Walking the Hard Trails

Growing up in the shadow of Table Mountain’s east side, I never took full advantage of it. It was just always there. I had walked up to the Blockhouse on a school field trip in standard seven (grade nine) and again in standard nine (grade eleven) up Skeleton Gorge to trace the source of the Liesbeek and its tributaries to the mouth. I forget everything involved in that day’s knowledge and still don’t know it fully.

I’ve been up the mountain intermittently over the years, with a long break of about 20 years before I started hiking again with a very keen friend of mine, Grant. We went up Nursery Ravine, the trail next to Skeleton Gorge, and did Platteklip Gorge and a few Deer Park Forest walks. I then did Platteklip Gorge again soon after that, which was quite adventurous for a novice. Around that time, I also completed a hike with a more advanced hiker and nature lover, Robert, who took me up to the summit of Devil’s Peak.

This was no ordinary hike; we went off the beaten track. One of the normal hiking tracks for the part of the mountain is called Mowbray Ridge. We went up the ravine part of it and had to join the path once we were close to the top by following a series of Cairns and landmarks. Very exciting for me! Being inexperienced and somewhat of a cowboy, I arrived at the Rhodes Memorial parking lot with a 500ml bottle of water. Rob looked at me and chuckled as if to say, ‘WTF you doing?’
And then asked: ‘Is that all you are taking?’
I replied, ‘Yes!’
He chuckled, slung on his backpack, and said, ‘Let’s go!’

Unbeknown to me then, he had a 1.5L water, a quarter chicken, and a bag of slap chips he had bought from Pick n Pay. This all became apparent to me when, after such a jol, scrambling up the mountain on no particular path and discussing the 10 Commandments of Hiking Up a Mountain and becoming very hungry, expending energy to get to the summit, he shared the rations he had brought for himself with me. Rob is a very wise man, and I know he brought that amount of food, knowing in the back of his mind that I was a cowboy and would bring nothing. Had he not shared his chow with me and me not having sustenance coming down, it would have been very tricky and unsteady on the legs. Thanks very much, Robert! He knows how thankful I am, as I always tell this story—a big lesson learnt from hiking the mountain.

Photo by Tom Podmore

I’ve been up Elsies Peak with Paul in the Glencairn area, where we spotted a newly born Southern Right whale calf and mother from the summit. Very special!
I’ve hiked up Lion’s Head after dropping an ecstasy tablet, and I had to carry 3 six packs of beer if I wanted to drink any, as I didn’t contribute to purchasing them. That was not a fun hike, but a beautiful sunset nonetheless.

These were all hikes during the years of my addiction and heavy drinking days. Somehow, the mountain just keeps calling. It is older than life itself and has many more stories than an addict could ever produce if it could open up and tell us a few of them. Imagine!

So here I am, six months into my recovery. Things are just starting to take shape. I am gaining momentum with the number of days under my belt doing the 12 Steps of AA. Going to meetings, 90 meetings in 90 days. Being of service to others, getting a sponsor, learning about myself and that the problem isn’t the alcohol or the drugs I’ve been smashing. The problem is me! How do I live with myself once the substance abuse is over? What do I do with myself? How do I live with Glenn, and how do I live with Glenn happily and successfully?
Well, it’s a process that is ongoing and a beautiful one.

Life is getting better. People are praising me and so impressed with me, which means a lot to me as they are the ones I’ve hurt because I was having a jol during my using days…I’m digressing.

Photo by Ashim D’Silva

I get back into the tourism industry as a guide like I was just before when the wheels fell off. I had been doing well and received compliments from guests who informed my company, and I received praise once again, my ego getting a bit big (not always a good thing, as ego needs to be kept in check). So my company gave me a job with a single traveller who wanted the same guide from start to finish, which is how it usually works, but still specified this requirement. My company said that it will involve hiking. I agreed and was excited to go hiking again. Little did I know where this would eventually lead to. This was back in March 2023.

So up Platteklip Gorge we went. So, kif, to be on the mountain again (I struggled a bit; I can’t lie), but it was gratifying when we got to the top. We did the good luck thing by rubbing the brass disa fixed on top of a stone pillar as you reached the end of the hike at the top. I now know that the mountain holds many inexplicable secrets and synchronicities. Some maybe, but others are meant to be hidden.

So this beautiful, absolutely gorgeous guest that I was hiking with went to the top of Table Mountain to catch the cable car down but first popped into the shop to buy a postcard and send it from the post box on top of the mountain to her mother that lived in the USA (her mom has dementia). So I photographed her popping the postcard into the post box, and we caught the cable car down. As we get to the bottom, Joanne tells me she thought she left her sunglasses in the shop but wasn’t sure.

The following day, we had another hike on the itinerary. I only realised the intensity of all this hiking once I was halfway up Skeleton Gorge. Yes, that’s right. I was back in Skeleton Gorge again for the second time since 1990. Wow! What an experience. I blanked out the first 1.3 hours of that hike, a straight incline. There are a lot of ladders, and it’s very steep. As you get to the top, you are greeted by Hely Hutchinson Dam, where we had a picnic and continued the hike. Spectacular views, tranquil. No noise from the city.

It was also a beautiful day. It was just awesome all around. What an experience. It took us 5 hours, stopping often to take in the views and to get our breath back. During the hike, Joanne mentioned her sunglasses, and we wondered if she would find them at the shop. Once we got to the cable car and the shop. We spoke to the teller in the shop, and the lady said, ‘Oh, yes, we found them over on the counter and were going to take them down the mountain to the lost property but forgot to. Are these yours?’

There were shouts and hugs in the shop, such excitement that she had found her sunnies, some part of my faith restored in the people of South Africa, the Western Cape (thank you, Table Mountain Aerial Cableway) and humanity itself! That’s a rare thing nowadays. What a great ending to a perfect hike and day and holiday for Joanne.

She left for home and went back to the States. I was a bit anxious (as we had bonded over the few days we spent together) that our connection would end after she left. We had each other’s numbers and kept in contact, and when she asked if we would remain friends when she got back home, it was such a relief for me, as that is precisely what I wanted to say, but didn’t know how to. I said I would be heartbroken if we didn’t remain friends. We communicate all the time. I send her pictures whenever I’m out and about in nature or spot a radical bird or record its call. We have a tremendous long-distance friendship going on. It’s so kif!

This is the best part: she gave a slide show to her family when they all got together for her sister’s wedding. I mean, she had been to other southern African countries while she was here, so there were a lot of slides, I’m sure. She got to the one where she posted the letter to her mom on top of Table Mountain, and her mother didn’t acknowledge it. So Joanne ran into the kitchen and grabbed the postcard off the fridge, and her mother made the connection when she showed her the postcard and the photo from the mountain. What an incredible way to make the connection.

I still keep in contact with Joanne; it’s excellent! After that hiking tour, I said to my bosses, ‘Thank you very much, and please, if there are any more guests that want to go hiking, I was their guide to do it.’
The mountain had grabbed a hold of me nicely!

Photo by Joshua Earle

So I’ve been up Platterklip Gorge with a few other guests, each time doing it quicker and quicker, not that I’m racing but that my guests are super fit, and I have to keep up with them. The first time I did it, it took 1.45 hours. I’ve narrowed that time down to 1 hour and 18 minutes.

It was 20 May 2023 when Grant returned from Amsterdam to SA on holiday when we went up Constantia Nek to De Villiers’ Dam and back down the jeep track. We went with a good group of about ten people. Very lekka hike. It was pretty easy, just something different before he returned to the Netherlands. By now, I’m entirely into my hiking and wanting more, really appreciating the mountain and wanting to do different routes as well.

On 24 May I tried to organise a hike with Rob and Paul for 3 June. Rob could only go on Saturday as he worked during the week, and Paul happened to be working on the 3rd, so I said fuck it and cancelled that day. Remember, I have been working full-on, and it is difficult for me to organise my schedule around work and others being off simultaneously – and a time conducive to harmony with everyone’s schedule. By the way, this hike we were going to do was India Venster—one of the most difficult, scary and challenging hikes up Table Mountain. Anyway, I organised another day for this hike, this time only with Paul, as I was off on the 10th and the 11th, on a Monday and Tuesday, and I was getting itchy feet; I wanted to go already! So I said to Paul you decide which day I’m off on both forgetting that I had already arranged with my sister-in-law to take her ‘Big Heart Walkers’ group on a guided tour to the Bo Kaap on the 10th. Paul happened to say let’s go on the 11th. All was arranged. I only remembered on the 9th that I was doing the Bo Kaap tour, which I did, and all went well.

Now, because I had been doing so much work, I hadn’t been seeing my son as much as I’d have liked to, so I decided on the morning of the 11th to cancel with Paul and not to go up India Venster with Paul. He kakked all over me, saying I am the only mate that seems to always drop him. He could understand that I wanted to be with my son, but he had still changed his plans to do this hike. I thought about it for a while and tuned him straight back (you can see the 12 Steps are working well for me—lol). Why does he make me feel like a c***? He thinks he can kak on me whenever the plan doesn’t work out. I never dropped him; dropping him would’ve been me not showing up at the hike and not getting a hold of him to say it was off. I cancelled the plans; plans change—just like he had to change plans to select the 11th. Plans change, and I did let him know. That is why I’m getting sober so that I can be with my son, and he has a role model. So actually, f*** him. I wasn’t interested in him kakking on me.

The following day, I saw on my Facebook page it was his birthday on the 11th. So he changed plans to go hiking with me on his birthday. I didn’t know it was his birthday. I felt a bit bad. Had he told me instead of kakking on me, I might’ve changed my mind. You know a person who never changes their mind will never change anything. Maybe that is why he blew up so quickly, or perhaps he is tired of me changing his plans. I’ll find out when I make amends with him over this. The last time we spoke was that day. One or two questions and answers on the group chat were on together, but nothing directly related to that altercation.

Photo by Tim Johnson

So after that final attempt to hike India Venster with mates, I thought, ‘F*** them all. I’m going to do it myself by myself on my own.’
It’s not the wisest thing to do as one of the 10 Commandments of Hiking in the Mountains will say: ‘Always go with someone, but if not, let someone know the route you are going on in case…’

Here is the build-up to a long story; it’s so f***ing kif! On 20 July 2023, I had a couple of days off. I was a bit nervous as I had heard stories of India Venster and the degree of difficulty and to you a guide and the sheer cliff off the edges. I read up on the route, reread it, and tried to take as much in as possible. I was going to have my phone, and the path was demarcated, which was all I was panicking about – taking the wrong path – but it said it was well-marked. Lekka!

I packed a backpack. Remembering my Devil’s Peak experience, I wouldn’t die of starvation or dehydration up there—lol. I sent Rob a voice note telling him where I was going and sent a picture of my screen lock and bank details to my son’s mother, my ex! And off I went.

I could tell you about the breathtaking hike, which was not for the faint-hearted, but I’m not! Let’s just say it was magnificent! The sun was out, I took many photographs and selfies and vlogged the whole way up. I took my time, took in the views, and did my thing up there the entire way up. Unbelievable! The route goes straight up underneath the cableway, and at the top, just under the upper cable car station, you go around the side of the mountain, the camps bay side and up round the back of the cable car to the top. There was no wind, and it was so beautiful.

Photo by Ashley Jurius

I stopped to take another break and footage of the view. That’s when I heard some voices. At first, I couldn’t understand where they were coming from. I eventually looked up, and above me were these crazy people abseiling down the western vertical of Table Mountain. I took some footage of them, thinking wtf are these people doing? They are nuts. Walking up a mountain with my feet on the ground and sheer cliffs on either side of you is okay; it’s not bad. The adrenaline is there, but to be suspended by a rope and a metal whatever-it’s-called into the side of a mountain and then lowered down is next-level nuts. I must try it! So I continued my hike and eventually met with the abseilers, returning to the cable car. My path crossed their path, and paths crossed in more ways than one, as I was to find later on.

There were four abseilers, and I said I would walk with them the rest of the way and that I had come up from the other side, from India Venster and told them the story, etc. There was a mother and her child. Adrean was her name; I forget the son’s name. Another young man who left us near the top, and another lady named Priti, and yes, she is pretty!

I said I would walk with them the rest of the way as Priti looked a little uneasy and unstable over the rocky terrain and loose rocks we had to scramble over. We got to a signpost that said, not an easy way down. They all thought having a photo next to it was a good idea, but I was the only one with a camera or cell phone. So I offered to take their photographs and send it to them. They needed to give me their numbers, and I would send the photos. We got to the top, and they gave me their numbers. I sent the photographs, thinking that would be it. Haha, the mountain has its own plans.

Photo by Yente Van Eynde

I’m back at my house going through the photos of the day, thinking about how polite and warm Priti was—what a lovely lady. I went over the footage I took of the abseilers, and there was one there that captured one of them coming down, and I couldn’t make out who it was. Just then, I received a WhatsApp from Priti to thank me for the photo. We chatted, and I said I had a clip of one of them coming down. However, there were a couple of F words in my narration. She said it was fine and to send it anyway. I sent it, and she replied that it was her on the video. Awesome! I was chuffed at that.

We continued chatting, and I asked if we could stay in contact. It’s always nice to make new friends, especially people from around the world, which is what I said to her. Now I knew she was travelling with her son so I had an idea that she was married, but that’s okay. It was in the back of my mind – I did flirt with her with regards to her name being the same as her appearance, but that was as far as it went; she told me what her name meant, and it was even more beautiful than what my cheesy comment came to.

She kept me updated with the rest of her travels in Africa; what an itinerary! Wow! Gorilla trail in the Congo, Rwanda genocide museum, I mean, something remarkable was starting to emerge from this woman who seemed to have a wow factor. After her holiday with her son, she returned to the States, said that she was home, told me about the holiday XYZ, and mentioned that she was married. I must say I played it cool, as she had seen straight through my addict behaviour (which was probably still flirtatious, and she could see that). My ego was somehow deflated when she told me that, as if I didn’t know she was married. Relationships vs. friendships, love and money are things that I have squandered in my years of drinking, and I know I don’t know how to handle them.

Photo by Graham Wickham

I’m digressing again, but notice how any word that has the word ‘ship’ on the end can sink. I will cover that in the book that I’m going to write. So anyway, I said I had no doubt she was married and that I just wanted to be pen pals as life is all about people, and it’s nice to know someone from a different part of the world. She said okay, and we continued to chat over the next few days.

She mentioned that she was exhausted from her travels and was at 80% back to functioning levels for work – it’s funny how we need a day or two from our holiday to get ourselves back to register in the real world. She said she just needed another good sleep and would be fine. This got me wondering what she did for a living—staying at a fancy hotel in Cape Town, going on an elaborate holiday all over Africa. So I asked her. She replied, ‘I’m a doctor!’
Everything started falling into place now, except the abseiling, which was explained later with another story of how and what she does in her life.

You know how doctors just have that warm, welcoming aura about them?
They are very friendly and kind toward people as their job is to help people so that way about them is visible. I should’ve realised that in hindsight, but I wasn’t thinking. Yes, hindsight has 20/20 vision.

Now, Priti and I had briefly discussed God and human rights while she was on holiday because of the places she was visiting, but not to great depths. She sent me a clip of her giving a presentation to other doctors about Alzheimer’s, as her mother has it. Her mother is a great person, speaking 5 Sanskrit languages and teaching herself how to speak English when the family was to move to America. Her mother was the driving force behind her being a doctor, ensuring Priti did well at school and got good enough grades to study medicine. It was such an excellent presentation. The most significant part of the presentation that stood out for me was, just before her mother’s memory left her, she said, ‘You know Priti, I might forget who you are, but the soul never forgets!’
That touched me, and I told Priti so. She had just shared something so dear and close to her with me, and I felt very honoured to have a brief insight into her life.

So I decided to do the same, share with her, and be honest. I told her that I was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and that in the last ten months, I’ve been down the most significant spiritual journey of my life in working the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Shew, what a relief! After telling her that it felt like I had set myself free, she had insight into my life. We might not know the story of addicts, but we know where they have been. For me to have said that, she knew what I was doing about it. If I had doubts that God existed, they were blown away by what she did next.

She sent me a link to an article to read, one of my pet hates…reading! This article broke me down into a little boy crying at every turn. It took me twice as long as usual, to read as I ran to the bathroom to get tissue paper to dry my uncontrollable tears. I wasn’t sobbing; I was crying out loud. Hectic!

Photo by Bernd Dittrich

The article was about how spirituality is good for one’s mental health, and they can also measure it. I will leave the article in a link below. All of a sudden, Priti had turned my world upside down. I resonated with this article because it made sense to me and struck a massive chord. While reading, I had an epiphany of how I had gotten to this point and compared it to Moses going up a mountain and receiving the 10 Commandments.

I was by this stage in a pool of tears that no amount of tissue paper could dry up. It was exactly what I needed to continue my journey, as I had been questioning the 9th Step of AA due to another story that should never have happened within the fellowship (I was and still am on the 9th Step because of this action that happened to me). Priti said: ‘It didn’t happen to you; it happened for you!’

This lady, this Doctor, my friend! I now call her my Guru, as she sends me stuff to watch and mull over at the right times. Her timing is perfect. She is amazing. She is a leading medical researcher and does all this vital research with NASA on the astronauts to the COVID-19 virus. She flies herself and others around on an aeroplane as she has a pilot’s licence. Incredible—and now the abseiling makes perfect sense! She uses those sorts of things to unwind. What an inspiration she has been to me. Just what I needed. God sent her to meet me on top of the mountain.

God exposed itself to me on top of the mountain. What are my chances of meeting Priti on the mountain that day? The build-up, the timing. The circumstances are too far-fetched to be of human reason.

Photo by Casey Horner

When we were having a picnic at Hely Hutchinson Dam, and the surroundings were surreal, Joanne also said something very profound: ‘I think it’s impressive that everything that we have done in our lifetime up to this point has created this point in time. It culminated right here, right now.’
Even my getting to this point here writing this article about my experience as to how the mountain is so spiritual for me is mind-blowing.

Priti said, ‘There are angels everywhere!’
I believe we are all angels sent to help one another at certain times in our lives to help people. If we stop and look around and live in the moment, we can take note of the moments that I refer to as ‘moments that God sends.’ These instances, albeit people, things, places, and events that, if we note them, have changed our lives. And it is right to acknowledge and give thanks in return. To pay it forward is the gift of giving and receiving. So, I pay it forward wherever possible because my addiction should have killed me many times.

Maybe, just maybe, the ‘Governer of Dimensions’ (my acronym for God as I understand that word to mean) has a unique plan for me as it does for you. Since my moment on the mountain and my journey to sobriety, and since I’m a qualified tour guide, I have been asked to take people who want to go on walk-and-talks, and I was able to say with pride, ‘Yes, Please!’

We went up Lion’s Head on our first Walk and Talk. It was amazing! I hope this piece can resonate with just one person and can help one person…or start a chain of events that can save just one person. And maybe my meeting on top of the mountain can inspire someone to take the first step to living a substance-free life. Then I’ve paid it forward. And so can you!

Every addict has to start that journey on their terms, but one doesn’t have to go it alone. The word addiction is Latin, which means a Roman court ruling of ‘enslavement’. Together, we can break the chains of bondage and live a sober, free and happy life.

I never saw my life without drinking or using. I didn’t think it was possible. Everything is won and lost in your head. The answers always come from within, with some external help for us to see it. I keep it simple by admitting that I know nothing. I know less than nothing. If I knew nothing, it would be something, but I don’t. Socrates said it best: ‘The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing!’

My name is Glenn MacLeod-Smith, and on 9 September, I will be one year sober!

Link to article: https://www.npr.org/2023/07/30/1190748216/religion-spirituality-science-mental-health

13 Responses

  1. I am so proud of you. For years I’ve prayed for your healing and here I see it happening, one step at a time. How can you be scared to share yourself with others. You have developed such profound knowledge on so many topics. You are going to be an inspiration to so many people! ❤️

    1. Thank you very much for the kind words Coral and your years of standing by me through all my BS. I know that your prayers have been answered. On this one it’s not about the destination its all about the journey and the people that are there in support. Thank you ❤

  2. That is a fucking amazing read, and can’t begin to tell how proud I am of you and what you have achieved up to now. By the way I was in tears reading your story.

  3. Wow! I’m so proud to have you as my friend, even though we have our moments of not seeing eye-to-eye because you’re always right. *rolling eyes* From the moment we met, there was something amazing between us. How grateful I am to say you’re my friend. You ARE an inspiration to many. Well done on defeating the addiction that enslaved you. Keep on, Glenn. You have so much more to do. I’m going to stop now as I can hear your trumpet blowing. LOL
    I love you, my friend.

  4. Glenn, I have always loved you. Loved your beautiful character, you have not only built on that character, but your character has grown into something so remarkable. You found your character in your own strength, courage determination. So many people will never find this. You have succeeded. You are wonderful and I am truly proud to call you my brother.

  5. It has been an honour watching you stride through your first year of recovery. Loved this story telling of yours – keep striding forward …. Kris is watching over you …One day at a time

  6. Ohhhh Glen ..what an amazing read, I am so proud and Sooo happy for fully stepping into who you are and that you have found your purpose within. I’m so happy that you’ve taken it in your stride to become the best version of you…the world is yet to see. Since I met you its been crazzeee moments and I cannot wait to meet the new and improved you…. when we go hiking….. keep up the great work buddy….. I’m Sooo excited for your journey…..(this is only but the beginning for your greatness) Huggz Nd kisses

  7. Glenn, it was an honour to be taken up Lions Head with you and I look forward to many more hikes together boytch. You are such an inspiration to so many people and your ability to take every silver lining by the balls and make the most of it is a constant reminder to me that in the face of our darkest moments we need to appreciate the work needed to see the light and keep moving forward. Thank you so much for this article and our friendship.

  8. Wow Glenn, what an amazing, inspirational read! Well done on your 1 year anniversary, mate! I am truely happy for you and proud of your achievements.

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