In our fourth instalment of our nationwide tribute to trail builders, we meet Darren Herbst the man in charge of supplying the stoke on Paarl Mountain.
How did you get involved with trail building? For how many years have you been building?
The MTB bug bit like with most while we were still living in JHB where there were not many secure and safe places to ride, so a couple of mates and I decided to start the Hero Adventure brand and build parks. The first one being Heia Safari (now known as Cradle Moon) and I guess that is where the passion and love for trail building began. Since Heia we built Hobby Park, Cradle and a number of other trails in Gauteng and the north.
In 2017 we decided to relocate to Paarl and started developing trails and events down there. Paarl is an amazing place; the community is passionate about the outdoors. We currently have a network of over 200km of interlinking trails through over 50 different farms and attractions on and around Paarl Mountain. It is pretty cool because you not only get to ride on a variety of different trails and routes but get to experience all the attractions and offerings like wine farms, artisans, breweries, and many other venues along the way.
Tell us more about your most recent trails. Where were they built and what makes them so special?
We have spent the last few months mostly concentrating on two venues. Spice Route Destination and Bovenland Farm. Spice route and Fairview Farm are very well-known for all the great attractions and increasing our trails on the farm due to the popularity has been fun. Then we also decided to expand a bit and opened a Specialized Concept Store on Bovenland Farm. That side of the mountain has really special terrain, so we’ve been hard at work building some really sweet trails there to add to the greater Paarl Adventure Trails network and compliment the store.
The biggest advantage on building in this area is the variety of terrain, it allows us to get really creative and develop trails for all types of cyclists and disciplines. Having Marathon, XCO, XCM, Enduro, Downhill and Pump for all levels is great because the entire family get to come out and have a great time.
Regarding what makes them so special … I guess for me it is just seeing the enjoyment from people on the trails. If they are smiling and having a good time, to me that is special.
Darren and his team hard at work building new trails!
Does it help when building your own trails if you can ride them?
Sure, I would say it’s a must. Sometimes the bruises and cuts from testing or exploring are a bit hectic (especially now that I’m 40), but all part of the fun!
What is your favourite Western Cape trail and why?
A couple of us local trail builders and managers recently got together and formed the Winelands Trail Membership. Basically, we have all grouped our trails together under one banner and guys get unlimited access to over 450km of trails in the area which is really awesome. Within the network is Banhoek and Wellington’s Trails. Both Kim Lord and Pieter Van Wyk are legendary trail builders and so I would say their trails in all honesty are my favourite. They have been building in the area forever so one can learn a lot from them. They just have that special X-factor when it comes to building special trails.
How big is your team and does each member have his own set of skills?
It depends on the time of the year, but it ranges from 12 - 30 guys in our team at any time. A lot of us share team members as we need them. Something really awesome is that we started the Hero Legacy Project and through this project we take unskilled guys who don’t have work and get them in the team. From there we put them through a program where we teach them how to build, mark trails for events, marshal and a host of other skills. Many of them now work for event organizers and other trail builders which is really cool. Regarding specific skills - definitely, but this comes with time and each trail builder finds their passion which ends up being their best skill.
“I GUESS FOR ME IT IS JUST SEEING THE ENJOYMENT FROM PEOPLE ON THE TRAILS.”
What are the biggest challenges of building on Paarl soil?
For us I guess its constant changes, because our trails are built over 50 odd working farms, we are constantly having to make changes to the trails as the landowners work their farms. It is just part of the game and we are just thankful for their support and trusting us to use their land. So yes, also part of the package.
Did Corona/lockdown make trail building slower or impossible?
I don’t think anyone can say the last year was smooth sailing. The first and second part of lockdown was a nightmare, and we could not do anything. This put our entire calendar out so when we eventually could get back out, the trails were a mess. Added to this EVERYONE wanted to get out and enjoy the outdoors so there were a lot of very long days to get the trails up to a standard where we were comfortable to let people use them. To be honest, although Corona has def benefited us in the massive increase in people taking up cycling, running and hiking, we are still trying to catch up and get our trails back to the standard people expect from us. We can’t complain, we are just grateful and extremely blessed to have a business that is growing during such a crazy difficult time for everyone.
Rhebokskloof and Spice Route have flowing trails with the odd granite slab thrown in.
Any specific area in and around Paarl you would like to build some new trails?
I’m not sure if there is anywhere left! Having around 200km is already a challenge to keep maintained, so we have decided for now to concentrate on improving the stoke on the trails. This year it’s all about adding great features, building more fun and looking for more ways to increase the fun factor for our visitors.
What is your favourite place to ride outside of the Western Cape?
The Wild Coast has a special place in my heart.
Any advice for upcoming builders?
That herd of cattle that some people seem to think exist that create those perfectly manicured trails, or those fairies that wave their magic wand and poof the trails are there at no cost in an instant. THEY DON’T EXISIT! WE HAVE SEARCHED FAR AND WIDE.
- Spend time planning, don’t just build.
- Spend the time to do it properly the first time and DON’T FOR a SECOND think the trail will stay like that forever, trail maintenance is much more important that the initial build.
- Be prepared for long, long days and even some nights in the hot sun and pouring rain. It is hard graft.
- Don’t think you will get wealthy from trail building. The money that comes in WILL be needed to maintain all your hard work.
- NO-ONE cares who built the trail, let the trail do the talking.
If you love the outdoors, riding, hard work and creating something for people to enjoy, BUGGER it is one of the best jobs in the world!
Find out more about their trails visit. https://paarladventuretrails.co.za/
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