David Whitley bites off more than his beer and pie-addled body can chew as he attempts downhill mountain biking in Cape Town.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Table Mountain is something of a theme park. Thousands of people go exploring on Cape Town’s icon every day, many of them fat old gimmers kept alive by a McDonalds drip. When you’ve got cable cars and buses ferrying you around somewhere, there is a tendency to consider it well and truly tamed.But try exploring Table Mountain under your own steam, and it’s altogether different. There are countless walking trails around the mountain. Many of them are steep heat-traps. It’s easy enough to get lost, dehydrated and worse.
As I lay in the dust under an acacia bush with the rear wheel whirring three inches from my left ear I wondered once again why mountain-biking in Africa should be presenting such a challenge. This was no iron-man conquest of the Dark Continent. We weren’t pedaling grim-faced into the forbidden quarters of what the colonial’s once knew - with carefully concealed respect - as MMBA: ‘miles and miles of bloody Africa.’ We were simply a group of thirty-somethings who were more interested getting to meet the locals than in breaking bones or records.
Culture shock comes quickly in Madagascar. Even as the plane swooped over the outskirts of Antananarivo I was scanning streets of red-clay houses and emerald patchworks of paddy fields for an image that would confirm my arrival in Africa. As a dilapidated Citroen taxi shuttled me onward into the capital, swerving around rickshaws and garishly painted carts drawn by hump-backed zebu cattle, I struggled even more against the illusion that I had landed in the Far East. Even the taxi driver’s fine-boned, café-au-lait features only served to confound my efforts to convince myself that this was Africa.
Twenty thousand years are all that it took for the San Bushman to learn to live off the ‘fat of the land.’ With nothing more than a pair of eland skin slippers, a bow and a quiver full of surprisingly spindly arrows they could travel vast distances.
The guide spurred his horse forward: “Let’s Ride!...And try not to let any big pussy cats spook the horses.” There’s nothing as thrilling as galloping through the African bushveld and, as I felt my horse surge underneath me and the wicked acacia thorns began to whip past my thighs, I gratefully delegated all responsibility for our welfare to my faithful steed. If either of us was in danger of getting ‘spooked’ it wasn’t Strider.