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Trail Review – Meerendal, Durbanville, Western Cape

Let’s Get Sweaty

By Shaun Engelbrecht

Now summer is in full swing and it is time to get that sweat on. After a busy winter a bit of an ankle injury, I felt it was about time to hit it and elevate that heart rate.

Hey! Focus and get your mind out of the gutter. I am talking about hitting the trail, on a unicycle. To get you in the mood, I have put together this report of yet another one of the Tygerberg MTB routes, Meerendal.

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This is a great trial for the beginners and seasoned riders alike. Offering a number of route options and difficulty levels, all of which I am yet to try. I usually find myself properly stuffed, so much so that I am in no state to explore further. Instead of taking you through all eventualities of what you could find, I will share with you insights into a morning out on my route in this beautiful part of the Cape.

Starting as always in the parking lot, I make my way on the main route past the trees and fields towards the vineyards where the single track, fun and perspiration begins. As with all the Tygerberg routes, route markers are everywhere and it is pretty difficult even for the likes of me to get lost. At the top of the Jeep track, with the wine seedlings on the right I slip off left on a short single track which I take to get me in the swing of things. Alternatively you can turn right and continue on the jeep track heading to a pump track where the short single track joins up to later. From here I turn left and ride along a rocky ridge halfway up the valley. Approaching in the distance are two switchbacks and a steep, rocky and loose decent. “Gently on the breaks”, is all I repeat over in my head until I reach the bottom. I made it, self-five! Now the route begins to climb and just as I am out of breath it plateaus just enough, and then all hell breaks loose.

There is a sign marked Stairway to Heaven, what the sign fails to explain is that to get to heaven, one must first scale a climb from hell. This hill comprises for an unfathomable number of switchbacks ascending the hill side, and instead of a natural or manicured single track, some sadist decided to create a pathway made of submerged cinder-blocks. The sound of heavy breathing and tyres shredding can be heard for miles, until you reach the pearly gates, which in this case is actually a wooden bench where you can get your breath back. I know what you may be thinking this guy is dramatic. Well you know what, this is exactly how it feels at the time, but the odd occasion I have managed to reach the peak with no UPD’s and dismounts, the reward is equally euphoric and dramatic.

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Air once again filling my lungs and I have some feeling returning to my legs, I continue forward to yet another hill to climb. However this time this hill is somewhat insurmountable by wheel (one wheel that is). This is where I practice the art of hiking, a skill I have honed and refined on said hill. This beast is a jeep track that comprises of steep climbs and large rocks making life impossible on the wheel. Don’t let this deter you, because once I reach the top I am rewarded by another conveniently placed bench and some sweet views of Durbanville, Blouberg and Table Mountain. This is also the part of the trail where the actual fun begins and gravity for a change is on your side. The single track begins to descend and winds its way down the very hill I was hiking and crying up earlier. The tears shed now while descending are tears of joy. Some sections have recently been graded and flattened though after the winter rains, which made them a bit boring, but I am sure this will be rectified once more wheels pass through. Reaching the bottom I am greeted by applause of gawking cyclists for my feat, as this section comes out at the bench where the stairway to heaven ends.

From here things get a bit easier as I hit a section named after a legend in the cycling fraternity, Burry Stander.  A few climbing switchbacks takes you to the beginning  of a fast and flowing sections where you can get some pace or alternatively take it slow and take in the views. At the bottom I am greeted by more vineyards and them cutting off into a winding forested section for a bit of last minute fun before ending at the parking lot.

Like mentioned there are other variants to be taken and easier routes on hand to help build up your skills and confidence. In summer now, I do recommend lots of water, sun block, a snack or two and try to get out and about earlier rather than later. The heat can be a bit much later on, and there is not all that much shelter from the African sun. So I look forward to seeing you there soon, showing up a cyclist or two.

http://www.tygerbergmtb.co.za/trails/meerendal.html

Sending the Life Line

Another beautiful day in the Berg! Another day of work as an OddWheeler. I stroll down the road for my morning coffee and then meander into the office. Open my computer to start my daily duties. On this particular day I started on Facebook because I wanted to upload photos from Sunday’s Park Play Session, which I still haven’t done. I did a quick scan of my feed and come across a slightly disturbingly vague post which immediately prompt me to phone Charmaine, the partner of my friend Sylvain.

The news was devastating and tragic!  With barely anything being said, the tone in Charmaine’s voice had confirmed my suspicions. Sylvain was gone!!! He has left this earthly realm.

After dealing with the death of my father I thought that I would never be wobbled as easily again. However Sylvain’s death affected me. He would be the first friend to cross over.

The easiest way to explain why I was wobbled is by telling you what our connection was….

Both coming from the Film Industry, Sylvain in Stunts and Rigging and myself in Wardrobe / Costume, our paths crossed on a commercial shot in Noordhoek. In true Cape Town film style it was a service job for an American product. The commercial was a bootcamp vibe. I remembered walking across the massive field towards Sylvain. There must’ve been a Wardrobe / Stunt conversation that had to happen. This in turn lead to the discovery of him being into Slacklining, but more specifically Highlining and that he has a company called SlackGear and that he makes lines. Obviously my hobby and new sideline business, OddWheel Unicycles was unveiled to Sylvain. I was a Unicyclist and I had a company that specializes in unicycles but also sold slacklines. We had a kindred interest in balance and developing our communities and businesses. This was our introduction.

Sylvain Burki Highlining

Today, after being out of the film industry for 1 full year running OddWheel full time. I find myself yet again on a film set in Constantia. Fulfilling the role of an Electric Unicyclist and not a wardrobe assistant. Waiting for when ‘they’ use me, if ‘they’ use me. The circus I left behind to pursue happiness and be apart of a real circus community. With ample time to kill I am writing the start of this post on my phone.

Since taking OddWheel over I had to explore ways of making this business viable as it could not survive off Unicycling alone, one of the hardest balance arts to master. It takes a strong-willed individual with a mindset that invites challenge coupled with perseverance, as does Highlining, Longlining and Slacklining.

This exploration led me on a path to connect with the communities that embrace this way of life. We are a vast pool of communities spread over many arts which collectively are the Balance / Flow and Cirque Arts. The circus I feel most comfortable in and welcomed!

Sylvain and myself by default are leaders in the balance aspect of this collective and worked together and singularly to grow, connect, teach and inspire these art forms. What sealed our connection is when Sylvain invited me to the first Rocklands Highline Festival in March of 2014. I leaped at the opportunity to connect with this community and this phenomenal man. The crossover is perfect and continues to work. Without realizing it, attending the first Highline Festival made a huge impact on my life and it’s path. Sylvain was an integral part of my current path.

In the weeks that followed I attended Sylvain’s very small and intimate service where he was cremated. I saw the pain and heartache that his closest friends and family were experiencing. It was so familiar. December came and went. On January the 23rd, 2016 I attended Sylvain’s Celebration of Life at the Swiss Club in Green Point. There were so many people! It was casual, light, heartwarming, emotional and tear jerking. Sylvain’s closest friends and family spoke of his wonderful life. It was beautiful to hear the antics of Sylvain Burki, as a boy, as a brother, as a son, as a musician, as a climber and as a highliner. Echoing the attitude Sylvain lived his life by, always smiling, laughing, teaching, sharing and giving. He lived a full life, not a moment was wasted. Everything he did was to the best of his ability, to perfection and of the highest quality. James Taylor edited a beautiful video of Sylvain’s moments that were either captured on video or as photo’s and the soundtrack was Sylvain playing the didgeridoo and guitar. It was a day of healing for the people that Sylvain had left behind.

Sylvain’s Celebration of Life Video on Facebook (you need not have an account with Facebook to view this public video)

But we couldn’t end it there. I still wanted to honour Sylvain’s memory. Around April / May 2015 I went to a gathering at Keurboom Park that Sylvain had arranged. It was a day of playing in the park with our toys. It was so much fun to be in that world again. I chatted to Sylvain about setting up a Facebook event that would happen once a month; this was to become Park Play Sessions. Our first official session was held in June 2015 and continued month after month. I actively invited as many communities that fell into the balance / flow / cirque world’s. Every Park Session is awesome with so many talented individuals coming to play, share and teach. It got big quickly and is now frequented by Slackliners, Jugglers, Unicyclists, Yoyoist’s, Acroyogi’s, Aerial Hoopist’s, Poi, Staff and Hoop people. I didn’t know it at the time but the PPS held on December 13th would be the last time I hug Sy. He died on the 14th from a shallow water blackout in his pool at home. Damn shame!

I thought long and hard about what could be done to honour Sylvain’s memory. I asked as many people as I could for advice. It needed to include the community that was birthed through Park Play and Slackgear. After Sy died photo’s started circulating of him. Craig Fox had taken a photo of Sylvain bouncing on a small spacenet that himself and Andy Court had built at the October PPS. I spoke with Charmaine, Andy, Mr Dicks and Lyle to bounce my idea off them, “Let’s build a giant spacenet for Sylvain”. Admittedly it didn’t take much convincing, we were all in agreement and therefore it will be done.

A good old Whatsapp group was formed to start figuring this brain fart out. Gear was discussed numerous times. We did a little test build 2 weeks before the January session just so we knew what we were in for. We felt pretty confident that we could pull it off… and did we!

Sunday morning, it’s Park Play day, no it’s spacenet day! Chris and myself arrive at a sparrow’s fart whilst the rest of the team starts trickling in from 9am. We were a core group of roughly 10 people that started actioning the build. As the minutes ticked past we continued to weave Sylvain’s dreamcatcher. Sessioners trickled in and got involved. People helped where they could. The result was exactly what I had hoped for. Sylvain’s friends gave their time, energy and gear to manifest something as grandeur as he was. We collectively created a heart space that held his very essence. It was filled with fun, joy, laughter and love. Like I said, exactly what I wanted!

I will openly admit that I know next-to-nothing about climbing and rigging. I’m the unicycle expert. What I can do is give you a brief idea of what it took to build Sylvain’s Spacenet.

  • 3.5 Hours to build and 1 hour to de-rig.
  • 4 Strong trees.
  • 4 Tree protectors.
  • 3 Slacklines, tripled up.
  • Lank 1 & 2 ton slings to make up the circumference of roughly 5/6 metre’s squared. We eventually decided on a square because of the tree configuration.
  • Just over 500m of static line to weave the dreamcatcher.
  • 4 SlackGear pulley systems.
  • Baboon locks, Rhino locks, soft links and various shackles.
  • Dyno-something-or-other, for measuring the forces when people are on the net. Between 6-7 people was the limit, and yes, the 2 children did count as 1 adult.
  • 2 Ladder’s.
  • Lots of crash pads.
  • Many willing, loving hands with bodies.

Here is a photo album of the day on Facebook.

Something that really touched my heart about Sylvain’s Spacenet Send-Off was that both his parents, Hedi and Ernest came to the park to enjoy the community that Sylvain had helped create. It has been a difficult time for them wrapped up in intense emotion. Hedi and Ernest, Sylvain was amazing with so many incredible qualities that could only be attributed to the both of you. He was a precious gift. I feel overwhelmingly honoured and spoilt to have known him for the short time that I did.

Sylvain you rocked our worlds! Thank you for being an inspiration to us all and for teaching us so much! Dude, you will be missed… but never forgotten!

Just so that everyone is in the loop, SlackGear will continue. It has been kindly handed over to Charmaine Retief Kritzinger who stood by Sylvain’s side for the last few years as his partner. She pretty much shadowed him and I would imagine knows the smallest details about SlackGear that only a partner would know. We support you on your new path Charmaine, unquestionably. Go for it girl!

Sylvain and Charmaine Highlining

If you into Slackline, Longline or Highline then get your buttocks down to the annual meetup happening at Rocklands over the Easter weekend.  Click here if you would like to find out more about the weekend.  I would highly recommend it!

Trail Review – Bottelary Hills, Kuils River, Western Cape

Let’s Get Wet

By Shaun Engelbrecht

So I think it is about time for the second edition of my trail reports. I have been riding mostly in the Tygerberg area with one disappointing ride at Jonkershoek due to all of the single track sections being closed still.

My idea was to give some insights into another of the Tygerberg routes (Meerendal), as I have become rather accustomed to what is has to offer. However Donna (further to be referred to as Uni Mom) and I missioned to Bottelary Hills one recently rainy and wet Friday. Let it not be said that unicyclists are scared of a bit of bad weather, or so we thought…

Bottelary Hills

Let me start with the actual trails and what you can expect to find if you decide to give one of the numerous routes in the area a try. There are about 5 main routes which all seem to interlink giving you almost endless option to explore, and to get lost, but more on the getting lost later.

For those still getting acquainted with the wonderful world of Muni and UPD’s (unplanned dismounts), these trails are a brilliant place to start. Why, you ask? Well, although extensive, the routes are mostly based on the Jeep tracks that cut through the vineyards covering the hills. This means climbs are, for the most part, steady and not very technical and greater distances can be covered in a shorter period of time due to the less technical nature of the tracks. There were a few sections of single track with a rocky section here or there, but nothing that would give you much trouble, unless like us you chose to ride on a day that even sent the duck running for cover.

This is ultimately the reason why this write up, not nearly as detailed with regards to the description of the route, when comparing it to my previous report. The weather was so bad, we were unable to see 10m in front of our noses, let alone the route we were riding.

And this Muni friends, is where the actual story of our mini adventure begins…

So there we were, Uni Mom and I had a rough idea of where we needed to go. There are a number of places you can start your ride, and a number of places to buy your permit, but after driving between farms and security villages, we finally found where to buy permits and where to park at Zevenwacht.

We began our climb to the top of a hill, with the wind at our backs. I would imagine you could get the same effect by offering children sweets if they gave you a push. Luckily we had the wind because I don’t like sharing my sweets and trail snacks. The fun did not last when the route starts cutting back and forth between the vines. Once at the top, we were being attacked from all sides, by the wind, which had now covered the hilltop in mist. It was like riding in an extremely angry cloud. This also limited visibility to about 10m. I must say there is something magical when shadowy trees and landscape begins to appear through the fog as you approach.

Once we found some of the single track, we began to descend from the cloud / mist where the rain now became our biggest problem. As I mentioned previously, the trails are not overly challenging, BUT with the gusting wind and relentless rain I would not have liked to have been on a more demanding trail.

A common saying goes “what goes up must come down”, and one thing I have learnt is the opposite is also true when out on a ride. Once we made our way to the bottom on the switch backed single track, we found ourselves climbing once more through vineyards. By now we had been riding for what felt like hours, we were drenched and cold, my shoes we carrying more water than my hydration pack, but we thought it best to keep warm and continued riding. The mood up to this point had been good, laughing while being blow sideways, as well as when I decided to wring out my sponge socks.

Shaun in the Wind

I am sure Donna, sorry I mean Uni Mom, will agree with me that there was a bit of worry once we reached the top of another long climb which we mostly walked due to fatigue, and on reaching the top was directed by the signage that the green route we were on goes both to the left and right! With the thick fog and heavy rain, we had no sense of direction. I said right, Uni Mom said left, but who knew? A signboard did not offer any reassurance, as it was impossible to decipher where we were in relation to the start / finish spot and whether we should go left or right. There was no civilisation in sight; we had not seen any other riders the entire day. It could be argued for a change that the cyclists (the guys with the training wheels) were doing the right thing by staying on their indoor trainers.

So, short of drawing straws or playing a quick round of rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock (Google it), we had to trust some technology. Out came the smart phones! Uni Mom’s iPhone was pap, so this was the moment for my CAT brick to shine, full battery, waterproof, drop proof and idiot proof. All the boxes ticked to get us out of here, but no wet finger touch screen functionality. The only thing we had to dry the screen was a bandage from the first aid bag, everything else we had was stupidly drenched. Google maps, satellite view, compass orientation, landmarks found! Expert map reader is something I have recently added to my CV.

We have a way out, and by the way it was right, yes the way I suggested. See children, mom is not always right. With a new found energy we missioned down the trail, back on some of the single track we had followed earlier that day. Things began to look familiar, and the prospect of dry clothes and a hot beverage helped us to press on. We made our way down the misty hill and to the parking lot, threw the uni’s in the car and headed straight to the restaurant where there was a warm fire and a rest room to change and dry off.

This was one of those occasions when at the time, I had thoughts of “Why the hell do I do this to myself?”, but once some time has passed you say, “Well I think I would like to do that again sometime”. Like mentioned previously, the trails are not all that technical, but throw in low temperatures, gusting winds and some horizontal rain and you have one hell of a Muni ride in store on any route. So come people (well those in the Cape at least), the rain is here, time to get out there and get wet.

For more information on what Bottelary Hills MTB has to offer, check out their website for all the info: http://bottelaryhillsmtb.co.za/

Representing at Unicon 17