With the days getting shorter and winter approaching, the number of guests coming to Natural High to hire bikes and ride tours is slowing down. The weather is cooling off in the evenings, but there is still some good day riding to be had, and with Canterbury finally basking in sunny weather, it’s been the perfect time for the Natural High team to get out and do some riding ourselves.
Plus, we’ve all got big travel plans coming up – Sandra is cycling around Northern India, Logan is off to shred the back country of Canada and I’m preparing to trek the Annapuna Circuit in Nepal – so its high priority to get off the couch and get some serious training behind us.
First up: a 110km endurance loop ride of Lees Valley, a remote and picturesque area 30km north west of Christchurch, which takes in the rolling foothills of the Canterbury Plains, the Ashley Gorge and acre upon acre of native bush, forestry and farmland. Also, a good excuse to test out the Rockhopper 29ners, and see how they fare as back country adventure touring bikes.
I’ve been a little slack with the fitness lately, recklessly dropping my regular rides to work and deluding myself about how fit I actually am. I’d be fine (I told myself)… what I lost on the uphill, my vastly superior downhill skills would mean Sandra and I would be riding roughly the same times.
Off and riding
We decided to get the flat road ride out of the way first and parked on Yaxley Road. After gossiping about what was happening in our lives, before we knew it, we’d ridden 25km and were at the Lees Valley turnoff (Ashley Gorge Road) and I was thinking about lunch.
It’s a short climb up the well formed gravel road into Lees Valley, with great views over the Canterbury Plains and Banks Peninsula. There was little to no traffic, a couple of kayak club transfer vehicles and, being the start of duck shooting season, the odd hunter. Luckily at the first saddle, Sandra had stopped to wait for me. I had an exhilarating downhill run, for Sandra it was a different story as she’s not so keen on exhilaration, so it was my turn to wait.
Lees Valley is a wide, grassy, agricultural plain surrounded by the Puketeraki Range and a mecca for hunting and fishing. With a fresh dusting of snow on the hills and crutching in full swing (that’s shearing the rear end of sheep), it was chocolate box pictures galore. By then I could have emptied the chocolate box and given Sandra the picture without doing the ride. A thought for next time…
After a wee climb over the Okuku Saddle and another great downhill (where I had to wait again), we coasted down towards the Okuku River and a chance meeting with my dentist out pretending to duck shoot, who I’d only seen the day before and who couldn’t remember my name, only my teeth.
Neither of us were keen to risk riding across the river, as the water was cold and running fast. Sometimes walking a quick flowing river with your bike can be more dangerous than riding. In this case because of the large Canterbury goolies (rocks), riding was out of the question. Luckily for me there was the reward of lunch on the other side.
Another couple of small passes to warm Sandra up and finish me off, and I was praying that the remainder was all downhill. I looked ahead at the Okuku Pass and could see a track high above us, hoping like hell that it wasn’t the road. As I got stuck in, it became clear that yes… thank goodness it was a logging track…the road finished higher still! Time to remember the advice of one of my seasoned clients, Steve T: “Andy, one pedal stroke at a time.” Such wise words.
The final downhill was once again fantastic, before a quick, flat ride to the car. It was home to bed for Sandra and a tequila party at the neighbour’s for me, where I announced that I was in training…
So final words: a good, long winter training ride, great scenery on a sunny day, non-technical, just an epic endurance day out. Remember this is back country New Zealand, have warm gear, waterproofs, extra food and check the Ashley River levels before setting out. Allow 7 – 10 hours. The uber-fit will be quicker.