By Susan Roberts
I’m lying in the largest bed I’ve ever seen, in a thatched rondavel high in the mountains near Lotheni. The sun has just risen over the ridge behind my back, and in my view I can see the shadow of our rondavel dwarfed against the lush rolling hills above me.
In the distance the mountains, which looked blue as we drove towards them yesterday, now have a sharper definition. Light alternates with dark to reveal gullies and ridges topped by the crust of rock that juts up before the almost flat escarpment above. In the foreground, however, the rounded hills have a softer look, as if someone has thrown a green velvet bedspread over them.
Through the cottage panes that enhance rather than obscure my view, I can see that not a breath of wind is stirring a leaf or a blade of grass. Such stillness, so high up. I can hear the occasional moo of a cow and there’s a bird calling in the trees across the river.
That river bubbled so noisily last night, but it seems to have lulled itself into a slumber in the early morning while waiting for the sun to rise. It reminds me of a group of cyclists before the start of a race, holding back their strength, hoping they have trained enough and wondering how they will fare during the day’s race.
In fact, that’s the reason I’m here. Cycling. No, not me – I doubt anyone alive can ever remember seeing me on a bicycle. Not even my sister whose bicycle I sometimes borrowed (without her permission) when I was a teenager.
The only other bicycle I ever rode belonged to the boyfriend I had in my early twenties. I had to go to the shops one day, and he was out in his car. His bicycle, however, was padlocked to one of the veranda poles. I knew where the key was, so I borrowed it.
I must have turned too sharply at the first corner because I wobbled out of control across a treacherous patch of tar and into the gutter. A group of domestic servants on their lunch break leaped back from the edge of the pavement, then rushed forward to pick me up, uttering cries and exclamations of sympathy. I mustered as much dignity as a person can when their knees and elbows are bleeding, and assured them that I was fine before nonchalantly walking my boyfriend’s bicycle back around the corner to its veranda pole and its padlock.
I’ve never ridden a bicycle since. And I’ve always hated that stupid expression: “It’s like riding a bicycle; you never forget how.” Well, I beg to differ! In ten years I had forgotten it all. Thirty years later I’m certainly not about to risk my precious fifty-something self by trying it again.
I digress. How unusual…
Back to yesterday’s bicycle race. Two of us accompanied a third (cycling) friend to the Midlands Meander so that she could take part in a cycle race from Nottingham Road to Himeville. Because the race was 100 kilometers long, she needed someone to drive to the finish to fetch her. This became the excuse for a glorious weekend outing for all of us.
We arrived on Friday afternoon at Notties to register for the race, and stayed for a sumptuous carbo-loading meal – all three of us despite only one being a cyclist! We spent the night in a nearby rented cottage and got our friend to the starting line early the next morning. Once we’d waved goodbye to her, we began our own adventure. We meandered our way through the shops and eateries of our favourite part of the country, gathering retail and doing more sympathetic carbo-loading. The day ended with a scenic drive to Kenmo Lake outside Himeville to fetch our cyclist before winding up into the hills around Lotheni for a night in a rustic mountain hut.
It’s lovely to be up in the Berg again. Remote, far from home, with no burglar bars or cellphone reception. Gas fuels the geyser, stove and fridge, and a huge fireplace provides warmth for three comfy beds. A few strategic lights are powered by batteries that have been charging all day long via solar panels, and in this complete picture of rustic bliss I feel my writer batteries being re-charged despite the absence of electricity and my laptop.
All the wilderness and tranquillity a writer’s soul could ask for.