“You’re not going to like me very much when you come back” – Ben Shabane, trail master of the Holla Mountain Bike Trails in the Ballito area, was right.
I didn’t like him very much. But that passed. And I loved him. And his trails.
I had found Xanadu in the sugar cane fields and hills of Holla Trails, a pleasure dome decreed by Nic Jordan – a farmer and landowner in the area. Jordan, a mountain biker himself, got the local farmers involved and with their permission has established Holla Trails – a 340km network of trails that wind their way through farmlands in the Ballito, Compensation and Upper Tongaat area.
Down to visit a friend in Salt Rock, the KTM mountain bike was the first thing packed in the car. On a list of important things, training for the Absa Cape Epic Bags is a high second.
The first has nothing to do with you, but let’s just say it consumes me. Bags were squeezed around the KTM Lycan, arranged around the XT cranks and the DT Swiss wheels (if you do not understand these terms, believe me when I say they are important to bike riders).
A quick holler on Twitter to cyclists for places to ride coughed up the Holla Trails, just 10km away from my mate’s place.
The trails are seemingly never-ending. They are also some of most fun, toughest, testing, gentle, refreshing, imposing, depressing and exhilarating riding. It was my third and last day at the trails.
My stay in Salt Rock was short and sozzled, with long rides followed by long Hansas. On day one I got lost. On day two I wish I had got lost and on day three I got lost and then found myself again.
It was on the last day that Shabane, who welcomes you to the trails, takes your R50 for the permit (if you are a casual day rider such as I) and sends you off with a metaphorical pat on the shoulder and a well-meant “have fun” and a half-joking “good luck”, told me I wasn’t going to like him very much when I got back.
A few moments before he had asked me “what trail will you try today?” I had done yellow the day before because it was the second-longest and one of the favourites. It had shown up my technical skills quite horrendously, with daftly steep climbs and river crossings guarded by sucky sand. I had also done yellow because being colour blind, it was a colour I could tell easily.
“What do you recommend?” asked I, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, although the eyes were blighted by a mini-hangover and the tail was more blushy that bushy from sitting on it for five hours the day before.
“I think you should try red today.”
“Are there big climbs?”
“Oh yeah, there are. Very big, very steep. One is very hard. Very hard.”
The red loop at Holla Trails is either 23k or 28km. It has a detour. Head up the grassy knoll of a hill and the way home gets a little easier. Turn left and you get what the sign described as “highly technical single track”. The single track did what it said on the pack.
A burst along some tractor or jeep track (I still cannot tell the difference, if, indeed, there is any, but I’d rather drive in a jeep than a tractor) and the single track was indeed highly technical.
So, I did what a man with the handling skills of a Keystone Cop should do – I jumped off my bike and ran it through the single track, treating it like a trail run with a 13kg weight with wheels. It felt like cheating, and I suppose it is, but I have also committed to the Two Oceans a week after the Epic and need the running in my legs.
I got lost on the red trail, either through there not being a sign or because I missed it, and ended up riding up a jeep track that had become a soggy sandy river bed. I found a track, followed that.
Then, because I felt guilty, I did the opposite of Hugh Grant and rode up a hill that felt like a mountain and came down a hill.
Four hours later I rode the KTM over to the Holla Trails bike wash (well worth the R50, cleaner than clean, I can tell you) and turned to Ben.
“So, how was it?” he smiled. “You’re right. I don’t like you very much.”
But I lied. I loved him. I loved the |Holla Trails.
To find out more about the Holla Trails go to www.hollatrails.co.za. They are open from 5.30am and sell the last permit at 4.30pm. A cheap R50 gains you access for the day and another R50 gets your bike sparkly clean. You can keep an eye on my training programme for the Absa Cape Epic on fittrack.co.za or by following me on Twitter (@KevinMcCallum).