Best Laid Plans of Mice and Mountain Bikers|
Simon "The Tormentor" Brown
Tuesday, June 19, 2001
(Canterbury, New Zealand) The Tormentor has just turned forty years old, fourteen of those with a mountain bike; he is married to the most awesome woman, has two of the best behaved children in the world, and is apt to hallucinate from time to time, especially after long hard bike rides. He lives in Christchurch, NZ and loves it!
Well "Barman" had assured us it would be an easy ride, no big steep hills, he was right of course, just forgot to mention the stream crossings, fallen trees, land slides, millions of slippery tree roots, and of course the mud!
It all started great, a day off work is always great. Barman arrived to pick us up, Bricky wasnít coming to much work on - yeah right! So it was just me "Barman" and the "Toon Man" who arrived by bike, fully laden, trying to look as if the pack on his back wasnít heavy. We loaded up the car and headed off - a bit late but hey no problem!
We got within two kmís of the Track and then I got us lost and had to ask directions, just like a bunch of city boys! Finally we got there, parked the car, unloaded the bikes and got ourselves psyched up, a quick photo and into it! Itís 22 km to the hut, easy, - a bit late but hey no problem!
But wait! Let me just set the scene with a bit more detail, the last two weeks have been some of the wettest of the winter, the last two days have been clear and fine, city streets are clean and dry, do I feel the beginning of a "false sense of security". Do I hell! MOBsters being gullible creatures we blaze onwards.
The gentle uphill in the lightly bush clad hills was on wide smooth single track, my pack felt good, the Giant working well, we all shed our warm clothing getting into the first couple of kmís. The track then took a gradual descent deeper into the bush the track narrowed, twisting and winding we whooped it up. "Barman" the fittest of us headed his GT off into the distance, and as soon as the track started to climb again he disappeared altogether, I knew that the climb from here would be long so I settled down to a pace I felt I could maintain. I was soon riding along on my own really loving the bush, and native birds. At each of the streams there was a strong well-built bridge, some with excellent views. Where ever little creeks crossed the track logs were installed to guide the water through the track, these were easily ridden over. The track slowly became wetter as we climbed, the trees denser almost closing out the blue sky above, tree roots gnarled their way onto the track, to challenge the unwary rider.
Then my first stream crossing without a bridge, hey it was a novelty, the guyís from DOC must have missed this one, off the bike down the steep bank push the bike across skipping from rock to rock - donít want wet feet do we - up the other side, back onto the bike, whatís that ringing noise in my head, itís the Alarm Bells everyone sayís they should have listened to! They are never loud enough I say, and anyway they seem to have stopped for now! We plough onwards.
As we climb the trail slowly almost unnoticeably deteriorates, more tree roots, more water runoff, more mud, and no more strong well-built bridges, but lots more streams. Suddenly I spot "Barman" ahead imagining he has stopped to let the rest of us catch up, I almost fail to notice the huge mud plug the trail is about to go through, it is then I notice the camera, good old "Barman", thanks mate!
I charge through, or into, or something, lots of mud, yuck! "Barman" voices the statement of the trip "It wasnít this bad the last time I was here!"
I wait for "Toon Man" at the next stream, as I wash down my bike, I notice my boots are wet through, still the feet are warm. "Toon Man" arrives, we cross the stream, he mumbles something about this being a bit tougher going than he had imagined, I agree, then get back to the job at hand. Into the second hour, no change, we wind steadily upward "Barman somewhere ahead, way ahead, and "Toon Man" behind somewhere.
I am now walking the bike more than Iím riding due to the track condition, and my lack of Hans Ray style skills. This of course doesnít stop me attempting some incredible feats of balance, one of which ends with me trying to imitate a flightless bird trying to fly, and fly I did over the bars into the unknown. I land on my shoulder and pack; unhurt until the bike arrives, with the old pedal to the back of the knee hit, ouch! Back up onto the bike, wiser and wearier. Half an hour later I see "Barman" Heís riding towards me, this must be some ploy to really unnerve me or something, but no it seems he to has had some less than successful attempts to negotiate parts of the track while mounted, and he has lost his watch. We scour the bush beside the track, no watch.
"Meet you at the top" he yells as he sets of again, "Itís not to far now" "Toon Man" arrives we push on together for bit further, his legs are giving him trouble, heís more used to being in the saddle than walking, arenít we all! We stop for a quick snack and drink then start the "Itís not far now" bit, which is actually quite far, or it seems quite far, Amazonian Jungle type far actually. Fallen trees cross the path at the most awkward of times, we lift our bikes over, then clamber over ourselves, my bike has gained at least twenty pound since we started riding I am convinced of it. The water is running in little rivers down the track in places, we keep plodding onwards and upwards. I mean where is all this water coming from, it hasnít rained in two days, where nearly on the snow line and ............SNOW!
Warm sunny weather and snow equals runoff, lots of it! Live and learn I suppose! Gotta keep going, I mean itís not far now, plod, plod, plod, push, push, push. A flash of yellow jacket ahead alerts us "Barman" looms into view sitting on a large DOC sign. The top!!!
We gaze at the sign, "Toon Man" turns a pale colour, I try to remember where the first aid kit is just in case he faints, the sign reads under an arrow back the way we have come "Car Park 2-3 Hours" next to this is another arrow pointing along the direction of our intended travel "Wharfedale Hut 2-3 Hours".
"Itís easy, all downhill from here!" Exclaims "Barman" as he hurtles off down the track, leaving "Toon" and me sitting there in a state of deep depression. Iím pleased at the speed of his departure as I feel sure that if he had dallied to long "Toon Man" would have dragged him into the bush and well who knows!
Still downhill must be better than uphill, we climb onto our bikes and enjoy the experience of being carried downwards, and yes for some distance gravity is our ally, our brakes making unpleasant sounds like the roughest sand paper imaginable every time the mud caked brakes are applied. Down we twist through the tight clinging branches of the bush, we soon reach our first stream crossing. My brakes are now feeling non existent, just a little worrying in the present circumstances, and "Toonís" Milazo is suffering the same problem. The streams are on a much steeper descent on this side of the pass, and many of the stream crossings have become land slips with no obvious track and a tangled mess of mud, rocks and bush the crossings are quite tricky, some feel even mildly dangerous, the track being much more slippery here than on the uphill. "Toon" and I help each other through the crossings, how "Barman" has crossed these on his own is a mystery to me.
There is little if no small talk now, we just keep riding where we can , and walking the rest. Another factor is now coming into play, the light is starting to fade and as time passes the sections of track under the canopy of the larger trees is becoming quite dark, the thought of being in these conditions in the dark does not appeal to either "Toon Man" or myself. We started out a bit late, could be a problem. The trail winds on and on, the gradient slowly easing, until we finally hit the river on the valley floor. We can now ride more and more, the only problem being the darkness, we continue blindly until suddenly the track stops, there is a drop down into the riverbed, and no sign of any track.
"You can cross over just up there a bit!" a voice calls from the other side, I finally manage to spot "Barman" on the far bank only twenty metres away, we follow his instructions wading across the freezing water with our bikes, he hauls our bikes up the vertical river bank, and clamber up best we can. Our bikes are forced through the extremely dense foliage until we break out onto the trail.
I question "Barman" as to how far it is to the hut, images of us sleeping on the side of the trail, flashing through my mind in very realistic fashion. We are reassured that it is only about 2 minutes away.
I ride off ahead, not wanting to let "Barman" get to far ahead in the darkness, and almost immediately I a hear a cry to turn left, I look left and through the gloom, am struck by the most excellent of sights, the Wharfedale Hut 10 metres away. YES!!!.
We ride to the porch, park our bikes and stumble inside, packs off, candles out, we sit in their warm glow exhausted. After some minutes we slowly begin to get into warm dry clothing, followed by setting up of cooking equipment, while "Barman" heads off to get the log burner going for some heat. As we prepare our food and eat, we regale each other with our adventures of the day. A game of cards never happens, "Toonís" legs are stiffening up, all the walking is not been good for them. Heís not keen on riding out, so we discuss options for riding out, and decide to wait until morning to see how we feel. Nature calls, I grudgingly climb out of my sleeping back and head for the door, outside itís getting cold, how pleased I am that we are not sleeping rough! An opossum scratches at a nearby tree and runs off as I approach, ah the outdoors, job done, itís back to the hut and into my waiting sleeping bag as quick as I can.
I check the mobile phone, no signal, I say a quiet prayer for my wife and kids, I love to get away, but I miss them dearly when I do. "Barman" blows out the candles, the darkness, broken only by a slowly rising full moon, it must be full as I burst into song scaring the heck out of "Barman" and "Toon" and most of the wildlife in the valley - "SUNDOWN YOUíD BETTER TAKE CARE IF I FIND YOU BEEN CREEPíIN ROUND MY BACK STAIR" - I couldnít remember the rest and I feared for my life if I continued, so sanity returned, and we all drifted into our dreams.
Five Oí Clock the next morning, the dawn chorus started, what an amazing sound, if the others were listening they didnít show it, the birds songs were just for God and me. Did I mention it was cold, really cold! When we finally got up, breakfasted and went outside we found the mud frozen to the bikes! "Toonís" legs were not good and so we decided it was best that "Barman", who had continually told us he had, enjoyed every minute of the ride the day before, would now return via the track , get the car and then drive the thirty kmís around to meet us on the road into Lees Valley, this was a ride of about ten kmís for us to the road. "Barman" assured us he would be extremely careful as he would be on his own. We said a prayer and our goodbyes and headed off .
The track started off much the same as before, I wondered how "Toonís" knee would hold out, especially after a few minutes we had to divert on a high track to avoid crossing the main river again. Half way along this track as it cut across a steep bluff, there had been a rock-fall and I spent some minutes moving big rocks off the track to give us enough space to pass. We also noted that you could see down river to the Townsend Hut were we knew the four wheel drive track and some easy riding started. Once we had descended from this diversion we were able to ride which greatly helped "Toonís" legs.
At the Townend Hut I had a quick look at our brakes which had by now thawed out in the Spring sunshine, they were not in good shape, I reversed "Toonís" pads which gave him some braking on the rear, and adjusted mine best I could, I suspected I was out of pad on the rear by the look of the rim, I didnít have any spares on me so I just ignored the problem.
The road from here was good for riding and we made some good time the only problem being a couple of fords of the main river which we took very carefully. We soon made it to the Lees Valley road and headed for the Ashley Gorge the climb was easy not to steep and the view was awesome. We then had a long downhill, with no slips, tree roots, streams or mud, the only real problem was the brakes, I tried to keep the speed down and the used the front brakes most of the time, they sounded terrible when I used them. I stopped and waited for "Toon" who was finding the going a lot easier as he could now ride his bike. At the bridge half way through the gorge, we had a quick drink, wondering where "Barman" would be by now. Then we headed up the next climb there had been four or five vehicles pass us since we joined the road, but I must say I was rather surprised, though relieved to see "Barmans" car drive into view after only a couple hundred metres of the climb.
We quickly loaded our bikes and gear, got changed into fresh clothes and headed for Oxford and Lunch. Awesome chicken and gherkin sandwiches with hot chips and a cold drink! The drive home was spent giving accounts of the different routes out to our meeting spot.
All in all an excellent ride, and a great night away, even if it was a bit more taxing than some of us expected. Upon returning home I re-read a Wharfedale Track review I had read before leaving:
The DOC gave mountain bikers the "all clear" on this track last year after upgrading several footbridges. Now it is almost 100% ridable for bikers of average ability. On a dry day even a fit beginner should have a ball here. The narrow track has a good gradient, it winds its way through beautiful beech forest on a carpet of leaf litter. Itís our pick for the best ride in Canterbury.
WELL LET ME TELL YOU................!!!!