It is spring in New Zealand and I’m sitting at my small dining table with papers, laptop and mobile in what I call my “office”. This table is in my home, which is my 1960 Bedford J4 School bus. It’s still cold outside and so the little iron potbelly wood stove is crackling away. This is where the hours and months of trip planning happen when I’m home.
My name is Jamie Nicoll. I’m a 38 year old mountain biker and adventurer for Santa Cruz Bicycles, and for about seven months of every year I live in the sunny and steep riding world of Nelson, New Zealand.
This trip was not my normal style, but with so many Santa Cruz athletes coming to the Nelson area of the South Island to race the NZ Enduro, and with my bus driving north to be used at the Enduro World Series and Crankworx bike festival in Rotorua, it just made sense to create a cool road trip. The plan was to get the boys together, travel in my bus and drop in on bike shops along the way to say hi and to get out for a ride with them and any locals keen to join us. You know you’re in for some wild good times with a lot to manage when you bring together 8 pro riders, a chef, a driver, a journalist and a photographer for a week long road trip! The athletes were Mark Scott, Josh Brycland, Josh Lewis, Craig Evens, Cedric Gracia, Iago Garay, Max Schumann and me. Photographer Gary Perkin, journalist Laurin (from Free Ride mag Germany), chef – Sarah and second driver – Guy (in another classic vehicle) made up the contingent.
From day one it was all go! Loading up the bus along with the old VW Combi van from Ground Effect Clothing on the side of a country road on a misty damp morning, we drove to Momorangi bay in the Marlborough Sounds – a tiny community of houses and a camp spot on the beach. This was a chill-out day after our racing efforts at the NZ enduro over the weekend. Nonetheless, the bikes soon came out for some creative beach stunts.
An early crossing on the Bluebridge ferry from the South to North Island saw us rolling into Wellington’s capital city streets about midday. It always keeps you smiling with the attention and interest these classic vehicles attract, topped off with a bunch of wild (likely half naked) boys crushed against the windows.
Dirt Merchants bike shop, tucked into a small and stylish valley off the edge of the city, was the place to pull up and shred with some of the most excited kids and adults around. The boys were just so stoked to ride with us! This totally infected Ratboy, Craig Evens and Loosedog Lewis – so much so that they all headed off on a second ride after the main outing.
And what else would you want next to your bike shop other than one of Wellington’s most famous craft breweries! The Garage Project opened its doors for our huge bunch of riders. Drinks and good stories went down for hours.
Cruising north up the coast in the darkness to a new and generally unknown bike park, a private park called the Dirt Farm with loads of sweet jumps and deep berms. The Dirt Farm had not even opened officially and so we were treated to being the first real group to shred here ( check this video for more on the road trip and riding here http://www.vitalmtb.com/videos/member/50to01-New-Zealand-Roadtrip-A-Jamie-Nicoll-Adventure,33330/FredLikesTrikes,18548 )
Climbing a steep, narrow dirt road in the dark around midnight we crested a ridge line and parked the bus on a high knoll, the distant ocean shining under a strong moon and a fire already roaring away. Tents were put up with a lot less confusion than on the first night, then we stood round the fire and chatted with our new hosts and excited trail creators until we all hit the sack for the night.
Our traveling chef, Sarah, put on another feast of a breakfast. She produced more shining examples of good food, and all while we were camped out at the top of these sweet looking virgin trails, literally deep fresh trails heading away from the camp edge. Two days here had us stoked and smiling as we again packed up and turned the key to head further north to hit up another bike shop and social ride with the Central Bicycle Studio. This was Palmerston North, not a place famous for its riding, but we all had a load of fun with another big group of keen people on good trails. The highlights in my memory being the kid who skipped school. After going to school for the morning, he then climbed a wall to his hidden bike and rode 16 km to join us. Then it would be Rat boy Josh giving us a lesson on skinny dipping among a big group of clothed bathers.
We stayed by a river side camp with another big open fire, good food, good weather and games of Frisbee. Then Day Five dawned; a day of travel with Cafe stops, World Bus Planking Championships taking place, talking our way round a military road block and a casual spin out into the desert on the flanks of Mt Ruapehu from our camp at 1000 meters altitude on the volcanic plateau of Tongiraro National Park. This was a wild camp, with absolutely no facilities, so we built a wee dam in the creek and bodies and clothes were washed under a close backdrop of large volcanoes, sand and tussocks. We all enjoyed the serenity and stillness of this amazing desert camp.
Part of what makes NZ special is how many different environments one can pass in a single day – from our high desert camp we drove to the Te Iringa trail in the Kaimanawa Forest Park. This is an old back country hiking trail with the rooty and leafy beech forest that we love for the special riding conditions it creates. After a big old climb up, we shredded, filmed and photographed our way down – driving tyres hard into soft leafy loam.
Back aboard after an amazing lunch, we pointed the bus in the direction of Wiakiti Valley hot springs and camp ground. This area is teeming with boiling water and mud bubbling up amongst the lush growth of ferns and jungle foliage. By far the most commercial camp, but positioned only a stone throw from our Sunday Super-D race location and the large hot water creek complete with water falls. Kerosene Creek near Rotorua is perfect body soaking temperature. This small event, held on Rainbow Mountain just above the hot springs and starting not with putting the power down but with putting a rainbow sequenced puzzle together… After racing our hearts out at the Low Key Super -D our competitive souls found that in fact it was of such a low key nature that there was not even a podium or results read out – it’s great to reconsider what racing is…
Day Eight, the last day of our trip, and we were all feeling stoked but wrecked from all the action. There was nothing left to do, except roll into Rotorua – the location of Crankworx and the opening round of the Enduro World Series 2017. Well, there was one more important thing… ok, maybe two! First, rolling up with all of us 11 boys in the old bus and Combi to wish my mum happy birthday and eat some of her cake in the park and second, drop into Bike Culture for our last shop visit and a sweet ride-out in the Whakawerarewa Rewood forest.
It was an amazing tour culminating with plenty of hugs, smiles and four of the boys getting my 1960 Bedford bus tattooed on their skin to commemorate the journey.
A journey indeed – We were happily knackered!
Written in Alaska before I set foot into a new adventure and amazing landscape.
Thanks for having a read!
For a few more details on the wild times as well as the places and locations have a read of: https://www.groundeffect.co.nz/blogs/jamie-nicoll/the-jamie-nicoll-travelling-circus
All images Gary Perkin