A crooked broken finger, shins covered with scars, being bumped by cars or being mugged. These are all injuries and traumatic events Karen Watkins has experienced, yet this cyclist is adamant she will cycle until her last day. Karen is a familiar face along Cape Town CBD streets and Woodstock main road.
That’s because she has been cycling almost daily, to and from work in the CBD where she works as a photojournalist for the Constantiaberg Bulletin and her home in Woodstock for 17 years.
You would’ve also spotted her at cycling events across Cape Town, hiking adventures or climbing up the beautiful Cape mountains, adventure is all in a day’s work for this mountaineer. So much so that she wrote three books dedicated to her adventures, Adventure Walks & Scrambles in the Cape Peninsula, published in 2003, Adventure Hikes in the Cape Peninsula, released in 2010 and Off the Beaten Track, self published in 2012. It’s safe to say, she knows some of the best cycling routes.
Having started cycling from a very young age, cycling still tops the list of her favourite things to do, for two reasons, to get some exercise and reduce her carbon footprint.
“Cut me and I bleed green, I reduce, re-use and recycle at home, work and in my road, save water and electricity. I try to do some type of exercise every day – cycling, kayaking, running, I’ve done 130 Parkruns, swimming around Silvermine dam or 10 laps without touching the side at Trafalgar pool and hiking,” she says.
“As for cycling, I love the freedom of it, being able to smell plants, the sea air while getting all over exercise. And I can do it anywhere in the world. I’ve loved visiting nephews in England and returning them to their mothers covered in mud and with flat tyres. Wine-tasting in Armenia and Croatia, cycling the Cape Camino from Constantia to Muizenberg, Salt River street art, West Coast flower spotting and more.”
Karen’s body has paid the price for these adventures and has the scars to show, “From a crooked broken finger after a truck reversed into me – I’m sure he had no idea that I fainted, to scar covered shins from vehicles getting too close. Near- misses have knocked my confidence but it’s important to get back on the bike as soon as possible.”
“I was mugged after joining a bike train in Woodstock picking others up on the way to Langa. It was on the return journey that three men jumped us and took two bikes and whatever else they could. I chased after the thieves and noticed they had a panga. We got the bikes back and my camera but not my house keys, notebook and cellphone,” she adds.
At this point, only extremely long rides under unfavourable conditions get this tough cookie feeling a little stiff, such as a ride in Robertson with two friends to Bonnievale, 68km in 32deg C. She’s participated in the Argus Cycle Tour six times.
“I will cycle until I die. The last time I did the race was with my son Craig. Near Scarborough we watched bicycles fall like dominoes, silently and as quickly everyone got up and moved on except for a woman. We couldn’t cross the road with oncoming bikes so we reported it at the next stop. But Craig’s look at me gave a clear message. It’s unlikely I’ll do another one,” she notes.
Once she plucked up the courage to join the Naked Bike Ride which runs the day before the Argus to raise awareness of how urban cyclists feel on the roads.
“Arriving at the start point Prestwick memorial with my bike in the car, I took it out, a puncture. I drove to a bike shop in Loop Street which was busy with last-minute bike tweaking for riders taking part in the Argus. Standing my ground I told them my puncture was urgent. Mentally tapping my foot, I saw two guys looking me up and down and I realised I was almost naked.”
She advised those who would like to take up cycling to use routes with cycle lanes and added that one needs to be psychic and guess what drives are going to do, concentrate, keep in the gutter and wear bright colours.
One knows better than to ask a lady her age, but with Karen you can’t help but wonder but, “20 going on 50-somethings.” is all Karen says before she giggles it off.
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