Soil Searching: Quiet Craftsman

When the earth speaks, Hylton Turvey listens, taking the time and care to carve trails in South Africa in a way that honors her presence. Soil Searching founder, Fanie Kok, shares this intimate profile of a man who has a true connection with the land he builds upon.

7 min readMay 5, 2020

“You’ve got this.”*

With these words have I followed Hylly into many a gap jump with blind, childlike conviction.

Hylton Bonazan Turvey is a man of few words. He uses them to converse in the same fashion that a master chef adds a pinch of salt to an already perfectly constructed dish — just to taste.

When the man does decide to say something — audibly, verbally — you listen and yield.

To even attempt describing a trail crafted by Hylton is like trying to dissect “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt. Layer-upon-layer of color, significance, and skill, coupled with an acute awareness of his natural surroundings. And all meticulously planned out and methodically pieced together, to combine and create a work of functional art. Timeless.

The word “sustainability” is arguably the most misconstrued and misused word today, but if there’s one person who epitomizes the true definition of the term — along with everything that it’s meant to represent — it’s Hylton. If he needs something, he makes it with whatever disregarded wood, leather, steel, and everything in between that he can get his hands on. He inherited this trait from his old man, Derek “D” Turvey.

Hard as Nails. Tough as Old Boots

To say something was “broken” was blasphemy in the Turvey household. At 71-years-old, still welding away at custom steel conference tables, CrossFitting three times a week, and always up at sparrows (the crack of dawn), “D” is like a diesel engine that just gets tougher and fitter with every passing year.

In addition to Hylly’s innate ability to sculpt and repair almost anything, he also possesses a unique quality that’s sometimes viewed as wanting in the world of mountain biking–environmental stewardship. He takes all things into consideration before carving a trail out through a grassland, indigenous forest, or even a plantation. Everything from the lay of the land, water sources, rare plant species, removing alien trees, and replanting indigenous ones, to considering bird habitats, ant hills, and porcupine dens. He even had an Aardvark help him do some remedial work on a section of trail once!

The Butterfly Effect

His respect and awareness of nature stems from his mom. She may bake the world’s best rusks and nutri bars, is soft spoken, always smiling, and as gentle as silence itself, but Anita “Neets” Turvey is a force of nature to be reckoned with.

Many years ago, she rallied all her friends from the tennis club and surroundings to protest a tender for a multi-lane highway that was set to cut right through the heart of the Karkloof Valley. They tried all angles, but it seemed even Karkloof possessing the largest stretch of unbroken natural forest in South Africa wasn’t enough to stop it.

Neets did not concede. She convinced the national environmental television program at the time, “50/50”, to come film a documentary about the flora and fauna in Karkloof. They discovered that a butterfly on the verge of extinction — the Ariadne, commonly known as the Karkloof Blue — had its only breeding ground in the world right there in the valley, in a small pocket above the Karkloof Falls.

Yes, folks. A butterfly and a peaceful rusk-baking, dove-like lady, along with her band of fun-loving tennis friends prevented Karkloof from having a black asphalt artery run through its heart. As we say in Afrikaans, “Hierdie antie vat nie kak nie!” (This auntie does not take shit!)

But Have You met Uncle Stan?

Hylly’s latest trail creation, named Uncle Stan, was inspired by a little Stanley hip flask that accompanied me on all my travels around the world. At some point, during an evening of campfires and telling tall trail tales, Uncle Stan would make a guest appearance from one of my pockets, at which point I would politely introduce him to those present.

This was the case one evening around a “braai” (BBQ) in Karkloof, but by the time I’d asked “Have YOU met Uncle Stan?”, for the hundredth time — possibly to the same person — Hylly’s frustration levels were irreparable, and a vision for a trail had been born.

At the time, I was completely oblivious to what the man was conspiring to do, but upon my annual migration south to escape the northern hemisphere winter, I found out. On one golden African afternoon, we saddled up for a ride and headed out to this “new trail” Hylly wanted to show me. As we approached the sign, Hylly, in his deep, rumbling thunder-like voice asked:

“Have you met Uncle Stan?”

Uncle Stan is built on private property adjacent to were Hylton, his wife Dané and their two Jack Russells, Syd and Lucy, live.**

Laurence Hancock, owner of Aldora Farm, has lived in Karkloof his whole life. His passion for the valley and for mountain biking are second to none, and he has privately funded half of the iconic Bachelor Trail (named so as it was the last trail Hylly built as a “lone wolf” and the one we fervently sessioned the day before his wedding). He gave Hylly free reign to express himself creatively through trails on Aldora Farm, and was so stoked by the magic of Uncle Stan, that he decided to fence in the entire trail, so that it would not get trampled by the roaming cattle.

“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

As cliché as it sounds, this emanates from Hylly’s entire being. And I can tell you this: He is one of the hardest f*@king workers I know. Even when he’s not getting paid to build a trail, he gets up at sparrows (4 a.m.), grabs his tea, rusks, and trail builder pack to head for the hills, come hell or high water, pausing only to take a 15-minute tea and rusk break at 9 a.m., a 20-minute lunch, and then clocking out when the time is right and light is dim.

A craftsman, an artist, a conservationist, a soul mate, a brother.

To Hylton Bonazan Turvey and all his kindred spirits out there in the hills, valleys, and forests — Ngiyabonga kakhulu bafowethu. Thank you.


You have Built the Trails and ridden the Trails to learn the lessons of Life

Much of what you know you’ve learnt from the Trails

…Continue with your journey of this wonderful Life!

- Derek Turvey

* Needless to say, he was not always right, and I did not always “have it” on the first go, but it did allow for rapid progression!

** The mythical Uncle Stan’s exact whereabouts are unknown. He was last seen fishing by a small lake, on the other side of the old stone wall where the gum trees bend in the direction of the sunrise.

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