By daybreak in The Grove, most of the overnight rain showers had subsided. Our B&B hosts offered to serve us a nice cooked breakfast, so we happily obliged. Linda stuffed us full of pancakes and syrup, tea and coffee, and fresh fruit. It was wonderful to have some carbohydrates in our bellies as we commenced our grand mountain biking adventure.
At 9:00 am we collected our two-wheeled steeds from the garage and disembarked for Anakiwa. Our epic breakfast took awhile to digest, so progress was a little lethargic until we reached the Queen Charlotte Track trailhead. By that point Milton, Shellie, our guide Glen and I were warmed up and ready to rock.
British music group Muse has pretty much cornered the market on up-tempo, slightly bonkers, progressive modern rock music. Their stock in trade is a tougher, more energetic take on the brilliant theatrics and noisy experimentalism of forebears like Queen and Radiohead. One of the tricks I have learned to harness on intense backcountry hikes is to imagine music with a strong beat playing in my head. I quickly adapted this trick to mountain biking, and summoned Muse songs like “Hysteria”, “Resistance” and especially the science fiction infused lunacy of “Knights of Cydonia” to play on endless repeat in my brain.
The first hour or so on the Queen Charlotte track consisted of a long and steady uphill climb over variable terrain. The track is reasonably wide, and provides enough room for cyclists to navigate around oncoming foot or bicycle traffic. This did prove to be a little more challenging around some of the blind corners and narrow wooden bridges. Complicating matters further was the local custom of bearing left to oncoming traffic while our subconscious North American sensibilities were imploring us to bear to the right. We managed to avoid any head-on collisions, but with one group grinding uphill while others rolled freely and merrily in the opposite direction the potential for trouble was always there. Fortunately, it was a cool and moist early-season Friday morning and there wasn’t a lot of traffic on the track.
After a climb of about 225 metres over 7 km, we reached the summit between Anakiwa and Waterfall Bay. We stepped off our bikes for a short break while Glen made tea. Despite the overcast conditions, our hard-earned elevation had rewarded us with impressive views across Queen Charlotte Sound.
The rapid and mostly downhill descent towards Waterfall Bay was a hoot. The same kinds of roots and wet stones that had made the trip uphill more challenging were now our allies. I thoroughly enjoyed bounding over obstacles and zipping through fast corners as my Cannondale’s front suspension absorbed most of the shocks. I brazenly bombed down the track, periodically stopping to take photos and wait for the others. It was cool to see the exhilarated smiles on my traveling companions’ faces as they rolled up to meet me.
We exited the track near Waterfall Bay and followed a series of gravel roads down to the tip of Mistletoe Bay. This area had a boat dock, a campground, and a few cabins for rent. It seemed to be particularly popular with day-trippers exploring the Sounds. We dug our lunches out of our backpacks and settled down on the beach to stretch our legs and dine alfresco. Glen pointed out a mānuka tree in full bloom next to the beach, and we learned a little about the genesis of the mānuka honey products that grace the shelves in various New Zealand shops.
After lunch, we geared down and cycled our way back up the hill to the Queen Charlotte Track. We elected to return to town by the same route that got us to Mistletoe Bay, and this decision paid off handsomely. It turned out that the track rode better east to west. The climb to the summit was steeper but still quite manageable. There were certain spots where I had to pound away on my pedals to gather enough speed to climb over stones and hills, but that was all part of the fun.
We stopped long enough at the summit for some more photos, and I took the opportunity to unlock my rear suspension. I soon wished I had done so earlier. The ride down to Anakiwa was absolutely riotous. I attacked the trail and flew around corners, exuberant as an accelerating blur of ferns and beech forest rushed by on either side of me. Some parts of the track were so amusing that I dismounted, spun my trusty steed around, doubled back a few hundred metres, and rode them again. Rock chips were flying off my tires and gouging my shins, but in the moment I couldn’t have cared less.
Our troupe reassembled at the Queen Charlotte trailhead and excitedly compared notes on our rides. Milton and Shellie were experienced mountain bikers from Colorado, and even they thought the trail was world-class. We carried on through Anakiwa and rode all the way to the Grove. My legs were trashed after a 40 km day on the trail, but the music in my head propelled me up the final hill to our B&B.
We agreed to meet for dinner at 7 pm, which gave me plenty of time to shower, chillax on the patio, and snarf down a few pre-dinner cocktails. I brought a lovely bottle of Marlborough “victory merlot” to dinner, which went very well with Linda’s beef schnitzel.
Later on, feeling the warm glow of physical accomplishment (and good red wine) I waltzed up to the hot tub to soak my aching limbs and reflect on the day’s experiences. I hoped that Cathy, Sally and Colin were safe and sound in their backcountry cabin after another glorious day in the great outdoors. And with any luck Cam and Bil were relaxing at their waterfront lodge, sharing a similar sense of glory from their kayak adventure as I got from my invigorating day on the trail.
Song of the Day: “Knights of Cydonia” by Muse