Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Family Fun

From our very beginnings, we've been a mountain-bike family.  The girls met at the very first W.O.R.D. holiday camp, and Sarah and I got to know each other in the following months.  Things have moved fast since, and we've been a blended family, under one roof, for just over a year.

And, what a year it's been.  We've had plenty of lovely time together, with and without bikes. 

Last summer's riding holiday had to be cut short, but not before we managed to enjoy the Classic NZ MTB Ride that is The Bridge to Nowhere.

The next morning, the two smaller ones were emptying their stomachs on a regular basis, and with the sense of impending doom on the part of both parents, and a rainy forecast for Rotorua to boot, we made for home.  While Sarah and I somewhat-miraculously weren't also sick (Simon, Sarah and Miro all had been, in addition to Kaitlyn and Khulan), we all felt we'd made the right call to return to Wellington.  Rotorua would wait.

In the 12 months since, we've all undergone a riding transformation of sorts. 

Khulie's got an incredible work ethic, and has not only been the only regular user of the spin bike we bought for the garage, but has almost been the only one on it, subsequent to the initial flurry of one-minute sprints.  (Kaitlyn is a distant second, and Sarah and I haven't been on it at all!!!)  She and Kaitlyn often walk 6km to school together, but she does it alone too, and will often go for a short MTB ride on her own. 

Sarah's been the stand-out improver this year, motivated in no small part by being the slowest in the family last summer!  She bought a road bike mid-year, and she's become quite a machine since, often riding alone, but also with friends or a Revolve bunch.  Commuting by bike has helped immensely too, facilitated by the kids' willingness to walk or take the bus.  She's also recently bought a nice new fully to replace the hard-tail 29er with about negative 5mm standover height - needless to say, this has made a big difference to her comfort and confidence.

On the flip-side, Kaitlyn's had the toughest time fitness-wise.  She's had to cope with the different routines and opportunities having two homes brings.  She's also missed her winter football with its associated fitness gains, and has had a generally less active school day with her transition from primary school to college.  All the while, the rest of us have got fitter, in both relative and absolute terms.

We'd had Sarah's sister visiting from Mongolia for two weeks through to Boxing Day, and so we were all a bit short of exercise when we loaded up the car for the drive north.  The Corolla isn't so mighty when it comes to accommodating four people, helmets and clothes, and camping gear, so we opted to splash out on a hotel.  In doing so, it freed up space in the boot for the coffee machine, which was an added bonus.

The virtues of waiting until December 30 to head north were obvious once we got on the road, and it was almost a shame to stop in Otaki, such was our good progress.  Though, stop we did, and after successful visits to the Icebreaker and Bendon stores, we had a little less space in the car, and a little less weight in our wallets.

We'd rented a talking book from the library, and this kept us entertained, as we made our way up SH1.  Whether or not related to bedtime stories as a youngster, I occasionally needed to put some rock music on to boost my alertness, but otherwise it was a mighty fine form of entertainment.

We arrived in Rotorua mid-afternoon, and once we'd emptied the car into our room, every one was happy to suit up for a ride.

We made our way somewhat haphazardly to the Redwoods Information Centre where we picked up an up-to-date map of the forest to supplement one the girls had brought home from the 2W Enduro event earlier in the month. 

That done, we pedalled our way up Nursery Road in search of sweet singletrack, which we found in the form of Grinder.  In hindsight, it probably wasn't the best way to introduce Sarah to the Whakarewarewa Forest, but she coped with it very well, and we all soon emerged onto Nursery Road with all the blood on the inside.

As we made our way back towards the top of the Challenge tracks, we saw a familiar blue helmet, and we were soon alongside the girls' long-time MTB instructor and friend, Ashley Burgess.  We rode with her and her two buddies for a little while, before getting a little bit lost (in the wrong direction, no less) on the Dipper and ending up on Creek Track.

After reorienting ourselves, we made our way up Lion Track...

... and then rode up the 4WD road to the top of Tokorangi.  There, we were able to enjoy a bit of a rest ...

... and to take in one of the forest's rare views.

Khulan and Sarah with Lake Rotorua in the background
Having done so, we cruised down Tokorangi, Turkish Delight and out of the park on one of my old favourites, Exit Trail.  Soon after, we were showered, and not long after that, we were all hoeing into a plate of roast pork each at a quirky little eatery on Fenton St.

The next morning, armed with a pile of cash for the shuttle driver, we made our way into the forest soon after 9am.  Our first single-track of the day was Paddy's Run, followed by Tickler and Bunny Jugs 2.  I had a day's worth of snacks in my backpack, while Sarah was carrying 4 raincoats in a second.  I soon discovered that my earlier assumption that they wouldn't all fit in my bag was incorrect.  I squeezed the coats into mine, Khulie took on the empty bag carrying duties, and Sarah's riding immediately became more pleasant, and the irritating bag stopped irritating her.

When we got to the shuttle pick-up point, there was quite a queue, but we heard there were two buses running and that the wait wouldn't be long.  I had a quick chat to Steven, before ditching the bag with the girls, and, and with a promise to meet them at the top, headed off for my first climb of the shuttle's route.

Given it was busy, and I was relatively fresh, I managed to beat the first bus up, and had a nice sit-down before the girls arrived on the second bus.  We then finished the climb to the top of the hill, and disappeared into Tuhoto Ariki.

The conditions were the best I'd seen in the four or five times I'd ridden it.  There was very little mud, and the climbing traction was excellent.  We had a few stops to regroup, and at one, we were just lining up for a family selfie when another rider came along and happily took a photo for us.  Once he'd moved off, we took the selfie anyway!

It was nice to be in the native bush, and I was reminded of the Akatarawas just north of Wellington.  The girls were good-humoured enough, but I'm sure they were looking forward to getting back onto the tracks which better typify the style and conditions of Rotovegas, and were glad when we were finally done.

Their patience was soon rewarded with the lovely descent through Split Enz, Pondy DH and New and Roller Coaster in anticipation of a second shuttle ride.   On my way up the hill this time, I decided to go via Frontal Lobotomy.  An apt name, I decided, while I struggled to cope with the constant grade reversals. It was the only time I took that route!

No sooner had the girls jumped off the bus, than they were jumping on again, with only a quick blat down Corners in between.   I rode up the hill once more, and was definitely starting to feel it in my legs.

Our third descent was via Billy T, G-Rock, Chestnut Link, Roller Coaster, Moonshine and Old Chevy.  Towards the bottom, I checked my watch - expecting it to be about 2pm, I was shocked that it was almost 4.  We all instantly felt more tired, and we made our way home.

Still smiling, despite the hour!
I was pretty amazed at how well the girls had coped.  We'd made relatively good progress through our snacks, but the pace hadn't dropped much, and there'd certainly not been any complaining!

We popped in on Ash and Steve, before heading out to Lone Star for dinner - well deserved after our long day's exertions!

Pilsner sitting on Khulan's lap
We made a suitably casual start on Day 3, hoping to maximise our recovery time.  This time we headed in via the Waipa Mill carpark - I hadn't ridden the cycle trail alongside the highway before, and lamented the lack of camber on the very first switchback corner, just managing not to disappear into the bushes.

We bumped into WO Paul Larkin, whose mud-splatter confirmed the heavy overnight rain had put paid to the previous day's wonderful conditions on Tuhoto Ariki. 

We did our usual family-shuttle routine, and I had time to admire my bike for a bit before the girls arrived.  It's by a long shot the most beautiful mountain bike I've owned, and with a hefty amount of XTR on it, it typically only gets taken out on special occasions... 

It was a delight reacquainting myself with my rarely ridden, and now almost retro, ASR-5C
We did a quick blat of Corners - I was a bit tentative because of the rain, and struggled to get my flow on.  I joined the girls on the bus for the second trip up the hill, and we descended this time via Underbilly, Billy-T, G-Rock, and Roller Coaster.

After making our way relatively sedately back to the shuttle stop, we found we'd been caught out by our late start, missing the last shuttle of the afternoon by a few minutes.  That stymied our assault on Eagle vs Shark, and rather than ride up the hill to some surely sweet single-track, we decided simply to take what was immediately on offer.

That was in the form of Chop Suey, Spring Roll, and Sweet and Sour - much more sour than sweet, we all thought!  Smiles were soon resurrected on Dragon's Tail though, but they didn't last long.  About 10m up Piglet, we had our only bike issue of the trip, namely Khulan's chain snapping!  I accused her of sabotage in response to my plan to ride up to the top of Tokorangi once more.  To add insult to injury, I wasn't carrying a chain-breaker (tut-tut), so we opted for Plan B, which was Khulie hanging on to my bag!

By the time we got to the top of Nursery Road, I could taste my legs in my mouth, but not before we'd pinged Kaitlyn and Sarah!  Khulan kept apologising, but there was no need to, and I was simply glad that we weren't all having to walk!

Khulie did a great chainless run of Exit Trail, and once onto the suburban streets, we were able to resume towing again.

Almost home!

We thought we'd check out the Pizza Library for dinner, but it was closed and we ended up at the Fat Dog.  We couldn't raise Ash and Steve on the phone, but took a punt and went past their tent with some ice-cream and cones.  Alas, they weren't there, and so, somewhat over-catered, we headed back to the hotel for dessert!

We did, however, get to enjoy their company in the morning, by virtue of some actual organising...!  We met at the Waipa car-park in anticipation of the first shuttle departure of the morning.  I was pleased when Steven suggested he and I ride up, and we enjoyed a lovely catch up while doing so.

We had a short wait at the top of the hill for the women, and I was pleased to see that the Day family (Mum, Dad and three daughters) had been on the shuttle bus too.  They were keen to join us on our final big descent in the forest. 

And, what a beauty it was!  We started with Eagle vs Shark, which had us all whooping and hollering.  In some ways it was good we hadn't ridden it on the first day, as we might have subsequently foregone all the other tracks we'd hit up. 

Five W.O.R.D. clients in amongst that lot!
I loved the ride up Sidewinder, which had been recommissioned as a climb to better connect Eagle vs Shark into the network.  Traction was great, and it was nice to put the legs, lungs and core under a bit of pressure. 

We took the right-hand side of the loop across to the top of Hot X Buns, and I was treated to a lovely shot of my three gals in matching jerseys.  The young Days seemed quite aware of the photo composition, and drifted back so I had a clear shot, which impressed me (both their insight and courtesy).

Kaitlyn, Khulan and Sarah
Kaitlyn had a wee spill on the way down Hot X Buns, but apart from that, we'd all had fun.  Khulan had been hot on Steven's heels - a sterner test than following me around! 

At the bottom, we said goodbye to Ash and Steven and the Days, who all headed back across to the shuttle.  We jumped on to Be Rude Not To - it really would have been rude not to.  Despite the block now being devoid of trees, the track was as good as ever, and we all had a lot of fun on it.

Can't get enough of these beautiful people!
We cruised up Lion Trail again, and then had a bit of a picnic before tackling the 4WD up to the top of Tokorangi once more. 

Daisy-man and Mother
This time, we took Corridor down, before a somewhat unpleasant ride through Soakhole, and our final descent of Exit Trail.

We cleaned up, and then headed into town for a cruise around the bike shops.   

Despite Kaitlyn begging for a new helmet, we made no purchases, at least in our imaginations saved by Bike Culture and its bling framesets being behind locked doors. 

We drove out as far as Lake Tarawera, and then spent a few minutes on the beach at the far end of Blue Lake, before our stomachs announced it was time to think about dinner.
Lake Tarawera in the background
There were again no signs of life at the Pizza Library, so we opted for greasies instead.  "The Fish & Chip Shop" on Lake Rd got good online reviews, so we made for that, and then ate our kai down by the charming St Faith's Anglican Church. 

After dinner, we wandered around the cemetery there, and then one of the two local marae.  There was steam emanating from a crack in the courtyard, and upon closer inspection we were amazed at the temperature of the paving stones. 

Not quite hot enough to cook on, but close!
No-one was that keen on the music festival that Ash and Steve were attending that evening, so, saving a few bob, we headed back to the hotel. 

We did get to see them once more before we headed home, for breakfast the next morning.  Once they'd left, we loaded up the car, and started the journey south.  Ash and Steve had given us good directions and intel on the relatively new Rainbow Mountain ride, just south of the Murupara turn-off.  The heavily pot-holed road was a bit rough on the poor Corolla, particularly with four bikes hanging off the back of it, and the short drive seemed to take ages.

Now on our bikes, we back-tracked along the road for about half its length, before jumping onto the track we'd been advised to avoid the first section of due to some nasty spring growth.  We were soon at a turn-off, which we took, against the advice of the girls (who'd done this ride on a W.O.R.D. trip)! 

I found myself alone soon after, and enjoyed the challenge of trying to stay on my bike.  I fluffed one section once, then twice, but got it on my third attempt.  Another section higher up also defeated me first time around.  I thought of Simon, who would absolutely love this climb, and would no doubt rise to the challenge of cleaning the whole thing.

There were some nifty views, but behind me not all was well.

A happy view, photo by Sarah
Sarah wasn't enjoying the climb one bit, and had lost track of the girls and stopped to wait without realising they were ahead of her.  I hadn't answered my phone, so when I found her down below, she was stressed out and a bit pissed...!

Not such a happy view, photo also by Sarah
Before long we were all at the summit, and we had a short rest.

Khulan, resting!
On the top of the hill was a Forestry lookout, but it was unattended.  We had great 360-degree views, with much of it pine forest and indistinct hills.

Looking north along SH5

Reconciliation?  With Kaingaroa Forest in the background

Temporarily happy family!
I was hoping the descent would be enjoyed by all, but Sarah loathed it!  The top half was technical in places, and quite in contrast with our previous four days' riding.  She hit the deck a few times, and when we regrouped at the bottom of a nasty drop off, my pleasure at riding safely down it was soon blown out of the water by Sarah's experience. 

There are a few ways to deal with a tantrum, and one nifty one employed by me then was to run away from it.  I resumed enjoying myself, and by virtue of being quicker than Sarah, was able to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet for the remainder of the descent.  All the while hoping the change in nature of the track was more to her liking.

We decided against joining the masses in Kerosene Creek, and instead drove a little further south to a quiet little spot Jenifer Silva had shown me a few years ago, and which I've enjoyed many times since.

The confluence of a very hot stream and a surprisingly warm stream (usually cold) helped wash our worries away, and we were all good friends again by the time we were changed and back in the car. 

Nonetheless, I was annoyed at myself for leaving this last ride until last, and a little annoyed at Sarah for having such an allergic reaction to it.  In hindsight I understand it a lot better though - her confidence, and indeed ability, had grown immensely at Whakarewarewa, and this ride had brought her down to earth - literally at times.  She was worried that it had undone all her good progress, a concern that was dispelled upon her first ride back at home, when she managed to lay her Starfish bogey to rest. 

* * *

We've been back a couple of weeks, and it has been a nice time to reflect on what was an amazingly successful holiday. 

All told, we probably notched up in excess of 25 hours out and about, including the 9-hour mission on the second day.  The shuttle was an invaluable way of extending everyone's range, and well worth the hundy we spent for a 20-trip ticket (six each for the girls, one for me, and one for Steven in appreciation of him riding up the hill with me on the last day).  Aside from Khulie's chain, we'd had no trouble with the bikes, not even a puncture between us.

It seemed like no big deal at the time, but I'm amazed at the scale of it all now the dust has settled.  The level of fitness to sustain that sort of activity over successive days doesn't come about by accident, and each and every one of us has worked hard to be able to cope.  I'm impressed by all of them, but Kaitlyn in particular, who only a couple of months ago burst into tears on a switchback on Sally Alley, and broke my heart by crying "Dad, I'm so unfit".  I've reminded her of that, and of how far she's come since.

Most of all, I feel incredibly lucky.  How wonderful it is to have three riding companions on tap, whose skill level and endurance is such that we can all enjoy riding together.  There were no complaints, and only some mild discouragement at my occasional suggestions to ride up yet another hill to knock off yet another trail.  Not a single "are we there yet?!"

I realise that some of it isn't luck at all.  I am glad that we've together managed the challenges of riding as a family, and that we've all opted-in to accommodating each other's strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.  We've all made it about each other, and it's paying us back in spades.  It's becoming apparent that there are few remaining limitations to adventures like the Heaphy, which not so long ago seemed like crazy ideas.

I'm very proud of them, and us, and am looking forward to the next bit of family fun immensely.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a tale. Your openness with emotion and unflinching ability to really tell the truth - a rare thing in most blogs! - make for compelling reading, as always. You are truly blessed to have three such beautiful young women to share your adventures now, and I'm sure they feel as blessed to have you to share them with. Superb stuff, bro.