Saturday, April 14, 2012

Final Days in Cape Town and Feeling Good on the Bike

Today, I said goodbye to Cape Town at 5am and started my journey to Milan for my four weeks in Europe before 24 Hour Solo World Champs. My last few days in Cape Town have been an absolute blast and I can sincerely say I've grown pretty attached to the place and am going to miss it dearly.

Tuesday morning I made my way to Lions Head nice and early to go paragliding. I arrived well before I needed to be there (a sure sign that I am a tourist) but was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise over the city. The paraglide instructor arrived and after a short hike up the side of Lions Head to our launch pad, we were ready to go. The tandem pilot and his porter laid out the glider across the top of the launch mat, which I could describe best as a large piece of shadecloth stretched down a steep decline towards a cliff. The idea was to run down this and literally run off the edge of the mountain (oookaaaay).

I haven't been paragliding before so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The instructor and pilot was a lovely dude, but wasn't very good at giving directions or explaining things which resulted in our first launch attempt turning into a me attached to the pilot rolling down the cliff commando style stopping just short of the drop-off. It wasn't particularly confidence-inspiring and resulted in a lot of swearing from the instructor to his porter... In the end, our second launch was very successful and we were sailing above the ocean off the edge of Lions Head. It was hard to discern the point when our feet left the mountain and we were gliding through the air. The views suspended above Lions Head looking back down towards the cape were different to any I had experienced so far.

The flight was pretty spectacular, but I wouldn't call it extreme at all (the most extreme bit was the take-off). It was very pleasant and lasted about ten minutes, but I don't know if I would do it again. I didn't really get a kick out of it like I would skydiving or bungee jumping. Maybe it's just because I am an adrenaline junkie. We landed in a local school oval and the instructor packed up his glider after untangling it (I got the impression this was because I hadn't continued to run forward far enough after we landed... It's really hard to run when you are attached to someone with longer legs than you... Kinda like when I sit on a chair and my feet don't touch the ground).

Wednesday was my last day before I had to pack up the Ninja for her trip to Europe and I decided that, being a lovely Cape Town day, I would head out for a nice long ride and attempt to navigate my way by bike to Tokai MTB park for a bit of a blat around the trails there. After asking people about directions and feeling increasingly confused, I decided to consult Google Maps and get a bit of a run-down on how I get there. I was surprised at how flawlessly I found my way to Tokai without any geographical embarrassment.

Once I started climbing up the gravel road that winds its way up to the top of the forest, I was surprised at how good my legs felt. It was a warm day, but not too hot, the sky was clear and it was just so awesome to be out on the bike. As I climbed out of one section of singletrack, I saw a sign that said "mast 6.2km"... It sounded like my kind of ride, so I continued to follow the signs to said mast, climbing up a rough dirt road, then onto a sealed tar road that kept climbing. A sign at one cross road told me that the mast was at an elevation of 928m. I figured I would ride a little way up, check out some views and come back down.

As I climbed, I felt like my whole body was being cleansed. My legs felt quite good and a gentle breeze kept me cool. As I climbed higher and higher, some amazing views presented themselves to the east and to the west. My thoughts that I was completely alone in my own little world were interrupted when I came across a group of workers on the side of the road doing some garden work, which seemed kind of random in such a remote place where the flora seemed to have a mind of its own and free reign to do as it wished. It was akin to going riding in a national park in New Zealand and finding a ranger trimming the plants in some random, out-of-the-way location. Anyway, they were very friendly and we exchanged "good mornings". I got to the point on my climb where I thought I may as well just go to the top. Every corner I turned gave me stunning vistas of the Cape from higher up than I had been, apart from maybe when we caught the cable car to the top of Table Mountain.

The mast is a clearly visible landmark from sea level before you enter the park, which made it even cooler, to be able to see exactly where I had climbed to. There was a team of four workers doing what appeared to be structural work on the mast and they waved at me from their little perch higher up the mast than I could safely climb with the Ninja.

It felt really good to be up there by myself. It provided clarity for me to think and process everything that had happened the last few weeks. It felt amazing to climb up a mountain feeling so strong, with my own two legs, no towing, no pressure... Just me, my legs, the Ninja and my thoughts. It made me really happy. I don't know exactly why. Maybe I felt like I was showing myself that I was the rider I thought I was, and that was really empowering for me. The views were stunning and the coolness of the altitude was really refreshing (it was about 7 degrees colder up the top than in the park).

As I descended, the air got noticeably warmer, I passed the gardening crew again, albeit a bit faster this time, and some other riders grovelling up the road I had just climbed, and then descended back into the park to make my way back to the bottom via a maze of sweet singletrack descents and rough gravel roads. I felt good on the bike. Actually, I felt like I could have just kept riding all day and ended up extending my planned ride out from three hours to four. I couldn't help thinking on my ride back that I reckon the only thing on this earth that seems to make me truly happy the way I felt today is riding a bike. How cool is that?

On my way back, I needed to detour via Olympic cycles. I had taken my bike into them yesterday to have the bushings replaced in the clunking rear end of my bike and now something was a little amiss again. I was quite stoked with my navigational skills when I randomly chose a turnoff that put me pretty much straight on the doorstep of the bike shop, where they fixed my clunky rear end again with some loctite so I could be on my way. It made the day even more awesome (if that was even possible)!

My last day in Cape Town on Thursday was pretty productive. I got up early(ish) and headed out for a sneaky little ride before I had to pull the Ninja apart and pack her into her box. It was a beautiful clear morning and I headed up the mountain with the intention of just riding some trails and heading home. I ended up on a trail that was heading up the mountain towards the block house, which is a visible landmark when looking at the mountain from Observatory, and just kept climbing. At forks in the trail, I randomly chose which way to go and found myself at the block house, about a 500m climb up Table Mountain. I was gutted that I hadn't brought my camera with me this morning. The view was breathtaking and the blockhouse itself was quite spectacular with a couple of old canons and a lookout. It was pretty cool, and a lovely early morning climb to get the legs pumping. The legs are feeling pretty bloody good post-Epic... As much as I hate to admit it, that forced rest with being sick and then the terrible Easter weekend weather probably did me a world of good. There was a bit of residual fatigue from the previous days ride, but overall I felt great. Hopefully I can hold onto that and carry it in to 24 hour solo world champs.

After some breakfast and packing up some bits and pieces I didn't need for the rest of the trip, I decided to catch a a taxi out to Kirstenbosch, the local botanical gardens... This was probably the only thing I had wanted to do that I hadn't checked off yet, and with a clean bike and most other pre-travel prep out of the way, I thought I would while away the afternoon strolling around the gardens. I was surprised that there weren't a lot of taxis along Main Road... Mainly just minibus taxis, which weren't going where I wanted to go. I still find minibus taxis amusing. They drive along tooting their horn with one guy hanging out the window yelling out the taxi's destination... "Wynburg!!! Claremont!!! Wynburg!!! Claremont!!!". At the same time, occupants of the minibus are hanging out the window talking on their phones because they can't hear over the goings-on inside the bus. You also have to be really careful not to make eye contact with the guy calling out the destinations, or they pull over and try to recruit you onto their minibus of craziness. It really is quite comical to watch. I also still find it quite comical that there is such liberal and gratuitous use of car horns here...

Anyway, I finally got myself a taxi, and I reckon it was the best taxi trip I have had since I had been here. The driver was a gangsta rap-loving badass and I was totally digging his vibe. I think he saw me tapping my foot because he cranked up the stereo and we rolled like gangstas the whole way to Kirstenbosch. I got a couple of weird looks from garden-types as I climbed out of the only taxi in the parking lot that was pumping gangsta rap out its doors... Hilarious. I gave the guy a good tip!

The botanical gardens at Kirstenbosch are spectacular and I was so glad I managed to go and see them before I left. I'm not a real plant fiend, but there was some pretty cool stuff there, some lovely views of the garden with Table Mountain or with the city in the background and some amazing art. I think my favourite part of the gardens were the sculpture displays, and I also really enjoyed the Cycad garden for some strange reason... It felt very prehistoric. The sculptures were scattered abundantly around all the gardens, but there was also a special "sculpture garden" which was a worthwhile stroll.

There was also an art exhibit in the gardens called "Untamed" which I really enjoyed, too. The exhibit contained a series of large carved wooden sculptures each paired with a piece of poetry reflecting on the impact of human behaviour on the environment and nature.

I also found the glasshouse quite interesting. It had been set up in such away to replicate a desert environment, and it was bizarre how much it felt that way when you walked in. The dry, suffocating desert heat hit you as soon as you walked in the door. It was a great way to spend an afternoon, strolling around the gardens enjoying the sun and checking out some cool stuff.

For the trip home, I caught a local bus to Mowbray train station and then caught the train back to Observatory. The bus driver was crazy... He also used his horn very liberally and spent most of his time occupying both his side of the road and the other at speed. I was constantly surprised by how quickly he seemed able to pull the bus to a stop. The locals seemed unphased, which made me draw the conclusion that this must just be the way bus drivers roll around here.

My final evening in Cape Town was spent with Sarah and Gav at Hello Sailor, which had become my "local" for the time I had been here. They had good breakfasts and lovely waitresses and really wicked music to chill to while sipping on rooibos tea and checking emails. I was gonna miss these guys... I was also going to miss their amazing Malva Pudding, of which they were lovely enough to have made a fresh batch for me for my last evening. I also sampled a couple of glasses of the local wine to celebrate my thoroughly enjoyable stay in this amazing corner of the earth... Two glasses was enough to have me sufficiently tipsy and giggly for the evening.

So now, after a couple of flights, I am back in Abu Dhabi on yet another long overnight layover. This time, I decided not to muck around and just forked out the USD$185 for the airport hotel to get a good nights sleep instead of trying to sleep on the floor in the terminal. To top it off, I am also enjoying some duty-free dark chocolate for desert. Today was pretty hectic. My flight left Cape Town at 5.45am and then in Johannesburg I had a mere one hour between my flight landing and my next connecting flight boarding to get my boarding pass, clear customs and security and find my way to the gate just in time for boarding (phew!)... Hopefully the Ninja made it onto the flight so we can be reunited in Milan tomorrow. In a bizarre twist, I happened to bump into a familiar face on the flight back to Abu Dhabi and realised it was the same lady I had sat next to on my way from Abu Dhabi to Johannesburg four weeks ago! Very random! So now on to Milan and Europe, and with a start list in hand for world champs, I'm starting to get nervous all over again!!

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