This week I suddenly realised autumn is fast approaching, and with it we'll lose those wonderfully long evenings of daylight saving that are so perfect for riding.
So recently, with my enthusiasm rekindled, I've been hitting the Wairakei Forest tracks to cram in as many evening rides as I can. I'm always surprised at how much decent riding you can get into an hour out at Craters. While I'm an advocate of pedal power over gas-guzzling vehicles any day, I'll just this once concede that it's worth making the 5 minute drive from town instead of riding out to the tracks if you only have an hour or so of daylight up your sleeve. You'll leave yourself extra time to enjoy the single track heaven without running into darkness halfway down Coaster and blindly doddering your way back out of the forest.
Last night Amy and I rode my 'new favourite' loop. If you're looking for a good fun ride of about an hour's duration then this loop is a good one to try. (We did stop to take photos, yak and admire the view, so this could easily be done in less time if you're gunning it).
We started off from the main Craters carpark, off Karapiti Rd. From there we headed through the tunnel and up Tank Stand. Tank Stand (grade 3) is a steady climb of fairly even gradient and is a nice (gosh, I never thought I'd use the words 'nice' and 'climb' in the same sentence!) way to warm up. Once you reach the top of the hill there's a short but fun downhill, complete with a couple of tight corners to keep you on your toes, before you reach the start of Grinder.
Evening light at the top of Tank Stand
Take the left hand track up Grinder (grade 4. It's all signposted - thanks Bike Taupo !) and yes, you will grind your way up to the top of the hill! The track does live up to its name I'm afraid to say, but don't be put off. It's not too long and is worth the effort, even if you have to walk up. The views from the top are spectacular - from Mt Tauhara in the east, across the lake to the mountains of Tongariro National Park in the south, it's a fairly breathtaking panorama.
Sweeping views from the top of Grinder
And now the real fun begins...
From the top of Grinder we hit Mr (as in Mr and Mrs, and yes, there is a Mrs track too). I used to think Coaster was the coolest downhill track in Craters, but Mr has definitely surpassed it in my books. To use the armchair analogy, Mr is like that brand new, slick, all-leather Lazyboy - a bit racy, flowing and smooth in all the right places. Lazyboys aside, Mr (grade 3) is a fantastic downhill ride with awesome flowy corners that make you want to whoop-whoop at the top of your voice all the way down. There are a couple of little kickers towards the bottom end - wicked for us amateurs to get some air without hitting the big time jumps and ramps (makes me feel just a wee bit younger each time my wheels leave the ground!). So go on, ease off on the brakes and give it a go!
Sweet flowing downhill on Mr
The Gravel and the Grovel...
From the bottom of Mr we turned right and rode down the gravel road. It's a fast ride down and I tried not to think about what would happen if I hit the gravel at 40km an hour with my bare arms and legs! From the bottom we rode Outback (grade 3). Now here’s the trick… we only rode the first half of Outback then cut back down Slalom (grade 3) for a fun winding downhill back to The Connection. Part way through Outback is Carwyn’s Fun Park. It was here I nearly came a cropper the first time, on one of the big dippers. I was too busy yakking about shopping websites to remember to get my line right before taking the drop!
Once you leave Outback and meet the gravel road again, there are a couple of bridges to ride over. Sounds simple, huh. Well once again I wasn’t paying attention (possibly complaining about my slipping gears by this stage) and nearly came a cropper the second time. I just about winded myself on my handlebars as I grovelled up the slippery metal bars of the short, sharp bridge. If you make it over the bridge in one piece (which I am sure you will as it’s really quite easy!) you’ll find yourself on the bottom part of Slalom. It's aptly named and a good fun ride in and out of the gums back down to The Connection.
From here we chose to ride Incline (grade 3) so that we could ride Coaster afterwards – always a great way to finish a ride. Incline is a bit of a grovel, there’s no two ways about it. As with most climbs in a well thought-out mountainbike park, it’s definitely worth the slog though as the last downhill back to the carpark is a cracker.
Coaster (grade 2) for me has become kind of like that comfy old Lazyboy with the checked woollen fabric that my grandmother had – you know all its lumps and bumps and it’s an oldie but a goodie. This is the original smooth and sweet downhill in Craters (OK, Buzzard has been there way longer but anyone who calls it smooth and sweet is a nutter). I must be spoilt now after riding Mr because I found myself complaining about having to pedal through sections of Coaster. There are still some wicked sections of downhill bliss though, and the beauty of this track is it will give you a thrill without being overly technical.
It had started to get dark as we rode the last part of Coaster, and I found myself bumping over sticks and pinecones as I picked my way back to the car. Yes, ‘blindly doddering’ as I mentioned earlier is probably a good way to describe it! So, make sure you leave yourself enough time to get back before dark, or take a light with you. When it gets dark in the forest it’s REALLY dark….ooooooh…..