You may have guessed by now that i'm pretty open to any experiences as long as they involving riding a bike off road. I have tried very hard to not include my family in my love affair with dirt but as I get older I seem to be getting a lot lonelier and as much fun as it is to go shredding with your mates, the days of getting invited out riding with the "In Crowd" are on the decline. It's not easy cutting shapes and talking hip when your 51. It's getting to the stage where I'm not only embarrassing my kids with dad jokes but my younger riding buddies are starting to look at me sideways and what with my constant toilet stops, hemorrhoid stories and visits to the pharmacy for the plethora of drugs needed to keep my broken body off the couch and into the trails.
Anyway, enough about that. so lately I have been attempting to get my two kids (and my lovely wife) out on the bikes for some great family fun. I've spent a small fortune on the raddest bikes for them. They all have full suspension, two of the kids bikes cost a lot of time and money and by the time I finally got them to ride, they were already too tall and I had to start again.
When we finally went out for a real ride both the girls ate dirt really bad and it was only the promise of icecreams and lollies for any future riding that got #1 daughter back on the bike again. #2 daughter is scarred for life and refuses to even admit she has a bike and wants me to sell it so she can get a pony.
So while I had #1 daughter still keen to ride (as long as there is no pedalling) I thought what better way to have a great experience with maximum bonding and minimal pain and tears than head to Rotorua and ride the perfect trails of Whakarewarewa forest off the Southstar shuttles bus and more importantly the Skyline Gondola.
What a great plan. But like with all great plans, theres always someone to stuff it up. This time, like many , it was the weather. Rain, rain and more rain but it was the only weekend we both had free so off we went, just Elodie (12) and me (51) to the land of loam and uplifts. Destination Rotorua and the promise of a warm and dry house at my buddy Jeff Carters. Even with the rain I knew we would have a good time, I mean Jeff has unlimited wifi and Elodie has an ipad. Perfect.
So yeah, it pissed down but we had fun anyway. A stop at Wai-o-tapu to swim at the Bridge where hot and cold rivers collide. The rain had brought down tonnes of silt so the water was dark brown and we emerged covered in a fine grit that is still stuck in the seams of my speedos.
Arriving at the Carter ranch we hung about and watched the rain until it magically cleared at 5pm just in time for a dusk ride in the forest. I tried to convince Elodie to ride but she is a mature 12 now and just wanted to chill, so Jeff and I scarped to the forest to meet another mate Aaron for one of the best rides in adverse conditions ever. The heavy rain had washed the dirt clean and we must have been the only people on the trails. It was just perfect.
We arrived back home pretty stoked with that experience, but with me feeling pretty guilty that my bonding weekend had already morphed into a boys weekend, but I promised myself to get back on track...Elodie wasn't fussed, she had icecream and pavlova and unlimited wifi, she was having the "best weekend ever".
Yes it's pissing down again and it's never going to stop. Lucky I have friends with toys so Elodie and I popped over to Stefan and Nics' place to go boating to the hotpools with some biscuiting thrown in. Whoever said Rotorua is boring if you can't ride hasn't had a good look around. Lakes, rivers, swimming, hiking, horse riding, hot pools, kayaking blah blah blah there is a lot going on. We had an awesome time just hanging out and soaking up the serenity of flat water, then hot water, then scary water as Stefan tried his best to flip the girls out of their biscuits. We left the Bennetts' with me promising Elodie to buy a boat when we move to Rotorua (along with a horse) and more icecream and lollies ensued and things were looking great in the bonding department but with the rain getting heavier, my plans for riding bikes went out the window.
Going home day. Bugger! I can't believe we came all this way and our new biking partnership was doomed. But what the hell. We woke to grey but dry skies and hope sprung eternally when Jeff offered his services as shuttle driver to ride the short jump trails down from his house to the lower paddocks. The huge bonus of Rotorua dirt is that it drains faster than my swimming pool after the Christchurch Earthquake so we busted some moves but alas Elodies' riding skills don't match her attitude and an early over-the-bars had her in tears and refusing to ride anymore. I needed to get her into a safe haven so I called my buddy Mike who is a bike patroller at Skyline and what do you know? Conditions were pretty good and the trails were opening any minute. Pretty stoked we were and I only had to promise jelly beans from the Skyline Jelly Bean shop and Elodie was rearing to go.
We loaded up and headed over with Jeff and his 9 year old son Joe for some family time. All Jeff had to promise was a few runs on the luge so with our weekend looking perfect for once we hit the gondola for biking and luge action.
And I've got to tell you! This is exactly where the gondola come into it's own. As a parent you are always super nervous about maiming your kids. Riding in Wellington is dangerous enough for adults and the soft dirt and hero grip means Rotorua has a huge advantage. But throw in a gondola ride to the top, safe predictable smooth trails, a progression of jumps and rollers, first aid riders patrolling the park, then exhilarating luge runs with icecream and jelly bean rewards and Skyline has got it going on. We had multiple runs with Elodie and Joe whooping with delight and their riding progressed immensely with each descent. Yes there was some crashing but the only tears were from calling last run (ok, and having to share jelly beans) and it was the first time I have seen my daughter really really excited about mountainbiking.
And just when you think it's all over we hit the luge for a few high speed kart runs. Holy crap, I have never been so scared and I struggled to keep Elodie in check. We raced each other down the runs which progress from easy to poo-your-pants fun.
What a great day.I have now promised her a purple Santa Cruz with matching clothing and I will gladly get her these things along with a pony and a boat if we can have more weekends like this.
I knew the Skyline experience was my best option for safe and happy riding but the experience blew my mind and the progression was incredible. Elodie went from wobbling down the trail to boosting 3 metre gaps in just one day.
If you are in a similar boat to me then I urge you to make a day at Skyline. Even if it doesn't work you can leave the family on the luge or in the jelly bean shop and bust some moves on your own.
So sad that was all over and the five hour drive home was looking daunting. But the banter from a now hooked mountainbiking daughter made it the best drive of my life and now I'm working extra hard to keep that love alive. I love mountainbiking. I think I love SkylineMTB as well. Thanks guys for making our weekend.