Monday, January 16, 2017

Family trip to Nelson

Since becoming a family of four, each year, Sarah, Kaitlyn, Khulan and I have managed to sneak away from Wellington for a few days in early January.

Our first trip away together included a wonderful ride into the Whanganui River via the historic Bridge to Nowhere.  In 2015, we mountain-biked our hearts out in Rotorua, while last year, we tried something a bit different with a three-day cycle tour in Northland.

In November, Sarah and I had been planning to travel down to Christchurch for Le Petit Brevet, but the Kaikoura Earthquake intervened, and we were left with a $300 Bluebridge credit.  Nelson beckoned, and we were soon re-booked.  MTB trip ON!

We planned for six nights away, and decided to book four nights' accommodation in Nelson itself, and the last two in Takaka.

I had a look through the Kennett Bros' most recent edition for ride-inspiration, and we left home with only two rides locked in:  the Dun Mountain Trail, the Rameka Track.  For a short while, it seemed possible that we might be able to ride at Wairoa Gorge, which has recently entered an arrangement with the Nelson MTB Club which grants access to the usually off-limit wonderland.  Alas, we discovered before anyone got too excited about it, that the girls needed to be at least 18.

We hadn't booked a cabin on the ferry for the 8am sailing, but the previous evening's news had predicted 5-metre swells and I didn't feel like starting off the trip with a bout of sea-sickness, so I grabbed a family room as soon as we boarded.

While I hunkered down, my companions were much braver, and we probably could've got away with just a single cabin.  After a couple of hours in the foetal position, I prematurely went downstairs to get a coffee, making the mistake of looking out the window as I did so.  It was all ocean one second, then sky the next.  I pulled the pin on the coffee and went back to bed.

My second foray from the cabin was better - with the ferry now in Tory Channel things weren't moving around quite so much.  The two 16-year-olds were sunning themselves on the top deck, while Sarah admired the view.   Expecting to see (and smell) sheep trucks on the vehicle deck, I was surprised to learn how potatoes make their way around the country!


Once off the boat, we grabbed an early lunch from the Dutch bakery, then hit the road.  Traffic conditions were mostly good, and we were soon making ourselves comfortable in our airbnb home overlooking the Maitai River.

Once we'd unpacked the car, Sarah and I headed out to run some errands.  First stop was a bike store to get some forest permits (which we probably could've done without), and while there, we also picked a local guidebook by Steve Newport which seemed incredibly comprehensive, and managed to argue with the manager about the existence of Juliana's compact grips.  Upon asking about a decent 2-hour ride option, Silvan Forest was recommended, and after a quick stop at the supermarket, it was time to go home and suit up.


Day 1:  Silvan Forest

We made our way to the top of the hill along Alpha (Tahi, Rua, Toru, Wha and Rima), despite getting a little confused in the third section and doing a short loop.  At the top, we were faced with three descents, and followed the recommendation of a group that left just before us - People's Choice it was, and choice it was.  Khulan took point, while I rode behind Sarah to keep an eye on her, and offer "helpful" suggestions about how best to handle the multitude of switchbacks on the trail.

Next up (well, down, I suppose) was Heaven up Here and then into Exodus at the end of which we stopped for a short rest.
Resting, obviously
Goliath took us down to where we'd started from, and in Sarah's case, down to earth.  This was our first grade 4 track, and while I'd been super impressed with what she'd handled up until that point, this was a bit of a step up in technicality.

Not much negotiation was required, and we were soon heading off up Alpha again, though this time we didn't go right to the top.  Hare Down took us into Omega, and then it was time to head off for dinner.  Sadly, not quick enough, and Khulie provided dinner for about half a million sandflies...

According to Garmin:  2 hours elapsed, 13km ridden, and 600m climbed.  What a great start, though after clocking up about 1000km in the previous fortnight on the road, it was shocking how little distance you get for a lot of effort!


Day 2:  Dun Mountain Trail

I was really looking forward to our second ride, after hearing many glowing endorsements of the Coppermine race which covers this 40km loop.

Our house was on Atmore Street, the top of which granted access to the Codgers MTB Park network, through which we could access the start of the Dun Mountain Trail.  Rather than descend on-road for a minute or so before climbing up to the start, "we" decided we'd take the off-road route.

Sadly, what looked pretty benign on the map was far from it in real life.  Strava tells the story nicely, with the sealed "Atmore Ramp" at 16% gradient being just the beginning.  Jack's Track entailed a bit of walking...

Grovelling up Jack's Track
... but much of it was rideable (by distance, at least.  Time, not so much).  Fortunately, the Firball descent more than made up for the climb, and it was big smiles all round by the bottom of the hill.  We got a little confused and ended up in a work site, but eventually reoriented ourselves, and were off up the almost 800-vertical-metre climb.

The "DMT" follows an old bush railway route at a very steady gradient with little in the track surface to trouble our full-suspension fat-tyred steeds.

We stopped briefly at Four Corners, enjoying a bit of shade and some snacks, before continuing up to Third House, by which time we were cruising through beautiful native bush.  It was kind of weird to hear my phone going off in my pocket at regular intervals.  It felt like we were miles from nowhere, but as the crow flies, I guess not so much.


While Khulan and I had ridden at the front up to Third House, I rode with Kaitlyn for the rest of the climb.  We stopped when I noticed her shock seemed to be bottomed out, and managed to get some air into it with our regular (tyre) pump.  She looked much more comfortable with the bike's angles as they should've been all along.

Kaitlyn, with Tasman Bay in the background
Our maintenance stop hadn't come at a great time, and meant that Sarah and Khulie had a fairly long wait for us at Windy Point, which was, true to form, very windy indeed.  Kaitlyn and I had been debating what the temperature would do once we'd got out of the bush, and indeed the sun well and truly trumped the altitude.  We all donned raincoats to keep the wind chill off, but it was over 30 degrees by the time we got to Coppermine Saddle.

Windy Point
My companions and another group at Coppermine Saddle
One of the last bike-related tasks completed before we'd left home was to tubeless Sarah's wheels (and top up the fluid in everyone else's already tubeless setups).  The descent was fairly rough, and Sarah made a good fist of it, only having one minor spill on a switchback.

It was nice to finally see Maitai Dam from below, having ridden past it twice before on the Maungatapu Track:  once on the Kiwi Brevet, and another time with Marjolein on a 3-day cycle tour taking in the Waikakaho and Wakamarina tracks en route.

Maitai Dam
We made our way home via a nice (although puddley) bit of singletrack along a pipeline and then Maitai Valley Road.  Khulie and I popped into town to pick up some new grips for her bike (they did exist, huzzah!!), which I installed that afternoon.  I also spent an hour or so washing bikes which was a nice way to end a thoroughly enjoyable and successful day's riding.

According to Garmin:  5 hours elapsed, 45km ridden, and 1200m climbed.


Day 3:  Codgers MTB Park

After the Dun Mountain Trail, an easily-adjustable ride made sense, and Codgers got the nod.

Testament to their awesomeness, no-one thought that road-riding to the start was a good idea, and we took the same route as we had the day before.  It was fascinating how much more everyone enjoyed the Atmore Ramp, Jack's Track and Lower Firball when they knew what they were up against.

We met Joel and his son, Zane, and also Brendan at the trail head.  Brendan was heading up to Coppermine Saddle on his own, after succumbing to my raving about it, while Joel and Zane were going to hang with us for a bit.  Having suggested they join us, I was a little nervous to discover Joel on his CX bike, and Zane with a major front-brake issue (i.e., no front brake!!!).  But, it was good to have a little bit of a sense of how that park was laid out, all the better to try to pick a suitable route.

We all headed up the first bit of the Dun Mountain Trail together.  I was chatting with Joel and Zane at the back, and Brendan had proceeded up past our turn off, so I hurtled after him, making myself feel quite sick, before cruising back to catch up with the crew on Pipeline.  That connected us into the other half of Jack's Track, which we stayed on until Middle Road, which took us up to the Fireball skid site.  Here, Zane, Joel and Sarah took Hulk'n'Hogan, while Kaitlyn, Khulan and I tried IV Line.

We didn't fare particularly well:  Katy had a wee spill after losing her front wheel in a whole lot of loose rock, while Joel pinch-flatted, and Zane missed his front brake!!!  Sarah and Khulan had fun, and I was only mildly traumatised by watching Kaitlyn crash.

We regrouped successfully at Jack's Track hub, and after sorting Joel out with a tube and some air, we parted ways.

This time at the top of Jack's Track we turned left - I was planning on doing the Viral Flow loop but when we got there, it was quite overgrown, and we decided to ride something a bit more popular.  The top of P51 fitted the bill nicely, and Khulan stopped, as requested, at the turn off to Pipilini.  She shot off, followed by Kaitlyn, and by the time I got onto it, it was too late to tell her to turn back, so I had no choice but to follow her and Kaitlyn down this scratch fest.

Sarah had headed onto Lower Firball, and had had a blast.  It reminded me a little about Michael Wood's MTB-Orienteering briefings and how torn up my legs would be at the end of pretty much every MTBO event I'd ever done.  Maps do have a lot of missing data!

We rode again up Pipeline and Jack's Track and on to the Fireball skid.  Here, Kaitlyn and Sarah did the Firball Climb, and then Upper and Lower Firball.  Khulie and I thought we'd better make use of our forest permits, and headed off down Turners (which sadly both Sarah and Kaitlyn would probably have loved), before climbing Take Me To Your Leader.

After a bit of 4WD road, we hooked into Beer Bottle and rode up to a trig.  There, we decided discretion was the better part of valour, and chose the grade 4 Top Dog over the grade 5 Lollipop.  I had a couple of tactical walks - the first of which was motivated by the sight of Khulan hugging a pine tree, sans bike.

With that in mind, I think we were both quite glad we hadn't tried Lollipop, particularly when we saw the very gnarly exit of the trail on the way back to TMTYL.  I decided to cut loose a bit on that second ascent, even netting myself a nice strava trophy for 9th fastest time logged.  Khulie had been getting trophies left, right and centre, so it was nice to finally get one myself!

Khulie finishing Take Me To Your Leader
We then hooked into Hot Box for a quick and occasionally sketchy drop down to the Maitai River.  We were both glad the track was bone dry, and content that we hadn't tried the grade 5 "Smasher"!

That evening we went for a walk in town.  We'd now had three magnificent rides on some very sweet trails - combining the width of Rotorua, trail surfaces more like Wellington's, and vertical double what we were used to at home.  Nonetheless, the sight of a pub with bikes hanging outside it somehow added to our growing impression of this city.


Nice one, Nelson
According to Garmin:  4 hours 20 elapsed, 28km ridden, and 1100m climbed.


Day 4:  Widdershins and Involution

We had to make a difficult choice for our fourth and final ride in Nelson, but in the end I was swayed by Steve Newport describing the Involution as "a 'must do' track if you're visiting the Nelson area".

Despite getting the loading of our 4 MTBs on the back of the Corolla fairly dialed, I'm still keen to avoid it, and so suggested we ride out to Stoke and to the start of the day's loop.  No-one thought to volunteer to load the bikes on the car, and I was the only one who could drive it, so we set off by bike.

Leaving the CBD, I made a left when I should've gone right, and as a result it took us a little while to hook into the excellent cycle paths from Nelson to Richmond, but we got there in the end.  The final route to Marsden Valley Road wasn't particularly direct, but it was easy and relatively stress-free riding.

Having described the loop as "a big climb followed by a long, sweet descent", I got a few dark looks a minute in.  We'd short-cutted the road via a very steep bit of singletrack.  Had I read the book a bit more carefully, we could've avoided that rude start, taking the 4WD up from its beginning rather than the short cut.

The road was almost as steep in places, but got us effectively up to the interesting bits, and afforded us lovely views over Richmond while we were doing so.  It was very hot, but a mixture of shade and a nice breeze prevented things from getting too uncomfortable.

Kaitlyn and I took advantage of the width the road offered, and my legs, and we rode a lot of the climb "together".

Tasman Bay again
We regrouped shortly before the start of Widdershins, and I enjoyed riding at the front of the group for a bit.  At the end, we took the Kennett Bros' advice, and had both a snack and admired the native bush we were about to descend through.  A robin, presumably of the South Island variety, rather than the North Island ones we sometimes see in Wellington, admired us, and in particular the Anzac biscuits the girls had baked before we left home...!

My three beautiful women!
Involution was indeed a beauty, punctuated by issues with Sarah's navigation (a few more scrapes to add to the growing number), and my bike both losing a bit of air in the rear tyre suddenly, and developing a nasty bit of play in the bottom bracket.

I couldn't get rid of the play with the tools I had with me, so it was a frustrating ride back to home - direct at least this time, only hooking into the cycle paths at the bottom of The Ridgeway.  When I was finally reunited with my $2 Shimano tool, I was able to tighten things up nicely, but didn't have the energy to take the bike out on the road for a test...   (Idiot!)

According to Garmin:  3 hours 45 elapsed, 37km ridden, and 1000m climbed.


Ride 5:  Rameka Track

I was looking forward to the Rameka.

After packing the car and giving the home we'd stayed in a good once-over, we were off, and enjoyed the drive to Canaan Downs Road near the top of Takaka Hill, stopping only briefly en route, in Motueka for coffee and some fruits.

We parked the car 100m off the main highway, and unloaded the bikes.  We were already suited up and had two bags packed (one with tools, and a second with a change of clothes for each of the women).

I was dismayed to almost instantly feel familiar play in the cranks again.  At least this time I had the tools with me, and about 500m into the ride, we pulled over, and I took the cranks completely off the bike.  It was only then that I noticed the (outboard) aluminium bottom bracket shell on the drive side had cracked right through, so when I was pedalling, one side of the BB was opening up under the pedalling force and the whole thing was flopping around.

ARGH!!!  This was a deal breaker if ever I saw one...

While the plan had been for me to ride up the road to retrieve the car while the girls checked into the motel, even if my BB survived the descent, there was no way the climb was going to be good for it.  So, I made the decision to head off to a bike shop while Sarah and the girls did the Rameka on their own.

Now carrying both the bags, and the map, they continued, while I headed back to the car.  It didn't take me long to start stressing about them.  I regretted not calming down a bit before making the call that they should proceed, and worried about them until we were reunited a few hours later.

There was no vodafone reception at the top of the hill, so I couldn't call ahead to Takaka.  But, heading there seemed the best idea - at worst, I could empty the car at the motel before heading back to Nelson for help.

I'd never been to Takaka, but had long heard of the Quiet Revolution Cycle Shop that awaited me there.  They were open, and Martin far exceeded my expectations.  He was happy to prioritise my repair, suggesting I go grab a coffee while he replaced my BB (and the bolt I'd managed to round out during my ham-fisted investigations...).  Sure enough, when I returned an hour later, I was good to go.  I paid, then gave him another $20 to say thanks for the urgency - it was barely in his hand when he was putting half of it in a donation tin for Project Rameka!   What a top bloke.

By this stage, the day had moved on a bit, and I was able to check in to our motel.  That done, I figured the girls should be getting close, and rode out to Rameka Creek Road to find them.  Nervously...

I passed the end of One Click, and hoped that there was no way they could blast past without me noticing.  I only worried about that for a few minutes before catching a glimpse of Khulan on the road ahead.  PHEW!!!!

It was SO nice to see them.  As it turned out, they'd had a fairly good run, with only one minor crash for Sarah.  They admitted the top of the track had been hard work, and also mentioned refilling bottles at a campsite before reading a sign that suggested the water may need boiling (it didn't, for the record!). I was proud, grateful, and relieved to hear the daughters had done a great job navigating!

Daughters, navigating
I described the route back to the motel, and in return was given the camelbak with tubes and tools, and everyone's leftover snacks.  I declined the potentially dubious water, and at the intersection with East Takaka Road, set off on my own.

It had been almost three hours since I'd first left Sarah, Kaitlyn and Khulan, so I figured I was in for a fairly long one, and that I'd best not mess around.  East Takaka Road was unsealed for 10km or so until it ended at SH60 about two-thirds of the way to Upper Takaka.  About 1km from the end, I made the mistake of letting a car pass me, and then ate dust all the way to the highway intersection.

Had there been a shop at Upper Takaka, I'd have stopped for a drink, but there was nothing, so I kept going.  Despite pausing for a few photos on the way up Takaka Hill, my phone must not have liked my sweaty fingers, so nothing was stored.  The main climb took me about 45 minutes, with only very light traffic to contend with during the 685-metre ascent.

It was mostly downhill from the top to Canaan Road, and so about 4.5 hours after first setting off up the road, here I was again.  The stress and the physical effort getting myself to this point had taken their toll, and I was feeling pretty flogged.  I laboured on, only punctuated by a few more fruitless photo stops.

Eventually the road tipped down, and I was fascinated to note that this area was part of Abel Tasman National Park (and presumably with an exemption for MTB use on these tracks).

After passing a funky-looking campsite, and the third or fourth cattle-stop, I noticed a trail marker at the start of some singletrack through open farm-land.  The first half of it was hard work, and nothing to write home about, but it then broke into a patch of native bush, and became a pleasure (though still hard work) and well worth the first half.

It was soon onto the Rameka Track proper.  After a short climb, gravity was eventually mostly on my side.  But, I really struggled to keep the bike moving.  The track surface was rough, and my toasted legs weren't really up to maintaining the momentum the bike needed to smooth out the bumps.  Maybe my 26" wheels are obsolete, after all?!

Just when I was in need of a boost, I got the opposite when I looked down and noticed my GPS had shut down.  It hadn't skipped a beat on the trip up until this point, and since I've been increasingly enjoying the strava heat-map feature, the data has seemed more precious than perhaps it actually is.

Pretty, but not why I ride, right?

It took me an embarrassingly long time to recover from this "terrible" loss.  I swore out loud, and regretted riding so hard since I'd left the girls.  I actually had to consciously remind myself that I was in the middle of the ride I'd wanted to do, and data or none, there was no reason not to enjoy it.  Besides, there was a record of the effort - in my legs.

That rebuke helped, as did filling my bottle slightly upstream of the track, from a beautifully clear mountain creek.  The cold water was refreshing, and it was, I have no doubt, an integral part of my recovery.

The track split soon after.  We'd bumped into Brad, proprieter of B-Rad Cycles, in Nelson at the end of our Involution ride, and he'd said "be sure to ride the Klicks".  It was with that in mind that I was planning to ride Great Expectations after the Historic Rameka Track, rather than Odyssey.  Given my physical state, it also seemed to make sense to take the technically easier track, too.

Great Expecations was pretty fun, and it would have been a real shame to miss out on seeing the stunning water feature.  Finally, my camera agreed to store a photo, and, of all the ones I attempted to take, I'm glad it chose this one.

10/10.  Bravo!
Onto the Klicks, and aside from giving myself a few little frights, I got through unscathed, and all the better for the experience.  They were great.

It had taken me about 3h20 to do the loop from the start of East Takaka Road.  From there, it was a simple pedal back into Takaka to meet up with the others, who'd had a good time browsing shops and eating!

A supermarket trip was followed by a walk into town for pizza, and while we'd taken an umbrella with us, the first rain of the trip didn't set in until we were winding down for the night.


The day had a funny footnote.  While the GPS wouldn't display the "lost" data as the "Last Ride", it was nonetheless there, and I was able to piece together a single file of the ride using this utility.  What a twit.

According to Garmin:  4 hours elapsed, 73km ridden, and 1600m climbed.


Day 5:  Sightseeing

I was absolutely shattered by the end of the Rameka ride, and while girls seemed in better shape, I think everyone was happy at the prospect of a day without riding.

We were too slow off the mark to rent kayaks at Tata Beach, but it was a nice drive out there to find that out.

Our next stop was at the Farewell Spit information centre and cafe at Puponga, where, after sharing a couple of huge muffins, we went walking along the beach.  I was surprised to learn that access to the length of the spit his heavily controlled by DOC, with access only via commercial tours, at odds with my misconceptions about the Queen's Chain.

Hello, Farewell Spit
We had lunch back in Collingwood, then went for a short walk to see "Pupu Springs", properly known as Te Waikoropupu Springs, which were gorgeous and well worth the strange mode of travel.

According to the signs, visibility is 83m in distilled water, and these get close, at 63m.  They look very much better through polarised sunglass lenses too, so go prepared!

The "Dancing Sands" Spring.  Stunning
Before returning to the motel, we went by the swimming hole whose carpark we'd all passed on Dodson Road, bypassing a little bit of highway on the way into Takaka.  Some sweet bombs ensued.

"Aieeee...."
Before bed, the bikes got a bit of loving, namely cleaned and lubed chains, and a little bit of a wipe down.

According to Garmin:  0 hours elapsed, 0km ridden, and 0m climbed.


Day 6:  Kaiteriteri MTB Park

While the original plan had been to stop at Kaiteriteri once crossing back over the Takaka Hill, we'd also skipped Hira MTB Park back in Nelson (among many other rides!).

After a bit of discussion, we decided to stick with Kaiteriteri, and armed with a digital image of Steve Newport's guidebook, we parked up adjacent to the Skills Area, and got riding.




After a few minutes on Easy Rider, we jumped onto Cruise Control, and then onto Glade Runner and Revelation.  Next up was Ziggy, and then the long climb up Corkscrew to the top of the park (well, almost), including the corkscrew itself, where the girls were hot on my heels and I passed behind Kaitlyn in third wheel, in a randomly awesome bit of timing.

Our usual climbing order (John, Khulan, Kaitlyn, Sarah) was reshuffled for our descent of Jaws (Khulan, Kaitlyn, Sarah, John).  Sarah had been riding incredibly well, but on every ride had hit the deck at one point or another, usually on a bit of track that was far from the hardest section of the day.

It was no different on Jaws, and unfortunately, I was right behind to witness it all.  This time, perhaps out of frustration, Sarah lay quietly on the track with her bike on top of her, and it wasn't until I shouted "say something" that I knew she hadn't knocked herself out, or worse.  It was starting to drive me a bit crazy, knowing full well that innocuous crashes don't always have innocuous outcomes.

After regrouping at the bottom of Jaws, we rode Corkscrew once more.  I opened a gap up on Khulie, and did the short top section of Cork Dive before crossing just in front of her.  She joined me on the second section, but managed to avoid the bush lawyer that tore open a couple of my knuckles.  We both agreed at the bottom that the loss of elevation hadn't really been worth it!

I caught Kaitlyn and Sarah just before the start of Jaws, and we all waited a minute or so for Khulie.    While we were in the trees for the most part, the temperature was in the high 20s, and when climbing at low speed, we were working up quite a lather in the absence of decent air flow.

We agreed to meet Sarah at the bottom of Jaws, and Kaitlyn, Khulie and I grovelled our way up the final metres of Corkscrew to connect with a 4WD road at the base of some impressive looking drop-offs.

We set off down Velocity but it wasn't Kaitlyn's cup of tea (it was barely mine!), and she switched across onto Jaws at the earliest opportunity.  Khulie had blasted on through an intersection just over half way down, and I had to decide whether to stay on the apparently unpopular Velocity, or take a well-worn section of track onto Big Airs.  After initially going down Velocity, I decided it was more likely she'd have followed the main line, and I took off down Big Airs.  While I managed not to unwittingly do any of the jumps, I enjoyed the big berms and the nice flow.

As it turned out, Khulie had gone the "right way", but had got herself to the Ziggy Hub a few seconds before I'd got there, so there'd been no drama.

I thought everyone would enjoy Big Airs, so we shot up Big Ups and did a quick run.  To my relief, Sarah kept the rubber side down.

We climbed Big Ups a second time, before hooking into Skullduggery and Lower Skullduggery through to Easy Rider.  I'd assumed we'd be descending throughout, so was surprised when Khulie suggested I go first.

She was prescient, and the first part of the track featured regular short, sharp climbs.  The trail was a lot narrower than any other we'd ridden, and once it tipped down for good, had lovely little technical sections that appeared out of nowhere.  I had a lot of fun, but when I stopped at the bottom, had a nervous wait for Sarah.  I shouldn't have worried, and she soon appeared, like she'd been for a walk in the park.

Easy Rider was like the name suggests, though at a hub of sorts, Khulie short-cutted a switchback - designed to spit riders straight onto a climb back into the park - Kaitlyn, then I, followed, stopping immediately behind a waiting Khulan.  Sarah made a grand appearance, clipping a bit of retaining and landing in a steaming heap on the track.

I lost my cool.

It's hard to know quite why.  I hadn't hit the deck.  All my blood was still on the inside (well, apart from that little bit liberated by the bush lawyer).

But, I'd watched my nearest and dearest gouge up both knees, hips and elbows, and each time had been temporarily scared for her.  Although I wasn't experiencing the immediate pain, nor the aches and occasional pain that follow through the recovery period, I very much disliked these regular occurrences.

I've had my fair share of crashes, with one broken eye socket and three dislocated shoulders to show for them (and some minor scars).  I hated all of them, and over the years I've tried to manage away the risk, both by gear selection, and how hard I'm willing to push it.

Encapsulated in that shitty little crash, about 200m from the end of the last ride of our holiday, were a whole lot of bigger issues, at least in my head.

I had horrible flash-backs to the road crash in Hawaii earlier in the year.  I thought about how we can't possibly take on the likes of the Heaphy or Old Ghost Road until the frequency of these little prangs drops away from "almost every ride" to "hardly ever".  Things got a little tense - everyone was probably expecting some well-deserved sympathy.

We loaded the bikes onto the car (at least, I did), and then we drove down to Kaiteriteri Beach.  It was standing room only on the sand, and we weren't going to get a carpark any closer than the one we'd just left, so we decided to move on.

An ice-cream stop bought us a little bit of time, and three of us finally had a cleansing swim in the Maitai River within the hour.  Lunch followed soon after, and then a relatively sombre drive to Picton.  My stock went up slightly when I didn't steam into the back of a truck that pulled out in front of us, but apart from that it was a pretty quiet trip.

As it turned out, the day did have a happy ending.  For years I've struggled to get a decent bite to eat in Picton before boarding an evening sailing, but we didn't have much time to spare, and pulled up at the first eatery we came to - Plaza India.  Three curries and some naan later, we all agreed it was some of the best goddamn curry we'd ever eaten.  The lamb in the saagwala even tasted like lamb, as well as being beautifully tender!  Get some.

Our saviour, in more ways than one
Feeling quite a lot better, we checked into the ferry, and while the parents took advantage of the terminal WiFi (and the delay to the sailing), the kids enjoyed some tension-free chillin' in the car.

We were underway soon enough, and this time everyone was keen to avail themselves of a legendary Bluebridge shower.

According to Garmin:  3 hours elapsed, 25km ridden, and 900m climbed.


Summing up...

Over the space of seven wonderful days, we spent close to 24 hours riding our mountain bikes together.  I joked at the time that it was probably more time than I'd spent mountain biking in all of 2016, but that probably isn't far from the truth.

Despite having one of the most beautiful mountain bikes known to man, a luscious Yeti ASR-5C, I don't ride it that much.  In part, because I've been busy training to make my roadie go fast, but also because I fear my skills will let me down and don't want to tempt fate...    That said, the kids must be getting a bit sick of me proclaiming "I should ride this bike more often" every time I actually do...

Nelson clearly justifies its status as an IMBA Gold-Level Ride Center.  I've never been particularly tolerant of the drive from Wellington to Rotorua, and when I get there, I tend to miss both views and variety.  Nelson takes about the same time to get to by car, and though you do have to spring for the ferry fare, the additional cost is well justified.  As far as a destination goes, it was right up there with Crested Butte in Colorado.  I can't wait to go back...

Sarah's crashes aside, my companions were and are remarkable.  Their skills never cease to amaze me, and nor does their willingness to tackle whatever I've put in front of them.  Chapeaux, ma femme et filles.

Kaitlyn and Khulan are both 16 now, and I guess it's not too far in the future that a family trip will be trumped by something planned with friends, but for now, I'm going to cherish these amazing holidays, and think about what we might do next.

Cycling is such a wonderful ingredient to plan around, and I'm blessed (and grateful) that the whole family can enjoy the same sort of stuff.  Sure, there are compromises, but ain't that what life's about?!

We're off to Hawaii at Easter, and only two bikes will be going with us.  I'm going to have another crack at Mauna Kea, and Sarah wants to have a go too.

In the meantime, I'm going to have to improve on what is increasingly obvious is a major weakness of mine - the ability to plan anything other than cycling!!!!  I'll need help, of course, but I'm sure my intrepid housemates are up for that.

Happy New Year all.  Mine has been.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Hawaiian Honeymoon

Hawaii was on my radar as a potential cycling destination for about 3 years, sparked by photo of a Pro rider posing in front of a sign marking a 10,000 foot summit.

I love a good climb, and surprising as it might seem, the small island state seemed to tick that box.  I was also attracted to its proximity to New Zealand - a single 10 hour flight from Auckland to Honolulu - and due to its relative lack of seasons, the fact that I could slot a trip in when it suited life back at home.

Initially, I thought it would be cool to visit each island in the chain, and ride as high as the road network would allow on each.  That idea was soon canned, discovering that inter-island travel was going to be prohibitively expensive, with a surprising lack of ferries.

After bit of research on Strava and climbbybike.com, I discovered the 10,000 foot peak belonged to Haleakala (said Haa-le-akala, rather than Ha-lea-kala, if that makes any sense), on the island of Maui.

For a couple of years, a spreadsheet sat there with various notes and URLs to relevant web-pages, but finally an excuse to go came.

Sarah and I pulled the honeymoon card (OK within a year of a wedding, we told the kids), and when the next Air New Zealand sale popped up, we booked flights for mid-June, an excellent time to escape Wellington.  We planned to be away for nine nights, spending four on Maui, and then four on the "Big Island", Hawai'i, with the last near the airport at Honolulu in advance of the morning flight home.

The primary route up Haleakala starts at the seaside town of Pa'ia, and since this was also a gateway of sorts to what appeared to be the island's primary tourist attraction, "The Road to Hana", we booked accommodation there via airbnb.com, hoping to manage without a car during our stay.  There were good dining options (at either end of the day), a small but well-stocked supermarket, and a few stores to browse.  Another big plus, is that Pa'ia has a sweet bike store, West Maui Cycles.

Short of buying the Lonely Planet guide to Hawaii, we left New Zealand without a doing much additional homework, intending instead just to play it by ear.  In anticipation of an assault on Mauna Kea during the Big Island leg of the journey, I was travelling with my "compromise roadie", an aluminium-framed bike with clearance for 35mm tyres, while Sarah was packing her lovely carbon Cannondale.

The bikes travelled well.  We'd picked up a heavily-discounted chainreaction.com bike bag to complement my increasingly battered Evoc one.  And, thanks to a colleague, we saved a small fortune on checked-baggage charges by joining Hawaiian Airline's frequent flyer club (for free, saving $20USD on each bag, per leg). 

Little did we know, we'd inadvertently stumbled into a road cycling mecca.  The road network was the smoothest I've ever ridden, and I don't recall any exception.  It was warm, but not hot, and great scenery abounds.  The drivers were also remarkably considerate, something both Sarah and I noticed, and appreciated.

The rest of this post is really just an attempt to convince you that you need to go there, rather than the usual blow-by-blow.  I have every intention of going back, but next time for a few extra days.  It was that good.  

Ride 1:  'Iao Valley State Park

From our accommodation, this was a 40km out-and-back ride, and a very nice way to loosen the legs after three flights. 

From Pa'ia, there's a decent cyclepath that takes you around the airfield at Kahului, and almost straight onto Kaahumanu Avenue, which in turn took us straight to 'Iao Valley, and "Maui's favorite green landmark".  Highly recommended.  8/10

Even prior to my years mowing grass at Wellington airport, I've loved the sight of large planes

'Iao Valley was lush, and dramatic
The 'Iao Needle, vanishing into the cloud

Coconut/banana bread stall on the way down.  Not cheap, but tasty
Kite surfers just north of the airfield

Ride 2:  Haleakala summit and back

We didn't pick the best day to climb Haleakala, but we were both super keen to get stuck into it.  The strava segment, which claims this is the "World's Longest Paved Climb" starts pretty much at the traffic lights in Pa'ia, and 55.5km, and 2,960vm later, you find yourself at the summit.  You enter the Haleakala National Park, which costs you $10 on a bike, and they prefer you pay by credit card.  The pass lasts for three days.  The route is mostly obvious, but there's an important right-hand turn off Olinda Road onto Hanamu Road which would be easy to miss, through the red-haze.  This 115km round trip is a 10/10 ride, unless you don't have warm clothing for the top, and you freeze, like I did...

Baldwin Ave, on the outskirts of Pa'ia, the summit up in the cloud

Looking West, with 'Iao Valley mid-frame beyond Kahului

This chap almost certainly won't be there.  He appeared to be painting the mountain, but surely from memory, since most was hidden in the cloud

The turn onto Crater Road looming, and the start of my favourite section - a series of 22 switchbacks!
15/22?

One of the final switchbacks, and the first time the observatories at the summit were visible to us (far left of shot)
We saw many tour groups descending the mountain.  None looked happy.  Perhaps they'd been told waving was forbidden?  Smiling was also off the menu.  Some groups were on single speeds, which means they might as well have been on scooters after the first couple of pedal-strokes.

Sarah at the summit, hidden in the clouds (from below, at least)

The landscape is dramatic, and probably commands more attention than we gave it

This is David, from California.  I'll be ecstatic if I'm in his shape when I'm 71 years old!

You feel like you're on top of the world.  Unfortunately, we couldn't get much closer to the observatories than the intersection just up ahead.  There were a couple of dudes on MTBs about to set off down a bit of single track, so maybe there's something here for all?

This wall-mounted model at the Visitor's Centre was cool

I FROZE on the descent.  There was a cold, wet wind blowing, and this store just down the road from the Crater Rd intersection pictured above, was just what I needed.  The mocha hadn't yet warmed me up enough for me to notice my fat finger in front of the lens...

One of the claims to fame of Makawao, is the annual rodeo, held here at Oskie Rice Arena.  YEE-HAW!!!


Ride 3: The Road to Hana

The Lonely Planet makes a big fuss about this "drive".  It's number 3 in the state's Top 20 activities (Haleakala is #6).  Well, however good it might be as a drive, riding it is even better.  From Pa'ia, it was a 150km there-and-back trip, including a deviation up to Makawao, which avoided a bit of highway.  According to the book (I didn't even try to keep count), there are 54 one-lane bridges on the road, and between them and the sinuous nature of the route, the traffic speeds are pretty low.  We were only passed on uphill sections, and even then, we saw surprisingly little traffic.  There were a few stalls along the way, and a couple of toilet stops.  At Hana, we visited Hasegawa General Store (est 1910), and had lunch at Bruddah Hutt's BBQ - Sarah had a huge plate of shrimp pasta, and I tried kalua pork, which is a local pulled-pork-on-rice delicacy.  The only side-trip we did was a short walk to Twin Falls, which was very early on in the piece.  10/10, no doubt about it.

One of the Twin Falls.  Pro tip:  stand on the rocks, not the in-betweens.  Otherwise, muddy shoes can be "cleaned" in a handy wash-basin...
Coconut stop

One of many "jaw-droppingly dramatic" views en route

I always like ignoring signs

Waterfall 17/48

Smooth roads, sun, little traffic.  What's not to love?!
Hasegawa's.  A fine source of chocolate milk and sports drink

The jetty at Hana

Not quite the jetty at Hana

Exquisite view 136/212

I do declare, signs like this warm the cockles of my heart

Food.  Not quite where we wanted it.  The fish'n'chips are meant to be good, though they're pricey.  You can even buy "Mongolian Beef" at one place, though it "didn't look like an actual Mongolian beef dish, according to my Mongolian companion, who should know

We spent an hour or so mooching around Hana (on our bikes still).  We may just have been lucky, but the traffic to Hana had died right down for our return trip

Gorgeous

We turned left at the point where Highway 360 becomes Highway 36, onto Kaupakalua Drive.  This is not recommended if you're pooped, or if you're unable to ride out of earshot of your pooped companion.  You do get lovely views of Haleakala at the expense of a 300vm climb up to Makawao.  You also get a rip-snorting descent down Baldwin St (which some folk on singlespeeds pay an arm and a leg for), but do watch out for the cars that slam on their brakes out of the blue...  (He didn't want to take that side-road after all...)

Ride 4:  West Maui

In some ways, this ride was my favourite.  The first half of the ride was much like the Road to Hana, but without the rainforest and annoying waterfalls which commanded regular stops.  Traffic was also lighter, perhaps due to the standard rental car maps hinting that the road condition isn't great.  (Ignore them, it's fantastic.)   After a time, you get nice views over a rugged coastline, before reaching resort-Central, tacky, but interesting nonetheless.  I enjoyed lunch in Lahaina, and would happily have spent more time there checking out the stores.  We passed innumerable sandy beaches, and the snorkling mecca of Hanalai Bay (#7 on the top 20), and it would be well worth allocating some time for a swim.   The ride had a sting in its tail though, with a long leg into the prevailing "Trade-wind" which really got me in trouble, despite my fine wind shadow.  From Pa'ia, it was just shy of 130km.  The chaps at West Maui Cycles were divided on whether clockwise or anti-clockwise is the best way to go, but unanimous that a stop at Lorraine's at Kahakuloa was a must.  Julia's makes it into Lonely Planet, but she charges for water, and her banana bread is not as delicious.  Lorraine was lovely, right from the "Cyclists Welcome" sign at the start of her driveway.  9/10

Looking back at Haleakala, wishing somewhat that we'd been heading up there in these conditions

Steep valleys plunging down to the coast

The road is very narrow in places.  And, there's a bloody nasty switchback somewhere in there which drops steeply, and tightens up.  Aim to hit it when there's nothing coming the other way...

Next stop, Alaska

Kahakuloa

Nakalele Blowhole, which is well worth the 2-minute walk (not so sure about getting right down there though)
Hanalei Bay

At Kapalua, we jumped off the now major highway, and used a coastal route most of the way to Lahaina.  Poor Sarah, having grown up in a land-locked country, was increasingly unimpressed about the lack of beach time in this trip... 

Keep your eye peeled for sea-turtles.  It may help offset some of the annoyance about not getting to swim...  The little buggers don't often poke their heads up, but when they do...
The West-Maui Mountains

There are worse places to have to fix a puncture than the foreshore of Lahaina
Cool Cat Cafe in Lahaina has won the Best Burger in Maui award for the last 12 YEARS IN A ROW!!!!  Hungry cyclists may make do with lesser quality, but why would you?!?!?  Find it

When you're about to swing left around a point, windmills on the ridge may not be your favourite sight...


This second puncture of the day, and the third (and last) of the trip, was pretty unwelcome, but fixing it made a nice change to grovelling into a headwind

For the most part, the rain we experienced was light, and given the temperature, not really worth putting a coat on for.  Every so often, it absolutely pissed down - this, about 5 minutes after we got home
We flew with Hawaiian Airlines, and didn't investigate alternatives.  They moved the bikes around without problems.  The day we left would have been another good one to ride Haleakala

* * *

In doing the four rides above, we covered just shy of 450km, and actually covered much of the island's road network.  

Roads we rode
The road through Kihei and Wailea down to Cape Kina'u looks like it might make an OK ride, though maybe more for people watching than out-and-out scenery.  A lap of East Maui screams out to be done too, though it would be good to get the local low-down on how bad the unsealed sections of the Pi'ilani Highway are before getting too carried away.  Finally, I'm sure the climb up to Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area would be awesome, if the Haleakala switchbacks were anything to go by...

I wonder if the girls would like to go to surf school now...?!