In 2009 when I started leading wilderness and backpacking trails across the diverse landscapes of the Kruger national park, I found a truth. It was that the strength of my spirit is defined by how much time I spend in the presence of true wilderness, not just a place of wildlife. So, to feed my spirit I had to spend as much time in wilderness as possible, and although on paper I had completed the then FGASA level 3 qualification and was well on my way with the SKS component (and I will be honest, I thought I knew a lot and was rather competitive). In hindsight I was completely naive and ignorant and was going about it all wrong. But fortunately, mother nature has an often not so subtle way of putting you in your place. I soon realised that to guide safely and confidently across those landscapes and ensure that the virtues of a true wilderness experience are made tangible to guests required quite a different skill set to those required to take a morning walk.
Fortunately, the founders of these activities, who were still actively guiding then, were men of profound knowledge and of humble nature, who were not afraid to share their knowledge, skills, and experience, and so I gratefully ate humble pie and absorbed as much as I could from them.
In 2012 I fell pregnant with the first of my two sons. For 7 years I focused all my being on them, trying, failing, thriving, and stumbling and just being the best mom, I could be. During that time there was no time for wilderness, but in 2019 an opportunity to journey in to one of the most amazing landscapes on the continent, surrounded by friends and mentors rekindled that intense longing to immerse myself in wilderness’ bosom. So, I put away the baby books, dug out my backpack and started walking again. It was not easy getting back into the saddle but, as a mom now with two little ones your priorities change, your perceptions change, and the experiences of those seven years made me a better guide. More patient, more perceptive, and with a greater sense of empathy. They definitely improved my shooting as my upper body strength increased dramatically since I had been carrying my two boys around, and usually both at the same time. And so, when the time came to conduct the final component of the assessment process and lead the extended guided experience, it felt like putting on a comfy and familiar set of boots, I was just taking out another trail.
Spending those three days, with like-minded individuals, in a setting that needed little interpretation, but the ability as the guide to tune in, to create a stirring experience, was one that I will never forget, and for which I will always be grateful. The beauty of the higher-level assessments be it FGASA or Cybertracker is the huge value the assessors place on providing constructive guidance and feedback that candidates can grow from. And I still have so much room to grow, and so I continue my meander, as attaining the SKS qualification has never been about the qualification or title, it just happened, along my journey while I followed my passion. And personally, I think if attaining the level of skill required to achieve this qualification is of importance to you, I advise you to slow down, take stock, and enjoy where you are at the present, the qualifications will come when you are ready, don’t rush it!