Brian sprinting out of the start gate on stage 2
Deep in the heart of the Wairoa Gorge outside Nelson, New Zealand lies the most developed, and in my opinion the best trail system I have ever experienced yet nobody has ever heard of it. This private bike park that is in its final stages of development was opened for the first time to the public this past weekend as it was host to the Dodzy Memorial Enduro. Finding your way to the venue was half the battle, and once you arrive on the property you are greeted by some of the steepest hillsides that all converge on the Wairoa river below. It was hard to imagine building bike trails in this unforgiving landscape, however what I saw that weekend opened my eyes on what can be built if provided with the proper resources and trail building knowledge. This race was held in tribute to Dodzy, the mastermind behind this trail building operation and a prominent figure in the NZ mountain biking scene. The race sold out, but I was instructed to sign up immediately once I arrived in NZ as this was an event/experience not to miss.
Everyone was buzzing come Saturday morning as fellow riders of all levels lined up promptly, early in the morning to fetch a shuttle ride up to get their chance to sample what all of the talk was about. The shuttle ride was a fantastic adventure in itself as the Land Rover's powered riders up out of the valley floor, climbing thousands of feet to our drop off point and stunning views of the Ben Nevis region. Groups of riders had to be organized and led by a Guide. These guides are also the trail builders and without their guidance trying to navigate and find a comfortably safe pace down the trails would be a tough proposition. I cannot describe how impressed I was as a fellow trail builder with the quality of work that these builders put into this place. They went above a beyond, utilizing the great resources that they had at hand to make many of our dreams a reality. In short, these trails were the most flowy and fun works of art I have ever lied eyes on. It was all built with a purpose and every turn complemented the next while the use of steep hillside was blended together to create what felt as a giant pump track no matter what type of trail difficulty and terrain. I could gush about these trails all day and the amount of trails seemed endless, but it being a race weekend my focus was between the tape and the trails I needed to do my best to conquer.
I was in the que promptly at 8:30 and didn't stop riding until last shuttle mid afternoon. I was told by a fellow rider that I had the most massive grin on my face after my first run, however I've probably never seen so many people giggling and grinning ear to ear. The best part about New Zealand is that you cannot pinpoint exactly one type of terrain even in a small area as the landscape constantly changes between all climate spectrumes. So the trails were all varied and you had to be a true all mountain rider to really master them all without worry. I completed 4 runs on the day top to bottom and each one felt better than the rest as I latched tight on the back wheel of some insanely quick guides and did my best to learn the trails and pick out points of interest all the while riding on the limiter. I was slightly concerned for the safety of some lesser ability riders due to the dangerous and exposed pitch, but these trails proved to hold up and wear in well as only a few bumps and bruises were sustained on what was unanimously felt as the best day of riding ever! Everyone gathered later in the heart of Nelson to share a brew and exchange stories of the day, and to also come together in celebration of Dodzy's life.
The sun had yet to hit the valley floor before we were being whisked away back up the hill for our first race run of the day. The racing format consisted of 3 timed race runs and the combined provided the overall race winner. Coming into this race weekend I didn't have any big goals as I had only been on the bike for a week, but I felt like I got a solid training block in while in Queenstown and was keen to give it my all and to see what my new Banshee Prime could do. One goal that I did set for myself was to just ride rather than racing these trails as the consequences of riding off trail could be spectacular. I nearly missed my start as I was chatting with newfound friends up top and taking in the views, but once I was in the gate and pushed off I quickly found the zone. This windy, tight and rather slick track named Creamed Rice didn't leave anytime for the mind to wonder, only to react. I dove into the one steep and rooty right hander that I had highlighted and once clear, it was a blur of pine needles, rocky hardpack and one hell of a road sprint to the finish. The seeding was completely random, however the organizers tried their best to organize the fastest riders together, but being a rather unknown from the states I was slotted right into the mix and had to work my way through traffic and dust. After a stage 1 victory over a large field with world cup level riders, I was now known and once in the que for the 2nd run, riders situated themselves around me to help provide a clear path to the finish. Stage 2 started midway down the mountainside and riders quickly started moving in 30 second intervals. Holly greeted me at the start to get a shot of me sprinting out of the gate and onto a bench cut masterpiece that paralleled the steep and windy road down. The somewhat dry track called Kurtology wove between tight trees and had some incredible G outs and some sneaky line choice. My Fox Suspension absorbed every bump and the Prime accelerated like a drag racer after every pump. The trail dropped onto Quattro track, descending into the trees and valley floor while scenes of Jedi Speeder bikes ran through my head. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my racing career and I could not stop talking about it to fellow racers preparing to make their way up for their race runs. A short break to allow all riders a chance to make it down the hill and we were being shuttled back up for the third and final stage that would bring us all the way down the hill in one go. Starting on a trail named Slippery Waka(a large chicken like native bird) for its slippery and rooty nature and tough flat turns, this proved to be the hardest part of the race for me as I made numerous mistakes due to poor line choice. I was ecstatic and slightly anaerobic once I reached the flow trail of Bermed As. My quads and calfs burned as I pumped, jumped and cautiously navigated hairpin corners. The track is well ridden and fast, most likely a favorite afterwork ride by the trail builders, but it was real loose through the corners with renegade rocks just looking for a front wheel and heart to break. The end was in sight as I sprinted a blocks length of road and turned down onto Kidknappers, the 12 loosest, steepest, shall rock littered turns before the finish line sprint. My Shimano XT brakes eased my mind as I knew I could go hard into the corners without failure to slow up. The finish arena is extremely exposed, and the growing amount of spectators observing from across the road took in all of the excitement until the last rider made his way down making for a ruckus and wild atmosphere. I was extremely knackered as they say, and utilized the frosty river below the finish to relieve my screaming leg muscles, enjoy the days achievements and take in the wonderment of where my journey has led me so far.
The event was a huge success, the shuttles and timing ran like clockwork as the race promoters had all the logistics figured out. It was an honor to be apart of this event as it was inspiring to see how many people one man could bring together through his hard work and efforts in the mountain bike community. A BBQ feast ensued down by the river as riders splashed around, friends old and new told tales from their day and with the massive amount of swag available, it seemed like everyone came away with something, but everyone came away with huge ass smiles on their faces. After my first event of the year in the books I was pleased to find myself in 6th place overall, a near 5 seconds from 3rd with a combined time of 28:12. The weekend was a great success, in the midst of their summer I felt like I wasn't far of pace in my riding, however I could do to find a bit more fitness. This recaps the best race weekend of my life, wish you all could have been there, and for those that were I'll hopefully see you next year!
Results link: http://www.thetimingteam.co.nz/results/index.php?thread=1037926051
Race Coverage link: http://spokemagazine.com/2013/01/28/dodzy-memorial-enduro-epic-oh-and-results/
Thank you all for your support as we look forward to more racing adventures like this one in 2013.
Brian navigating a turn on Coronet Peak high above the river valley below and with the Remarkables in the distance