First published on the Relais & Châteaux Africa blog.
No matter how many times I get on a bicycle and head out on city streets or country roads or mountains trails, it is always Einstein I see. With his big lawless mop of white hair and his goofy “spent too much time in the lab” smile. And I hear his words about how cycling is just like life. “To keep your balance, you must keep moving,” the great physicist said.
It’s useful advice should you ever forget how to ride a bicycle, or, simply, how to do life. How to keep your balance in the continuous play.
You truly feel this balance when you’ve conquered something, like incline after incline, and when the smooth ride of the flats leads into a fast and glorious downward soar. It’s a feeling that is all the stronger when out in the wilderness, in big sky country like Kenya’s Chyulu Hills at ol Donyo Lodge.
Here, vast stretches of uninterrupted land surround you in every direction. Wild animals roam beside cattle and their Maasai herders – cheetah and lion, wildebeest and elephant.
Perhaps the most profound part about getting on that bicycle in a wild terrain like this is knowing that animals are out and about, while you move among them on two wheels.
The joy is in being closer to the land – as compared to game drives – and in finding yourself looking up at a journey of giraffe only metres away from where you stand. Because, needless to say, you will have to stop at some point and just take it all in.
The joy is in being able to move your body, your legs, and to feel not merely like a bystander, an onlooker, but a player, a member.
Our guides knew just where to lead us, along the sandy paths in the flat scrubland. We followed them to a giant boulder beside a thick canopy of trees (definitely a good place for a big cat, considering the bones scattered below) to catch the last rays of the day shining through an unruly swathe of clouds that looked for a moment like wild-haired Einstein staring right back at us, reminding us. Keep going, never give up.
The guides knew where to find the magic but they also knew how to keep us safe. In addition to that, it is said that due to decades of Maasai roaming the plains and living in and around the wilderness here, the predators have become used to people – used to knowing that they should stay away. On foot, they recognise us, but climb on a horse or into a game vehicle and watch the dynamics change.
We all ride for different reasons – some of us simply for exercise, for fitness, and some for that intense feeling of being alive. Alive among lions, giraffe and zebra, well that’s even better.
Discover more about ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya here.