Over the Hills to the Country House

Egg and bacon rolls atop a Midlands hill just as the sun peeps over the horizon. I mentioned every day of the Three Cranes Challenge had one special characteristic to set it apart from any other trail run, and this was it on the third and final leg. Staring across the Karkloof, your stiff legs very slowly shaking off the rust, gobbling down this tasty nugget we had earned over 17km of hill and dale.

We started at 4am on the Sunday. Well, I didn’t. Like I admitted earlier, I had spent the night in my demo Ford EcoSport. It was just more comfortable than the mattress in my tent. Too comfortable. I snoozed through three alarms and jolted awake at 03:47am. I missed my first ever batch A start, and took off with the second group shortly after 5am.

Chilly, pitch black, with just the erratic dancing of our head torches to illuminate the patch of ground in front, the sense of adventure was thoroughly piqued. We had some 38km ahead of us, but what mattered was getting to the breakfast stop. Thereafter we’d have broken the back of the day’s challenge, and that potent combination of adrenaline and joy would carry us home.

Of course, I had one extra incentive. My blistered toes, bruised knees, muddied hands and aching legs had a booking at Granny Mouse Country House to get to. An icon of the Midlands, all the rocks and rivers in the valley wouldn’t keep me from a rejuvenating sanctuary I had heard so much about.

 

Nervous chatter and darting lights just before the gun.
Nervous chatter and darting lights just before the gun.
We knew a twisted ankle meant no egg and bacon rolls on the hilltop, so focus and footing were at a premium.
We knew a twisted ankle meant no egg and bacon rolls on the hilltop, so focus and footing was at a premium.
That's not to say there wasn't a solid bunch chasing me from behind whenever I looked back.
That’s not to say there wasn’t a solid bunch chasing me from behind whenever I looked back.
Gently, the sun crept higher  and higher, gradually eating away at the dark.
Gently, the sun crept higher and higher, gradually eating away at the dark.
Until, at last, the welcoming scent of breakfast on a skottel turned into a reality.
Until, at last, the welcoming scent of breakfast on a skottel turned into a reality.
Quite simply, a feast!
Quite simply, a feast!
It's amazing how easy running feels with a full belly and the sun in the sky.
It’s amazing how easy running feels with a full belly and the sun in the sky.
However, this headless statue asked more questions than it answered. Who, when, why?
However, this headless statue asked more questions than it answered. Who, when, why?
River crossings never stop being fun, but they don't do sore feet much good as you near 100km for the weekend.
River crossings never stop being fun, but they don’t do sore feet much good as you near 100km for the weekend.
The German girl I was running with at this stage said this was the spot she had seen a Blue Crane a last year's event. It was sunnier on that day...
The German girl I was running with at this stage said this was the spot she had seen a Blue Crane a last year’s event. It was sunnier on that day…
Just when I feared I'd finish the run without spotting a single crane, this beauty appeared hundreds of metres away. Luckily, "Jerry Can" Jack was on hand with his zoom lens to capture her from way out of range of my GoPro.
Just when I feared I’d finish the run without spotting a single crane, this beauty appeared hundreds of metres away. Luckily, “Jerry Can” Jack was on hand with his zoom lens to capture this Wattled Crane¬†from way out of range of my GoPro.

 

Organiser Hillary Bruss reckons our efforts came to about 108km over the course of the weekend. Nobody really knows precise distances in trail running. Most of us don’t care. It was about three days in the hilly, muddy, rainy, rocky and brilliant Midlands.

I would miss it, but I was heading somewhere a tad more luxurious than the race village. To just the sort of place you want to be with aching legs and weary bones.

Join me next time as I plunge into the cocoon of comfort that is Granny Mouse…

 

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