Killing time constructively: Roadtripping by (and with) the book

"I was not looking for leisure reading… at least, not in the accepted sense. I was looking for something with which I could kill a couple of hours in a basement."


One evening this week, sitting on the stoep of the Social Eatery at Knysna Hollow, quaffing a local Red Bridge Lager and slurping mussels, I had a mini-Eureka moment; “I’ll get a book from the hotel’s library!” I’m sure many of you remember days browsing bookshops for paperbacks to take along on your vacations. Reviews coined the phrase “holiday reading” to describe books you could read and discard, and just about every small hotel, guesthouse or B&B you visit boasts bookcases with the novels guests have jettisoned on departure.

I was not looking for leisure reading… at least, not in the accepted sense. I was looking for something with which I could kill a couple of hours in a basement. Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

I was on the Garden Route to interview a gentleman named Paul Tops, believed to have been the first motorcycle rider to have traversed Africa bottom to top when, in 1967, he set out from Cape and ended up in Norway on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Petrol stations were not nearly as ubiquitous as they are now and I was sure Paul had planned his journey very carefully.

Half a century later and the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same” came to mind when I left Stellenbosch on a much shorter journey in the new Volvo CX40 Recharge.

The Volvo is a “pure” electric vehicle (EV), you see. Roadtripping with an EV requires very careful planning. They have a relatively short range (just like Paul’s BMW R9S two-wheeler) and the network of recharging stations in South Africa is hugely under-developed. You can’t just pull in to the next Shell, BP or whatever for a top-up or splash-and-go. You actually have to structure your journey around where you are able to recharge the car’s battery… not unlike in Paul’s transAfrica days. You can plot the whereabouts of recharging stations through such aids as Volvo’s on-board computer, which has realtime access to Google Maps, and/ or have downloaded the requisite app on your smartphone.

ALSO READ: Escape to Storms River: A surprising Garden Route oasis

The proponents of EVs tell you ownership makes you a good person. They neglect to inform you, however, they are literally a monumental waste of time. I’d arrived in Knysna just after 6pm the previous evening after leaving Franschhoek at 7.30 in the morning. It was a five-hour journey dragged out to an interminable 11; the difference because of the need to charge the car along the way. Matters are further complicated by the fact that you get A/C (slow) or D/C (fast) chargers.

“Fast” is relative: the rule of thumb is you can write off a minimum of two hours while the charger and your battery do their thing. Slow-charging is (at the very least) an overnight process. Recharge facilities are usually located at filling stations or in the underground parking at shopping malls. This allows you to distract yourself for a while but you can stretch a Wimpy breakfast only so long and, for most of us boys, shopping has limited appeal.

In Knysna, I found myself at the mall recharging station long before the shops opened. I became something of a regular and shopowners arriving for work nodded as they walked past. By Day Two, I had the process waxed. Not only was I deep into my book, I’d had the foresight to bring a flask of coffee. Still, it wasn’t how I planned my spending time in Eden. If I had to be awake at 6am, then I wanted to be watching the sun come up over the lagoon.

NOW SEE: LISTEN: Still a way to go for electric vehicles

Read more on these topics

books Local Travel Tourist

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits