Craig McKune
Craig McKune

Bandits in them hills

Over the past five months, I have pedalled my bike up and down the bandit-besieged tracks of Table Mountain on about 70 occasions, and only twice have I seen park officials on patrol. The first slapped me with a half-grand fine; the second snored in a bush while his dog tried to chew my face off.

Mountain muggings are a hot topic — in some Cape Town social circles — with at least 17 peaced-out hikers and bikers losing their bikes, sarmies, wallets and phones to a rusty blade or “scissor” since the year started, according to the Cape Times.

Just last month a mountain biker was chased into a bush above Rhodes Memorial and stabbed repeatedly, losing at least his bike and earning 16 stitches. On Lion’s Head a few days later a Swedish tourist was stabbed and robbed. Another biker told the Cape Times he had been attacked twice this December, just above Rhodes Memorial.

Somewhere in between all of this, a friend of mine skidded to a halt, almost flying over his handlebars, as two gentlemen launched themselves from the bushes, also above Rhodes Memorial. They shoved a blade at his belly, demanding his phone, wallet and iPod. They took his shoes too, which happen to hold the prosthetics he needs to support his somewhat gammy legs, and then they slashed his front tyre, leaving him to hobble slowly down the mountain on his own, in the dark. The idiots left behind his mega-expensive bike and the GPS strapped to his handlebar.

So it is with a sense of inevitably that I skirt the slopes of Devil’s Peak most mornings, vigilantly scanning every bush and boulder up ahead, my hand periodically reaching for the can of pepper spray velcroed to my bike. I’ve even taken to road riding as I feel the hit-and-run stats sound more appealing than the mountain-mugging stats.

I was pleased one morning as I peddled up Signal Hill and saw a Table Mountain National Park official drive past me in his bush-green bakkie. Having turned around a few minutes later, he passed me again coming from the other direction. I smiled and waved, but he stared stonily from under his hat.

Arriving at the parking lot at the top of the road, I headed for the narrow gravel path that runs back along Signal Hill’s spine. The sign says things like, no dogs, no camping, no fires, no loud music and so on. What it doesn’t say is “no bikes”.

I bounced and clattered along the path, gazing out over Sea Point where waves gently wrapped around the rocks and the traffic began to hum. It was still early and no one else was using the path.

As I approached Mr Malherbe’s house near the top of the hill, I heard the frenzied woofing of his dogs, and I guessed the park ranger was nearby. Thick as I am, it never occurred to me that I shouldn’t be riding there until I rounded a bend and saw the ranger squarely straddling the path.

He held a fist to each hip. One gripped a pair of handcuffs, the other pawed at an extendable metal baton. His face remained set. It swiftly dawned that I shouldn’t be there.

Have there been any attacks of late, I asked as he drove me down to the nearest SANParks office: “Yes. There was one last Tuesday.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “Was it reported in the papers?”

Nope, he said. “We don’t want to advertise (the attacks).” But he assured me there were eye-witnesses and they expected to catch the muggers soon.

That was in about November. This month SANParks officials were quoted in newspapers saying no arrests have been made, but they have stepped up mountain patrols as a short-term solution.

Curiously, between my R500 fine and Saturday morning — when I wrote most of this — I had not seen one park official, and I ride up there a lot, along every single little bit of rideable track (the legal ones, I swear) between Signal Hill and the old zoo next to UCT.

Wondering whether I should foist this long meandering blog onto readers, I decided to go for a ride on Saturday — as I do every day (39 days, eight hours to go). At 14:30, as I rounded what I consider to be Bandit Bend with my pepper spray held between my teeth, I nearly fell over when I saw two big round eyes staring at me from a bush. Gaining some composure, I realised they belonged to a large Alsatian with a thick shiny coat. He was tied to a branch. I circled back and spotted a body lying in the grass. Circling again I came in for a closer inspection.

Alongside the body, which was dressed in dark green fatigues, lay a radio and a pair of binoculars. It appeared to be alive as the chest moved up and down, ever so slowly. As I considered whether or not to photograph the scene, the man began to swipe at his nose.

“Hello.”

“Hmgph.”

“Looking out for muggers are you?”

“Yes,” he smiled.

It was at about that point that the Alsatian launched itself for my face, only to be stymied by its leash.

“Justice! No!” the man roared as I scuttled off, pepper spray clenched firmly between my teeth. I may still need it (39 day, 7 hours).