Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Exploring strange new worlds

Finally I got to do some real mountain biking this weekend past! My lovely husband and I made a last minute decision to head over to the West Coast for Queen’s Birthday weekend and managed to score some lovely accommodation at Havenz, where we stayed last time we were there, in Punakaiki. I was very excited to head up to Denniston Plateau for some exploring as I’d read great things about the trails in both my trusty Kennett bible and NZMTBR. We drove over on Saturday and had a leisurely trip with a few stop offs and then chillaxed in our tree top accommodation and listened to the birds in the forest all around us.

Sunday was warm and humid, but overcast so we packed for wet wintery conditions and headed north. After a brief stop in Westport for nourishment and a map of the tracks at Denniston from the information centre there (only $1) we were soon winding our way up the hill to the old coal mining area. After exploring the old Incline where the coal was sent down off the plateau and hucking off various things we headed further up the hill the Friends of the Hill museum, where all the tracks started. We’d decided on the 11km cross country circuit and headed out into the desolate landscape. There was a definite chill in the air and the snow on the side of the 4wd tracks was evidence that we up in an alpine environment. It was gorgeous and barren and even riding the metalled road was a pleasure as the views on all sides were spectacular. The Southern Alps surrounded us on one side and on the other the coast and Tasman Sea stretched for miles.

Soon the road deteriorated into a very rough 4wd track and started with a very steep pinch climb. I was pretty impressed that I almost made it to the top of the pinch, give how weak I’ve been feeling lately, but it really knocked the wind out of me. We continued heading up and the track soon became a boggy river in places and there was a bit of walking. The track was mostly slab rock as we got higher which meant a lot of it was rideable as long as you picked the right line.

I really enjoyed the challenge of riding this terrain. I’ve never been confident about riding up rocks, but I found that I was taking on things I probably would have walked in the past and riding really well. I think all the playing in the back garden with my bmx has helped me get my head around lifting my front wheel to get over things. The final uphill section consisted of a rocky chute with gnarly roots running cross it and a nice stream trickling down in. It was almost like a series of little steps and I was grinning when I got to the top.

From there the fun really started. The descent was really rocky so not much mud to suck at wheels. I was loving choosing different lines down ledges and blasting across slabs. Soon we came to a steep rocky chute and after stopping to scope it out I could see a nice smooth line that I felt confident about riding. Hubby walked down and grumpily told me he wasn’t going to watch me crash, but I knew my line was good and I just had to carry enough speed into it. Whoooooosh and I was safely down cackling like a mad woman. It was great and was the first scary chute I’ve ever ridden, also the first thing I’ve ever ridden that my hubby hasn’t!

This success filled me with confidence and when we came to the next rocky chute I could again see a nice line, but wasn’t comfortable with the run in on the Anthem, so sensibly walked it. Unfortunately on the third rocky chute I wasn’t so sensible and didn’t even stop to scope it. I did however slow down way too much and as I entered the chute I thought “If I hit that big rock there I’ll endo” so of course I hit that rock and went straight over the bars. I was worried that hubby might be nearby so I cheerfully yelled out “Bugger!” in a tone that said “That looked way worse than it was, don’t worry I’m fine”. Meanwhile what I was thinking was “Oh shit, that hurt my hip really badly, but at least my bung elbow, shoulder, chest, doesn’t seem too bad, shit I’ve got gorse in my gloves and down my back, oh I’m stuck upside down, oooh my finger is a bit cut, thank god I’m wearing gloves, thank god I have extra padding round my hips, damn its difficult getting up when you feet are higher than your head.”

After this barrage of thoughts I realised that hubby wasn’t nearby because there was no yelling to see if I was alright so I gingerly felt my various parts for damage and slowly extracted myself from amongst the rocks and gorse. I’ve never crashed anywhere so jagged before and was feeling pretty lucky to be limping down the hill intact. My rear brake had been filled with dirt unfortunately and was making a hell of a noise and I was too scared to look at my hip while we were still in the middle of nowhere. Hubby was waiting at the bottom of the final and gnarliest rock chute which I walked down with a sheepish look on my face. I informed hubby of my overconfident muppetry and he sighed and we headed back to the car. The heavens opened up and it bucketed down and I sent hubby off ahead to bring the car up the museum. When I got there looking like a drowned rat the coal fire was burning away nicely and I stood in front of it and steamed till the car arrived with dry clothes. That fire was fantastic. I haven’t been near a coal fire since I was a child and I’d forgotten just how lovely the heat is from good quality coal (how un-PC of me!).

Finally I dragged myself away from the fire and got changed into dry clothes before reinstalling myself in front of the fire again. It was great watching the old films of the mines and hearing the stories, some of them terrible, of life on the plateau.
On our way out we stopped at an old abandoned playground which spoke volumes about how life had moved on. I took some photos and then a very scary man came and yelled at us so we left, feeling like we could hear banjos ringing in our ears.

Once back at our unit I perused the damage to my hip and was slightly horrified to see the bruise which is still spreading. Ouch!

Our trip home over Arthur’s Pass the next day was well timed, the weather was closing in quickly and our car kindly informed us that it was 3 degrees outside with a cheery ding. We stopped to play with the keas at Deadman’s Corner above the Otira Viaduct and they were most interested in eating various parts of our bikes. Luckily we managed to keep them safe from marauding beaks and claws.

The trip was wonderful and although I haven’t managed to lose any weight again this week (WTF!) I am happy to be riding my bikes again. I also look forward to a return trip to Denniston to explore more of the 50kms of tracks, and to planning my next cycle tour. I seem to be falling in love with the West Coast.

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