Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Western Okataina Track and a Bunch of Other Cool Stuff...

This Strava thing is killing me... Every time I get home from a ride, before I even get out of my kit, I'm fiddling with the cable trying to plug it into the USB slot in my laptop to upload the precious, precious data off my Magellan Switch Up... I will then scour through the data to see, firstly, if I got any QOM (Queen of the Mountain) accolades, then secondly, to compare my times on different trails to the times I have ridden before to see if I got any PBs. Then, if I'm happy with what I see, I upload it to Facebook, with the appropriate commentary or excuses... It's the new peer pressure. Even if I go out for a reccy, I tend to stay fairly mindful of the trails that I know have Strava segments attached to them and try and give them a little bit of stick, regardless of what sort of session I am meant to be doing, or how rooted my legs feel. There's worse things to be addicted to right??? You can check out my Strava feed here... Knowing that people are looking at it will probably give me more reason to smash myself adequately each ride!

I recently invested in my own gym so I could do my weight training at home... Not because I'm anti-social, but it's just convenient, and to be honest, for my one session a week, it was cheaper than buying a yearly gym membership. As with any gym, though, the first couple of times you use it, you take a bit of time to adjust to the environment, which exercises you want to do and the weights you are comfortable with (in my case, the weights I am comfortable with if I don't have a spotter). So in true "Megan" style,the last couple of weeks, I have overdone my weights session a bit, and once you do that, there is no going back... It means you suffer for the rest of the week. So Tuesday evening, I hit the trails with pretty flat legs, but intent to make the most of it. I had a surprisingly good session and clocked a blindingly quick time down the top section of Be Rude Not To on my hardtail. Wednesday and Thursday though, my legs were toast, and no matter how hard I pushed my little legs, I didn't seem to get any faster... You can do one of two things when you have a session like this... Go home, rest up and have a sook, or just get what you can out of your body and have a good time doing it. I generally choose the latter... It's much better for your head than piking on a session. It just so happened that Wednesday was a stunning evening, as well, and there was an abundance of good peeps out and about in the forest... There's a lot to be said for good company on a ride when you are struggling a tad, especially when you usually ride by yourself, and it was such a stellar evening to climb to the top of Corridor and have a good chin-wag with a couple of other riders before descending the sweet new trail from the top of Corridor and heading home... I am loving daylight savings, and I reckon the top of Katore road is one of my favourite places in the forest right now! I have had numerous discussions with people in recent times about the logging in the forest, and I like to take a very pragmatic approach to it... Sure, the logging destroys the existing trails, and leaves behind rubble that seems to litter the landscape, but hey, it's part of riding in a working forest. Probably a more valuable way to see it is that the trails get rebuilt, more often than not, better than they were before (and I don't think anyone would disagree with me when I say the rebuilds are a display of absolutely stellar trail design artwork), and there are sections of the forest now where we see stunning views where we previously would have been in amongst the thick of the forest. The top of Katore road is a fine example of both of these. Yeah, it is really sad to see the trees all knocked down, but it's a cycle, and a sustainable one at that... And how awesome is it that we, as mountain bikers, are part of that cycle (excuse the pun!).

Saturday I awoke to windy, overcast conditions. I had a four and a half hour ride planned, so I decided to hit the local markets first before hitting the trails so I didn't miss out on my fresh veg hit for the week!
The ride into town was heinous. It was the first time since leaving Palmerston North I had experienced head winds like that, but at least the ride home was tail-wind assisted! Even better... When I finally hit the forest, the trees offered excellent protection (although, I must admit that hearing the tops of trees clash together and branches falling off in the wind makes me slightly nervous!). It was a surprisingly warm day and the first time since I returned from Europe that I have taken out the Camelbak and bladder, which served it's purpose very nicely. A lot of my recent rides, I have tried to get by on a bottle, and it just hasn't been enough for the longer days. I did a fairly substantial loop that saw me climb to the top of the forest (Tuhoto Ariki and Billy T) twice, and to the top of Katore twice... All up, I did over 2,000 metres of climbing for the day, and whilst I struggled to keep my heart rate in it's target zone, I didn't feel too bad. I also managed to squeeze in a run on the new Pondy DH, which has been (just this week) molded and manicured to remove all the ruts and rough stuff... It runs hellishly fast, and I can see this is going to be one of those trails that, eventually, I will see just how much I can get away with not using my brakes.
By the end of my ride, I was feeling pretty smashed, but still conjured up the energy to climb Katore Road for one final sweet descent home. As I negotiated the short descent towards the Tokarangi Pa turnoff, I heard this huge "BANG", felt the rim hit the ground and lost all control in my back wheel. It's scary how hard it can be to slow down and stop with a fully deflated tyre at speed. I finally pulled up (with no damage to the rim... Bonus!) to find a side wall tear in my tyre about the size of a 50c piece... No amount of Stans was gonna plug that hole!!! I was only about 2-3km of downhill riding from home, which was actually a bit annoying in a way... Had I been in the middle of the forest, it would have been a no-brainer... Stick a Shotz wrapper in there as a tyre boot, stick a tube in there and make my way home... But how close I was to home gave me the option of either fixing it and enjoying the descent home, or running the bike home and stuffing around with it once I had eaten and had a shower. It was a windy day, and I figured that running the bike home would be preferable to stuffing around with it on the side of the track with the wind blowing dirt onto the sealant stuck to the inside of the tyre, so that's what I did... The trail seemed to take an eternity to run down, and with carbon-soled shoes on and a bike slung over my shoulder, I was ecstatic to finally make contact with Long Mile Road... But not so ecstatic to try and fit another tubeless tyre!!! Huge thanks to Zac at The Outdoorsman who spent the last 30mins of his Saturday afternoon shift in immense frustration at my wheel/tyre combo... Big ups man!

I'd been looking forward to Sunday all week. The weather had been forecast to be good and I had planned a little adventure to check out the Western Okataina Track. After plans for some company for the trip fell through, I set out by myself. The plan was to ride via the Tank to Town trail to avoid riding on the road. My legs felt smashed after the week's riding, and especially after yesterday's climbing, and I was forced to resign myself to the fact that this was going to be a fairly slow day out. The sun felt warm on my skin as I climbed, then the fresh Spring breeze nipped at me through my jersey as I descended... It was one of those days you just feel stoked to be out riding a bike. As I reached the end of Tank to Town, I had planned to duck out onto the road and ride the rest of the way on the road to Okareka Loop road. To my delight, though, as I tucked my head around the corner of the tank, I discovered the Lynmore Link track. I had very little knowledge of where it led and was stoked when I realised it linked up to Pipeline road... I had just discovered an alternate route across to Be Rude Not To, which was particularly cool because it meant I could now get to that part of the forest much quicker than before, meaning I had a greater choice of trails for my shorter rides in the evenings... YUSSS! I followed Pipeline Road around, parallel to Tarawera Road, then found a trail that popped me out on Tarawera Road a mere 200m from the Okareka turnoff. I headed down towards the lake on the road, and then followed Miller Road all the way along to where the road became unsealed. Finally, I came across the trail head of the Western Okataina Track.

The Western Okataina Walkway was opened up to bikers just last weekend, on the 29th of September, for a two year trial into it's use as a dual-use track (similar to what they have done with the Heaphy). So, when you hit this trail up (and if you like a good adventure ride, I would strongly recommend you do), please be considerate of other trail users. I found the majority of walkers I came across had come from the education centre end, and were hiking up to the trig point, so be ESPECIALLY careful, on the final descent towards the education centre. Today's weather was perfect for an exploratory ride, and as I started along the track, I soon found myself beneath a canopy of native bush.
The start of the trail reminded me very much of riding up Back Track at K Loop in the Manawatu, but the further into the ride I got, the more rugged it became. The climbs at the beginning were fairly mellow, but with a lot of debris underwheel, they could be quite soft and fairly hard work. It was also super important to keep an eye out for trees and hanging vines that may come to battle with my bar ends, and also derallier-hungry debris on the trail. As I drew closer to the junction where the trig point turnoff was, the climbs became quite steep and long, and quite rough and rutted in places with and a couple of rather awkward little creek crossings. There was a lot of gorse along the side of the track heading up to the junction, but this became more of a problem on the way down at speed than it was on the way up.

The creek crossings were hard work with a bike in hand and my short legs. There were two main crossings and they were both tucked down in deep little gullies with steep edges. The first one was well-marked with signage, but the second crossing lacked such warning, and had it not being for a convenient endo into a gorse bush on the side of the trail, I may have had a very grim landing in the bottom of the gully. The water looked really clean and fresh, but as there is farming in the surrounding region, I would recommend taking a Camelbak with you and carrying your own water. I found the trail to be, surprisingly, largely ridable. It reminded me very much of the Moerangi track, only not quite as groomed. I took my time picking my way along the trail and enjoying the sights and taking photos. Finally, I reached Whakapoungakau junction.
The trig point was a short side trip from here up a fairly steep trail which required a bit of hike-a-bike, but was well worth it for the stunning views. From the top, you could see across Lake Rotorua, lake Rotoiti and across to Lake Rotoehu. I bumped into a group of walkers at the junction and had a bit of a chat, then bumped into them again as I was taking in the sights and having a bit of a snack break at the trig. There was another couple of trampers already at the trig who told me about a little side track to a secret viewpoint off the trail just after the junction. Both groups of trampers I crossed paths with on two or three occasions on the course of my ride, and they were all lovely and very chatty. It's nice when you are riding a dual use trail to feel welcomed by other users (and I'm sure they feel the same), and I certainly ensure I make a point of being super-friendly myself. It isn't a hard thing to do, and means that bikers will get to enjoy the trail forever more rather than being banished as rude and dangerous.

I made my way back to the junction and headed down the final 4km of the track towards the education centre. This part of the track was surprisingly well-groomed in comparison to the part of the track I had just come from, and obviously more frequently-used. It was steep in places, and it was fast... Very fast... And insanely fun... I don't think I have ever dropped 300m of  elevation so quickly!
Coming back up for the return trip was quite the opposite... A painful slog that required a perfectly positioned body over the bike to avoid either lifting the front wheel or slipping with the back. I passed my friends again, who had told me about the special little vista to the side of the track, and they had been kind enough to draw arrows on the track so I knew where to find it on the way back up! It was such a perfect example of walkers and riders enjoying a dual-use track in complete symbiosis. I found their track markings, and there was no way I would have seen this imaginary "trail head" had they not pointed me in the right direction.
I slung my bike over my shoulder and climbed into the bush where there was a very faint, but obvious line down the side of the escarpment. I dropped the bike off a little way into the bush and scrambled down until I was standing on what seemed to be the edge of a cliff, like I was suspended from the trees. It was a truly spectacular sight, with unobscured views across lake Tarawera and Okataina and into the distance... Very cool indeed!

I made my way back to the main trail and continued on my way home, passing the other group of trampers I had seen earlier and tipping them off as to where the little secret spot was off the side of the trail. I made quick work of the descent down the other side back to Millers Road. It was great fun... Not groomed like the descent to the education centre, but really rough, rugged adventure riding. My legs felt like pin cushions riding back down there with all the gorse on the edge of the trail. One could consider gaiters to be a good idea, or legs of steel. One should also consider that if gaiters are their weapon of choice, they must also have maestro-type riding ability, or an ego made of steel if they wish to deflect the taunts of their riding buddies.
It was such a stunning day I couldn't help making a stopover at the lake to take some photos and enjoy the scenery. To be honest, my legs had felt terrible all day, but it was so easily ignored when I was out enjoying the bush on a bike (it's the best place to be right??). I think sometimes it is important to deviate from the program and throw some adventure into your training schedule, and this was something I learned when I was in Europe... Positive enjoyment of riding bikes leads to success on the bike.

Western Okataina Walkway (WOW) is definitely one you need to put on your bucket list. It's so amazingly convenient to have such a great, rugged adventure ride so close to town when you consider some of the other classics, such as the Moerangi trail and Karapoti, are so far from civilisation. If you are up for a good day trip, you can ride right from town to do the WOW. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it at the trig point, then if you have had enough, descend to the education centre and ride back via the highway through Hauparu, which in itself, can be turned into a lovely scenic ride. The other option, as I did, is to ride back the way you came. The general consensus has been that for bikers, the best way to ride this track is from the Miller Road end, no doubt because the climb up from this end is a great deal more mellow than from the other end, but to be honest, I enjoyed the trip both ways equally as much for different reasons. This is a stellar ride to do if you want something a bit different and a bit more adventurous than the groomed trails of the Redwoods. Be prepared for a portage or two and a few small sections of hike-a-bike... It's all part of the fun!

It seems that there are so many great riding options around here and not enough weekends to do them! Some still sitting on the list for me this year are the Great Lakes Trail in Taupo, which is an extension of the infamous W2K track, the Motu and the Rainbow Mountain loop. I am pretty sure I can find a back-road way through to Rainbow Mountain, but that's an adventure for a different day (and I'll be sure to share it with you!) It's funny how some people think I'm a little bit nuts, or a little socially inept when I talk about riding bikes all the time, but I still don't think I've gotten over the fact that I can start and finish each day in the forest in one way or another. After all the cool things that I have seen during my trips overseas, there is still an insatiable thirst to continue exploring my own back yard. It's amazing how seeing the world gives you the awesome opportunity to see so many cool things, but also to realise just how lucky we are to have our own unique, cool things here in our own home. Summer is just around the corner, and I can't wait to get out and do some exploring!!!

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