Tuesday, January 29, 2013

2013 Akatarawa Attack

There are a few things I dislike about the Akatarawa Attack - an annual eight hour mountain bike orienteering event in the Akatarawa Forest Park, north of Wellington.  The first one to bug me is always the start time - maps at 0730 means alarm before six, night-time in my book.  I also kind of dread the duration - eight hours on a mountain bike in tiger country is hard work - and, the fraction of those eight hours that I spend pushing my bike.  Unlike the Great Forest Rogaine in Rotorua, the Wellingtonians insist the bike goes all the way to the control, but there's a fair bit of unrideable track in the Akas.

There's also a fair bit of pressure.  Simon and I rode the inaugural (4 hour) event together in 2006, with his brother Paul, and before we were close friends.  Since then we've entered the 8-hour event as the Makara Peak Mudslingers, and with the exception of 2009, we've won the thing.  Some years in style, other years despite difficulties (usually me blowing up)!  

It turns out I much more easily forget the wonderful things about the events.  If only I kept these things written down...

My Yeti ASR-5C was gleaming in the back of the car when I picked up Simon at 6:15.  I'd been administering a user survey at the Makara Peak carpark the day before, and took the opportunity to give my fine steed a good clean during rare quiet spots.  Close inspection and a visit to Mud Cycles later, it was also sporting a new pair of rear brake pads, and was good to go, remarkably the original drive train still going strong!

I'd been disconcertingly unwell during the week - an inner ear problem was resulting in a wave of nausea pretty much every time I turned my head.  A short and sharp road race on Wednesday had been no thang, but working, doing shit around home, and particularly driving were horrible affairs.  I'd been to the doctor on Thursday and was prescribed some anti-nausea tablets, but was told the problem was viral, so I'd have to wait it out.  I was also told not to ride my bike, but I've ignored that advice before...

Consequently, I was feeling very queasy when we arrived at Whareroa Farm, just by MacKay's Crossing at around 7am.  This gave us plenty of time to get organised - bottles in the bikes, map boards on, gear stowed in our bags, and all checked in with the organisers.  I'd turned up with three jerseys, and despite a warm forecast, I couldn't quite bring myself to wear my white Cape Epic "Finnisher" jersey.  Nor was riding Black Ops a sensible idea, and so it was back to the old faithful, Roadworks blue, and a nice compromise. 

Despite my nausea, Simon and I were pretty chilled out.  We got the maps at 7:30, whereupon the planning, and head-scratching, began.  The course included Queen Elizabeth Park in the west, "Havoc Forest" in the south, a cluster of controls in the valley which includes "Ho Chi Minh" and "Boobies", another cluster in and around "The Three Sisters" down into the Maungakotukutuku Valley, and a bunch of controls in Whareroa Farm itself. 

QE Park seemed straightforward, and we initially decided we'd do it last, enabling a hasty retreat when the finish time loomed.  Penalty points for lateness are hefty, and it doesn't take long to lose hard won points.

Also, there were two routes east, so obviously we'd have to do one out, and one back in.  The eastern part of the course was tricky though.  With a fat ridge in the middle (Titi and Big Ring Boulevard), and singletrack descending both north and south.  We'd have to do some of them in the wrong direction.

We talked a lot about "this way or that", and in amongst that discussion, tried to think about best sequences in the various clusters independently of the broader picture.

In the end, the debate converged very quickly to an actual plan.  Very quickly, but from a starting point a long way away.  All of a sudden, we'd decided to do QE2 first (rather than last), Whareroa Farm last (rather than first), and everything else in the opposite direction to what we'd almost settled on!  We weren't totally sure what to do about the Ho Chi Minh area, nor the Three Sisters, but we could think about that on the way there - roughly 3 hours' riding by our estimation.

After a third toilet stop for the morning, the bibs were finally up.  We were briefed (and warned about the mud out on course), and we took our spots on the start line.  There were only three ways to leave the start area, and it looked like ours was the least popular.  Even the team Follow Simon and John didn't seem to be living up to their name. 

Without any further ado, we were off!  After a few hundred metres, Simon and I headed into the SH1 underpass, followed closely by Rachel Drew and Mark Hearfield.  Emerging on the far side, we realised our timing was appalling!  The lights at the level crossing had just started to flash, and by the time we stopped, the barrier arms were on their way down.

Of course, the train was still a wee way off, and so by the time the barriers were up again, we'd probably spent over half the elapsed time stationary!  There was little we could do, and it reinforced our already chilled out vibe.  The wrong turn we made immediately thereafter did little to dampen our enthusiasm, and we were soon plunging through a stream, Simon on his bike, and me on my feet - we'd observe this pattern throughout the eight hours.  Chain suck sucks, and I'd rather lift and run as a precaution. I dare say Simon's got the perfect anti-chain-suck pedal stroke, while mine is at the other end of the spectrum.

An equestrian tried to deter us as we scaled a gate across into "private land"; the terse response (times two, almost in unison) "we're in an event" seemed to satisfy her.

After a series of turns, we finally had our first points - always a sweet moment.  We saw Rachel and Mark coming the opposite way as we left the next control - a super fun part of the event is trying to work out where on earth the team you've just seen has come from.  Usually I manage not to focus on the next obvious question ("should we have done that too?!").  The controls were coming thick and fast, and while we were not 100% accurate, we were only losing a few seconds each time we erred.  We made good work of the penultimate controls, successfully negotiating a fairly long sequence of intersections without having to stop to consult the map, and nailed our approach and egress from the 80-pointer and the last in the set.

(For those of you with the map, our sequence was:  41-61-31-21-51-32-22-81)

We passed by the start/finish soon after, quickly telling Steve Meeres about the train!  He told us we should've checked the timetable, and also that we'd pretty much met his expectations about how long it would take over there - an hour.  We had 330 points in the bag, out of a total of around 2200.  That was a great start, and we were pleased to have done it with clean bikes, fresh legs, in the cool of the morning, and before it got too busy with walkers.  While we hadn't analysed points per area before we got going, it was probably the best return on the map too.

Next up was an out and back on a bit of private land.  The track was in much better nick than the map indicated.  Shown as "Rough/overgrown, very slow riding", it was probably not quite that bad for the most part.  The last 150m was a totally gross push, but we stuck to our original plan and returned the way we'd come.  A near-constant source of tension in these events is reacting emotionally to unpleasantness.  Undoing hard work (by riding back the way you've come) is often the best course of action.  Strategy developed sitting restfully in the front seats of a car is usually pretty good, while that done on the fly, usually while temporarily rooted is often poor.  Go figure!

Back on the main climb, we spotted Rachel and Mark up ahead.  Where the hell had they come from?!

Random Mountainbike Orienteers Ahoy (Photo: Steve Meeres)

We soon had another couple of easy controls before a bit of pushing took us to our first hundred-pointer, up above "HAVOC Forest".  Our route through here was probably not optimal (up through 67, around and down through 55) but it was effective, and we were soon making our way out of the confusing area, all points and self-esteem intact.  We got a little confused on our way down the valley, with one "Maintained surface, easy riding" looking more like a stream than a gravel road.

We bumped into Mary (also rocking the Roadworks colours) and Dave a couple of times before blasting past Orange Hut, and hooking around into the Karapoti Course near the bottom of Dopers.

(Our sequence:  83-66-37-103-67-55-92-45-68, for 570 points.  All up this took just over two hours)

We'd been deliberating throughout the morning on how on earth to do the next bit.  We were basically going against the flow, and we knew any elevation was going to be hard won.  Nonetheless, we decided to push up the bottom of Ho Chi Minh for a control before returning to the stream, and walking on up.  At least riding uphill through the Toi Toi resulted in fewer cuts than we'd have got blasting down.

We were pleasantly surprised by the our first foray onto singletrack, and the descent at least had been 100% rideable.  The track up the valley was confusing at times, but Simon had point and made a good fist of it.  A fair chunk was rideable, albeit slowly.

We soon came to the bottom of Boobies, and I got a bit worried on account of my eyes not really being good enough to notice the track was doing exactly what it was shown to do on the map.

After a grovel Simon finally relented to my concern.  Fortunately, he'd noticed a small track about 10m before we'd stopped (I hadn't).  It was a hell of a lot less major than what we were on (despite being the same line-type), but the shape of the junction was good, so we took it.  As the "it must be here somewhere" sensations started to peak, we found the next control, and were off again.

Most of the time I was walking my bike, but the going was reasonably quick.  We had a bit of a scramble up to the next control, and I was super impressed with Simon's navigation through to the final control in this shitty area!  Had I been on point, I think we would have got well lost.

We'd seen Mark and Rachel again, and Mary and Dave, and also a couple of other teams, and we felt we were in good shape when we popped out onto Big Ring Boulevard, just below the major left hander at the end of the ridge.  Richard and Mark shot past in their Roadworks Blues (such common tops these days...!)  We snuck down Perhams Rd to nab another control (there were Mark and Rachel again, how, why?), before seeing Dave and Mary en route to Titi.

Without discussing the relative merits of doing so, we hammered up the climb, and it was in rough shape.  After emerging from another bit of hardly rideable singletrack, we made a quick decision, and decided on an out-and-back we knew would be nasty.  I was pretty poked, still reeling from the climb, and foolishly said "let's do it - how bad can it be...?"  We descended for almost a kilometre on Boobies before turning around and pushing back up.  And then it was into the Three Sisters...

(This lot had been slow, but essential scoring:  73-102-44-72-64-71-57 for 460 hard-won points)

We took the second singletrack off the somewhat arduous 4WD climb, and were soon at an intersection.  We continued on the first sister, grabbed a few more points, before returning to the intersection.  A quick hello to Dave and Mary, and then we were off again.  Soon after the next control we were at an intersection which wasn't totally consistent with the map.  It looked much more like the next one down, but we were sure we hadn't travelled nearly far enough, so we followed our instincts and took the right turn instead of the left we had planned for the next turn.

We were pleased that the doubletrack quickly reverted to narrow (and mostly unrideable, for me at least) singletrack.  I came around a corner to find Simon standing with his bike.  He'd been outriding me regularly, and had been stopping lest we get separated.  He said something that sounded like "I just did a somersault" but he looked fine, and I assumed he'd said something else.  I replied "cool" which he later told me was pretty unsympathetic given the somersault he'd actually just done!!!

We soon got to the 4WD intersection we'd wondered about minutes earlier.  Our plan was to push up it before descending the final sister for an 80-point control.  We were starting to get nervous about the remaining time though.  And besides, we were tired, and dirty, and we decided to pike on it, descending the 4WD straight into the Maungakotukutuku Valley instead.  This control was the third on the map we'd ditched, but the first we'd intended to actually go for.  Consequently, it stung a little, but we agreed that it made sense.

I'd refolded my map over to a 3x enlargement, but I couldn't tell which track we'd taken into the area.  Simon set me right, and then I was on point into the next controls.  We crossed a big bog, hoping it was the one shown on the map.  Then we swung left, picked up a side singletrack, soon after turned right, and voila!  It's sometimes a great relief to find these things.  If the control is not exactly where you're expecting it, it can be incredibly hard to deduce where you actually are.  Luckily we don't often have to confront that.

I called Simon on to a bit of singletrack away from the control, and as it ducked and dived, I started to second-guess my decision.  I was soon put out of my misery though, and we were travelling again on much faster track.  We hooked onto the main gravel road leading up the valley, counting off driveways through to our turn off.  We saw another team crossing the stream towards us, giving us some extra confidence that we were in the right place.  We clambered up a bank, and onto a bit of track that took us through to our next control.

We were very lucky the maps we use are so damn accurate - even though the track was sometimes barely visible on the ground, we took the turns shown, and before long were at the next control.  A few minutes on, we copped out.  It would have taken only a few minutes of frustrating singletrack to grab another 30 points.  While we thought we probably had time, we'd seen so many other teams  we knew hadn't yet been to QE Park, (and we'd missed so few controls), and we felt the points probably weren't necessary.  Lazy buggers!

(Dropping down into the valley netted us 340 points via:  65-91-53-101-42)

We had a nice little smash along the road before turning off onto Campbell's Mill Rd where we met Ant and Ian.  I got a bit discombobulated when they and Simon all disappeared off up a track that didn't appear to be on my map.  Nor was the gate we were at shown, prompting me to say "where the fuck are you guys going?" without noticing they were all standing at a control.  Lousy timing on my part...!

That out of my system, it was time to do some bike racing, and Simon and I drifted off the front, leaving Ant and Ian to finally follow us.  We passed the turnoff down to Whararoa Farm, and pushed on.  The control up the road seemed to take a long time to come.  I eased off a bit towards the top, though we still left the control just before Ian and Ant arrived.

We had a great blast back down the hill, before turning into our final big descent.  The map was a little confusing here, but Simon seemed to know where he was going.  My Yeti was lapping it up, and I was enjoying not feeling totally rooted - a rare thing at the sharp end of an Ak Attack!

We had to shoot up a steep 4WD track which we were both happy to walk.  Mary and Dave were heading further up (where did they come from?!) which was a bit of a surprise to us.  The next couple of controls were easy, with fun track connecting them up.  It was a shame that we weren't out of time, and we were forced to grovel up a hill to collect our final control.

(The run to the finish:  52-63-62-54-34-35-43 for 320 points)

We were able to cruise back from here, and from memory had about 15 minutes in hand - more than enough for that damn 30-pointer!  It would've been nice to miss only three controls, but in the giant scheme of things, all but four was pretty damn cool.  Finding the controls is pretty fun, so the more the merrier!

The finish area had a very nice vibe.  The four hour teams had been due half an hour earlier than the eight hour teams, so most of the field were back.  We enjoyed chatting to various people, trying to make some sense of what we'd seen out on course.

As is always the case, I struggled to tally our points, not helped by the fact that no-one seemed to know what the total on the map was.  In the end, we settled on 2020 out of a possible 2220.  Not a bad haul, and more than enough to successfully fend off Ian and Ant, in second, on 1710, obviously short a visit to QE2 Park!

Simon and I had every right to be thrilled with our race.  We'd really enjoyed each other's company, and managed to find a nice level of intensity that meant we had time to chat, plot and scheme, and not stress out at all about the outcome. 

We talked during the race a bit about what makes us such a good team.  I've always thought it odd that the two of us are so compatible.  I've got almost 20kg on Simon, and am quite a different rider to him.  But, as we discussed, we're rarely both rooted at the same time, so one of us is usually riding below our limit.  That we're both decent navigators is also important - there's usually someone in a good position to take point.

We also make decisions well.  Neither of us dominates, but nor are we shy to insist.  We both listen well to the other, and consider carefully the alternative viewpoint.  Consequently, we rarely screw up, reinforcing our intuitive approach.

And, we trust each other, which helps us be bolder, I suspect.

For my part, I was bloody pleased to enjoy the ride as much as I did.  The morning's (and week's) nausea faded as soon as I got underway, and never reared its ugly head as the day went on.  Imagine the delicious irony (and alarm) at being diagnosed with "viral labyrinthitis" a few days out from an orienteering event!  As Simon said in response to my txt "You are pulling my leg?"

That was a lot of fun, mate! 

* * * * *

Thanks very much to HVMBC for designing a great course, and going to the significant effort of putting on an event of this type.  The map was absolutely spot on, as usual.  And, that's much appreciated.

Speaking of the map, here it is, with our route shown.  Thanks to Orienteering Hutt Valley for permission to post it.  Under no circumstances access the area south of the start finish triangle (shown with "pvte").  This is private land that was kindly made available for the event, and the event only.  Cheers.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


(Updated, post Le Cycle-Tour de France...)

The second Tāwhio o Whanganui is just over a week away, and I'll be using it to check out the set of gear I'm planning on taking to France in June (minus my passport).  There really isn't a great deal of change from my Kiwi Brevet list, but it's wet outside, and I'm in the mood!  Hopefully this is useful to someone (other than me)!

* * * * *

On the bike...

  • Bibshorts
  • Jersey
  • Merino socks
  • Shoes
  • Cotton cap or buff
  • Gloves
  • Helmet
  • Sunglasses + neoprene strap
Riding attire

plus, in reserve

  • Kneewarmers
  • Thermal undershirt
  • Coat (including hood)
  • Overtrou
  • Beanie
  • Polypro gloves
This'll be Simon's least favourite image.  Sorry about the colourway mate...

I'm a huge fan of lycra jerseys, mostly because you can put a hell of a lot in the pockets, and they hold their form.  On my rare forays into the world of merino jerseys, the inevitable sagging-under-load makes me regret my choice.  If the weather is likely to be cold, it is hard to go by a Castelli Gabba.  The pockets are a tad on the small side, but the wind and water shedding properties are worth the ticket price.

I reckon bibs are great too.  Those roadies have been around a looooong time, and what's good enough for them is good enough for me.

I've recently bought a Gore Bike Wear Fusion GT jacket, and am super impressed with it.  A hood is available as an add on.  Ground Effect do great overtrou which keep you dry, but also keep the chill out on long descents (even if it's not raining...).

While I kind of like the idea of putting on a clean set of riding gear each day, I detest the thought of hauling smelly clothes.  So, I don't take spares.  The chamois gets a good rinse each evening, and is rolled up in a towel if one is available.  The first few minutes in the morning are always unpleasant, but that is short-lived.

Off the bike...

  • Lightweight merino t-shirt
  • Long-sleeved merino shirt  (On reflection, I think this is overkill, and was a pre-jacket garmet...)
  • Ground Effect Baked Alaska
  • Mont Bell Ultralight Thermawrap jacket
  • Spare merino socks
  • Merino undies
  • Shorts
  • Merino long-johns or Skins tights (false science be damned!)
Mont Bell jacket in the compression sack

Thanks to Ollie Whalley for the Mont Bell recommendation - as he told me, and I've since discovered myself, it's a fine bit of kit. 

A while ago, I did weigh undies+shorts vs a pair of boardies, and the boardies won out.  For a short trip I might save a few grams and go with the boardies, but I don't think I could cope psychologically with a month without undies.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and all that...

I'm a credit-card tourist, and obviously pack assuming I'll be indoors once I stop riding.  Even if some of the above gets called into the "On the bike" category, I reckon I'll be warm enough come the end of the day.

For the bike...

For storage purposes, I'm a big fan of the following combo:

The Ortlieb bag is not the most beautiful thing, but god damn, it works.  Super easy to get in and out of (a single velcro closure), and the capacity is sufficient for the amount of gear I take, but not so big that you worry about the mount breaking off-road.

The Revelate Viscacha's only downside is its pronunciation.  It is a great size, and beautifully designed.  It seems incredibly stable, and moves with the bike in a way that lets you forget it's there. The fabric is waterproof, but it's not seam-sealed, so I've added the dry bag (all 40g of it) - uber lightweight fabric means it's easy to stuff it into the Viscacha.  The taper up to the seatpost is great too for minimal thigh rub.  A bit of elastic through the loops in the top of the bag make for easy stowage of a jacket (or jandals, if they make the cut)! That all said, I'd definitely swap it out for a freeload rack for a trip with a bit of technical mountainbiking, since the bags don't cope well with emergencies off the back of the seat!

I usually go without the tri bag, but it's a great option if you've got a long way between shops.  It'll fit almost as much food as a jersey pocket can.  The one shown is a Revelate Gas Tank - as yet unused - but it looks the bizzo.

  • Two spare tubes
  • Pump
  • Patch kit (including new glue) + Park pre-glued patches
  • Tyre boot (I use a bit of old road tyre)
  • (Tyre lever)
  • Chain breaker + powerlink
  • Multitool
  • Brake pads
  • Small leatherman (Squirt, including knife and pliers)
  • Duct tape
  • A few zip ties
  • Small bottle of lube
  • Small rag
  • Two 900mL bottles
  • Rear light
  • Front light or headtorch
  • GPS unit

I mount the pump to the bike, and for MTB trips I tape the tubes to the frame (near the junction of the seat tube.  This is a bad spot for them if you wear baggies - I know Jasper rubbed holes in both his tubes at the Kiwi Brevet.  But for me and my spandex, it's not an issue.  Roadie tubes take up a fraction of the space, so they make it into the handlebar bag.

I try not to use a tyre lever at home, so usually don't pack one.  It's probably worth checking your tyre and rim combination though. I've heard a quick-release lever is a good emergency option.

The rear light I put on my seatstay since the seatpost real estate is the Viscacha's.  A bike-mounted front light is a bother with the handlebar bag and is a good reason to avoid riding in the dark.  To France I took a USB charged Exposure Joystick.  It has three brightness settings and a bunch of other modes, mounts onto the helmet (or handlebar) with a simple plastic mount, and comes with a lanyard in case you don't duck low enough (not needed to date).

It's definitely worth being thoughtful with your multitool choice.  I've done at least one trip where I didn't have the right tool to replace the disk brake pads (I think an odd hex size), though I had the wrong pads too (I simply grabbed the "cycle touring kit" without thinking about which bike I'd last ridden).  Megan and I rebuilt an allen key set in Africa so we had everything on both bikes covered (within reason).  You might be able to forgo the chainbreaker too, though I prefer the dedicated, and less fiddly, tool.


  • "wallet" (coin bag from the bank, credit card, AA card, driver's license, EFT-POS card, a bit of cash)
  • Chamois cream
  • Sun cream
  • Lip balm
  • Throat lozenges.  Not in photo; added 21/3, after two consecutive long rides with a sore throat at the end.
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Anti-histamines
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Panadol
  • (others)
  • Survival bag
  • Cell phone
  • Cell phone USB cable
  • GPS USB cable
  • Korjo 4xUSB charger (not in photo)
  • Small combination cable lock
  • Paper maps/route instructions
  • a metre or two of toilet paper
  • emergency energy

The chamois cream I like is Sweet Cheeks Butt Butter - keeping me fresh since '09.  And, I swear by Sunsense Sport Gel.  I've decanted both these into smaller containers.  The little antibacterial hand wash bottles make an excellent sun screen repository. 

I'm still on the hunt for a regular supply of small toothpaste tubes...   Last resort might have to be Amazon, though, it may be that you have a dentist friend who might just happen to say, "I've got heaps of those at work, bowl around and pick some up"!  (Whoop whoop!)

I've loaded up a small pill bottle, but cram a few squares of toilet paper in the top to stop them moving around too much.  Would make quite a snort-fest combo if it all turned to powder!  

The charging solution picture failed miserably on the Tawhio - the current passed was not enough to cope with my phone and GPS unit, and I woke to one at 100%, and the other at 0%.   The Korjo 4xUSB power hub was a great catch at the airport on the way to France, and can cope with 4 devices at once.  Its only downside are the blue LEDs, though I've found draping my undies over it cuts the light out perfectly.   While looking for one recently, I discovered the most reliable stockist in Wellington was the airport. 

It would be really nice to have the USB cords at about a quarter of their current length, but it all seems really efficient as is. 

I think GU Chomps (with caffiene - not all flavours do) might be a pretty good energy option, though I have a small "V Pocket Rocket" which I carried last trip (but is otherwise untested). 

Extra extras...

I've got a
which I'll take with me for MTB-type tours.  Being thirsty sucks (as does a case of the shits...).

For France I'm also going to pack:
  • a musette (thanks for correcting my French Mel!!!) - a nice souvenir from the singlespeed champs a few years ago and a great way of hauling an extra bit of food for a short time
  • notebook and pen - I've no hope of remembering a month's worth of riding,  I don't want to type as I go, and listening to my own voice creeps me out
  • route summary and "business" cards, just in case people wonder
  • headphones (not used in 4800km in France, so I don't think I'd bother again)

Last, but certainly not least...

The one thing almost as important as the bike...

  • cell phone

A carefully selected humble cell phone doubles as a camera, backlit notepad - I've transcribed route notes into mine before leaving home, and made notes during the ride too, voice recorder, MP3 player (headphones provided separately), substitute GPS unit (?), and of course telecommunications device.

I now have a Sony Z3 Compact, which seems to take very nice photos (provided you don't scratch the shit out of the lens).  Keeping it in flight mode (and turning it off overnight I suppose) do wonders for the battery life.

* * * * *

Here's my Tāwhio o Whanganui rig ready to rock and roll...

16.6kg as shown (with empty bottles, and without the chock...)

It looks like a long list, but as you can see, it packs up nice and tight...

It gets Simon's seal of approval!

As always, feedback very welcome!  Happy packing!

PS:  I paid for everything I mentioned!

PPS:  Thanks to my wonderful daughter Kaitlyn for interrupting her school holiday to set up all the photos!  xxx

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Holiday Snaps

Four days aways from Wellington, fantastic company, and three sweet rides.  Here's some of the evidence...

Mike, Ash, Steven and I ready to roll out at the northern end of the Pureora Timber trail.  We'd left my car, and a change of clothes each at the Ongarue end.  Bound for Vegas from Wellington, we could tackle this 85km point-to-point ride without any extra driving.

We were surprised by the lack of signage on the highway, and the signage we did find was alarming, especially with our car so far away.  We now know the track is over a year behind schedule, and not quite ready for use.

A 1928 "Crawler Tractor".  One of a few nifty historical relics on the Timber Trail

The Red Hut, about an hour in, marking the end of the open track in the north.

Mini pinnacles (right near a perfect place to stop for a wee...)

Slippery surface indeed!  This section of track is going to require a huge amount of drainage and long-term maintenance.  The moss on the trees is testament to how wet it is, and there's often a batter on both sides of the track giving the water nowhere to go

Big bridge #1!  It is currently an offence to let anyone cross.  Thankfully, there was no-one there to let us, so we didn't get anyone in trouble.  Very impressive structure, your honour.

The second half of the Timber Trail is a lot quicker than 15 hours when you're on a bike!  A lot of it follows a sweet gravel road, though some of the bypass sections need a bit more work to bring them up to that standard.

Sorry Ash...

A rare shot on yet another massive bridge

We met Rose and Jackson Green, who were near the end of their out-and-back ride from Piropiro Flats to Ongarue.  It's not often I see them on one bike each, though, at 6-months pregnant, I guess Rose was riding tandem.

An old railway cutting.  Some of the singletrack has been built a bit like this! 

Ash approaching the Maramataha Swing Bridge, which alone cost $178000!!!  Good for someone's economy I guess! 

Ash and Steve crossing one of the longest swing bridges in the country, at 141m

By the time we got to the Ongarue Spiral, the heavens had well and truly opened.  In drier conditions, it would have been very cool to study the design of this section of track a little more carefully.

Rotorua Thermal, the next day.  We were lucky to get the tents up before it started raining again, and after a massive cleaning detail the following morning, we had clean bikes and riding gear.  I left my three cobbers in various states of disrepair in search of some more lively company!

The next day, Simon and I hit up the Turoa Mountain Road.  It's something we've done together many times now, and a climb which I enjoyed writing up a couple of years ago in a fit of creativity.  After the steep section at 5km, I went ahead, but the insane wind near the top put paid to my first sub-1-hour climb.  Good to find Yeti have a presence on the mountain!

Back at base, we had a good brain-storm about riding in the lead-up to Le Cycle-Tour de France.  Subsequently we thought a one-day Raid on the three Ruapehu Ski-fields would also be in order.

The last day of 2012 was Simon's 45th birthday, and to celebrate, he and I drove to the Tukino Ski-field access road.  We parked about 6km in from SH1, but back-tracked to check out some of the dramatic scenery on offer.

Bikes on the horizon.  I was very surprised at how soft the ground was given its appearance.  I guess it's had very little compaction over its lifetime.

Despite the blue sky, it was very cold.  11 degrees according to my car, not taking into account the bitter wind-chill.

About half way up, I stopped to put my jacket on, while Simon forged ahead.  Luckily for us, we were on the fringe of the rain, and what little there was, was moving horizontally.  Had Simon not been up the road, I think I would have made a tactical retreat.  Numb face is no fun! The waterfall in shot on the left seemed to be struggling in the wind too!

Clad in dry singlet, woollen hoodie, parka AND long sleeved top, it was time to do a bit of sightseeing.  Cowering behind a large rock, camera in hand, I watched Simon doing the same.

The descent was a rip-snorter, with incredible views back to the Desert Road.  It was a bit bumpy though.  Someone needs to invent shock absorbers for a bicycle.

Happy New Year all.  May 2013 bring you new challenges, and lashings of joy.