Written by Kevan Cote
I grew up with Vancouver’s North Shore mountains in my backyard. While I’d always thought about doing the Trans BC event, it just never happened. Now I’m a Canadian transplant living in New Zealand and relished the idea to do one of these events here. Typically, Trans NZ is an epically sought-after event, which forces them to use a lottery system (and so getting in is tough!) This past year though, NZ’s borders being closed resulted in a lot less people applying. After I convinced my wife that it was a brilliant idea for me to enter, there was no turning back. (Even though I’d never really done more than 1000 meters vertical in a day or an enduro event!)
For anyone considering the event in the future, I’ll do my best to be descriptive here. First and foremost, the accommodation options range from dirtbag self-supported all the way to posh rooms with views. Since I didn’t feel like being the couch surfer of my teens (and my wife not knowing this option even existed), I opted for the full accommodation. Great choice!
I convinced four other friends in New Zealand to sign up with me and we could not believe how quickly March arrived! Packing the bike was the first moment I started thinking, “this is actually happening!” The bike needed very little break down and cleaning, but admittedly I probably should have made the bike look better to start the race off (not that it would’ve stayed very clean!)
It wasn’t until we flew into Christchurch that it really felt real though. As I built out my bike in a car park, I realized that I was amongst a group of really talented athletes, and we were all ready to ride some amazing trails. It was a surreal experience.
Day 1 started in Craggieburn with a big climb up the ski field road, through an amazing array of NZ Beech trees (that smelled so good), and finally up into the scree filled alpine zone. Stage 1 down Edge Track was a great wake up, no need for coffee, charging between high speed trees to scree traverses kept us on our toes. The Fugitive instilled a great amount of confidence when it got steep, I pointed it where it needed to go and everything just followed the front wheel nicely.
The second day in Craggieburn started a bit cold and drizzly (for a late summer day). But we forgot about that pretty quick when we realized we didn’t have to do the full climb of the grueling Cheeseman road again. The incredible descents through a mix of forest and open terrain kept our mind off the weather and had everyone pushing hard.
The sweet thing about New Zealand is that if you want a change in landscape, a quick drive in another direction gets you to a completely new world. For the third day, we drove across the country (which incidentally only took 5 hours) to Queenstown. Coronet peak started with a climb and push up to the top through the low-lying clouds. The peak just kept giving, as if the workers had brushed all the rocks away and left a dirt ribbon for us to ride down. Few words can describe the elation I felt riding these tracks. The whole day was like this. There was an epic descent of Rude Rock and Skippers Pack Track and included a 14-minute stage where my fingers solidified in a grip formation. Funnily, we still had another climb (up Skippers Canyon) to the final stage; my hands were unimpressed.
We had done about 3600 meters of climbing by this point in the trip and we were starting to feel it.
Day 4 and we met Alexandra, or Alex for short. Out of the bus and we were hit with the smell of wild thyme everywhere. The thought of a nice roast chicken had to be erased because there were some rocks to navigate today. Terrain was unreal, changing from open single track to the most technical rocks I’ve ever ridden, and there really wasn’t a clear path - other than pink dots. I had to tell myself to, “KEEP ON THE DOTS”, as there were consequences if we didn’t. But, by the end of the day I think everyone was getting a feel for how the trails were made. You just had to trust that there were going to be rocks piled in just the perfect location to prevent the wheel from diving into a small abyss.
That said - Alex brought mayhem for a lot of riders! Many people had “offs” or mechanicals: snagged derailleurs, grabbed pedals, bent crankarms, over bars with bent levers and pulled brake lines were common. Maybe I was lucky, but honestly, I give a lot of credit to the Fugitive. It just trucked over everything I threw at it all day, without even a hint of wanting to stop (even when I was contemplating it!)
On the fifth day, I was second guessing if it was still summer. Cardrona delivered just above 0C at the top; so we packed our merino sweaters, jackets, and even a toque just in case (it was a proper Canadian toque, not one of these New Zealand beanies!) The trail was very exposed and even more so when we got to the Boundary Rider stage 3. The exposure pulled my eye down over every ledge, but I just had to point the tire and trust the bike. Since the organizers know how to keep us motivated, the final stage was from the peak directly to the pub. It was a 1250m descent over 7.5km; fast riders did it in 13 minutes, but anything quicker than 20 was a decent run. The track started with a single track up to the top, then changed to open double track and finished with some solid paddock bashing down near the bottom. Pure fun racing with others and a matter of who could keep off the brakes for the longest while maintaining just enough grip to hold onto the bars. Next day it snowed 150mm, good timing.
On our final day, we rode directly out of Queenstown. I’d given up on believing it was summer, and to be honest, was starting to think I was back in Vancouver! There was so much rain. No matter what jacket I wore it got wet through. The organizers had a sense of humour – so we were presented with a grueling climb, directly under the taunting gondola. Our first stage, through some of the darkest forest I had ever been in, resulted in a phenomenal amount of mud on my face. The day was filled with brakes howling and tires only suggesting where they might want to go. By the end of three stages we were all cold, very wet and ready for some beer. That said - every single one of us had huge smiles at the bottom. It was like being a kid again, splashing every puddle on the way, just pure bike fun.
Since I obviously hadn’t had enough riding for one week, we managed to sneak in a quick bonus trip to the Gord Road dirt jumps, an iconic place in Queenstown that I’ve always wanted to visit. After fumbling through a small set and managing an old man bar turn on the Fugitive I was happy. Did you know that the Fugitive was a jumper?
In the end, my small group of 4 friends completed 6002 meters of elevation in 6 days – but honestly it didn’t seem like a chore. While other participants had some slogs, none of us had any mechanicals, and there were only a few minor offs (none were mine – as I’m pretty convinced the Fugitive is a magical unicorn that kept me safe!) The whole adventure was one hell of an experience. I would absolutely do it again and would definitely take my Fugitive along for the adventure.