|Dr. Hannah dissects the roots on the Vogel Massacre. Photo Tony Hutchinson|
It would be nearly a day off. The itinerary called for a late afternoon ride on the Vogel Town Massacre. It was a short, steep and secret trail that promised to be an entertaining ride including the skill testing Switchback of Doom. The days' schedule required Skoda’s famous GTOs to be poured before noon. Gin, tonic, and triple sec I believe are the key ingredients, but I wouldn’t expect my memory to serve. I will say by the time we rode the Massacre, we were all quite loose and I was feeling rather invincible. Inspired by the libations, I mashed the cranks on the climb, spinning past Dr. Hannah on her sub 30lb XC machine. “Is that all you’ve got?” I jabbed in passing, feeling rather impressed by myself.
The Massacre began with a traverse through the jungle, walking our bikes to the secret entrance. From the moment we dropped in, it was full on. Metz forged new lines down the overgrown entrance, tires rolling over roots that sprawled across the trail like varicose veins. The descent was relentless, steep & rooty, finally spitting us out into a tranquil meadow, exhilarated and glassy eyed.
|Metz forged new lines down the overgrown entrance. Photo Tony Hutchinson|
We promptly climbed back up to hit it again! My legs now feeling the consecutive days in the saddle, and coming down from my GTO high, my pace slowed. Dr. Hannah was like a circling vulture, excited at the opportunity to return the ignominiousness. She whizzed past me as though I was standing still, “Is that all you’ve got?” She asked, with her plum in mouth British accent. I struggled to push harder, but watched her disappear, my legs flaccid and spent.
|Bottoming out on the Massacre. Photo Tony Hutchinson|
After our second indulgent lap, we made our return to Te Mahia. On our way home we found a natural wall ride alongside the road that Mrs. Hyde promptly attacked, ripping her rear derailleur from her bike on her ill fated slide down its face. After wrapping her cable & housing round her stays and removing what was left of her derailleur, we retired back to the Resort for “Mr. Turnbuckle’s” signature margaritas, saving what little legs I had for tomorrow, the biggest ride of the junket. Tomorrow would be Nydia. "She can be quite bitchy," were Skoda's word's of warning.
Nydia would be the crowning jewel of the junket, a series of trails strategically linked together through years of junket exploration. “Be prepared for a big day out,” warned Toha the night before. On that clear morning before we set out, we ate breakfast on the Oceanside deck diving into stacks of toast, Spanish omelets and thick slabs of bacon washed down with cups of tea. We’d need all the fuel we could get. Still shaking off the GTOs and Margaritas from the day before, I was hoping my legs were up for the journey. Today we would climb up and over two saddles on old, forgotten pioneer trails and ancient Maori footpaths that linked one valley to the next. It would be a taxing day for the combination of distance, technical descents and steep climbs. But our tanks were full of optimism, and we were up for the challenge.
Our day began with a slippery 1000 foot descent from Opuri Saddle. The track was overgrown and unbelievably greasy on the heels of the rains. Entering the forest, tropical leaves quickly closed in overtop while ponga fronds whipped me in the face as I attempted to tail Test Eagle 1. Struggling to keep Metz in sight, a hanging vine lassoed my bars, slamming me instantly and mercilessly to the ground. Nydia would have her way with me all day, from the very beginning. I lay on my back, looking up at the sky, wondering what in the hell just happened. "She can be quite bitchy." Skoda’s words echoed in my head. Today would not be easy. But then again, easy was never what we were looking for.
|Nydia, you nasty little... Photo Tony Hutchinson|
We emerged from our first descent through dense jungle into a sunny seaside pasture, buzzing with adrenaline as we followed the edge of the ocean on tight, smooth single track, approaching our first climb. On our approach to the first saddle, we came upon a large bone lying across the trail, large enough that I believed it to be a femur of some type, only adding to the wild and tribal feel of this adventure. With each pedal stroke, it felt like we were going deeper into the unknown. I was half expecting a Moa to come charging out from the underbrush.
Our first climb would take us to Nydia Saddle. It would be a first indication of the wear my legs bore from the previous week of riding, not to mention the cumulative toll of Skoda’s GTO’s. Considering there were three more descents and two more climbs to come, it wasn’t a good time to start to fade. The descents that followed contained more lustrous savagery for the soul, with hanging vines threatening to clutch my bars round every turn, and slimy rocks and roots that held nothing, but peril. The trails hugged steep hillsides, often plunging sharply only inches from the trails’ edge. When Metz graciously gave me the honour of Test Eagle 1, I was eager to impress. Soon I was flying high on the inside banks, going higher with each successive turn. But like Icarus and the sun, I soon came crashing down when my tires slid out on the slippery rock. I lay in a heap of tenderized flesh, requiring minutes to gather myself. I was well munted by this point - I was taking a beating. When I asked for a definition of this peculiar Kiwi term earlier in the Junket, Darryl, a record label exec by day, laughed as he explained; “You know you’ve been munted when you can’t get up.” I now nearly qualified as I struggled to my feet. Nydia was doing as she pleased with me, her beauty as alluring as it was savage.
|Taking a needed break on Kaiuma saddle. |
By the time we’d come to our second big climb, the light bike xc crew soon separated from the rest of us on heavier bikes and were soon lost from site. I knew Gordon was at the lead, smiling and relishing the pain. Damn him for that. I dragged my beaten body to the top. I had little left in the tank by now, although my heart was most decidedly game for the next descent. We were a quiet group as I crammed handfuls of sour worms into my mouth high on Kaiuma Saddle. On the next descent, I kept my speed in check, took no risks and trusted nothing for purchase. By now I was a beaten soldier. Nydia had the upper hand and forced me to reign in my reckless ways. I conceded. I bowed before her, humbled. She had forced my reverence.
|A little tech gnar. Photo: Tony Hutchinson|
One last climb, thankfully only a couple hundred meters, our journey was now nearly over. I think we were all feeling well used by this point. In fact, it was surprising to see even some of the XC crew walking their bikes. At the beginning of the climb, I only managed a couple hundred yards before my legs insisted I get out of the saddle and walk. Readying myself to dismount, Dr. Alice passed me, standing on her pedals, refusing to admit defeat. Inspiration often comes when you have nothing left to lose. I too took suit and began mashing my pedals, visions of sour worms and GTOs dancing in my head. I decided then and there I was committed to whatever she rode. In my mind, I begged for her to get off the bike. But she kept trudging on, passing our comrades who were mostly pushing their bikes by now. Sweat was running like a faucet down my neck. When we finally arrived at the top, I smiled at Alice, and fell to the ground like a puppet who’s had his strings cut. I had nothing left. I was done. But Nydia still wasn't done with me yet...
|Riding flats, my shins were macerated. Photo: Rob Metz|
Our final descent would be everything the previous hadn’t; unexpectedly smooth, flowy and buff. For someone who usually relished steep and technical riding, I was content to be leaving it behind. Riding flats, my shins were macerated. I let everyone go ahead of me. Even Roddy, with his 24lb carbon fiber Specialized, who insisted I go first. We sat at the trail head playing ‘you first’, round after round. I refused to budge. He finally dove in, and like a useless Test Eagle, I dangled behind, tailing him through each flat corner. Suddenly Rod was out of control, his tires locked, drifting sideways on the wet clay track. He high sided round a bend and was catapulted into the forest, flung haplessly into the underbrush, leaving his bike strewn across the trail. I heard his laughter even before he hit the ground. I locked up my brakes, but it was inevitable I would collide with his bike. I laid my bike down, sliding into a tangled heap of aluminum, carbon fiber and flesh. Munted again, I lay there for a time before untangling myself. I eventually got up, shaking my head. I was taking a beating right to the bittersweet end. ‘It ain’t over til it's over’. And it ain’t over til Nydia tells you it's over. I laughed wearily as I helped Rod back on the trail, and we eventually finished at the ocean, where we were gathered like a caravan of rag tag adventurers, stripping sodden shoes and letting our manky feet breath. It was a silent ride as we rode our water taxi back to Te Mahia. We were introspective, reliving the events of the day, each of us affected by the journey. There was nothing left to say. It was raw, savage, relentless and beautiful all at the same time. Nydia made my heart full, even if my body begged for mercy.
|Our chauffeur at the end of the line. Hannah's smile says it all.|
|Nydia finished at the ocean. We were shagged, well at least I most certainly was. Photo: MWood|
|Our fearless leader Skoda. How he looked so fresh at the end of Nydia I do not know. Photo: MWood|
|Our shoes needed some time to breathe after Nydia. Photo:Tony Hutchinson|
The next day we were greeted with a downpour. A perfect excuse to opt out on the day’s optional ride and laze about, licking my wounds, and consume the last of our provisions and quaff the heels of bottles. Several of us took the day off while the XC masochists went for a pedal, led unsurprisingly by the ever smiling Gordie. Coming home coated in mud and soaked to the bone, I was glad I’d decided to stay behind. I didn’t feel guilty in the least.
On our final day, it was a return to sunshine, a nice close to the journey. Gordie, Alice and I went for a perfectly cruisy ride on the Queen Charlotte Track, taking an easy pace as we hugged the coast, with the turquoise Pacific below. We finished with a swim in the ocean to clean ourselves of the caked on mud and grit before hopping in the van with the others to make our way for a celebratory lunch at one of the local wineries to relive our moments of glory while eating Camembert and juicy olives, sipping crisp white wine under a hot sun.
It was an epic journey, strategically organized through years of pedigree Captained by Skoda, our decadent leader and head Test Eagle, who ensured everything was taken care of, every step along the way. When I asked Skoda why he never offered the Junket as a tour to paying guests, his reply was quick. "No way, that would ruin it all!" He was indignant. "As it stands, if someone doesn't like what's happening, they can @&!$ off!" He got within inches of my face as he spit out the last few words. I loved his candor. This was the best journey money can't buy.
I looked round the table as we drank bottles of wine in celebration, not knowing when we'd see each other again. Each of us had earned our wings, digging deep when the going got tough, not letting injuries keep any one of us down. I would be back again on another junket, hopefully next year, but I would most certainly be back. Until then, I smiled and looked round, savoring the moment, surrounded by fellow Test Eagles, knowing that I too had earned my wings.
|Earn your wings. Designed by Rob Metz.|
If you missed part one, two or three, here they are: Part One
, Part Two
and Part Three