Words by Jesse Cseh, photography by "high quality" iPhone footage of various sources
Every year I like to come up with a challenge to personally push myself beyond the norm in cycling, both mentally and physically. I really like seeing the process develop from a thought, into the countless hours of prep, right through to completion and reflection. I try to build year on year and do things that haven't been done in a specific way before. Last year I tried my hand in Everesting. I did this on a Grade 6 trail in the wind and rain over 15 hours of ride time Chasingthetoughtestoffroadeverest.
This year I decided to do something a little different. I wanted to push myself for an extended period of time rather than aim for a certain distance or elevation. After talking with Jesse P, a friend of mine and DVO + Deviate distributor in NZ, I landed on the concept of riding every trail in the Whakarewarewa forest (Rotorua NZ). The forest is world famous for its sandy type dirt which provides out of this world grip that you won't find in many other parts of the world. It's filled with tracks ranging from our National Downhill line, to marathon style XC tracks winding through the native bush boasting hundreds of kilometers of singletrack.
Trailforks lays down the raw numbers at 315 km of tracks with 13,000M total descent, and 249 trails. For this gargantuan task I had estimated 30-45 hours of ride time.
Here's my story of riding every trail in the Whakarewarewa forest non stop.
I usually tend to do this stuff at the end of each year once racing has wrapped up and people are on holiday. Well this is my version of a "holiday". 2 weeks out from the date I had picked I got quite sick. Thinking it was COVID at the time, mentally I resigned that it would be silly to do such a ride post sickness. However it turned out just to be the flu and with a week before the day, I decided to push send and go all in.
At the same time, I heard of another rider who had ambitions to do a similar thing, Jaden Kaempfe, we had a chat and decided to do it together. What were the odds? Finding someone crazy enough to go through with these sorts of rides is rare, so we were both quite excited to knock it out together. Months prior in my head I thought I'd have a map of all the trails laid out and an exact plan of attack, however this never surfaced and instead our entire plan came down to an arrow on the forest map.
My bike, the Deviate Claymore, had some slight modifications. To reduce rolling mass, I removed tyre inserts and installed EXO casing MAXXIS tyres, as well as a lightweight Garabaruk cassette. These made a huge difference to the rolling speed on the bike, I had managed to tip under 16.5 kg to 15.9kg. I potentially could've dropped more weight from the bike but I believe reducing rotating mass will have an X times effect on the handling of the bike compared to removing it from other stagnant parts. I also switched out my DVO Jade X coil for the slightly lighter DVO Gen 3 Topaz air shock.
Some people may think riding on a 165mm enduro bike to be overkill, however the extra suspension was a blessing after many thousands of meters of vertical descents, keeping the upper body arms and wrists as fresh as possible. The bike has a very steep seat angle of 78 degrees, which puts you in an incredibly efficient body position for climbing.
Challenge Day - 28th Dec 2022
I'd had about 2 hours sleep the night before after the 6 hour drive to Rotorua, food prep and stress. It was now 4:30am and we were getting ready to set off. The plan had been first light, which I had thought was 5am, however it was more like 6am. Nevertheless, at 5:04am we set off, with Jesse P on an E-bike behind us illuminating the way through the quiet forest. The day period had been 27 degrees which in NZ, with a terrible Ozone layer, is very warm and humid. This day turned out to peak at 29 degrees which made for a lot of sunburn and extreme dehydration to throw into the mix.
We had a van with all our food, night lights, a generator, and changes of clothes set up in one of the car parks around the forest and had semi planned strategic breaks when trails took us close to the vehicle. However this led to issues when we had people move the vehicle for us as we got to different parts of the forest. We had security telling us we couldn't sleep in the van in the car parks, and after repeatedly trying to tell them what we were doing we were still forced to move it several times to public roads. One time in particular at 2am, Jaden was driving the van down a 4 km stretch of road and I was riding and holding on to his bike rolling it down the road to meet him, and I remember being so tired that every 2 minutes I would drop his bike or steer it into myself.
Expect the Unexpected
In terms of food prep I had cooked up a big batch of pasta the night before and stuffed my face as hard as I could, which in turn caught up with me about 4 hours into the monstrous ride as I had an upset stomach. This bad gut stayed with me for the next 26 hours. Another spanner in the works. I had done a shop and brought as many different types of food as I could in order to sustain myself for the period. We ended up getting pizzas and Kebabs delivered at about 1am by some budding locals who wanted to join us for some night laps. Warm food was a pretty big win at this point. We were lucky to have water fountains spread throughout the entire forest to keep us hydrated and in the peak of heat we were consuming an entire bottle per track ridden.
My bike ran flawlessly which was reasonably unexpected for such a big ride, my only issue came 10 hours in after getting a bit too excited down the National downhill track leading a big train of riders, when I snapped a chain. Being a bicycle mechanic by trade I was very well prepared - the only issue being all my gear was in the van. Common sense doesn't always exist in my head. Luckily Rae Morrison came to the rescue with a speed link on hand to keep me going. Upon looking at my bike post ride, I noted I had completely worn out my brand new chain and cassette, this wasn't unexpected.
Jaden lived about an hour from Rotorua and in my mind this made him a local, so with his help we were able to “wing” our route and make decisions as we went. We did a bunch of the longer flatter windier XC trails through the first night and at about 4am, on a trail called Old Chevy, after about 2 hours of not saying a word to each other, we got close to breaking. A simple trail with countless pinches and endless corners was tough on the mind. There's talk of a huge Wallaby population in the Redwood forest, and having never seen any myself on previous visits, I highly doubted this. But no joke - we would have seen close to 100 of these things through our night shift with one of them even up under the rear wheel of Bradley (a mate riding with us for a few hours in the night). It was like something out of a movie, with them running out in front of our headlights and chasing us down trails, a truly epic moment.
As the night dragged on we were desperately waiting for the light to come back and hopefully recharge us as we battled with the lack of sleep. Jaden put a story on instagram asking someone to bring us coffee and breakfast at 5:30am when we changed from the night shift back into day mode. Daniel Self and Charlie Millington turned up on the dot with a range of coffees and warm food which in turn gave us the huge boost we so desperately needed. Having time to sit down and gather our thoughts we figured out what we had left and realized we were well ahead of schedule, knocking out nearly 100 km of riding through the night - far more than we had anticipated - and we were on track to finish at lunchtime, about 30 hours since first setting off. Knowing what we had left, and having an exact plan of our route for the first time, really was the match that kept the fire burning and I found myself riding as if I had just jumped on the bike. My legs are still feeling fresh, really only battling with the extreme lack of sleep over the last few nights.
Ma Te Wa, a fast and rough trail with some of the best corners in the forest had to be the highlight of the ride aside from completing the task. We had hit about 16 hours in and were in the golden zone. Dozens of tracks were under our belt and we were feeling confident attacking tracks at full pace whilst still feeling fresh before any fatigue from descending had set in. In the moment following Jaden and with a fast Rotorua local hot on my wheel, I had momentarily forgotten what we were doing and was attacking the trail like I had just rolled out of the start gate at an EWS. We picked our last descent to be a very well known trail, Kataore. It's a long, rough, high speed track in the native bush from the highest point in the forest. As we got further down I noticed my grip loosening and caught myself making mistakes as we got closer to the bottom. Boom, about 30 seconds from the end of the trail, and the end of the ride, my hands blew off and I went over the bars. A quick giggle to myself saying on the ground and I was back on the bike unharmed, bars twisted, morale high.
Jaden wrote a few words I wanted include:
"My approach to this mission was completely different to Jesse. I didn't change anything on my bike, kept my second hand DH casing tires on and cushcore in. I didn't plan this ride for months, I thought about it a few weeks before and was like "yeah, ill do that". However we both have the same mindset about pushing our bodies, and it was really cool to be joined by someone for a change. I think the coolest thing about the ride was the unknown. We didn't know how far it was going to be, how high we were going to climb, or how long it was going to take. We were pioneering a new feat. I loved every second of it and cannot wait for my next mission".
So what do I have lined up next? For the coming months I'll be shifting my focus to the EDR World Cup series. I'm very excited to have joined the Deviate Cycles family this year and look forward to catching up with the rest of the team at the races. I have a few inklings of the "next big mission" with ideas to incorporate an Official World Record attempt is to keep pushing the boat out on what can be done on a mountain bike.
Total ride time: 30 hours 34 minutes 41 seconds. Total distance covered: 229.94 km Elevation gain: 8182m Calories lost: 10,000-15,000. Wallabies seen: >100 Crashes: 1
My Deviate Claymore equipped with:
DVO ONYX 170mm DVO Gen 3 Topaz Air shock Shimano XTR/Saint Brakes, XTR shifter and rear mech Garbaruk 10-52 Cassette Polished Sram GX crankset and 32T ring We Are One Convergence Fuse rims with Industry 9 Hydra hubs and Pillar spokes. We Are One DA PAckage cockpit with 35mm stem cut to 775mm Bike Yoke Revive 213 mm dropper with the Bike Yoke Sagma saddle with soft elastomers fitted Sensus Disisdaboss Grips
I'd love to give a massive shoutout to the dozens of people that came riding whether for a single lap or 9 hours of suffering. To Jaden Kaempfe for the company and also to the people and brands that support me to help me make these things happen.
I’m a big fan of trying to do (much more modest) versions of this - set distance goals, a goal to ride some big loop etc… this year I’m trying to ride every trail in Kamloops - who knows how that’ll turn out.
We rode Whakarewarewa a few years ago - really fun area.