Monday, December 17, 2012

The Start of a Summer of Adventures

Wow, two weeks flies by pretty quickly in blog land! Since completing the Waiheke 4 Hour and then grovelling my way through the final of the Mid North Island Cup, I've been laying pretty low, and playing "catch-up" of sorts... It was bound to happen considering the weekend after weekend after weekend of flogging I was giving my body at races... And feeling so damn good doing it, too! So the last couple of weeks, I have kept training, but very much on how I'm feeling at the time. High intensity sessions have often turned into recovery sessions, or longer, easier rides... But this is part of the cycle, and a timely reminder that the human body is not entirely invincible (not even mine...).
It just so happens that for me, the timing of this little lull couldn't be better. I don't have another race for a month and a half, and am soon have my first Christmas off in fifteen years, so the opportunity for some good adventuring to reignite my enthusiasm is looking pretty damn tempting. This weekend just gone earmarked the beginning of my Summer of adventures. It started with, unarguably, the best staff Christmas party I have ever had the pleasure of attending. We started nice and early at 8.30am on Saturday and boarded a bus to our first stop-off at the Skyline Gondola for some luge action, then out to Off Road Adventures for some 4x4 driving and Go-Karting (man, those things are quick!), then topped off with an afternoon cruise on Lake Rotoiti and a BBQ at the bach Andy had rented for us to chill out at for the evening. I can't vouch for anything that happened past about 9pm because I went home (like a nanna), but fair to say that Andy did a stellar job organising an awesome do and has set the bar pretty high for the poor soul who gets tasked with organising next year's! You can see me in the photo below putting the boys to shame in our amazing "gun show" (hey, these things are all relative to size, ok???)

The next day's plan had originally been to go for a bit of a road trip to Opotiki and tackle the Motu and Pakihi tracks, but after awaking a bit later than planned to a slightly gloomy day, and having no friends to enjoy the ride with (I really need to find some more endurance-bunny buddies), I decided to tackle a trip a little closer to home that I had been wanting to do for a while. The fact that I had a sore neck and sore legs from the go-karting the previous day was also instrumental in my decision (yeah, that's right... I can ride my bike for 24 hours straight, but a 15 minute go-kart completely floors me!). So I set out at a fairly civil time for the ride to Rainbow Mountain. The Kennett Bros new book, "Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails" has become a bit of a bible for me planning trips over the next month or so, mainly because it is so easy to grab the book, choose an area, and then take my pick of any number of lengthy rides that I can knock out in a day or two, as opposed to just doing shorts trails or loops of the forest.

I have driven along the highway between Rotorua and Taupo on numerous occasions now, and whilst I appreciate the good intentions of creating a fully-paved concrete pathway for the 10km out of Rotorua, it wasn't exactly my cup of tea to endure a flat, boring footpath for the first half hour or so of my ride... So I set off into the forest to cut out the first 8km or so of the footpath... Up Nursery Hill, then following Nursery road around to Poplar Avenue. Then I took the forestry road that ran adjacent to Poplar Avenue until it joined up with Eight Mile Road a few kilometres down the highway to join up with the concrete cycleway. To be honest, I think the additional distance was negligible... There was, however, a bit more climbing than if you stuck to the highway cycle path. The great thing was that from here, I only followed the concrete path for about a kilometre or two before I was directed by cycleway signs off the main highway and onto a mixture of back road and gravel cycle path which meandered it's way through Waimangu Valley, past Mook the Goat and past Lake Okaro to join up with Highway 38, all the time with Rainbow Mountain looming in the background and drawing nearer. You can see Mook the Goat in the photo below... She was super friendly, very photogenic and a real poser... Her little house had a note on it asking for payment of one piece of bread for a photo... I wasn't carrying bread with me, but gave her half my muesli bar, which she seemed to enjoy before trying to eat my rear cassette on my bike! I was pleasantly surprised by how amazingly well-marked Te Ara Ahi was (part of the national cycleways project). The whole way to Rainbow Mountain, there were markers to follow and I didn't once feel the need to consult a map (although this does not mean that you shouldn't carry one just in case!!!).

From there, it was simply a matter of crossing the road and onto a piece of singletrack that wound it's way around the mountain to join the main carpark. It was evident that this track wasn't well-used. There was blackberry and gorse encroaching from the sides of the track and quite a bit of debris across the track itself, but it was definitely purpose-built for mountain biking. It's a shame it doesn't appear to get more use.

After joining the carpark opposite Lake Ngahewa, I headed straight up the track towards the Rainbow Mountain summit. The track has been beautifully constructed, and is dual use and two-way (so it is important to be aware of other trail users!). I stopped off briefly at the crater lake, a natural wonder with it's bright turquoise water upon a backdrop of an incredible ochre-red cliff-face... It was absolutely stunning!

Further up the track split in two. The left was a dual use track that was uphill only for mountain bikes and would loop back around to join the other track at Kerosene Creek. The climb up Rainbow Mountain has a reputation for being challenging and I concede that it was an absolute gut-buster! It was sheer grit that kept me on the bike on a number of occasions... And whilst I managed to clean each section of the climb, it wasn't in one clean sweep (I admit to stopping for a couple of convenient photo opportunities!). The steepest and most brutal section of the climb reared it's head right near the top, just before the trail popped out onto the fire road to the summit... Definitely not a climb for the faint-hearted!

By the time I reached the top, the gloomy morning had turned into a pretty warm day and the clouds had begun to clear. As I caught my breath at the summit, I took in the stunning 360 degree views of the area. Mount Tarawera was clearly visible. It just so happened that Barry, the fire watchman, was there for the day, so I was cordially invited up onto the balcony of the watchtower to enjoy the view completely unobstructed by trees. Barry was a top bloke, and also offered to top up my water supplies for the trip home (thanks Barry!).

The climb was absolutely worth it for the views, and for the descent. The top section of the descent was surprisingly gnarly, with loose, tight corners, and steep, rooty drops, then joined up to a more manicured (but still quite technical in places) track that delivered The Ninja and I to the foot of the mountain with a smile on our faces. The mountain bike descent joins up to the return trail right at Kerosene Creek, a stunning little natural hot pool spot hidden away off the main road... I will definitely be returning here with my swimmers next ride!

The return trail was another nicely-built piece of dual-use track, which swung past another stunning lake which boasted a shimmering green surface before arriving back at the junction to the summit, then onwards further back to the carpark. From there, I returned to Rotorua via much the same route, except I decided to give the concrete cycle path a chance on my return, stopping in for a smoothy at Waipa before heading back over the hill and homeward (I DEFINITELY much preferred the forest detour to the concrete cycle path).
I've also had the pleasure of trying out some of Endura's cycle clothing over the last month or so (thanks Nigel!). I've given it a pretty good thrashing so far and I have to say that I've fallen in love with the Women's Singletrack baggy shorts... Combined with the Womens pro shorts underneath, I've found them to be perfect for these sorts of adventures because they tend to protect my legs from nasty stuff like gorse and blackberry (I really miss sitting on the couch for weeks afterwards picking gorse and blackberry remnants out of my legs!), and they look pretty cool, too. They'll be getting a heap more use over the summer, along with their comfy Firefly shirts, which sit nice and loose under my Camelbak for longer days out. All in all, a great weekend to see in the adventure season! Looking forward to some exciting trips over the next month or so!

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