It’s not every day Shimano throw a brand-new XT Groupset at you and ask you to put it through its paces. So, when they did, I wanted to make sure we did them justice and spent a couple of days asking anyone and everyone where we should head. The most popular answer by far (that wasn’t on the other side of the world!) was Wairoa Gorge - and I definitely wasn’t complaining. Can’t say no to a couple of days of private shuttles on some of the best trails I’ve ridden!
I could have sworn someone (or something) was trying to stop the trip from going ahead. As each week of planning went by, it felt like something else we weren’t expecting was thrown our way. The night before we were due to leave, I stupidly thought ‘what more can go wrong?’ Right on cue, my phone started ringing. A member of our content team had a family emergency and could no longer make it. Thankfully our Subscription Manager, Helen, came to the rescue through means of a late-night phone call, giving her about 12 hours to pack her bike, book flights, sleep and make her way to Nelson. All sorted! Nope, wrong again.
Auckland Airport is approximately 20kms from my house and I had to be there by 8:30am. ‘If I leave at 6:45am, I’ll have almost two hours to get there – easy!’ … or so I thought. The morning I chose to fly to Nelson was the same morning a digger fell off its trailer on the motorway, blocking all three lanes and bringing traffic to a standstill for 50 minutes. A couple of hours and $150 later, I was running through Auckland Airport scrambling to make my re-booked flight. I made it – by five minutes. I sat in my seat on the plane and accepted that this trip was destined to keep throwing curve balls our way.
I made it to Nelson and after a day of meetings that all ended with; “we’re going for a ride, if you want to join us?” and me having to turn them all down because I had more meetings lined up (rookie mistake), I made my way back to my hotel dreading what would go wrong next, but also itching to get on my bike. I had planned to get breakfast at the airport that morning but obviously those plans had fallen through and with everything I’d had to do in Nelson, I hadn’t actually had the chance to eat - so it’s safe to say I was starving by then!
Helen had arrived in Nelson by this point, so I picked her up and we went for dinner. On the way to the restaurant, Helen starting chewing on what I thought was nothing. A little strange but hey, each to their own, right? Turns out she was chewing on something – half of her tooth, that had spontaneously broken off. It was around this time I started wondering if we’d even make it out of the Gorge alive. Sounded like a tomorrow problem.
The next morning, we met up with our content team and made our way to the Gorge. The mini-van we’d hired slid all over the icy forestry roads and every time we came across a small creek running across the road, we’d nervously point the wheels at the other side, push the gas pedal in a little further and hope for the best. To our surprise, the van wasn’t deterred and to our shock (and relief) we rolled up to the Gorge carpark with the van still intact. After all the drama on the lead up to our arrival, we were all itching to ride, so we dove into our kit, threw our bikes onto the trailer and piled into the truck, then made our way up the hillside.
It wasn’t until we were in the truck, on the way up the hill that the magnitude of what we were doing hit me. The remoteness, the incredible landscape and sheer rad-factor of the Gorge sunk in and I couldn’t believe that for the next two days we had this Gorge all to ourselves, with a shuttle on-call to take us wherever our hearts desired. It was definitely one of those, ‘I can’t believe this is work’ moments.
Stay tuned for Part Two coming soon, to find out about the riding the Gorge has to offer - and Shimano’s new XT Groupset.
Words & Images: Cam Baker and Cameron Mackenzie
Subscribe to our print edition for the very best of New Zealand Mountain Biking