For those not in the know, it’s cycling season in Cape Town. Enemy number one when cycling is the wind. In Cape Town they call it the Black South Easter and when they say black they don’t mean black as in LBD or Black Eyed Peas. No. They mean black as in the depths of hell, black as in the exorcist, black as in viciously hateful. This wind is not to be trifled with. You may ride like a domestique stallion when there is no wind, but trust me, the gale force South Easter will reduce you to a piece of snivelling overstretched lycra.
When there is no wind, however, enemy number two is of course the traffic. Now just to clarify for those who live outside of crusty old SA, South African’s have what’s called The Second Grader’s Approach when it comes to driving. In other words: they do it, so I will too. We’re a curious collection of people who continually discuss crime levels in the country yet are quite comfortable with exceeding the speed limit whilst talking on our cell phones in the traffic. Go figure.
Most South African’s see a speed limit sign and imagine that they also see small print that says “Not You, Just Everyone Behind You”. Solid white lines – for the same drivers who are able to read the small print on the speed limit signs – actually imply “Go ahead, Overtake on Me”. And finally, if any South African driver has to slow down – or heaven forbid, brake - for a cyclist, they form a support group and write a book, which I believe is titled “A Cyclist Ruined My Life”.
Which brings me enemy number three and why I found myself seeking out an isolated route where there are no psycho drivers. I was cruising along just fine, making small talk with some hitch-hiking mama’s who were sharing my side of the road, and gearing down to start climbing in earnest when I felt someone’s hand fiddling around in the back pocked of my cycling vest. I think that it might be the mama’s warning me about a snake in the road, or needing the time or something. The pocket fiddling gets a bit more insistent and by this stage I’ve been pulled off balance and am now at a complete standstill.
I turn around to face a young man. We just stand there staring at each other for a moment. It takes another moment for me to realize that he is not in fact flicking off a rogue grasshopper from my shirt. He’s trying to rob me.
I trawl the folds of my brain to find some useful anti-robbing information. Firstly, I recall reading that if think you are being attacked, you must make a really loud noise. I yell as loudly as I can “What the [profanity] do you think you’re doing???!?!?” This is rhetoric of course. I notice that my voice no longer belongs to me. It has been taken over by some demonic Balrog.
Secondly, I remember that you should put up a good fight. You know, make it really hard for them. They don’t want a thrasher. I consider screaming at him “I’m a 3rd Dan, Black belt Karate” but am concerned that in the confusion he might think I’m actually saying, “take my hand let’s party.”
What ensues is us playing a game of intimidation tag. I scream at him, vowing all kinds of evil actions on him and his family. He screams at me, coming at me like a, um, robber. A fierce one. I scream back at him, bluffing that I am actually able to fight and telling him to come closer (closer??!?! WTF?) so that I can give him a belting (I think my cleats may have given me some kind of Dutch courage, I realize that now.)
Our unholy yelling and profanities have drawn enough attention for people to start coming out to see what all the hoo-ha is all about. Thank the pope, this makes him run back into the blasted bushes from whence he came.
Of course, there’s nothing like a bit of unhealthy introspection to really turn you into a basket case, so here’s why I’m peeved.
Firstly and mostly I am freaked out that I am the kind of frightening sight that I have the ability to chase off a drugged up robber. Am I that Amazonian? Must be how I look in cycling shorts.
Secondly. Clearly, I’m built for fight not flight. This is very disappointing news.
Thirdly, I’ve had to change the playlist on my iPod to mostly serious rap and hard-core hip-hop. The un-edited, lots of swearing, 8 Mile kind of stuff that gets you all agro.
Lastly. It really is very uncomfortable riding in karate clothes.