Another cool video from Nicola, shot during Unipal, the Himalaya’s Unicycle Tour.
Yes, we really do pedal that quickly!
Another cool video from Nicola, shot during Unipal, the Himalaya’s Unicycle Tour.
Yes, we really do pedal that quickly!
The first Saturday of March means only one thing on my calender…The Karapoti Classic! This years edition was looking very fast indeed, with perfect weather and a relatively smooth course.
My weapon of choice was my trusty Triton 29″/125mm. In 2015 I experimented with an ultralight 26″/114mm setup, which was great for the climbs, but felt rather knocked about on the rough, so it was back to the big wheel this year.
– Triton 29″ Sponge Titanium
– Quax 125mm cranks
– KH cromo hub/KH 29″ XC rim
– Schwalbe Racing Ralph 29×2.25
– Wellgo MG1 pedals
– NNC Flatfish carbon seat
– Thompson elite seatpost
We lined up on the the banks of the Akatarawa River, the traditional start line of the Karapoti. Having a unicycle means I can get across before the bikes, which I duly did. My crank choice was shorter than previous years where I used 145mm, and I was unsure whether I’d have the legs to push 125mm. The fears quickly dissipated as I spun my way up Karapoti Gorge, keeping up with my start group.
The biggest bummer was missing my race buddy Tim Armstrong, a local unicyclist from Upper Hutt. He’d done serious damage after coming off his unicycle a couple of months before- and ended up with a forearm held together by external fixation! Normally at this part of the race I’m doing my hardest to get as much time as possible on Tim. He’s a formidable climber, and closes the gap on the way up Deadwood.
Nevertheless, my legs felt good, the cushy 29’er tyre and short cranks were smooth, and I was going as fast as ever. The entries were down this year, so there were fewer riders to get around on the climb up Deadwood. I remembered my *ding ding* bell, which I would ring as I passed people.
“Outta the waaaay!!! CAN’T STOooP!”
I heard a guy scream as he ploughed down the first rocky section after the warm up climb….straight into me! Luckily the unicycle is virtually bomproof, but my left thigh was left bruised and bloodied. It didn’t slow me down but still hurts days later.
After reaching Deadwood it was a nice spin over the rolling section at the top, then a fast dive into the Rock Garden. I was running 38 PSI in my tyre, which is firmer and bouncier than usual. In 2014 I came close to smashing the 2005 unicycle record (and possibly going under the magic 4hr mark), until a pinch flat took forever to fix! Never run 20 PSI at Karapoti.
The Devils Staircase had been bulldozed and graded. I was both gutted and pleased at the same time. The original steep, boggy, fissured slippery slip was an iconic part of the Karapoti. At the same time, I knew I was on track to breaking the Karapoti Record, particularly if I could pick up a few minutes on the Devils Staircase. The climb now resembled Deadwood and Dopers- rideable for many mountainbikers.
Over the top of the Devils Staircase and it was on to Big Ring Boulevard. This is supposedly the fastest part of the course, but on a unicycle it can be tough going- you are dodging rocks and and ruts and generally shaken to bits. This year, it was smooth and the 29″ Racing Ralph stuck like velcro, rolling over everything.
By the time I hit Dopers Hill, I was confident I would break the unicycle record, barring something stupid, like crashing or puncturing. I cramped a little so eased off up the climb.
The last section down the Gorge felt like I was flying- I came close to spinning out my 125’s. As we hit the Akatarawa river again, I was careful not to fall in like I usually do. Just had enough juice to remount and climb up to the finish line. It is always good at the end!
Unfortunately, after checking the final time, I’d done 4hrs14min49secs! Three minutes slower than my 2005 record. I’m still scratching my head where those 3 minutes went- felt like my fastest Karapoti ever.
Oh well, there is always next year.
I flew down to Christchurch on Labour Weekend to meet up with Anna, who had been busy performing puppet shows in Christchurch. She had been telling me about the Alps 2 Ocean trail for the best part of the year, so we finally decided to do it together during her South Island Tour.
The new 300km trail is part of the NZ cycleway, and takes you from Mt Cook Village to east coast of the South Island. We were also going to visit Anna’s nana, who lives in Twizel, in the middle of the A2O trail. Our plan was to complete the first half from Mt Cook Village to Omarama.
It was the first time I’d been to Christchurch since the earthquakes, so after Anna picked me up from the airport we went to the city centre to have a look around. We walked through the square, gazing at the ruins and new construction. The last time I was at Cathedral Square was on our 2007 South Island Unicycle Tour, so it was quite sad to see so many buildings demolished or damaged by the quake.
We had lunch at the new mall next the square, which was built out of shipping containers. After a quick stop to pick up riding supplies at the Cookie Time factory, we set off on the picturesque drive to Twizel.
We arrived at Nanas house but she was out playing golf, so we were greeted by her Great Uncle Alec who had driven down in his camper van from Tauranga. Anna showed me her childhood hangouts in Twizel, then we picked up fish and chips to fuel up for tomorrows ride.
“We’re doing what?!!!” Anna had slightly mistaken the geography of the area. Instead of a comfortable 60km ride she’d planned for our first day, it would be a 74km ride to Lake Tekapo, followed by a 94km ride to Lake Ohau the next day. We were starting on the regular A2O ride, but cutting across to the alternate start at Lake Tekapo.
“…but I thought Tekapo was along the way!”
Luckily having Twizel on the trip route meant we could start in Mt Cook Village and finish at Nana’s place later that day. It would still be a challenging ride, as we would be completing two sections in one day.
Uncle Alec drove us in his campervan to the start of the A2O trail at Mt Cook Village. From there the track starts off fast and flowy, a scenic 8km trail to Mt Cook Airport. This was more helicopter landing pad than airport, as the chopper is the only way across the river unless you fancy an icy dip. The all too brief 2 minute ride gave amazing views of the mountains and river below. It dropped us off at Tasman Point, before ferrying other passengers to the glacier.
From there we cycled toward Lake Pukaki, following the Tasman River, and had lunch of peanut butter sandwiches along the riverbank. Once we hit Lake Pukaki the track turned into a gravel road, with the Southern Alps seeming to rise above it. The lake is an amazing shade of blue, photos don’t do it justice!
Half way down the lake we stopped at Braemar Station to fill up our drinkbottles, much to the bemusement of the farmer and his son. It was getting really hot so we considered cooling off in the lake. Although it was a warm day the lake was anything but! After dipping our toes into the glacier fed waters we decided a swim was not on the cards.
By the time we arrived on the final stretch to Twizel, the sun was setting. Anna was getting tired so we finished our ride at the dam. Anna’s Nana picked us up and drove us back to Twizel to stay the night.
The next day we got up bright and early and started back at the Pukaki dam. The first part of the track meandered through dry grasslands typical of the MacKenzie Basin landscape, the ‘Pukaki flats’. It took us back to Twizel but we bypassed the town by taking the alternate ‘flood’ route. Anna wanted to show me Lake Ruataniwha, where she had spent many childhood holidays. It is an artificial lake created by another massive dam; part of the Waitaki Hydroelectric project of the late 1970’s.
There was a Salmon farm by the dam. We stopped to have Salmon Pie, Salmon Chowder, and then fed the fish which would one day become someone else’s lunch.
The gravel road after that was incredibly rough and it was a struggle for Anna, who kept bouncing off the rocks. It was getting very late by the time we reached the Lake Ohau Weir. The wind was starting to howl, but the fast flowy track and amazing scenery of Lake Ohau made it worthwhile. At the end of the track we were picked up by Tony, a retired farmer from Buscot Station who now runs their backpacker accommodation. He entertained us with tales of farming in this region and the challenges they faced. We watched him feed baby lamb and then cooked up pasta for tea.
It was a drizzly morning but Tony dropped us off at Lake Ohau lodge, where we warmed up by the fire, hoping for the weather to clear. A couple of mountainbikers had decided to cancel their ride because of snow at the top of the ridge, but we had to get going regardless. Luckily it wasn’t as bad as we thought. Our ride started with a gentle 10km climb, but the drizzle had simply turned into mist. The landscape was quite different to the day before, with a light dusting of snow on the mountains. The track summit was just at the snowline. Anna copped a couple of snowballs as she arrived at the top.
The 18km descent took us to Quailburn Road. The gravel road then takes you through farmland for another 35km…before a turn off to the ‘Clay Cliffs’. We decided not to take the detour as it was getting late….maybe next time! The ride finished with a short singletrack to Omarama. Nana picked us up again and drove us back to Twizel, having completed the first four sections of the Alps to Ocean trail.
One of the nicest things you can do in Perth, Western Australia is to visit Rottnest Island, which lies 20km west of Freemantle.
It is several years since I had ridden there, so my mum and I decided to take a trip out to the pretty island with its beautiful beaches, quiet roads, and interesting wildlife. We caught the Rottnest Express, which takes 30min to get across to the island. Mum had a hire bike, which you can pick up as you leave the ferry, while I brought along my trusty 29″ touring unicycle.
The island has a couple of road loops, so after a picnic breakfast we took off on a clockwise circuit. The first stop was at Kingstown Barracks, where troops were stationed during WWII, to keep watch over the Freemantle coastline. There are some old army bunkers and a railway supply line that had long been abandoned.
We followed the coast all the way to the Westernmost point of the Island, Cape Vlamingh. By that time we were starving so had our lunch on top of a cliff.
On the way back, we saw some ‘Quokka’s’, which is a native marsupial that looks like a giant rat. They come right up to you looking for food!
We went past the lighthouse which is a nice little climb, and afforded amazing views across the whole island.
Further along, we stopped at the Oliver Hill lookout, which is home to some very big cannons from WWII. I wonder how far my uni can be propelled with one of these:
Finally we headed past the serpentine lake, and back to the settlement where we finished our ride with ice-cream!
It’s a perfect day trip, 37km in all, which will vary depending on which route you take and how much backtracking you do. There are several off-road tracks to explore, so bring your 29’er/Muni along. There are multiple ferry sailings during the day, but allow ~5hrs to ride, lay on the beach, go for a swim, and have a picnic!
Here is the link to our full album
We were told we could ‘ride as much as we liked’ today. It was 30km to the start of the jeep trail, where we had lunch on our very first day. The idea was that we would leave a couple of hours before the Jeeps, which would pick us up one by one as they caught us. If we rode fast enough, we could make it all the way to the end without pick up. That was enough motivation for many, just to avoid repeating the not so memorable bouncy jeep ride.
The trail meandered through steep cliffs along a river, which offered some incredible scenery. It was very rough riding, with big rocks and ruts to plough our way through. Most of us were picked up along the way, when we’d had enough riding. Corbin, Scott and Tomas were the only riders to complete the ride, meeting us at the finish.
After lunch, we would say our goodbyes to Sean and Antoine, who were heading to Kathmandu, whilst the rest of us would transfer to Pokhara. It was a fun journey, with our vehicle alternately playing Nepalese folk music, Britney Spears, and some random pop music, whilst we sped through the countryside.
When we arrived at Lake Phewa in Pokhara, we were taken to a boat ramp and ferried across to an island. It turned out that Nicola and Natascia were getting married, Nepalese style, at the island temple. It was one of the fastest wedding ceremonies on record, as it was getting dark and we had to get back to shore!
After a hot shower at one of the fanciest hotels on tour, we proceeded to finish our celebrations at a local restaurant. It was time for more farewells. We said goodbye to our guides, Ankit and Dawa, as well as the group who would be leaving on the extended tour with Blair. They would fly out to Jomsom the next morning, where their tour would have finished had we managed to get over Thorung La pass.
For Jason Williams, it may be his last unicycle tour as our tour leader, after selling Grasshopper Adventures to his business partner last year. It has been an incredible partnership over the last decade: it included The Laos Unitour 2006, Uninam 2008, Induni 2009, Monguni 2010, Yunnanuni 2011, Unistan 2013 and now Unipal 2015. We have had 7 successful unicycle tours thanks to my chance meeting with Jason back in 2004 (Vietnam to Cambodia), when I joined his OXFAM charity cycle challenge on a unicycle. We wish you all the best and hope you can join us on a future tour (as a rider)!
It would be another tough day or riding, without any of our scheduled rest days, as we had to head to Tal, which was slightly beyond our starting point of Bagarchap. However, being downhill, it was also incredibly fun. We had lunch at our first guesthouse in Bagarchap- then followed the river all the way to Tal. There was a large swingbridge to cross, followed by an incredible sets of rock steps carved into the side of the cliff.
We arrived in Tal, which is a village in a secluded little valley by the river. It was time to say goodbye to our Porters and their leader Mingma Sherpa. They had been an incredible team, never complaining whilst each carrying 30kg of gear, not to mention evacuating Bruce in the middle of the night during a snowstorm.
It was Nepalese New Year, and the locals in the village partied well into the night, with loud music that resonated through the whole valley.
It would be mostly downhill today, but we were heading straight to Chame, which was two villages prior to Manang on the way up. Because of this, we got up extra early for a 6.30am start.
It was a beautiful ride with much of the hillsides covered in snow, quite different to how they looked on the way up. We had lunch in Pisang, where we stayed a few days previously, and then continued downhill. There was a massive landslide in the middle of the track, with large bulldozers at work clearing the fallen trees. They allowed our group to proceed over the slippery logs, but it was not was no easy feat with dozens of fallen trees and unstable rock underfoot.
When we got in to Chame, we had hot food, and for many of us, hot showers for the first time in 3 days. Bliss!
Bruce had been discharged from the local clinic and looked very bright considering his medical emergency only a couple days prior.