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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The First Brevet.

Well it’s the night before and although not the perfect build up or taper, it is what it is. I will find out what it feels like starting at 6 tomorrow morning.

ok, a couple of days later and it’s all fresh in the mind. I waited in the dark for 1/2 an hour or so, all the toilets were of course locked so that option to kill time was lost. Peter (Cole) and Shaun (Batty) rocked up so it wasn’t going to be a lonely 400 at least at first.

We left at 6am on the dot and 10 seconds in, it was raining, so that was a good start. However it didn’t last long and the company was amusing, Peter was strong and Shaun, young and strong. Oh well, hang on and do your share I thought, see what happens. Within 10 minutes my lower back started aching so that was a little stressful, a quick stop about an hour or so in to divest ourselves of jackets etc.

The sun was out now and there was a fair bit of banter along with a lot of comments on how picturesque it was from Peter. A quick blat through Whangerei about 60k in and we were off to Twin Bridges, unfortunately Shaun had a puncture so they both stopped. I carried on as I wasn’t feeling great and was wanting to just putter along at my own pace for a while. Of course the weather chose this moment to hose down! With a sore back, soaking and only 80 or so k’s into the ride this was not a happy moment for me, strangely, I got my own puncture and fixing it was a nice break. Just as I got going again the boys appeared on the horizon so we cruised off to Kaikohe together. They were keen on Maccas but my stomach craved real food so I stopped at the bakery however a matter of moments later they were back as Maccas had proved too elusive. Got the card signed, refuelled, re watered and we were away again,145k.

Shaun jumped on the front downhill but into a strong headwind but his pace was too much for me after 20 or so k, I pulled over and said as much to Peter so we let him go and we cruised on at a more sedate pace. He was waiting just after Taheke so we were all together again but the Waima hill split us again as I quietly rode up it but opened a bit of a gap which strangely didn’t get closed down. I was reorganising myself in Opononi when Peter arrived, we reloaded at the 4 Square shop and Peter told me not to wait, still no sign of Shaun so maybe another puncture?200k.

The climb out of Omapere was nasty as were the rolling hills before the Waipua Forest however the climb I had been dreading into the forest was just a nice steady one and quite enjoyable if a bit long. Stopped for a selfie at the top and then enjoyed the downhill and even most of the following uphill all the time expecting the other 2 to come rolling by. Knowing there was a fast open descent I stopped, had a feed and put on my jacket and lights as it was getting darker. Still no sign of the guys?? It’s a fast downhill and chilly but at least the headwind is finally a side wind, oh and by the way, the Dargaville flats are not flat!

Moment 2 in the ‘why am I doing this’ is when the back wheel has a spoke break, and on Zipps, that’s often terminal. Luckily I’d had them rebuilt by a local wheel guy and they kept enough shape with the brakes released to keep going. With a bit of good luck with the wheel(sort of) the rain decided to return. Oh well, Dargaville was coming up and even I was looking forward to Maccas. I thought I’d wait for the boys there as I knew they were into plastic food and good toilets. So I rode through a damp Dargaville and stopped at yet another 4 Square for fluids ! No Maccas in town so that plan was stuffed, I threw coke in one bottle grabbed my GUs and headed out. 280k.

OMG it was flat, of course that didn’t last, a left turn and onto a gravel road. Hang on, a broken wheel,300k in, dark, and we are on gravel? Oh well, it wasn’t bad gravel. It was a nice scenic if dark side trip. So back on the flat road I’m doing a lot of standing on the downhills by now, 50% arse 50% back. Eventually, as we are heading in the wrong direction, we turn left up a nice steep hill. By halfway I realise the brakes are rubbing pretty badly on the wheel making it seriously tough to climb so I stop and unwind the cable. Jump back on and nope, still bad, so I pull all my gear out and unbolt the brakes completely. That’ll do it….no…shit, it’s rubbing on the frame. Ok, tough it out, there is a secret checkpoint somewhere between 300 & 350k, I’ll find out if there are many more big hills because I can’t make it up many more like that and it gets worse. A major road rebuilding job with massive gravel and nasty surface and lots of it! Oh well!

By this stage if the secret control had been there I might have bailed but it was nowhere to be seen so on I went, and a lovely night with rolling hills, gentle slopes and a whole bunch of possums trying to commit suicide under my wheels. Cold and foggy but a lovely sky, another ¬†gravel section although only light gravel, only front brakes on the downhills was exciting at times. An easy run into Whangerei over familiar roads saw the end with my daughter picking up after my wife had done drop off duties. Very cool to see her! A text to Peter saw him still 15k away so we headed off. A pity not to be able to relive the high points with the other riders and I still don’t know exactly what happened but it will all come out in the wash I’m sure. It’s now Tuesday and the bodies ok, the arse is getting there and I’m looking at new adventures so I obviously learned nothing!!!! Lol.

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