- Mountain bikes might be the best way to view wildlife.
- Without engine noise to spook animals, you can get close and cover more distance than a walking Safari.
- The Lowveld offers incredible venues for wildlife mountain biking.
We all have happy places. Places where your heartbeat slows to a gentle amble. And the noise in your head gets wiped away like careless crumbs on the table. Mountain bikers know the value of being in the wilderness.
I have a few but riding in the African bush is right at the top of that list. Imagine my happiness when I combined them in an epic cycle trip at the Abelana Safari Camp next to the Kruger Game Reserve.
I usually start a new year full of enthusiasm and energy. With a good dose of sparkle and glitter for new plans and challenges, 2021 robbed most of us of that “new-toy-smell”. By the end of January, I was longing for a destress retreat to curb my mounting anxiety. Then Chris Murray from Escape Cycle Tours called with an invitation to spend three nights in luxury tents in my happy place doing what I love.
After the recent rains, the bush is lush, green and water is aplenty. You could pass a lion or leopard a few meters away without an inkling that it’s there. A missed opportunity if you are in a game viewing vehicle; a little scary if your getaway wheels are mounted to a mountain bike frame.
A very real nature experience - on your bike
On our first game cycle we see leopard spoor, comically huge hippo spoor as well as lots of buck and giraffe activity. Being on a bicycle intensifies your experience of the bush. You feel grounded as your wheels grip the red granite soil whilst cycling past Mopani trees with leaves that look like butterflies and stopping under Marula trees to eat the succulent fruit. The air fills with the fragrance of wild sage as you brush past.
There is no engine noise to chase away the European roller with its striking turquoise feathers, which apparently adorned King Shaka’s crown. Or the journey of giraffes with their flirtatious eyelashes and furry horns. You are also aware of your vulnerability and you secretly measure up your riding partners and their bikes to work out who could end up as fodder if lions or elephant should get hungry or angry.
Luckily we have an experienced game ranger in John Fouche who is armed in case things get dangerous. He also instructs us to throw our bikes to the side, stand still and huddle together if we encounter agitated elephants. Not knowing if the pachyderms will be appeased by my bike offering, and ride away a satisfied customer, I stay close to the man with the gun.
It turns out the biggest danger lurked in the shape of GIANT golden orb spiders which spin webs across the jeep track and land on unsuspecting cyclists if they ride through it. Luckily no cyclists (or spiders for that matter) were harmed during our encounter.
Being so close to the bush, breathing the magic of Africa while you ride your bike was the perfect antidote for a year that started on the wrong foot with a Covid surge, restrictions, masks and sanitizer. In the quiet of nature, I could see and think clearly and found that we still have so much to be thankful for. Even in a year that arrived without champagne and streamers. For more information on the Big Five Escape and other exciting cycling trips in South Africa, contact Escape Cycle Tours.