Sunday, January 23, 2022

Summer Tour - training camp

I finished the working year as underdone (and probably overweight - I've been too scared to go near a set of scales) as I've been at any point in the last decade.  

In terms of logged kilometres on strava, 2020 was a lean year - a "mere" 10,260km.  I hadn't logged fewer miles since beginning to upload all but my shortest rides in 2015 (these typically being my direct 6km commute), and the total was a far cry from my 2018 record of 16,762km.  

2021 was a step backwards though, despite pandemic life in Wellington closely resembling normal life for the vast majority of the year - only 8,565km logged, with an average of only two uploads per week (compared to an average of over five in 2016).  

I put the drop down to a couple of factors: work and a "new kilometre" addiction.  

The working year brought with it a significant milestone in the career of any academic, and indeed one which a sizable proportion of the workforce never experience - promotion to Professor.  In my case, not a traditional professorial position, earned largely through extensive published research, but rather based on my commitment to teaching-practice and institutional leadership, on a new teaching-intensive academic career pathway at my university.  That elevation, and the ongoing reinvention universities and their staff are undergoing due to COVID-19, meant my focus had to be, more than ever, at the office.

The other factor is the wonderful addition to the exercise landscape that is  This website sucks up GPS data, and reports against an underlying database - covering old ground isn't added to one's tally, and instead only "new kilometres" are rewarded.  There are regional leaderboards, and to that extent accumulation is gamified, but the satisfaction for me comes through seeing my "Big Map" get filled in.  It has been incredibly motivational, at least from the point of seeing new places.  The unfortunate flipside is that my motivation to ride close to home has plummeted.  

16% of the north island ridden, apparently

Sarah and I have been away for the last couple of Christmases:  in 2020 we rode across the Andes, while last year we rode a less grand - but wonderful - route from the Bay of Islands back to Wellington.  This year we were keen to be with Khulan and Kaitlyn (if they'd have us), and with my parents heading to Auckland to be with my sister and her family, the four of us ended up down in Queenstown for a week.  Sarah and I had our bikes with us, since we planned to ride home afterwards, but we were committed to a family-focussed time while we were with the daughters.

Somewhat ironically, the week turned out to be one of the heaviest riding weeks of the year...

Monday - Jack's Point

Sarah, Khulan and I had arrived together the previous day, and I collected Kaitlyn from the airport the following morning.  We all drove out to Glenorchy after lunch, and once back in "Queenie", failed to escape from an Escape Room just before dinner.  We ate relatively early, having latched onto and its heavily discounted early bookings, and once home, Sarah and I decided to leave the girls to catch up, and go out for a spin.

Our accommodation was on the hill overlooking the Frankton Arm, and we could see a section of the Queenstown Trail across the bay.  As convenient as it would have been to follow it out to its terminus at Jack's Point, that would have left us with a road bash to finish.  The opposite had more appeal, though we did struggle to find the (or should I say "a") trail-head.  

Perhaps because of our initial fits and starts, we ended up on a fairly rough and at times very steep bit of single track - Jack's Point Track - and it wasn't until we met up with the main route after some fairly challenging riding, that we understood why the trail was so technical.  

A tactical walk, with the Remarkables looming in the background

It wasn't all bad, and we'd been afforded some stunning views, but time had also marched on.  Even with the incredibly late dusk (around 10pm), we had to skip the peninsula trail.  When we were directly opposite our accommodation, I called Kaitlyn, and asked if she could make out my headtorch (she could), before blasting the final few kilometres home.  

The ride had some "wow" moments, but also got us into a great pattern for the week.

Tuesday - Lake Hayes

The day's weather forecast was for rain, so we thought if we were going to be cooped up inside, we might as well have some decent views.  Despite the return drive being the best (or worst) part of 600km, I thought Milford Sound would fit the bill.

Months on, I maintain the ride Sarah and I did with Ash, from Te Anau to Milford Sound, was one of the very best one-day rides I have ever done.  We'd had stunning weather, but the cliff faces were predominantly dry - what better time to visit again than during rain.

True to form, the Upper Hollyford Valley was going off, and we stopped regularly to admire the dramatic surroundings.  We had a picnic in a DOC shelter at the Marina before driving back to Queenstown.  It was nice to pass through Mossburn, and to reminisce on the stonking tail wind Brendan and I had enjoyed when we passed through at Easter.  

The girls celebrating life.  Sarah not so much, her forgotten phone (and captive vaccine pass) were cramping her style...

After checking out potential summer accommodation for Khulan, we had another early meal, after which Sarah and I suited up for a lap of Lake Hayes - more of the Queenstown Trail network.  There was a bit of a breeze up, so the classic reflections were non-existent, but we enjoyed the loop nonetheless.  

The ride back home was a bit shit - first we were stymied by a figuratively-shit closure on the Kawarau River trail, and then to avoid a climb on the highway, we ended up on a track above the poo farm (aka sewerage treatment plant) - literally shit.  As navigator, you win some, you lose some!

Wednesday - Queenstown Bike Park

Through the girls' teenage years, we'd had some lovely riding holidays, the last of which was at the end of 2017.  While Khulan has since clocked up more hours on the mountain bike than I've probably done in my lifetime, Kaitlyn hasn't chosen to fit riding into her incredibly busy tertiary-student lifestyle.  

I'd hoped that the Skyline Gondola might overcome any concerns she might have about fitness, but in the end it was clear that pressing the issue of a family morning at Queenstown Bike Park was not on.  We agreed to go alone, while Kaitlyn would enjoy the sunshine under her own steam and meet up with us after lunch.  

Khulie had her own bike - afterall, the original motivation for the Queenstown destination had been her plan to spend a couple of months down here.  Sarah and I rode to Vertigo Bikes, and swapped our Opens with some rental MTBs  for a few hours.  The rentals were very much of the point-and-shoot variety, and I actually really enjoyed hooning around for seven laps of the grade 3 and 4 descents. 

Following the ride, we caught the Earnslaw out to Walter Peak, before heading home for a well earned rest.

Thursday - Moke Lake

The next morning we enjoyed a cruisy day including some nice walking around Arrowtown.  After another early dinner, Sarah and I were rolling shortly after 6pm, destination Moke Lake.  (Ed: I should note, it is much nicer to write about than speak of, since I'm not experiencing any pronunciation anxiety.

After a lumpy dozen kilometres in the direction of Glenorchy, during which time a burger was sitting very poorly in my stomach, we turned off onto Moke Lake Road, completely oblivious to a nice bit of singletrack that would've taken us up to the end of the seal.  We climbed a little further on gravel, before being surprised by a 5km descent to Moke Lake itself.   

Even though riding access was somewhat ambiguous, I'd seen ex-Wellingtonian Martin McCrudden do this loop a couple of months earlier, so confidently proceeded.  Besides, the trail was well armoured, and very bike friendly, with no steps or other tell-tale signs of being walkers-only.


Once we'd left Moke Lake, the track followed a fenceline for a wee while, before dropping down to Lake Dispute.  We chose to walk a short descent littered with boulders, but it was also steep, and we would likely have been on foot in the opposite direction.  Beyond this second lake, the descent was fantastic, and included some sweet beech forest. 

I threw in not one, but three extras on the way back, each increasingly unwelcomed by my companion.  The 7-Mile Scenic Reserve MTB Park was tolerable, but once we emerged from that, we crossed the road and went straight onto the Gold Digger climb - at worst, I thought it might take take us in the wrong direction for a few minutes, but we ended up climbing for the best part of half an hour, to the aforementioned top of the sealed part of Lake Moke Rd!! 

To add insult to injury, before reaching Queenstown, I turned off the main road to ride through Fernhill.  I waited at the top of that climb for a few minutes, before concluding Sarah had given up in disgust.  We failed to connect via phone, before converging on home within a few seconds of each other, almost out of daylight.  Tired, but happy enough! 

Friday - rest day

On Friday we farewelled Kaitlyn, but not before we had a lovely family stroll around Kelvin Peninsula.  That afternoon at the airport, I rushed the check-in, which was a shame as it turned out the stuff we were sending home with Kaitlyn (a couple of bike bags, and some shoes and clothing) weighed more than 23kg.  Fortunately, Air New Zealand didn't gouge us too much on the extra bag, so it was another travel lesson lightly learned.

That evening, Sarah and I drove to Wanaka and had a Christmas-Eve BBQ on with Mr and Mrs Peters, and Marilyn Northcott and her family.  We enjoyed chatting with Shona Drake, who'd arrived on Kaitlyn's plane and had been intending to catch a bus to Wanaka to see David and Jennie (of Sweet Cheeks Butt Butter fame).  All that company was very lovely indeed, and was certainly worth the return trip over the Crown Range. 

Saturday - Skippers Canyon

The next morning, back in Queenstown, Sarah and I capped off our successful "training camp" with the main event - a ride with Khulan out to Skippers Canyon.  Since noticing that rental car insurance does not apply on Skippers Road (as well as Ninety Mile Beach), I'd wanted to go there, and after 15-20 years, I was stoked to finally be doing it!  Adding to its accolades, it also makes's "Most dangerous roads in the world" list.  

We weren't the most bike-compatible trio, with Khulie's massive trail bike occasionally excelling, but our "fat-tyred road bikes" mostly being optimal.  

After about 15km on the road, we jumped onto a neat bit of trail off Coronet Peak Station Road, which took us up to the start of Skippers Road.  There, Ash had recommended an "occasionally spicy" bit of single track down into the valley.  Here, Khulan was well and truly in her element, though a few short tactical walks aside, Sarah and I too had a lot of fun, and were pleasantly surprised at how capable our bikes had been.  

The famous balcony section - where the road is merely a shelf in a massive rock face - was fantastic, as expected.  More generally, the road was spectacular and a testament to the tenacity of the gold-rush engineers.  

When the road dropped right down to river level, Sarah and Khulan stopped for a swim, while I pushed on for a bit longer.  While I'd somewhat hoped to get to the road-end, that proved to be overly ambitious, and I turned around at Māori Point.  

On the way back, I could see Skippers Bridge but couldn't work out how to access it, and connected with Sarah and Khulie just as they were giving up on the river (and its increasingly voracious sandflies)!  After a quick glance at the makeshift jetty, I joined them on the return journey.

For a short while we were moving downstream, but soon the road veered away from the Shotover River, and we started the significant climb out of the valley.  

I'd packed plenty of snacks, but Khulie had underestimated the ride somewhat, and hadn't availed herself of enough of them, despite being offered.  Between that and her heavy MTB whose glory days on the techy descent from the Coronet Peak access road were a distant memory, she seemed not to be having fun any more.  I employed a tried and true method that I've adopted many times when riding with Sarah - a sizable gap (out of sight, out of mind) - while sporadically trying to offload some of my food at photo stops.

The climb was fascinating, and made more so by our vantage point over the single track we'd ridden on the way in, across on the other side of the valley.  

Our DH singletrack evident crossing the grassy face behind us

There were occasional vehicles to contend with, but the inevitable dust aside, they were all very courteous.

Eventually, we reached a cattle stop at the high-point of the road, before a horribly corrugated descent marked the end of Skippers Road.  While I was grimacing my way down, it didn't cross my mind that Khulie might finally be back in her element.  We sent her off to find a singletrack DH we'd seen on our way up the hill, and arranged to meet at an intersection in 15 minutes or so.  We hooned down the sealed road, before a strangely gruelling road above the river took us to our meeting point with Khulie.

She beat us there by a minute, and we rode together back towards Queenstown.  After crossing the Shotover River on the cycling and walking bridge, I took the riverside trail without stressing the shorter route home, and subsequently got growled at by an angry mother whose cub was went and truly over it.  

All's well that ends (?!), and before too much longer, we were all home, showered, and ready to think about dinner.  We hadn't shopped, so it was unusual Christmas fare for us - an Indian restaurant near the waterfront being one of the few eateries open.  Either their version of "medium" is spicier than most, or my body was telling me (via my taste buds), that it had had enough for the day!  Nonetheless, it was a nice way to bring our family week to a close.

* * *

On reflection, it had been a lovely week.  

Kaitlyn has been flatting since November 2020, and Khulan since last February.  Consequently, it was the first decent period of time we've spent together in a long while.  The evening rides both gave the girls a chance to hang out, and also enabled Sarah and I to get some exercise and see some of the sights.  I was relieved to get some riding in, but similarly relieved that we managed to prevent it becoming a focus. 

All up, we rode about 230km across the week.  Both the bikes had run well, as had our bodies, and the various logistical challenges that you must suffer when travelling with bikes had been overcome smoothly enough.  

The next morning, it would be time to hit the road.  Destination - Picton (or so we thought).   

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