Monday, April 28, 2008

Lake Hawea Epic

Saturday was race day - specifically the 116km Lake Hawea Epic mountain bike race. Luckily I could take it easy on Thursday and Friday. Sarah borrowed my bike to do the Wanaka Outlet Track while I played with Miro and fiddled with David's house foundation a bit more on the Thursday. On Friday I spent hours trying to get my bike into shape. That involved scraping and brushing three weeks of crap out of the drive train, which revealed some nasty burred teeth on the smaller chainwheels. It was out with the file to get rid of those and scrape the brake blocks clean. At such short notice there was nothing to be done about the noises from the bottom bracket, water in the shocks, or 2 cm crack in the carbon seatpost.

On race day David and I were up early and out the door at 6am for the 10 km ride to the start. It was freezing, literally, so good to get a warm up done. I bumped into Steve Gurney at the start and he shared some advice about dealing with sleep deprivation. There were about 560 entries - pretty impressive for this events first year! We were off at 7am and cruised the 25 km of seal to the beginning of the dirt at a civilised pace (around 30 km/hr) - then things got serious. Although I was with the front bunch, the flatter sections were a bit of a struggle. But on the first big hill I found myself in the 'zone' and surging to the front. Did I feel in the zone because I was passing people, or was I passing people because I was in the zone? Not sure, but I liked it.

An hour and a half into it I was in a group of four that included David Drake and Marcus Roy (the NZ MTB Marathon Champ). The sun had risen above the mountains and was directly into our eyes. I put on the sun glasses bought from the local service station after mine broke a few days earlier - they are polaroids and although they look cool, they are terrible in high contrast situations. As we descended through a wee patch of beech forest I was looking stylish right up to the point where an unseen object sliced a large whole in the sidewall of my front tyre. "Curses!"

After sorting a tyre boot and tube, going for a leak and shedding one of my woollen tops, it took a long time to get back into race mode. I caught up to Justin Freeman and we rode together and chatted for about half an hour. That was pleasant, but after crossing the river at the head of the valley I started to hammer the hills again and haul people in.

The scenery and weather were still magnificent (even better now the sun was behind us). This is a really fun, old-school course.

About 5 km from the finish it was back onto the seal and fairly flat. I got overhauled by 3 riders with just 2 km to go, but still snuck into the top ten and cracked six hours (5:11) so both my goals were ticked off and I was a happy chappy. David came 3rd and Marcus won in 4:44. Everyone seemed to have a good time.

Monday, April 21, 2008

New Ground

Wow! The new rides just keep on coming. I'd hoped to do a couple of the old classics this week, but no time.

Yesterday it was up early to check out McPhies Ridge in the Lindis Valley. The water bottle left out overnight had ice rattling round inside it and I set off with a balaclava on and frostbite having a go at my finger-tips ... six km from the start I was not happy to see the Old Faithful bridge across the Lindis River was out. Too deep to ride. Shoes and socks off and a minute later I was out the other side with daggers in my toes. Time to get the blood flowing with some tempo riding up the long Goodger Valley... farmland ruled by dry stock...big herds of merino gathering on the road infront. Silly animals. Gotta thank them for my top and socks though.

After a stiff wee climb onto McPhies Ridge there are awesome views and a long, very enjoyable descent. 53 km all up, but some slow farm track in there so it took 4 hours.

Took an hour and half to get to the start of the Mt Rosa Track - a "4-6 hour mini epic" according to the 6th edition of a certain guidebook. I had 4 hours until dusk.

The first half is simple - 1100 vert m of climbing in 13km. The top half is very steep ... very, very steep for tired legs. The descent was a bit of a puzzle as the tracks are not marked on the topomap, but it all came together OK. Even steeper than the climb and super rough...had to stop near the bottom to wait for my eye-balls to stop rattling around. It was nice to be down and heading back to the ranch well before dusk.

Today was the start of the Queetstown leg of the tour. There are 8 new rides here that look worthy of the 7th edition - one of them is the new tracks at Seven Mile. They were the highlight of the day - amazing berms, nice forest, groovy structures. I was well schooled by local lads Lance and Martin. The Queenstown MTB Club (with DOC's blessing) have done a world-class job. These tracks are sweet!!!

Also enjoyed a quick blat around Lake Hayes and got out to Jacks Point along the natural technical singletrack just as the weather started to pack in. Raced back to the car as darkness and heavy rain descended.

It was a funny day. Drive, research, drive, ride, lunch with the family, drive, ride, drive, ride, etc .... I was going for it from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm and am knackered now after riding a grand total of 34 kilometres! But you've gotta love technical new trail.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Fresh Snow!

Sarah & Miro have come south, so it's lots of short family times and day rides in the Southern Lakes region for the next week. Yesterday Sarah's brother David Drake and I headed up into the snow in the mountains near Cromwell.

As David pulled the bikes off the rack in a hurry, eager to get climbing, he blurted out. "Kennett, you FOOL! Your front tyre is completely flat!" For some reason I just about wet myself laughing at that one.

David thinks of himself as a soul rider, but those of us who pedal with him know him to be a hammerhead, especially on the climbs (Colorado residents might have heard of him - he won the Durango 100 a couple of times). We set off up Devil's Creek Track and were into granny gear and oxygen debt almost immediately. This is one severe ascent. Before we knew it we were getting snowed on and then up onto the tops in amongst some extremely crisp air and freaky rock formations. At the top I glanced at my watch and exclaimed that we'd been hammering for a good 45 minutes. "Longer than that", David replied. I checked my watch and relealised it'd been 1 hr 45 mins. Time flys when you're having fun (or suffering like a dog).

Gotta go - Miro's calling.
More of the same over the next few days - lots more snow dumped on the hills overnight.

Part B:
Our second ride yesterday was a middle ring climb up the Roaring Meg Track - 500 vert metres which felt relatively easy (neither of us felt like attacking). The scenery was almost devoid of any native plants - not an uncommon thing in these parts, but I still find it slightly disturbing. We could have been in Switzerland or Colorado. What does the future hold for NZ species in the region - extinction? Probably not. But isolation to Dept of Conservation land, probably. In many parts of NZ local communities have countless forest restoration projects on the go. Perhaps it is the harsh climate that makes it all seem too hard here? Or perhaps the majority of locals are happy with the landscape the way it is.

Today I squeezed in just one ride: Minaret Burn Track. It was a solid 35 km around West Wanaka with a refreshing mix of vege including some patches of manuka, beech and even some kapuka forest. The views were often stunning - big vistas of the lake, scary rock outcrops and brilliant stands of golden poplars. Lots of snow on the distant mountain tops.

Went to Racers Edge where David works and got my tyres sorted with some fresh Stans sealant. No more 'FOOL Kennett' for me. : )

Sunday, April 13, 2008

An Oldie, but a Goodie

Friday saw me heading to Fiordland, stopping on the way to ride Mt Bee. That's a fairly average looking 'hill' from the base, but the track goes up and up and up...before you know it you're above 1000 m - well above the bushline at this latitude. So the views are massive and filled me with good vibes. After the usual fluffing around getting a decent photo, it was a looonnnggggg descent to the car and on to Lake Manapouri.

Manapouri is the sight of New Zealand's most ingeneous hydro power scheme - water from the 150m-high lake is diverted to a subterrainean power station and then flushed through a long tunnel out to sea at Doubtful Sound. The original plan was to raise the lake level, destroying mucho native forest, but the public got up in arms about the proposed destruction and forced the government to maintain natural lake levels. Our modern environmental movement was fomed and we still ended up with 700MW of renewable energy.

Anyway, all that power needs a transmission line, which needs a pylon track, which goes through the spectacular Fiordland National Park over Percy Pass. Bingo! A great bike ride waiting to be ridden. But this is very mountainous country and they couldn't quite build a pylon track all the way through - there's a 1 km gap in the middle, and that gap traverses the most rugged terrain imaginable. Way back in the early 80s, rough-stuff cycle tourers would sit around the campfire and tell tall tales about Percy Pass in hushed tones.

I got my first chance to 'ride' Percy Pass when doing a 3-week stint at Manapouri as an engineering cadet in 1987. It almost killed me. Two days ago was my first time back in over 20 years.

The boat trip across the lake was lovely - a thick fog cleared to reveal the splendid glacially formed mountains and valleys. I was heading up the 800m climb to Percy Pass by 8:30am. A straight forward climb made just a little more difficult by my determination to avoid first gear - a gear I wouldn't have had on my mid-80's bike. At the top, I gasped at the sight of the trackless void ahead. Steep scree slopes, mossy boulders, fallen trees, thick rainforest! It was easier tackling it as an ignorant teen. Now I knew what lay ahead, although a 'recommended route' marked with the occasional warratah offer some hope.

I followed the route as best I could, but it is often very indistinct and still littered with obstacles. 21 years ago, with no guide, I drifted beneath the pylons, which is where the biggest trees have been felled to keep the lines clear. I clambered over the fallen forest giants, often dragging the bike by the front wheel, until I could continue no more. My hands shook uncontrollably and I considered bivvying out, maybe dying alone in the wilderness if the weather turned nasty. Leaving the bike, I set out to find a vantage point that would reveal my location relative to the nearest pylon. After just 20 m I stumbled onto the pylon track, knelt down and kissed it. I'd overshot the end of the track and was bush-bashing my way down the valley parallel to it.

This time the warratahs lead me straight to the end of the lower pylon track in just 50 minutes. 'Yeah baby! Yee-haaaah!!!' Not the fastest kilometre-long descent, but there was till a long ways to go to the valley floor.

The next climb over Borland Saddle was another 800m grind. More fanastic scenery - this is our largest national park; the expanse is mind-boggling. The last time I climbed up to the Borland roadend lookout an eagle-eyed boy spotted me and said "Look! There's somebody on a bike." His dad replied, "Don't be silly, son. You're looking at a million hectares of uninhabited wilderness." A few minutes later I was explaining mountain bikes to an astonished crowd of 4WD'ers. This time there were just a couple of hunters declaring that I was mad.

From the saddle it's a 25 km downhill run out to the edge of the park, and then another 40 km of road back to Manapouri. Only 110 km all up, but an honest eight and a half hours none-the-less. This ride may be very old school, with not an inch of singletrack, not one jump or berm, but it'll stay in our top-50 list, for sure.

Yesterday I was still recovering. Probably would have had a rest day, but the God damn weather was still stunning so I headed for Piano Flat and another climb up to the bushline. This ride had a hard act to follow, however I was still so impressed with the scenery - beautiful beech forest followed by open tussock land. Unfortunately I just didn't have the legs to make it up to the tops of the Old Man Range (which separates Otago from Southland). Once it became barely rideable it was time to turn back to base. Still clocked up 1,400 m of vertical in a couple of hours.

Today I'm in Gore to check out their new tracks. The sun is still shining, but heavy rain is forecast. Bring it on...I need a rest!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Riding on...and mixing it up

Well, the sun did come out on Tuesday and I set out to ride the Macauley Valley with great ghusto. DOC describe this as a pleasant ride along tussock flats and riverbed. As it turned out, the tussock flats sections had been 'upgraded' with a generous layer of chunky river gravels and a recent flood had turned the river bed into a maze of deadend 4WD tracks. It was a 'mini-Poulter' and my average speed up to the flash Macauley Hut was 12 km/hr. That was me going hard out! Oh well...the scenery was magnificent and the ride down the valley much easier.

As a guidebook writer big braided river systems are a bit of a nightmare. You can spend all day working out the best route to take and then a fresh (high rainfall event) can turn your good advice into bad, in a couple of hours.

After a late lunch it was off to check out a small area of singletrack being developed in a forest just out of Tekapo. Singletrack! Ahhhhhh...nice. Then I part drove, part walked the local section of the Te Araroa Trail (the length of NZ walk) to confirm it wasn't really worth having in 'Classic NZ MTB Rides'.

All in all, a good day. Average. 5/10. Could be better.

Wednesday started with a visit to DOC in Twizel. They've been very busy opening up new area through the High Country Tenure Review process. Not surprisingly, there was lots to check out starting with the wonderful Twizel River Walkway - 12 km of new single & double track. The river is lined with willows and the leaves are starting to turn.

Ride two was the Dusky Trail into the base of the Ben Ohau range - 26 km, half formed and half of it just following a worn path over bumpy high country pasture. Lots of tussock, matagouri and rose-hip, with merino sheep and the odd rabbit & hare. There was some zen-like sweet riding on the descent following a 5-inch wide sheep track. And during this ride Sarah texted to say that Miro had just looked at a photo of me and said 'Bye' - her first word! Sad..happy...cute... She has a week to learn 'Hi' before they fly down here.

In the late afternoon I rushed off to Lake Ohau to squeeze in the Parsons MTB track before dusk. Apart from a little road ride between the start and finish, this was only 8 km long - thank God!!! I was knackered again already. 8 km/hr was all I could manage through the single track (which was fun, I think...).

That night was spent with rellies (David, Jennie & Mica) at 'Hippy Heights' near Wanaka. Always nice to catch up. They are building a house at Hawea Flats on a shoe-string budget (after having lived in a caravan and shipping container for a year and a half) - very exciting. So yesterday turned into a rest day - concreting the foundation wall until the sun went down. Nothing like a 40 kg bag of cement to make your bike (any bike) feel light. A good nights sleep was had by all.

Righto...enough blogging. Time to head for some serious mountains in Southland. Yee hah.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Taking a Beating

Yesterday as I struggled to maintain forward momentum up the Poulter Valley riverbed, I thought of Ali's preparation for the Rumble in the Jungle. He was set to fight the much younger, bigger and stronger George Foreman. In preparation he put his mitts up and let his sparring partner lay into him for extended periods. During the big fight he lay back on the ropes and let Foreman beat him for several rounds. He took the beating he'd trained for, and when it appeared his opponent was finally beginning to tire, he said calmly "George, I'm disappointed in you. Is that all you've got?".

The Poulter Vally ride took me by surprise. It was five hours and a fair chunk of it was tough river gravels (or worse). I took a beating, but it was worth it. The scenery was magnificent, as you'd expect from a national park in the Southern Alps. This is the first track approved for mountain biking since the change in the National Park general policy. The start of an age of rational access decisions (hopefully).

Next up I drove to Fairlie, well into the south of the south. The sun was setting - it was touch and go to squeeze in a second ride for the day, so I made it the short Fairlie River Trail - and hour of sweet singletrack thru an ecological nightmare of rampant climbing weeds. Two rides a day is the average when we do research trips. These trips have been happening every three years for 17 years. We're fortunate that there are always dozens of new rides developed every year.

Today I woke up dog-tired - typical for the third day of a tour. The weather was cold and wet; progress was painfully slow. I had another three new rides around Fairlie to check, write up and photograph - one round a small lake; one up into a conservation area in the high country; and one in a couple of patches of forest. Lots of mud, sheep shit, wet grass. Some interesting stuff to see (incl an 8-point stag running across the track in front of me). There was so much fluffing around that my average speed was just 10 km/hr for a grand total of 40 km. I'm feeling knackered. Tomorrow the sun will come out and things will pick up.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Ride/Drive Ratio

Coming to from Arthurs Pass YHA. My oh my, have I done some driving since yesterday morning.

Once off the ferry it was a mad rush up the Wairau to get the Branch Valley ridden before dark. Very nice old-school ride. Stayed at Murchison camp ground while a big old southerly came through overnight.

Today I escaped the storm by heading over to the West Coast. Did the Triple Peaks ride (almost). The landowner has put up unfriendly signs, so that one will get the axe in the next edition. Then I got well and truly hammered by 2 hours of river rocks in the Taipo Valley. That ride is 5/10. Would be a lot more fun on a fully.

Have been thinking a lot about my ride-to-drive ratio. I like to keep it well above 1. Touch and go today. With the price of oil and cost of climate change, we'll have to consider whether or not it's responsible for us (as guidebook writers) to be encouraging people to drive for hours to do a 20km ride. Guess it depends a bit on how good the ride is. At the least, I reckon we'll be more explicit about the amount of driving required to do some of the more remote rides. Maybe encourage people to do a bundle of rides on less frequent road trips. Or combine a ride with other business. Wonder what a reasonable fly-to-ride ratio would be? Something to think about.

Pedal on!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Going on a road trip...

Mad rush on way to ferry...heading south for a month...finished at Cycling Advocates' Network and now back with the Kennett Bros, so am off to do research for the 7th edition of Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides.

I've got the southern half of the South Island, which is full of long, remote rides that we haven't done for a decade or two. So long as the weather plays ball it should be most excellent.

Tipped the scales as 69kg this morning, pretty much what I was aiming for at this time. Two or three kg heavier than normal. I lost half a kg during the Cape Palliser ride and that worried me - if I lost weight at that rate during the GDR it'd leave me at 59kg (note: I'm 6'1"). According to a couple of blogs, GDR racers do loose about 7-10kg. Looks like I should try to put on another kg or two before June.

Anyway, gotta go. The hills are a calling.