The horizon hurtles towards me at a hundred miles an hour with nothing between me and the rushing tarmac except the seat of my pants. At this speed, leg muscles clench with the effort of maintaining a steady centre of balance, the neck jars from resisting the whip of the wind, cheeks flap like Joan Rivers before the op and my brain is under threat of being vacuumed through my ears by the tornado howling around my head. 'It'll rearrange your hormones,' he'd said. And now I knew how.
The chrome and leather steed to which I cling is no ordinary motorcycle. It is a cultural icon and a Hollywood idol, a symbol of male potency
, a fetish, a love-drug and a charm. It growls between the thighs and sets the blood to throbbing.
Designed and built by William Harley and the three Davidson brothers with the modest ambition of taking 'the work out of bicycling,' the original Harley was little more than a bicycle with a rudimentary engine and sling back handlebars. But those first three machines off the production line in 1903 spawned a world-wide, century-long phenomenon
. This success must in part be attributed to the spoils of war.
Their speed and handling saw the bikes used in skirmishes against Pancho Villa on the Mexico/Texas border and by 1914, they had proved their metal. 20 000 bikes saw action in the First World War and the factory's entire output of 90 000 motorcycles were used by the Allies
in the Second.
The bike's manly prowess proved, Hollywood entrenched the legend. Easy Rider in 1969 saw Captain America cruise into the sunset, transporting Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson into celluloid cool. The Harley's title as King of the Road
And here I was, about to get a good long look behind the testosterone curtain and find out just what it was about this purring hunk of metal that has made it the ultimate boy toy
. And as if that prospect were not inviting enough, four days lay before me of the vineyards and mountains, seascapes and sky of South Africa's Mediterranean.
The Victorian writer Ruskin was of the opinion that 'mountains are the beginning and end of all natural scenery.' While the Western Cape has no shortage of either, its mountains also provide s-bends and roller-coaster curves, dizzying drops off perilous passes and the electric rush of two-wheeled adrenaline
, for those so inclined. I soon caught the bug.
I picked it up the next morning. Ensconced in back-rested comfort behind my 'chauffeur', resplendent astride a machine of burnished attitude
, I was afflicted before we even set out but managed to resist the compelling urge to practice my royal wave.
Our road out of the city led thirty miles east to the foot of the once impenetrable Hottentots Holland
. For the first white settlers to the Cape these mountains marked the end of the world. But now, where ox-wagons once had trundled, we followed on our Road Kings, towards Sir Lowry's Pass.
We hit the pass in a gusting southeaster
that would have given Mike Tyson a run for his money. Feinting the left hooks and uppercuts, absorbing the glancing blows and ducking the knock-out punches I held grimly on, determined not to be a 'girl' and balk at the first sign of discomfort. . The summit duly conquered, my laurels rested on a rainbow which wrapped itself around the sun-spattered sea far below
And on under metal skies towards the break in the clouds past apple orchards and pine trees to the water and the wine. The Winelands and the Breede River Valley are two of the most important contributors to the wine-barrel province
. The vineyards wear a look of summer sleekness, their elegant farmhouses reminiscent of an earlier, more permanent age.
The low-slung, gabled facades, whitewashed and often thatched are ubiquitous throughout the region. The homesteads have been restored
to a glory that was absent in their first incarnations as the modest, hand-hewn homes of the early European settlers. As the farms prospered, so the original structures were added onto and separate dwellings were built to house the eldest sons.
The farmers' cosmopolitan origins informed their architecture and medieval Holland, seventeenth century France and the islands of Indonesia contributed to a style of building that has become known as Cape Dutch
But, we don't stop to sample the, uh, grape juice just yet. The road exerts its pull and we hit the trail. Or what used to be a trail. Once part of the wagon route
that led to the north and the Kimberley diamond mines, Bains Kloof Pass is almost a hundred and fifty years old.
The Pass was completed by convict labour
in 1853 at a rate of fifty three days a kilometre and without the aid of cement. It is no less impressive today than it must have been then. Gouged out of the rock-face
high above the serpentine river, its bends and curves mimic the water's eddy.
We sail the rocky currents and surf the rise and fall but the engine's steady hum fails to silence ghostly echoes of creaking wheels
and cracking whips.
Morning comes as something of a shock. It carries us down Michell's Pass to Ceres
and on into the Koue Bokkeveld , north towards the badlands of the Karoo. Through grape and grain country and undulating expanses of dry summer grass as the clouds paint shifting shadows on the hills.
The horizon's rhythm is broken only by the hulking ruins of a windmill
and occasionally a motley scattering of farms. The dirt roads that lead off to them bear signs for Lost Valley and Cold Comfort. The scrubby khaki ground cover tells the rest.
We veer south, away from the beckoning expanse of thirsty land and naked sky towards the end of the world. Cape L'Agulhas is where Africa falls away into the sea
. Two seas actually. The Indian and the Atlantic ocean meet here at the southern tip of the continent.
The winter waters of both oceans are a summer holiday for calving whales
and from July to November, the bays and coves and harbours of both the west and east coast erupt in giant tails and barnacled backs, frothings and leapings and thrashings and spoutings.
From the lonely lighthouse at the end of a continent, we look towards a nouveau riche resort town
famed for the best land-based whale-watching in the world. Headed for Hermanus on a Harley, daahling. There are days when you just can't complain.
But being the end of summer, the old harbour is unruffled by visiting denizens from the deep and there is no sign of the resident whale crier
with his kelp horn and sandwich boards.
As for us, we set sail on a salty breeze along the coast, past seas where whales birth in winter and great white sharks come to feed on fattened seals. Back past the beaches and tidal pools, lighthouses and luxury villas of the Peninsula
and up and over Chapman's Peak as the sky winds itself around my helmet and the road falls away beneath my boots.
Our triumphant return from the land over the mountain
is suitably gratifying. Kids wave, teenage boys drool, lithesome girls in flouncy skirts cadge rides to the next traffic light and stressed-out suits in BMW's swivel their Ray-Bans to follow our passing.
93% of Harley Davidson owners are men. Now I know why. Whether one has the physique of Chubby Brown or the sex appeal of Mr Bean, a Harley transforms its rider
into king of the road and master of the universe.
And when the pulsing brute is stilled and stabled and the road dust banished from the pores, the glamour lingers yet. For, beyond the fanfare and behind the legend, lies the endless fascination of the open road
. And, with the wind still in my ears and the horizon's glitter in my gaze, I also know, 'The best way to get there is just to go.'
Copyright © 2002 Laurianne Claase. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the permission of the author is prohibited.