Transportation is an issue for me here. I don’t have a car and there’s little chance that I’ll get one any time soon.

I moved to Joburg from Washington, D.C., where one can live quite comfortably without an automobile. I had a car while I lived there but I barely used it. I felt so free and happy when I sold it.

But Joburg is a more like Los Angeles than D.C. This city is built for driving — sidewalks are scarce, public transport is unreliable and unsafe, and everything is spread out. Fortunately I live in Melville, one of the few walkable neighborhoods in town. But if I need to get somewhere outside Melville and Joe isn’t around to take me, I’m pretty much stuck.

Last week I decided to buy a bicycle. I’ve done a fair amount of leisurely biking in my day, and my recent cycling experience at Cape Point gave me confidence. Joe drove me to Linden Cycles; I marched in and bought the cheapest bike they had.

She’s a Nomad. I love her.

I went to sleep that night feeling pleased. I’m free! I can go wherever I want! I have a Nomad!

The next day I prepared to ride to my gym at Rosebank Mall. I put my gym stuff in a backpack and strapped on my helmet. I paraded the Nomad out of the spare bedroom with great fanfare. Joe followed me in his car to document the start of my journey.

Off I go, with my Nomad. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

This was about three minutes into the ride. It had been all downhill up until this point — I don’t think I’d pedaled once. That’s probably why I look so happy. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

After five minutes or so, Joe peeled off to go to an assignment. I was alone on the open road. I had no idea where I was going.

Is it this right turn or the next one? I looked frantically for signs. There were none. As I’ve written before, every Joburg street looks the same.

It was hot. There were hills. Cars whizzed past. I quickly realized that the gym was out of the question. I pedaled around for about 15 minutes and found my way back to Melville. Lucky was surprised to see me back so soon. I informed him of my failure.

The next day Joe drove me to Rosebank. When we thought about how it would actually feel to bike it, we realized our route was mostly uphill and very trafficky. My confidence plummeted. Truth is, I’ve never biked to actually get places and it’s harder than I thought.

Time for Plan B. We returned home and Joe copied a page from the mapbook. He devised a new route to Rosebank that sticks mostly to side streets. We got back in the car. Joe gave me the copied map page and forced me to trace the route with a highlighter as we drove.

I felt better when we got back. But still skeptical.

I worked up my courage for a while and decided today was the day to try again. I studied my highlighted map route. I packed my backpack a little lighter this time, and wheeled out the Nomad.

Heather: Hey Lucky, I’m riding to Rosebank. I’m going to do it this time! I have a map! When I get back I will write a blog about it. Lucky: Ohhhh. Okay. I think you can do it. I want to read this blog. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

Heather (inside head): I don’t think I will make it. Lucky (inside head): I don’t think she will make it. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

I may look happy but inside I’m terrified. Today was the hottest day of the summer and I left at exactly noon. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

I had the map imprinted in my mind. Left on Emmarentia, right on Ennis. Left at Zoo Lake. (Commence uphill climb.) Cross Jan Smuts. (I had to walk across Jan Smuts.) Right on Rutland (still climbing).

With the exception of Jan Smuts, all these streets are wide and quiet and shady. I was sweating and my sunglasses were fogged up, but otherwise I felt great.

Left on Bath. Cross busy street in Rosebank. Only one person honked at me as I tried to gain sufficient speed for a right-had turn. Score.

I coasted into the mall parking lot and locked the Nomad in the spot Joe and I had scouted earlier — on a pole by the parking payment machine. There’s a nice man there who plays music for tips at lunchtime.

I went into the gym and worked out. Well, if you can call 15 minutes of elliptical machine and 10 minutes of ab crunches a workout. I didn’t want to exhaust myself before the ride home.

Back at the parking machine, I gave my musician friend five rand and thanked him for protecting the Nomad.

I forgot to ask his name but I think we’ll become fast friends.

The ride back was remarkably tolerable. Mostly downhill until I got to Melville, where I had to endure the steepest hill of the trip with a traffic light right in the middle. It makes me a bit sad that this hill will always be waiting for me at the end of every ride.

I greeted Lucky triumphantly. He was pleased by my return.

You’re probably wondering how long my journey was. It was 10 kilometers, round-trip. Don’t laugh.

I’m not Lance Armstrong yet but it’s a start.

%d bloggers like this: