In a society where success is measured by your bank statement and possessions, simplifying the way you live is tougher than the hundreds of “live simple” Facebook memes suggest. Scott Jaime, the protagonist in Andrew King’s A Journey to Black Mountain used his trip to South Africa as a step towards changing his lifestyle, and found inspiration in some interesting places.
The journey within the Journey to Black Mountain
A Journey to Black Mountain was the result of simplifying a big idea and stripping away unnecessary frills and fuss. “Scott Jaime unknowingly had an impact on how the idea went from one thing to something simpler,” says King. “We were originally out to capture an FKT but in the lead up to the record attempt James Hallett (Producer) and I kept discussing this need not to overcomplicate things. The more we spoke, the more we realized that we were all, Scott included, currently grappling with similar ideas in our own lives and that’s when the film changed direction. The FKT was binned and we began exploring the topic of simple living and looking for a new venue.”
Instead of relocating altogether though, King suggested sticking to the Swartberg Mountains but delving a little deeper and shooting in the Gamkaskloof, also known as Die Hel. It is an isolated valley in the Swartberg Mountains that was once inhabited by a small, hardworking community that were completely cut off to the outside world.
“10 years ago I rode the 30km road into Die Hel on my bicycle (and subsequently had to carry it out on the Donkey Trail on the other end of the valley to continue my journey) and had become instantly intrigued by the valley. I have been back many times to learn more about these people and I knew instantly that this is where we needed to take Scott,” he said.
“The history of Gamkaskloof has always interested me, the community was resourceful group of people that were 100% self sufficient and isolated from the rest of the country. It was only in 1962 when a road accessing the valley was complete that the community fell apart, only when societal influence and modern living interrupted their way of life. As Scott was attempting to figure out a way to live a simpler life, visiting the Gamkaskloof and learning about their history could provide inspiration and insight. The rugged, but beautiful terrain the Swartberg mountains offered from a visual and running point of view worked perfectly too,” said King.
For Jaime the trip was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but excitement aside, he was still slightly nervous.
“My only exposure to South Africa was on the TV, so I envisioned all sorts of lions and rhinos roaming the open space. To our (Jaime and his family) relief, James explained that most of those animals were in game reserves, but the leopards were still out there.”
Lessons from the Valley
Jaime believes that society and modern day living is inhibiting people from finding their true potential, which is his fundamental reason for running ultra trails. He feels he can connect to a simpler way of life out on the trails, and in doing so, see what he really is made out of.
“Running is hard work and there is no hiding from taking one step in front of the other to get somewhere else. It is honest, hard work, that will expose your weaknesses,” says Jaime. “In everyday life, modern conveniences steal from the truth though. Running for long periods of time requires just as much mental preparation as it does physical. Learning to become comfortable being uncomfortable allows me to endure more.”
During his visit to the Gamkaskloof, Jaime instantly connected with the community that once occupied the 20mile long valley. “The people in Die Hel exposed themselves to vulnerabilities everyday, and those vulnerabilities allowed them to become stronger, otherwise they wouldn’t have survived,” he said comparing their way of life to his experiences on the trails.
And in exposing themselves to vulnerabilities and living a life void of materialistic conveniences and complications, they truly were the better for it.
“Because of their basic living environment, the people of the Gamkaskloof were a deeply connected community that supported each other, they understood and cared for the land around them and they continued to live adventurous lives with a deep desire to learn, all traits that most modern city dwelling people have largely forgotten,” says King.
By living simpler and figuring out how to apply what he discovered through trail running to his every day life, Jaime believes that he can find real happiness.
“The people of Die Hel were resourceful, deliberate, passionate, and happy. We on the other hand, have gotten so far from the simplicity of it all and feel the more we have the happier we will be. My visit to Die Hel taught me that the opposite is true. The less you have, the more grateful and happy you become. “
Can living simpler be achieved?
Living a simple life in modern society is certainly not as easy as it sounds, as Jaime found out on his return to the States. “Since coming back to the States I've realized simple living is very difficult. We have conditioned ourselves as a society to what is "normal" and we taught next generations of what normal living is. Two years since being in South Africa and I can tell you it has been a struggle because of how we've brought up our children.”
Unfortunately not enough isolated valleys exist for every second person to settle in and live simply, so what can people do to strip away some of the conveniences to make lasting changes, as opposed to only experiencing simple life when lacing up your running shoes.
“We are not advocating that everyone sell all their processions and return to the stone age, but I do think that there is immense value in critically assessing what real contribution all these material possessions are making to your life,” said King.
And aside from getting out on the trails and experiencing freedom from the constraints of society, Jaime suggests changing the way you live over time.
“Implement small things over a long period of time. For instance, plant a garden, eat whole foods from local farms, and most importantly educate the next generation so they can pass it on. Each year tally the things you've done to make your life simple, you'll be surprised of all the small changes that add up to a much greater good.”
Scott Jaime’s Top Tips for trail runner’s visiting South Africa for the first time
1. Most wild animals live on game reserves protected by tall sturdy fences.
2. Oudtshoorn is the Ostrich capital of the world.
3. Swartberg Nature Reserve is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
4. Get a hardy supply of biltong from a local town prior to heading into the bush.
5. Climb to the top of Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town.
6. Learn to surf from one of the locals in Durban.
7. Stock up on Zam-buk.