Some weeks before last weekend’s Nzo TrailBlazer my friend Gayle had the bright idea of ferrying a vehicle to the far end of the 85km trail, riding the trail from the south, camping out, and then racing back on the Sunday. This would deliver multiple payoffs: seeing all the scenery from a new perspective, spending two days riding the trail instead of one, and having a slightly quicker getaway after proceedings were completed on race day.
I signed on, but modified her plan to include the deluxe accomodation of our little caravan, with its fridges, cold beverages, and enhanced food options.
This plan also included Glen, who was down for a couple of days in the forest.
We cruised up the generally ascending southern 30kms or so at our ease, stopping to read interesting historic info-boards, having snacks, and even a sit-down lunch, marvelling all the while at the numbers and variety of other bike riders we were meeting. Camping and lodge accommodation opens the Timber Trail up to a two-day trip for just about anybody: young and old, family groups, loaded tourers, everybody.
If you have ever asked a car driver about road conditions, particularly regarding hilliness, you will understand how the plan went astray. A driver will look puzzled about road conditions, and may offer advice about where there are ice creams, but it a rare car person that knows what a cyclist means by hills. Same goes for a mountain biker who has only ridden a trail one way.
We knew we were in for a generally uphill ride, but after we crossed the amazing Maramataha Bridge about halfway through there are a series of long drags that I had forgotten about, which get steeper as you go north, and the hardest arrived at about the same time as we ran out of water. It was hot, and we side tracked on foot to a stream to stick our heads in the water and refill a bidon. About then Gayle wondered aloud whose idea this had been.
The trip took a good deal longer than my guesstimate, but all in all, a good day, if a little longer and tougher than anticipated. We were not the only people to attempt this out and back approach. Roadie legend Jack Swart was tooling up for his upcoming Tour Aotearoa, and he rode north on Saturday on a fully loaded touring rig. Natalie and Erin took a bit longer than us but looked feistier afterwards. Both Gayle and Natalie were on cross bikes, which made going uphill marginally faster and going downhill a terrifying battle for control.
A stunner of a night in the campsite getting close views of tuis, kereru, long tailed bats, etc, and a solid sleep followed.
The real effects of our long day were not revealed until we started climbing the first section of the race route on Sunday.
Both of us knew immediately we were in for a long day and parted company to wrestle our demons in private. I promised myself while climbing the only serious hill on the return voyage that when I got to a stream I recalled I would stop and douse my head in it, and eat my lunch. That deal was the only thing that kept my slow progress up the climb from stopping altogether.
I arrived at the stream and found I had misremembered that too. The water would need some clambering to access. And while my legs were still turning pedals, they were not about to start clambering this late in the weekend.
A crippling bout of cramp hit both of them at the moment I was trying to balance on two large rocks. I staggered around on the various stones trying hard not fall in, trying to stop laughing, and sort of wishing somebody else was there, because if I lost the battle with gravity it was going to look pretty funny, and it would be a waste if nobody witnessed it.
Not falling in the stream was the pinnacle of my day’s performance, and finally getting my head wet and my ham & cheese ciabatta bun eaten was an enjoyable anti-climax.
I paused in the middle of the last big bridge to enjoy the view, the cool breeze, and not pedalling for a little while, and Gayle happened along.
Our mate Leisa won her class, but only after knocking herself out in a crash within cooee of the finish. She arrived at the end a bit confused, and with a bit of bark missing, and headed for hospital straight after prize giving.
The finish line, a cold drink, a dip in the Ongarue School pool, and a lie down on a shady patch of grass: these simple things were hard to imagine being better.