Nick Clarke's African Adventures - Part 1
Earlier this spring, Nick Clarke spent a few months in South Africa riding bikes, filming his Welcome to The Rise video and helping out Matt Macduff with his Loop of Doop Project. As he signed up for this trip, little did he know that he was on board for the craziest journey of his life. His adventure was so inspiring that he had to put it down in words to share it with the world. Read the first part below, and stay tuned for the rest of his story!
Words by Nick Clarke
Photos by Thomas Sandell, Eric Palmer, Julien Grimard
When the idea first came up about going to Africa, I was walking into Joyride 150 when I crossed paths my friend Matt Macduff. He was in the back room building up a new The Rise Partymaster fresh after recovering from a wrist injury, preparing for the big trip. I had just finished building up a new dental office with my Dad, and we had an opening for a few weeks between jobs, so I was stoked to have some time to ride. I hardly get to ride with Matt because I am either working steady on an office, or he is out of town, so when we do it usually gets out of hand! After catching up for a while I made a joke, “I finally have some time off to ride with my homie, and he’s leaving for a couple months to Africa. The timing is always off!” Matt turns around and says, well hey why don’t you come and hang out with me down in ZA for a while? Without hesitation I started looking for the cheapest flight I could afford, and started planning what turned out to be the most intense and freestyle trip of my life!
I’ve been a huge fan of the South African dirt jump scene for years and was super stoked to bring my bike along for the adventure. Eric Palmer’s photos have popped up on my computer screen for years scrolling through pink bike, and the spots never seemed to disappoint. It seemed to be another world with rad dirt jumps, epic sunsets and nothing but style. I never would have thought that later on in my career I would be traveling to ride these same jumps where those photos were taken, let alone get the chance to work with the man himself. I’ve been familiar with The Night Harvest for a few years through articles on The Rise and Pink Bike, and I knew Matt and the PD crew were going to be involved, so I hit him up about getting in. A few days later I get a notification from one of the main builders, Justin Novela. It was an invite to one of the raddest dirt jump contests on the planet! I already knew this wasn’t going to be an ordinary trip, but the closer it came to leaving, the more it would become a life changing experience. Those two weeks felt like a year…
After a long 36 hours worth of traveling I arrived in Cape Town. Right off the plane I had this strange feeling about the country I now stood. It felt as though I never went anywhere, like I wasn’t on a trip. It didn’t really kick in that I was really in Africa until about 3 weeks into the trip. I was mesmerized! Mountains, picturesque coastlines, wild looking trees and wildlife everywhere, and some of the friendliest people I have ever met. After fighting with the airport wifi for a couple hours, I was greeted at the airport by Tumi Mothei. It wasn’t too hard to find Tumi parked outside in the Monster Energy van. Huge decals across a black cargo van and a stoked dude in the driver’s seat! It was a weird transition sitting in the left seat with no steering wheel, not to mention being on the other side of the road. What was crazier was that people overtake on the shoulder with oncoming traffic there and it’s gnarly! After a quick little tour and short history lesson of the city while stuck in traffic, we found ourselves in the centre of town where I met up with the man in charge Ryan Franklin, and my roommate for the night, Catfish! This was already starting out to be an insane trip. Catfish is a wild dude to travel with, let alone be in Africa with him for the first time. I’ve known him for a few years so I was super stoked to start the trip off on a high note knowing someone in town that’s been there previously.
The next day Ryan picked us up in the Dodge and drove the two of us into Hout Bay to check out the set up. It was an epic drive along the coast through camps Bay to the site of the Night Harvest. Anyone who has been here will tell you that Johnty’s place is simply magical! Some of the most perfectly sculpted dirt jumps in the world, epic sunsets, and a backdrop to die for. I couldn’t stop looking in circles at the beauty that surrounded me. The drive alone was out of this world, but throw jumps into the mix and its paradise to any rider. You truly need to see it to believe it.Ryan set us up at this fancy place called the Riverside estate down the road from the event. This place was rad! We all had our own set up, a few pools, and a huge gazebo where the crew hung out nightly and shared a few beers. Just getting to hang out with legends like Kevin Peraza, Greg Illingworth, Andreu, Sam Reynolds, and the rest of the pure darkness crew is one thing, let alone riding along side them at the legendary Potato trails! This was a dream come true. On the night of the finals I was feeling awesome! Surrounded by positive energy and new faces, I was ready to showcase everything I had been working on over the last few months at Joyride 150. The weather was perfect, the crowd was loud, and the atmosphere was incredible! I’ve been to many events in my lifetime, but none of them had the same feel to it that the NH had. There’s something about a night time contest that stands out from the rest. It might have something to do with the VIP bar set up, and the trails braii that got the crowd extra wild, but riding under lights just makes things that much more appetizing. Everyone was riding incredible and the trails were running pristine which made for a neck and neck contest! Between high fives with the fans I rode my hardest and threw down all that I could for the SA crowd. It was a close contest! Sam Reynolds was riding with a wrist injury from a crash just days before the contest, but it didn’t seem to slow him down! With his consistent runs and big tricks I thought for sure the contest was his. I was stoked on how I rode and that was enough for me! I got to ride in an epic contest with riders I grew up idoizing, and proved that I could ride as well. Prepared to walk away with a respectable third place finish, I was pleasantly surprised when I heard Matt’s name called up in 3rd, followed by Sam in 2nd. I knew at that point I had won my first international contest and I couldn’t believe it! Its one thing to be sprayed with champagne after winning an event, but its another when the people spraying you with it are the gorgeous Monster Energy girls! I was a happy man let me tell you! After getting the party out of my system for a couple days in Cape Town, we dropped the PD crew off at the airport and started making our way to the Garden Route Trail Park. Thanks to Ryan’s help, we picked up a small rental Renault Clio and stuffed everything we could into the limited space we had. This thing was small but it did the trick! On the drive to Knysna we nick named it the red eagle as it soared down the left side of the African highways. We left pretty late, so when we arrived to the farm it was dark and vision was limited. Before going to sleep at Robs for the night, Matt took us up to the Pure Darkness course up the dirt road. Marshall and I couldn’t stop laughing when we saw the set up the boys made for the 3rd PD in the moonlight. It was unlike anything we had ever seen before and it was so insane that you couldn’t help but laugh at how huge the silhouettes of the beasts were! Those dudes moved a lot of dirt to make that video happen, and that set up is not for the faint of heart. We had a few days before Julien and Louis joined us, so Matt and I went to work on the beasts. After a few days of digging in the heat and piercing sun to get the line dialed in, the boys made it in from Canada, and we were ready to shred! Besides the size of the roll in and massive jumps, one of the gnarliest things about these jumps is the fact you need to be on the roll in by 6 am sharp to ride them. With the jumps being in an open field up in the mountains, it was the only time the wind would be calm enough to ride the set up. One big gust and you’re toast! It’s difficult to be awake that early in the morning, let alone be awake enough to drop into the biggest line of jumps in the world on a hard tail.
After getting some coaching and motivation from Matt while feeling out the smaller roll in, it was time to face the great white shark fin. This thing has got some sharp teeth and its bite is no joke. I rode slightly under the ride line and took off the top corner spitting me out far to the left of the landing….front wheel first.
After cart wheeling across the grass I stood up, gave the boys the rock and roll and looked at the taco the shark now made my front wheel. I was in one piece and my wheel was all that was damaged in the crash. Luckily enough I was smart enough to bring a spare 36 hole Mavic 729 with me on the trip. It’s hard enough to find this style of rim in Canada let alone in Knysna, South Africa. I got in contact with Tyrone from Bespoked bike shop, and he hooked me up with a build to keep me going a few days later! Unfortunately this would be the only time we would get to ride these jumps! After heavy rain came through and washed away the jumps, we were simply too busy with the loop to get them running again. Something’s gotta bring you back.
After we were joined by the boys, Rob set us up in one of his rental houses on the property named The Backwoods Cottage. After buying a set of speakers from a local shop in Sedgefield and making some personal changes to the layout, we dubbed it the super loop house! The house was awesome! Two double bed rooms, a shower, bath, a large open yard overlooking the loop site in the background, and a fire pit where Julien cooked up “Spalta’s Famous chicken” almost nightly. Marshall was the only one daring enough to take a bath in the house though. You can ask why... With the heavy rain coming down a couple days a week, we bounced back and forth between the fire pit at the front of the house, and a secondary location under an awning beside the garage to cook. Man’s gotta eat. The front yard was also common to have a couple hundred cows hanging out on the lawn from time to time. I swear Rob made his guys move the cows to the front yard whenever he was upset with us about something to get even with us. There were multiple land mines you had to avoid getting to the vehicles all the time.
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming up in a few days!