KAEM Day 7 – Friday 21 October

5am
We know that this is our last day, so we don’t resent Brendas’ early morning wakey-wakey bellow. In the half-light we stir contentedly in our sleeping bags, savouring the familiar rustlings in bags for food and that first cup of coffee. Morning Tomas, sleep well? Morning Annelise, ready for the day? Next time I’m bringing a blow-up mattress, no matter what they say about punctures. All you guys snored last night, but actually it somehow sounded reassuringly harmonious and undisturbing. Bless you, sister.

There is a buzz of anticipation around the camp. This is our last day, the final leg of our adventure, the close of our journey. We are quietly confident that we will make it to the end, and there is a lightness to our chatting and preparations this morning. Food is generously offered around and hot water is brought for some to have coffee in bed.

6am
The whole camp turns out to see our Sweep, Fransa, off. We surround her with our chatter and support and walk her out onto the road, leaving her with pats and hugs and loves as she heads out into the sunrise. What an inspiration she is to all of us, and we are pleased to be able to express our admiration as a group.

There is a very staggered start for the 26km stretch today, with the aim of having most people in at about 12 noon, with the leaders following shortly afterwards so that everyone can cheer them in. Dirk and Tomas have to wait until 10am, and it is clear that to win this race you must know how to run fast as well as to lie about patiently.

7am
Our group is eager to get going, and it isn’t long before Edward and Holger have galloped off. They have suddenly found some new energy and leave us plodding steadily in their wake.

8am
Today we notice more. It is a little cooler, and a little clearer. Maybe we are also a little bit more open. Whatever, we appreciate again the big spaces, the wide expanses of scrub and tumbled down black-rocked koppies, and the great horizontal shelf in the distance. As importantly, we notice the smaller things at our feet too. Once again we are running through fields of rose-quartz, white crystal aglow with different degrees of fire. The next moment we are among hundreds of scattered black briefcases embedded with sparkling diamonds which glint and glisten in the early rays of the sun. And then come the brown boulders, rocks and pebbles with stripes and strata of green, orange, purple and cream, telling a beautiful story millions of years old.

We drink it all in, desperately trying to file it away for future reference.

9.30am
We see Moon Rock far away in the distance. Please, Estienne, don’t us make walk down that sandy river-bed and then crawl under any fences on our way there. We chat like little children about our dreams: ah that cold beer, ooh that shower, hey that soft mattress.

10am
We don’t see any signs of river-beds and The Windmill’s shares go up in our minds. This road is just fine, we’re steadily getting closer to camp, the friends are good and the spirits are high. Paul Simon’s lyrics of ‘we’re going to Graceland’ flow through my ears.

10.50am
We approach our final checkpoint of the week with a mixture of gratitude and nostalgia. These oases have been our life-blood, our havens in times of trouble, and we find it hard to believe that they are about to disappear from our lives. As always, the crew welcome us by name, see to our every need, and then cheer us on. We leave with bottles filled but as importantly, with spirits raised.

11am
Moon Rock is a huge dome of granite, the size of a super-stadium, and we stride up the side and over the top. Awu, that downhill is rather killing on delicate knees. And these flimsy wooden bridges don’t feel too strong as we sneak through a swamp of towering 3m reeds.

We cross a little foot-bridge spanning a gurgling stream of crystal-clear water, and I can’t resist it. We’re only about 1km from the end, but off come the pack and shoes and I enjoy the most heavenly swim that I’ve had in years.

11.20am …
The finish. The shouting. The hugging. The smiling. The feeling of deep satisfaction and humble accomplishment. The celebration shared with friends who understand. Aaaaaahhh, that first cold Coke! We cheer the winners in – Allison and Rene running together in a lovely gesture of mutual support, Maretha in a league of her own, and then Thierry, Tomas and finally the champ himself, Dirk. Yes we’re all winners, of course, but we also hold these extraordinary athletes in great respect for coming out tops in very challenging circumstances.

And so we all savour the moment. For some, it is ferreting out every unsuspecting runner, crew or supporter in the area and leaping into the pool with them. Patrick thinks he is safe sitting in his camp-chair until two playground bullies simply burtle him into the pool in his chair. For others it is quietly sharing a conversation of reflection on what has happened and what it has all meant. For a brief moment, we celebrate the spark of living intensely and express it in a host of different ways. Another KAEM has come to an end … or has it? Some things will always live on in memories, friendships and in spirit.

Thank you Estienne, Nadia, Simon and everyone else involved for offering us such an opportunity to live that much more. May we have done your generosity justice.