Monday, June 25, 2012

The neighbourhood dogs: a rating system

When doing runs around the local suburbs, there are only a few things I invariably stop running for. One of those things is obviously traffic (duh). Another is house alarms. If I hear an alarm go off in my proximity, I freak the fuck out and immediately stop running for fear that (a) some authority will see me running and assume that I'm an escaping criminal and (b) actually, no really, that's about it.

Then there's dogs. Dogs give me the same fear that house alarms do, except in this case the dogs are both the alarm and the authority and they probably spend many restless nights in their kennels thinking of new ways to afford me an excruciatingly painful death.

Presented without comment.

I am not a dog person. That's not saying that I have an unusual fear of dogs or anything. I'm just wary of the ones that leap up at you and pound against the fence in a 50kg blur of toothy froth and fury, spit and blood flying at you in menacing globs as they bellow out a string of barks so forceful and so murderous that you cannot help but think (in your final moments of pain and terror) that the three-headed hell hound of legend begat some mortal offspring just so that these creatures could one day meet you and drag you back to hell with them, kicking and screaming and drowning in your own blood.

So I decided to rate some of the dog encounters I've had in my City Bowl meanderings. I'm not going to talk specifics, since I fully believe that half of my reader base are hardened criminals. Instead, I'll remain suitably vague, and draft in the first images I find off Google searches. Each dog will also come with a rating of 1-10, where 10 is hell-squared levels of crazy and 1 is a miserable yapping puffball that just pissed itself barking at your ankles.

This should be cool.

Case study #1: The German Shepherd
Image search: "german shepherd"
Scariness rating: 8

It's quite apt that this is the first image Google brings up, because this is the most common view I have of the one I know. I'm sure that there's a face hiding behind the jaws somewhere, but I've never been able to confirm it.

The first time I saw this dog, it was quite peacefully minding its own business on the pavement just outside the house while its owners were unloading something or another from their car. I walked past unmolested, only to be shocked when, approximately 0.068 seconds later, the dog's entire general attitude shifted from amiable mutt to get the fuck off my lawn levels of slathering toothy fury. Fortunately, this swing only happened after it was locked behind a gate.

Now on the one hand: the dog didn't attack me while outside. So hey, maybe not that scary. But on the other: wow, mood swing of the century. And there's always the simple, horrifying possibility that the dog hadn't noticed me until just then. Shudder.

Case study #2: Roof Dog
Image search: "roof dog"
Scariness rating: 6

I cannot remember offhand what breed Roof Dog was. It wasn't a big dog, to be sure, and it seemed docile enough to allow safe passage on the sidewalk. That said, how safe can you ever actually feel when there's a mutt looking down on you from the perfect murder perch just a few metres away? No barriers, either. At any moment, that brute could choose to launch itself at my head like some Alien-style facehugger (albeit with less extraterrestrial wang and more angry canine teeth), which is a slightly unsettling prospect.

And now you will permanently associate that thought with the image of alien wang, so you're welcome.

Quick google-related fact: the search that led me to this picture revealed that "roof dogs" are actually a pretty common thing in Mexico, where they often serve as sentinels in crowded living spaces. There's no front or back yards attached to the houses, so the (often flat) roofs serve as home. Yep, my blog is educational.

Case study #3: Fuck Yeah, Border Collies!
Image search: "fuck yeah border collies"
Scariness rating: 4

Upon googling this image, I was delighted to find that there was already a Tumblr called Fuck Yeah Border Collies. I think this little discovery just made my entire week.

There's a couple of border collies in one of the houses who bark at me rather vehemently whenever I see them. They certainly look like they mean business, but they always remind me of the lovely, gentle border collie I had as a kid. His name was Badger -- an odd-one-out in the litter with some weird reverse colouring and a playful attitude. Sweetest animal ever. Could chase a mean tennisball back in his day, too.

Border collies are hands-down the loveliest dogs around. And while I'm sure that this particular pack would cheerfully tear me apart and feast upon my innards if I even set so much as a foot inside the property, I like to think that I would die with a happy, half-knowing smile on my face.

Case study #4: The Yorkshire Terriers
Image search: "yapping little rat yorkshire"
Scariness rating: AAAHAHAHAHA

I really do have to suppress laughter every time I see these fluffy little shits in action. Despite the fact that their most radical security feature involves being loud and obnoxious to no end, they still have the nerve to crowd up against their gate in a heartwarming attempt to frighten me off, like a bunch of wannabe bouncers protecting the annual meeting of the Especially Harmless Knitting Club.

In a post which has admittedly described canine violence more often than the rest of this blog put together, I am relieved to say that I fear nothing of these walking toilet brushes. Well, aside from the very real and ever-present terror that I'll accidentally step on one some day. That would be horrible, messy and awkward to explain.

Case study #5: The Ghost Dog
Image search: "ghost dog"
Scariness rating: ???

First of all: wow, yeah, so apparently Ghost Dog is a movie about ... well, jeez, just check out the Wikipedia entry. Weird stuff.

So I have a special phantom canine in my neighbourhood. I say this because I have never seen it, but I know it's there. I guess that means it's the closest thing I have to a god right now. Ghost Dog exists somewhere behind a thick green hedge that I often walk past while doing the whole work commute thing.

This one is quite subtly the most sinister of the whole bunch. Nine times out of ten, walking past the hedge goes without ceremony. But on the tenth pass (often at night, usually as close to the witching hour as possible), the neighbourhood will, for no good reason, spontaneously exchange its eerie quiet for a sudden, somehow directionless bark, always at the precise moment when you are most off-guard. A second or two will pass, followed by a brief but terrifying eruption of deafening dog noises -- just long enough to shoot ice-cold daggers of terror into your soul.

Then the night returns to silence just as quickly, and through the hedges you think you may -- or may not -- hear the rustling of some large creature stalking you. But you'll never know for certain, and you'll never see it. Not until it gets you. Ghost Dog exists to take you by surprise, to remain threatening but unseen ... a valuable reminder that there are always things in life, great and dark and terrible, which even science could not hope to fathom or explain.

Beware of Ghost Dog.

In summary:

Cats and goats, people. The only animals you'll ever need. Dogs are entertaining and diverse creatures, but for the most part I encounter them as noisy, angry creatures who do their damned best to tell me to fuck off whenever I'm around. Not someone I'd be likely to hire after a job interview, though admittedly interviewing a dog is kinda weird in the first place.

In contrast, neighbourhood cats are great at two things: (1) looking adorable and elusive and (2) occasionally extending enough friendliness to come out and rub themselves on your legs or roll onto their tummies. It's a rare and heartwarming experience to come across a local cat, and such occasions are invariably cherished.

I do not see many goats in my neighbourhood, but I'd be pleasantly surprised to come across one some day. If you find any, let me know.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Daily Walk

I mentioned recently that I've moved to my own place in Vredehoek. It's really nice and stuff. Of course, now that I no longer live in my office, the work commute takes a little longer than rolling off the mattress and crawling to my PC every morning (or afternoon, whatever).

Although I'm occasionally working from home, I still walk/bus a regular route that takes me approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes door-to-door (got it down to a science, naturally). That's about two-and-a-half Scooters pizza deliveries, if that's your primary method of measuring time for some reason.

It's surprisingly neat, actually. Living alone has thus far had its fair share of ups and downs, but I really do enjoy the merry little expedition to my job. I decided to record one of my commutes to give you a better idea of what's involved.

Fuck yeah, rainbow!

The first thing I do is leave my living quarters and start winding through my suburb. Vredehoek is basically wedged up the side of Table Mountain, so there's a lot of hills and pain and stuff. Good training for runners. The peak in the above picture is Lion's Head -- it looks like a slightly skew nipple.

Fuck yeah, nipples!

It takes me approximately 15-20 minutes to get to the bus stop -- speed generally depending on how likely it is that I'll miss the next ride. I go downhill most of the way (not so much luck on the return journey) and generally stay in suburban paradise for quite a while. There's even a pretty section with trees and cobblestones and stuff. If you're lucky, you might even see a squirrel -- which is awesome*.

Fuck yeah ... er, cobblestones.

If you can tell by the picture -- it spontaneously began raining about halfway to the bus on this particular day. Weather is a rather tricky customer on the side of the mountain: sometimes, you'll wake up in the middle of a low-lying cloud and stumble through the Silent Hill-style world until you hit the bottom of the slope and emerge in a day of almost completely clear skies. On other mornings, you'll start your expedition in the bright blue and get hit by a mild storm ten minutes later because one sneaky little bugger of a cloud was hiding behind the mountain all along. Though to make up for it, the mountain gods tend to throw up rainbows faster than a unicorn eating a box of crayons.


The above shot marks the end point of my initial stretch. If you squint really closely, you'll see a little bluish blob far down the street. That's my bus stop, with a bus occupying it. This is a rather harrowing part of the expedition and I'm never quite sure how it goes. You know that thing with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle in quantum physics? Yeah, I'm not saying the bus system is like that, I'm just asking you to get your head around a freakish scientific concept before you even try understanding the rules for the MyCiti bus routes. The bus waiting at the stop way over there can mean one of any number of things: I may be five minutes early, yet have mere seconds to haul ass down to the stop before it disappears. Or maybe I'm five minutes late, yet somehow have the time to amble over in good time and plonk myself onto public transport.

MyCiti bus innards. Note the douchebag up front wearing tight red pants.

On this day, I was rather lucky. After the most maddening bus sprint imaginable (minus a few moments of careful picture-taking), I managed to clamber on board. I spent roughly five minutes feeling a little stupid as the bus continued to wait at the stop, though I'm pretty sure none of the other passengers noticed me panting, sweating, fussing and crying. Maybe.

MyCiti is a fairly modern bus system. Heck, it's only been around for just over a year now. The ticket system is one of those fancy swipey-electro-bus-ATM things with the magnetic card magic (science!). It costs me R5 to get a quick trip to the Civic Centre stop, taking me through the Cape Town CBD.

You can practically taste the corporation!

Cape Town actually has one of the nicest business centrals in existence, and I should really have taken more shots of it (problem being bus window glare, et cetera). You don't feel like you're walking through some cold and imposing urbania at all -- it's a living, breathing collection of colourful, interesting and not-depressing-at-all people and places. Also, being one of the oldest settlements in South Africa affords it a lot of really old and pretty buildings that I didn't take pictures of. Pretty spacious, too.

Fuck yeah, bus central!

At Civic Centre, I typically hop onto a new bus and -- depending on how the transport gods feel -- wait between thirty seconds and ten minutes for my bus to depart to Table View -- a journey that will take just over half an hour. This day turned out to be a long wait, so I whipped out my latest reading material.

Fuck yeah, Game of Thrones / Song of Ice and Fire! Note the tight red pants.

In a rather weird way, this is what I appreciate most about bus trips. In recent years, I've not been reading too many good books -- if I'm inclined to dive into written stuff, I usually go on a Wikipedia safari or read online articles. But as I own neither a smart phone, tablet gadget or random whodingummy that you kids love using nowadays, basically the only thing I'm armed with as a pastime is a good book. It's great: I tear through one of these every two weeks and actually have a little discipline regime in place to make sure that I don't read too much outside of bus trips (hey, two to three new books a month can be expensive!).

Office stop!

This is a picture taken just before my bus stop in Table View, outside the Bayside Mall. It's the end of the line, which is a relief because bus employees seem to be quite mindful of people who -- nose in book -- will occasionally forget to haul themselves off the bus.

When getting off at Table View, one thing to note is that it's pretty fucking flat -- one gets the terrible feeling that this will be the first place to go when the sea god's terrible wrath is unleashed some day. Back when I first started running and stuff, I would train in the neighbourhood around Table View. There's one pisspoor hill in the middle of it all, and I remember how much hell it used to give me.

Just look at that monster! That's a slight upward incline, I promise.

Table View is everything that Vredehoek isn't, so it's a nice daily contrast. And the view is arguably excellent, which is good because there's a damn "View" just in the name and it would be a massive disappointment if there wasn't much to look at.

Faint mountain in the distance? I totally live there.

To get to my place of work, I go past a large lake wetland thingy. I'm often stumbling into some local wildlife, and it feels really weird chasing the occasional guineafowl out of the way while walking along a major road. Not quite as omigod-squee!-inducing as the squirrels in Vredehoek, but the sightings are much more common.

After a day of work, I'll do everything in reverse and clamber off at the Gardens Centre bus stop again.

Fuck yeah, malls!

If I get back to home turf before 7pm (which I usually strive for nowadays), this is where I do my evening grocery shopping before hoofing it back up the mountain. There's less visual appeal at this point. I usually walk home in the dark -- especially given the new winter hours -- and I'm often walking as fast as I can without taking stupid ol' blog pictures because (1) my cellphone camera shows nothing but black smears at this point and (2) holy crap it's getting cold.

Seen at the local Pick 'n Pay. Guess they're Game of Thrones fans as well.

So that's my weekday ritual. Hopefully, with a little bit of bravery and dedication, I'm gonna start running this route because I'm training up for a half-marathon later this year. More likely, however, I'm gonna start running this route because I woke up half an hour late and oh crap is that the bus leaving already?

Good times.

*I'll actually try dedicate an entire blog post to the neighbourhood squirrels sometime, they're a bunch of fluffy-tailed little badasses.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Facts about mountains, pt 2

Recently, a running buddy and I decided to hike up Table Mountain. In a show of fitness, bravado and general I'm-better-than-you exercise initiatives, this hike was also going to involve jogging. My previous mountaineering post mostly drew from a walk that I took up Lion's Head at the time, but Table Mountain and its surrounding environs offer so many more important and fascinating mountain facts that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to relate a few:

Fact 1: Never, ever, ever jog up a mountain

Holy crap, I have never regretted any decision more in my life, and that includes the time I bought a packet of wasabi-coated peanuts thinking that they'd actually be delicious (even during my end-of-month scrimp 'n starve period, I still threw them away rather than eating them). Jogging uphill in the local neighbourhood seems to be somewhat less taxing than hoofing it up mother nature's back acne.

A less romantic way to describe the view, but it'll do.

Being the sort of guy who's been training (poorly) for his first half-marathon race, I reckoned that it would be safe enough for me to jog short distances at a time whenever the path was flat and wide enough. Turns out that I didn't consider just how much my body would hate me for doing a walking recovery while continuing uphill. Even the Constantia Nek jeep track -- one of the gentler paths up the mountain -- was murderous enough at anything more than a brisk trot.

The top of the mountain doesn't get much better, despite the fact that it LOOKS flat enough from the outside. Most approaches to the mountain's high point involve a pretty consistent uphill march, with occasional false hope presented in temporary dips and flats. If this mountain really is comparable to a table, somebody did a horrific job of sanding down its surface.

The trails on the top are as varied as the ones on the way up -- some are broad, flattish, well-defined paths while others tend to be almost invisible and go through the more adventurous region. It takes a good while to explore them all.

Fact 2: If you ARE jogging, never slow down around others

If you're running along a trail and you've just about to hit blinking red on your stamina bar, there is literally nothing worse to see around the next bend than a happy family taking a mountain stroll. Further horror if you meet older runners who are going faster than you. At that point, I'd rather take a faceslap from a roaming mountain bear* than take a break while I'm in the field of view.

The unyielding gaze of contempt.

Stopping to rest where other mountain explorers can see you spells almost certain doom. If you do not consistently present the view of a fit and healthy jogger, they will remember your show of weakness. The children will chortle about you while eating picnic sandwiches, old people will hit you with their shame-rays and most responsible adults will call the police and have you arrested (as they rightly should).

Fact 3: Don't start forest fires

On lower mountain trails around the Constantia area, you'll occasionally find some fire extinguishers helpfully nailed to nearby trees. Don't be fooled! On further inspection, you'll notice that they're actually just painted lumps of wood. Really.

I forgot to take a picture, so I drew this one.

I had to have someone else point out to me that these were fakes. They're part of an awareness campaign about fire hazards in the area, which is a super helpful reminder even to people who may somehow believe that they're real. I don't know what's scarier: the fact that I'm so easily fooled, or how badly I'd have been screwed if I ran into an actual fire.

Fact 4: Once you reach the top, the mountain has no power over you

This is true. You are immune to fire, fall damage, dassie attacks** and Negative Energy. You may safely rest at the top, then descend the mountain while ignoring all important warnings.

Celebratory Conquest Egg Sandwich

Maclear's Beacon is a pile o' rocks marking the highest point on Table Mountain: 1085m up. So that's about a kilometre closer to outer space when you think about it. And the silence at the top is absolutely astounding. If you're not plagued by rain or pesky tourists, you can sit at the base of that rockpile and occasionally get an earful of absolutely nothing. What's quite astounding -- particularly when you spend enough time living in the city around the mountain -- is realising how rare such a deep silence actually is.

This is my victory face. The beard started growing as soon as I sat down.

It's a lovely little landmark and a great halfway resting point. It's reassuring to think that the hardest part is over with by this point.


So, you got a fair bit of exercise while going up those hills, and now you reckon you'll just slide down Skeleton Gorge and enjoy the smooth sailing of a mountain descent.

No kidding, "Skeleton Gorge" is an actual trail name.

But if your legs are sufficiently tired, you're gonna get the shakes in 'em before too long. And if you're navigating sufficiently steep/uncertain terrain, you're going to have some epically powerful joint impact stuff happening to you (insert whatever science necessary over here). It's actually this part of the journey that's going to verifiably rob you of basic leg functions for a week. Say goodbye to stairs, raised platforms and slightly uneven floorboards.

Taking the path down Skeleton Gorge *at all* can be risky under the wrong conditions (if the hint wasn't in the damn name already). The gorge sports a rather lovely mountain river that's a trickle in some parts of the year and a torrent in others. There's some amusing sections involving ladder climbing for particularly steep bits, but ultimately you're following a little stream pretty closely for a good chunk of the gorge descent and occasionally even crossing it -- and if Ghostbusters has taught us anything, it's that crossing streams is always an overwhelmingly dangerous idea. In this case, it makes for some ferociously slippery rocks and awkward splashy situations. Compound that with shoogly, exhausted leggies and you have a recipe for Uh Oh.

Get to the bottom, however, and you'll feel like a champion.

Fact 6: Instalamb!

Instalamb! It's like Instagram, but with more lamb. Who wants to make this a thing? It'll be awesome, I swear.

Anyway, enough mountain stuff for now. Peace out.

* Table Mountain admittedly has no bears. And surprisingly few sharks.
** Sadly, though more plausible than bears, one rarely sees dassies anymore. And never enough to form a decent attack formation.