An invitation from Matt "Dogboy" Whitaker to check out Wide Open's new 2009 products in Rotorua was too good an opportunity to turn down. This was just the excuse needed for a long overdue road trip with my old buddy Rod Bardsley, plus it was a great chance to catch up with friends from up north that I get to see way too little of. The thought of this weekend away had me super-psyched, so I packed a redeculous amount of unnecessary crap and set off early on Thursday morning.
4. CDs for car
5.Havana X-Blend coffee
6. Stovetop espresso maker
10. Actual luggage...
After three hours of cramming that huge pile of gear into the Roadworks Team Vehicle, I drove up to Paraparaumu to Rod's house where I promptly unloaded it all again and into his van, which I was driving up to Rotorua for it's new owner, my old friend Andrew "Tallbeast" Durno.
We then set off in convoy for Rotorua, stopping for BK in Turangi, narrowly avoiding death by bus and concrete mixer after Taupo, and arriving in Vegas 20 minutes before Dogboy was due to open the doors to the Launch...
A quick catch-up with some industry friends then Matt and his right-hand man Dean invited us into a Palace of Bling, where we were handed a vast goodie bag packed with catalogues, stickers, posters, a t-shirt and some cool ODI grips. We then wandered around ogling the choice kit and jawing non-stop trade gossip with lots of cool bike shop guys from all over NZ. It was great to meet some of the faces behind the names of the best bike shops in New Zealand.
Now for a bunch of shots of gear. I won't try and bore you with tech spec - that's what Gooble and the Wide Open websites are for, and I'm a blog not a catalogue. Just look and lust...
Atomlab Pimp 2
FSA track crank set
Other assorted FSA cranks
Lovely EMC2 laden with FSA ceramic jewellery
Atomlab Pimplite Ti (titanium spokes!)
09 Turner 5-Spot with new DW Link
A Cabinet of Treasures!
After some words from the Man himself, we were shouted a generous amount of beer and some delicious snacks. Naturally, I displayed my usual moderation towards both...
Rod and I then took off to our lodgings - the Redwoods Forest Park motor camp. We unloaded and spruced ourselves up. I couldn't help myself and took the chance to fit my cool new grips.
Our room was invaded by some assorted Welli bike shop sifters before we headed off to the pending tea and drinks at the Pig and Whistle Pub. Don't even ask what the hell they are up to...
A good night at the P & W was had, despite the thunderous deluge of rain that started to fall. Oddly, I wasn't enjoying my beer so once our good mate Tallbeast had turned up from Auckland we bailed back to the digs to get ready for the next day...
We woke bright and early (sorry for the snoring, Tall!) and loaded up the bikes for the drive to the Whakarewarewa Forest, where we were to meet Dogboy and be hosted for a day of testing out his demo bikes and being shuttled at Matt's expense by Southstar shuttles on the extensive network of trails that the Forest has to offer.
Several more reprobates appeared for this day including Caleb from SPOKE magazine.
We loaded all our bikes on the clever purpose-built trailer for the drive to the YDOpen forest rendezvous.
Then we jumped aboard the bus.
Rod "Mad Dog" Bardsley
Dogboy briefed us as to the day's proceedings...
Then we trundled through the Forest to a clearing where Matt and Dean had set up the Wide Open Mobile HQ.
People selected demo bikes for various purposes but I was happy to ride my own rig for now, plus there was only a small selection of large frames and I figured there was plenty of time. We were then divided up into various riding crews, all with guides. Some got back on the bus to be ferried up to do some DHish runs, but I jumped into the XC crew led by the legendary Nick Lambert.
This was my first mistake. I should have stayed on the bus, as the minute we started to climb up a very cool trail called Yellow Brick Road I realised why I hadn't been enjoying the booze the previous evening. At a very civilised pace that I would normally have managed fine I was redlining (figuratively and literally!) and I was suffering from one of my rare asthma attacks. Nick was very patient, as was Tallbeast, but it was tragically clear that today I was to be designated the group lemon.
Luckily the climbing didn't last for long, and I was soon able to show the group how to (not) ride the downhill stretches...it seemed that any shred of self-esteem and riding ability I might have possessed had been left behind when I packed my bags in Welli.
We rode some truly beautiful flowing trails though. Once the trails flattened out a bit I was able to enjoy the more flowy parts, and there were lots of those, although I struggled with the wetter bits of the trail. We rode - and I'm trying to remember the names and the order! - Yellow Brick Road, Billy T, Pondy New, G Rock and Rollercoaster, then back to the Wide Open tents to regroup for the next ride and for me to find creative ways of avoiding doing more riding. I wasn't feeling very flash at all but I sort of managed a half-hearted grimace for the camera...
As I sat there wheezing, baffled and wondering how I could have degenerated from the unfit but semi-okay rider I was just a weekend or two before, I received a text that explained a lot. My wife told me that both her and my 5 year old had had a terrible night with temperatures and tight chests. Obviously instead of bringing my A Game to Rotorua I'd brought some shit illness instead...the only saving grace was that now at least I knew why I felt so out of sorts.
Most of the guys went out for another run on the various bikes, but I took advantage of the rest and yarned with a couple of other guys who were taking it a bit easy. Once everyone came back it was time for lunch, and Matt and his partner Alice had pulled out all the stops. We feasted and chatted in the sun for a respectable time...
Tall, Rod and Dean discuss the new Marzocchi forks. Possibly.
I wasn't the only victim of the very first run of the day - Tama from VORB had collected a tree with his shoulder and head and required oxygen as he was in shock. Luckily he recovered swiftly and was good to go the next day apart from a sore arm. The other victim of the day was poor Andrew who had obviously suffered a major electrical shock at some stage!
After lunch I was feeling heaps better so I decided to try the fat man's track by jumping aboard the bus for a predominantly downhill tilt - hopefully not having to climb would leave me fresher so I could cope with the trails better than I had in the morning.
Dogboy gets sorted for some madcore DH action.
The drive up the hill was scary for this city boy, so it was easier to look backwards
We got out at a clearing where everyone off the bus dispersed to find their own flavour of trail. As I was discovering, that is the beauty of this extraordinary trail network - there's literally something for everyone.
Rod, Tallbeast and Andrew set off down Billy T which was wicked! I was slow as hell compared to the other guys but I still had some cool fun slipping and sliding around the place lurching from crisis to crisis, berm to vert and back to berm. Just when I'd get The Fear the trail would instead turn it into The Fun. To give myself another excuse for being so slow I took some pointless porn shots of my bike at various points.
The boys were surprised to see me smiling whenever I caught them up after they'd waited, but despite still feeling like hurling I was really enjoying myself by now, as you can tell from my not forced at all expression...
The other Andrew
After wending our (well my) weary way back to Wide Open's refuge of food and drink, I parked up again while most of the peeps did one last run.
By now I'd missed any chance of riding any of the bikes, but really I wouldn't have been able to decipher their characteristics correctly in the state I found myself in anyway, so I quite happily left it to Rod and other much better qualified types to judge. The consensus seemed to be that the DW 5 Spot was an incredible ride, and the various Corsairs seemed to be very popular with the more freeride-y types.
After this superb day, we repaired back to our camp to unload our gear.
It was also time to grab showers, get changed into civvies and whip up a nice strong Havana coffee to revive us.
While Tall and I staggered about trying to get sorted, Rod gave our bikes a bloody good strop-up, bless him. He claimed to have some miracle substance that just sprays on then hoses off leaving your bike utterly spotless but, having been burned by advertising before, I was a tad sceptical.
Definitely not quite clean enough for this anal old gripper - plus I wanted to give her a quick tune-up before the next day's promised bout of riding...
Once we were organised we headed into town for a Friday night kebab, as one does. The strong temptations of the road were leading me down a path of inebriation, but I figured with how I was feeling already that that wasn't the path for me, so it ended up being an entirely sober night, but we had a lot of laughs and watched The Good German on Andrew's computer...
The next day I wasn't feeling too bad I thought so we took a trip into town to meet my mate Paul Larkin and have breakfast at Zippys. After a grouse meal we did some class sifting at Bike Culture with Mike Metz and Rob Smail, then we then headed back to the camp where I took all the medication I could find, before we saddled up to ride the 10 minutes to the trail head at Longmile Road.
Where we met up with three of my 06 Worlds Teammates, Paul, Tim Wilding and Dr. Pete Burt, along with Pete's friend Tilly. I had been looking forward to catching up with these guys for months, but it was manifestly apparent that I was not well. Again my temperature had climbed and I felt so weak I couldn't have kicked my way out of a paper-bag. I gave the opening climb a half-hearted attempt but couldn't remotely keep up, so Pete and Andrew sent me home to sleep...I rode away with tears in my eyes, frustrated beyond belief. But I headed back to base and spent the afternoon listening to music and dozing, as well as briefly yarning to our next door neighbours Nick and Jude, who just happened to be friends from home.
With all the daily pressures of work and family, I tend to spend all my "spare" time running around catching up with stuff or (if I'm lucky) riding, so it was actually a really nice change to be forced to just sit back for a few hours and chill the fuck out. I was set up with a comfy chair and just sat and looked out at Mt Ngongotaha - the venue for the 2006 World MTB Championships where I first got to twirl the spanners on behalf of my country. Along with Paul (and no doubt others!) I worked 148 hours in the 8 days I was there, so it was a nice chance to sit back and reflect on that incredible week, as Rotorua replicated the changeable weather we experienced back then by alternately frying and freezing me.
A shattered pair of riders turned up nearly 5 hours later, as Tall and Rod returned. As drinking wasn't part of my equation food had to be the answer, so we sent Rod off to get takeaways only to find that all the places near us were closed, as they would be at 8.30pm on a Labour Weekend Saturday night in the City. A trip into town for a slap-up Indian meal resulted, then it was back to crash out after another night of hilarious conversations.
The next day we were heading back to Wellington, but we had to make the obligatory breakfast stop at Zippys, where we caught up again with Paul, Tim and Tama.
After that, it just remained for Rod and I to jump into his wagon (the van stayed with Tall) for the drive home. Uneventful apart from snow on the Desert Road and a great Subway in Waiouru, it was another chance to just chill as Rod drove and we chatted at length, before returning to the warm bosoms of our respective families...
Despite the Brooke-White Curse rearing it's ugly head again, I actually had a great time this weekend. I would have preferred to be riding like a Legend, but was more than happy to have spent some quality time with some great mates, and the chance to see Matt and be shown his wicked lines of product was also very welcome indeed. Just getting away from the daily grind was a good thing - as my Uncle Anatole always said, "A change is as good as a rest...". Next year will be a different story riding-wise - if nothing else I will quarantine myself for a week prior LOL!
*phew!* That was a VERY long post. Thanks heaps for your patience, Oli