The Timbertrail Practise Run.

As some of you may know, the reason for these Blogs is to document my stupid idea to do the Tour Aotearoa, a 3,000k off road Brevet the length of New Zealand. So the next item to come up after the 400k Brevet was the Club trip to The Timbertrail. The “Club” is the Kerikeri Mountainbike Club which myself and 3 friends started about 7 years ago. It’s still going strong and we have all bailed off the Trustees but still ride with it occasionally.

Graeme Brown is a serial organiser and he was the catalyst for the ride. So it ended up with 19 of us going and a 3 building farmstay to sleep in. Of course we had to get there first! After being picked up by Neil and Bob we set off, easy going to Auckland although the GPS turned itself off so was reset by Neil on the go. Our plan was to buy food and booze in Te Kuiti but as we got closer the numbers didn’t stack up and upon checking, the GPS destination was similar but not the same. Hence we were heading for Taupo! A similar distance and even in the same general direction but the route was a little longer and more importantly, it didn’t pass through anything resembling a town!

However the route past the lake was spectacular and I will go and ride it one day it was that good!! We stopped in Bennydale, a little(and I mean little) village with a cafe, which of course was shut. Bob, in good ‘Murican fashion wouldn’t take no for an answer and managed to get them to sell us pies etc to heat up later, lovely spot, nice people, great food! This lack of direction set the tone’for my weekend really. We arrived at the Twin Rivers Cottage to a roaring fire, a hearty welcome and even better, thank you Gary, beer!

Up early due to Neil’s regularity, yes I’m jealous, and an entertaining wait for the shuttles. Once we got to the start we had the obligatory photos and I got the mighty Surly Straggler ready. It’s not a Mountainbike but a modified Gravel bike, rigid frame, drop bars but with 29er tyres squeezed on and disc brakes. I set off, not knowing where to go, I headed up the road with a few others but quickly outdistanced them on the gravel. Came to a sign , left to Te Kuiti(no) or right on Link Rd, obviously it will link up with the Timbertrail (you know where this is going don’t you). I went past a sign to the historic crawler tractor, good sign I’m on the right track and carried on. About 8 k in I’m starting to get a bit worried, no one behind me but lo, the steps up to the summit. Now I know Neil was going to walk up to the top so I’m on course, I can stop stressing. Lovely road, hard climbs and then an awesome descent, unfortunately it’s now about 15k and I’m thinking I’m in the shit however the roads going to the left and the other road was on the left so I figure they will still link up and I’ll just miss some of the trail. At about 20k I know I’m in the shit and I see a campervan, they have a map and I’m completely wrong, they suggest I backtrack a few hundred metres and head up a forestry road to Bog Swamp Hut which looks like it borders the trail, so off I go.

Quite a few kilometres later and after a lot of climbing a four wheel drive comes down the road. I wave it down and start with “it looks like I’m lost”, apparently the bridge is out and the hunter hadn’t any idea if you could get from the hut to the trail but kindly offers me a lift…back to the start! It’s a long way by car and when we get there we have a good look for the start which is obvious when you find it but not, we agree, when looking for it or a sign. The mans a legend and with a handshake I’m off, 2 hours late, so I crank up the energy level and start climbing. Nice trail now I’m on it and the many people I pass are amazingly nice and move aside as quickly as they can. The Straggler is going well but I’m not expecting to see anyone until the end so I’m surprised to meet some of the boys at about 1:45 in and apparently I passed some others as they’ve mostly gone to the summit. Great to have company but the suspended bikes are marginally quicker downhill(funny that) so it’s a challenge as is the suspension bridge. One of the downside to getting older is a growing fear of heights and having Matt being trampoline guy on it isn’t helpful.

By this stage I’m in the groove and carry on at a steady pace, the bikes climbing well and I’m having fun so I leave everyone and push on. It’s fun to catch up and have a little chat with various members of the group. Once we got to the end we decided to do Shirley’s Shortcut so we backtracked a few k and took the Twin River Cottage track back which was muddier than the trail. Eventually coming out on a farm road, I left Peter and Shirley on the gravel downhill and had a blast, a little sketchy with the heavy seat bag but fun. More borrowed beers and a great feed followed by another shitty nights sleep made for a good night and an early morning.

Still no food as we finished too late to get to the supermarket 30k away but I had a pie left over from Friday…all good! Complete cock up by the shuttle guy, only picked up by Shirley but our lady took us to the start and then had to head back for the rest which was a bugger as we wouldn’t be riding together. I tried to ride with the group but the Stragglers gears were too high to go slow, once we regrouped at the first swingbridge and took some photos I decided to press on and treat it as a practise session for the Tour Aotearoa. The bridges were white knuckle material, the views were awesome, had a great catch up with an old Wellington mate and rode with another dropbar bike for a while. Tough on the body, especially the downhills, a shorter(2:47 total 2:30 riding time) day but as the arse was still in recovery from the 400 I was happy to finish and wait at the finish chatting and relaxing for a couple of hours.

A quick blast to the shops as I called it my shout for beers, wine and nibbles set the scene for a great night. Everyone seemed to enjoy the trip and I enjoyed the crazy mix of people and especially confirming the Surly Straggler is up to the 3,000k Brevet next year, whether I am is another story? A nice trip home in the rain with Neil driving the whole way. Thanks to all for a great weekend!

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