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By Gray Braatvedt
Last year I promised that if I did a sub-3 Shova on my road bike I would do it this year on my unicycle. When I snuck in at 2:57:10 I was elated … until I remembered my promise, and suddenly a bit of angst set in.
I roped in my good friend and fellow unicyclist, Shaun Murphy and together we set our minds on the challenge of doing the 2016 Tsogo Sun Amashova – 106km from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. We contacted the organisers to see if they would allow such madness on the course (secretly hoping they would say no). Not only did they allow us, but they went out of their way to accommodate us and the cause we were riding for, auSOMEtism.
And so it was that Shaun and I found ourselves on the start line outside the Pmb town hall at 06h35, 10 minutes ahead of the pro/elite group, staring down an open piece of road with the daunting task of 106km ahead of us.
I haven’t mastered the art of launching the 36” wheel properly and often need 3 or 4 attempts to get going. The added pressure of TV, photographers, announcers and all the pro’s looking on was a recipe for an epic fail going viral on YouTube. My BMT shone through and I mounted the Yardbird like a boss. 1st attempt and I was rolling.
For about 10km the Shova was officially led by two unicyclists. Once over the big F-word; Fox Hill – a 13km climb designed to hurt a unicyclist, I got into cruise mode and was making excellent time all the way to Cato Ridge – and then the wheel came off. Something jammed my brake and one moment I was cruising at 22kph, and the next instant I was flung on the tar like a child tossing a rag doll in a temper tantrum. Bruised, bloodied and a bit shaken, I never quite regained my rhythm or confidence. My disk brake was not working quite as well as it could have and I still had the downhills of Drummond, Botha’s and Field’s to negotiate. None was easy.
It was never going to be a walk in the park and the last 20km proved to be very challenging. The wind had picked up by the time I hit the city bowl and the swirling gusts between the buildings almost undid me again. It was great having my son Rivers come riding out to meet me at Tollgate bridge and keep me company for the last couple of agonising kilometres.
Crossing the line just shy of 6 ½ hours to the applause of the crowd lifted the spirits and then discovering that the whole East Coast Cycling Club had waited for me to arrive at the hospitality tent was especially touching. Shaun had his own tales of attrition as he battled through loose cranks, cramps and saddle vs buttocks to finish in 7:08.
It’s amazing how quickly the thoughts of pain fade, only to be replaced by the awesome moments of African life captured in the indelible film of ones memory;
- The three herd boys who tried to race me with their puppy barking madly
- The sun lighting the spring green slopes in the Valley of a Thousand Hills
- The cries of “Shovashova” (isiZulu meaning ‘push push’ as you pump the pedals) from the road side
- The teenager who pointed me out to her parents and then could have died when I waved back
- The rural special needs children lined up on the side of the road in Cato Ridge
- And of course, the huge generosity shown by so many people in donations towards the auSOMEtism NPO.
Next year I’ll go for a sub-6.
If you would like to donate to this worthy cause go to www.ausometism.co.za
By Owen Venter
With corrections and slight elaborations by Donna Kisogloo. The core of Owen’s write up is rad as…. and I’ve tried to not interfere too much.
I’m a 14 year old who can’t live without his unicycle. I’ve been unicycling all by myself in Limpopo for about 6 months. I think the loneliness started getting to me so I went onto just about “the only” unicycle website I know of in South Africa, www.oddwheel.co.za. There I found my way to the events tab. After pages of events all saying location: Cape Town, I saw a picture of a rhino on a unicycle with the title: UniDaba 2012. This is where it all started.
It looked like it was a ball, even though the event was 2400km from my home town of Louis Trichardt. I was keen, super keen! I then spent the next few hours Whatsapping and posting on Facebook to find out if anyone knew if there was going to be another UniDaba? The next morning I saw a reply and from there onward the date, location and all the rest were organized!
About a year later, I was finding a way to fit a unicycle into a bag with all my other clothes. I did’nt know what to expect of UniDaba but from all the chirps and funny comments on the Whatsapp group I knew there would never be a boring moment and there wasn’t!
On the first day we kicked off early at the Bike Park on the Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate. This was my first time meeting everyone where I wasn’t asked, “Where’s the other wheel?”. We had an awesome morning rolling around the pump track and expert course of the park but then the competitive side began to surface. We separated into teams of 2 and fought our way through three laps of rocks, logs, drop-off’s and much more!
After the morning fun at the Bike Park we decided to get some grub in Muizenberg. We filled up our tanks and were ready for the afternoon ride. We left the Tiger’s Milk and headed towards Kalk Bay, a 3km fun ride along the beach front. We stopped often and tested our Trials skills on benches, stairs, skinny wall rides, etc.
The next morning we kicked off early to be at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve by 9am. This was the start our Muni adventure! We split into two groups and headed in different directions. One group went up the mountain to enjoy the downhill of Upper and Lower Canary, this is the group I stuck with. The other group traversed the base of the mountain on gravel roads. It was a more flat ride. My group spent the next hour, maybe hour and a half “riding / walking” up the logging roads of Jonkershoek, when we finally reached the top we settled down for lunch, tucking into a variety of nuts and biltong! Once fattened up we hit the single-track because what goes up must come down. We enjoyed 3 solid hours of downhill single-track with lots of laughs and lots of bails! We arrived back around 14:30 where I immediately ordered a MASSIVE milkshake and slice of carrot cake at the coffee shop by the entrance.
The next day was the “day of balance”! We all met at The Shed in Stellenbosch and prepared for a day of circus fun! The first hour was a mixture of electric uni’s and giant pogo-sticks. Then later the hockey began! This was my first time playing unicycle hockey so I was quite nervous but I quickly adapted. We spent the next few hours playing match after match of uni-hoki It was a really awesome experience and I recommend that everyone gives it a shot. The next while was spent trying to ride a giraffe and ultimate wheel. An hour later Unidaba slowly came to a end.
The convention was an amazing experience and I recommend that EVERYONE should come to UniDaba 2017. UniDaba was not just a whole lot of people riding unicycles, it was a place were you could grab a few tips or try out some new tricks. It was a place where you could have a decent conversation about unicycling or anything related to unicycling. UniDaba is not just for experts, it’s for everyone! Its for the real pro’s to the one’s who are still looking to learn!
I would like to say a huge thanks to Donna Kisogloo at OddWheel Unicycles for setting up such an amazing weekend!
UniDaba is now a permanent event on the South African unicycle calender. It happens every year and happens during the mid-year school holidays. Tell other unicyclists about the event! It’s fun!
I spent the three days before the highline festival in the southern Cederberg hiking with my family. I wondered why it was that I was feeling a slight apprehension towards arriving at the festival on Friday. I have subsequently come to realise that a large reason for it was a slight trepidation towards the actual rigging of the highlines. I am passionate about rigging, and enjoy the process to a large extent. However, the vast majority of my rigging has been done under the guidance and supervision of Sylvain Burki. As many in our community may know, Sylvain tragically passed away late last year. Sylvain was also the creator of the Rocklands Highline festival some three years prior. The notion of rigging without his extensive knowledge and guiding hand seemed somewhat intimidating and unappealing to me. That combined with very irregular highlining in the past year was not a great combination to motivate me.
Well Friday eventually rolled around, and my sister and I rolled into the dusty camp of De Pakhuys in my rattling Toyota Yaris. I had barely set foot out the car and was already unravelling a few hundred meters of webbing and sorting gear into my pack to head straight up to the highlines. Kyle Pratt, Burghen Siebert and Jeff van Breda amongst others had already done a stellar job of doing the preliminary rigging of the vast majority of the lines. Andy Court and I were the new old-hand riggers on the block that morning, and we set about finalising the lines with the others.
By the gentle glow of late afternoon light, the lines were all successfully rigged, and walking ensued. Immediately it was noticeable the increased number of people at the festival, and more so the huge increase in people successfully walking the highlines! The jarring whip of a highline as someone took a leash fall interspersed the relaxed chatter along the sidelines, invoking spectators to rubber-neck at the downward spiral. To see friends that seriously struggled to stand up on a highline in previous years now send lines with ease and finesse was a truly wonderful sight. Likewise to see new faces appear out of the woodwork and share with them the intricacies of highlining was deeply gratifying. The psyche of a fresh send is contagious and stoked my fires to give the lines a burn. I did not have serious inclinations to send my project from last year – the 45m highline – but nonetheless had a wonderful time giving it some proper attempts.
It was also great to see those with a different talent integrate it on the highlines, such as Toni performing her lyra and vertical silks skills up high. It just goes to show that with a creative mindset there are endless possibilities!
On both Friday and Saturday night Karma played her unmerciful role when I spent a soggy night in a friend’s very unwaterproof tent to pay my dues for being too lazy to set up my own tent – which is very well waterproofed! The rain cleared up with the sight of the rising sun both days though, and conditions for highlining were quite ideal (we don’t dissolve like an Aspirin in a bit of drizzle like boulderers do).
As similar to previous years, one of the great beauties of the festival was the diversity of activities on offer for all. It was somewhat inconsequential if you weren’t a slackliner let alone a highliner, there was something for everyone to share and get involved. During the day juggling, unicycling, POI, acro-yoga, miniature bike riding, heavy chilling (yes, that is a legitimate activity) and a number of other shenanigans were undertaken. Few due to the weather braved the waterline, and those that were brave enough were generally spat off into frigid water in an unceremonious fashion!
Whilst I bustled into my warmest attire and cursed the imminent winter in the evenings, the boulderers amongst us were at the point of nigh sexual arousal by the friction conditions for this time of year. Self-proclaimed as official moral support and spotter I provided superior beta insights and safety marshalling for those with a fetish for wrestling pebbles.
On both nights Caitlin Louise instigated fire jams after dinner. The night owls’ talents of fire staff, POI, ropes and fans were on display to the accompaniment of drums and didgeridoo. Andy Court gave a wonderful debut fire breathing performance, keeping the crowd with baited breath as he taunted his facial hair with a firey trim.
It was inspiring to see Kai and Rogan Samuelsson (10-and-three-quarters and 7-and-two-thirds years old respectively) heading out for a zipline across the highlines, and I noticed their keen enthusiasm and rapture over the entire experience. Later that evening I caught up with Kai around the campfire and was delighted to hear that he was keen on progressing his slacklining with the aspiration to possibly attempt highlining the next year. It is this kind of young enthusiasm that will take South African slacklining and highlining to the next level.
Although it was definite to myself and others that were close to Sylvain that his absence in the hills was present, it was still inspiring to see the community come together, and hopefully see its further expansion in the future. We have had the pleasure of visiting American Bria Shurke returning to our festival, whereby she deemed our festival both the most welcoming community and safest in terms of rigging. This came as quite a compliment as she has attended numerous international highlining festivals!
The owner of De Pakhuys, Thys Kruger, installed a beautiful plaque in memory of Sylvain at the entrance of the trail leading to the highlines. Thank you Thys, for both your hospitality and empathy.
By Sunday I was beginning to walk like a cowboy from one too many catches on the highline; my inner thighs aesthetically resembled an abstract artwork in pink, blue and purple hues. I was battered, dusty and ready to head homewards, but ultimately highly satisfied with a lovely time out in the magical Cederberg.
Thank you to everyone, from those that helped organise to the bystanders, who all made the event a beautiful experience. In particular, a massive thank you to Charmaine Retief Kritzinger for continuing with the organisation and management of the highline festival in true style and finesse this year, all in attendance deeply appreciated your hard work!
Drone footage of the festival and surrounds capturing the expanse of Rocklands – Mille Foto