[Blogger is being a pooper and not uploading my pics... so pics to come- maybe]
It was a pretty epic, and totally awesome weekend. Phil and I drove from Cambridge to Rotorua on Saturday morning, to meet my future brother in law, D. We arrived at about 11, and set off for a morning mountain biking on the easy trails in Whakarewarewa MTB park.
The ride to the park from Long Mile carpark starts with a shortish, sharpish climb, which is a good way for me to get used to being on Maxwell instead of Eric. I used the climb, and the following descent to get used to going over bumps, to not being able to pull up with my feet, and to using different gear shifters. Unfortunately, adjusting to the different shifters took more getting used to than it should have- I remarked to Phil it was amazing how fast he could spin, when we were both in our lowest gear. Turns out, I was reading the display all wrong, and I was in my hardest gear (well, my hardest on the wee chain ring, anyway). Ah well- at least Saturday was supposed to be my “strength” workout day! I finally got shifted down, and discovered that Maxwell doesn’t like the lowest gear at all (oddly- this is something I’ve found with each of my three Avantis).
We headed onto Tahi, from a different entrance than I used either of the previous times I’d been there, and it wasn’t long before the boys surged ahead, with Phil obligingly waiting for me every 2 minutes or so! Unfortunately, something went wrong in all of our internal navigation systems, and before we knew it, we were on what seemed to be a walking trail, with no D in sight. It took about half an hour of exploring the four wheel drive tracks (and going over that wee part of Tahi again and again) before we found him.
From Tahi, we headed to the Dipper. I hated it the first time (around Xmas time)- from the sharp hand turn at the start to the steep, bumpy downhill early on, to the 3 and 5 year olds whooping past me. The second time was better (with Jenn and D in April)- I’d had more of a warm up, I was enjoying riding with my sister, and at least I could pass those 5 year olds back on the uphills! This time, it was awesome. It was much quieter than it had been previously (winter, I guess), I’d had plenty of time to adjust to the MTB (apart from the doopid backwards shifters), and we hit the trail head on, rather than turning onto it. I rode most of it, though I was still much slower than the boys, and really enjoyed the smooth trail, the sweeping corners, and the mini roller coasters.
After the Dipper, we headed back to the camp ground via the exit track, which was downhill and bumpy and not at all my cup of tea. We headed to Pak n Save to pick up the components for our traditional ‘Vegas lunch but were gutted to find that they had none of our favourite ciabatta rolls. Shame on you, Pak n Save. Shame on you. We ate a chilly picnic lunch on the floor in the cabin, watching a truly, spectacularly awful game show, Beat the Geek, and a few music videos, and then headed out again, stuffed full of chicken rolls and salt and vinegar chips.
I wasn’t particularly keen on heading out again. As my mountain biking slowly improves, a session on the trails becomes slightly more of a workout! But it was only a bit after 2pm, and I certainly wasn’t keen to chill out at the campsite for a few hours by myself. Also, I needed to do something about those salt and vinegar chippies (and the feast we had planned for dinner), so I sucked it up and got back on the bike.
D had planned out a big loop. We had to cut it down somewhat, as we wanted to beat the sun home, and we knew I’d slow things down. I told the boys I’d stick with them, but that I’d turn back at the top if it looked like things were going to be too hard for me. I was definitely keen to see some of the rest of the park. The route started with the same shortish, sharpish climb as before, and I was pleased to handle it a bit better this time. From the beginning of the park proper, the boys headed along Mad if You Don’t, while I rode along the parallel 4wd drive track. It was fun to beat them for once- if not by much! The big climb started not much later, and continued for the next 40-odd minutes- and from about 335m to 665m! It was a heck of a climb especially with flat pedals (no pull) and no granny gear (I’m that weak, yes….) but usually, just as it got to be too much, the trail would level out or slope down for a bit. The two or three gasping for air stops helped too!
Finally, it was time to turn onto Spilt Enz. Split Enz was part of the Xterra course, and D had described it as Exit Track, but smoother. It certainly started off well. I told the boys to go on ahead, but to wait in a few places, especially as it was now after four, and the sunset was on its way. The first part of the track looped gradually down, with mostly smooth and reasonably un-rutted trails. The corners were just windy enough, and the dippers were just deep enough to make it fun, but it mostly wasn’t too hard- even for me. The feeling of riding on the side of a mountain, and the views of Rotorua peeking out through the trees made me feel deliciously hardcore, even if I was still riding like a complete pansy. The boys waited for me at a breathtaking lookout, and then we got going again. The second part was harder- bumpier, and a bit rockier and steeper, and I rode considerably less. Mindful of the sinking sun, I tried to spend any time I wasn’t riding running while pushing the bike, so I still got a good wee workout in! Then we were at the bottom, and it was time to head home. But not quite- the quickest way home was via Pondy’s Downhill, another Grade 3 track which was a bit tougher than Split Enz. I probably rode about 20% of it, though that was partly in the interests of timing- once you’re running it’s quicker to keep going than to jump back on the bike every time the trail evens out again. After a nerveracking few minutes as the sky darkened, the trail snaked back out of the forest and I met the boys in what seemed to have been a reasonably recently logged area.
We weren’t quite sure where we were, whether we were supposed to be there, or how to get back to the carpark, but we took a shot, and soon found ourselves on a sealed road, so we ramped up the gears and sprinted off. There’s nothing quite like pushing a mtb “fast”- even if you’re only going about 30km/h it feels like you’re flying. Soon enough we reached a gate, and we were back at the end of “Mad if You Don’t”, so we headed back along the forest roads to the carpark. The first wee bit was fine, but it was after 5 and the sun was getting fast. A few hundred metres before the end, I had to give up and walk- the ground was just too gravelly for me to feel comfortable, and my poor shortsighted and astigmatic eyes don’t handle falling darkness very well. Finally, we made it back to the carpark, and started our tentative trip home- grateful for my uber reflective Kathmandu jacket, and for the brief illumination that every passing car offered.
We made it back to the camp ground (Redwoods motor park- I’ll be back at the log cabins next time!) by about 5:45pm and breathed a sigh of relief. Riding in the forest without lights as darkness falls is not something I’d recommend, but it sure was fun!
After a good four hours of riding (in total), I was looking forward to a good dinner, and Stonegrill was the perfect place. A huge hunk of tender beef, cooked as I ate it, with kumara, roast potatoes, carrots and a lovely glass of warm pinot was the perfect end to a great day.