Simon and I spent an afternoon plotting and scheming just after Christmas, and one of the rides that seemed to fit the bill was soon dubbed "Raid Ruapehu". The name was inspired by Raid Pyrénéen - a brevet which includes many of the famous Cols in the Pyrenees - rather than a scene from Revenge of the Nerds. I reckon it sounds cool in any case!
The ride would consist of a lap around Ruapehu, but with three side-trips - rides up to the three skifields on the mountain: Turoa, Tukino and Whakapapa. The first and last are sealed climbs (and descents), but Tukino is unsealed, necessitating the use of a mountain bike. Mapping the thing out soon confirmed a distance of just over 240km, and climbing of over 4000m vertical. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and all that...
We initially agreed that it should be done soon before leaving for France, but the magnitude of the ride and various other logistical concerns bumped the thing forward, training progression be damned.
Simon was keen to ease back after Karapoti, but Dave was locked and loaded. As the weekend drew nearer, out excitement grew. The final twist was added the night before we drove north, with Dave's email which started "I've just re-read your blog of your rather damp Tree Trunk Gorge ride..."!
We managed a quick sift with the lads at Revolution Bicycles on Friday evening before making a move. The traffic conditions were great, and we arrived at our digs in Rangataua around 10pm and were sound asleep soon after.
My alarm would have gone off about 10 minutes after I woke up, had I set it correctly. Despite cranking out of bed at 5:45am, neither Dave nor I seemed to be in much of a rush to leave the warm house out into the dark morning.
I smashed back four slices of PB&J on toast, a plunger coffee and a banana. Then, we jumped into the car and drove the short distance to the Ohakune Railway Station.
|Almost ready to roll, 7am|
|NZ's only HC sealed climb|
|Getting ready for a 17km descent|
|Waiouru - last coffee stop for a while...|
The "road" was soft and corrugated or otherwise rough. What we couldn't also tell was that it was slightly uphill, and we struggled to ride even as fast as 15km/h. I stopped to let a bit of pressure out of my tyres, but that didn't seem to help at all. (What did help, was riding back in the other direction, where it was no problem to can along at 30km/h!)
6km from the highway we reached the 2WD "car park" from which Simon and I had set off at the end of last year on my only other ride up this road. From here at least we could tell the road was climbing, and so psychologically the slow progress was much easier to deal with. Conditions were great, and the mountain was looking majestic.
|About to get steeper on the Tukino climb|
|Ngauruhoe in the distance|
|Team photo at Tukino!|
My tyres were a bit too soft (and my non-suspension a bit too hard) and there were a couple of unnerving clunks as my tyre bottomed out on the rim. Luckily I was running tubeless, so I didn't have any snakebite punctures.
Dave was ahead of me, but I decided I simply had to stop to put some more air in my tyres. He was waiting for me not far down the road, and we leap-frogged a bit, scoring some action photos as we made our way down.
|Dave kicking up ash on the Tukino descent|
As we pushed into the northerly, Dave was able to monitor my rear tyre slowly getting softer. We pulled into a layby and gave it some more air, and less than 10 minutes later were making the right turn across the highway into Tree Trunk Gorge Road.
A nice descent followed, and then it was time for a late lunch stop at the bridge.
|Tree Trunk Gorge|
After a lube session - chains and butts - it was time to roll out, hereby ending our 30 minute break. After a short climb, we were hanging a left onto the Tree Trunk Gorge track. While short, it was excellent to be off SH1, and better yet to be enjoying some sweet beech forest. We refilled our bottles at the stream crossing that almost defeated my pals and I on my first ride through here...
We were both very surprised when we emerged from the bush onto a gravel road, as we hadn't been riding that long! After checking with a camper, we hit the trail down to Pillars of Hercules, and just as well, because we had ear to ear grins after that wee gem.
I'd been looking forward to the next section for ages, though finding the route proved a little tricky. We picked up Kaimanawa Road after climbing out of Pillars of Hercules, and hung a left towards the highway. After another short climb, we turned right onto a chunky gravel road along the edge of a forestry block. After poking our noses down a deadend, we took the next left, and looped back around to arrive successfully at Poutu Canal.
After admiring it for a minute, we set off in the direction of Ohakune, before immediately doubling back. Just out of sight around the corner was the start of the canal, and quite an optical illusion. From our vantage point, it looked like the water was running up a ramp out of the tunnel. But, I think it was actually a flat pool which just happened to be catching the light differently to the obviously flowing section of water.
|The start of Poutu Canal|
That sorted, we decided we were happy with the true right, and were soon on the move again. It took us a couple of minutes to notice the large and plentiful trout in the canal, and a few minutes more to notice the occasional ladders and to start fantasizing about swimming.
Passing under SH1 was a particular highlight for me. Just about every time I've ever passed over that bridge, I've revelled in the glimpse of the canal. I really should have been a civil engineer...
The next section was strangely gruelling, and I felt laboured on the first 200m climb up to SH47 in particular. About a minute after I'd reported to Dave that I was feeling pretty damn great, my right quad started feeling a bit funky, and having noticed that, concentrating on it made it feel progressively worse.
On the other hand, we were getting great views of the ongoing thermal activity on the flanks of Mt Tongariro.
We got a nice surprise soon after making the next right turn, discovering an open cafe - the first we'd seen since leaving Waiouru a little under seven hours earlier. I kind of fancied an ice cream, but made do with a muffin. We also went halves on a 1.5L coke.
My quad was still bothering me, but didn't seem to be getting any worse at least. We now had the wind somewhat behind us, and the kilometres kept ticking over.
It was nice to make the turn off to Whakapapa Village, signalling the final assault on the mountain. The climb up to the Chateau was pretty uninspiring, but at least it was sealed, unlike the start of the Tukino climb. We had fun mocking the inconsistent distance measures along the route. On the other hand, we hoped that 6km beyond the Chateau we would indeed reach the skifield.
Aside from the pace, it was very cool to realise how very different the three climbs are - not only in the style of the road, but also in the geology. Once it pops out of the bush, the Turoa road sits on a pretty smooth ridge. The Tukino road was surrounded by a soft layer of ash, while the Whakapapa roadside was littered with small, jagged rocks. The road ducked and dived, but eventually the 6km was nearly up, and we began to pass carparks and club buildings.
|Top o' the Bruce|
|Photo: John; composition: Dave|
National Park was closed for the night when we passed through around 8:15. With the wind at our six, and a nice big sign telling us we only had 35km to ride, progress was good despite our heavy legs.
We swapped notes on where, and how good, the various patches of reflective material on our gear was, and made full and vigorous use of the zips on our jackets and jerseys. Dave paused to take his beanie off, and I regretted donning my polypro gloves. I realised my quad cramps had vanished, but couldn't remember where on the Whakapapa climb I'd last felt them.
Neither of us was at all keen to go mountain biking at Horopito, though the Ohakune Rail Trail would have been a great way to finish. Not in the dark though, and we continued on the highway. We continued hammering through to the Ohakune turn off, and only after a sign reported we were 9km away did the pace begin to ease a bit.
We took the Old Station Road turnoff, and a few minutes later, we were stopping the clock at the car, just before 9:30pm.
After changing and loading up the car, we headed south. Late on a Saturday night, the driving conditions were perfect, and aside from a quick feed at the Taihape BP and a driver change in Levin, we made good progress. By 2am we were home in Wainui and Karori respectively!
I woke this morning (far too early!) with a headache, and a slightly sore throat. But, half way down the flight of steps from my front door, I realised my legs weren't actually in bad shape. Superficially, at least.
Ride statistics? Mr Garmin reports a moving time of 12:08 out of an elapsed time of 14:26; distances of 256.57km and 4921m in the x and y planes respectively. After leaving Rangataua, I ate three apricot and chocolate bumpa bars, three OSM bars and two muffins, and drank one long black, half a 1.5L bottle of coke, and a bunch of water.
Simon reckons this will be the hardest ride I'd do before France, and that it'll likely be tougher than any day in France. If he's right, that's great! If he's not, I'll be better for this monster day on the bike.
Dave's company was awesome, and the scenery was consistently off the hook. I said to him somewhere out of Waiouru, "there's nowhere in the world I'd rather be, mate" and didn't falter from that as the prospect of a job well done drew ever nearer. It was a nice contrast to MTBing at Karapoti only a couple of weeks ago.
It was bloody good to get out. And, it's very nice when a plan comes together.