit, waiting for my friend who I’m staying with (and my lift to the race) to wake up.

4.30 am, May 31, 2015, Durban

She’s not up yet, but I suppose we have time. I’m meeting Rachel at the hotel for a last-minute pit stop before the race at 5 am.

4.35 am, May 31, 2015, Durban, ready to go

“Shelly, time to go,” I shake her gently. “Oh, okay,” she mumbles, and I close the door for her to get changed.

4.42 am, May 31, 2015, Durban, itching to go

Shelly still hasn’t emerged, so we decide that another friend who is running and his girlfriend will drive us. We find the house keys and get into the Corsa, and Cath fires up the little engine. Which gives up on us just around the corner.

4.50 am, May 31, 2015, Durban, itching to go

We run back to the house, and I wake Shelly again, shaking her a lot more vigorously this time.

5.19 am, May 31, 2015, Durban City Hall, Batch D

I’m at the Comrades start, pushing my way through the throng of tensed and sticky bodies to Batch D. It’s too late to meet Rachel at the hotel. I hate being late, but when the national anthem blares through the crowd I start to tear up, crying uncontrollably by the time Chariots of Fireis played and as the start gun symbolises the end of a long journey and the beginning of another.

4.08 pm, May 31, 2015, The Oval, Pietermaritzburg

The end of a long journey. I’m just glad it didn’t involve a car.

Shea Karssing is a nature lover, misophonia sufferer and, sadly, a Scandinavian sun worshiper.

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