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THE TIMBER TRAIL WITH A NUMBER ON THE BARS

 

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As proprietors of a small mountain bike outfitter in the sunny South Pacific, we get our share of sponsorship requests. We weed out the stuff that is of no earthly use in promoting our stuff, or is of no interest to us personally. We like events that will appeal to people like us.

Last weekend we were a sponsor of the inaugural Nzo TrailBlazer, an event that followed the Timber Trail from Pureora to Ongarue. This event aligned with our requirements for a weekend diversion so perfectly that we are kind of surprised we didn’t think of it ourselves.

The location is amazing (we have ranted about it before): rugged country with a mix of huge original forest and cut over areas that offer great views, historic constructions along the way, some of which form the basis of the trail, and modern constructions that beggar belief when they appear out of the jungle. There are a range of campsites and accommodation at various spots along the route. The trail itself is not particularly difficult, but if the full monty is undertaken it is long. 85 kilometres, clearly marked on posts... 85 of them. Some of them seem much more than a kilometre apart. Some of them blur past almost like lamp-posts. It is mostly mellow singletrack, with some sections of 4WD track, and it makes a big day out for anybody. The organisers gave us plenty of distance options, brilliantly choreographed to get us all to the finish at the beautiful little Ongarue school at more or less the same time.

I lined up on the start next to a legend of New Zealand cycling, Jack Swart. The last time I did that was nearly 40 years ago. After we had finished laughing at each other, we pinned our ears back and set off through the trail. With my dubious fitness I figured that if I had any possibility of being semi-competitive it would be in the twisty flat stuff at the start. Anybody who knows me is familiar with my habit of taking off like a robber's dog as soon as anybody says go. It's in my DNA, I can't help myself. This time there was a sort of tactical plan in play. Go until they catch me, probably after the flat twisty bit, then have a little sit down, eat a Square Meal, set off again at a sensible pace. As it turns out the kilometres clicked by and I only got passed by one rider, and he was a whippet that was doing the 45k half-distance version of the event. Because nobody else caught me I had to burrow along at my best pace all frickin day, which meant that afterwards I sat with Jack for a long time without moving, while we slowly sorted ourselves out via another sponsor's excellent contribution of Waikato Draught. In case it sounds like I won something, never fear: there were two start groups, and all the fast people were in the other one which left an hour later. Even I can hold off some fast people with that much head start on a fairly flat course.

The school gang put on a barbie, free drinks were on hand, the marae next door put down a hangi. The sun shone, the local kids (and some of the riders) splashed in the school pool, and people sat around deconstructing their rides for just long enough before prize giving and the trip out of the heartland back home.

The whole thing went seamlessly, organised by another of the greats of New Zealand cycling, Stephen Cox. Ably assisted by his family, this might have been his first go at an event for mountain bikers. He nailed it. We are crossing our fingers he runs it again next year, so should you. And next time, get down there.