Last year Kim and I walked a section of 22 yr old ERLO BROWN’s epic journey by foot along the coastline of South Africa.  (See http://scenicsouth.co.za//2010/11/coasting-it-one-young-man-and-his-dog/

Having spent a wonderful morning hiking in Cape Point with this remarkable young man, I have been interested in following his journey (living a dream through him???!) and hearing from him what his journey ultimately meant to him.

This is what Erlo has sent on to me. I hope that others will be inspired to follow their dreams as Erlo has done.

We look forward to more great things from you, Erlo!

 Viv

 WHEN AND WHERE DID YOU COMPLETE THE JOURNEY?

 On the 2 February 2011 at 21:15 at the boom gate of Alexander Bay, the northern most part of the South African West coast.

HOW MANY KMS OF COASTLINE HAVE YOU COVERED ?

I started on the northern side of the Kosi River which is on the Mozambique border. The distance covered is at least 3200km but probably more because it’s not possible to walk exactly in a straight line and I often found myself zigzagging through difficult terain. 

YOU MUST BE SUPER FIT RIGHT NOW . . .

Everyone thinks I’m super fit, but I think I was fitter when I started. I am actually a long distance runner and not a walker. I lost almost all my upper body strength and I am now working hard to get back on track with my rock climbing. I used to weigh between 74-75 kg, but I’m now stuck under 70 kg.

WHAT WENT THROUGH YOUR MIND THE MOMENT YOU GAVE THE LAST STEP?

The last day was the longest walking day of the entire journey, because I squeezed two days’ walk into one. Lauren Ridge, my fiancée, walked with me and we covered more than 45 km that day with at least 20kg on our backs. By the end of the day Lauren’s feet were covered in blisters, but she stuck in there like a trooper. The anticipation of ending such a journey was greater than the elation of actually finishing. I remember standing with my hands on my knees thanking God and thinking it’s the saddest happy day of my life. The mere act of finishing was a complete anticlimax. “The journey is the destination” as Dan Eldon describes it and it was the things I experienced and the people I met along the way that made this walk significant, not reaching Alexander Bay. Alexander Bay was merely a physical representation of a finish line that concluded a journey that took me around our country.        

WHAT WAS THE FIRST THING YOU DID AFTER COMPLETING THE JOURNEY?

I thanked God, then gave Lauren a hug and spoke to my parents and my brother over the phone.

JUST HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO ADAPT TO ‘NORMAL’ LIFE AGAIN, AND WHAT DOES ‘NORMAL’ LIFE ENTAIL FOR YOU THESE DAYS?

It has been extremely difficult to adapt to normal life after returning from the West Coast. I was first challenged by the emotional demands that come from having relationships with people; it was not just me and my dog any more. And secondly the life that the world draws up for us is ridiculous. I have always known that the world is twisted, but now I can see why. We fail to appreciate the small things in life. ‘If it’s not going to bring in money then why do it’ is the common train of thought. I am currently finishing my B Tech in Photography at TUT’s art campus. I am obviously still editing my photographs and hope to have that done by middle March. I am also writing and reading a lot. Lauren and I would love to put my story into book form and maybe have that accompanied by some of my photographs. I am trying to rebuild my client list up so that I can get working again. Articles for magazines and newspapers are also taking up some time and in my spare time I play boomerang with Zeta, my dog.

WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF THE JOURNEY?

That is not an easy question to answer, but I think it must have been the first part. I struggled to adapt to the lonely life and the physical demands of walking put an immense strain on my photography, which was of course the main reason why I walked. I was injured a couple of times, with the last one being the worst, rendering me immobile with a foot injury and nerves that were strained and making my leg hurt. The body is a wonderful machine, but can really mess up a person’s mind if it’s not working well, especially if you depend on it as much as I did.  

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF THAT YOU DID NOT KNOW BEFORE?

I learnt that things are never as tough as they seem while you are busy dealing with it. I learnt that no matter what, you can always give one more step. I have always had  strong determination, but I think the walk has taken that to a new level. I have also learnt that people will always talk you down – you need to be deaf to whatever will make you doubt.

WHAT DO YOU TELL THE PROPHETS OF DOOM WHO SAID THAT YOU WOULD NEVER BE ABLE TO DO IT?

Funny enough now they have all disappeared! Like I said previously, people will always tell you about the things that can go wrong. It is as if they talk of first-hand experience, when in reality it is the people that don’t really have a clue that will warn you about the dangers. Obviously you need to be aware of the possible threats, but to dwell on them will not make you conquer them. I hope that my walk will act as an example of what we can accomplish if we really believe in ourselves.    

TELL US ABOUT THE MOST MEMORABLE PICTURE YOU’VE CAPTURED ON YOUR WAY?

There is not only one. The photographs that intrigue me the most are of places too great to describe in words. The places we can dream of, but will never be able to tame. Our coast has some wild places, and it is wonderful to know that I have seen it all. I hope that my photographs will somehow bring that across to the viewer. I have photographs that will not look like much to you, but still give me goose bumps when I look at them. Photographically they might lack, but the memories they hold are of things that made me quiver and realize just how small I am. I believe that the most meaningful and beautiful places and moments are not allowed to be captured as they are much too great for a single photograph.  

WHO IS THE MOST MEMORABLE PERSON YOU MET ON THE WAY?

I spent my days alone and with only my own voice as company, but the people that I met were amazing. Of the 74 households that took me in along my journey I can remember every single individual, because they all made an impression on me forever. I cannot tell you of one person that wanted to harm me; South Africans are amazingly friendly and hospitable. I had so much help from individuals that without it I would probably still be walking or even dead by now. I used 8 pairs of shoes and I never paid for one of them. I can’t single out one person or family, but I can say that I live in a very friendly country.

HOW’S ZETA DOING?

Zeta had some complications towards the end of my walk. She had an infection on her lip, but that healed and she is currently staying with me in Pretoria. I keep her busy by playing boomerang and going for runs.

HOW’S YOUR THESIS COMING ALONG?

My thesis is taking shape. It was hard to figure out what angle I was going to use, but it’s going well and I am very motivated to do it well. Waldemar Bussiahn, my lecturer has been extremely helpful. Together with Flip du Toit they made sure that I stayed on track with my photography along my walk and the even flew down to East London to see me when I got there. After borrowing one of Flip’s own lenses for the walk he insisted that I keep the lens, a great bonus to me! I want to thank everyone at TUT, especially the Photography faculty, you guys are amazing and it is a pleasure to be affiliated to you.

ARE YOU PLANNING AN EXHIBITION OF YOUR WORK?

As part of our degree we need to present an exhibition at the end of 2011 of some of our work. However I am planning on holding a personal exhibition sometime this year.

WILL YOU DO IT AGAIN?

 I will definitely walk parts of our coast again! However I doubt I will do the whole coast all in one go again. But if I do it will not be alone!

WHAT IS THE NEXT ADVENTURE ON YOUR TO-DO LIST?

Kayaking has definitely caught my interest, but I think it will be a while before I do something on such a scale again. I am planning some adventures that will take  some friends and me through unrecognised treks, maybe paddle the length of Tugela or Fish River or walk the entire length of Lesotho. But at the moment I am concentrating on the adventure of life. I asked Lauren to marry me in January and if all goes well we will do so the end of the year. I am excited about this year, because it feels like the doors are opening all over the place and I am free to choose.

 Erlo Brown