Saturday, April 29, 2006

Return of the Old School

What's going on with the music world right now? It seems as though every great and/or influential band from the early nineties and beyond are either making a comeback or releasing new material. TOOL, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Pearl Jam (ok not that great), Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth, and best of all, the legendary Mike Patton's new project Peeping Tom. The first single from their self-titled album is 'Mojo', and after only three listenings, it's making the hair on my arms stand up already. That's how I judge good music. Only the best will do that to me. Mojo contains big hints of Faith No More, with the depth of subject matter and vocal intensity we've come to expect from Mr. Patton (view his incredible palmares here). I can't wait to hear the album, out on May 29. The new Tool track Vicarious is also classic Tool, but not at all stale. These guys are a little bit scary sometimes, not the least for the tightness of their musicianship. RHCP's new song 'Danny California' (I think that's what it's called) didn't do much for me on first listen, but has crept up and burrowed it's way into my head with it's typically infectious Chilli's funk and bounce. And Sonic Youth's new track (?) hit me instantly, that trademark twisted, edgy pop, and the new album is out in June...they are also touring Australia then if only Peeping Tom make the trip, my life will be a little closer to complete.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ourimbah, Arriba!

Anzac Day. A day to remember the diggers who fought for our country, to pay homage to their heroic efforts on the battlefields from Gallipoli to the Kokoda Track. Or to go riding. I chose the latter, but with a thought in my heart for the old soldiers, their medals polished up for the day, playing two-up and downing cold ales while trying to forget the traumas that they are now honoured for surviving. As we drove out of town, the crowds were still thick on the streets, and when we arrived at the Ourimbah car park, it wasn't much better. Seems everyone in the Central Coast MTB community was out, mainly downhillers getting shuttled up to the top, so the XC trails weren't too crowded. Tim didn't make it, so it was the brothers Back and myself left to explore. Nath had ridden here once before, so had a vague idea of where to go, but we gleaned most of our directions from Fiona and John, up from Sydney for the day. The trails were a nice surprise too, some nice flowing singletrack and good steady climbs followed by fun descents. The Rollercoaster trail was a ton of fun, as any trail named 'Rollercoaster' usually is! The only downside is that there just isn't enough length to the trails, so we ended up doing three laps to get maximum satisfaction. But in this last week, I have seen that our trails aren't so bad after all, I still think Rotorua is the best shit ever, but we are pretty lucky here too. After all, the diggers fought to save these trails for us. And for that, we salute you!

Monday, April 24, 2006

It's a small world...

Got an SMS on Friday from Tim, the guy we met out riding in Rotorua, who showed us all the magic trails on offer there. Tim works out here in Gosford, just down the road from us. He ventured up to Newcastle for the weekend, and we met up for a ride in Glenrock on Sunday. I was a little sceptical about whether he'd enjoy our trails, being used to Rotorua and all. But 5 minutes in, he was heard yelling 'awesome' and 'these trails rock'! And we hadn't even got to the good bits yet. We (Christian and Kedan were along too) spent a good 3 1/2 hours in there, and rode some trails that even Christian and I hadn't done before. It was probably the best day I've had in Glenrock ever. And it made me appreciate what we've got here. Tim was even heard to say that he would like to move here, he was impressed with the city as well as the great ocean views as we exited a trail onto the headland at one point. Strange, he wants to move here, and I want to move to Rotorua! Mountain bike cultural exchange program?

With only two weeks to go until the Dirt Works 100km Classic, my physical condition was becoming a bit of a concern for me. I got some training tips from Scott Steward and Dave Perry, two workmates and top blokes who also just happened to be two of the best road racers at a National level in the 90's. So it was back onto the road bike for 3 hours on Saturday, then a solid 2.5 on the MTB yesterday, and will head out for another 2 or 3 on the road today. A trip to Ourimbah for some more singletrack with Tim is planned for tomorrow, Anzac Day. I'm surprised that I feel pretty good on the bike, I guess I have a good base and some residual fitness there somewhere. Whether or not it's enough to survive 100km off-road is anyone's guess though. As long as I beat Col...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

It ain't so bad...

So after getting home, it was back into the routine of a Monday road ride, which was a good blast after two weeks on the MTB. Felt pretty strong and the skinny tyres on pavement was something I really missed. Maybe the road is where it's at for me....nah! I need both disciplines to keep things interesting, and I have the passion for railling a sweet singletrack, or drafting a truck at 60kmh.
Yesterday afternoon I got out the ol' singlespeed, and headed up to Glenrock with Tomkinson. The thing I noticed the most after NZ was how dry the dirt is here at the moment (it's just started raining now), and the poorly designed/built trails. Ruts down the centre, bad cambering in the corners, no real flow. But they're still a lot of fun to ride. With a bit of TLC and some minor modifications, I think Glenrock could be a great place to ride. I mean, it already is, it just could be so much better. Yeah, I've been spoiled, but I'll get over it. Maybe. Riding the SS for the first time in a while too was an experience. Made me realise just how good rear suspension is, and that gears can be quite handy too! But there's a twisted sense of accomplishment and well-being that emanates from grinding up loose pitches at a snail's pace, desperate for traction, or spinning so fast that you think your legs are gonna wind themselves off at the hips. And the bike just looks so uncluttered, simple and functional. I just wouldn't want to be riding it all the time.

All good things...

Captains Blog, April 6, 7, 8 The Final Frontier

After our last magnificent outing in Rotorua, we pointed the Starship Laser towards Mt. Ruhapehu, armed with yet another half price accomodation docket. This turned out to be the best of all, as we landed at the oppulent Chateau Tongariro.
Immediately our accents changed to those of well heeled English fops, with phrases the ilk of "Oh yes, jolly good" and "I say, smashing shot" as we played snooker on the full size table in the chandelier adorned lounge. Such luxury we may never experience again. The next morning we pumped up the tyres to 60psi and headed up the pavement to the end of the road to Mt. Ruhapehu, an active volcano and one of the North Island's premier ski destinations. A bit like the moon up there. We probably should've spent the time to go up on the lift to see the crater lake, apparently pretty spectacular. But we just got our kicks from blasting back down the road, overtaking cars at 70kmh, a bit hairy on knobby tyres. Then it was back in the Starship and towards Wanganui, a town which I spent a lot of time in when growing up, as my grandparents lived there for many years, and we would visit them every Xmas. The memories came flooding back as I climbed the stairs of Durie Hill tower, mixed with the ducks at Virginia Lake, and walked around the cricket ground at Cook Gardens. The final leg took us back to Carterton, where we had a day's rest to clean and pack our bikes for the return to Oz. Before hitting the airport, it was a stop off to see my Grandma, 97 years and still overtaking 70 year olds down the hallway in her zimmer! Then over to have lunch with my Uncle and Aunty, who are always good for a feed, beer, and a laugh. It was great to end my trip seeing my family again, reminding me just what a good family I have. Then the real fun began. Checking in our luggage, we were informed that we had excess and would have to pay $340 between us! NO WAY! After fruitless negotiations, we frantically unloaded as much flotsam as we could, me ending up forfeitting my empty beer bottles and walking onto the plane with plastic bags filled with clothes. Still got hit with $85 each though, strange how we didn't get charged on the way over for much the same baggage. We tried to make up for it in free beer on the flight, but 3 hours just isn't enough time to drink $85 worth, and we fell well short of the mark. But we'll get you back, Qantas!

Friday, April 07, 2006

I'm giving up Mountain Biking....

Captain's Blog, Tues, Weds April 4 & 5

It's either give it up or move to Rotorua. It's that serious. There's no way I can go back to riding those boring old trails in Newcastle. No way, no how. We've been spoiled. Shown what it's like in Heaven, no way am I going to Hell. Or maybe it's the other way around? Maybe this is Hell, the trails certainly are wicked. After arrivng back in Rotorua in the afternoon under blue skies, the heart-wrenching sound of rain tormented us through the night and into the next morning. We strolled around town for a few hours, then the sun started to peek through again around midday. We had to take advantage, so a decision was made to hit the forest at 1. Amazingly, the rain had little effect on the pumice underlay, and we were soon railing the singletrack again. A few puddles here and there, but nothing too bad at all. Properly built and maintained trails help in that respect. We spent the afternoon trying to re-trace the steps that Tim had layed for us a few days earlier, mostly successfully. If there is a God, then he/she is the Devil. Something that makes you feel this good has to be a sin. If only Rotorua was a little cooler as a town, then this would be the place to be. I suppose the smell of sulphur could be gotten used to, and anyway, you can't smell it up in the forest.
The next day was much better weather-wise, and we headed out once again, this time with the knowledge that this would be our last ride here. After a few new trails (Northface and Corridor), we were feeling a little flat, and thought about throwing in the towel. We made the decision to ride up Hill Road to Chestnut Link, and it was the best decision of the trip. What a fantastic ride down this is... linking up with Rollercoaster, then back down Chop Suey and Spring Roll, then the piece de resistance, B Rude Not 2. This is what it's all about. Flow. We stopped to take a few pics at a huge tree, and as we were snapping away, a flash came down the trail, namely Annika Smail, a top ranked Kiwi XC rider who I recognised from the magazines and N-Zo clothing catalogue. (Awesome stuff by the way, as evidenced by just about every Kiwi rider we saw wearing their gear). She was railling it. Would've spanked our asses no problem, which we would gladly accept I'm sure. Back on the bikes, we finished up with Pig Track, Lion Trail and Diamond Back, and got back to the car with grins from ear to ear. And that is the best recommendation for any ride , anywhere, anytime. Now, where can I buy nose plugs?

Raining on our Parade

Captain's Blog, Sun April 2. The Black Hole

So, we wake up a bit shady, the sun is shining, we have an invite to our new lady friends' party, so what do we do? Scrap riding, scrap the chicks, let's drive! Due to our tired legs and sore heads, we decided to go to Tauraunga, listed in our book as a place with some nice trails. Once in Tauraunga, we made the five minute trip to Mt. Manguanui, which is like a playground of the rich and infamous. Big houses on a beachfront with a cool downtown and cruiseliners in the bay. Next morning we awoke to rain...oh the rain. Persistent, driving rain. We packed up and headed in the general direction of Hamilton, finally docking there. Get a motel, and head downtown. We happened upon the Belgian Beer Cafe. Big mistake. Or not. We drank the finest of Belgium, Duvel, Chimay Blanche, Hoegaarden. 8.5 to 12%, evil gear. After stumbling home via a Thai takeaway, I decided to move the car, almost reversing it into Room 5's front window. Then it was time to spill the Beef Mussaman all over the table, and smash a Wicked Blonde on the kitchen floor. I was in the zone. The stupid pissed bloke zone. Christian lost his ring for the umpteenth time on the trip. I found a cat out the front and that kept me entertained for a few minutes. We hightailed it outa there next morning, tails between our legs, and headed for Tokoroa.

Ok, so Monday comes and we head to Tokoroa, armed with our trusty book. The trails don't appear to be where they should. Into town to the local bike shop, and we are informed that the trail system at Big Rock has been closed down. There are other trails though, so we scope them out. Across this feild lies a pine forest (surprise), and soon we are amongst it. Pretty darn nice trails they are too, probably better than anything back home, but after Rotorua they just seem so inoccuous. We spend about 1.5 hours in there, up and down and around, but somehow we just aren't satisfied. Off we go, back to the smelly MTB paradise.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Hot springs eternal...

Captains Blog, Friday March 31. Serendipity Day.

A short morning drive and we were soon in the interesting scents of Rotorua. We traded in our half-price vouchers for our room, then headed out to Whakawerawara or Redwoods, home of allegedly some of the finest trails on the planet. The carpark was quite full for a weekday, but the sight of groups of schoolchildren was a lttle worrying. After checking out the site map, we headed off into the pines, and were soon passing said kids (we soon put them into their place!). About half an hour in, we were left wondering what all the fuss was about. Sure, they were nice trails, but no better than Taupo, and a little disappointing at best. We searched for other options, when a rider approached us. "Do you know where you're going?" "NO!" "Come with me" was his only reply. "Ah, it's cool, we'll find our way around" was my feeble attempt not to bother him. "COME WITH ME!" Ok, we'd better go with him. Tim introduced himself and soon had us climbing up a steep fire road (pic 2), which didn't really make me any more confident we were going to find Nirvana just yet. As we reached the top, he assured us that we would enjoy the ride down ('cream ourselves' were his exact words) and we were soon traversing the "Gunna Gotta" trail, through the lushest of lush rainforest, twisting, turning, rolling, dropping, mind blowing. Things were looking up. We then went through 'A Trail', onto 'Tickler' (see pic 3) then out to a clearing at a junction of fireroads where we met up with 5 riders from Wellington. They joined up with us, and we had ourselves a posse! Tim had us grinding up another steep, loooooooong fireroad, and we found ourselves confronted with amazing views of Rotorua in all directions. After pointing out all the surrounding landmarks, Tim led us down 'Hot X Bun', a steep, fast technical blast of a trail with a few hidden surprises, like the jump that I had no option but to launch off at speed, filling me with relief when I lived to tell the tale at the bottom.
Awesome trail after awesome trail followed, with Tim leading us merry men all over the forest, bringing unbridled joy to all and sundry. After 3 1/2 hours, we were loudly singing the praises of the trails, as the best we had ever ridden by far (sorry Taupo), and maybe some of the best in the world (it has been claimed by others as such). After the endorphin high had somewhat abated, we headed downtown to the Pig and Whistle Hotel for dinner and drinks, meeting up with a few locals who took us to another bar and then back to the Pig until close. We planned to ride the next day, but the best laid plans...

Everything's set, everything's pine...

Captains Blog, Wednesday 29th March....

We loaded the Starship Laser hatchback and pointed it in the direction of Taupo, in search of mountain bike galaxies as yet undiscoverd by such humble time travellers. After a day of rain in Welly it was nice to see sunshine and clear skies. Armed with mum's saved up Shop-a-Dockets, we scored a half-price deal at the Wairekei Resort, the kind of place that usually would turn away common scum like us! But we had a docket... So in we rocked, and promptly made good of the gym, the spa, and the bar. We passed on tennis, golf, and room service. Next morning, another awesome day greeted us and we pedalled up the highway to the Craters Of The Moon MTB park.

More of a trail system than a park really. After the fruits of Makara we didn't know what to expect from this new location, and we were soon more than pleasantly surprised as we rolled on buff, twisty singletrack through lush pine forest. A bed of soft pine needles caressed our knobbies, soaking up the previous day's rain and providing perfect traction through the fast, sweeping bermed corners and tight switchbacks. The trails were all signposted, graded by difficulty and direction to ride. Signs I'd like to see more of were the 'No Horses' and 'MTB Only' ones which were prominent at every junction. We railed 'Tank Stand', 'Young Pines', climbed up 'Grinder', bombed back down 'Buzzard' and 'Missing Link', up 'Incline' down 'Coaster' (awesome) then across the road to 'Corkscrew', and 'Tourist Trap' before cutting another lap up 'Grinder' and down 'Buzzard' and 'Missing Link' again. These were the best trails in there, with tight bends, fast flowing straights, a few drops, some rutted corners and steep sections all the way down. After 55km of this, I wondered would the pleasure ever stop. We just wanted to keep on riding, but weary legs, empty stomachs and some crap in Christian's eye sent us back down the highway to our humble digs for a relaxing soak in the spa... tough life, but someone's gotta do it. That night we inhaled some of the best Indian food I've ever tasted, and discovered another top notch NZ beer, Mac's Wicked Blonde, a limited edition pilsener that has a fruity, hoppy flavour that is way too easy to drink, elevating it to new 'official beer of the trip' status. Would we discover a better beer, and better trails, in Rotorua? We had some doubts...