Snow, sun, slippery roots and good mates in Nelson.
A few weeks back Jeff Carter and I took a long weekend to ride the Queen Charlotte Track so while we were there in the sunniest place in New Zealand we thought we’d pop over to Nelson to ride some of the best Native single track in the country.
We jumped off the Bluebridge ferry on a Thursday afternoon to a gap in the southerly front that was sweeping the country with snow and heavy winds and after a quick ride on Mt. Sunday we drove over to Nelson and headed straight to the Saxton Lodge in Richmond, just a few blocks from the local trail head, where we had decided to base ourselves for the next two days. We were tired, cold and hungry from our dusk exit off Mt Sunday so it was a nice surprise to turn up to the Lodge to find our super large rooms warm as toast with an empty car park outside the door as the staff had expected our late arrival and turned up the welcome. A quick shower and we were off to a local restaurant to enjoy a large dinner in front of the fire and get a little armouring from some good local brew.
While the rest of the country was battening the hatches, we woke in the morning to a perfect blue sky day with fresh snow on the hills (I am so moving here one day) and jumped in the van to head down the road for a café breakfast and work out our game plan for the day. I was in a panic as my phone wouldn’t charge and I wasn’t sure what I would do with all the spare time that I had now that I couldn’t Instagram my day. After visiting the lads at Village Cycles for a quick trail conference we drove the short distance to the foothills of what was a perfectly formed climbing single-track all the way to the top of the hill for majestic views over a calm harbour and the thrill of that fast descent down an unknown trail that would be wet from last night’s rain.
We skidded and drifted our way down Hang Ten trying our best to smash the berms and float the many doubles that littered the trail. It’s a pretty long descent and the elevation was maximised by well thought out trail flow. The Nelson trail builders appear to know their craft well and I was a bit disappointed not to have the time to make another climb to taste some more Richmond trail but we were on a mission and the Maitai Valley was calling. We jumped in the van and hit the back road to Nelsons CBD to take in a quick lunch and visit the well spotted mobile phone repair shop to extract the pocket fluff from my charging dock before we were to meet ex-local Nick Crocker and Local DH’er Mark Newton. Then off to meet Steve and his Helibike Nelson bike shuttle service to attack the slippery black beech roots on some very steep trails.
After the weeks heavy rain I was a bit nervous heading into the Valley. Peaking Ridge, Krankenstein and 629 were on the menu and it was my first visit here and folklore combined with my knowledge of how slippery beech roots can be had my heart rate up as I took in the easy trail banter that comes from experienced riders revisiting their home trails and kept reminding myself that if I die at least it will be on my bike on the trail and not in my car on the highway.
The drive up the steep mountainside was enough to make me wish I had brought a full face and shin pads too but after getting off at the top and pedalling along the saddle into Peaking ridge got my blood flowing and the nerves disappeared as we took in the beauty that lush New Zealand forest always delivers.
Well that didn’t last long as we went straight into a steep root infested drop, I was at the back and I didn’t see the others as I slid sideways into a well-placed bush that prevented me going over the bank. The fear came back and I walked the next 10 metres. Surely the boys didn’t ride this bit I hoped as my trail riding prowess disappeared over the next ridge. I pulled up to the gang at the next stop to find I was indeed the only pussy in the group so I gave myself a stern talking to and on we went. Well, I’m happy to tell you that was my last dismount and my form came back as we whooped and hollered our way down to the van. What an amazing trail. It was enough to make me want to move to Nelson. Little did I know that the next run down Krankenstein was to cement that dream into my brain. What a stunning trail. It runs down the sunny side of the hill, so is rockier, drier and with less exposed roots. I was in trail heaven and was very disappointed to arrive back at the van to see it finished only halfway down the mountain. A quick reload and back up to tackle 629, a fast steep DH style flow trail with steep drop-turns and step-downs to keep us on our toes. Jeff was obviously pretty excited as he was throwing some serious shapes of the many kickers on the fast section down below. One shape too many as he clipped his pedal on a stump and front flipped through the air and took a big hit to his head and shoulder. Not a good result as he had only just recovered from a concussion and broken wrist.
Jeff limped his way to the river with his second flat tyre while, a little fazed at the carnage, I tried to ride cautiously which just made things worse so I opened it up and skidded out onto the road with that shit eating grin that comes with having defied the odds and surviving a beating ready to ride the next day.
Back to the Lodge for bit of calming down and social media withdrawal feeding and then another stellar meal and local brews once again and an early night to mentally prepare for tomorrows massive day at Wairoa gorge.
Another perfect day to greet us as we hit the road for the 45 minute drive into Nelson's worst kept secret mountain bike nirvana. I don’t want to regale you all with tales of how amazing this area is as I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. Until recently this private holy land was only accessible to punters if they were quick enough to enter their details online with the Dodzy Memorial Enduro race entry, but now on the first Sunday of every month you can go on the roster for a day of perfect trails as long as you can tag along with a past or present trail crew worker. I’ve been trying to get here ever since I raced the first DME for a much more relaxed shuttle day with mates instead of the high octane race meet that instilled the fear of God into me each year I was lucky enough to race.
I know a lot of you guys may never get the chance to ride here unless you score a race entry or can bribe a trail worker, so I don't want to wind you up with anymore details of how amazing it is at Wairoa Gorge. We had a great day riding through deep crunchy frost and amazingly dry trails considering they were under a half foot of snow the day before. All 20 or so of us rode together and witnessed two huge crashes (by the same guy) and marvelled at how his Bell Super chin guard snapping off saved his face from a fate worse than death.
It was with aching thighs and claw-like hands that we all said our goodbyes, then Jeff and I drove off for more adventure on the Queen Charlotte Track the next day.