When was the last time you went somewhere and it legitimately, no BS, authentically blew your mind? I’m not talking a “Gee, this was neat and I had a lovely coffee and croissant dear” type set up… No, I’m meaning a full assault of your aura which you can’t work out if its orgasmic or straight up a life event slapping you across the face and out of your complacent slumber.
Ok sure, there are lots of amazing places you can go to around the world, we all have lists and goals on that front, but sometimes they can sort of be like other places or simply meet your expectations. We absolutely need to have “Holy fuck” moments when scoping new zones as we broaden our 2 wheeled horizons. When I was drawing up my Dirty 2017 finger banging list, I had a couple of places with such a brief in mind, but no real plan on how to get to one in particular:
So when I was mistakenly included in an e mail distribution list for a day of riding in the Gorge after the NZ Enduro, I quickly got busy in a flurry of eye wateringly expensive on-line bookings, changing plans to accommodate bagging one of the baddest motherfuckers on the Dirty Most Wanted list.
So then, the obvious question is, what makes this place so special and froth worthy? Why the drama queen preamble? How many rhetorical questions does it deserve? And how many build up paragraphs does it require before getting to the actual point? And is this bridge the gateway to the promised land?!
To unpack this shit like a group of middle management monkeys, we first need to look at the mythology of the place. By mythology I mean rumours and Fake News based on Mountain Biker’s combined ability to gossip as good as Alicia Silverstone in the 90’s. To illustrate my point, I shall outline what I knew of it before I arrived… And before you rush to the comment section to furiously pound the keyboard like you’ve just learnt to masterbate to highlight my full-of-shitness, that’s kind of the point…
SO – American Billionaire who made/inherited his fortune through Styrofoam cups decides he needs a series of ultra rad Mountain Bike parks around the world accessible by Private jet and that are as cool as fuck. Simple brief really and let’s face it, who wouldn’t want such a set up?
Now obviously you’d have NZ on your list of places to drop your substantial wad on and as such, next thing you know, Helicopter gunships are flying low level patrols across the South Island hunting for the appropriate Dirt Gnarvana for Juraddic Park to be set up. Its possible Apache gunships weren’t used, but it makes the story way cooler, so roll with it.
With required location secured, our trail loving Billionaire enlists Dodzy and JC Superstar to unleash their pent up inner trail building messiahs and sets them like rabid Wolves with Pick Axes on his secretive secure compound with a simple mandate:
“Go forth and build trails that will make cunts lose their minds”
Without stopping to confirm if this is a gig sponsored by Scientologists, a crew of 500 men (possibly only 40) toil for a decade (Maybe 2 or 3 years?) with their bare hands (possibly a machine was used here and there) to carve out trails that not only make the Pyramids of Egypt look like a cheap ass school project outcome, but which are subsequently referred to as: “Some of the best riding in all of New Zealand, perhaps the world!”
Holy FUCK – As you may know, I’m the first one to line up for some embellishment and love to see anything blown out of proportion, so I sculled as much Wairoa Kool Aid as I could get my inappropriate mitts on every time I heard these stories. Adding to the Area 51 like fever was the fact that until recently it was closed to the public and only available to ride once a year for a lucky few.
My froth to ride the Gorge only increasing when I missed out on riding the Dodzy memorial ENDURO (which commemorates the tragic passing of the Legend himself) in 2016 over that whole broken neck scenario. As you all know, the more you can’t have something…
After sitting around in Nelson for 2 days eating junk food like I owned an eBike following the NZ Enduro bathing experiment, the anticipation that was already building up to Maximum DEFCON 1 froth was seriously starting to bubble over. This led me to being the first person/nerd up the Gorge come the day of reckoning. If you’ve never been out there before, yes you basically keep driving until you A) Feel the discomfort of losing your rental car deposit and B) Hear the faint twang of a banjo playing, again to the point where nervousness starts to get anticipation in a headlock.
Oh, and above all, be on motherfucking time – As this rad set up waits for no one. Indeed the Gorge has its own set of unique rules that you had better brush up on before you arrive at Mountain Biking Disneyland and line up for the first ride:
I didn’t really know what to expect trail wise, and all I had been told was to “Stay the fuck away from the dark side if its wet cunt” which it was on this particular day, problem was first of all, I didn’t know where the dark side was (other than place in my soul that dies every time I melt down in an EWS stage), and secondly its not like I had much say in the matter.
When in the Gorge, its not a free for all, you need to ride with your group and importantly that group has to have a radio. To start with, I didn’t really understand this rule, but it quickly becomes obvious as to why. However, when it came to group composition, oh holy fuck this was not an ordinary day. For the e mail invitation that went out wasn’t just to normal EWS fodder such as myself… When the group assembled I had the “One of these kids is not like the other ones…” jingle punching my brain.
I mean, there were so many PRO’s that I basically overloaded and went to safe mode… Jesse Melamed, Damien Oton, Marco Osborne, Greg Callaghan, Ines Thoma, Joe Barnes, Chris Ball, Katy Winton, the Gehrig Twins, Remy Absalon and to top it all off, I tracked down the Rad cunt that I referred to in Day 2 of NZ Enduro riding a Nomad in a Santa Cruz singlet and giving zero fucks about the weather, turns out it wasn’t Chuck Norris’ illegitimate son, it was simply: Mitch.
Like a 3 legged gazelle, I set off with some of the EWS’ finest gnar lions and immediately set about covering myself in glory given the illustrious audience, with a big crash on the first run attempting to keep up with Katie Winton (I’ve learnt nothing since Pila) which could have ended Dirty Mega March right then and there.
Miraculously I managed to not break myself, only to follow that up on the second run with a slow motion OTB effort right in front of the Gehrig twins, which was so laced with fuckwittery that they both had to help untangle me from my rather expansive 29er sled whilst I resembled an origami muppet. Any excitement about riding with PRO Swiss twins is easily wiped out by the embarrassment of making yourself look like a chino wearing dad in a millennial rammed mosh pit.
Ok, so one thing I’m not going to do is give a trail by trail break down of what we rode, mainly as my brain was operating at maximum capacity all day trying to keep up with PRO’s and ride insanely epic trails in the wet, so it shut down any non essential functions like reading, talking or retaining basic geographical data. Plus, its as boring as fuck and mostly meaningless if I describe each trail in any form of detail, mostly as I can’t do them justice with my wordsmithery.
But I will say this – These aren’t really ‘trails’ as much as they are works of art… I pretty much spent all day trying to figure out HOW the fuck this place came about and HOW these trails were so amazingly carved into the hillside rather than how to ride them. Their artistry of course lies in the fact that serious proponents of the sport, and of trail building for that matter, made this insane zone their Mountain Bike version of the Sistine chapel ceiling, except without the boring tour and long queues.
Ok, so I’m prone to frothing here, but before you sprinkle artisanal sea salt all over me, not only make it a priority to ride here (Note – I say that not matter where in the world you live FYI), but also check out Nate Hill’s little edit here from his riding experience in the Gorge (yes, my Session 5 cunted out at the start of my Gorge day, again), Nate’s somewhat handy on the bike too as you may work out:
Holy fuck YES… I think the best way to describe these trails, aside from mind blowing creations of perfection made by the hand of legends, is like this:
They will take you to the absolute edge of your limits and capabilities to the point where you’re about to either ENDUROgasim or melt down and then just at the right moment, give you enough of an out, safe zone, reprieve or breathing space that you then get to repeat the whole sequence again… And again… And again… Until you’re a sweating, frothing, limp and blubbering mess at the bottom of the hill.
And yes, I’m not talking 5 minute runs either… Try more like 30 minutes depending on which route you take, which I had no fucking idea about as I was the absolute personification of a Lemming all day…
At one stage I found myself fully pinned down something that I can only describe as incredible, locked onto Ines Thoma’s back wheel, with her on a fun day out and me like it was an EWS race stage, constantly buzzing and pumped about how awesome the next section or corner was… Amazement competing with my bike riding functions for focus on what can only be summed up as hectic and not your normal day out riding.
In keeping with it being anything but an ordinary day, or indeed a day that would make almost everything seem exceedingly ordinary afterwards, how about having your trail menu picked over by a couple of global Gnar Connoisseurs (GC’s anyone?) so they can serve the best dishes the Gorge has to offer for your riding pleasure:
Speaking of riding pleasure, someone was like a pig in shit, like a case study of it in fact as it hoovered up the sweet turns and artistry trail like a fucked off vacuum cleaner:
The Hightower was absolutely railing through everything coming at our grills faster than what’s comfortable as we tried to keep pace with the crew of crews. These trails felt like they were right in the honey hole sweet spot for this kind of bike, where you’re encouraged to carry speed, stability is highly rewarded and being able to carve rad turns is a must. Raked out mid travel 29ers, I love you.
About the only time I got to see most of the fastest casual riding group known to man was when the ream team stopped for lunch and some much needed chill time.
Amazingly, this was one of the first times all day that I had the chance to take in the surroundings… Which are rather staggering in their own right. As I gazed out longingly with Billionaire level status anxiety, the setting this place was in only added to its overall mythical nature.
Like, seriously, who came up with this concept? How did they find this place? How did someone have the balls to do this? Why was I not paying 10 times as much as I did to be here?! In spite of the calming serenity and XTR level vista, my head still wanted to explode from unanswered and non-value add questions:
If you’ve ever sat around with any mates and had the “What would you do if you won Lotto cunts?!” conversation then this is pretty much the personification of it. I mean, hookers, blow and acquiring the entire Santa Cruz range aside, this is basically that Lotto fantasy made into shredding reality in front of your very eyes. Your own personal private world class bike park. Mind blown.
But there was no time for head explosions and their awkward clean ups, there were shuttles to run and only so much time to run them in. Quit your faffing & frothing and load up for more mega runs:
With lunch in the bag, it was time to settle into a golden period of riding… Given almost everyone here was Mountain Bike famous in their own right, the key was not putting yourself in a position of mortal danger by either being in front of the wrong person, or trying to keep up with the wrong wheel. Case study, its not really a regular experience to be dropping in with an EWS World Champion, especially one that skinned Kermit the Frog to make himself a vest:
I was like a PRO slut that had just been shopping at Forever 21 and purchased myself the shortest PRO Hoe mini skirt I could get my ENDURO mitts on… “Hey there, remember me? No? Spain 2015 ring any bells? I stood closely behind you while someone took a photo of us with you sort of looking the other way… Still felt like a shared experience”
I often wank on about having the right terrain and mofos to ride with as being essential for Mountain Biking, well, fuck me if I wasn’t being force fed both like a Foie Gras fattened goose, rammed with a strict diet of gnar, blind riding at what was pretty much my race pace and more GC’s than you can shake a selfie stick at:
I think every lap we were introduced to a new trail, there are around 70km’s of it here I believe, so plenty to go around. No matter what we hit though it was yet another ‘New best trail ever’ type situation. Even the so called green trails were so fast and rocking that they immediately didn’t feel like they were that easy, especially when there were more hammers being dropped than a Thor movie.
I was fortunate enough to get some solid laps rolling with Trans Provence Alumni Sam Needham, photographer extraordinaire and a man that knows a thing or two about throwing stylish shapes on a bike, with more fluidity than a chilled stingray.
When I wasn’t busy having my brains blown out like an extra in an Alien movie over how amazing each new trail was that I got to experience, I was genuinely fascinated with how exceedingly well set up the whole Gorge scenario is. Even the signage is at a level that would put any bike park to shame. The infrastructure, shuttles, bridges and everyone involved in it were so awesome I started to wonder if it was in fact some sort of alien experiment. I mean, people don’t do things to this level of fantastic any more… Let me stress this point with bold font to alert you to its seismic intent:
Its genuinely, no BS, one of the best places I’ve ever ridden a Mountain bike
When you add it all up, including the setting and how the trails resemble absolute flow artwork, you get a place that goes beyond being called ‘special’ or ‘epic’ and instantly becomes addictive and legendary. Yes, its basically Gnar Heroin, but without the downsides and with a much cooler vibe afterwards:
Of course, its all fun and radness until someone rolls their van/house into the river, I wasn’t joking about that rental car nervousness… You’ve never seen a bunch of smart phone cameras appear this fast, Pang refusing to be part of the antics:
And now, some rapid fire Dirty tips for riding at Wairoa Gorge, fuck look at me, an expert after one day:
- Join the Nelson MTB club and sign up early – May not be cheap, but the cost of missing out is a million times more
- Make sure you know where you’re going and be on time – Its a long way out from Nelson given the road conditions, plus there’s no sign posting, so don’t just hope you’ll find it – You won’t
- Fuck all mobile coverage out there, some at the top, but that’s about it… Hence the radios and the rules. Suggest getting the person at the back to carry the radio, we learnt early that’s the best way to avoid fuckwittery
- Follow the fucking rules, don’t be a cheeky cunt – Its a privilege to ride here
- No shops or cafe’s out there, so for fucks sake take lunch, you’re going to need it, and plenty of water
- Double Down tires!!! Or DH casing, I saw at least 5 punctures from memory, including some total tire replacements, so don’t rock up with the lightweight rubber
- We only managed 6 runs, which doesn’t sound like much, but I was fairly cunted by the 5th and even had to gel the fuck up to hit number 6 and not crash my brains out, so make sure you fuel as given the speed and nature of the trails, its harder than you think:
A massive Dirty thanks to Sven for arranging a banger of a day to pop the Wairoa cherry, to the bike park crew for keeping us rolling, to the shred team of ALL time for the wicked runs and lines and to everyone who ever turned a shovel, swung a pick or raked at rubble to create this wonder of the Mountain Bike world, we all salute you. Once is nowhere near enough, so evil plotting is already underway on how to get back here ASAP for another injection of Gorge goodness.
To wrap up this gushy forth fest, take the time to soak up some more of Nate Hill’s smashing turns and railing pretty much everything, hopefully this helps reinforce my above froth, but more than anything I hope it encourages you to get amongst this amazing zone, its a giant addition to anyone’s life experience vault: