Saturday, March 10, 2018

North City Shopping Centre Good Friday Criterium

It's been quite a few years since I rode past North City Shopping Centre's carpark one Easter, and, having noticed it devoid of cars, wondered how awesome it would be to hold a race there.

Well, my dream is about to become a reality.

Thanks to the foresight of North City's management, I've managed to secure permission to hold an event there this coming Good Friday, 30 March.  The Wellington Masters Cycling Club have kindly endorsed the event, which has helped immensely in gaining permission to race, and others have provided input and assistance, notably WORD's Ashley Peters, and Capital Cycles' Gareth Warnock.

Race on!

The carpark consists of three levels: two covered, and one uncovered.  We'll use the top (outside) deck for parking, and the course will consist of a loop on each of the two covered levels.  Each "lap", riders will descend and then climb the vehicle ramp between the two levels.

This is a fundraising event, and all money collected will go to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

Event programme

The day is going to run as follows:

  • 8am - 9:30am:  course set-up
  • 9:30am:  top carpark and registration desk open
  • 10am - noon:  Fun ride
  • Noon - 12:30pm:  Lunch break
  • 12:30pm:  Kids race on full course top level of course only.  
  • 12:45pm-4pm:   Open races using full course.  MTBs with fat tyres first, followed by B grade men, Vets, Women, A grade men.  
  • 4-5pm:  thanks and pack-up
The fun ride will be open to bikes, scooters and roller blades, and access will be by gold coin donation.  Racers will be welcome to ride the course, but should be mindful of other users, and open the taps only when the course is completely clear.  

The precise programme in the afternoon will depend a bit on demand.  Gareth and I think a maximum field size of 25 riders is appropriate, with a controlled first lap.  The demand for spots will determine the race durations, and we'll try to squeeze in as many riders as possible with approximately 30-35 minute races (think cyclocross, but with no hurdles, and no MUD!)

With luck, we'll have a BBQ running for most of the day with snarlers and hash browns...

Keep an eye on the day's Facebook event for updates.  

Entry fee and process

There is no pre-entry for the Fun ride, nor the kids race after lunch.  Turn up on the day with cash for a small donation.  A gold coin is fine, but more is welcome at your discretion.  If you're racing in the afternoon, you don't need to pay for the Fun ride as well.  

Entry to an afternoon race is a two-step process.  
1.  Register using the Wellington Masters Cycling Club online portal.  Indicate which grade is your first preference, but be aware that I reserve the right to move folk around to ensure as many people can race as possible (e.g. Vet women from Vets to the Women's race, or B grade male to A grade male).  
2.  Make a donation directly to the Mental Health Foundation at my fundraising page.  The minumum donation to secure your place is $25, but of course, you are welcome to give more.  Please mention the North City Criterium in your comment.   

Being involved in other ways

I have high hopes that many who go for a spin around the course in the morning will hang around to watch the afternoon races, and also that people will come down to cheer even if not interested in riding themselves.  Closer to the time, I'll aim to dig out a suitable cyclocross video on youtube to get everyone in the mood.  It should be spectacular to watch, and a decent crowd could create a wonderful atmosphere for the racers.

I'll also need a team of volunteers to help the event run smoothly.  If you're interested in helping, please get in touch via email ( or via comment here, or the facebook event page.

Thanks to...

This event would not exist without the generosity of North City Shopping Centre.  And, its unlikely I'd have had the energy to confront the Traffic Management hurdles to hold an on-road event.  So, we all owe the a huge debt of gratitude.  They're also covering some security guards for the day, and donating some gift cards for race winners.  

Similarly, the Wellington Masters Cycling Club are providing invaluable support.  It's unlikely I could've done without them either.  

WORD is helping with the kids event in particular, and with community liaison in general, saving me a huge effort (and probably doing a much better job to boot)!

Bunnings Porirua didn't flinch when I asked them to donate course marking tape, and a few other goodies.  Nor did Kilbirnie Pak'n Save when asked to donate some food for the BBQ we'll have running during the day.  

Similarly, Capital Cycles have been super supportive and will sort out some spot prizes.  

If your business would like to be added to this list, please get in touch by commenting on this blog.  

Here's the event poster - if you fancy printing it off and displaying it prior to the event, flick me an email for a pdf (and my appreciation).

For a pdf version, email


The concrete has a nice bit of grip to it, and we're able to avoid all but a couple of judder-bars.  The only tight turns on the course are into and off the uphill ramp.  The race course is almost everywhere much wider than a single lane of a standard road.  There are no curbs, but there are very unforgiving concrete poles at regular intervals.  The course will be designed to give you as much width as possible, gentle turn radii, and run-off if things start going pear-shaped.  But, common sense should prevail at all times.  This is not the world-champs.  The winners will be those that turn up and have a good time, enjoying both the novelty of the event, and knowing that the money raised will go to a good cause.   

* * * * * 

This blog describes a fundraising project for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
  • Nearly 50% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and one in five will have experienced a mental illness this year.
  • Depression is set to overcome heart disease as the biggest global health burden by 2020.
  • The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is a charity that works towards reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. We provide free support, training, and resources for anyone who is going through a difficult time, or for people who are supporting loved ones.
To make a donation, visit  Any contribution, big or small is greatly appreciated, and will be put to good use by the fine folk at MHF.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

March fundraising update

March is going to be a busy month, on all fronts!

I've had 18 hours on the bike this week, notching up 440km and just shy of 8000m of climbing.  The team and I have just finished the first week of our third 4-week block, and the structured efforts Hayden has prescribed will get longer over the next two week before we're treated to a seven day "rest" - last week I only rode 250km!

While my legs are feeling pretty good, life's becoming a bit of a blur as I scramble to get everything done.  The training, my day job, and engaging with the fundraising side of things all consume a lot of time, but it would be a shame to not do them all justice.

I've got a couple of things I'd like to do in April-June, but this month is where I hope to get a lot closer to my revised target of $10,000.

Here's what's in store.

Fundraising kit

The Ultimo kit order is going in on the 12th of March, and it's looking set to generate a few hundred dollars for the Mental Health Foundation.  There are two jerseys on offer - one, Victoria University of Wellington branded, and the other, a minor tweak on the Roadworks classic jersey which I commissioned five years ago for Le Cycle-Tour de France.    If you're interested in seeing the designs more closely, and/or ordering, you can find all the details here.

5 years ago, this June

Everest attempt

When dreaming up fundraising ideas, I had some ideas on what to present to the mountainbike community (the hill climb series, and what a great success that was) and to the roadies (the Wainui mini-tour went in the "too hard basket", but a local shopping mall came to the rescue - see below).  But, I was at a loss to think of how to engage the university community.

Eventually, one of the ideas that popped into my head (and stuck) was attempting an Everest on Kelburn Parade - a 300m stretch of straight road which climbs 24m at a steady 7% gradient.  Aside from the cringeworthy segment name - "Showing the Students" and the prospect of riding through over 1400 sets of traffic lights, connecting it with the university raised the spectre of a Health and Safety nightmare.  When the HR team started suggesting alternatives this week, I found myself suggesting something quite horrendous...
I can’t believe I’m suggesting this, because I know what the result is going to be…  There is such a thing as a “virtual Everest”...
A few hours later, Capital Cycles had generously agreed to lend me a Tacx NEO smart trainer for the day, and HR had breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Over the next few weeks, I'll have to learn how to use Zwift, and make sure I'm set up to attempt a vEverest within the rules.  According to the Zwift schedule, I'll be riding in London, and hopefully that gives some reasonable climb options - I'd love to hear from any Zwift gurus out there...!

Image grabbed from dcrainmaker's review of Zwift, with thanks

The "virtual" aspect means I'll be not only safer, but much less isolated - the Rec Centre are keen to set up some stationary bikes so students and colleagues can get a sense of things, and I hope we'll have a great expo of many of the student services for some of the day. 

Aside from an assumption that this will be physically much harder, I accept that it's a much better idea than the original plan to ride up and down Kelburn Parade 370 times.

Oh dear...

Good Friday criterium, 30 March

Things are slowly coming together for a Good Friday event in North City Shopping Centre's parking garage.  I've got access to the three levels of the garage all day long, and plan to use the bottom two for a race track.

My tentative plan is to have a "fun-ride" for the morning, probably between 10am and midday.  A gold-coin donation will grant anyone (and anything) with wheels access to the course, and hopefully we see plenty of folk out on their bikes, scooters and roller blades having a bit of a hoon around the carpark devoid of cars!

Twice a lap through this intersection!

In the afternoon, there will be a series of short races.  We'll probably kick off with a kids race, and I want a dedicated event for mountain bikes running at least 2" tyres.  If time permits, perhaps a novelty event (for fixies, tandems, costumes, or a combination thereof), and then into a series of graded races, culminating in a women's race and open men.

The shopping centre have been amazingly supportive despite my unusual request of them, and Bunnings Porirua didn't flinch when I asked them to donate a couple of kilometres of tape!  Capital Cycles have generously offered help, as has Ashley Peters and WORD.  The Wellington Masters Cycling Club have also been willing for me to run it under their banner, which helps with insurance, and an entry system.  Hopefully the insurance won't be necessary, and the online entry system will be up and running this week.  I've put out a couple of other requests for donations, so hopefully the sponsor list grows over the next week.

Gareth Warnock is peer-reviewing the course for me tomorrow night, and hopefully likes what he sees!

Entertainment book

Finally, my team-mate Aaron has set the team up with the Entertainment Book, so purchases there will result in a small donation to the Mental Health Foundation.  If, like us, you find these vouchers useful (the buy-one get-one-free mains are the bomb!) please buy your 2018/2019 copy here.

* * * * * 

This blog describes a fundraising project for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
  • Nearly 50% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and one in five will have experienced a mental illness this year.
  • Depression is set to overcome heart disease as the biggest global health burden by 2020.
  • The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is a charity that works towards reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. We provide free support, training, and resources for anyone who is going through a difficult time, or for people who are supporting loved ones.
To make a donation, visit  Any contribution, big or small is greatly appreciated, and will be put to good use by the fine folk at MHF.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Available for a limited time...

Next cab off the fundraising rank is a short run of cycling kit...

2018 Tour de France training kit

I started my tertiary studies at Victoria University of Wellington in 1992, and have never left.  I've got four qualifications from there, and have been on the permanent staff since 2002.  Joining a team to go to ride the 2018 Tour de France route makes perfect sense for me, personally:  my experience with depression, and my cycling inclinations combine nicely for this 3600km fundraising ride for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

My employer agreed that it also makes sense for them too, and in exchange for initiatives I'll be involved in at the university, which I hope will benefit all members of the community, but especially students and staff who themselves are dealing with mental illness, they kindly agreed to financially support my trip.

What better way for a cyclist to say thank you, than to wave the flag while on the bike?!

My friends at Ultimo very kindly did a record-setting turnaround for me so that I might be suited up appropriately in time for Go By Bike Day.

Being interviewed at Go By Bike Day, 7 February, 2018

Amusingly, the rush immediately paid dividends, with some great media exposure in the next day's Dominion Post.

Aside from the university's branding, the design features the French national flag, and logos of my long-time personal sponsor Oli Brooke-White at Roadworks, people who've supported me over the years (and now), Yeti NZ, Sweet Cheeks and Capital Cycles, and my own tip of the hat to W.O.R.D. (which has fundamentally changed my family life), Hayden Roulston (coach of the entire 2018 team) and the Wellington Masters Cycling Club, of which I am a member.

Jersey, available in aero or relaxed cuts

Shorts, bib or not.  

I'm not only delighted by the university's commitment to advancing the goals of the Mental Health Foundation, and by their support of me, but also that they're willing for the kit I'll be training in over the next four months to be available to others.

5th Anniversary Le Cycle-Tour de France kit

The 2018 adventure will take me back to a few roads I traversed on one of the most formative experiences I've had in my adult life - Le Cycle-Tour de France.  To date, only a few people have worn this jersey:  my beautiful wife and daughters, Oli, and my coach, Joel Healy.  It's a beautiful adaptation of the classic Roadworks kit, and I'd love to see it out and about more often.

In action on the Col du Glandon, 2013


I'd like to submit a bulk order on Monday 12 March.  Pricing below includes a donation per item to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

  • Vic ensemble (shorts + jersey):  $250 (slightly less for non-aero jersey and/or non-bib shorts)
  • Jersey only (either design):  $125 (slightly less for non-aero version)
Other products in Ultimo's range are available on request (e.g. I'm getting a wind/water resistant gilet made, and I know a few MTBers who might like a DH-style jersey).  Don't hesitate to ask...!

If you've already made a voluntary donation (e.g. overpaying for the MTB series, or straight out generosity via my fundraising page, further discounts will apply.  

If you would like to order something, please get in touch with me via email, at and we can nail down sizing and pricing.  

* * * * * 

This blog describes a fundraising project for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
  • Nearly 50% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and one in five will have experienced a mental illness this year.
  • Depression is set to overcome heart disease as the biggest global health burden by 2020.
  • The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is a charity that works towards reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. We provide free support, training, and resources for anyone who is going through a difficult time, or for people who are supporting loved ones.
To make a donation, visit  Any contribution, big or small is greatly appreciated, and will be put to good use by the fine folk at MHF.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Off-Road Hill-Climb series - debrief and thanks

When Simon and I ran the first hill-climb series back in 2012, we had a blast, and it served a useful purpose from a training point of view.  We had four races:  one at each of Te Ahu-Mairangi, Wright's Hill, Makara Peak and Red Rocks, with a step up in difficulty and/or length each time.  We went legit, i.e. we had permission for the events from the WCC, and across the four races, we had 95 individual starts.

With my $5000 fundraising target for the Mental Health Foundation, this seemed like a natural thing to recreate.

Setting up

It took me a little while to settle on the four courses for the 2018 events.  Wellington's MTB facilities have grown somewhat, but so too has the number of users.  I've also become a lot more time-poor, and so was facing a larger set of constraints on many fronts.

In the end, I settled on two races at Makara Peak, followed by Red Rocks, and nice finish at Polhill.  For permission, I had to liaise with three different Park Rangers at WCC - Tim, responsible for Makara Peak, was a great help, and once I had the paper-work done to his standards, the other two quickly followed suit.

I contacted Michael Jacques once more - he'd generously provided four entries to Karapoti then, and kindly came to the party again.  Jennie Taylor at Sweet Cheeks was happy to provide me with some tubs of her amazing chamois cream - also with a no-less amazing name, "Butt Butter".  I also reached out to Kashi and Mat Wright at Yeti, and they too were very happy to contribute - Yeti first supported me back in late 2011 when Megan and I were getting ready for the Cape Epic, and while I've not been doing a huge amount of MTBing since, I still regard myself as an ambassador for them when I do ride off-road.

My talented daughter Khulan produced a wonderful event poster, and I whipped up a bit of a social media storm - multiple shares of my series announcement soon made it one my most read posts ever.

Art-work and design by Khulan Tumen

I decided to funnel as many entries as possible through the Mental Health Foundation's donation portal.  I set the entry fee as a minimum donation of $30 for the series, or $10 (minimum) per race.

By the afternoon of the first race, I had 18 people entered for the entire series.  As a sign of things to come, these 18 generous souls had averaged $50, with three over $100.  Not only that, but the online publicity had no doubt been responsible for almost as many donations again.

A few days out, I collected a whole lot of arrows from Marco Renalli, club president of PNP.  Over the years, they've really refined their spring XC series, and have a great assortment of lefts, rights, and straight aheads, that they were more than willing to share, thereby saving me a huge amount of time and effort (not to mention some expense).

Race 1:  Makara Peak

The first race was by far the most complex.  In order to keep the Peak Flow line from the Makara Peak summit to the main carpark open for casual use, I'd decided to run the event from the end of St Albans Avenue.

Aside from the first few minutes, riders would be riding up tracks usually only ridden down.  Crowd control was key, and I needed no fewer than six marshalls to ensure no riders inadvertently rode onto the course.  Luckily, Sarah (top of North Face), Dean (top of JFK), Jo and Aidan (controlling a short two-way section on Ridgeline Extension), Khulan (on Miro), and my Mum and Dad (top of Rimu), were all happy to help.  Kaitlyn was time keeper at the summit by virtue of the late arrival of Simon's flight from Auckland.  At 6:15pm, Khulan rode the entire course from top to bottom, ensuring it was clear.

I'd done a short lower lap to bang in a couple of marker arrows (JFK/Smokin' intersection), and to close of the Third Brother with a bit of tape and a courtesy sign.

When I arrived back at base, I was astonished to see a huge crowd of people.  The weather had certainly played ball (it was almost TOO hot), and the novelty factor also contributed to the event's popularity.  But, I think people were largely motivated by the charity aspect, and genuinely wanted the series to be a success.  It was humbling (and, slightly intimidating).

Not even a third of the entrants in this shot!!  Photo:  Brendan McGrath

I'd advertised one-minute start intervals, but hadn't for a moment expected it to take almost an hour to get everyone away!   I suggested riders roughly self-seed, with the fastest away first.  In between starts, I'd ensure I had the next few riders' names written down, and collected cash off those who hadn't entered online.

I needed about 42 or 43 seconds per rider, I think, but stuck with the full 60 - even though it slowed things down a wee bit, I preferred a bit of down-time over an overly hectic schedule.  Everyone was very patient, and seemed to enjoy hanging out in the sun.

Ashley and Bex celebrating working out how to pay me back for the last bit...  Photo:  Brendan McGrath

I set off last, with a pocket full of cash.  My parents were the first marshalls I came to, so gave it all to them before continuing.  As I passed each marshall, they were invited to follow me up the hill, which some did.

It's always fascinating riding things in the wrong direction, and it was a hoot employing a bit of old-fashioned tenacity to keep the bike moving up the steeper parts.  I faltered a couple of times, and almost passed out on the final, incredibly nasty, 4WD section.

There were a quite a few folk still hanging out at the top, and none of them seemed angry, which was both surprising and very welcome.  One rider had mysteriously vanished, and the means of contacting her was in the car, for which she had the keys.  Apart from that, everything seemed to have gone very well, and by the time I got home, not only has the missing driver been found, but my parents had counted up $390 in cash entries!  The success of the event was not lost on my dear family, who'd all played an integral part in that, and we had a very upbeat dinner indeed, despite our weariness.

Hi-five from the Soanes.  Photo:  Brendan McGrath

For the record, there were 52 starters, with Edwin Crossling summiting in a mere 14:51.   Izzy Soane, the youngest competitor took almost exactly twice as long, clocking in 29:37.  Matt Cryer got a free Karapoti entry for making the arithmetic easiest (he finished on a whole-minute), and Andrew Ivory earnt himself some Sweet Cheeks Butt Butter by riding the course on his loaded Tour Aotearoa rig.

Round 2:  Karori Park to Makara Peak

The second course was significantly harder to ride than the first, but easier to organise.  The route would take them up Wahine, across Makara Road and then up Varley's Track, before taking the 4WD along the ridge southwards towards the Makara Peak summit.  Rather than grovel up the last 50m of the previous week's course, a lovely bit of mostly-mellow singletrack would take them up to the finish line.

I headed up the top half of the course early with a few signs - directional mostly, but also one at the start of A2Z indicating a temporary track closure.  By the time I got down to Karori Park, my marshalls were in place:  Dean at the summit, Kaitlyn on the A2Z/Zac's intersection, Sarah at the turn off the 4WD track, Mike and Karen at the 4WD at the end of Varley's, and my parents at the Makara Saddle road crossing point.  Khulan headed up to the top of Wahine after she'd ripped down the course to make sure it was clear.

I was joined for the starts by Tristan, and that enabled us to have a crack at 30 second gaps.  He wrote down names against start times, and I offered to hold the riders so they could begin with both feet clipped in - hardly necessary with double-sided MTB pedals, but a novelty most were willing to embrace.  The weather was again stunning, as was the turn-out.

True to form, Andrew was happy to receive his Sweet Cheeks spot-prize at the start, and carry it up! 

I'd warned everyone not to go too hard from the start-line, and tried hard to follow my own advice when I got underway myself.  As I feared, the rampy nature of the course meant for a tough juggling act between going hard enough to stay on the bike and easy enough to recover sufficiently for the next steep bit.  I once again offloaded a pocketful of cash to my parents on the way past them, intrigued to learn how much there was.

By the time I passed Sarah, the sunny conditions at the bottom of the course had vanished.  Rather, we were inside a cloud!  She'd clearly dressed for the bottom, so it was lucky the starting-duo had been able to get folk up the course at twice the advertised rate.

Despite the conditions, it was nice to see a few riders milling around at the top, and it was nice to join them for a few minutes while those I'd passed on the way up finished the course.

Always nice to see the old Cycle Services colours being flown

The second round had a slightly larger field than the first, with 54 riders starting, and I added $330 to the fundraising tally when I got home.  Edwin blazed the course again, and the ramps took their toll on those unused to the steep gradients, blowing out the slower times a bit.  Tom Lynskey scored the Karapoti entry by virtue of having a finishing time only 1-second different to that in his first round.  It was a near run thing though, with another handful of riders being within 5-seconds.

The next day, it was great to see an article appear in the Independent Herald.  I'd reached out to them after the successful first round, and they'd been happy to publish a story about the series and the motivation for it.  Thanks to Brendan for providing the original photo, Julia, the reporter, and her editor.

Independent Herald, 24/1/18

Round 3:  Red Rocks

I was literally expecting only 20 or so to show up for the third round.  The Red Rocks track is a bit of a brake-burning descent, and it is not generally ridden up.  On the other hand, it is steeper than it's more "popular" neighbour, the Tip Track, and perfect Karapoti training.

The route was pretty simple, so I didn't put out any course markings.  Sarah and Kaitlyn marshalled the intersection with the Tip Track, and Simon stationed himself at the finish line - the grassy spur a few minutes along Barking Emu.  Dean had kindly offered to drive gear from the start at Red Rocks to the bottom of the Polhill reserve in Aro Valley, though only myself and one other took him up on it!!!

I rode to the start from work, enjoying a stonking northerly tail wind, which I came to loath on the way up the course.  Despite the "treat" in store for them, the Wellington MTB community proved how hard core they are, or how generous, or how much they were enjoying the novelty of the series, by turning out in droves.  The turn-out was slightly down on the 52 and 54 of the previous rounds, but that 46 people paid good money to ride up this particular track still blows my mind.

Sea-level, en route to 400m above.  Photo:  Gavin McCarthy

I decided to start people on the far side of the stream, ensuring that when they clambered up the first unrideable section, it was with dry shoes.  Well, that was the theory, though I swear people were politely lining up in the stream bed...!

Despite being the lone starter, I gave 30 second intervals a whirl, and managed to keep on top of it, by the skin of my teeth.

When I finally got away myself, I really struggled to find some semblance of flow. The first few metres were a clamber, and I was off the bike more than I was expecting on the singletrack section up to the old ridgeline route.  The combination of the gradient, loose rock, headwind, and fatigue-induced lapses in concentration, all were conspiring against me (and in all likelihood, everyone else).

The surface was easier to manage on the second half of the course, but by then, tired legs were the bigger problem.  I passed a few folk on the way up, none of whom spat at me (and indeed, they were all quite encouraging), and myself got passed by Nick, who'd arrived late.  It was impressive watching him muscle his narrow-tyred CX bike up the hill, while he was still in sight, at least.

The final section along Barking Emu was there to provide a "fun" alternative to the top few hundred metres of the Tip Track, but on the day, I rued my choice.  Judging by Lisa Ng's awesome photos, some enjoyed themselves!

Jonny Waghorn, with Cook Strait in the background.  Photo:  Lisa Ng Photography

Simon had found an awesome spot to time-keep, in the lee of the spur, and he had a decent sized crowd watching the latter part of the field come in.

I foolishly turned down a lift with Sarah and Kaitlyn, and proceeded down the rest of a rough and overgrown Barking Emu.  On the plus side, when I got home, I banked an incredible $296 with the Mental Health Foundation.   Marco Renalli won the Karapoti entry spot prize, since his Round 3 time was closest to the sum of his Rounds 1 and 2 times.  He pointed out his life-membership of the Karapoti Hall of Fame entitled him to a lifetime of free entries, and kindly gifted it on to a rider at the 4th round.  Cheers Marco!

Race 4:  Polhill

The fourth and final race was designed to leave a smile on people's faces.  As far as I'm aware, it was the first event to use Clinical, between Holloway Road and George Denton Park - one of my favourite singletrack climbs in the city, and nothing short of a work of art in a few places.  From there, the course went old-school and headed up the Fenceline 4WD, and then across the road and into Carparts - also a blast from the past, given all uphill traffic is on Windmill these days

The weather was once again warm and dry, and people coped well with Waitangi Day throwing a spanner in the works and pushing this round onto a Wednesday night.  It was great to have series sponsor, Yeti NZ along, not to mention the biggest field yet, 58 riders (including the tandem pair of Benjamin and his daughter Amelia).

I was again ably assisted by Tristan with the starts, Kaitlyn at George Denton Park, Sarah Bramwell and Dave Nendick at the road crossing (stopping riders, not cars!), Khulan at the Windmill entrance to Carparts, Dean at the top of Carparts, and Simon as time keeper at the top of the course.

As I had done with the previous rounds, I started by thanking everyone for their attendance and generosity, reminding them their entry fee would go directly and entirely to the Mental Health Foundation.  And then, it was time to head up the hill...

Briefing.  Photo:  Rex Massey-Molloy

The start was a bit of a fizzer - no sooner had Edwin and Jack got underway, than a bus turned up at the Aro Street terminus, dictating a short hiatus.  I went and spoke briefly to the driver, and after ascertaining that the bus would be there for five minutes or so, we agreed we could cope with the large obstacle via a judicious overtaking manoeuvre.  The driver gave us a toot when she was about to set off, but I think she'd kindly waited for a gap, bless her.

I spent a few minutes on Clinical behind a trailer bike, eliciting fond memories of riding with Kaitlyn.  Unfortunately for Benjamin, Amelia was also keen to watch me, so mostly I was admiring him wrestling with the ever-changing weight behind him!  I took the rough line past them eventually, and the next person I saw was Kaitlyn in her marshalling position - very fitting.

As with the three races before, there was a happy congregation at the top of the course, and once people had had their fill of that, a fine selection of routes back down to the bottom awaited.

Blue skies onec again.  Photo:  Lisa Ng Photography

Edwin's time of 18:07 was four-seconds shy of the winning time, ridden by Jack Compton.  58 riders was a series record though, as was the $415 deposited to the Mental Health Foundation.

* * * * *

In all, 93 different riders participated in the series:  33 for a single round, 20 for two, 23 for three, and 17 hardy souls every round, for a grand total of 210 starts.  If people had donated the bare minimum, that would have pulled in $1930.  Many paid more than I asked though, and direct entries to the series totalled $2797.20.  Amazing.

I would like to thank everyone who supported this series:  landowners and trail projects, sponsors, volunteers, participants, photographers, and everyone who liked or shared the event online, or encouraged someone to go along and give it a try.

This, a personal message from Shaun Robinson, the Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand:
Thanks so much to everyone who has so generously donated.  We are absolutely blown away by the support we have received from this series. We are working hard to open up conversations about mental health, to advocate for better access to low costs services and to provide useful, free resources on mental illness and available support to friends, families and whānau. The money you have raised helps makes all of this possible.

If you have not already, check out our Take the Load Off campaign. Here you will simple things you can say and do to help lighten the load for people living with mental illness.

Once again, thanks for joining our mission to improve the mental health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders – you’re all legends!

For my part, it was great to see people enjoying themselves, and fantastic to know that in the future, people in need will be better looked after because of the money raised.

I genuinely hope to have the energy to make this an annual feature of the Wellington cycling calendar.

Dean, without whose help the series would not have been as successful.  Photo: Brendan McGrath

* * * * *

This blog describes a fundraising project for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
  • Nearly 50% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and one in five will have experienced a mental illness this year.
  • Depression is set to overcome heart disease as the biggest global health burden by 2020.
  • The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is a charity that works towards reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. We provide free support, training, and resources for anyone who is going through a difficult time, or for people who are supporting loved ones.
To make a donation, visit  Any contribution, big or small is greatly appreciated, and will be put to good use by the fine folk at MHF.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

WORD Term Programme donation

Each term, the WORD term programme sells out quick smart (and for very good reasons).  That's 180 budding MTBers out on the trails each week, across the Wellington region.  Venues include Makara Peak, Mt Victoria, Wainui, and, for the first time, Porirua.

Ashley Peters and WORD have kindly donated a spot in the (almost sold out) Term One programme due to start on 12 February.  We will be selecting a worthy winner of a place in the programme that best suits the recipient (location and day of the week).

To apply, leave a comment in reply to my recent blog about my own mental health, and WORD's role in my family's life.  Tell us something about what resonates with you in that blog, or how the work of the Mental Health Foundation has particular relevance to you.  If you make the comment anonymously, please send an email to so I know who you are.

I have a fundraising target of $195 for the place on the programme, which is the usual price to get someone onto WORD.

Aside from the guaranteed spot, I would love it if this cost was partially or wholly crowd-funded.  If you're not an aspiring WORD parent, but would like to donate towards this target, please mention WORD in your comment at the donation portal.  If we crack the $200 mark in this way, the place will be free for the recipient family.

For every $100 over the $200 target, I'll personally contribute $25 towards getting another runner up onto a WORD programme this year, and see if I can convince Ash to put them at the front of the next queue.

We'll make the selection on Friday 2 February.

Thanks to WORD for their generosity.

* * * * *

This blog describes a fundraising project for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
  • Nearly 50% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and one in five will have experienced a mental illness this year.
  • Depression is set to overcome heart disease as the biggest global health burden by 2020.
  • The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is a charity that works towards reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. We provide free support, training, and resources for anyone who is going through a difficult time, or for people who are supporting loved ones.
To make a donation, visit  Any contribution, big or small is greatly appreciated, and will be put to good use by the fine folk at MHF.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Depression, parenthood, and thanks to WORD

This is not a balanced post.  But, please bear with me.

I live in a love-filled household.  Our "good morning, did you sleep well" embraces are a daily highlight, and I sorely miss them when schedules enable a late start for one or other of us.  

It's nonetheless true that my best moments are usually out of sight of my family - whether that's at work or at play.  The relatively complex home environment lies somewhere in between the energy-drain that is work, and the battery-charger that is my bicycle.  Home can be in either camp, or neither.

Becoming a family of riders was not just about individually becoming riders.  A great deal of care, and investment of both time and money, has been needed to ensure everyone's having fun - choices about when and where we ride, for how long, and on what, have all helped us get to where we are.  I'll take some credit for that.  

Whether you have kids or not, or suffer from depression or not, there may yet be something here that resonates with you.  How we conduct our every-day lives has changed dramatically in the last few decades, largely technology-driven, I guess.  One open question is "who sees us at our best?", followed by "who deserves to?"

I'm going to be unnecessarily hard on myself, because I think it helps make an important point.


I can confidently say that I'm not an easy person to live with.

I'm a creature of habit, which generally means I do the same annoying things every day (e.g. dumping my clothes on the bedroom floor).  I'm also fussy, and that means I tend to get annoyed at the same things every day (e.g. others loading the dishwasher with things touching one another).

When I ride, or write, they chomp through already scarce time at home.  When I'm not doing either of those things, I'm almost always distracted by something else.

While I really enjoy my job, it's mostly about solving problems.  Some are easy, but these tend to be numerous, and I struggle to avoid the temptation to deal to them at home in the evenings or weekend.  Others are not so easy, and while they're still on the to-do list, I find it very hard to not think (and fret) about them near-constantly. 

I rarely have time to interact with friends unless I'm at home, and in the smart-phone age, perusing social-media has an ever-present allure.

I'm trying to learn French (on my phone, using Duolingo), and that takes time.  And I'm also following the Trump train-wreck closely - it's both horrifying and fascinating watching history be made in real-time.

I'm introverted, yet am often surrounded by people at work, and sometimes my need for a bit of solitude makes it all the way home with me.

I also have depression.

The way it articulates itself in me is as an energy black hole.  Sometimes I liken it to gravity not being 9.81m/s2, but something more.  On a good day, 10-10.5 would be about right, but on a bad day, simple tasks seem to require more energy than I have to offer. 

The medication I'm on - the 8th or 9th combination, from memory - does a good job getting my usual level close to where it should be, but unless adult life simply is hard and I'm not well-equipped to deal with it, my hunch is my mood is pretty much always abnormally low.  Tolerable, but low.

The sense of fatigue I almost always live with, both mental and physical, affects the way I act.  And, I suspect the outward appearance could easily be confused with displeasure, or a lack of love towards the observer.

The killer is that none of it makes any sense, and so logic does not apply.  While I clearly have depression, I have very little in my life to be depressed about.  I have an incredible family, talented on just about every dimension I could name, and we live a very good life.  My job is rewarding and while stressful, is really enjoyable, and, depression aside, I'm in fantastic health.

I know how excruciating it is that the actions of those who care about me cannot pull me up - I experience that same frustration, while it's all in progress...  "How come he can be like that when I show him so much love?" is a folly.  But, that it is, is not immediately obvious, and I suspect that coming to terms with that fact can actually be harder than being depressed.

Luckily for my family and I, the periods when I'm really down are rare - maybe 2-3 days every month or so.  But when they hit, they suck.

Depression is a bastard.


My two beautiful daughters were born a couple of months apart.  Kaitlyn, in August 2000, in Wellington Women's Hospital, and Khulan 8 weeks later in Darkhan, Mongolia, with no help from me whatsoever.

Despite being undiagnosed for the first half of Kaitlyn's life, my depression was nonetheless hovering.

As a PhD student initially, and then as a junior academic, getting paid much more but doing essentially the same stuff (teaching and research), pretty much all of the gripes above applied (well, except for the medication).  I was only ever incapacitated on Saturdays - in hindsight, that was the only day of the week I could afford to be depressed - there was far too much stuff to do at every other time.

The lack of energy, and I think to some extent, personal inhibition, meant I was never a very "fun" Dad.  Kaitlyn and I didn't play much - but I found other ways to be an active and engaged parent.

When she was really small, we went for regular walks.  Often these would be at the Karori Sanctuary, as it was then, and I also discovered the mountain buggy fitted on Makara Peak's growing network of singletrack perfectly well.

At home, I'd bath her every night.  We'd often spend an hour in there together, playing eye spy ("with my little eye, something the colour of...", pre-alphabet) or just splashing one another with increasingly cold water.

Long after that routine had ended (I often wondered when we'd have our last bath together, but have no recollection of when or why we stopped), I made up for shortcomings in my own imagination, by taking advantage of the imaginations of others.  Roald Dahl, J.K.Rowling, Philip Pullman and many others kept us both entertained, and over the years, despite Kaitlyn being capable of reading them alone, I'd spend sometimes 3-4 hours between school and bed-time reading to her.

No matter how freaking depressed I was, I could always deliver on the reading-aloud front, and to a large extent, that was where I found my relief.

The Phillips trailer-bike gave us new opportunities, and I was able to supplement my daily 12km round-trip commute and occasional MTB ride, with regular forays into Makara Peak or the Skyline.

At a PNP race on Mt Vic

At least once a week, I'd leave the trailer-bike with Kaitlyn at school, and we'd hitch up at 3pm and head to the Skills Area for afternoon tea and story time.

We had a few good years on it, culminating in the Karapoti Challenge record (which still stands), and the most fortuitous simultaneous photo-snapping that I'm ever likely to benefit from...

Two faces in the moment, and what a story they tell...
Once Kaitlyn was too big for the trailer (well, too heavy for me to manage), the transition to her own bike seemed a tough one that at times made me wonder if the tandem had been a mistake.  She'd become accustomed to our access to some fairly technical and remote tracks, and an absence of responsibility for things like gears, braking, steering, and to a large extent, power.  On the other hand, she new how much fun MTBing could be, and had been around the large and happy community for as long as she could remember. 

A big leap forward came when our paths crossed with Ashley, and the pre-loved "Montana Judy" made a huge difference to Kaitlyn's riding.  Wellington's trails remained steep and narrow though, and I was not a great teacher.  So much of mountain-biking becomes as simple as the fellow imploring you to try it says it is, only after a successful attempt.  For whatever reason, my urgings were not compelling, and the Koru-Lazy Fern lap continued to be a stressful affair, for both of us.

And thanks to WORD...

I'll get rid of the elephant in the room right up front.  We're a WORD family in an unusual sense - Sarah and I may well have met and married if our two daughters had not been on the first WORD holiday programme, but certainly the kids knowing one another (and getting along in a fashion to rival the parents') sped things along nicely.

The Wellington Off-Road Riding Department opened its doors (or more specifically its outdoors) to a group of seven young women on 22 January, 2013.  The 3-day holiday programme included riding at Karori Park and Makara Peak, Wainui and Miramar, and concluded with a spot of trail-building in Polhill.  At the time, WORD was Ashley Peters (then Burgess).  Not content with giving Kaitlyn a bike, she was determined to "build confidence, encourage new friendships, and foster a lifelong love of mountain biking" in as many kids as she could find.

I remember Kaitlyn being incredibly pooped after those three days, but also that when she'd recovered, she was a different rider than the one I'd dropped off on the first day.  In some ways it was astonishing how much had been achieved in such a short time.  But I knew too that mountain-biking can actually be easier than it seems, and Ashley had clearly created an environment where Kaitlyn was prepared to give things a go (to hell with the consequences).

I don't take that particularly personally.  I'm sure the peer pressure was helpful - seeing someone your own size doing something is surely more compelling than seeing your old man (who's been riding for aaaaaages) do it.  But Ash also has the sort of personality that draws the best out of people, and it couldn't have been more perfect that her first clients were a group of young women keen to emulate, if not impress, their hero.

Team WORD at Revolve's Women of Dirt event, 2013.

When I got home from France that July, Kaitlyn, Khulan and I went riding together - not the first time we'd done so, but the first time without Sarah and the Waghorn and de Mayo families.

Top of Hawkins
We were getting used to one another, and the riding provided a very nice context in which that could happen.

Five years on, the girls have become incredibly talented riders - both have incredible fitness and skill, exceptional not only among women of their age, but exceptional among any group of 17-year-olds, or adult cyclists for that matter.   Their prowess, and the way their progress motivated Sarah to also master the fine art of hooning down a rough track, has enabled us to do some wonderful things together as a family; most recently, the gnarly Moerangi Track, a tough but stunning ride in the middle of nowhere.

Yes, seeing them be awesome is cool.  And yes, doing things as a family is cool.  But, for me there's a another reason I'm so glad we can ride together. 

What I really feel thankful for is that they get to be with me when I'm riding my bike - and not as a bystander, watching me compete, or welcoming me at the end of a ride.  I truly value them seeing me do it.

I was very critical of myself at the start of this blog, bringing attention to some of my worst qualities.

What balances me out, and in many ways is one of the single biggest factors in my wellness, are the moments of complete calm and freedom I feel when I'm riding my bike.  But these best qualities are mostly hidden from view.  They sure as hell help me, but it tends to happen when I'm on my own, giving onlookers a systematically incomplete picture.

If it weren't for the rides we do together, its a part of me that they might not know existed.  Or, worse, they might confound me being on my bike with me being away from them, and figure I'm only happy when I'm alone.

My kids being able to ride with me allows them to see me at my best.  They see me free from stress, self-doubt, or distraction.  They see me fully in the moment.  In the context of my life, that genuinely feels like a small miracle. 

* * * * *

WORD's beginnings were far from easy, and whether or not that first camp would go ahead hung in the balance until a few days before when the Ariella, Mili, Lucy, Sophie and Khulan signed up en masse.  When you look at it now, it's hard to imagine how easily it might not have happened - all it needed to go that way was someone less passionate, committed and confidence-inspiring than Ash.

These days, there are 25 instructors and 15 assistant instructors involved, with around 800 enrolments per year (about 180 per term in after-school programmes, and 100 in each holiday) - seriously heart-cockle-warming stuff.  Kaitlyn's spent four days last week instructing two holiday camp groups, and I've every confidence that the young people lucky enough to be in her groups responded to her in the very same way that she did to Ash.

The future is bright.

Thumbs up indeed, daughter!

* * * * *
  • Nearly 50% of New Zealanders will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, and one in five will have experienced a mental illness this year.
  • Depression is set to overcome heart disease as the biggest global health burden by 2020.
  • The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is a charity that works towards reducing stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. We provide free support, training, and resources for anyone who is going through a difficult time, or for people who are supporting loved ones.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Family riding - native forest edition

One of Family Randal-Tumen's finest annual traditions is a few nights away together in the height of summer.

We've hit some fantastic spots:  Nelson, Northland, Rotorua and the Central Plateau, and the lure of a return visit has been strong.   On the other hand, New Zealand is packed with wonderful riding, and the chance to go somewhere new is hard to go past.

This year's trip took shape when Kaitlyn mooted the possibility of a Christmas afternoon flight to visit her maternal grandparents in Tauranga.  Not long after, we'd agreed to pick her up on the morning of the 29th, and had accommodation booked for that evening in Whakatane.

* * *

Sarah, Khulan and I set sail from Wellington relatively early on the 28th.  We figured the chance to sneak a ride in at Rotorua was worth forgoing a sleep-in.  We inadvertently left when the roads were quiet, and made good time up the lower North Island.

It's been a while since I've ridden at Rotorua, and had forgotten that they're not big on climbing trails.  They are big on glorious descents though, so smiles were restored eventually, and it was nice to take a break from the car.

Our accommodation for the night was in Putaruru - a bit of a random choice, but within easy striking distance of Tauranga.

The Pakihi Track

We met Kaitlyn and her grandparents in Bethlehem the following morning, and then made our way into Tauranga to find some breakfast.  The "Best Metro Cafe in 2015" signage all over the windows was a good drawcard, as was the convenient location on the edge of the city.

Not long after leaving the cafe (satisfied, but a bit lighter in the pocket), we found ourselves with a choice of the Tauranga Eastern Link toll road, or the "free option" that most drivers seemed to be taking.  For novelty value, the $2 was value for money, especially given the recent legislation permitting 110km/h along this stretch - elsewhere it can be a lot more expensive to go that fast...

I disregarded Garmin's suggestion to stay on SH2, and instead followed the sign to Whakatane.  As a result, the day had really marched on by the time we parked up at the top of the Pakihi Track - the jewel in the Motu Trails' crown.

Before setting sail, we had a big ol' picnic lunch, and wished the car a safe few hours on its own.

The track immediately plunged into some of the finest native forest I'd seen.

Exhibit 1
The Pakihi is given a Grade-4 rating, but only really because the trail is exposed in places.  The track surface was almost uniformly wide and smooth.  Interestingly, Sarah seemed nervous, and had fared much better on the feature-laden and more technical trails of Whakarewarewa the day before.  Observing her nervousness engendered my own, but at least the girls seemed to be having a blast (and the scenery was off the hook).

We popped down to see the Pakihi Hut, which necessitated a bit of a grovel back up to the main track, and queries as to the point of the side-trip.

Pakihi Hut
Soon after, we'd peeled off most of the 400m altitude we'd lose, and the remainder of the ride was spent just above the beautiful Pakihi Stream.

Pakihi Stream, and Sarah off in the distance

While I was going to have my work cut out for me to get back to the car before dark, my companions had a lot of time to kill.  As we all gazed longingly down at one of the many swimming holes we passed, I did try to point out that there was no particular need to rush.

At the end of the single-track, I left my companions, and enjoyed smacking it along the gravel road towards Opotiki. That soon turned to seal, and I was stuck with an unfortunate tail wind - nice while it lasted, but I was going to soon turn 180-degrees, and would have preferred it on the road up to the car.

Just before hitting town, I jumped onto the Otara River stop-bank, which served as a useful bypass of civilisation, to a large extent.  I did make use of the cell-phone reception though, to communicate with our evening's land-lord, and the operator of the White Island tour we'd take the next day, and to let Sarah know those things were sorted.

After a very brief spell on SH35, I popped onto the Dunes Trail which sits between the Pacific Ocean and the highway.  At times I questioned my choice - not because there was anything wrong with the trail, but simply because I was keen to get back to my family, and the faster progress the road would afford was tempting.

Who wouldn't rush back to these beauties (and the photographer)?!
I had a short break at the foot-bridge between Jackson and Motu Roads, and then it was onto the latter for the 600m climb up to the car (which I hoped would still be there!).  I'd been up the road back in January 2010, when the signage was a bit newer!

December 2017
January 2010
Before the climb-proper started, I saw a cyclist coming towards me.  Bloody small world - it was Ben Knight, owner of the AvantiPlus store in Masterton.  It was lovely to catch up briefly, and he seemed interested to hear how nice the Pakihi had been.

The climb is broken up into two large and one small chunks.  By virtue of the drive in, I knew pretty much what I was in for, and while my energy levels were waning somewhat, I did have plenty of food in my pockets.

Meremere Saddle - top of the first pinch.  

Water was another story, so it was lucky I was surrounded by so much native bush, through which surely (hopefully?!) flowed drinkable water.  I assumed so, and filled my single bottle - a downside of riding the fully - a couple of times.

I had soon crested Toatoa Hill as well, and from there it was just a short push up the final ascent to the car.  I'd ridden into light rain, not worthy of a rain-shell, but cooling enough to don my vest.  And, the car was indeed unmolested.

Not a 5-star look on my face, but definitely a 5-star ride

The Pakihi Track itself had taken us about 1.5 hours, and the full loop just over 5 hours. By the time I was back in Opotiki, it was getting pretty dark, by virtue of our 2pm start, and long drive back down Motu Road.  In total, the return car trip must have added 3-hours to the day, and did have me wondering about the best way to tackle this track in the future.

Actually, I wouldn't recommend anyone replicate our approach.  The climb to the trail-head is fairly long, but quite stunning, and worth cruising up.  The Pakihi Track is not particularly physically demanding (if you're fit), and so little energy is required once you've tipped downhill.  The end of the singletrack is alongside a lovely river, and soaking in the water on a warm afternoon would be a nice place to kill some time while the driver boosted around to the bottom of Motu Road for the car.  If the wait there got boring, a cruise down the road to Opotiki would just about fill the gap perfectly, I think.

* * *

The awkward timing and specifically the late start on the Pahiki was mostly to make way for a trip out to White Island.  It was the first time I'd been, and the crew at White Island Tours looked after us well.  Once we got back home in the early afternoon, I dropped Kaitlyn and Khulan at Ohope Beach, and then gave my bike a bit of lovin'.  The chain in particular was desperately in need of some lube after the damp finish to the ride.

The next day we took a side trip to Rotorua, and spent a few hours riding with Ashley and Steven...

About to head into Te Tihi o Tawa - a gem, and in native rather than commercial pine forest
...followed by another couple on our own.  Then, it was off to the supermarket to get supplies to last us a couple of days, followed by a 90 minute drive to Minginui (including a lap of Murupara).  We were booked in with Whirinaki Forest Holidays, and were warmly welcomed by Garry and his partner, who were about to go out on the ran-tan to celebrate New Year's Eve.

Our room - "The Surgery" was small and simple, but had an awesome shower, and pretty much a full kitchen, so we were able to prepare a normal dinner, and finally clean some of the Whakarewarewa dust off our legs.

Not a soul was keen to see in the new year awake, and we all hit the sack early.

The Moerangi Track

The Moerangi Track was on my short list of "ones that got away".  Nailing it on the first day of 2018 was surely an auspicious start to the year (The Tourmalet, I'm looking at you...!)

Simon and I had decided discretion was the better part of valour back in 2011, when neither of us had a fully-functioning rear brake, and we'd ridden straight into Minginui on the road.  It was good to be back, albeit six years later.

While the top of the track was officially "Closed", Garry reported cyclists had been getting through, so I made the executive decision to give the full track a go - Plan B had been to do an in-and-out as far as Roger's Hut.

The Kennett Bros' book points out the ends of the track are 37km apart.  When we set off in the car, I had that figure in mind, but hadn't stopped to think about the implications of neither end sitting on the state highway.  To make matters worse, my memory of the Okahu Road turnoff bore little resemblance to the actual intersection, so I didn't recognise it when we drove past it not long after leaving our accommodation.

Once you've passed what you are looking for, you could go on forever without finding it.  And, as the drive went on, I tried massaging the data to fit.  Perhaps the speedo was under-reporting distance due to the gravel road?  The trail starts high, so surely the intersection is at the top of this hill?  Both attempts to deny the increasingly obvious:  you've gone too far.

In the end, it was clear that we'd missed it.  In fact, had the track been a dead straight-line, we were probably too far from Minginui for it to get us home.  What a shambles, but the plus was we were sufficiently close to Lake Waikaremoana that it was worth continuing a little longer just to admire the view for a moment.

A small but beautiful consolation
Sarah, Kaitlyn and Khulan probably sensed that I was beating myself up for the mistake, so kindly didn't rub it in.  My screw-up was not without its implications though.  Our sedate start, and the 100km detour, meant we didn't start our ride until 1:30pm, close to three hours later than if I'd paid more attention to detail.  In any case, no point crying over spilt milk, so focus turned to the task at hand.

We parked at the DOC campsite a few kilometres up Okahu Road.  There were half a dozen tents up, but we didn't see anyone.  Despite some evidence of storm damage, the road was in good condition, and the 8km through to the trail-head passed relatively quickly, despite the steady climbing.

Moerangi trail-head
The first section of single track was a lot steeper than the road had been, and there was even a short flight of steps to push our bikes up.  That soon ended though, and once gravity was on our side, we had a good 5-minute hoon down to our first compulsory dismount.  Nonetheless, the trail behind us was good enough for Khulan to remark that this was her favourite track on the trip.  Premature, as it turned out!

Negotiating the first bit of damaged track was a breeze, and as yet, our feet were dry.  But as we progressed, the hike-a-bike sections became more regular, and more worthy of attention.  In a couple of places the track had disappeared into the stream, necessitating us to do the same temporarily.  The water level was low, so it was no problem, but had the stream been pumping, a short ride back to the car would have been our only option.

As we continued, each obstacle seemed to be more time consuming than the last, but the riding in between was nice, and the surrounding forest and stream were as beautiful as any you'd find.  It was also a damn sight better than being stuck in the car on a windy gravel road...

Wet feet on this one, I'm afraid
It was 7km to Skips Hut, but it took is 1h15 to get there from the trail-head.  By the time we left, it was already past 3:30pm and as we tucked into some afternoon-tea, we sincerely hoped our rate of progress would improve.

Skips Hut (not shown, Onga Onga - a nasty stinging nettle in the vicinity that the 17-year-olds brushed past)
Our hopes were ill-founded, and soon enough we reached a massive slip.  There was probably about 10-15m of track completely missing, with a 40-50m slip face dropping right down to the stream in the valley below.  We were about two-thirds of the way up the slip, and short of going back a way, passing below it was out of the question.

Trampers (or other cyclists) had been over the top of the slip though, and there were both fluoro tags to follow, and footprints.  After a quick recce, it was clear I would need to ferry the four bikes to the top at least - a time consuming and somewhat exhausting process.  At least the girls were able to cope with the descent on the other side, and soon enough we were all back on track.

It was almost 5pm by the time we arrived at Rogers Hut, but not before one of the daughters had asked if we'd be better to go back to the car.  I'd given an emphatic no, but didn't really qualify that answer.  The question came not long after the big slip, and the thought of undoing all that hard work was too much to bear.  I also knew the track was fine (i.e. open) from Rogers Hut onwards, and felt that the ordeal-half of the ride was almost over.

Rogers Hut with 22km out of 35km still to ride
The second hut did indeed signal the end of the damage.  Our new annoyances were rain-laden ferns which often completely obscured the track below, and drenched us as we rode between them.  I was on point, and hoped that my companions weren't getting quite as wet as I was.

Our next milestone was the turn-off to Moerangi Hut - it was a 1km side-trip that none of us were remotely interested in, though I couldn't help myself but ask if anyone wanted to go there.  After that, the fairly mellow stream-side climb turned into a sterner challenge, and while Khulan and Sarah went ahead, Kaitlyn and I paced ourselves slowly but surely up the 300m ascent.

I jabbered away, hoping to distract and/or motivate - Katy was low on physical energy, and stress levels were high.  She was justifiably concerned at the time of day, and had extrapolated our very slow progress on the first third of the track right out to the end.  As much as anything, I think the emotional toll was a bigger factor in her apparent fatigue than the physical effort.

We could see Moerangi Saddle getting closer and closer, by virtue of the angle of the daylight through the trees.  As we crossed from one catchment to another, we both cursed the trail builders for not immediately starting the descent, and it wasn't until another few minutes had passed that we met Sarah and Khulan and began our 500m descent.

I was fascinated to watch the daughters disappear off into the distance.  Kaitlyn looked like she was just starting a ride, and not at all like someone over five hours into a somewhat stressful mission.  It's interesting how fatigue articulates itself non-uniformly - we'd been on and off the bike on the climb, and as we switched modes of progress, each change seemed to bring a wee boost of energy.  Similarly, once gravity was helping rather than hindering, she seemed to have plenty of gas in the tank, not only to safely manage the descent, but to actually enjoy it.  (PHEW!)

Sarah was in fine form, and it struck me as strange how the relatively benign Pakihi had given her the greatest problems.  The descent, while damp, was tacky, and it was a lot of fun hooning along.  This was just as well - we'd worked bloody hard for this reward...

There were a few short climbs to negotiate before we reached the River Road carpark, and some huge rimu and other trees to admire.  We could hear kaka screeching above us too, which made a nice change to a ride relatively devoid of bird-life.

Celebration, and some relief
The Moerangi Track itself had taken us 5h20, which even despite the initial grovel, was near the lower end of the Kennett Bros' ride duration.

While the Tumens engaged in a bit of cat-and-mouse racing down River Road, Kaitlyn and I got into time-trial mode.  The width enabled me to ride alongside her and give her a helping hand from time to time, which I think we both enjoyed. 

It also gave me a chance to admire the strength of the Tumens.  Khulan had been rock-solid, despite riding the bike I least enjoyed ferrying around the slip (i.e. the heaviest)! And I've never seen Sarah mountain-biking so well.

We caught Khulan together, and when I drifted off ahead, I decided that was a good point to make for the car.   When I passed Sarah, I told her so, and then cranked up the legs.

I contemplated ditching the back-pack at our digs, but in the end kept going.  The highway section was over in about 20 minutes - the 150m climb was almost entirely sealed, while the descent was gravel.

When I got to the intersection, I was both grateful that it had come so soon, and bemused that "we'd" missed it earlier.  Despite there being no overt signage about the Moerangi Track, it was clearly a road that needed investigation...

Ohaku Road turnoff
The campsite, and car, were a couple of kilometres down the road, and as I loaded up my bike, a camper came to say gidday.  The 71km loop had taken just over 7 hours, and while it was not yet dark, it was virtually so by the time I got back to our accommodation at Farm Road.  There, I found my family in the process of deciding to eat without me, so my timing was impeccable!!!

It was a pretty impressive effort by the team, and although Khulan downgraded the track's "favourite" status, I reckon absent the time pressure, it would have retained its initial status.  Aside from the large slip, and seeing Kaitlyn a bit stressed out, I would have to rate it as one of my favourite mountain bike rides, and when I described the day to Simon on the phone a couple of days later, I told him he'd have loved it.

Kaitlyn made an interesting observation on instagram...

#goodthingstaketime #whatgoesupmustcomedown

While I accept we probably get back from these family "holidays" a bit too pooped, I make no apologies for challenging them.  They're now more than capable of going for a ride on their own (and each does, often), and to a large extent, I feel like my role is to show them (in a supportive and sensible fashion), exactly how capable they are - in many ways, just as Simon did for me starting about a decade ago.

As I said to Kaitlyn on the way up to Moerangi Saddle, her general fitness and skill level were a huge asset to her, and I would like to think that she, and Sarah and Khulan, got a great deal of satisfaction from a job well done.

And so it was.  I'm immensely proud of them, and glad we got out and gave it a nudge.  Maybe one of these days, they'll plan a family holiday at the beach, and drag me along (kicking and screaming probably), but until then, I'll be looking for more opportunities like these.