Craig and Linda Martin are world-travelling Kiwis, blogging and podcasting at the award-winning Indie Travel Podcasts. ...Find out more!
Extreme sports are a way of life for Kiwis. The land of bungee jumping, white-water rafting and zorbing also hosts a myriad of other very active activities. I've tried most of them - sometimes it's hard to avoid when you live in the country that's known as the adventure capital of the world. And I've enjoyed them, for the most part. But I have a confession to make: I'm scared of heights. Or rather, I'm scared of falling. I get more scared on a rickety ladder than I do at the top of the Sky Tower (Empire State Building, Petronas Twin Towers, insert name of tall building here). However, a lot of these activities involve a high chance of falling - in fact, in the case of bungee jumping, that's the whole idea.
However, I make a point of not letting this stop me doing things - I just try not to fall (this didn't work with the bungee jumping, sadly; at least I didn't hit the bottom!). So recently, when we were offered the chance to cycle down Mount Lofty in Adelaide, South Australia, I said "sure" with a big smile. I wasn't smiling quite so much at the start of the tour, though. Ian from Escapegoat had picked us up from our accommodation and driven us to the top of Mount Lofty, the highest point in the Adelaide Hills. He set us up with bikes, helmets and gloves and pointed out the sights of the city from the viewpoint on the summit. We had to cycle a hundred metres or so down the road to the start of the path, and that's when it all started to go wrong for me.
I'm a confident enough cyclist on the flat - no problem at all in Holland, for example - but this was the opposite of flat in several ways. The path had a serious gradient to it, it was a little overgrown, and the rocks that made up the path ranged in size from pebbles to baseball-sized. I gritted my teeth, gripped the handlebars and went for it. But not for long. I came around a corner, lost control, gained it again, kept going, squeezed the brakes, hit a volleyball-sized rock and ever-so-slowly toppled left and onto the ground. I fell.
I was unimpressed at myself for falling, and more unimpressed with the rocks that ripped up my leg. Bits of grit were stuck in the wound; I stared at it unbelievingly as the two other members rounded the corner and skidded to a halt. I'd conveniently left space on the path for them to pass but they stopped to help me clean up. "The good news," said Ian, "Is that this is without doubt the most difficult part of the trip." And he was right.
We hopped back on the bikes and soon the path smoothed out and widened and we rode on with Cleland Wildlife Park in mind. We stopped for an hour to feed the kangaroos and emus and to see the koalas (who were strangely active, I don't know what's in the eucalyptus leaves in Adelaide, but they were acting like they'd just drunk a Red Bull).
After a coffee, we set off again down the hill, turning off the road back onto the path which varied in quality from wide and smooth to steep and rocky. In the interest of not cutting my knee open, I took Ian's advice and walked down a couple of the steeper sections, but otherwise just kept going. Our way took us along a beautiful river gorge, the only people on the path. We saw wild koalas sleeping in the eucalyptus trees above our heads as we cycled along the foothills, and the path gradually changed from walking track to pavement; soon we were cycling through the suburbs and back into Adelaide central.
At the end of the day, I was exhausted but exhilarated - I'd cycled the Mount Lofty Descent, survived my first fall in several years and had even got to see wild koalas. And I've got the scars to prove it.