After I endured an abusive Huka Challenge in 2015 by means of multiple areas, the hurt and shattered dreams from the mental and physical pain had me crying (metaphorically) over a small flat white and small sweet muffin in my local cafe' reading the latest, DEC issue of NZ MTBR.

My recent 7 kilogram weight loss was quickly looking like it was going to be one of those 'fad' diets that we all dabble in. I.e. get fully evolved and mildly addicted in order to meet a particular goal. Then, after said goal, loose all grasp of why we did it and spring back to how we were to easily persuaded by a piece of proudly displayed Carrot cake...

It was at this point a particular advert caught my eye in the section towards the back of the magazine that is frequently ignored. The Ruapehu Express. A "brand-new" 21/55km Point to Point, XC mountain bike race around the great mountain in a time of year that lays dormant to the small township of Ohakune.

After a brief read up on-line, I made the decision right there to enter the 55 km section regardless of who I could con from the bunch of merry men and women who we regularly ride with and travel south in February....

After a couple of months with regular riding coupled with a minor hiatus involving Christmas puddings, lashings of craft beer and cheese tasting platters, my riding was progressing at a stable pace. My bike had miraculously shed 2.5 Kg's (with a little help from Adventure Brands) and morphed itself into its carbon derivative. With that, my body too had managed to forge itself into a finely tuned lighter version with a further mountain of lead ballast missing.

Joining me on My merry crusade was a couple of close friends from Whangarei, Scotty and Dalts who share a very similar passion and goofiness for Mountain Biking. Somehow I had managed to sell them the idea that even though this event was inaugural, it was going to be Epic!. Now most people that know me will tell you that I often over exaggerate things like this as I have no idea really what it will be like.....
Arriving into Ohakune late on the Friday night, we went straight to registration that was held at the ever-popular beer and tall story mecca, the Powder Keg. The drive from the township to the 'keg' delivered a plethora of quaint central plateau sites (basically a bunch of under-maintained cottages and skiing baches that don't look as picturesque without snow topped roofs) which ended in what seemed like, acres of expensive mountain bikes and fellow hairy legged primates.

For a virgin event, the registration process was very easy with a quick dash to have our bikes washed, stickered, race numbers applied and hand them over to the pre-organised transport taking them to the start line. This absolutely draining process then ensued we must drink beer!

Race Day

Starting at around 1100m above sea level and a brisk 7 degree's c, the event started in a large, flat, tussock lined desert wonderland on the fringes of the NZ army training land in the shadow of the Ruapehu, Tukino ski field. This would be the terrain the first 3rd of the course would follow and be privileged to. During the briefing, a very stern and gruff Army Official addressed us explaining, "the private Army land was only made available for this event". "So unless you like being escorted by armed forces, we suggest you save your future desire's to ride it for the 2017 event".

As a mass exodus of 500 riders left the 7:00 AM start line, the event quite quickly fanned itself out into groups of varying paces with our trio sitting snugly in the second quarter of the field. As the race progressed we seemed to make good ground on a raft of different riders and regularly muttering between ourselves on how smooth the terrain and trails were. Being from Northland, we have learn't to ride on a few bare boned trails that many would call "un-rideable" so these trails were a welcomed surprise.

The race for me was the true meaning of a XC (Cross country) MTB race and it had it all. Dust, dirt, shingle, sand, patches of road, technical descents, technical climbs and most of all Kilometers.....

Rounding up the final 5km's on a short road section to the finish was easily welcomed by a lot of riders who were in the fading stages. Even though the course's gradient profile was primarily descending, the level of cadence was over looked and unexpected.

Both Scott and I welcomed the site of the final straight and I even felt like I still had plenty in the tank, but we'll save that for a rainy day, a flat white and a small Muffin. Dalt's came in ten minutes after us and we all managed a top quarter of the field finish much to our surprise.

The Ruapehu express to me was an event I intend on competing at regularly along with my fellow Northland compatriots and I highly recommend it to even the weekend warrior to give it a go. The event staff were fantastic and certainly knew just how to put on an outstanding event that marks highly among the events currently on offer in New Zealand.

Ohakune, as always rolled out the welcome mats and made sure that the descendants on their town were treated like royalty even if we all had a funky smell, hairy legs and all looked a little Hobbit'ish.

So mark the end of Feb in your diary, get your training under way (Beer, Pies and cafe' food) and we'll see you there!