4 mins

Finding it hard to get back in the saddle

After an extended stay in Cape Town, around-the-world cyclist Charlie Walker restarts his journey on a new bike he's not quite sure about

Open Road (Charlie Walker)

This period of relative indulgence left my legs spinning sluggishly as I hugged the coast and headed north; headed homeward. Table Mountain and its special city receded behind me. My body ached from the unfamiliar position on the undersized (and as yet un-named) bicycle and within a couple of days I had aggressive blue bruises on my sitting bones from breaking in a brand new, hard leather saddle. 

The was road soon stretching across scrub desert with little traffic. My lack of fitness was thrown at me painfully each morning when I woke in the tent and groaned pathetically while forcefully bending and unbending legs that hated me.

An afternoon off with a friend of a friend overlooking Langebaan's turquoise lagoon allowed some respite before taking a dirt following a railway. Passing a farmstead, I saw two men beating hell out of each other. Locked in combat, they rolled across the dusty road with limbs flailing and shirts ripping. Ten or so other farm workers looked on silently. I didn't linger.

From the small town of Eland's Bay I turned inland and camped for a night in the garden of a self-proclaimed "proper Boer". We sat on the concrete floor drinking strong brandy-and-cokes while the sausages cooked on the braai. His shockingly blue-eyed son slept in his lap having swigged from his father's glass.

Onwards and upwards, into dry hills with the seemingly sterile, sandy earth that somehow nurtures rooibos ('red bush') tea. The Bergh family took me in for a day and showed me the tea planting, harvesting and processing. We waterskied on the Clan William dam in the evening and drank home-brewed ale with dinner.

Now the N7 road led me into still more arid landscapes. Afternoon temperatures nudged 50°C and headwinds dried my mouth in seconds if I was foolish enough to breath through it. The towns become few and far between.  Without exception they had a loitering collection of drunk men draped along the Main Street. I met fewer and fewer people. I must carry more water.

The nightly joy of finally lying back in the tent after wolfing an apathetic rice dinner is compounded by the magnificence of the infinitely speckled sky. There's no chance of rain so I sleep in just a mesh inner-tent and am beckoned into slumber by the twinkling overhead. When I finish reading and switch off my head torch, the stars dot and fade into focus as my pupils swell to see in the dark. The effect is not unlike the numbing peace and vague, paisley-like patterns that one's eyes think they see during a concussion; but without the pain of a blow to the head.

Occasional mongooses sprang for cover as I approached and the comically chubby rock dassies trundled to the nearest hiding place. Small herds of springbok leapt and bounded across the scrub-strewn landscape as if in celebration of their nimbleness.

And then down. Down across desert plains of orange dust. Descending to the Orange river and over into Namibia. The tarmac traced the river seaward for a while and showed me tidy, river-fed green vineyards. Men in blue overalls drove tractors and a district of empty straw huts sprawled across the surrounding rocky landscape, awaiting their harvest-time inhabitants. 

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