Walter Brosius is an Electrical Engineer from Belgium who specializes in Solar. He is also the key protagonist behind the design and construction of the new Missing Link trail which connects Cape Town’s suburbs of Camps Bay and Hout Bay.
This unique trail contours the slopes of the Twelve Apostle Mountain Range and is a riding experience you’re not likely to forget. We spoke to Walter about the difficulties of pulling together this trail and if further expansions are in the pipeline.
Who is Walter Brosius?
I was born in the city that makes the Stella beer and houses InBev, the company that owns SAB – Leuven, Belgium. I moved to South Africa in 2012 and followed a job and a girl. My specialty as an engineer is solar energy and electricity and I have a Wireman’s license. Since recently I can add trail building to this skills list. I love mountain biking and trail running and snowboarding. Essentially, I am a mountain lover. I make killer waffles and would bake fresh waffles once a month for my colleagues at work in the morning. The gorgeous smell of fresh waffles would waft into the neighboring offices and make the whole building drool. That is why my first trail on Signal Hill was called the Belgian Waffle.
Where do you live, how many years have you been riding mountain bikes for, what bike do you ride and where is your favourite place to ride?
I live in Seapoint and I own a few different mountain bikes, but no road bikes. I have been riding since I was a youngster when I was given a BMX. I love technical riding and have therefore two Pyga bikes and a Dartmoor which was custom built by Stoke Suspension. These bikes are extremely capable and versatile. My favorite places in the Western Cape are Piket Boberg, ContermansKloof and Grootvadersbosch Conservancy. In Europe it would be the Alps and in South America I can highly recommend Cuzco, Peru.
How did you get involved with trail building?
I started building trails on Strawberry Hill farm in the Grootvadersbosch Conservancy, near Swellendam. When I moved back from that farm to Cape Town, I lived in Tamboerskloof on Signal Hill and there was a trail on the hill nearby that was permitted by SanParks to become a MTB trail, but it was not rideable. I decided to make it rideable by working on the trail after work in the evenings using spotlights and head torches. I had a little bit of help from other volunteers and Table Mountain Bikers started sponsoring a helper, Jonas. Somehow, we pulled it off and The Belgian Waffle was born. Afterwards, we built a few extra sections and improved a few others and were able to create a magnificent trail on the flank of Signal Hill.
So to this new trail then, what is it officially called, is it Missing Link, 12 Waffles, 12 Apostles or Walter’s Trail?
The official name is The Missing Link. We first named it 12 Waffles which is a reference to the Belgian Waffle and to the Twelve Apostles, the mountain range under which the trail was built. This name didn’t really reflect the massive significance it has with regards to the long-standing dream of the mountain biking community to have a trail all around Table Mountain. Hence, The Missing Link was chosen.
It is probably the most scenic trail on the continent, if not the planet, but more than that you seem to have found a balance between keeping it fun and technically challenging. It is the kind of trail that will appeal to marathon racers, trail riders and weekend warriors. Was that the intention at the onset, or did the terrain and landscape just push things in that direction?
I like what you are saying, thanks. Yes it was always meant to be a “contour trail”. Even though the terrain has forced us to add some climbs and some rocky sections, we have done our best to make it a trail for every skill level.
The Missing Link Trail enables riders to complete a circular route around the broader base of Table Mountain, a ride which until now, has not been possible. This is a major drawcard for cycling tourism. How long did it take to get the initial trail complete and how many people has it created employment for?
It took quite a few years of negotiating before we had permission from the landowner to build the trail. I was not involved at this stage but was only pulled in at the start of 2020 because I happened to be available full time due to job loss. I started on February 1st with a team of four and was able to build the whole trail in roughly two months. The trail is about 6 km so we reached an average of 150m per day. We only used hand tools.
What were some of the more challenging sections or moments when building the trail?
Well, there have been quite a few challenges. Without talking about the uncertainty of having enough funding, we had to deal with the summer heat, dense alien vegetation and extremely rocky soil. A hand-built trail like this takes a lot of energy, persistence and tenacity. We are extremely lucky to have found a core crew of guys who are willing and capable to do this work. I use a small battery-powered chainsaw and a manual pruning saw to open the trail line. Then we use hoes (skoffels), pick-axes, shovels, crowbars and rakes to build the trail from scratch. I remember a few times when we were facing huge boulders and were really doubtful about our route choice. But somehow, by ourselves in the bush on the mountain in the heat and covered in sweat and dust, we found the will to try, push and keep going until the end. That is what made this project an unbelievable adventure.
Incredible. Where did the project funding come from and do you have plans to raise more funds?
This project was created by individuals linked to Table Mountain Bikers and all funding has been channeled through this entity. A new separate NPO was created to help further this trail project and allow for more fundraising in the future. There are plans in place to implement membership access or “user pays” system, but the details of this still need to be worked out. Currently, users are invited to become a member of Table Mountain Bikers or make a contribution via the snapscan boards which have been hung on the side of the trail.
The Hout Bay side of the trail is currently fenced off, can you tell us what the challenges are with getting it open and how can the public help with this process?
On the Houtbay side we are currently not allowed to go through the Twelve Apostles Battery site. This area is managed by SanParks and leased to a church group which runs a youth program on the site. The difficulty is to negotiate “managed access” and we are currently negotiating this access. So, to be clear, for now there is no access and hence the trail can only be accessed from Camps Bay and one must turn around at the end of the trail and ride back to the start.
Are there plans in place to extend on the trail a little further, like maybe some extra loops? Then what are the plans for directional use – will things stay multi-directional?
Absolutely! We will build more! This first trail has touched a sensitive nerve with our target audience and beyond – they want more! Additional funding has been coming in and this allows us to build three extra sections: two sections from either end of the Missing Link trail which will connect to the middle of the Missing Link, thus creating a figure of eight. A third section will be built to connect the Missing Link trail to the pipe track above Camps Bay. The latter has been a permitted trail for a long time by the way. All of this will allow for more route flexibility and variation and an overload of awesomeness.
Lets talk budgets. How much has been spent on this trail in the first 3 months and what kind of funding is still required to add in the extra loops you are talking about?
Good question. The Missing Link has cost roughly R175 000. We are hoping to build the next three sections within a budget of R250 000.
Ok cool, then how can people contribute to the funding process to get this done?
Well, you can buy an annual membership, or contribute every time you use the trail or just make a once-off donation. Companies can also sponsor and perhaps even have their logos appear on a trail board or on the website. Bank details are on the website of Table Mountain Bikers and there is a snapscan board at the trail.
Moving forward, your intentions are to eventually return to Belgium, have you guys thought of a continuity plan here to maintain the trail and continue with the good work you started?
Yes, unfortunately I lost my permanent job and won’t be able to find work again due to the crisis. So it is inevitable that I return to Belgium permanently. I am incredibly excited that I have found a “successor” in Harry Millar from iRide Africa. We will build the coming new sections together and as soon as I return to Belgium, he will take over completely. I am very confident that this project will become sustainable when I see the enthusiasm of the public.
What has trail building taught you about yourself and about life in general?
I love this question. Trail building has become a hobby, when I worked during evenings with spotlights it was so rewarding and so I have just continued. It is cheaper than going to the gym and you are rewarded with a spectacular workplace. Not to mention the warm thanks and appreciation from trail users. I guess it’s just super rewarding to create something beautiful.
On behalf of the mountain bike community, we want to thank you for all your efforts building such an incredible trail for all to enjoy. All the best for the future!
Thanks to you as well for contacting me. I am in no way looking for any fame or recognition, but I do think it is useful to get this story out for the purpose of trail advocacy, public awareness and participation. Hopefully, this builds on all trail advocacy efforts and cooperation with SanParks and other landowners. I will also try to create a legacy ride that would lead over all the trails I built before I leave. That is my small vanity project…. | ENDS |
| Images: Gary Perkin | Cheers to SRAM.com for supporting this story |
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