Riding Dirty

jimmy race

Nothing feels quite like finishing a 100km race…I’d imagine. I’ve never done more than 50km, but I’m notoriously lazy and strictly non-competitive unless I’m guaranteed to win with minimal effort. The good doctor Jimmy ticked off a century today and he’s got the grit-filled grin to show it. Nice work ol’ boy.

michelle neil

As for me, I took to the hills after too many days riding the gondola and forgetting what it feels like to actually pedal up a hill for longer than three minutes. Within 30 seconds of leaving the house I’d been attacked by a bee, we’d lost Michelle, and Neil couldn’t figure out how to use the gears on his borrowed bike with its big, silly wheels. After moments of chaos we regrouped at the supermarket to meet up with our guide Nick, who was still drunk from many hours of debauchery the night before. Things were off to a good start.

A few KM of tarmac had me quietly cursing my tacky 2.4″ tyres and feeling less than confident about the backcountry mission ahead. Luckily it wasn’t too long before we hit dirt, and Nick seemed to be vaguely aware of where we were heading. Many rides with Ben Storer has left me eternally wary of the words “I’m pretty sure it’s this way…”, which are inevitably followed by a long, steep descent towards a dead end and a sentence starting with “Oh, actually…”. ¬†We hit singletrack in good time, and from there things were looking up…literally.

Moonlight Track winds its way above the Shotover River behind Queenstown, with some pretty steep drops off to the side and a narrow path that would be little more than a goat track if it weren’t for all the mountain bike tyres that roll over it. It kinda goes without saying that the mountain biking in Queenstown is pretty epic, and the views are best described the same. When you duck around the side of the hill and find yourself away from the main roads, the mountains open up before you and it’s hard not to drop your jaw. The trail dipped into an awesome descent, with the only real line becoming a narrow rut intersected by jutting rocks and covered in a good dose of sheep shit. Guaranteed that whenever the line did open up, your chosen path would have been neatly defecated on by the local farm animals. Just roll on through, it’s the only real option. We hooked down and back up again, before a brief stop for photos and jelly beans (any excuse to rest is good by me). Naturally things were going to smoothly, so Neil decided that a spontaneous puncture would liven things up a little. I promptly planted myself in the shade under a bush and didn’t complain a bit.

We carried on along more narrow, technical trail before hitting 4WD road and beginning to loop back towards Moke Lake. A few steep climbs in the hot sun had me swearing and whinging inside my head. If there’s one thing I hate whilst mountain biking, it’s riding up long, dusty fire trails in the hot sun. Luckily the ride was far too good and the scenery too amazing for it to have any impact on the good times. Plenty of pedalling and a relaxing lunch under the trees lead us on to Moke Lake, where more gravel road carried us on to the top of Gold Digger trail. Queenstown Mountain Bike Club do a lot of amazing trail work, and Gold Digger is one of their newer projects. A rad 2.5km descent back towards town, winding its way through a variety of terrain and flora. Plenty of tight corners (in a good way), sections of fast, pumpy trail and some awesome surrounds make it a damn fine trail that I’m super keen to ride again.

From there it was back to town along the Sunshine Bay track, before booking in for a bloody huge stone grill steak at Pog Mahones. Safe to say there was a fair amount of red meat ingested at that table. A decent cow somewhere gave its life for a damn good cause.

The question now it, where to next?

(I totally stole Jimmy and Michelle’s photos for this post.)

Coppermine

The Coppermine loop in Nelson was definitely one of the best rides I’ve done, even if I was plagued with punctures on the descent. The trail climbs an old tramway into the hills behind Nelson, and curves around Dun Mountain into alpine territory. On the way up it passes through some of the most jaw-dropping beautiful beech forest, with trees clinging to craggy cliffs covered in deep green moss. It’s like something out of a fairytale, and I had to constantly remind myself to watch where I was riding, rather than gazing open-mouthed at the surroundings.

After breaking through into the scrubby alpine zone the trail reverses gradient and the real fun begins. Awesome switchbacks wind their way down the side of the mountain, hooking into each other in a way that keeps seems to beg you to go faster and faster, at your own peril. the surface is rocky, but not too loose and it’s no surprise that the trail is known as Blur country. The VPP loves it, and I became a victim after getting a little lost in the moment and managing to put a hole in my tubeless tyre that Stan’s just wouldn’t seal. A quick(-ish) tube insertion got me about 5m down the trail before I copped the biggest snakebite pinch flat I’ve seen and had to go begging for another tube. Apparently the trail was smooth as silk when it was first built, and rode like an endless pump track. The alpine weather has definitely taken its toll, but not in a negative way. The flow’s still there, but you know for sure that you’re mountain biking.

The lower section of the track flies above a small river and it barely feels like your wheels touch dirt. It’s a little scary to think how fast you could ride some of the sections once you knew the trail.

From the bottom of the trail you can ride singletrack all the way back to Nelson city centre, or haul yourself up into the hills again and ride any of the trails in the MTB park. After that the only option is to go to the Sprig & Fern for a Three Berry Cider and a burger. It’s a tough life.

Full Nelson

It’s gotta be said again, people who rides bikes are pretty damn good people. You might have read some stuff on here from a bloke called Ben. He’s prone to posting pictures of fish, small children and stories about bushwalks. Ben’s a good mate of mine, who happens to have a good mate called Matt. You’ve probably seen Matt’s posts on here as well. A little less frequent, but often filled with quality music and wistful prose. I’m saddened to say that I haven’t actually met Matt in person, but if you can judge a guy by his facebook page (you can), then he’s a bloody top bloke as well. Now Matt happens to live in New Zealand, although a little further North of my current location. He also happens to have a friend whose name is also Matt. Matt has a mate called Julien, and also a friend called Mike (who’s friends with the other Matt too). So as you can see, there are lots of friends around here and all of them are bloody top notch people. It’s kinda like a big pot of friend-spaghetti, where everyone’s connected in various ways, be it pasta or tomato sauce. What does that mean? I have no idea, but I’m tired and I’m gonna stick with it.

The fact of the matter is that I spent just over a week in the beautiful town of Nelson, riding amazing trails with a rad bunch of guys and girls who I’d never met before, and with whom my only initial connection was another guy I’ve never met, who happens to know one bloke I have met. But that’s the beauty of bike riding isn’t it? The thing we harp on about all the time, that sense of community and the networks that open up in the blink of an eye and the turn of a pedal. I rolled into Nelson last Friday with no connections, and then first thing the next morning I was out riding the amazing Coppermine loop with a bunch of locals in the MTB-Buddies group (and some Australia navy ring-ins). An amazing ride that climbs gently along an old rail line before kicking down the side of a mountain in a series of endless rocky switchbacks and dippers that had me laughing like a madman (until I got two punctures five metres apart and spent a a good few minutes cursing, before continuing with the laughing). That drops down into a bigring smash down an amazing piece of flowing singletrack that runs alongside a beautiful river and leaves you feeling like your tyres barely touch the ground.

Beers and burgers at the Sprig & Fern (and Three Berry Cider…oh yes!) followed, and resulted in that amazing post-ride glow that you just never quite get when you ride solo. Entertained by Matt and Julien who’re two of the most hospitable and entertaining riders I’ve had the pleasure to meet, the pub became a permanent fixture in the daily schedule. The week progressed with more riding, including the lung-busting climb and vicious root-infested descent of the Black Diamond/Sunshine/Peaking Ridge trail which quite easily claims the title of least-relaxing and most mentally intense MTB ride I’ve ever done (but also a shitload of fun). A loop around Codgers MTB Park in the rain left me covered head to toe in mud and pine needles, and a trip out to the park at Kaiteriteri saw plenty of two-wheel slides and an insane number of switchbacks climbed and then descended, each one of them a joy. Things were wrapped up on Supplejack with Mike and his mates, with my lungs hanging out on the approach climb as I trailed behind guys riding Nomads with flat pedals and DH tyres as they chatted away, oblivious to the endless ascent. The ride to the bottom was wet, slippery, steep and technical switchbacks, one after the other that left me scratching my head and wondering how the guys in front even picked a line down. I slipped and tripped my way to the bottom, on foot more often than rubber, but thankfully surviving with my body in tact (if not my dignity).

Unfortunately the final ciders had to be drunk, the last burgers eaten and Nelson left to disappear through the back window of a bus. Behind were a fistful of amazing trail memories, a long list of rides for the next visit, and a bunch of new friends who turned a heap of good rides into great times.

Thanks guys!