Howick, South Africa (map)
Yep, I found it! Without the help of Google or anyone pointing me where to go. Who knew I would stumble upon the best mountain biking of my life during this trip, but I guess fate had it’s plan.
The night before arriving we had left the small town of Hilton and we were told if we wanted a great breakfast in a cute small town that has the fourth tallest falls in South Africa than we had to checkout Howick. The breakfast was good and the falls were beautiful as EmSue pointed out in the last post, but what took me by surprise during breakfast was the last page of the tourist guide that clearly laid out that there was a strong mountain biking culture in the area.
After seeing the local Howick Falls we headed just outside of town to see what the locals claimed as the more beautiful falls in the area, the Karkloof Falls. They were right as they were more beautiful and they were more remote in what has to be one of the worlds largest tree farming areas.
Just as we were about to leave the area I saw a few bikers relaxing after their ride with what appeared to be rental number plates on the front, turns out these are the nature reserves bike registration tags. I approached them to ask “hi there, where can you rent these nice bikes from around here?“, with a bewildered look on their face they let me know they weren’t rentals. I should have known considering they appeared to be $2-3k bikes, but they did point me into the direction of the local bike shop.
As we arrived at Adrenaline Cycles I bounded in excited to grab a bike to hit the trails and was greeted by a nice young women named Judy. I informed Judy that we just arrived in the area and after getting a sniff of what appeared to be a large trail network that I couldn’t wait to get one of their rental bikes for a day. My bubble was quickly burst when Judy replied “sorry, we don’t rent bikes“. A little stunned I replied with a half hearted “do you know where I can find someone who does as I really want to checkout y’alls trails?“. Judy thought for a moment as the only rentals in the area that she knew of were the equivalent of beach cruisers Seeing that I was somewhat dejected started to dig for a number of someone who might be able to help and then yelled back in the shop to two guys working on bikes “Grant, do you know where the number is for so and so?”.
Emerged from the shop were two grease monkeys Grant and Steve; here is where when in the states you would probably get the typical bike shop mechanic elitist who turn their noses up at you as if they where computer tech support and you were just an amateur user waiting to be belittled.
Grant started in with “I’m not riding today why don’t you take my bike, it’s a brand new top of the line Mongoose 29’er?”. Wait, what? “Or better yet come out with the Sunday group ride tomorrow morning and you can ride my wife’s (Judy) high end Momsen 29’er?”. Having just paid $20 at the last town to rent a entry level bike I was a little worried how much it would cost and if it would fit into our annual daily budget for travels, I fired back with “well, how much would you rent it to me for; for the day that is?”
Turns out Grant and Judy own Adrenaline Cycles and he is one of those guys who loves cycling so much that he would give his shirt off his back to see that you enjoyed their area “no charge man, but you should really come out with us as we have a huge trail network that you could spend a week exploring and still miss the highlights“. How could I say no? I gave EmSue a quick glance looking for approval that basically said – please can we stay? please please? 🙂
“Sounds great, but before I can commit we need to find a place in the area to stay and we aren’t having much luck due to a some high school tournaments and a triathlon going on in the area“. In steps Grants right hand man Steve who lets us know that he has a 3 bedroom house that we are welcome to stay the night. Did we mention that we love Howick and the people in it? This sounded perfect and a little too good to be true. It was. Steve said “you just have to put up with my dogs“. No problem. “Oh and the cats“…
Dang, I knew it was too good! Unfortunately EmSue is allergic to cats and it’s not just a little sneeze here and there; it’s full on eyes itching, throat closing up allergic. We thanked Steve for his great offer and insist everyone is already being way to nice to us. Grant and Judy jump in with the same offer as they have two less cats than Steve, but sadly even one can send EmSue over the top. We let them know no worries and that we would sort it out and I would be back first thing the next morning for the ride.
Sunday morning came fast as I got only 4 hours of sleep; I think I was a bit too excited, Christmas morning kid style. I was a bit worried about hanging with the guys as I have pretty much been on vacation for 3 months and haven’t seen regular riding in some time; much less when I was riding it was road or loaded touring.
We did a 30 mile loop that took 4-5 hours and I can say I was pretty much spent (bonked in cycling terms) just over the halfway mark. I tried to beg the guys to leave me behind and to continue their riding as I knew I was slowing them up, but they insisted that no man shall be left behind, thanks again for and sorry about that :). They lightened the pace long enough for me to back out from the red zone and I found a milder pace to limp my way through the last third of an exhausting but great finish to a days ride.
I am not a good enough writer to describe what makes great mountain biking great, heck this is my longest blog post yet, but if you enjoy…
- Literally endless miles of single track, trails after trails (I think I only saw 10%)
- Tight technical tree clipping routes with banked turns
- Fun challenging narrow wood bridges
- BMX style pump tracks with tabletops and double jumps
- Endless downhills that leave your arms tired from gripping the bars in frieght of speed
- And pretty much all skill levels ranging from green, blue, and double black diamond
- Then you will love what I consider the best mountain biking I have ever ridden
Grant, Judy, Steve, and the rest of the guys riding were the most perfect hosts and people to meet while traveling and we hope to stay in touch long into the future as they will always have a bed available when we eventually settle down to where our next home may be.
Thank you all again!