NEARLY everyone Port Elizabeth adventurer and Olympian Paul Blake meets asks him the same question: Why? They are referring to his trudge of more than 2000km across India, on foot and alone, pulling his possessions behind him in a plastic cart.
Never slowing, he then switched to a backpack in Nepal to take on the climb to Mount Everest’s South Base Camp, 5364m above sea level – and reached it exactly 100 days after leaving Mumbai. He left Port Elizabeth on October 23 and returned on February 14 this year.
Blake, 31, said he simply wanted to achieve something extraordinary. And that he certainly did, pushing the boundary of human endurance to its limits with a disciplined routine that included an average 32km walk a day, nights spent in the company of rats, and an opportunity to soak up the sights, smells and sensations of life that most of us only dream of.
He will be sharing his extraordinary story, including video clips of his journey, at a fundraising picnic supper evening at Theodor Herzl School in Walmer on May 21.
“There’s not much chance of being a true explorer today – everything’s been discovered.
“But when I was 11, I read The Road to London by Port Elizabethan Eric Attwell, which recounted how the author and his brother had quit their jobs in 1936 and cycled from here, up through Africa to London.
“I was enthralled and since then have always wondered what it would feel like to have such determination that you would endure extreme hardship to achieve your goal,” Blake said.
“I didn’t do this for charity or for the attention. It was a personal challenge. But now I want to share what I’ve experienced and, if I can, teach others to enjoy as much as they can of their life’s potential.”
Teaching is a family passion. The youngest of four, Blake was just 11 when his father, David, the headmaster of Victoria Park High School at the time, died suddenly.
His mother is Theodor Herzl maths teacher Penny Blake (also an ex-Miss PE finalist) – and Blake now teaches history at Grey High.
He captained Grey’s top hockey side before matriculating in 2000, completed his Masters in Social Development Studies at the University of Cape Town, and was selected for the SA Hockey side in 2005. In 2008 he made the squad for the Beijing Olympics – an achievement he describes as “the most disappointing of my life”, because the team finished last.
After adventures backpacking through sub-Saharan Africa and living and working in Cape Town’s Langa township, he spent time in the Transkei and was deeply involved in several educational and charity organisations.
About the planning, Blake said: “I knew I wanted to do a solo endurance event, that I preferred running to cycling, and that I wanted more of the small taste I’d had of India when I played hockey there for South Africa,” he said.
“But the country is too vast to run – I would have to walk. And I decided I’d pull my belongings on a cart behind me.”
On a map, from Mumbai, on India’s West coast, he plotted a straight line to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal. He calculated that if he walked 21km every day he would comfortably cover the distance and be back in time for his brother’s wedding on March 1.
“In fact I walked a lot faster, around 32km a day, so it took me less time and I got home on Valentine’s Day.”
Fuelled only by water, cheap biscuits and the same daily meal of dhal rice, he would hit the road by 6.15am and walk an average 6km per hour until midday temperatures forced him to rest.
“There are bugs and huge rats everywhere you go – I slept in some truly disgusting places, I frequently came under attack from feral dogs, and I had to ensure hygiene constantly as I couldn’t afford to get sick.”
- Tickets for the fundraiser cost R75. Visit www.theodorherzl.co.za or phone (041)581-4244.
– Mary Jane Botha