Day 47 (Sat 26 Dec): Pureora to Piropiro
Started on the bikes around 10am, reached campsite 5.30pm, 40k
Pain in the head status: Very surprisingly, nil.
Word of the day: Callow, lacking experience or maturity.
Today began pleasantly, with a 1k ramble through the Totara track, next to the car park where we waited for our mountain bikes to be delivered, so we could start cycling the Timber Trail. There were many more trees than just totara and we refreshed our memories on how to recognise the different podocarps and also learnt that you could drink the sap of the matai – refreshing with a bitter aftertaste, apparently.
On reading the panels about the Timber Trail, I belatedly became cognizant that the first half of the trail, what we were cycling today, was graded as ‘intermediate’. This caused some heart flutterings, as I am a callow mountain biker – or to be utterly truthful, I am not a mountain biker. I ride bikes on roads; when it comes to trails, I’m a traditionalist and stick to walking. It’s much harder to fall over while walking – it’s possible, but the damage is likely to be less than falling off a bike, especially when my walking skills are so much more advanced than my cycling skills. Also, walking doesn’t macerate your privates like cycling does; so on balance, I prefer to walk.
But we’d chosen to cycle, and we were committed, so onto the bikes we went. I realised it had been a long time since I had been on a bike and my brain was quickly overloaded with the strain of simultaneously peddling, keeping upright on the wriggly rooty track and trying to remember how to change gears. Was the big button to change up gears or to use when going uphill? So confused.
During the first section, we climbed 400m or so up to a point where we could dismount and walk up Mt Pureora (1165m), a detour of an hour or more, but well worth it for the 360° views and the relief to be off the bike.
But there were many more kilometers of cycling to go, and this was where I really plumbed the depths of my mountain biking incompetence. There was blood, sweat and tears – the first teary meltdown on the track so far. There was walking – of the bike. There was pristine podocarp forest, which I barely noticed as I was so intensely fixated on the track ahead and trying not to fall off. There were spills, that only seriously hurt my pride. There was pain – in my hands and forearms from gripping the handlebars in grim determined terror. There was joy, when we reached the campsite, retrieved our packs from the bag drop site, and could have dinner and finally lie down.
Memory of the day: I remembered walking up Mt Pureora about 20 years ago but on a different track. I had been planning to press on and stay at Bog Inn, a small hut in the forest, but once I’d crested the peak, the snow-capped mountains of Tongariro National Park glistening in the distance were so enticing that I left Pureora to spend the weekend playing on the slopes of Tongariro. I still haven’t made it to Bog Inn, but given the name, I’m probably not missing much.
Day 48 (Sun 27 Dec): Piropiro to Ongarue (Bennett Road campsite)
Started on the bikes around 8am, finished at the Timber Trail drop off at 2.15pm, 45k, (plus 4.5k road biking to drop off point; we were shuttled back to the Bennett Road campsite at 3pm).
Pain in the head status: Woke up with a migraine but it was fairly promptly eliminated with a migraine tablet. I wasn’t surprised to have one rear its ugly head (no pun intended) after the emotional intensity of yesterday. Stress and anxiety seem to be major migraine triggers for me, as well as lack of sleep, too much sleep, alcohol, oranges and other as yet unidentified noxious stimuli.
Word of the day: Temerarious, recklessly daring
After yesterday’s debacle on the bike, it felt like a temerarious act to saddle up and push on for another day. Fortunately, today’s ride was graded ‘easy’ which for me meant that it was mostly doable without white-knuckled petrification, I only crashed into a bank once, and I could occasionally pay attention to the surroundings.
The worst section was near the end of the trail, which was so overgrown with long grass, blackberry and broom that the narrow track was sometimes obscured. I had to walk most of this, having flashbacks to the traumatising track out of Te Kuiti.
We still managed to reach the bike drop off point in time to have hot showers and a cup of tea, which was the best – wait, the only- hot shower in four days. Met four new (to us) TA walkers who had walked the timber trail which made me slightly feel like we had cheated. But that hot shower had washed away the pain of the experience and I’m still glad we cycled, as it is a trail I’d heard a lot about and had wanted to try. It was satisfying to coast down the easy sections and see the kilometre markers fly by. It was even satisfying to grind uphill with the quadriceps on fire and the heart bursting – I felt more in control going uphill; it was the downhills that brought on the fear. But I might have to come back and walk the trail one day so I can actually see the beautiful forest we passed through (and take more photos). Lesson learnt: when your expectation of your ability exceeds the reality, it’s ok to stop and walk. It’s always ok to walk.
Features of the Timber Trail day 2: Lots of information and interpretation about the historical logging industry and the marvellous engineering feats undertaken to enable the timber to be removed from this remote and challenging terrain. So many totara felled for fence posts.
Weather phenomena of the day: Hail, as we were dropped off back at the trail end where we were camping. Thunder, in the hills to the north. For most of the ride, my hands were so cold it was hard to change gears but after lunch it was so hot my gloves filled up with sweat.