Regular writer, Kath Fourie recently met up with top female rider and artist, Karen Fortune.

Once upon a time I was churning along a sluggish wet river bank during a race, and there was a slight blonde lady in front of me. I had seen her at a couple of races, I knew her by face but not by name so I said: “Hey there, how’s your race going?” The pixie-like individual turned her head and said “Hey, ja this is hard work. And I fell in the river, like under water, my friend had to pull me out. How’s your day going?”

Karen Fortune

I found out that the feisty little pixie’s name was Karen Fortune, as I saw her face appearing at Enduro races and podiuming in the Vet category, and then the Masters category. But the day I really learned who Karen Fortune was, I saw a photo on Facebook that she posted of Giba Gorge, sunlight streaming through the forest canopy onto a trail. Except it wasn’t a photo, on squinting and looking harder – it was a painting. I clicked through to her album of paintings and I couldn’t believe the incredible art work I was seeing. My fascination was cracked wide open: this hard-core, fearless, river-plunging, frozen tequila smashing, kilometre crunching woman was a fine artist with a super soft heart.

Now an ambassador for Liv and Cyclesphere living in Durban, I figured it was high time that other people had an opportunity to get to know Karen a little better:

Kath: Karen, let’s warm up with an easy one – tell us how old you are, and what your favourite food and drinks are … my guess is frozen tequila, coffee and Castle Lite …

Karen: I am 51! (Yikes, that sounds old!) My favourite food would have to be any good artisan pizza or macaroni cheese. I’m clearly not one for watching calories, hee-hee. Drink lots of water followed closely by coffee and yes frozen tequila daily … but only the gold one and it must live in the freezer!

Kath: Can you tell me how you became a fine artist?

Karen: I have always had a crayon or a paint brush in my hand for as far back as I can remember. My mother showed me an old Dr Seuss book of mine the other day which had been radically re-illustrated by me, with crayons when I was about seven or eight. I don’t think I was influenced by anyone in particular. Drawing, painting and creating have just always been part of my life.

One of Karen’s paintings

Kath: Have you always been an artist? Who are some of your clients that readers may know?

Karen: There was no exact time when I “became” an artist. Like I said, it was always just part of me. I studied art at school but never really enjoyed it as a subject. I never stopped drawing and painting even when I was travelling overseas. I lived in Iceland for three years where I worked as a fish packer, and I painted on fish packing boxes as there was not much available in the little village where I worked. Actually, Iceland was where I sold my first paintings.

I don’t really know the people who buy my work as its always been sold mostly through galleries. I do know I have paintings hanging in homes, corporate offices, banks and embassies in South Africa and all over the world.

Kath: What is your favourite subject to paint?

Karen: My favourite subject matter is always old buildings and our local spaza shops and sometimes interesting landscapes. I love to pop a bicycle into a painting when I can.

Kath: When did you start riding bikes?

Karen: I grew up with brothers so riding a bike was not a new thing for me, but before mountain biking I got seriously into rollerblading. Friends tried for years to get me to enter a mountain bike race but I wasn’t really that interested. Eventually race day did arrive and I was hooked. I started on a little 26er with v-brakes and progressed from there. Rollerblading skills helped a lot although I did spend more time on the ground than on my bike. I eventually joined the Giba Gals ladies riding group at Giba Gorge and that is where I learnt so much. There are more and more ladies getting out there on bikes!

Kath: Why is riding so important to you? What does it give you now in your life that helps you tick?

Karen: Riding clears my head, frees my mind, allows me to forget about all my worries and hassles, keeps me fit and is the gateway to meeting amazing people. Riding and the friends I met on my bike kept me sane through a horrible divorce and many other life dramas. To hop on my bike and just ride with no plan is my favourite thing ever. My bike also takes me places where a car can never go and I get so much inspiration for my painting. I find all kinds of interesting material out there on the trails, cow tracks or no trails sometimes. If I don’t ride at least every second day I feel like losing my mind. In the crazy world we live in today, we all need an “out”.

Kath: How have you progressed in your riding and developed as a rider?

Karen: I love going to races. It’s all about the vibe, the people, the fun on the trail and the pain and being able to push through it. I love going for my 3am ride on the road, in the darkness, where I can just be anybody or nobody for a few hours. I ride a mountain bike on the road as I feel safer knowing I can hop onto a pavement at any time. Last year I started to feel like there must be more to riding than just races. I entered a few Enduros and absolutely loved the format. A totally different kind of fun. Through that I met people who were jumping off ramps and pallets and rocks and I started to wonder if I would be able to do it. I had lots of help and advice from guys at Giba and they soon had me hopping off all kinds of things. It is totally addictive and such an adrenaline rush. The high I get after a morning out jumping at Giba is just the best. I’m very happy to see a lot more gals of all ages getting into Enduro and finding the fun jumping their bikes. Better than the best human therapist!

Kath: You now ride for Liv as an Ambassador – what do you want to achieve personally as an ambassador?

Karen: I’m very proud to be a Liv ambassador. I love the ladies’ Giant brand; the bikes are beautiful and so is all the Liv gear. I have the Liv Pique Advanced and she is awesome. She handles so much more than I would have thought possible of a XC bike. She is like a little frisky race horse and did take me a while to get used to I must admit. She is so fast and light I felt as if she was racing away from me and I was just hanging on for dear life. We are now one and have the best fun together!

Thanks Karen, you’re a mad inspiration to me both on and off the bike! #HowWeLiv!

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