The first grubber swing was through entrenched and seemingly hostile gorse, not the smoothest of introductions but an accurate one. “Orion’s Belt” is the new track on Makara peak to connect the main body of the park to its more advanced southern extension. At roughly one kilometre in length it cuts into the steep hillside shooting through Manuka groves, sun sheltered glens and more than a comfortable share of rocky sections.
That initial swing through the gorse was my first introduction to trail building. While hard work, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my time here in New Zealand. My friend Alex and I are from America, and as part of our study abroad program we had the good fortune to land an internship with the Kennett Brothers. We have classes on Mondays and Fridays leaving Tuesday through Thursday for our internships. So while our classmates toiled away in an office or on a beach cleaning up trash we were out in the bush sculpting clay, rock and roots into a track to be enjoyed for years to come.
Growing up in Colorado with the Rocky Mountains as my backyard, mountain biking has been a part of my life since before I can remember. My dad taught my brother and I, and I can still remember the day he picked us up from kindergarten with a face covered in blood from the crash he’d had on the way down the mountain to pick us up. He told the other parents that his wheel locked up but I think he was just trying to save what was left of his face (he was actually fine it was just a surprising amount of blood for a 8 year old).
I’m getting off track, but the reason I bring it up is because although I’ve been biking most of my life I’ve never given back and created a track for others to enjoy. That is why this internship has been so enjoyable; building trails for others to enjoy is something all mountain bikers should experience because it roots us to the sport we love deeper than the action of bicycling itself.
I will remember for years to come the exhaustion felt throughout my body and mind during the third week of track building. I remember my coworker Tor warning me the first day we started, “Don’t go to hard, you’ll burn yourself out,” but there was so much to do and it didn’t feel too backbreaking in the moment… but that moment passed and then came another and another and another, hour after hour, day after day. Then the weekend arrived, and by Tuesday when we started again on the third week I was starting to feel strong and ready to break rocks and dig up barberry stumps all day. That Tuesday, the 6th of November, Alex, Dean and I pushed through 150 metres of track, the most we’d ever done by far. The next day we were quite tired but still managed to cut through 120 metres of bush with the pilot track. I arrived home that Wednesday and fell face first onto my bed and stayed there half an hour without moving. I eventually stumbled into the shower and afterwards wolfed down an entire bag of pasta and a number of sausages.The next morning I woke stiffly but managed to eat four eggs and some toast before gracelessly running down to catch the train.
That day was hard. Luckily Jonathan and Dean could see we were nearing the edge and we spent the morning in the office and got some new work pants (my jeans had a number of fresh rips, one specifically was not in a flattering place, although on the hot days the draft was appreciated). When we got up to the trail Alex and I worked like zombies, but we still managed to shape about 70 metres of track. Those three days we created 340 metres of track, about a third of the entire distance, but our bodies had been left along the way. Lessons in restraint and of physical ability have to be learned this way, otherwise they don’t stick and the same mistakes are made again. Therefore, memories like this aren’t negative ones. I always enjoyed the work and the people I was working with, learning hard but important lessons along the way. What more could I ask for!
The sculpting of this track couldn’t have been possible without the tireless efforts of our brilliant, humble and level headed track supervisor Dean Johansson, the man who is strong as a bull Tor Meulpmgracht-Nadsen, Reece Wollen who works hard and keeps us all in good spirits, John (Podge) Rosemergy who cut through all the big troublesome trees with his lovely chainsaw and built the sturdy retaining wall and boardwalk with the help of Mike Barker, and of course we can’t forget the man behind the mission who often came out to help us even though he probably had better things to do, Jonathan Kennett. A corporate group work-party from Datacom was lucky enough to punch through the last connecting section and for that I am also quite thankful.