Sunday, August 14

The Fun Factor

There's a playful little breeze filtering through the trees at Kaiteriteri these days.

Its infectious qualities have been felt by all of those who turn up for our weekly working bees. Gone is the mantra of "more metres! more metres!" - in its place is the far more rewarding motivator of "more fun! more fun!".

To be fair, last winter's project of hand-benching Skullduggery didn't offer much scope for playfulness. The steepness of the gully-ridden terrain restricted the options for creativity and, as progress at times slowed to a crawl, counting off the metres at least maintained a sense of momentum.

At times it felt as though simply completing this section of singletrack was enough of a goal, without trying to add bells & whistles.
And there's no denying it was a terrific achievement by our small (but perfectly-formed) volunteer workforce to finish it in time for Spring.

So you could suggest that the new spirit of playfulness that accompanies our current hand-benching efforts on the Skullduggery extension is merely due to the slightly easier terrain we've had to work in. But that would be missing something.

More at work here is the awareness that we're no longer just turning up to build track, we want to make fun track!

Everyone seems to have been caught up in this new enthusiasm to be creative. There's a whole new buzz around the working bees and not turning up means you miss out on the opportunity to have input.

And there's no denying that having a good idea adopted by the crew adds to that sense of shared 'ownership' of a track, making it that bit more special each time you ride it.

Coming from the opposite direction, we're about 2/3rds along the way towards joining up last year's section of Skullduggery, which terminated at the junction with Flamin' Nora.
So there's still plenty of time to get involved! People who haven't attended our working bees can't appreciate the sense of camaraderie and accomplishment we share. But, believe me, like playfulness, it can be quite infectious...

Fortunately, this mysterious breeze permeates all parts of the forest, including where Karl Thompson & I are working with the digger.
Last week we made our long-awaited start on Skyline, the track that will provide bikeable access to the top ridge from within the Park boundaries.

But before we go up, we have to go down. Getting to the base of the 'climbing' spur involves descending from the junction of Ziggy & Big Airs and crossing a stream. This gave us an opportunity to create some long traverses through some of the gentlest terrain we've encountered so far - definitely too good to waste!

So, again, rather than just look to see how quickly we could bench a route down to the stream crossing, we've also sought to add in some fun factor. As with the w/bees, it makes for far more interesting work and we know it's going to make it way more enjoyable for you to ride.

Unfortunately, the photo will have to serve as a teaser until the track is finished and opened to bike traffic. If you want to get an idea of what's taking shape, you're welcome to stroll down (or up, depending on where we've got to). Just please respect the signage and leave your bike at the taped entrance. Even if you see treadmarks already there, don't go adding to them as the more bike traffic the track gets before it's ready, the more grooming will be later required, delaying its eventual opening.
And you don't want to find out what a digger can do to a bike!

And, finally, on this playful theme, few things are as likely to bring a smile to your face while out riding as quickly as seeing someone on a muni.

There's a growing group of these mountain unicyclists in the region and their skills are not to be laughed at. Actually, I think laughing at them is quite acceptable as chances are they'll be laughing even harder. Talk about blokes old enough to know better having fun!

Marty Richards & Julian Daly gave Sidewinder and the rest of the Park the big thumbs up when they ventured over. I suspect it won't be long until they're demanding their own race category...

Thursday, August 4

Changing the Culture

Craig Skillicorn & I recently attended the MTB Development Conference in Living Springs, ChCh. Many good things came out of the weekend, not least the opportunity to swap notes with many trail-building mtb enthusiasts from around the country.

From Southland to the Far North, there are some amazing tracks being created - sometimes by a few dedicated individuals, others by clubs that, through corporate involvement, have turnovers in excess of $100,000 p.a. I, for one, can't wait to throw my bike on the back and do a tour of all that's good in NZ singletrack. And that would have to be a long tour!

One resource I'll avail myself of is, brainchild of Hawke's Bay MTB Club Pres. Don Bricknall.
The idea behind this website is to enable mtbers from 'out of town' to hook up with locals to get the best out of the riding to be had in that area. With the explosion in track-building & mtb parks in recent years, what better way to ensure you don't miss out on the newest trails? Not to mention the best way to ride 'em!
And, in return, I get to show off the best of what we have to offer when visitors come to Tasman :-)

Another thing I took from the conference was the Christchurch Singletrack Club's observation that, over 2-3 years, they had helped effect a change of culture with regard to people riding wet tracks. The Port Hills tracks suffer badly from being ridden when wet and the burden of track maintenance was becoming unsustainable, esp. over winter.
Through a process of education and signage, they have significantly reduced the wear'n'tear of the Port Hill's trail network making for better riding for everyone when the time is right.

So what about Kaiteriteri...?

In part, the track damage we suffered this May-June was of our own making.
In trumpeting our all-weather tracks, we invited people to come riding all year round. While numbers were still relatively low - and rainfalls were normal - this generally held true. Those few areas that got muddy could be attributed to failings in track design or unanticipated seepage. Where possible, we carried out remedial work to alleviate the problem.

But the wettest Autumn in decades (ever?) and high Park usage meant that minor problem areas became majors and previously sound surfaces started to cut up. The run-up to our 6 Hr event saw many people out pre-racing the route, even during times of heavy rain.
Also, as other tracks around the Nelson area became too boggy, people increasingly came to Kaiteriteri for their fix. Attempts to close some of the worst affected tracks with tape were unsuccessful as individuals continued to ride the race circuit.

In the event, a week's postponement and fine weather meant that our 6 Hr went ahead and was enjoyed by all. But not before our volunteers had put in a power of work (see previous post) and are still left with a lot of damage to repair.

So it seems to us a change of culture amongst those who use the Mountain Bike Park might also be a good thing.

The first place to start is to ensure everyone is aware of the Mountain Bikers Code. It pops up from time to time in publications - it's even on our map board - but when was the last time you actually read it?
We'd like everyone to take note of Respect the Track: Avoid riding in the mud and rain.
It's included for a very good reason. Riding in the wet damages track surfaces. Once ruts or bogs have developed, they'll go on growing unless or until someone puts in the hours to clean them up.
At Kaiteriteri, that means volunteers. Volunteers aren't people who sit at home waiting for the maintenance call-up. We're people who much prefer riding to working. But we also accept that tracks don't build & maintain themselves. We're lucky to have so many people in our small region who do come regularly to working bees and we've made great gains in a short time because of that.

But they still represent only a small fraction of the number of people who use the Park.

What we would like all users to consider next time they're contemplating a ride in the Park during or immediately after rain is:
- does my need to ride wet tracks outweigh the 'needs' of the volunteers (who would far rather be building new track than fixing existing ones)?
- am I willing to be one of those that contributes to Park maintenance?

You might not see the connection between riding & volunteering but it was a recurring theme to come up at the Conference - how to engage more of our mtb population in track building & maintenance? It's something every club struggles with. Our management committee isn't a club but the same challenge applies. At Kaiteriteri we offer incentives like cash vouchers for attendance (sponsored by Coppins Outdoors) and provide tools on-site so you can 'ride to work', if preferred.

But that's not what really motivates our volunteers. To a person, they are individuals who want to give something back. They know, deep down, that trail pixies aren't building tracks while they sleep. They understand that unless tracks are maintained, they'll go on deteriorating until they become unrideable. And they know that when they ride other tracks elsewhere, there are people who share those values carrying out exactly the same work.
It also helps that, every Sunday morning when we gather for our working bees, we have a lot of fun and many friendships are made in the process :-)

The work can include clearing track-side vegetation, swinging a grubber, pulling a rake. Even bringing some baking counts as a much-appreciated contribution! If you think you would like to join us, check the website calendar for meet details and/or make sure we have your email address on our volunteer database.

And on a related theme, please note that the middle section of Shady Lady is closed for maintenance. A drain on the lower switchback blocked and, as a consequence, water has been running down the track. With traffic this has turned into one muddy mess!
We'll get to it as soon as possible but, in the meantime, you are free to use the Kimi Ora walking tracks to bypass this section (please observe their request to RIDE SLOWLY).

On a more positive note, Karl Thompson is back at the Park with his digger. We spent a couple of days doing maintenance on some of the tracks - we hope you notice! - before making a start on our next scheduled track.

But more on that later...