Mmmm Hero Dirt
We got out for a lovely back country mission on the weekend. Fantastic beech forest trails and back country passes.
We were on the road early, escaping from the Tsunami warning in Christchurch and heading for the hills!!
I had previously ridden all of the track we were hitting up, but never as a simply in and out mission. With there being just 2 of us, I did not think it was worth trying to set up a shuttle to ride some of the other options in the region.
In my opinion the worst bit of this ride is the 5 km river bash at the start and finish. Other than that there are miles and miles of fun single track! It takes the best bit of an hour to get up the river to where the track starts in the trees. This is a bit on and off the bike, and you have to cross the river a number of times. Once in the trees, parts of the single track climb are rideable, but there is still a fair bit of getting on and off the bike on the way up. Especially for a few major wash-outs where water is eroding the loose slopes quickly.
A couple of hours in we arrive at the first little old hut and after a quick look inside we push on towards the saddle. The track emerges from the trees just after the hut and travels through tussocks and spaniard grass (spear grass – the spiky spines will put many holes in your tyres and legs if you go anywhere near them!!). The climb to the saddle is mostly a walk as the water erosion on the track means that there are many large loose rocks sticking out of the surface. These rocks are rideable on the way back down when momentum is on your side, but to be able to ride up them is a bit much of an ask!
Once at the top we happily sit and munch on some food, taking in the mountain views and the peace and quiet. I have a smile on my face, as I know that this is where the fun begins. The piece of singletrack that drops from the saddle has been described to me as “one of the best pieces of singletrack in New Zealand” by a couple of people. We drop into the trees very soon once we leave the saddle, and after a couple of tight switchbacks are launched straight into a massively rooty and steep ridge line descent. The track is quite wide, and so there are a range of options of which roots and drops to hit. The gradient means it can be a bit of a brake cooker, but it sure as heck gets a big grin out of me!!
As we descend the track starts to switchback, which adds another dimension to the steepness and I find myself getting off the brakes and pointing the bike over the roots and drops on the straights, and then hauling hard on the brakes to bleed the speed enough to make it around the tight switchbacks. There are a few interesting moves, but we make it down to the first stream with no mishaps! From here the gradient eases off a bit and the track starts to flow a bit more. There are plenty of trees to weave around and we are still lofting over root masses. The track surface in between the roots is a soft loam of small cornflake like beech leaves. I have heard this sort of surface referred to as “hero dirt” and as I get some well controlled 2 wheel drift through some of the corners I remember why they give it this name. The surface has enough give to let the wheels slip a little, but it still hooks up beautifully underneath. This means you can feel like a hero drifting around each corner while cornering well within your normal non-hero limits!!
From here the track does start to undulate a bit, but each small climb is rewarded with a long flowing descent. The track surface has many nice lumps and dips in it, which mean you can keep your speed up by pumping off the downslopes rather than pedaling. I love diving into the corners and the flowing weight change as I pump the bike through the corners, dips and lumps. We soon pop out from the forest again, and it is a short ride across a grassy meadow to a large back country hut which is sometimes referred to as the “Hamilton Hilton”. Along this grassy flat I was sitting down pedaling quite fast and was distracted by my rear gears jumping a little in the lowest cogs. A little look at my rear cassette while riding along was enough inattention for me to plant a pedal on a hard grassy edge of the track which catapulted me off the bike and into a sprawling mess on the ground. Was quite amusing that I could ride all sorts of technical rooty steep trails with drops, and yet managed to have a good crash in a flat grassy meadow!! Inspecting my Giro Xen helmet I found a few cracks. I guess that was about $200 worth of silly mistake then!! Doh!!
Stopping at the hut, we once again loaded up on food. There were plenty of blood-thirsty sandflies hanging around the hut looking for a free lunch too, so we did not stop too long as we both prefer our blood kept to ourselves!
It was a pleasant ride back across the grassy meadow and the pass we had just come from did not look too high or far to climb on the way back. Appearances can be deceiving though!! The ride back up the flowing singletrack was quite pleasant, although mostly a granny gear climb. By the time we got back to the first stream crossing it was definitely well into the hike-a-bike terrain though. What had taken us about 45 minutes to ride down took close to 2 hours to get back up, and we were both glad to pop out of the trees and see the top of the saddle!
After refueling at the top of the saddle again we were off down the tracks. The loose baby-head rocks make holding the line down the narrow singletrack quite difficult, and when you add in the tussocks hiding the trail and the very spiky spear grass threatening to put holes in anything that comes close it all adds up to quite a challenge! Even on the reasonably plush 5 Spot I was feeling quite shaken about by the time I rolled into the forest beside the hut!
Once past the hut, the real fun starts again, starting on some quite technical beech forest root fests, with steps, drops and shaky wooden bridges that only mostly cover some bogs. There are some awesome sections to pump the bike, using the trail features to float the bike up and over root masses, and many quick decisions on which line to take. We are soon onto the faster more flowing section of the trail and blasting back down towards the river. This section has a number of root “steps” where I find myself dropping off a set of roots, and then holding my speed through a smooth section so I can launch the bike up and over a big root step up. I really enjoy the challenge of holding speed and making this section feel smooth!
We are back out to the river bed too soon for my liking and make our way back across the rocks to the Van. As the end draws near I am wondering why I dont manage to get out on these sort of tracks more often!!