View Full Version : Mtn. Biking in South Africa - The Cape Epic

02-07-2007, 02:22 PM
I have a buddy who now lives in Lesotho and is currently training for the Cape Epic.

"The Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas takes place every year around the last week of March and the first week of April. It starts in the beautiful Garden Route town of Knysna and finishes eight days later in style at the grand Lourensford Wine Estate, just outside Cape Town. The route changes every year, and leads aspiring amateur and professional mountain bikers from around the world through approximately 900 kilometres of the unspoilt nature of the Western Cape and up approximately 16 000m of climbing over some of the most magnificent passes in South Africa." (pasted from www.cape-epic.com)

In addition to being a grueling and beautiful race, he's posting some interesting stories from his training diary on his blog. I thought everyone might find this story interesting:

In training for the Cape Epic, my partner M_____ and I have set out to ride every major road in Lesotho. (We've covered about a third with eight weeks of training left.) Our rides last weekend were more eventful than usual.

The previous weekend's training ride was set back by a visitor who felt it necessary to take extended breaks and naps during the ride, so this time we headed straight for the mountains to put in some extended climbing. Not far from the airport, the tar gives way to rutted gravel and the road begins the steep climb up the first giant's stair step of Lesotho's sandstone plateaus.

It was a busy Saturday in the sticks, with herds of goats and cows winding their way up mountain passes and adding to the usual dogs and children. I am sure it has nothing on Pamplona, but wending one's way through a herd of strolling bulls on a steep and rocky road is nevertheless disturbing, their horns brushing the sleeves and handlebars as you search for the next gap. One sudden turn of a 50kg head could put a quick end to a long training program. But there was nowhere else to go, so past them we went, thinking, Surely bulls don't get angry... or attack and impale people... right? In Spain maybe, but not here... right?

Next on the itinerary was a group of about thirty men in red and black robes, red and black hats reminiscent of the Islamic kufi, crowding together down a sharp trail toward a steep cliff. The closeness of the group and sameness of the attire had the appearance of a cult ceremony, not to mention that they seemed about to throw themselves off the mountain in a mass suicide.

(Thus revealing my status as a cultural dimwit - OBVIOUSLY this was the much maligned "ritual cutting". These boys would be men soon - thus explaining the grim looks on their faces.)

Incidentally, there is a story told by expatriates that due to the highly secretive nature of the cutting ceremony, if a person is perceived to be intruding, he may be held down and, how do I say this, forced to take part. Though believed by the tellers, such tales are almost surely false - it is a myth which nevertheless contributes to the ominousness of the beating of drums from the village women up the hill.

After several hours, we returned along the same route. The drumming and dancing women were still drumming and dancing - now closer, we could see them more clearly, the flying skirts, the waving sticks, bodies covered with a white powder, bare breasts, often grotesquely large, heaving with the beat. It was a National Geographic moment, and only a few dozen kilometers from a reasonably modern capital city (which we call home). A National Geographic moment gone wrong. If only the photographers had been there.

Our approach brought great delight to the women, who leapt and addressed us, yelling, "Makhooa, Makhooa, Makhooa!" amidst other things incomprehensible, and rushed down to the side of the road.

When you ride in Lesotho, you learn to gauge the potential threats on the road ahead - dogs that might attack, children that might throw stones, horses that could spook, unpredictable drunkards, and so on. Dancing, bare-breasted women with big sticks rated at most a yellow on the threat scale, a curiosity. We are accustomed to people rushing to the road and waving or talking with us as we go past, running to keep up. But we should have known that a Basotho woman in her element is something to be feared.

Not content to stand on the side, they rushed into the middle of the road, laughing and continuing the Makhooa shout. And then they lifted their sticks and started swinging.

The first blow glanced off my helmet; the second caught me in the side. They were not striking to kill, but nor were they being very friendly about the task, and the swipe that caught me in the cheek stung enough to make me want very badly to find my way through the mass of half-naked bodies. Most frightening was the prospect of one of their sticks finding its way through a wheel, an event which could only end with my landing on my head, defenseless and at the mercy of the attacking women.

As culturally interesting as this all was, we fled as quickly as we could, the jeers chasing after us for some time. A little further down, we came across the men in the kufi hats, now sitting under a tent, with an entire village of people assembled around them. Our arrival caused something of an uproar, with about half the crowd, mostly men this time, getting to their feet and shouting. Luckily, we were descending from the mountain at this point, and we zipped through before any sort of blockade could be organized.

In all, a memorable ride. We turned the next day to South Africa, hoping to avoid bulls, violent women and recently circumsized men. While we succeeded on those counts, it was an eventful day on its own...

02-07-2007, 02:36 PM
fantastic story, thanks for that. . .it's still a big world after all. . .