Words & Images: Jake Hood



That was the quote from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction that was bouncing through my head while we pedaled the last 20km back to Picton. THE ROYALE WITH CHEESE. It seemed like the perfect name for this adventure – a better name than what we’d had before. As we all know, everything’s better with cheese… and what an adventure it had been!

After the success of last year’s big mission in the Richmond Range – ‘Ferry to Fishy’ – we knew we had to do another one but, this time, it had to be bigger. We hadn’t even made it back to Wellington on the ferry before Scotty, Paul and Tom were throwing ideas around, still high on endorphins from the recent mission. The idea that seemed to stick was Mt. Royal; it sounded like the perfect mountain to conquer. Scotty, Paul, and Tom had ridden it before and told me the riding was insane. It had to be done! The name was set: The Royal Rumble – later changed to the Royale with Cheese.

Originally, the plan was to complete this mission within six months of ‘Ferry to Fishy’, but, well, as we all know, life sometimes gets in the way and adventures have to take a bit of a back seat. It wasn’t until December 2022 that the chat group got fired back up and things started to happen. Scotty and I were keen. Evan was also interested but wouldn’t be able to make it. Paul and Tom were very quiet on the chat, not committing. It got to the point where I just committed and booked my flight up to Wellington. This was the catalyst to get the ball rolling and make it happen.

About a week before the flight up to Wellington, I looked at the long-range forecast and it was terrible. Nothing but heavy rain for the whole time we were going to be on the trip. I messaged the group: “Are you sure you want to do this mission still? You should check out the long-range. It doesn’t look good.” Now, I love a bit of suffering, a bit of a bad time, but the idea of riding 70km in the pouring rain to stay in a small DOC hut, ride Mt. Royal, then ride back into Picton in the pouring rain just seemed too much like a bad idea. It would just be a miserable, cold, gross old time. “I’m not against just coming up to Wellington for a tour de brunch this weekend,” I told the others.

There was chat in the group about sacking it off due to the weather, but we just kept an eye on it all week. We would decide closer to departure time what we were going to do. A couple of days before, we just decided that we were going to do it, come rain or shine. Heck, if it was wet, it was going to be wet. Just get your head down and get on with it.

I flew up to Wellington on Thursday (2nd Feb), landing early afternoon and giving me just enough time to get all my last-minute stuff sorted for the trip. A new jacket and dehydrated meals from Coffee Outdoors, a few bike things from the legends at Get Lost Cycling, and some frame bags from Caleb. Scotty picked me up from Get Lost and we headed back to his house to eat our weight in carbs for this mission, and get an early night for the 12.30am start.

Sleep is something I struggle with, and that evening was no exception. The excitement of what lay ahead kept me up; the not knowing of how it was going to go. I love this stuff.

The energy levels were high and the chat was pretty punishing (in a good way).


At 12.30am, Scotty and I hit the road to the ferry terminal. We met Paul at Penny’s and bombed the road down to Zealandia, where Tom Bradshaw joined us. The energy levels were high, and the chat was pretty punishing (in a good way). We bombed the roads on the way down to the ferry. The quiet streets let you get off the brakes and speed tuck, not worrying about cars. But soon this speed would catch Scotty out.

As we headed towards the university, Scotty was hugging the corner of the roundabout tightly. It’s quite a tight left turn and Scotty tripped on it. In a flash, his back wheel let go, and he hit the deck like a sack of potatoes, with such force that his shoe fell off. What the heck just happened? He got up and hobbled about. “Where is my shoe?” he said, half laughing, half in pain. Everyone was kind of laughing since we couldn’t believe what had happened. We hadn’t even made it 2km into the trip before the first crash. Scotty is a tough bugger. I think that crash was a lot sorer than he let on.

The shoe was recovered, and we got back on the road – this time at a bit of a slower pace – to the Bluebridge terminal. As we got to the terminal, the chat was, “Will Tom Cappleman show up? Will he be here? Is he actually going to bail?” This had been the running joke of the group chat for months. Tom hadn’t ridden his bike all summer. His new business, Coffee Outdoors, had been going gangbusters, which in turn had taken up a lot of his time. Even the day before, when I was buying my jacket, he was like, “Yeah, I’m not coming,” in a joking manner. Well, peer pressure got the better of him, and he rolled up to the terminal ten minutes after we arrived. It was great to see him back on his bike. The adventure was about to begin. The crew was assembled. Let’s go…

We all piled into the back room of the terminal, awaiting the ferry – the small room where they put all the bikes before boarding the ferry. The terminal was a lot busier than normal, full of people from the Ed Sheeran concert that night. We were in the room for about half an hour before finding out the ferry had been delayed. By how long? No one knew. We just had to sit there and hold tight. As time went on, tiredness and delusion started to kick in. We were just lying on the floor laughing about absolutely nothing, trying to even think of at least one Ed Sheeran song we knew. The carpet in the room was that super thick, hardwearing, bristly-like material, and it was so uncomfortable. When you laid down on it, it felt like getting stabbed by a thousand tiny needles. I tried to get some more shut eye, but it wasn’t happening.

What the heck just happened?


A full two and a half hours later, we finally got to board the ferry. Getting up from the floor, I felt like my body had aged 50 years. Every joint hurt. Half my body felt numb but sore at the same time. The walk to the ferry sorted that out. We had done this ferry ride enough to know the drill. Get in early and find a good place to get horizontal for sleep. After quickly getting our bikes loaded up, we sprinted upstairs to claim some big seats. Snooze you lose, people. I got horizontal immediately on a row of seats. I just wanted to try to get some shut eye. It had been a long day ‘til then without sleep. I managed maybe an hour or two, but it wasn’t much.

As the sun came up and illuminated the Sounds, I woke up and went out on the deck to see if there was a golden hour, but it wasn’t meant to be. Grey clouds hung around. In some of the bays of the Sounds, you could see rain, and towards Picton way it was raining heavily. Not a great omen for what lay ahead. As we docked in Picton, the rain lashed down outside the boat but, in Picton centre, there were blue skies. Maybe we would miss it? Just… Well, that wasn’t the case. As we got off the boat, we rode right into the middle of it. The rain pelted us as we disembarked the ferry, the residual water from the road spraying up and completely drenching us. First stop was the bakery in town for breakfast and to grab lunch for later.

As we arrived at the bakery, the rain stopped and the sun came out, which was pretty great timing to let us dry out as we shoveled all the carbs and caffeine into our bodies in preparation for the 70km of road ahead. Spirits were high despite us all looking a bit worse for wear due to the lack of sleep. It was only at this point that I found out Bradshaw wasn’t going to be joining us for the return leg of the trip. Instead, he was off to ride down the length of the South Island afterwards. How flipping cool, and what a start to the trip this was going to be for him.

After a lot of time faffing, eating and drying out, we finally got on our bikes and made a move on the Queen Charlotte Drive, out of Picton toward Havelock. We eased into the climb out of Picton, having learned our lesson from the last time we were in this position: don’t get overexcited and punch it. We didn’t need to treat this like a race. We had heaps of time to get to the hut that night. As we reached the top of the climb out of town, we got a full view of Picton below. The misty, rainy grey sky contrasted with the dark-but-vi- brant green of the trees. It was pretty magical.

We were just lying on the floor laughing about absolutely nothing, trying to even thing of at least one Ed Sheeran song we knew.

Road or singletrack? That was the choice from the viewpoint. We chose the singletrack which… might not have been the best choice. It started off great, a flowing track back down to sea level, then onto a boardwalk around Shakespeare Bay. Moored up in the harbor was a gigantic cruise ship. After the boardwalk, the track started heading uphill. The saturated dirt was sticky to ride through, often causing wheel spins. It weaved its way through the dense trees back up near the road above. Eventually, we got to a point where there was a huge slip on the trail. Work had been done to reroute the path, but the soil was like clay, sticking to the wheels and tires. We had to push our bikes on this slip section as it was so sticky. We took the next turn off back onto the road. “Well, let’s not do that again,” said Scotty.

The road from Picton to Havelock follows the contours of the Sounds before a long, straight section inland, then back to following the edge of the Sounds to Havelock. The windy road sections were stunning. They weaved up and down, with some fast descents followed by pretty mel- low climbs. You could see the extent of the damage caused by the rains in the slips that had happened – huge bits of the hillside had just fallen away. But that didn’t tarnish how beautiful the landscape was. The misty, grey low clouds really added to it, leaving a sort of lazy, moody feel. There were still pockets of rain in some of the bays, from their own little microclimates. We were making good pace, just plodding along. Everyone seemed in good fettle. Knowing that we were going to be in for a big day, we kept the pace chill.

As we hit the big, long straight, the clouds burned off and bright sunshine appeared. It seemed to happen in an instant. Gone were the grey skies, replaced with what was almost a bluebird day. The temperature shifted massively. It became hot and sticky, with humidity at an all-time high. We got into a chain gang, got our heads down to get this straight out of the way. It was a good long slog, just turning the legs and trying to enjoy the surroundings over the humming sound of Maxxis Max Grip tires sticking to the tarmac. In the distance, you could see the heat waves coming off the tarmac. Sweat was dripping off me like water, and a mixture of sun cream and sweat beaded off my head into my eyes, leaving that familiar uncomfortable stinging feeling. “Couple of hours, boys.” With our heads down, we pressed on and eventually hit the windy roads to Havelock again.

It was a welcome sight to see Havelock. In my head, I knew that was a big chunk ticked off today. We stopped for a bite to eat, a water refill, and a bit of chill time. The temperature might have been unpleasant when riding, but boy oh boy, it was great during lunch. After a good feed and some chit-chat, we were ready to get back on the road again. We got back into the chain gang and punched it to Canvas Town. The 9.6km bit of State Highway 6 was busy with trucks and cars. It wasn’t pleasant to be on. Cars fly by you at high speed. We just wanted to get it done and get off it for our own safety.

Road or singletrack?


At Canvas Town, we took the left turn off just after the pub and followed that road down the valley. About 2km down, we stopped to check out Bradshaw’s grandparents’ barn/holiday house, that they had built way back in the day. Bradshaw had described it as a barn, so we were pleasantly surprised to find it was more like a small holiday home/batch. It had plenty of beds for us and power. Our plan was to stay there the second night. What a result. “I was not expecting this,” said Scotty. “Yeah, it’s pretty great,” said Bradshaw.

The next 15 kilometres… well, they sucked. We followed the Wakamarina road into the mountains. Paul and Scotty had warned us about this bit, telling us it was just boring and, well, it was. You just grind your way along this road until the surrounding hills gradually get bigger and bigger and turn into mountains. The farmland narrows and becomes native bush while the road changes from tarmac to gravel. You could hear the native birds and flowing river over the rumbling of the tires on dirt.

Finally, we made it to the DOC sign for Devils Creek hut. What a relief. By that point, we were all pretty over riding on the road. Everyone was starting to look worse for wear. I think the heat and the 60km of riding we’d done so far had taken a lot out of us. My saddle sores were starting to hurt, legs were feeling heavy. The sign said seven kilometres to the hut – it was all off-road from here. We dropped 50psi out of the tires, making them a more reasonable pressure. From here, my memory gets a bit foggy about the trail… I remember it being a slog. Pitchy climbs with very wet, slippery soil below the layer of leaves that had fallen on the trail. We had to hike a few sections of it. It was technical, narrow, and pretty steep. At one point, there was a downhill before the bridge crossing. It was fast, rocky, and loose. The rocks were slick, with big compression into rock gardens. But, it was great. We stopped at the bridge to regroup. Chappleman had fallen behind. “I’m in the box, guys,” he laughed. “Not far to go, though.” He’d done amazingly well to get this far considering he hadn’t ridden his bike for about five months. We pushed on and finally made it to the hut – and boy oh boy, what a hut it was.

Before us, the clearing lay ahead. Off to the left was this beautiful red hut, like something you would see in a picture book of Iceland. Just a perfect little red hut. What a sight. We had made it. We parked our bikes up, took the bags off, and moved our stuff into the hut. There were six bunks to sleep on, and a nice kitchen area; the smell of the old wood and musk permeated the building. This was a well-used hut.

You could hear the native birds and flowing river over the rumbling of the tires on dirt.

Cappleman was bonked, he had no energy left – so he stayed back at the hut while Scotty, Paul, Bradshaw and I started hiking up the Wakama-Rina. Our original plan was to get to the top and ride back down to the hut, but we were all pretty tired and kind of teetering on the edge of bonking, so we figured we would just push up as far as we could before bonking completely. From the get-go, the push was pretty hard. Early on, the trail was slick, making finding traction for walking even harder. It was going to be a fun, slippery ride down. As we pushed up, we kept checking out sections, wondering if certain gaps would be possible. Well, the gaps would have been possible, but it was more a question of whether we would be able to slow down afterwards in these conditions. We all pushed up picturing in our heads what we might do. “I’m just going to carve off this/float off that/drift round here.” It’s great thinking that way, and in reality you may be able to make just one of those things happen, but it makes the pushing up easier.

The trail looked fantastic, with some long sweeping turns, a couple of tech sections, fast straights, and some tight, technical switchbacks – nothing too technical, just a nice little warm-up for tomorrow, giving us an idea of what the dirt would be like. After about an hour and a half, we made it to a flatter section and decided to call it a day on pushing up. Everyone was looking pretty tired, and our legs were feeling heavy. We had a big day planned for the next day, so felt it was best to save ourselves for that. We turned around and dropped in.

Straight out of the gate, we hit this awesome tight switchback that you could really lean into and rail. Paul was out front leading, and he skidded around, throwing leaves up everywhere. Scotty did the same. Bradshaw was behind, shouting and yelling. Our back wheels were fishtailing left and right on the straights. As we tipped into steeper bits, a little bit of caution was applied, and we were right to. Braking traction wasn’t great, and when it started getting away on you, it really started to get away. In saying that, though, it wasn’t slowing Paul or Scotty down. They were flying. There were a few slick roots hidden under the leaves, and our bikes danced left and right as we held out through the line. I could hear Bradshaw having some wild moments behind me, on his hardtail, with the occasional “woooow!” or “oh shit!” moment. The forest we were riding through was amazing – and dense.

As predicted, I only managed about one of the twelve things I thought I was going to do on this trail. Everything just came up faster than I’d predicted it would – and you have to ride on instinct versus what you had imagined. We got back to the hut with huge smiles on our faces. It was a great little bit of trail we had just ridden, making the 60km worth it to get there. But, the following day was going to be something different again. Less of a ‘trail’; steeper, techier, longer, gnarlier. We were fired up. Everyone was grinning ear to ear.

As we pushed up, we kept checking out sections, wondering if vertain gaps would be possible.


Back at the hut, Cappleman had perked up again. The downtime and some food had pushed him past the bonk and he looked full of life again. At this point, Bradshaw decided to drop it on us that he wasn’t coming up Mt. Royal with us but, instead, was going to hit the road to Nelson and start clocking off kilometres on his South Island trip. “Woah, woah, woah! Hang on, you can’t do that,” Scotty said, shocked. “Yeah, man, you can’t dog the boys,” from Paul. Cappleman just went straight for the heavy blow: “Didn’t realise you were a coward.” “You’re coming up that hill tomorrow whether you like it or not,” – Scotty. Bradshaw came back with some bullshit about how he had to be at some dinner or something. It was a weak excuse. Over dinner, and a dip in the river, we bullied, peer-pressured, and guilt-tripped Bradshaw to come up Royal with us. We couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. I mean, why would you just bail on this? Eventually, Capple-man said he would give Bradshaw his Crocs if he came up, and that was what sealed the deal. Honestly, some bullshit that was – but hilarious at the same time.

And so, night one came to a close – the perfect preface to what laid ahead of us.

They were flying. There were a few slick roots hidden under the leaves, and our bikes danced left and right as we held out through the line.”


Honestly, some bullshit that was - but hilarious at the same time.

Over dinner, and a dip in the river, we bullied, peer-pressured, and guilt-tripped Bradshaw to come up Royal with us.

Stay tuned for Part Two of Jake Hood’s ̒The Royale With Cheese’ in the next issue of NZ Mountain Biker ...

This article is taken from:NZ Mountain Biker, Issue #111

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