Friday, January 13, 2012

Skyline Gondola Queenstown – 5,000 metres of descent

It is raining outside, which is good for Central Otago because they really need it and good for me because I’m knackered. I’ve been making the most of my time down here and on Wednesday hit the BMX track. That thing is loooooong. But fun. And very good for the skills as I found out yesterday when I drove through to Queenstown to hit up the Gondola on Bob’s Peak which now takes mountain bikes.

Arriving at about 10:30 (the gondola opens to bikes at 10) I soon had my purple half day wrist band ($45) and was in line for the gondola with a lot of downhill bikes. My little anthem suddenly looked even smaller and I felt a little apprehensive about what I was letting myself in for. At the top I had a quick chat with the guy at the bike workshop (you can hire bikes from the top or bottom) and was on my way. First stop Hammy’s, the longest and easiest trail on the hill. I took it easy and tried to tune into my bike and by the halfway mark realised I was being an idiot with my seat still all the way up. After dropping it 5cm the second half flowed much better and I was looking forward to my second run of the track. Hammy’s has plenty of little jumps and rollers for pumping. The BMXing really paid off!

After a few more Hammy’s, with a bit of riding on the structures beside the track, I decided it was time to move onto Vertigo, a blue grade 3 track. This was brilliant. Because it’s a bit harder and perhaps because of the steep entry it doesn’t seem to get the traffic of Hammy’s and was in excellent condition. While Hammy’s has plenty of big bermed corners, a lot of them are loose and badly rutted as riders brake hard and they see a lot of traffic. On Vertigo most of the corners are smooth and super-fast and there are plenty of roots and little step down to challenge. There are some bigger jumps too, but all are rollable if you’re willing to drop your speed. I really need to work on my jumps as I managed a couple of exciting nose wheelies just before the descent to the halfway mark.
Hairpin turn on Hammys one side...
... gorgeous view on the other

From the halfway mark I dropped into Original, which has plenty of steep sections, rooty blown out bits and in the later sections big wheel eating braking bumps and loose ruts. Plenty of challenges for someone on a steep angled cross country bike and halfway down it my brakes were singing the “I’m freaking hot” song.
As usual the camera doesn't do justice to the steepness

Each run down the hill I got more confident and learn a bit more about carrying speed and hitting the right lines. I was even starting to get a bit of air in places, on purpose too. Riding up in the gondola was the perfect opportunity to eat, drink and stretch the fingers. And on a number of occasions, chat to fellow riders. On my final ride up the hill I was sharing the gondola with a local chick on a downhill bike. I’d been wanting to ride Singletrack Sandwich, but as it is a black diamond grade 5 trail I was a little apprehensive about heading down it on the Anthem. She told me it was just steel and narrow, with one rollable drop and I decided to give it a go.

Down Hammies to the halfway mark and then a wee rest to prepare myself. Entering Singletrack Sandwich you are slightly lulled into a false sense of security as it starts off level, twisting over roots, through trees. Then it drops. A lot. The first corner was really steep and badly rutted down the middle. I stopped to examine it before I rode it, found a line I liked and rode it no problem. The next corner was even steeper and super loose and powdery. It looked ok, but I soon discovered the my bike didn’t want to turn so I bailed gracefully and walked round it. I was glad I did because the drop was at the bottom of this corner and I don’t think my seat was down low enough to safely roll it. So I walked that too. Next time.
My little baby hanging out with the big kids

The rest of the track was fairly straight forward in comparison to those two corners. Lots of roots, ruts and narrow bits, but really fun and in no time I was back on Original and then whooshing onto Hammy’s for the last time.
Oh so good!

11 runs down the hill done and I had time for one more, but I was feeling pretty exhausted so I decided to call it a day while I was intact and headed into town for a gelato at Patagonia Chocolates.  Just as I was finishing my well-earned treat the rain came down so I timed that perfectly. On the drive home I realised I was still very hungry despite the huge ice cream as I couldn’t stop fantasising about Jimmy’s pies. A quick stop in Cromwell remedied that and soon I was back at Mum’s and lying on the couch exhausted.

I cannot wait to head back to Queenstown and do that again, but till then I think I need to get stronger hands and fitter legs and arms.  Riding down the equivalent of 1.5 Mt Cooks really takes it out of you.

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