The Big Breezy Oxford Loop
Was a lovely still day in Christchurch when I picked up Mike. The asphalt in his drive was looking more like a pump track than a driveway with the way the liquefaction from the recent earthquake had reshaped the surface, and driving across Christchurch to get to his place felt much more like driving some out back 4wd track with humps and holes all through it than the nice flat roads that we used to have.
Arriving at the start of the ride and it was quite breezy. A quick look at the cloud formations and I was pretty sure it was going to be blowing pretty hard up the top, but that is nothing new for New Zealand mountains!
We set off at midday on a beautiful sunny day. It definitely felt good to be out of town and letting our tensions ease away into the great outdoors. The track climbs up a ridge and soon had the sweat pouring off me. In the shelter of the trees we could hear the wind roaring through the branches above us. About half the way up the hill we popped out of the forest and into the tussocks and scrub and got the full force of the wind! It was hard to stand in places and I kept missing foot holds as I was blown off course.
Having a bike on your back that acts as a sail definitely did not help!! I had to put a jacket and hat on as the wind chill was cooling me much quicker than the physical exertion was warming me, which is unusual for me as I usually survive most rides in just 1 riding top.
It took a bunch more effort than usual to gain the summit and Mike and I were very glad to be able to shelter behind one of the rock walls that previous wind buffeted people had built on the summit.
From the summit we were heading straight into the teeth of the wind down a ridge. Being steep it was easy enough to gain speed, but the strength of the wind made it pretty hard to stay on line and on track. Once you get off line however you soon realise that the riding on and off track is not very different. It is all steep and rocky with random tussocks and drops and is more a matter of picking good line that goes vaguely in the direction you want!
Along the open ridge we started to get side on to the wind, which was even worse. Trying to stay on the narrow piece of hardpack track so we could pedal was almost impossible with the gusts of wind first pushing you off the track one way and then easing right off so that you over compensate to the other side. Repeat this process over and over! It was great to get a bit more speed as the track steepened and be able to stay on line better.
The track soon drops through some scrub and rocky outcrops before dropping into the forest. It was so nice to drop into the trees and be sheltered. The first tree section is also great fun with much switching of direction through tight trees over steep masses of roots. Too quickly we were at the bog which signals the first of the climbs on the way back down. Bike back on shoulder and my legs are starting to complain that they have done enough walking up hills today. Another fun downhill section from the top of the walk which once again heads up steeply. From the top of this climb we were away down the trail for good. Bombing the straights and pumping the corners. Lofting over root masses and drops, and carefully picking lines down the challenging sections.
There is a rock bluff about three quarters of the way down the hill which we do not ride. This bluff signals the start of my favorite section of this ride. From here the ridge goes from super steep to a gradient that is just perfect for fun biking and the trail switches from one side of the ridge to the other very quickly leading to a downhill pump track. Pump the corner then unweight and pump into the next corner. Add in tree roots, trees, rocks and nice roll over lumps in the track and you have one seriously fun piece of track! There is one tricky section to give you a bit more of an adrenaline blast before pumping your way off down the track again.
Very suddenly you pop out onto the main Wharfedale track and there is a sense of disappointment that the track was over so quickly… although it has taken almost an hour to get down from the top! Time really flies when you are having fun!!
From here it is part pedal and part fun downhill trails for the best bit of an hour to get out. Still good fun biking, but it pales in comparison to the descent from the top. Back to the van and we are soon at the Oxford pub with a jug of cold and very refreshing beer! Beer always tastes soo much better after a good mission on the bike!