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On The Road, Part 2; No place like home.

Posted in Beer, Bikes, General, MTB, Riding, Roadtrips by brettok on March 26, 2010

After too few days in Wellington to show the boys what it’s all about, we were up at the crack of dawn to load ourselves into a different wagon, with a different driver, to hit the trails on a different island.  We’d been looking forward to the South, and like Rod Stewart, we were sailing.

Pulling out of the harbour on the Interislander is very cool indeed, and I felt a sense of belonging as I looked across at my beautiful adopted home city.  I wished we’d been able to spend more time not only on the trails, some of the best and most diverse of any city in the country, but also to have explored the cafes, bars, and myriad other gems that it offers.  Next time.

The cruise through the Marlborough Sounds is truly spectacular, and the day was pristine and the waters clear.  Picton harbour seems somewhat spoiled by the prescence of the ferries though, dominating the seascape and filling the town with smelly tourist hippies.  A shame.

Caleb was obviously keen to get back to the North, as he drove off the boat and turned the car straight back into the departures lane;  but his hunger got the better of him and he was soon scoffing down a heart-attack special from the local bakery.  I’ve never seen so much meat and grease contained in one bun.  Apparently he needed the fuel for the afternoons ride at Whites Bay, where we were met by Brenda AKA Bob from SPOKE for the first of many ride/guide missions.  

The ride set the tone for the next four days, with climbing straight out of the gate, up a singletrack offering fantastic views of the coast, the Cook Strait and back across to the North.  I could see the wind turbines dotting the hills of Makara, and felt another pang of longing momentariy.  We continued up a steep fireroad, then an even steeper singletrack that apparently few have cleaned.  

After Ross ran into him and snapped off the Mojos derailleur hanger, Jason claimed one for the Yankees with an uninterupted run, and Bob also laid claim for the Kiwis although she had two stops. I walked a couple of sections, Ross was defeated by his single-ring 36t setup and Caleb walked the lot with his massive camera bag, massive bike and massive (tall, I mean) body to contend with.

The downhill was fast, steep, rocky, rooty, fast again, and a lot of fun.  These themes will be repeated ad nauseum from here on in.  We finished with a swim in the ocean, the cool water bracing us as we took in the awesome scenery and tried to get as much of the ride stink off as possible.

After some phone discussion with Bob’s other half Chris, we decided to drive to Nelson and forego the planned ride at Wakamarina, due to a sense that the hardcore Yanks might find it too tame.  After a couple of hours we were sitting in a pub drinking local brews and eating amazing fish and chips.  This theme will be repeated ad nauseum from here on in.  The Sprig and Fern has four locations throughout Nelson, but this one is the best, a small room with the next door fish ‘n chip shop delivering to your table.  The beers are local brewed, and we sampled a good selection of them over the four days.  Not too bad, the Tasman Lager being the pick, but nothing to write home about either.  I wished secretly for a Tuatara.

Day 2 we drove over to Ians place in town, a nice part of town too, and rode out to the Matai Vallety for some reputedly flowy singletrack.  I wondered if the locals got flowy singletrack mixed up with fireroad climb as we ascended the 8.5 km to get to the actual fun bit.  This theme will be repeated ad nauseum from here on in.  Once at the top we dropped into this reputed flowiest trail in Nelson, the R and R trail, and I thought that this is more like it.  Some parts reminded me of Vegas, yet steeper, and if there’s a way to throw in a switchback, Nelsonites will find it.  

We did a few photos on the way down, then linked up via more fireroad to Supplejack, which Ross and I had ridden on our firt visit in 07.
Many, many switchbacks and loose rocks.  This theme will be repeated ad nauseum from here on in.  Ian had to bail early for kiddy duties, but greeted us with cold Stellas on return to his backyard.  Nice one Ian.

The next day was going to be the big one, the coup de grace, Peaking Ridge.  This ride had been talked up by Caleb and the locals as the best in the region, if not the country.  So how did it start?  A massive, steep, long fireroad climb, which seemed to get harder and steeper the further we went.

By the top the weather had turned to crap and my glasses were rendered useless, making me think about another attempt at contact lenses.  The heat from climbing combined with the cold air, fog and rain made the traverse of Sunshine (ha!) Ridge virtually unrideable for me, with the super slippery roots and rocks just waiting to put me on my ass.  We met up with Caleb and Bob at the junction and start of Peaking, as they’d taken the easy route to facilitate Bobs twisted ankle from a stationary tumble at Whites Bay, and Calebs mass of mass.  Bob decided her ankle wasn’t up to the technical challenges ahead, and I wasn’t keen on playing ‘spot-the-rock-as-it’s-about-to-smack-you-in-the-head’ either.  We took the soft option back down the fire road.  Of course, the other guys absolutely loved the trail, and it apparently got drier just a little way down the hill, meaning I could’ve ridden it with a dry pair of glasses.  Hindsight (and no sight) is a bitch.  Bob and I did some cool little singletrack trails down at the bottom though, which made up for the early bail.  We also got food and coffee while waiting for the boys to complete their second ascent and descent of the 629 trail.  Bastards.

Tuesday was slated for a drive over the Takaka Hill to ride Kill Devil.  The scenery on the way was spectacular, looking over towards Golden Bay and the surrounding hills.

On the way we stopped to check out these tame eels, and Ross made it his mission to grab one for some reason.  He had to battle the local cat for supremacy, with the cat claiming more of the mince than the eels.

We pulled up in farmland and rode up an innocuous road, through a creek and to the start of the rocky, twisty, 57 switchbacks. This theme will be repeated ad nauseum from here on in.  

The warm day meant we were sweating bullets by the top, but the views made up for the slog, and the ride back down helped to appease the disgruntled air that we had about us after the climb.  We seeked out beers and pizza in a little beach town whose name escapes me, and it was well late by the time we arrived back at Casa de Bob n Chris.

Caleb hatched a plan for an early morning ride to Browning Hut the next morning, drawing many doubting chuckles from Chris and myself as he stated we’d be on the road by 7.30.  Jason was due to fly out in the afternoon, and I had visions of him being rushed to the airport hours after his check-in.  Luckily, his flight was later than he’d first thought, and an 8.30 departure didn’t wreak any havoc.  Overnight rain had spooked the locals a little, and when I heard Stylie on speaker phone telling Caleb that he was mad to ride Brownings, I tended to take his advice and pull the pin.  Ross and Jason weren’t exactly enthused either, but as it was Jasons last day, and Caleb had invited Kelly McGarry along too, they trudged off into the grey skies while I sipped espresso in town.  Of course they got drenched, but still had some fun, and Ross and Kelly showed their mad skillz on this log ride in the torrential downpour.  

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to get further South, and our planned heli-drop ride at Kirwans was ruled out due to bad weather.  To fully experience all that NZ has to offer, at least three weeks is needed.  But we had a great time nonetheless.

A huge clean-up mission was all that was left to do, Jason scrubbing the Didymo off his bike, Ross vacuuming the house, while I helped Caleb to avoid a beating from his wife Emma by de-stinking, vacuuming and washing the car.  We bid farewell to Ross, and dropped Jason off at the airport;  and then there were two.  We had a final beer and pizza stop at the Sprig in town (the pizza joint next door does the delivery to your table thing; awesome idea) with Stylie and Sandra, then in one last act of mis-management, we discovered we needed petrol when we were about 30km out of town on the way to the ferry.  A mercy dash back to Nelson, and a second attempt to get home.  We made the ferry check-in with five minutes to spare.  No worries.

And now, I sit in the sun looking across the harbour to Wellington.  After two weeks of riding trails that I knew and some I didn’t, I still think Welly has the best riding in the country, as well as being a great place to live.  Yeah, Nelson is sunnier, Rotorua is smoother, and Auckland and now Christchurch can boast Pixies gigs, but the variety of terrain, the proximity of the trails to the city and the vibe of the city is still unbeatable for me.  There really is no place like home.

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