We left Zane in the middle of a suspension bridge, just about halfway through the magnificent Timber Trail. Rejoin the story as he heads downhill all the way home…
After an exciting downhill ride along the road, exposed to the sun for some time, there’s a river you must stop by to cool off, the water so clear and fresh you could spend ages here just lazing about. If only it was deep enough to swim in.
But it’s 11am and there’s 50 km to go. And besides, I’m starting to get tired.
My goal when I started turning the pedals back in Pureora was to ride the whole 84km of the Timber Trail in a day. I’d planned months before to ride the with a great friend, Xavier (who had to drop out at the last minute – terrible story, happy ending), and I felt that if I didn’t make it in a day I’ll be dishonouring him, not just myself.
So I have to go on!
My body’s not used to all this riding. I’ve done no more than 20km at a time on my road bike previously, so this is a whole new ball game. I’m hoping that soon my body will work out what this cycling thing is and hit its stride.
I reach the Piropiro campsite. Time for a protein bar, a brief stop to check out the minimal facilities (a few toilets) and it’s all on again.
I’m past halfway – as is the day – so I start setting myself little milestones, breaking the ride down into quarters, thirds and fifths. My next milestone is 3/5, 49km, tick, oh gosh I’m getting tired, it seems like it’s all uphill again. I get off and push for a bit, stretch while I coast through some flats… 2/3, 53k, tick, I’m flowing downhill, yay!
I stop here for a sit down, another protein bar, a small stretch; I shake my legs, feeling fatigued… The scenery is just stunning. The old tramway tracks (rediscovered and resurrected to create this trail) were cut through the hills, and then emerge onto the side of a mountain with phenomenal views.
I cross another bridge just above a waterfall, pull over and climb into the water to cool off. It feels like 30 degrees in the sun, my body feels like it’s running at 50 degrees, so the cold clear water is shocking, cooling and refreshing… I take a few handfuls and it tastes so good. I started the ride with 3 litres of electrolyte drink in my camelback and I’m getting a little tired of the endless salty lemon-lime flavour… I take a few more handfuls of river water.
Reluctantly, but refreshed, I once more mount my ride. Once more into the fray. I hope I can go a bit further. I’m getting so tired, my knee is starting to niggle, and my legs don’t want to push any more. My will is strong, but my body is weak.
Luckily it’s a few km of downhill, yay! But it doesn’t last…
At 60km, it turns back uphill. I hit the wall. I’m done. My body doesn’t want to work. I walk for a bit, must keep the wheels turning even if my pedals won’t, got to shake it off, I’m in the middle of nowhere, no reception, no-one will come and get me, I haven’t seen anyone for an hour or more. Back on the saddle, my bum hurts, my legs push like they’re not even trying, I’m on the flat but the effort feels like I’m going up a hill constantly. I just need to hit that next milestone…
Three quarters of the way, 63k! No hurrah here, no excitement, just keep moving… surely there must be a downhill I can coast down soon… my speed keeps dropping.
Not far now, I keep telling myself, nearly 20k I say, I know I can do 20k, hell, I’ve just done more than 3 times that.
I stop to take a few photos. I’m trying not to stop too often, just aiming for the next mile marker. I’m blown away by the scenery: such remote territory, imagine the logging pioneers pushing their way into the bush to build railway lines and cut down massive trees.
I hit the four-fifths mark – 68km – and the track turns downhill. Thank goodness!!!!! I coast, stretch, wiggle my knee (hope it’s not going to give out) and hold on as I drop lower…
WHEEEEEEeeeeeeee the next 10km are the fastest of the whole trail. I average over 30km/hr for over half of it, the wide open path, the last STUNNING swing bridge, the Ongarue spiral. I whizz past a couple of groups, looking out over the valleys to the unending bush, looking back to see the path slicing through the hill on the other side of the valley I was on a minute ago and I’m having the time of my life. (Why did I have to ride 70km to get here??)
The path levels out and the sign tells me it’s 5km to Ongarue. So it’s back to the grind, making the pedals turn, but I’m still on a high from the last 20 minutes of down. The scenery is different again, the bush turning back to farmland, cows in the paddocks next to me, there are horses here with antlers (turns out they are deer, holy moly, they’re the biggest damn deer I’ve ever seen!!). I stop to pick blackberries, and find enough ripe ones to make me happy.
When I finally hit the road and the sign tells me it’s 2km to my car, I feel:
- sad it’s over
- relieved that it’s only 2km to Ongarue
- and exhausted.
It’s only 2km to go, but I wish someone could pick me up from here. I’ve ridden enough roads, surely I can say I’ve done the Timber Trail and quit now…
I could try to hitch a lift?
It’s a dead end road. There’s no traffic coming through here, I know that, and the only people who will be riding out of the forest to their cars are an hour or more behind me, so I start the slog back to town. It’s only 2km after all, and I’ve just ridden more than 80km.
At last, I arrive back at Shuttle HQ, where I purchase one of those advertised ‘cold drinks’. A Coke tastes so fine, and yet it seems a hollow reward after such an epic mission. I ask Ian if there’s a swimming hole nearby and he directs me well. I pack up the bike and drive there (no way I’m cycling any further!), and the cool clear waters are so, so good. I sit and soak for a while, and my legs feel so much better.
Then it’s just a simple 4-hour drive home in homeward long-weekend traffic. Oh, how I miss my bike in the bush. Well, at least I have music, my smartphone, air con and petrol power. I pick up a pie in Ngaruawahia, and I’m home before I know it.
Would I recommend the ride?
Would I do it again?
YES! But not alone and maybe not in a single day.
Why? The awe-inspiring scenery is best shared and savoured, not experienced solo and battling. The times I thought “Oh my goodness, look at that!!” and realised I was talking to myself left me feeling even more alone (albeit more adventurous).
And of course you can do the ride in a day – it’s not really that far – and see all the sights and marvel at the awesomeness. But better to take your time and enjoy the ride. There are plenty of options for overnighting, whether you prefer a bed, a tent, or a bedroll under the stars (NZByBike has some useful info about the logistics).
Final verdict: It’s the perfect trail for those who want a 2-day ‘adventure’ that’s not too difficult, but don’t want an epic mission. (I’ll be honest, I walked a few hills when I was tired of turning pedals, but there’s no shame in a little walk, right?)
Top tip: Take a friend.
Keen to plan a trip? Find out more about the Timber Trail (including accommodation and refreshment options nearby) on the official website and on the NZ Cycle Trail page. Barb Cuthbert’s also written about riding the trail here and here.