Tired, breathless and saturated, we finally arrived at the top of the Rapaki Track for the fourth time in as many days. The usually fantastic view that we’d become so accustomed to was hidden under a thick, milky cloud.
‘At least it’s not hot,’ Matt said, trying to inject some level of optimism into the morning bike ride. How had it come to this, when cycling in a cloud, soaked by rain, and being rewarded with a view similar to being on the inside of a cataract is preferable to a clear, warm, sunny day? Well, such is the power of the ‘Rapaki 7 Day Challenge.’ Grab a beer, get comfortable, and let me tell you a tale.
Over the past few years living in Christchurch New Zealand, a few of us have organised little challenges and events. In the past, we’ve had several Mega-Multi Sport Days, The Perfect Work Week and the 12 Activities of Christmas. Adam’s contribution to the growing activity list was ‘7 Rapakis in 7 Days’ – also known as the ‘Rapaki Smashy, unofficially sponsored by Emerson’s Pilsner.’
For those of you outside of the Garden City, the Rapaki Track is a 4km gravel road that climbs 300 metres up the Port Hills to an excellent view over Diamond Harbour and the Banks Peninsula. It’s a popular track for walkers, runners and cyclists, and is a rite of passage for anyone interested in the outdoors. It can be a tough time getting up there if fitness, enthusiasm, weather, or all of the above is against you. Why exactly it needed to be ridden over seven consecutive days is a detail you’ll have to take up with Adam. He did, however, offer some additional perks in an attempt to liven up what would otherwise be a horrendously dull challenge.
We would have to descend via a different trail each day, allowing us to take full advantage of the multitude of bike tracks that the Port Hills has to offer. More importantly, it would also counteract the monotonous task of riding up the Rapaki Track every day.
Also, each ride would be polished off with an Emerson’s Pilsner. Why an Emerson’s Pilsner you ask? Well, only someone who hasn’t tried an Emerson’s Pilsner would ask that.
There is also an additional detail to include. I’m sure to many seasoned athletes out there, this may not seem like much of a challenge. However, these things are all relative. We prefer riding down instead of up, or to a lesser extent, across. Basically, it was a challenge for us.
So, now that we’re all up to speed, here’s how it went.
It was hot. High 20’s hot. From a global temperature standpoint this may not appear like a big deal, but when the 1980’s penchant for CFCs and the hangover of a significantly reduced ozone layer is thrown into the mix, it all adds up to the sun feeling a lot more intense. So naturally, because of this, I decided to complete the first ride in the middle of the day. However, the muscles were strong and eagerness was high, both feelings that would steadily diminish as the week progressed. Under the relentless heat from the ball of fire that hung above me, I crawled the bike up to the summit, spinning the cranks and listening to the gravel crunch under the wheels. Slowly but surely I completed the first round of the challenge. Despite the air temperature being similar to what potatoes roast at – or Gas Mark 4 for those with gas ovens – it wasn’t actually that bad. Not too long and most of it manageable.
The next choice was which trail to descend via. I opted for Lava Flow – a nonsensical, rocky track that had me in a constant state of either, ‘Oh God, I’m about to go over the handlebars!’ or ‘NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!’ There are multiple lines to take, all of which seem wrong. I bounced and ricocheted my way through the jagged, pointy rocks towards the bottom. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best one to ride on my own, in my open face helmet, in the scorching sun, but you gotta do what you gotta do when it’s the Rapaki Smashy.
Making it down in one piece, I biked home and cracked open the first Pilsner of the week.
Today was a team effort. By which I mean, Matt, Adam and I. So technically a crowd I guess. Anyway, despite minimal interest from the original group of ten people, the actual number of official participants was distilled down to three individuals, which shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise when considering the details of the challenge.
It was slightly cooler than Monday, with the air temperature being around the baking of an apple pie level – Gas Mark 3. Chatting amongst ourselves, with the legs still having some miles left in them, the ride up went by fast enough. Arriving at the top and peering down into Diamond Harbour below, the experience was fine. The last climb was a bit of an effort, but otherwise OK.
While discussing which route to descend by, it was pointed out that the Adventure Park had reopened after the unfortunateness of burning to the ground earlier in the year – Gas Mark 9. Entering the park from above, we had the choice of two trails to descend via. Either an advanced, double black diamond known as ‘Kama Sutra,’ or an intermediate blue trail called ‘Loess Rider.’ Well, it was the Rapaki Smashy after all, and how hard could the black trail be?
Several seconds into the run it became very apparent how hard it could be. There were steep chutes, off camber corners, blind jumps and drops all over the place. I fought against the bike the entire way as it persistently attempted to throw me into passing trees. Despite its best efforts, we all made it to the bottom in one piece, and with relieved expressions and adrenaline coursing through our bodies, we rode to the safety and comfort of a victory Pilsner.
Also known as Strava Day. For those unfamiliar with Strava, it is an app that records the details of your bike ride, such as distance, ascent and time. It then helpfully rates you against all the other riders who have ridden the same trails, so that you can become massively competitive against total strangers.
We had joked about who could get the fastest time up the Rapaki Track during the week. Matt had ridden earlier in the day and set a new personal best, and subsequently threw down the gauntlet with the simple, provoking comment of, ‘Your go.’
So at 7:30 that evening, a sweating, wheezing mess of a definitely not competitive person could be seen pedalling his little heart out up the Rapaki Track. With my head down, staring at the hypnotic rotation of my pedals, trying my best to ignore raging lactic acid that was corroding away my muscles, I forced my way to the top. Dragging myself over the finish line, I slumped over the bars, violently sucking air into my lungs that were flexing like bellows trying to salvage a coal fire. Slowly my blurred vision began to focus and the feeling came back to my knuckles. Yeah, the Rapaki Track can be tough at times.
Now, how was I going to get down?
The most direct route was through Victoria Park, but that is where the gnarly trails live. As I was on my own and didn’t have a great deal left in the tank, I opted for a track called Fence Line – a great, flowy trail that runs above the tree line before dropping into the forest and getting decidedly more vertical and techy. It’s not in the same category as Lava Flow or Kama Sutra, but after blowing myload on the Rapaki track, anything more than horizontal felt like a Redbull Rampage line.
I cracked open a well-earned Pilsner and waited for my Strava details to upload.
Seeing as I had pushed my body to its limits the evening before, it seemed only logical to follow it with an early morning ride, as, you know, it’s the Rapaki Smashy. At 6:15 am, we assembled at the bottom of the trail and looked up at the Port Hills that were currently harbouring a thick, damp cloud. Today was the first day that the legs started to show signs of wear, and the lactic acid was keen to get back to work burning away in my thighs. Matt and I rode through the saturated morning air, discussing various ways Strava times could be improved; tyre PSI, locking out the suspension and two-stroke engines all seemed viable options.
Cold, wet and tired, we made it to the top with little fanfare. Stood at the summit, with the wind steadily sucking what little body heat I had away from me, all I could think about it was how much the Rapaki Track sucks. Some of those steeper sections are horrendous.
It was quickly decided to nail out a continuous run to the bottom via the twisting, turning trail of Gum Trees. It’s a track I hardly ride and is made all the more interesting when ripping past the peeling gum trees that line the trail. Making it to the bottom, we quickly got the sodden high-fives out of the way and returned to the sanctuary of our homes. Due to the early start, there was some discussion regarding when the Pilsner should be drunk, i.e. with breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner etc. Let’s just say that some people are more committed than others.
This evening was another team effort. All intentions of beating Strava times, or maintaining conversation, or generally enjoying being on our bikes were set aside for the duration of the Rapaki Track. It quickly became apparent that the multiple baths I had taken and protein shakes I had consumed in the 36 hours since I had last ridden the track had done virtually nothing. I couldn’t remember what happiness felt like. My life seemed to consist of cycling up an endless gravel road. I get to the top and just start again, like that Greek fella cursed to push a rock up a hill all day.
In an attempt to balance out the misery of the track, we opted for a slightly spicier route down because, you know, it’s the Rapaki Smashy. After a somewhat camp photo session, we cracked into Pedal Fine – a trail that gets me whooping in relief each time I make it through in one piece – and whooping in pain each time I don’t. It’s steep, tight, technical and relentless – adjectives I seem to instantly forget the moment I get to the bottom and the endorphins flood in.
The sun was still high in the sky as we settled down to another Pilsner, toasting only two more sessions to go.
Today we were aiming for a sunset/night ride, because, you know… you get the idea. We set off at 8 pm, which also meant setting off after consuming two beers, a pizza and an emergency evening coffee, which was a terrible combination and possibly the only time I really didn’t want to head out. Rapaki was Rapaki. We rode in silence to the top while I mentally added another item to my list of things I hate. I don’t hate many things – the list is only three items long, but each one is the Rapaki Track.
We rode to the start of a trail called the Flying Nun with the intention of catching the sunset. Of course we missed that, and to add insult to injury, riding the swooping, snaking track was a tad disorienting in the twilight, obscuring how nasty particular rock features could be.
Arriving at Victoria Park, head lights were adorned and I rode one of my favourite tracks in the park – Ponos. Recovering from a nasty winter where it was rutted to ruin, it’s now back on form, with an excellent combination of jumps, drops, technical challenges, runout open sections and the occasional dazzled rabbit frozen in the headlights.
We enjoyed a late night Pilsner at my place and discussed the ride at length. It was probably my favourite session of the week, but most likely because it meant we only had one more day to go.
Finally. It seemed like it would never arrive. On a sunny but windy day, three embattled heroes rode in silent anguish to the top. To be honest, I don’t want to talk about the track that shall not be named. The point is, we won.
At least, that’s what I thought. It turned out that the son of a motherless goat wasn’t entirely done with me yet (and yes, that’s a Three Amigos movie reference. That’s how much I hated it).
For the last day, we decided to ride to Taylors Mistake, a small bay at the end of the Port Hills where you can ride your bike straight from the trail onto the beach. Unfortunately, it was to be the longest, most demanding ride of the week, which would have been tiring for us even if we hadn’t spent the last six days on our bikes.
The incessant wind was actually quite nice as we rode along the top of the hills – another fine example of how The Rapaki Challenge once again jaded our perceptions of what was considered nice. The ride started well, but around halfway through the legs began to give out, along with my desire to continue with the challenge. Such was my level of disdain that I opted to skip some of the trails and ride the road around. This may not be considered in the spirit of things, but trust me, it was for everyone’s benefit.
The last trail of the challenge was Anaconda. An appropriate name because… actually, at this point, who cares. It’s fun. Go ride it. We ended on the beach where we drank beer and swam in the sea. It was also nice.
It’s been about six weeks since we ended on the beach, and for all of that time, I’ve been struggling to find an appropriate way to end the write-up. As much as I want to include some life-affirming, metaphorical quote, or add an inspirational insight that occurred to me when I was halfway up that monotonous, horrible track, nothing really springs to mind. And maybe that’s the point. There was no great justification for completing the challenge in the first place, and I don’t seem to be any closer to discovering one now.
But then again, how often does the opportunity to have a beer with breakfast and get a winning time on Strava come around?