Its been a while since I went up Blowhard. I remember it being pretty damn good fun last time and so when an evening mission was planned to go ride it I was keen. Away and out of town and battling the cross winds on the plains to get out to Oxford. A quick stop for essentials such as beer and chocolate and we were soon getting on our bikes at the bottom of the track.
No such thing as a warm up, we were soon sweating our way up the track on a perfectly warm and windless summer evening. Definitely a stark contrast to the Mt Grey gale we rode on Sunday! The track up follows a ridge and has endless steep pinches followed by rideable flat or slightly down sections. As you climb the steeps get steeper and rockier until you end up having to walk, but even these ups are interspaced with fun little downhills and plenty of riding up the hill.
Once you get up to the ridge there are many open sections and again it steps up and down as you climb towards Mt Richardson. There were fantastic views out over the plains, Lees Valley and the other foothills. With the sun low in the sky we kept moving towards the top.
A couple of hours and we were on the top watching the sun set over the Southern Alps. Food in mouths and lights were put on the bikes.
The trails on the way up look like plenty of fun going the other way and we were all keen to hit them up and have some fun! Along the top ridge there are some fast wide open sections interspaced with tight forest sections and rocky/rooty trails. We were soon zooming down the trails only really needing the lights for the forest sections. The tracks are super fun to descend with twisting chutes that act like berms to throw you around the corners.
Once we had traversed the top ridge and started dropping back down towards the van the fun started in earnest. The trail is chunky and rocky and has been water eroded over time leading to very amusing corners with chutes and lots of rocks and ledges to pop off. Further down the trail turns into a choss pile of steep rocky loose baby heads which had Laurence giggling uncontrollably at me managing to stay upright on a bike which was heading every which way and all over the trail underneath me. We made it down somehow managing to keep just within the limit of out of control and loving every second of it.
Some fast 4wd track sections soon had us back at the van finding the beer and food. Blowhard is a fantastically fun piece of trail that does not get ridden anywhere near as much as it should!
On another note, my new Mavic Alpine XLs have now been on a couple of rides and I am finding them good. Stiff on the bike and very comfortable to walk in. There is some pressure on the top of my foot just in front of the ankle from the metal buckle where the velcro strap folds back, but I think this is likely to disappear as the shoe wears in. I have only had short walks carrying the bike so far but I think they are feeling promising for a much longer walk. I will report back once I have done a carry of over an hour up a hill. At least the Blowhard track managed to get a bunch of mud and dirt on them. The white colour is on the way to being covered up!
Someone had the bright idea that doing the descent from Mt Oxford in the dark would be fun. It is about 1200m of descent, much of it on very fun beech forest trails!! 5 intrepid lads were keen and headed out one fine Saturday.
We set off up the hill. Weather at the bottom was very balmy for mid may and I was dripping with sweat on the way up the first part of the hill in shorts and a T-shirt.
As always the first half hour or so is rideable on and off. The lower part of the track was quite boggy, but once into the beech forest it was quite nice and there was plenty of traction. As you climb it gets a whole lot steeper and before long the easiest way up the hill is to put your bike on your back.
A little over an hour after starting you usually pop out of the trees and into the scrub. The views over the plains and foothills of Canterbury are superb. Once out of the trees it was not so warm and there was a fair bit of wind gusting. Layers and hats started appearing on the boys!
Pads and extra layers were put on at the top. The wind was howling and it was freezing. We decided that hanging around on the top was a very silly idea and bolted off down the hill towards the forested ridge!
By the time I was halfway down the ridge my hands were frozen (I grabbed the wrong gloves by accident) and braking felt like trying to operate a couple of blocks of ice against my brake levers. Trying to stay upright against the blustery cross wind made it extremely difficult to stay on the narrow piece of track and a number of off-piste excursions were taken! I was extremely glad to get into the forest and the shelter of the trees. This is also where the track starts to get really fun, ducking and diving between trees, over rooty and loamy soil. I was even glad to see the first uphill, as trudging up this with my bike on my shoulder bought a whole lot of warmth back to my body!
One fun (but quite wet this trip) flowing downhill section, and another sharp up, and then we were on our way down through the trees illuminating our own little world of track. If anything the night lights make the trail look smoother, and I was easily able to see everything I needed to be able to ride it well. A little bit of moisture made the surface unpredictable in places, but it was super fun. Every time we stopped there were huge stupid grins on all our faces. We could easily see the lights of Oxford and Christchurch twinkling through the trees and the moon at about 3/4ers was a constant companion above us.
Once off the ridge there was a bit of a mud plug to get back to the van. Plenty of slippery mucky goodness, along with a few mishaps including a full body mud splat! Back in the van and quickly home to food and beer. Damn fine way to spend a Saturday evening!!
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!