Peak to Pub – 2015

There is a race that is held annually in Methven in Canterbury, New Zealand that involves a combination of skiing, biking and running, all in the name of getting a free beer at the end of it. It’s called ‘Peak to Pub’ and is held towards the end of the ski season, which unlike the majority of the English speaking world, is in September.

The ‘P2P’ route starts at the top of the Mt. Hutt ski field with a 100m mass sprint to the top of a ski run. At that point you don your gear and ski/board/fall/slide/fall again/tumble down a 2km ski run to the first transition phase of the race. At this point you ditch your skiing gear and switch to your biking attire and cycle the ski field access road for 18km. At the end of the ride there is a final 12km cross country run to the finish line in the township of Methven where you’re greeted with a bottle of beer as you cross the finish line. You can enter the event as a team or solo. We opted for a team of three, with each person doing a specific leg of the race: Steve being the snowboarder, me riding the access track and Logan completing the final running leg.


This is Steve


This is Me

This is Logan


There was a bit of a briefing before the race started, which would normally be of no interest, except for the fact that the organizer asked if there were any Australians here and when the answer came back as no, made a sheep shagging joke. Which I thought was a bit odd coming from a Kiwi. But being a Welshman myself and having to put up with endless sheep shagging jokes, it’s nice to see that it can be applied to almost any nationality, as long as they aren’t present.

Mass Running Start

Representing team ‘Wales Rules’ (the team name I selected as I couldn’t think of anything wittier at the time and was obviously in a bit of a patriotic state of mind) for the skiing leg was Steve. As I didn’t take part in this leg, I can only comment based on what Steve said and footage from the GoPro we had attached to my bike helmet which he was wearing. So first off was the 100m run, in snowboarding gear, through snow, with 150 other competitors. I think the politest thing that can be said about Steve is that he’s not much of a runner in the best of conditions. The first 50m went relatively well but it appears that a combination of initial adrenaline wearing off, being stabbed a number of times by other competitors ski poles and ultimately being over taken by a number of 10 year olds, eventually slowed him down to a heavily breathing, walking mess. He eventually located his board and after a bit of a faff getting strapped in, finally got moving towards the beginning of the ski run (such was the extent of the faffing that watching the GoPro footage back that evening, I found myself yelling at the screen ‘FUCKING COME ON!!!’. Momentarily forgetting that it wasn’t a live feed and the race finished several hours ago).

Switching perspectives to me, I was based at the bottom of the ski run, in the designated transition point where I would continue the race on the bike once Steve arrived. Being able to see the ski run from where I was stood, it appeared to be complete carnage as a hundred odd people tried to negotiate the slalom flags down the length of the run. There were people sliding and rolling all over the place, wiping out flags and other competitors in the process. After the first wave came through to change onto the bikes, Steve arrived a bit dazed and covered in snow and ice. He mentioned something about it being really icy up there but I wasn’t really listening as I took the numbered jersey and bike helmet from him and jumped on my bike for my section of the race (watching the GoPro footage back it appeared he had been one of the many competitors that had fallen and banged themselves up a bit. Including a hilarious fall towards the end of the track that looked like it really hurt). There appears to be a number of techniques for a fast transition between the ski and bike section, such as being on the bike ready to accept the numbered jersey as your team mate arrives, having all your gear in place, and being in a designated spot so you can find each other easily. Steve and I opted for the ‘I shout and wave while he looks around confused, unable to find me. Have a quick chat regarding how icy the run is and then me scrambling around trying to remember where I have left my bike’.


access track

Finally my leg of the race began. Now, considering it is a ride down a ski field access track, it was a bit of a surprise when, for the first few 100 meters, I was having to pedal up hill. Something I had failed to notice on the drive up was that the access track didn’t have a constant gradient all the way to the top. Which meant that with all the adrenaline and excitement of riding off, I was completely knackered before even completing a kilometer of the 18km bike section. The second mistake of the ride was to not adjust the strap on the helmet after Steve handed it over to me. I think the second politest thing you can say about Steve’s large head is that it is…large. Which became a problem as the strap was too large for my proportionally sized head, resulting in the helmet fitting like a sombrero and sliding down the back of my neck. Under normal circumstances I would have stopped to adjust it, but I was in racing mode at this point so instead opted for the more time savvy, yet ultimately more dangerous approach of adjusting it with one hand whilst trying to maintain control of the bike, at speed, with the other. Safe in the knowledge that if I was to come off at that point, the helmet would provide ample protection for the back of my head and neck, and nowhere else.


access track1

It wasn’t long before I was passing the odd person along the way, including some poor guy who had a puncture about half way down and didn’t appear to have the equipment to fix it. Meaning he had at least a 10km walk to where the next transition stage was. I would have offered him some help, but you know, I didn’t see anyone offering to help with my helmet, so I assumed we were working to ‘Prison Rules’. Which was the same reason why I slashed his tyres earlier in the race.  Eventually I made it to the end of the biking section and to where Logan was eagerly waiting. Seeing as Logan wasn’t up for wearing the bike helmet with the attached GoPro for the run, I can only comment on what he mentioned afterwards (personally I thought it would have been comedy gold for him to run with a bike helmet on, looking like a very safety conscious runner, but he failed to see the funny side). We opted for a similar transitional technique to that which Steve and I had done earlier, commenting on the nice weather and what not, generally faffing about a bit before he proceeded with the rest of the race.

Much of the running section was off road, running through river beds and fields. There was a section where you had the choice of jumping into a river and swimming across or opting for the bridge further down stream that added about 10 minutes to your time. Logan, like most people, plumped for the stream option, which would have made a good GoPro shot had he decided to not be a spoil sport and run the entire race looking like a tool, for the sake of an entertaining 3 second shot of him jumping into the river. Cold and wet but not hindered by the additional weight of a bike helmet and attached GoPro, he strode his way to the finish line where he was met with a fire engine spraying people with industrial strength hose pipes, hot air balloon burners lined up firing bursts of fire into the air for some reason, and a cold bottle of shite tasting beer; I would like to add a slight criticism here that we only got one bottle of shite tasting beer per team, which seemed a little unfair seeing as it was, by definition, a team effort.

The day ended with us chatting about each of our sections over nice tasting beers (we went and bought some) with me and Steve stood in down jackets, nice and warm, while Logan stood shivering in saturated clothing as he’d forgotten to bring a towel and change of attire.  I would have offered him the spare change of clothes I had brought but, you know, Prison Rules applies to all.

Team Photo at the Finish Line

Team Photo at the Finish Line

One Long Day at Craigieburn

About 100km to the West of Christchurch is an area known as ‘Craigieburn’. It’s predominately known for housing a number of ski fields but it also hosts a good handful of excellent mountain bike tracks that, as well as being great fun to ride, are complemented enormously by the equally excellent views, vistas, vantage points and other nouns beginning with the letter ‘V’.

Aside from providing an always useful exercise in alliteration, Craigieburn provides a sense of adventure when biking there due to the surrounding mountains and lack of any civilisation… although it seems not quite enough of an adventure to justify each ride being written as an individual article, so as an alternative I’ve just combined the highlights of several rides into one long day. Which as it happened worked out quite nicely as when looking through the photos and videos of the several trips, we all appeared to be wearing the same clothes each time, such is the lack of variety in our biking attire.

So here we go…

Beginning the ride at the Craigieburn picnic area (I was going to mention the drive from Christchurch but it’s generally uneventful with the only highlight being a slightly over-rated pie shop in the village of Sheffield where they pride themselves on terrible customer service. I’ve never been to a shop where I feel like I’m inconveniencing the owners by wanting to give them money) the first task was to overcome the 6km long, 600 meter elevation climb of the Craigieburn Ski Field access road. As far as access roads go it has very few redeeming features, other than it gets steeper the further you cycle up it. You could argue that it doubles nicely as a warm up, but due to its length and increasing steepness, it tends to feel more like the main event. So by the time we’d reached the top and were ready to start the actual bike trails, I’d already drunk a third of my water and was having doubts over the amount of trail mix I’d brought for the day.

But we had made it nonetheless and it was time to start actual mountain biking on a trail known as ‘The Edge’. In keeping with the ski field access track, the Edge throws you in at the deep end by requiring you to traverse scree slops with lots of exposure thrown in for good measure. And if you’re really lucky, you might come close to slipping off The Edge ….like I did.

The scree slopes aside, the rest of the trail trundled its way through the forest and eventually dropped us off at a bit of an intersection between ‘Helicopter Hill’ and ‘The Luge’. As none of us had been up to Helicopter Hill, and according to the sign it was only a 15 minute walk, we thought we’d head up and have a look around. It turned out that the sign didn’t take into account the additional time that was required to haul your bike along with you and 15 minutes gradually and sweatily became 30 as we slung our bikes over our shoulders to climb up some of the rockier sections.


As we climbed higher and higher towards a panoramic 360 degree view that awaited us, I began to feel that the excited anticipation of getting to the top was slightly undermined by the thought that I was soon going to have to ride back down this this path. As hoped, the view from the top was amazing and once we had stared it at for longer than necessary, chatted amongst ourselves and posed for photos, I couldn’t help feel that we were subconsciously putting off having to ride off the hill, over the horrible rockiness that awaited us. As we were about to head off I decided that I just needed to take one more photo and crack open another sandwich and then came to realisation that riding down was kind of inevitable. I sulkily put my helmet on, tightened my shoe laces, adjusted my underpants, checked my tyre pressure, brakes, seat post height, the time… and then set off. Riding down was as tricky as I had expected, but what made it worse was the general ease that the others found it. I headed off in front and after making it through the first technical section and onto the ridge (all the while repeating motivational quotes and telling myself that I was doing really, really well) my mate came bombing past and disappeared off down the ridge line. I’m pretty sure he was whistling and tilted his bike helmet to me as he shot past. Can’t notice it in the video though.

And onto ‘The Luge’ it was. The trail takes you down to the Broken River Ski Field access track and is great fun to ride. It has a good, flowy gradient with a couple of rooty sections to negotiate but for the most part nothing overly challenging. So you can just sit back and cruise with a relaxed smile on your face without the worry of falling off cliff edges.

The next trail to target was ‘Dicksons Downhill’. A downhill track which would require us to cycle up the Broken River Ski Field access track for several hundred meters. Turning off, we followed a 4×4 track and took the opportunity to stop for our first photo shoot. Which I think we can all agree, was bloody lovely.

cropped 20.4.16 145

We set off down Dicksons Downhill which is another fast flowy track with the odd little jump here and there to liven things up, which all paled in comparison to the main jump of the track. This jump was brilliant. It’s not the biggest, or fastest, or craziest, but man it was fun. Having a nice run up, smooth take off and no gap to clear, it was the perfect jump to play around on. And that’s what we did. For ages. All the while our mate photographing every angle imaginable. What helped add to the experience was the surrounding scenery which was continuing to be epic. Once we were satisfied that every angle of our jumping antics had been sufficiently photographed several times, we pried ourselves away from the jump and continued down the rest of the trail. Which was good. Like, not as good as the jump obviously, but until I have my firstborn child, I imagine all experiences from that point on will be lacking somewhat.

3 bike jump collage

Now the problem with Dicksons Downhill is that it drops you off onto the main road that runs through the Craigieburn area. Meaning that to make it to the next trail ‘Dracophyllum Flat’ required riding up the Broken River ski access road again. On the plus side, the trail starts about mid-way up the access track and isn’t as steep as the Craigieburn access road. But an access road is an access road, which means it still has a surprising ability to suck the fun out of the day and replace it with a slow pedaling slog skywards.

It’s amazing how well bitching and moaning kills time, and before we knew it we were up at the start of the Dracophyllum Flat and ready for the next section of downward trail riding. Dracophyllum Flat is similar to ‘The Luge’ except it’s wider and more open, allowing you to go faster and the ability to play about a bit. It led onto a bit of a traverse along the valley floor which was completely deceptive in its length. In your head you think it’s just a short flat jaunt to the final trail of the day ‘The Hogs Back’. ‘We’ll be there in no time!’ we laughed and joked to each other. For some reason collectively forgetting that this section of the trail had a lot more short, steep climbs than anyone of us could remember. It was around this time that the legs began to lose form somewhat and the speed at which the lactic acid built up increased. There was one saving grace of this section though, where it momentarily opened up and flattened off so we were able rip through the low lying grass with the mountains in front of us. Unfortunately there was no epic jump but I guess you can’t have it all – here’s a GoPro section of the track

Dracophyllum Flat finishes at the Cheeseman Ski Field access road and I know what you’re thinking, more bitching about cycling up an access road. Well for once, we didn’t have to cycle up it. However our relief of not cycling up another access track was short lived when we realised that instead we’d have to undertake a shorter, but a much steeper, climb right at the beginning of the trail… so I guess there still is some bitching to be had. The Hogs Back trail is one of those routes where it feels like you’re cycling down a lot more than you’re cycling up. So once the first climb was out of the way, it felt like we were just freewheeling to the end. There was the odd climb, but nothing compared to earlier in the day, so I’ll just leave the impression that it’s one of those Escher type trails where people are constantly riding downhill to the top.

Finally we made it to Castle Hill Village, signifying the end of the ride and where we parked the second car earlier in the day to save us having to ride back along the road to the Craigieburn picnic area, where we began all those months ago. We had tactfully left some victory beers in the car, and as I was about to crack open one of these well-earned beers one of the guys floated the idea of riding the Cheeseman Downhill track. Unfortunately, due to my tired and reduced reaction state, the idea spread faster than I was able to quash it and before I knew it the beers had been packed away, the bikes loaded onto the back of the car, and we were driving up the Cheeseman Ski Field access road. My mood improved with a combination of appreciating that at least we weren’t cycling the access road and the happy hardcore music we had selected as a pre-ride morale boost (which on a side note, in terms of biking movie backing music, happy hardcore makes for an entertaining choice and gives the illusion of the action happening faster than it really is, as you’ll see from the link later on).

So…. the final trail of the day. As you can imagine, it had been a longer day than normal, mainly due to the fact that, as previously mentioned, I’ve combined three days’ worth of riding into one, but in any case, I was still a bit knackered. So why we decided to ride the hardest trail right at the end is a bit beyond me, but here we were. The trail is kind of split into two, best described as ‘The Good’ and ‘The bad and the Ugly’. The first section started quite a way up the Cheeseman access road and traversed across country with a large expanse of view to the left. The terrain remained low lying and scrub as it dropped down, and picked up speed with a few little features along the way to jump and drop off. All the while thinking ‘this is nice’ and ‘what a lovely way to finish off the day’. Then the forest approaches and you end up doing a bit of a mental calculation that the end of the track isn’t that far away yet we’re still quite high… oh no, as the trail takes on a distinctly more vertical and slippery character as you’re launched down a technical, rooty, muddy trail straight down. I’ve never been down a trail before where I’ve been hard on the brakes for the entire way. I got to the bottom mentally and physically knackered and after 3 more runs of the trail, no amount of happy hardcore music could lift my spirits anymore.

But on a more positive note, here’s a clip of ‘The Good’ section with a cheeky bit of happy hardcore music thrown in for good measure.

With the sun setting on an unusually long day, we finally made it to our now warm beer and reflected on that jump, the ridiculousness of the Cheeseman Downhill and how it was going to be difficult to not fall asleep on the drive home after the past 28 hours of continuous riding… but mainly about the jump.

cropped 20.4.16 154


As an aside, we did see a bearded, old naked man riding down the Broken River access road but without any photographic proof no one seems to believe us…..which is probably for the best.

West Coast Wilderness Trail… Minus the Wilderness

Knife Croppedjpg

Which I think we can all agree is a work of art

So there we were, on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, making knives. Actually, let me correct myself there, ‘forging’ knives, and we thought, how about we ride a section of the West Coast Wilderness Trail – a two to three-day bike trail that starts at Greymouth and works its way through Kamara, Cowboys Paradise (more on that later) and Hokitika, eventually ending in Ross.




From what I had read and heard from people who had ridden the trail before, the most scenic section was between Karmara and Cowboys Paradise (more on that later), so that’s the bit we decided to ride. The plan was to start at Karmara and cycle the 30 odd kilometres to Cowboys Paradise (more on that later), spend the night there and cycle back to Karmara the following day. All the while soaking up some of that scenic-ness.

The first thing we noticed once we had set off was the large number of signs telling you not to do that, put that down, oi – what you doing with that, etc. In the space of 2km we had passed the following signs: No Parking, Warning Mine Shafts, Stay on the Path, No Swimming, No Climbing, No Touching, No Fun Allowed, You are Not Above the Law, I am the Law and You Can’t Handle the Truth. This theme of killjoy and restriction kind of went against what I had in mind when riding a trail with ‘Wilderness’ in the title. And when coupled with the fact that the West Coast has a reputation for lawlessness and rebelliousness, I kind of assumed we’d be fending off bandits with our new knives and if we were lucky, get to wrestle a Kiwi bear or something. As instructed, we continued on in silence while maintaining a responsible speed and distance between one another.

Collage 1

Around 80% of the trail between Karmara and Cowboys Paradise (more on that later) is on wide, gravel tracks that are generally used for 4×4 access. It doesn’t make for overly interesting riding, and we kind of just trundled along making small talk and wondering when we’d get to use our new knives. At times the trail turns off into the forest and you get a taste of what it would be like to ride a decent, interesting trail. That tended to last just long enough for you to start enjoying it before returning you onto the gravel road again for another stretch of dull riding.

The kilometres slowly passed by, mainly due to the trail being on a gradual incline towards Cowboys Paradise (more on that later) and also because each kilometre is marked, which is kind of the equivalent of clock watching, where depending on mood at each marker, it can either perk you up, or drive you to snap each one over your knee as you pass it.

Due to the general lack of interesting things to look at and fun things to do (thanks again to the anti-fun signs) I found that I had to use my imagination a little. For instance:





This is a spider trying to escape a gorge










This is a blue rock











This…….I don’t know what this is







wilderness sign





This is a sign saying ‘Go Have Some Fun’








Eventually, we arrived at a sign indicating 6km to Cowboys Paradise (more on that later) and our spirits picked up. This happened to coincide with the trail taking on a more downward facing gradient which culminated in a great little section of freewheeling through the forest, knowing that a rooting tooting good time lay just around the corner.

The Saloon


Which leads us to the final disappointment of the day, Cowboys Paradise. On first impressions there seemed to be very little Cowboy or Paradise found in this place and a more accurate description would have been something along the lines of ‘Abandoned Building Site’. Now maybe I’d built it up a bit, but I think its fair to say that if you think of a Cowboys Paradise you either think of a gay bar (which frankly I would have preferred as it would have been far more entertaining), or some kind of Western themed area lined with Goods Stores and Whore Houses. Maybe an outlaw hanging from a noose, swaying gently in the breeze. But no, the only thing that implied that this place was at all Cowboy related was a building with swing doors and ‘Saloon’ painted on the front. Which on that note, just because you paint Saloon on the front of a building, doesn’t make it so.




Once we were shown to our room (which in fairness had quite a scenic view) and got ourselves sorted, we wandered back into the ‘Saloon’ and after perusing the worrying number of gun related magazines and books stacked up on the side, opted to play cards until dinner was served. Over dinner we made small talk with another family who were also spending the night and the husband mentioned how he quite liked the place, describing it as ‘unpretentious’ in its simplicity. Which I can see where he was coming from, it is what it is, which is fine. But when what it is isn’t very good, then describing it as unpretentious is just another way of saying ‘it’s a bit rubbish’. Which I guess was my feeling on the place. Give it a good decade or so, I’m sure it will be a real fun place to visit, where you can immerse yourself in the traditional cowboy way of life of malnutrition, alcoholism, STI’s, bar room brawls and gun fights. It just needs a bit more time.


Needless to say, we didn’t really hang about the following morning Speeding Throughand just got the hell out of there. The riding back was actually quite pleasant, with the sun uncharacteristically shinning for the West Coast and the trail generally pointing downhill back to the car. The highlight of the day was spending far too much time getting a photo of me riding the trail, so we could actually make use of the tripod that we brought with us. The result was pretty average. Which works nicely as a closing metaphor for the track as a whole. I think my issue with the trail and Cowboys Paradise is that it implies to offer more than it delivers. A trail shouldn’t have ‘Wilderness’ in the title if sections require you to ride alongside busy roads. Or that the inviting water holes are covered in ‘Do not Swim’ signs. Or a Paradise that has abandoned, rusting, heavy machinery lying about the place.



DSC_0071 72px_in

And its not that I felt the trail wasn’t challenging enough in terms of gnarliness and general fist waving extremeness. We rode the Rail Trail up in the north island and it was really nice… because my expectations were adjusted accordingly based on the entirely accurate trail marketing. I think if the trail had just been called ‘West Coast Trail’… or ‘Trail’, or maybe ‘Just Don’t Bother’, it perversely would have been more enjoyable. Which is an interesting thought to end on.

(For those of you who didn’t get the Judge Dredd / A Few Good Men joke, please refer to this website)


Surviving the Old Ghost Road

Recently… well at the time of writing anyway, a new mountain bike trail was completed on the West Coast of the South Island, New Zealand known as The Old Ghost Road. The trail had originally existed as an old gold mining track from back in the day,  however it was not possible to cycle all the way through and the rides tended to involve a cycle in/out on the same route (either from the non-existent town of Lyell or from the other end at the may-as-well-be non-existent town of Seddonville). Much like the gold mining boom of this area, times have changed and it is now possible to cycle right the way through on what is a 2 – 3 day, 85km spectacular trail.

As a mate and I were in training mode for a multi-day bike race, we decided to attempt to ride the whole thing in the one day. We really needed to up our game as race day was approaching faster than our fitness levels were improving. We left Christchurch Friday evening and drove the four hours to Lyell where it is possible to camp right at the start of the trail. The first and last thing you notice about Lyell is that it consists exclusively of a camp site and the beginning of the trail head. If you want to be generous, then you could also include the swarms of sand flies and rumours of a cemetery somewhere nearby, but that’s it. Once we arrived we sorted our tents and got some sleep, excited about the prospect of the ride that lay ahead the following day.


Before - twisted derailleur and look of concern

Before – twisted derailleur and look of concern

That excitement was to last all the way up until I got onto my bike the following morning when I took one pedal stroke and managed to twist the rear derailleur out of use. Somehow the chain had been knocked off the back of the cassette and pulled the derailleur off with it, accompanied by a horrible, crunching noise. I jumped off the bike, inspected the damage in dismay and announced to my mate that I wouldn’t be riding today. Calm headed as always, my mate wandered over replying ‘wait there, let’s see what the problem is’, took one look at the mangled derailleur and went ‘… yep, you’re not riding today’. Some frantic discussion and much arm waving later, we decided on driving 45 minutes to Wesport, the closest town, to see if they had a bike shop I could throw money at to try and solve the problem. Three and a half hours later, $250 and a box of beers for the friendly bike shop mechanic, we were back in Lyell with a shiny new rear derailleur on my bike and ready to finally start the ride.

After - shiny new derailleur and look of happiness

After – shiny new derailleur and look of happiness

After the mornings drama, we were both keen to get onto the trail and start making some progress. It appeared that progress was going to be slow however, as the first 30km of the trail is of an upward gradient. The trail climbs gradually enough through the forest, with the occasional viewing point and historical bit of rusted, ambiguous machinery that somehow related to the extraction of gold in the area. For good or for bad, depending on your emotional state at the time, each kilometer is marked along the trail. So you can literally count each 1000 meters that you cycle. So when you’ve got a good pace going on it can be a real morale boost as you metaphorically crush each marker. Equally, each marker can be a kick in the balls when it takes forever to get to the next one. It can feel at times like the markers are going backwards as you begin to fatigue and sink into an emotionally negative slump. There were times during the ride where I wanted to literally crush each marker into oblivion and remove them from the face of the earth… we’d only been on the trail for an hour and a half and I was already getting dramatic.

Finally, we made it above the tree line and popped out onto the ridge. When you look at brochures for the Old Ghost Road, they proudly show a photo of some cyclists biking along the incredible ridge line with panoramic scenes surrounding them. Well for once the marketing was actually representative, and expectations were met and then pleasingly exceeded. Riding along the ridge line is a little spicy in places and a wrong move could result in a tumble off the mountain side, but for the most part you spend the section of the ride blown away with the views and sense of exposure as the scenery extends in all directions. It’s just brilliant and easily justifies the 3 hours of ascent and extensive plotting of how to torture and destroy every single kilometer marker. The ridge line ends at Ghost Lake Hut which may be the most epic-ly located hut I have ever been to. Had we been riding the trail in the recommended 2 to 3 days then spending the night at the hut would have been amazing, but we weren’t even half way through yet and still had a lot more riding to do. We refueled, took some obligatory photos and embarked on what was going to be possibly the worst part of the day for me. Worse than the derailleur detaching itself from my bike or the increasingly itchy sand fly bites that I had accumulated at the Lyell camp site.

The brochure was right!

The brochure was right!

Leaving Ghost Lake Hut, I rode for a good minute and a half before my first fall off the bike. Note that it wasn’t a crash, as that would imply that I hit something. No, this was far more embarrassing. Today was the first time I was riding with clips, a means of attaching your feet to the pedals, requiring an initially unnatural twisting of the foot to release said foot from said pedal. It takes a while to get used to this new release method and normally I wouldn’t have used the pedals for the first time on an unknown trail. But as race day was approaching I needed all the practice I could get, which unfortunately meant having to go through the rites of passage with comical, yet painful falls off the bike when losing your balance and being unable to unclip your foot before falling off. Which is exactly what happened soon after leaving the hut; whilst negotiating a hair pin corner, I lost my balance and with the feet still clipped to the pedal, tumbled off the side of the bike to the hilarity of my mate and much inflicted pain to myself. It was then, after getting to the top of a small climb we could see the trail snake its way down the valley via a succession of steep, tight hair pin turns. My heart sank at about the same rate that my mates grin grew as I suddenly became aware of the gauntlet I was about to have to run (I should also point out that my mate isn’t being mean here. Several weeks earlier we rode the Wharfedale bike circuit where he was just getting used to clips for the first time. The circuit has a load of river crossings which he ended up falling into while attempting to ride through and lost his balance. Much to my entertainment and piss taking. So the dozen or so switch backs that awaited me was just the universe re-balancing for all the laughter I enjoyed at his expense).

It was horrible. I struggled with every corner, convinced that each turn was going to be the one that I messed up and would result in me bouncing down the mountain side, still attached to the bike. After a few skids and tumbles we made it to the bottom of the trail, and at that exact point in time I was ready to add the clips to the burning pile of kilometer markers. I had lost all confidence in my biking ability and any remotely technical looking sections, say a tree root across the path or a menacing looking bird perched high above me pretending to look innocent, would be enough to reduce me to walking the bike. This continued along a smaller ridge line with equally epic views, although somewhat diminished by my current emotional state, until we descended some steps (which are provided with a slightly defensive sign providing the reasons why the trail builders opted for steps over trail, the short version being ‘Safety’); then hit flatter ground, where I had an opportunity to regain some dignity and confidence and start riding the bike again.

We were now beginning the final climb of the trail, which depending on which trail profile map you used, was either a minor bump or a gruelling climb depending on the scale – a detail I’ve been caught out on a few times! We entered the ‘Bone Yard’ which sounds worse than it is. It’s basically a bit rocky and barren which normally would have been fine and quite interesting, expect for the fact that fatigue was starting to set in, along with exposure to the sun. There’s no shade through the Bone Yard, and we found ourselves drinking litres of water to try and compensate for the heat as we pushed our bikes to the top of the summit, kicking over kilometer makers as we went. Sweaty and tired, we rolled down the other side of the hill and onto the final section of trail affectionately known to locals as ‘The Suicide Bluffs’. The trail follows the river Mokihinui out of the valley along twisting and turning trails. Although some turns are provided with a makeshift barrier to stop you falling off the large drop to the river below, there are plenty of other corners that would have benefited from a bit more Health & Safety legislation. Maybe it was due to it getting dark, or riding for nine hours, or having drunk roughly 12 litres of water, but I started to have visions of me hitting some rock, being unable to regain my balance due to my clips, and falling off the edge of the trail into the river below. It was actually quite a terrifying way to end the ride, and coupled with the slow puncture I had recently acquired within the last 10km, the bike felt a bit more unstable as the rear wheel bounced around behind me.

Descent into the ‘Suicide Bluffs’


Arriving at the end of the trail 9hrs after we had started, it was a nice relief that I had survived bike failures, clips, switch backs, heat exposure and large scary drops into fast flowing water. It is only in retrospect that I realised the slight morbidness of this article, which seems suitably fitting seeing as the trail is littered with equally morbid references: Old Ghost Rd, Ghost Lake Hut, The Bone Yard, The Suicide Bluffs. Man it feels good to be alive.


Braving the Gorse on Mt. Bradley

Mt. Bradley is the slightly neglected (some may say rightly so) peak that sits next to the more favourable Mt. Herbert on the Diamond Harbour side of the Banks Peninsular. Similar in stature to Mt. Herbert, but with a much more mountain feel (whereas Mt. Herbert gives the impression of a large hill with straight forward path that leads gradually to the top, Mt. Bradley has a summit that is neatly lined with cliffs, giving it a ‘top tier of a wedding cake’ look. Which I feel you just don’t see enough of these days). We opted to take a more DIY approach to getting to the summit, mainly consisting of a straight line to the top. The intention of the walk was to get a bit of scrambling experience and, if necessary, whip out the rope and practice some skills to set us up for some more challenging routes over the summer.

Starting out in Orton Bradley Park – which it should be said, is a very cool, tucked away little place – it has the feel of a remote camp site, disconnected from the city, but it is still within 30 minutes’ drive of Christchurch. There is a wealth of activities going on there such as walking, climbing, biking, golfing etc. and is essentially an ideal holidaying spot for anyone from Christchurch who gets car sick on long drives.

We parked up and began our walk through the park and out onto some fields where we could get a good view of Mt. Bradley, which, as is typical in straight line paths, was right in front of us.

The Mt. Bradley expedition team walked their own road….in a straight line

The Mt. Bradley expedition team walked their own road… in a straight line


As we arrived at the base of the mountain, two things happened. Firstly, it got steeper, which shouldn’t have really come as a surprise seeing as we were standing at the bottom. Secondly, and possibly more worryingly, we started to notice a gradual thickening of gorse bushes. This was more of a concern for three of us as we had opted to wear shorts for the walk in anticipation of summer arriving. Now, I don’t want to sound too melodramatic when discussing the thorny, prickly, spikey nature of gorse, but man it stings as you force your way through it due to a lack of an actual path.

We were aiming for a sheer rock face up ahead of us (the base of the wedding cake if you will) and getting there involved scrambling over a mixture of fallen rock and thorny bastard vegetation. The gradient of the slope wasn’t overly steep and stingy shins aside, it was a fairly straight forward scramble to the face.

The first taste of the cake

The first taste of the cake


Arriving at the rock face, we quickly noticed that up close the cliff took on a distinctly more overhanging, overbearing, less tasty nature than how it looked from a distance. Mindful of the regions recent experience in tectonic plate activity, and looking around at all the large fallen rocks about the place, we decided to continue up between a break in the cliff face that would eventually take us to the top. The vegetation at this stage was getting all the more dense and with it the amount of ‘oh’s’ and ‘ah’s’ and aggressively sounding ‘HMMM’s’ as we waded through more thorns. Sticking to the rock face as much as possible, so at least only 50% of your body was in contact with the bastard thorns, we began to notice how precarious the rock face was put together. There were numerous gaps and missing bits and chunks that had fallen off and various other ways of saying ‘the wall wasn’t all there’. Up close, it seemed as if the cliff had been built in a similar fashion to those stone walls that are so ubiquitous in the English countryside. Granted, the centuries old stone walls are still standing today, but they’re not tens of meters tall and built in a seismically lively area of the world. In a general sense all this would have been fine except that we were using the wall for hand holds and were in danger of accidentally pulling out the one bit of rock that was holding this entire cliff together… in fairness, that probably wouldn’t happen. But seeing as I didn’t get a photo of the cliff up close, it’s better if I hype it up a little so that you can knock it back down a few pegs and we can meet somewhere in the middle with what it was actually like.

It became harder and harder to force our way through to the top as the vegetation became more and more dense. At times it felt like we were climbing through that prickly side of Velcro or towels that had been washed without fabric softener and left out to dry for a really long time. Needless to say, which evidently I still am, things were getting tough!

Nearing the top of the mountain, legs and hands stinging, we eventually made it to the summit and to our delight and then immediate regret, we were confronted by a sea of gorse bushes. I think our response when we got to the top was something along the lines of ‘Yeahhhh-Ahhhhhh-Nooooo!’. As far as we could see was thick gorse smiling sarcastically back at us (yes, by this point I had actually given the gorse a personality as it gave me a target to wave my fist at). ‘This wedding cake ain’t so sweet’ I said out loud. Then immediately wished I hadn’t as I realised that I hadn’t explained the wedding cake metaphor to the rest of the group.

Odd comments, a lack of a path and thorny bastard gorse aside, the top of Mt. Bradley is actually quite interesting. It’s a large plateau with three sheer sides. The light cloud that had begun to move in on us provided a surreal feel that for some reason reminded me of the movie Jurassic Park. As amazing as the theme tune is, it was little consolation as it repeated round and round in my head as we trudged through more and more gorse on our retreat off the mountain. We did consider abseiling off to try and save some time, but unsure what we would be actually abseiling into, more gorse no doubt, we opted to walk off the back of the mountain and then double back on ourselves to eventually come down through Orton Bradley Park. Finally finding a path on the way back to the park, we were greeted with a site that suddenly made the bleeding shins and constant bitching all seem worthwhile. For the entire walk we had Diamond Harbour and the Port Hill behind us with and with numerous challenges we had to overcome to get to the summit, we hadn’t really stopped and taken in the view. Now that the weather had cleared and we were on more established ground, we were able to take in our gorseless surroundings, wonder at the view and appreciate how terrible the wedding cake metaphor really was.

The wedding cake mountain on the left, diamond harbour in the back ground

The wedding cake mountain on the left, Diamond Harbour in the back ground