The Trans NZ Enduro provides everything you need for a positive racing experience: Party Trains. Off trail excursions, resulting in near death experiences. New friends and legends. Life management. Day drinking.
We also happened to be racing the course blind, which means no pre-riding, no practice logistics to work out, no real race strategy. There are no start times to rush to meet each morning, and each night, there is no helmet cam footage to review in preparation for the upcoming day. With no idea what terrain each day will bring, there is no pressure, regardless of current standings.
What there are plenty of, however, are moments. Moments of brilliance, when we link turns on unfamiliar stages perfectly, at a pace that is only achieved when racing. Moments of terror, when our calculations are slightly less accurate and leave our bodies and bikes tomahawking through the woods. And moments of intense gyration, when Paul “DJ Vandy Van” van der Ploeg gets ahold of the auxiliary cord at the after party.
It’s certainly madness, but it’s damn fun.
It’s 10 p.m. on day two of the Trans NZ Enduro, and we have just rolled in to what might be the only gas station between Craigieburn and Queenstown on fumes.
Mark is pumping gas, Will is attempting to return the windshield to a somewhat transparent state with baby wipes, and Simon is taking the opportunity to practice heel flips under the one flickering light in the parking lot.
After racing all day, we shoveled whatever food scraps we could find in the van down our throats and hit the road south for day three of the event in Queenstown. The drive, it turns out, is taking us roughly twice the estimated time, due to our van’s underwhelming top speed and the fact that we are now navigating twisty canyon roads at night.
For the past hour, Mark has kept one eye on the road and one on the gas gauge, while the rest of us have been tensely searching out the window for any sign of a gas station. The feeling of relief that our van has decided to come to a stop next to this pump, rather than somewhere along the side of the road from Craigieburn, is palpable, if short-lived.
As Mark hangs up the pump and prepares to get back on the road, he is greeted with the sound of a sputtering engine, a sound which is becoming increasingly familiar as our time in the van progresses. Our bodies weak from the day’s racing, we muster what remaining energy we have and throw our weight into the rear of the van, while Mark steers us back towards the highway and frantically pumps the gas pedal.
What feels like a mile later, the engine finally turns over and the van triumphantly lurches forward. We sprint along the shoulder to catch up and jump in. We are back on track to make it to Queenstown for day three of racing, but we still aren’t sure where we are sleeping tonight.
As we pull into Queenstown, the clock now past midnight, we stop next to a Spark box. These are like phone booths but with a Wi-Fi connection instead of a phone, and with no New Zealand plans on our phones, they present our only means of communication with the outside world. Simon messages a friend of his who is living in town during the World Cup off season, and he luckily wakes up and gives us the ok to set up camp in his driveway for the night. With the prospect of sleep now firmly in our sights, we once again push on the van and get it up to speed as Mark steers us towards bed.
What stands out most after an event like the Trans NZ Enduro is not the racing action, who made up time where, what skill set the tracks favored, who ended up on top (It was Pete Robinson and Mops, nice work!), but the stories that come from 120 people going on a week-long group ride together.
It didn’t take us long to learn that the best strategy for success, whether that is measured in the form of a results sheet or just an enjoyable week of racing, is to embrace the gong show.