I was, and still am when the urge takes me, a fitness fanatic. I am no super athlete, just like being fit. These days that mainly takes the form of climbing hills, or doing some workout at home.
But in my high school and studying years, these activities were almost as serious to me as conservation and my enthusiasm for nature (or girls and girl problems, but that's not a subject for this blog...very sad state of affairs in those days.)
No, I liked keeping fit, and my friends did too. So at the end of one semester, when we worked out that we had some transport issues, two of us decided to cycle from George (where we studied at Saasveld) to Cape Town.
Our route would mainly follow the main road, then veer off to the south, and end up coming around the coastal roads of the false bay. It would take just under 600km on our route. We had no idea. We thought we could manage about 100 in a day.
The decision was made over a couple of drinks one night, and then we set off. I struggled. Badly. I had a heavy bike. I didn't have panniers. I had a huge, heavy backpack on my back. I hadn't really been into cycling before in my life at all.
We set off. The first day to Mossel Bay. No big deal. We slept at a backpacker's lodge. Met some cool people. Then the next day we headed uphill, inland, into a strong headwind (bergwind as they are known.)
It was a struggle. My friend, Mark, was fitter and much more experienced at cycling than me. He left me behind. I eventually ran out of energy. I just toppled over into a ditch and actually fell asleep. I woke up a few minutes later, super hungry. I looked through my huge backpack. I found a thing of Knorr Aromat Seasoning (basically pure MSG.) I ate it all. My friend came back to find me. He got some chocolate, which gave me some more energy.
We carried on to Albertinia. We had only done about 60 km that day, plus only having done 60 the previous day. The trip was now looking like it was going to take us 10 days - and eat up all our holiday.
We were hungry and tired. We found a shop and bought a loaf of unsliced bread, jam and a two litre coke. After polishing it off, we fell asleep behind the shop like a pair of drunks, in the middle of the day.
When we woke up, it was almost night. We had nowhere to sleep. We started to look around. There is no backpackers in Albertinia. We were on a tight budget, and nothing was within our range that wasn't full.
My mom had always told me to go to the police if I ever got in trouble. So we did just that. They were quiet happy to put us up in the holding cells. But the cells close at night. So once we were in, we were literally in jail till the next morning. We didn't get any more food. In the morning they woke us early, and told us we had to leave. We were glad to have had a bed, but they certainly aren't accustomed to treating their guests as guests. It was clean and just fine, but I certainly wouldn't want to ever sleep in a holding cell again. Certainly wouldn't want to try the real thing. From that time on, we decided that if there was no accommodation, we would be sleeping in the bushes.
We took some pictures of the experience, only to find out later that we had no film. The lessons we learned that day were many!!!
Next day, with the good sleep (remember when we started out we had had exams, and then some post exams partying, hence the serious tiredness. Now we were good. And my butt was starting to come right. We did a good day, well over a 100km to Swellendam that day. From there we turned off the main road. I had a girlfriend in Napier at the time, so we passed through there, and had some good old Afrikaans food. Hermanus and then a big day's riding to Cape Town. That was the day that the South Africans were playing in the Rugby World Cup finals in 1995. We timed our ride of the thinnest peace of the road for when the rugby was on. It worked...almost no traffic to bother us...everyone in South Africa but two cyclists was watching the rugby.
It was a good trip, something we would remember for the rest of our lives. I did it again, alone in 1997. Then I was more prepared. In the mean time, I had started using cycling to do birding, often visiting spots 80 km from where I was studying. So the second trip was so much easier. I can hardly remember it.
One of the major impressions I had of those cycling trips was of the vegetation. It may seem strange, but when you are cycling you sort of watch the road verge all the time. I was busy learning southern and western Cape flora for my studies, and so was running these things through my head while I was riding. It was just amazing to me how much of the stuff one saw was made up of exotic vegetation. Namibia has just been the flip opposite.
Some of my friends are involved in cycling tours and if I have some time I will get back into it, and perhaps try one of those tours.
If you have any experience of cycling in Africa, please let me know your stories.