Into the wild
Mark Gamble is CEO of EducoAfrica, an NGO that uses wilderness experience to help young people grow and develop.
There I was, sitting on a bluegum stump outside a building in De Hoop Nature Reserve. My boss approached me. “This is for you,” he said, passing me an indiscriminate package.
It turned out to be a 70-litre backpack, to be used for carrying camping equipment on trips deep into the wild. The year was 1990. I was 22 years old, in my first year as a conservator for CapeNature. This was my first backpack. Actually, it has been my only backpack.
Skip to April 2012. I am hiking in the Grootwinterhoek mountain range with a group of students from Tsiba Education. The guy hiking behind me asks: “Mark, how old is your backpack?” I give my answer, he laughs. “Yo!” he exclaims, “that thing is older than me. Why don’t you get a new one?”
Memories, my friend, precious memories of hiking and camping in deep and wild spaces.
1991: I am solo hiking along the De Hoop coastline, what is now the Whale Trail. At rest, leaning against my backpack, I watch a southern right whale breach.
2000: Day three of hiking the Amatola Trail with a group. The hike is led by two graduates of a programme that has trained young economically disadvantaged South Africans to use hiking as a tool to grow other young people. They are now my friends, found in our mutual love for wild places.
Mark's backpack still does the job after 22 years.
2004: My four-year-old daughter Emma joins me for her first wilderness trip. She is perched on my backpack, legs over my shoulders, feet ensconced in pink trainers bounce against my chest. I am in heaven.
2010: Grootwinterhoek. I am camping with James, my six-year-old son. As the sun sets he snuggles into my arms. We talk of our dream to rebuild an old Mini. I remain in heaven.
2012: My backpack jingles with the sound of two bottles of beer knocking together. All about a surprise. It is my wife’s birthday. Emma, James and I lead her to a magic and secret place in the mountains. Tomorrow morning she will watch the sunrise, greeting her into a new decade. She is in heaven.
I have an old backpack. My knees ache more now than they did 22 years ago. I have memories found through shared time in wild places with people I care for, people I love. If tomorrow we meet in the mountains, let’s drink coffee, good coffee, next to a river in the cool of the morning. There is always really good coffee tucked into an old billy can in my old backpack.
Kids love the adventure of camping out in the wild
Must-haves for camping wild
1) Good, organic coffee.
2) A camera.
3) A journal.
4) A spade called Doug for leave-no-trace camping.
5) High-factor sun cream.
This article was first published in the spring issue of Wild 2012.