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.
Then there are the bikes. When I signed up for mountain biking down Table Mountain, I had assumed it would be a case of just following a nice sealed path as it slowly spiralled downwards. And, after falling off within three minutes of the descent, I realised that my preconceptions had been very wrong indeed. My experience of cycling is largely limited to nipping round to a friend’s house when I was younger and having the odd half-hearted go on my fiancée’s exercise bike while she’s at work. This CV doesn’t prepare you for going down steep scree slopes, with rocks, logs and miscreant tree roots all intent on smashing your limbs to pieces.
Cycling downhill over what amounts to rough gravel with numerous obstacles thrown in is largely an exercise of permanently squeezing your brakes and hoping that you’re not thrown over the handlebars. Some people may find this a thrill. I’m not one of them. I managed to survive this terrible peril with the odd graze and a lot of swearing, but then my guide informed me that this was just the test run. The next step in the torture process was going round and up again to where we started. This involved furiously pedalling through what may as well have been deep sand. Or, in my case, lugging my bike slowly through it as I trudged on foot. By this stage, my energies were being entirely channelled into creating new compound swear words.
Finally, we made the road for a nice bit of more uphill climbing – this time into a howling, fierce wind. Again, I managed very little actual cycling and considerably more huffing and puffing. By the time we’d got to the start of the actual descent, I was already a broken man. “There are two routes down, an easier one and a harde...” announced my guide before shooting a glance in my direction. “I think we’ll take the easier one.” Easier is very much a comparative word in this case. I faced more brake-clutching terror, and delightful though the scenery was, I was more concerned that my hands were entering a state of cramped agony.
We descended through forest, with often fabulous views of the city and the sea, and finally came out on a suburban road. “This is the dangerous bit,” I was told. Pschaw – I know how spectacularly bad South African drivers can be, but a nice, relatively flat road holds no fears for me anymore. If I can make it down that beast of a mountain - battered, bruised but relatively intact - I can take on the world.
Disclosure: David was a guest of Viator (Viator.com).
By David Whitley