Finding Neverland.. A bike packing Packrafting Adventure in the Whanganui National Park
After what had felt like a tough week, I was hanging out to get away from it all.
4days in the Whanganui backcountry should do the trick!
The original plan was to take in a figure of 8 style loop with a bike Ruatiti to Whakahoro- packraft Whanganui - Bike a hiking track; Matemateonga track- pack-raft Whangamomona- Bike Bridge to Nowhere track to Ruatiti. The hiking track was thought to be 50 percent rideable However we could find no info about the second river. Google earth showed what like a waterfall.. West had a yarn to half the Whanganui river valley folk to try to find out if it was a goer. They were all very friendly and all thought we were completely nuts...old mate Lloyd, the local farmer, said he hadn’t found a way around the falls. Given that we were going to be first time pack rafting and be bike packing to we came up with a more sensible plan b....or so we thought!
Day 1: bike Ruatiti - Mangapurua Saddle- Kaiwhakauka track -Whakahoro
The day started with an early morning flight to Welly where I met West. A 4 hour drive to the National Park. We built bikes and then somehow attached 2 packrafts, paddles, tent, stove and food for 4days to our bikes and bodies! Fully loaded we grovelled the 600+m climb through lush farmland in the beautiful Sunshine. Initially descending on rough farmtrack we headed into fun singletrack- what a win!
fully loaded and loving some singletrack descending!
Bike handling was a little challenging loaded up but it did give the bonus of adding extra traction! We arrived in the few houses that made up Whakahoro an hour or so before dark. After a bit of to and fro we eventually found a good spot by the river to pitch the tent and pump up the rafts. After a little trial and error we had 2 rafts ready to go for the morning! We were surprised by the amount of debris in the river- large trees and branches lined the side and some scattered though the river itself. I was wondering what the hell I was getting myself into- would I be able to steer the boat- especially loaded with a heavy bag and bike!?
Camp spot on the river
Day 2. Packraft Whanganui River
We awoke to the sound of rain...it had been forecast to be quite heavy but so far the river looked good- no big trees floating down the river just yet!
"Joeys" and Boats fully loaded
After a fun game of strap all the gear and bikes to the packrafts we tentatively set off. I’m not going to lie- I was pretty nervous! Straight into some little rapids I was pleasantly surprised at how well the little rafts manoeuvred. All the gear was staying place and the packrafts were staying inflated -win! The rain however was getting heavier, we stopped for a quick leg stretch a couple of times but I was getting pretty cold. I could stay warm enough if we kept paddling though!
sheltering from the rain in a riverside cave
After about 30km of paddle we reached John Coull hut. We realised the tent and West’s spare clothes were soaked and I was a little chilly! Fortunately the Doc Warden, legendary 70/ 80 yr old Liz took pity on us. (As it’s a great walk huts are meant to be booked and paid for in advance). We had a cruisey afternoon/ evening drying gear, sitting in front of the fire, doing yoga and hearing yarns from the other paddlers- like two of their mates who hadn’t made it after they’d tipped the canoe and had to be rescued by jet boat!
We had one single person packraft and a double person raft which we put most of the gear in. Then took turns in each raft!
The hut on a sunny Sunday morning
Day 3: packraft to Bridge to nowhere: Bike to Mangapurua Saddle to a little hut Liz told us about.
Sunday the sun was back out and we bobbed down the river playing tag with the other canoeists we stayed at the hut with. Even playing a bit of river rugby!
We passed the Whangamomona River we’d planned to paddle originally and were pretty glad we hadn’t given it a go, it was narrow and full of trees!
Generally the river was pretty tame and we savoured any little rapids, getting a bit of speed on felt good!
Transition wasn’t exactly quick but we eventually got everything packed up and back onto the bikes for a late lunch and a lay down in the sun on the Bridge to Nowhere.
the legendary "Bridge to Nowhere"
Nearly at the top!
After a long uphill grind we made it to the summit. Again the rain came in and it was getting chilly again. We didn’t know exactly where the hut was as it wasn’t marked on the map. After some descending down the ridge we investigated a little side track- bingo! One awesome little hut complete with a fire. We love you Liz! And the McIntyre family who kindly let people stay at their hut!
Day 4: “Adventure” Day
With a 6pm flight out of Wellington the sensible option would have been to return the way we came in down the road to Ruatiti. Probably an hour or so bike ride. The trouble is neither of us are particularly sensible and the call of potentially awesome singletrack was too high! What could possibly go wrong...?
Well one missed flight and 2 broken fingers it turns out!
Where did the track go?!….
Lured in down farm track we dropped 350m height. It then took us about 4 hours to travel 3km with the track going from bad to worse. Bush bashing on a vague hunting route- supposedly a marked track on the map- carrying our gear and hike a biking.
Fingers "munted" and "the track"....hikeabike goodness!
I slipped on a rock, somehow landing on my fingers in full extension- I heard them crack and the instant pain and swelling - although nothing like breaking bigger bones in your body- I knew they were broken! Already so far in we just had to keep going. West carried my bike over the worse sections where going one handed wasn’t an option.
It was very slow going. Following the track was difficult as it would just disappear but fortunately the GPS was working so we could more easily micronav our way to stay en route. After about 5 hours we eventually made it to some farm tracks and homesteads in the middle of nowhere.
back on track...some 8hours later!
We had planned to follow the track by the river out to the road but we didn’t want to risk another barely there track so a 3 hour ride and another 600+m of steep climbing was the best option. We eventually made it back to the car- about the time I should have been boarding my flight! What a day! A swim in the river and a picnic had never felt so good!
Thanks to West for putting up with the sometimes off the charts level of craziness and making sure we both got out alive!
Thanks to Chris and Em Forne, Leif Christensen for loan of the packrafts
Thanks Fuji Bikes for the SLM bike packing machine.
Arriving in France ahead of the EWS we were hit with a ferocious heat wave with temps hitting 35+degrees. Training in the heat was hard going but I figured it would be good acclimatisation for EWS Millau. I should have known...
Day 1 of practice; mist and rain rolling in. Here setting up for the tried and tested 'Tripod'
We had 2 days of shuttled practice with only one run allowed on the majority of stages. This lead straight into 2 days of racing.
Clips from day 1 and day 2 of practice, the vultures love to circle at the edge of cliffs...maybe waiting for some mtber carrion!
The sun came out for parts, you can see the rock garden of stage 8 looking bone dry- it would be a different story come race day!
Day one of racing for me was a battle. I've never crashed so much in one race. Dropping into stage one the conditions had deteriorated and I didn't adapt fast enough. I went down hard early on in the stage, after which I struggled to find the flow. Not a good way to start and I came in with my worst stage finish of the weekend- 24th
We were then faced with hiking all the way up stage 4 on the liason to stage 2. No one knew this was on the cards as practice had been shuttled and the maps we had been given were vague. My calves and arms were burning as we struggled to push and carry bikes up 500m of vert. Time was ticking by and we were in danger of missing start times so I dug deep and burned some tokens sprinting the last 5 minutes. Having made the start time I was forced to wait as the organisers delayed the start to allow all those running behind to make the stage.
Stage 2 had a bit more open flow and a decent peddle half way through. I managed to stay on the bike, but felt a bit smashed from the 'liaison race' to the stage start. I ended up 17th. We were then faced with another hike a bike transition back to the top. I was struggling to stay positive as I pushed my bike all the way up again!
Stage 3 was getting the reputation for the hardest ever EWS stage! It was tough, I crashed 4 times stopping to push my brake lever back down into position. It was steep and guess what... super slick. However I actually found stage 4 the hardest. The tight "Frenchie turns" had me tri-podding or crashing and in one I snapped my brake lever.
A dash to pits was needed.
Thanks to the guys at Shimano for the quick lever replacement.
Just as we were waiting on the exposed tops to start stage 5 a storm rolled through for half of the ladies field. Battling head winds and lashing rain I was stoked to make it to the finish line for the day, 12th on stage and staying on my bike for a change through some near misses on the greasy clay.
Day 2 racing
Day 2; more rain overnight and rain on and off during the day meant battling a variety of slick to clogging mud.
Above; keeping it rolling on stage 6, flat no grip turns at the bottom of the stage.
Rocky hucks top of stage 6
Stage 7 Chute. The Excellent Hutchinson Toro 2.35 doing the business in the mud over rock.
Stage 7 was an intimidating one for me, called mini DH it was again a super steep but short stage. This steep chute dropping over slick rocks into a no catch rewarded the hecklers with plenty of carnage.
A long transfer to 8 with bikes coated in mud and clogging, we were trying to peddle 25kg+ machines. Twigs and puddle stops en route were used to lighten the load and keep them moving.
Stage 8; mid downpour. The limestone rock garden was a dicey affair, pin balling my way down.
Stage 9 was a repeat of day1 stage 5. Conditions were slightly drier.
Relief.... end of the race- still in one piece and no crashes for day 2. Kept it steady and finished the weekend 16th. Well done everyone racing and supporting this was another tough 4 days. Thanks to my family and Ed for keeping me going and my sponsors for top quality gear keeping me rolling.
EWS Ireland-more crashes!
A wee bit of a stressful week led into the EWS Emerald Enduro.
Ed’s crash in Madeira had been diagnosed as a sprain with the advice to take it easy but ok to walk on it with no support or crutches. He promptly hit the gym and the pool to try and keep some condition. However he’d had no improvement over the week so I persuaded him to see a consultant – Well I booked him the appointment and drove him against his will! The consultant diagnosed torn ligaments between his tibia and fibula which would need strict immobilisation and possible surgery to heal. He put him into a moon boot and booked an MRI for the day before our departure for Ireland.
Ed getting carried off the course in Madeira
We headed to Ireland with the van fully loaded with enough bikes and equipment for the remaining 5 rounds of the season. Ireland would be a stepping stone on route to France.
We were met off the ferry by rolling fields of green and clear blue skies, unbelievably Ireland was having a heatwave, was EWS going to be dry and sunny for the third consecutive year?
Sharing the field with the locals at EWS HQ. Not a bad spot to park the bed.
After a couple of shakedown rides I had decided to give my new Fuji Rakan 29r its race debut in Ireland. A couple of back to back runs against the clock had been promising and I reckoned with some more setup and time on the bike it could become my weapon of choice
I was having so much fun I opted to pedal this stage twice in training
For Day 1 of practice the tracks were in prime condition and so much fun, this 300m hill always punches above its weight in delivering quality singletrack.
High speed sections in the dry- more fun!
I got back to the pits after practicing 4 great stages in beautiful sun. However Ed had just had news on his MRI- turns out his leg is broken- and he would require more x-rays to check for damage higher up before a plan was made on surgery. One ferry to France was cancelled and another back to Blighty booked with our spirits a little dampened.
As was the weather about to become…
So we had the fourth EWS in a row where the rain dramatically effected the trails. With 2 stages left to practice I opted to get stuck in and maximise afternoon recovery time.
Raining at EWS- now nicknamed Enduro Wet Series!
Stage 6 ‘carnage corner’ was pretty intimidating in the slime. I had two goes at it and managed to get through cleanly so just hoped I could do the same for race day.
Here on stage 1 the rocks were covered in anti grip!
The rain held off for race day but there was plenty of moisture in the dirt which was spread across the rock and root.
On stage 1 I was struggling to hit the lines from practice as the ground was so unpredictable, polished roots pin balling me off line. Being a bit too cautious, I lost my speed entering steep switch backs into a chute and the bike slid out. There was no way to stand in the slime and I sent the Rakan on the way to the bottom without me. Unfortunately it then got tangled in the tape at the bottom! What a disaster, not an ideal start to the day!
Coming into Stage 2, I thought ok don’t be so cautious, let go of the brakes! Next crash came pretty soon as the bike just drifted out from under me! Hmm I was struggling to find the balance here!
Stage 3 started straight into a rock trials section, surrounded by crowds. The first feature an awkward step up that was hard in the dry but now had mud covering the rocks and a rutted run in. I managed to get through with just a quick dab.
The 29er wheels rolling nicely over the rocky slabs
I felt like I had found the balance on this stage, managing to keep it upright for the whole stage.
Stage 4 featuring greasy flat turns in the lower section rolled us into a brief lunch stop back at the pits. Time for a quick re lube and straightening of my levers and saddle before back out to Stage 5.
This had suffered badly with the mud. Cresting the top of the hill I was churning through 4” deep slurry, barely making headway, then into a gravity fed rock gully- the rocks were so slick that I felt lucky to keep it upright here. Ines Thoma had a nasty spill gauging her helmet on the rocks but bravely continuing on to finish the race.
More super slick rock…
I made it safely to the bottom with no crashes– just one more stage to go! Stage 6 dropped straight into probably the gnarliest section of the race, carnage corner! I got around the corner but then slid out and landed onto a conveniently placed mattress. Again I think it was a case of not committing as my eyes bulged at the new holes that had formed between the rocks. I should have just gone with it- lesson learnt!
Another greasy chute in stage 6
I ended up in 14th place for the day, with super tight times between myself and back end of the top 10. I was happy enough with the results given how much time I spent on the floor. A bit more commitment needed, hopefully it will be there for the next one as I become more comfortable on the bike.
Back into the top 10 overall- happy!
Round 3 of EWS was held on Madeira, which is a Portuguese Island stuck out in the Atlantic, off the West African coast.
As you fly in you suddenly see towering cliffs emerging from the sea. And the airport itself is perched on the edge protruding into the sea.
Rugged coastline surrounds the entire island
At 800square km and taking around 4 hours to circumnavigate by car the terrain varies from open moorland tops to rainforest to sun drenched rock. The main industry on the island is tourism – classically catering for the ‘newly wed or nearly dead’ but over the last few years the biking on the island has been increasing at a rapid rate as old hiking trails are opened up and new lines built. It’s now a popular place for Euros to go for winter sun and riding.
Being a tourist taking pictures of waterfalls- this one was pretty epic though!
Arriving a few days early we took the opportunity to explore and ride in the West. This felt wild and windswept and had great riding in between the bracken, Eucalyptus and open tops. The soil ranged from hero dirt to ‘black ice’!
Here's a short edit from some of the tracks:
For the race we were based in Machico on the supposedly dry, South Eastern end, but as seems to be the theme of this years’ EWS we had rain soaked trails leading up to and including practice. This was not ideal as the clay heavy soil created conditions slick enough to put you on the deck before you knew what had happened. I, along with the majority of the field it seemed, found the conditions difficult. You know how some trails make you feel like you’re a hero? Well in the wet these were the complete opposite!
Getting muddy again at practice.
Also, most of the riders were practicing the same stage at the same time so there was a lot of carnage. On day two of practice I hit a bike that had slid onto the trail and was powerless to prevent a head on with a tree. It turned out not to be a major but it didn’t help my confidence.
Not only carnage on the tracks but carnage on the roads with all the shuttles!
Come race day the clouds which had been clinging to the mountain tops lifted briefly giving us stunning views of sheer cliffs and deep valleys running into the sea and to everyone’s relief the rain held off.
Stage 1 was physical. Approx 12mins of sustained efforts with a series of slick clay switchbacks to finish. There were a few innocuous jumps, one of which took my partner, Ed Kerly, out of the race. He was caught out by a patch of clay as he approached the take off and hit the ground just before going over the lip. He badly sprained his ankle and needed to be helped off the course.
Ed getting carried about by the local mountain rescue who were on hand for the race. (Sven Martin)
Here's the jump where Ed crashed with Richie Rude doing a very impressive dynamic save! Apparently it's not so innocuous!
Stage 1- 14th place on stage 1 of the day
Stage 2 was a shorter stage with some punchy peddling and the odd polished rock feature to navigate – one of which had claimed a friends’ collarbone in practice.
Stage 3 was epic- if you’ve ridden Nydia track in NZ the top half of the race run was similar to this, but with more gradient and slick clay dragged across the rocks. There were sections of decent exposure which caused controversy with a lot of racers arguing it was not safe to race. Fortunately no one fell off the cliff. The lower section opened out and became drier with some dirt you could actually lean on. By this point my arms were pumped and I was struggling to hold on, I knew if I could let the bike go it would become smoother but I really didn’t trust my grip to hang on. I pulled over as World Cup DH rider, Miranda Miller, stormed on by. I tried to follow and was pleased to keep her in sight for a few corners. By the last couple of turns I was blown and thankful to see the finish line!
We then had a 2hour transition including a lunch stop to the next stage. Traversing along a ‘levada’, which is a small waterway which litter the island- used for transporting the water from the wet to dry side. Then on up a steep road- which also seems to be a feature of the island!
Stage 4, final stage of the day. This was dry! However significantly blown out with multiple holes appearing since I’d practiced it. One hole claimed my front wheel and I was OTB and stuck under my bike still clipped in. Obviously a few other people had also had the same fate as I was surrounded by water bottles, headphones and other race apparel! I was slightly terrified I was going to get mowed down by Miranda as I floundered around under my bike.
Some drier loam on stage 4 (Sven Martin) crashing dropped me to 21st place for that stage.
I finished the day in 17th, my worst result to date but I was happy to get to the finish for the day and I enjoyed racing the tracks more than I had in practice.
Day 2, the sun stayed out for us. The first 3 stages were in the same general area of pine forest and conditions on the first runs remained slick. Stage 5 again was another physical start to the day and incredibly greasy so it was difficult to keep the flow.
Stage 6 featured the legendary “Champery chute”. I had had 2 attempts at this in practice with a 50% success rate. The key for us mortals was to drop in slow, as below the drop it was pretty much a no braking zone until the turn at the bottom. Come race run the rocks and roots and come through and I found myself careering towards the photographers and spectators at the bottom! The bodies dispersed as I drifted into the tape and somehow scrabbled my way back onto the track.
Entering the Champery Chute on stage 6 (Sven Martin)
Super slick antigrip in the lower part of the chute, concentrating hard! (Sven Martin)
Stage 7 started on the fast open moor top. Through some rocky jumps I lost my chain.
As it was a predominantly DH run I opted to try and Aaron Gwin to the bottom however it quickly folded on itself and jammed in the frame. After spending some time trackside with the bike upside down I was a wee bit fired up and actually started to get on top of the terrain. Not enough to stop Miranda catching me in the pinball rocks and roots in the lower section. My run was blown and I waited to let her pass on her way to the stage win. I picked my way down the small remainder to the finish feeling a little demotivated.
Crowds lining the rock gardens, upper stage 7 (Sven Martin)
With some lunch inside me I felt better and stage 8 turned out to be my favourite of the race. It was drier than in practice and was a hugely varied trail. Tight switchbacks in the rainforest ambience up top dropped us onto a pretty epic ridge.
Beautiful ridgeline riding, just don’t look over the edge! (Sven Martin)
Below this was a historic hiking trail lined with rocks. I felt my rim hit the rocks a few times and was lucky not to puncture.
At the top of stage 9 everyone was talking about what they were going to drink later- we sounded like a group of alcoholics! Poncha- the local speciality made with sugar cane rum, orange and lemon was high on the list.
Some dust appearing fro the final stage of the day! (Sven Martin)
Dropping into Machico (Sven Martin)
Stage 9 finished in open paddock scattered with sniper rocks and grassy turns on the fringe of a sun drenched Machico. And yes they gave us a poncha as we rolled into the finish - win!
What a tough 4 days of riding! These are the experiences that I’m looking for when I travel to make for memorable trips and I Know it will make me stronger.
Tas- Mania! EWS Round 2
After a brief week at home in Nelson sorting out the wet, muddy and generally abused gear from EWS Rotorua we made our way to the next EWS stop, Tasmania.
Straight to the rural North-East from Launceston. Featuring twisting roads, towering Eucalyptus, the odd run down corner store and large amounts of road kill. We made our way to the quiet and quaint old mining town of Derby.
“Trouty” of stage 6, volunteers mounting a smoke for EWS. An inkling perhaps that things were going to get wild! (photo Ed Kerly)
Track walking is customary in the days leading up to official training and team mates Ed Kerly, Lauren Gregg and I took the opportunity to get into the forest and check out the terrain and wildlife.
This is an exciting part of the week particularly when racing a new destination and we were impressed with the trail builders’ efforts. Fast benched trail with berms and gaps at lower elevations gave way to raw hand cut trail with masses of the natural features higher on the rolling hills.
Does track walking make me faster? I’m currently undecided. I find judging bike speed through a gnarly section of trail really difficult when walking up on foot. Clearly there are gains to be made from pre-walking and I hope to convert the trepidation which it currently generates into useful observations as the season progresses.
Track 6 looked fun, wishing I had my bike to get back down! (photo Ed Kerly)
Tight squeeze! Narrow chutes on track 2 would skin a few elbows on race day. (photo Ed Kerly)
I was glad to get on the bike for day 1 of official training. With 2 days allocated to practice and a big loop to be pedalled my plan was to cover as many stages as possible on day 1, and then revisit as few as possible the following day with the aim of conserving energy.
Most of the field opted for the same programme and so were on stage at the same time. The crux sections of stages 2 and 4 in particular were packed with bikes and bodies. People lining the sides trying to push back up and session different lines and then crashing all over the show.
Eyes on the line, practice in the dust! (Photo Sven Martin)
The day was eventful. On stage 1 my back wheel took a hit and popped a spoke. I decided to crack on.
On stage 4, which was a mass of boulders I had an impressive OTB landing a huck to flat. My bike took the brunt of it and came away with broken bars and I felt lucky to get away with granite grazes. I pushed to the stage finish and met Ed also pushing his bike with his own blown rear wheel.
(Photo Sven Martin)
A quick exchange of bar and stem put my Fuji back in the game but unfortunately Ed’s on the back of a pick up truck. I had just enough time to get in 2 more stages before 5pm. A testing day of 50km and 6 stages ridden left me in a good position for training day 2.
Climbing up to the top again whilst media crews shuttle on up! (Photo Sven Martin)
Having Fuji Australasia set up in the pits was awesome. Thanks so much to these guys for the rear wheel and bar I borrowed from their fleet of Aurics to get me back out for day 2 of training. I kept it low key and rode only the final stage I had yet to practice.
Weaving in between boulders (Photo Sven Martin)
Just like Rotorua the rain clouds rolled in overnight. As we arrived at the top of stage 1 the drizzle turned to downpour. Thunder echoed around the valley and we grabbed what little shelter we could at the highest point in the forest. Goggles were discarded and we dropped into the river /trail.
Raining in the jungle…again! Riding stage 1 mid down pour. (Photo Sven Martin)
Stage 2 had a gnarly upper section that attracted the hecklers. I got well out of shape in one particular huck to hole to huck sequence which must have looked bad because it momentarily silenced the onlookers!
Finding some flow. (Photo Sven Martin)
Stage 3 was a restbite from the rock gardens with benched track, berms and big speed. My otherwise good run was spoiled by missing a junction and having to stop and push back up. The tape had been blown by an earlier rider and no-one standing near-by gave me a shout to tell me I had gone the wrong way. I felt pretty aggrieved to push back to the junction and find the following rider being directed in the correct direction. I lost time that would be critical to the overall at the end of the day but I put it in the ‘out of my hands’ box and moved on.
Not much light in the trees (Photo Dave Trumpore, Pinkbike)
A pass through the race village gave us a chance for re-lube, change clothing and grab some nutrition. The transition time for stage 4 was tight and I found myself using more watts than I’d like. I was feeling it on the flat chunder peddle at the top of the stage. Once into the long rock garden I tried to trust the grippy granite and managed to hang on as the bike worked over the array of boulders and big holes that had formed in between them.
Nuggety rock garden of stage 4 (Photo Sven Martin)
Mmm mud slathered rocks (Photo Sven Martin)
By stage 5 a few of the women had not made their start as bikes and riders had gone down hard on the rocks. Lauren had crashed and her seatpost was stuck in the air with the seconds ticking by to her start time. Luckily top bloke Yoann Barelli stepped up with a zip tie repair, you did not want to ride that stage saddle up!
I placed 5th on the stage which was awesome. I kept it clean and moving forward.
Stage 6 again started with full gas and then into more rowdy rocks lined by spectators. I enjoyed it and banked an 8th place.
Stage 7 was super short but easy enough to make mistakes in the slick conditions and I had some dynamic dabbing as I just about maintained rubber side down.
Stage 7 during practice (Photo Sven Martin)
I came away with 9th overall and a time that was in touch with 7th and 8th. I am really happy with my progression through these early rounds of the season and am excited to visit 2 more fresh destinations in Madeira and Millau.
My bike was completely faultless on race-day when around me so many people were suffering technical problems, thank you Fuji, Fox, Shimano, Crankbrothers and mechanic Ed for making that happen.
Lauren and I stoked to have made it round. (Photo Jason Ploughman)
More smiles! Lauren and I with Jason from Fuji Australia (Photo Jason Ploughman)
I arrived in Rotorua ahead of EWS round 1 having been back on my mountain bike for only a week. I’d broken my hand 6 weeks earlier.
My training was geared towards rehab rather than race tuning and had involved plenty of stationary spinning, gym sessions, and a few road and gravel rides. With this in mind I begged a skills tune up session with MTB Skills Clinics’ Chris Mildon to jump start my technical riding.
My first couple of rides highlighted weak grip strength and a general lack of confidence. I hate riding with a risk averse mindset and inevitably I felt slow. The pressure was on to rediscover my mojo and with the help of old riding friends I started to push my pace. There’s nothing like trying to stay on a local pinners wheel for getting yourself back up to speed.
The stoke levels and speed increased and come race day I felt ready to give it a go. It wasn’t going to be easy at 64km and 2000m of climbing.
My new race steed, all ready to go: Fuji Auric kitted out with Fox, Shimano, Crankbrothers, Stages Power Meter and Hutchinson tyres (Sven Martin)
Two days of practice plus the main event make for a solid 3 days on the bike. Day 1 gave us a taster of the conditions to come…mudfest!
A wee downpour during the start of practice day 1. (Sven Martin)
The majority of racers were saving their legs for the big day and opting for one run of each stage and this was also my plan. Friday we practiced 5 stages with no shuttle assist and spent about 5 hours out in the mud. We rode the final 2 stages the next day with the sun out and the prospect of a dry race.
Conditions improved during day 2 of practice (Sven Martin)
Race day arrived and ominous, dark, clouds surrounded the hill. As we made our way to the stages we got our first downpour.
As I dropped into Stage 1, Te Rua, I wasn't sure what to expect. It soon became clear there was little grip to had in a fresh layer of slime! Tricky, narrow and off camber with a couple of heckler mustering points.
Getting low I managed to roll through the double drop which resulted in spectacular crashes for a few. (Check out Jared Graves head butting the tree in the EWS round up video!) (Jamie Nicoll)
This was a wild way to start the day but I puzzled my down and got away without crashing.
Stage 2 Tihi into Billy T was now completely under water and running slow and physical. Full gas for 10 minutes+ I had to pace it to manage the oxygen debt and felt down on power which reflected in my stage result-22nd!
,Muddy chutes in the jungle (Sven Martin)
Stage 3 ‘Hatu Patu’ into ‘Dammit Janet’ is carpeted in native tree roots, with a few awkward uphill pinches. I was going ok dabbing here and there until I gobbed it on some roots. I tried to get back on, struggling to stand in the off camber slime and fell over again. I decided I’d better start running! This didn’t go well either so third time lucky, back on the bike, I managed to stay on track. The double drop into the tight finishing turn was claiming victims all day long and I was chuffed to land out of control but somehow managed to save it. I got some high fives for my sketchy moves!
Hatu Patus’ mass of roots (Sven Martin)
Stage 4 Kungfu Walrus was barely recognisable with blown trail below every off camber section and a gravel road that resembled freshly poured sticky concrete. My problem solving seemed to be improving though and I came away with 10th.
The climb to stage 5 Frankenfurter- Riff Raff- Rocky Horror was a long one and dehydration and fatigue were making themselves felt. A number of the womens’ field failed to make their start time.
The top section was exposed and weather beaten with some decent hucks before becoming tight and narrow in the woods. I managed to stay on my bike and felt I had some flow but in Rocky Horror I got owned by a mud covered boulder and went out the front door. I finished the stage with one brake lever in the air and my saddle at 45 degrees. This could be a good set up as I finished 10th place again!
Disappearing into ruts was a feature of race day (Sven Martin)
With one stage left to run the number of girls still left in the race seemed to have halved. We had a record number of DNFs from mechanicals and missing timing cut offs. It felt like a big achievement to get to this point and I knew my tank was near empty.
In the end I dropped from 10th to 13th place over the last 2 stages, however I am stoked to have made it round the course and stayed injury free. It was great to back racing EWS and share some mad runs with new and old friends.
Now I am fired up to keep building for Tasmania.
Cover shot by Kirsten and Nick at Endeavour Photo
The mag includes their article on "where the girls at" and an article I wrote about TransBC
A few more shots from the day: A perfect Nelson day the awesome Kirsten and Nick
My article on TransBC
And one from earlier in the year:
Days 5&6 TransRezia
A gentle spin down the valley to our uplift for the day- a heli!
Bikes going up
Riders dropped above the clouds
A bit of hiking and a bit of biking to get us even higher to our first stage of the day.
Top of stage one, singletrack twisting out of sight, leading into as fast as you dare chundery access road before dipping into more singletrack, flat out!
A traverse along the valley took us to stage 2, fun woodsy singletrack and some sneaky switchbacks photo Ross Bell. We continued our way down to the valley floor stopping at Chiuro for lunch then hopping on a shuttle to the Aprica pass, up a ski lift for the final stage of the day. One of my favourites of the week. Rooty goodness!
Day 6: Aprica
Up the ski lift again to the first stage of the day, switchbacks, loam and moss putting a smile on our faces!
A repeat of the final stage of yesterday to finish the day and the week. Trying to stay focused after a big week in the saddle. photo Ross Bell
A couple of Fuji podiums rewarding some very deep efforts. Another great training camp- I lost count of the number of sprints we did above 2000m! Exploration of a new area with stunning vistas, top Italian hospitality and riding with new and old friends made for memorable week.
Sitting between legends T-mo and Natalie Schneitter Photo Ross Bell
Day 3 to Switzerland via Livigno
A shuttle to Foscola pass at 2400m dropped us straight into the first special stage. Peddle to the metal for about 7minutes with minimal descent was a tough start to the day! Trying to keep the flow and dodge cowpats the priority. Photo Ross Bell
Ed not so sure about that one as a race stage!
A beautiful transfer down to Lake Livigno then up the bike park lift to traverse along the valley to our next stage. Trying to avoid at least some of the rocks on stage 2, a fun flowing track, photo Ross Bell
It's all ok again after a 20minute stage through Swiss woodland to finish by a lakeside with some gelato!
Re fuel at 4star swiss hotel. James Shirley and I in our natural habitat - the dessert buffet!
Day 4 Back to Italy; a beautiful start before the going gets tough! A day of Alpine passes.
Straight out of the hotel and all aboard the Bernina Express train
On our way through the clouds
Just when you thought the views couldn't get any better, pin sharp lake reflections.
Descending from the top of the Bernina pass was stunning. Then a big climb to get to our lunch over the Viola Pass
The time pressure was on as the group had been told if we didn't make the cut off the final stage would be cancelled and we'd have to descend down the road! So with a quick bite to eat we pressed on.
A little route finding after missing a turn off. Ed and Tracy on map duty. A tasty little descent before another epic climb to the Verva pass.
Phew we made the cut off, but feeling broken! However it wasn't just us, when a current XC world cup rider and several World champs are also struggling, maybe the day has just been set at the hard end. Unbelievably we had one more climb to go before the final stage to the finish. Over 2000m of climbing all up, one tough day! photo ross bell.
Enduro racer, adventurer, locum veterinary surgeon, cow and cat lover