The Ride of Good Hope


This blog entry about the events of Monday, March 08, 2004 was originally posted on March 10, 2004.

DAY 142:  If you haven’t figured out already, I’m a pretty big cycling enthusiast.  I’m no Lance Armstrong or Dave Mirra (nor do I aspire to be), but I do enjoy the feeling of being on the top of a bicycle, riding through the landscape without motors or windshields, until my thighs burn like crazy and my groin feels like it might need some sort of surgery.

THE “CAPE” IN CAPE TOWN comes from the fact that it is nearby many capes that jut out into the ocean from the mainland, the most famous being the Cape of Good Hope on the Cape Peninsula, where the first European settlement, a supply station, was established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652.  The southern part of Cape Peninsula holds a national reserve park and a lighthouse (at Cape Point, the southernmost tip) with an outlook of where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet for tea and gossip about the Pacific and Arctic.

The most common ways to get to the Cape Point, about 70 kilometers from Cape Town, are via rental car or tour group.  Without a rental car of my own, Ingmar at the hostel suggested that I go with one of the bus tours that included some downhill bicycle time.  I told him that I might just go the cheaper route and rent a bike on my own since I was into cycling in the first place.

“It’s better to go with a tour,” the Dutchman said.  “Because they tell you things that you wouldn’t know on your own.”

“Like what?”

“For example, did you know that the reserve has over 250 species of birds?”

“Well, now I do.”

“I’ll shut up now.”

My plan was to ride the entire seventy kilometers back and forth, but everyone I asked if it could be done discouraged me.

“There are so many hills,” Irene the German girl in my dorm room told me.  She and her friend Julia drove the cape the day before and felt sorry for the two bikers they saw struggling.

Sylvia and Eve who worked at the tour desk told me that a direct route to the park entrance was near impossible for a bicycle; it was all major highways with no scenic route.  They suggested that I take a train to the southernmost seaside suburb of Simon’s Town, twelve kilometers north of the national park entrance, and ride down from there.  So that’s what I did.

AFTER AN HOUR AND A QUARTER in second class on the MetroRail watching the candy and cigarette vendors come on and off calling “Sweeties, sweeties, sweeties,” I found myself at Simon’s Town train station.  With the help of a nice old woman at the nearby Simon’s Town Museum, I located a bike rental place and rented a heavy two-wheeler with mountain treads. 

As I rode out of Simon’s Town, I already started to see the hills that Irene warned me about.  The twelve kilometers of road to the park entrance was a lot harder than my stubborn self thought it would be; I had to pedal against a strong headwind and all uphill.  At times I’d try to downshift to lessen my pain, only to realize that I was already in the lowest gear.  Tour buses — the ones I could have taken instead — passed me by with sympathetic faces in the windows.  Occasionally they would stop, not for me, but to take photos of the occasional pack of baboons crossing the road.  On the bright side, at least the scenery was beautiful — reminiscent of California’s Pacific Coast Highway — despite the overcast gray skies.

AFTER FULFILLING A CHILDHOOD FANTASY of going through a toll plaza with a bicycle amidst a line of cars, I was in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.  This meant that not only did I have to struggle up hills against a headwind, I had to pedal another twelve kilometers of hills in wilderness where wildlife could roam around at their leisure and have their way with me.  Of the 250 species of birds that Ingmar accidentally told me about, one of them was the ostrich, which I was on the look out for since Irene and Julia saw them the day before.  However, I saw no such ostrich, nor a zebra like I was told I might see too.  I only saw another baboon on the side of the road like a hitchhiker.

The road to Cape Point Lighthouse (picture above) seemed to go on forever.  A stop at the Buffelsfontein Visitor’s Centre revealed a map that told me I was more than halfway there, and I recharged my will to move on.  I continued up hills and against the wind with only one thought in my head:  at least it’s all downhill on the way back.  After the three-hour ride more intense than a spin class, I rounded a curve and finally saw the parking lot of cars and tour buses at the base of the rocky hill where the lighthouse stood. 

There was no rack to lock up a bike like the bike shop guy said, so I asked a woman at the funicular ticket office who told me to just leave it there, by the office door.  “It will be fine there,” she told me.

“You sure it will be fine?”

“Yes, just leave it there.”

I was skeptical parking the bike out there in the open since I traded it for my passport as a security deposit, but she assured me it was safe.  I locked the front wheel to the frame so it wouldn’t spin, just in case, not remembering that anyone could simply just pick up the bike anyway.

WITH MOST OF MY BODY SORE — particularly my groin region from sitting on the hard seat for three hours — I still had to hike up the steep pathway up to the lighthouse.  I was feeling good with having made it thus far and had an adrenaline rush to ascend the hill rather quickly, passing all the tourists who had just arrived via car or bus.  The view from the lighthouse was worth the trip and I felt good that I “earned” the privilege to see it.  I’m sure the tourists around me wouldn’t have cared if I told them; they probably laughed at me from the comfort of their bus.

From the lighthouse vantage point I saw another lookout area even more south, Diaz Point.  The trail of high winds that took one there required one and a half hours round-trip according to a posted sign, but I did it in about half an hour — still making time to take in the view of the dramatic towering cliff beneath the lighthouse, the view of the two oceans blending together and the obligatory “I was here” photo, taken by a solo German guy there.  The reason for my haste was that I didn’t want to leave the rented bike unattended too long.  Call me paranoid, but it wasn’t exactly secure and my passport was hanging in the balance.

After a race down the path, I found that the bike was totally fine like the woman had told me.  I should have known that leaving it there could be done in good faith — or in this case, good hope.

The ride back to Simon’s town was a lot easier, most of it downhill and with a wind that worked for me instead of against me.  The sun also finally decided to come out, giving me brighter views of the scenic coastal road that was a tad dreary on the way south.  I made it back to Simon’s Town limits in about an hour and forty minutes, swapped the bike for my passport at the bike rental place and walked to the train station before the last train to Cape Town departed.

I HADN’T SEEN ANY OSTRICHES during my ride through the national park, but I found some when I got back to the hostel:  ostrich kebabs, a favorite meat dish in The Backpack’s weekly Tuesday all-you-can-eat braai, or barbecue.  I hung out with the crew manning the grill as they turned over the skewered ostrich cubes and brushed the big fillets of snoek, a popular fish that one guy described as “the tastiest fish you could have.”

The guy that told this to me was one of the guides of Daytrippers, one of the tour companies that did the Cape Peninsula.  I told him about the events of my day.

“Oh, so that was you!” he said excitedly.

“Yeah, I was the only bike out there.”

“I told my group to check out that crazy Asian-looking character riding up the hill.  You were struggling, but you just kept on going.”

Despite his poking fun of me, he was really rather envious; he too was a cycling enthusiast that loved the peninsula route, but spent most of his time behind the wheel of a minivan following his clients on their short, downhill bike rides instead of being on a bicycle himself.

“It’s a great ride, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it was worth it,” I said.

My groin disagreed.

Next entry: Reading is FUNdamental

Previous entry: School Trips

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Comments for “The Ride of Good Hope”

  • ERIK: Fix “steep pathway” pic…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  04:00 PM

  • 2ND - WEEEEE!

    Posted by SUPER 8  on  03/09  at  04:03 PM

  • LOVEPENNY/OOGY:  Sound like the Long Island ride?

    (P.S.  Does the oogster even keep up anymore?  If not, nudge him!)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  04:07 PM

  • ostrich kebabs and fillets of snoek….who wants to eat?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  04:11 PM

  • SUPER 8:  Got an answer to the KFC question in “American Vacation?”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  04:12 PM

  • Ostrich kebabs ... when it hits the lips ... soooo good ..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  04:18 PM

  • ERIK: Unfortuantly I live in a city of pants in the UK, where we are around 20 year behind the rest of the world and thus have yet to experience the delights of KFC chicken.

    Posted by SUPER 8  on  03/09  at  04:44 PM

  • Those were AMAZING views, i’m glad the sun came out for you. even w/ all that beauty, the baboon sign is still the best shot! and just remember ICE works wonders after a long bike ride wink
    n smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/09  at  05:22 PM

  • I’m BACK from my not so self-inflicted sabbatical. My shoulder feels like a pin cushion from the various vaccinations I’ve been sujected to.

    Erik, you did it! That’s a serious accomplishment! (note to self: In preparation for my trip, increase spin classes to twice a week.)

    SUPER 8: Don’t worry about the KFC, you’re not missing much.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  12:22 AM

  • I just wanted to say, I have been reading your adventures since shortly after you left, you have put together a great site.  I am a traveller and have been known to go on vacation and not come back for a year or more.  Soak it all up there is nothing else like it, it is like being part of dream, so keep dreamin and letting us know about them.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  12:26 AM

  • ANNE:  Thanks, and welcome aboard… pass the word along!

    As Willy Wonka said, “We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  05:02 AM

  • NIKKIJ:  What’s funnier than the baboon sign is the one next to it.  It’s hard to read, but there is a picture of a springbok (antelope) and it says:  “Bokkie says, Only YOU can prevent brush and veld fires!”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  05:05 AM

  • STEPH:  If you get this message, I’m still in Cape Town (11th)... not leaving until tomorrow morning.  I’ll try and leave a message for you at your hotel.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  05:11 AM

  • Erik mate, you looked knackered in that photo taken at the top of the lighthouse trail!! - Are people still keeping you awake at night with their “nocturnal activities” back at the dorm!?!
    Just to say, I’m a big fan of your site -you’ve put so much into it and are clearly an inspiration to a lot of traveller’s out there, including myself. I’m leaving in 4 weeks for your homeland and then onto South America!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  05:24 AM

  • NATHE:  Hey there, welcome aboard, glad to have served as some inspiration!  Just curious, where are you from, and how did you find out about the site? 

    Glad to hear you’re off on an adventure soon…  once you get bit by the Travel Bug, you can’t go back!

    As for the “nocturnal activities,” it’s been quiet since that one night; most people just come and go for just one or two days.  At a six days, I practically LIVE there—but not for long…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  05:57 AM

  • I’m from the UK and am a regular on the website. Well, regular in the sense I check it most days!! That’s where I found your blog.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  06:55 AM

  • Good on ya Erik for doing the whole ride! The views really are stunning!

    Posted by Liz  on  03/10  at  09:09 AM

  • ah the Long Island Montauk trip. The memories…the aches….the hills!!!

    i am glad you bike’d it…those pics look great too.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  12:02 PM

  • eek!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/10  at  12:03 PM

  • What is with that quote from Willie Wonka?! My husband loves that line. Eek. All movie bashing aside, I could take WW&tCF; or leave it.

    Oh and that ride was massive. Lesser mortals would have caved—you are a maniac. Or a gluton for torture… the jury’s still out on that one. As for me… I’m a tour bus junkie!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/14  at  06:08 PM

  • BTW, does ostrich “taste like chicken?”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/14  at  06:08 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Reading is FUNdamental

Previous entry:
School Trips


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