Up and coming downhiller Jess Stone is spending the winter honing her skills in New Zealand. Here's her first report from the land of the long white cloud.
Adventure, noun: a risky undertaking of unknown outcome; an exciting or unexpected event or course of events; a hazardous financial operation.
I have been literally counting the hours and minutes for the weeks leading up to this trip. I was so excited for the new experience of learning about a new culture and having the opportunity to ride my bike in some amazing scenery. I plan to be in New Zealand for the next four months.
It’s my first proper adventure. I know one would consider travelling the world, racing World Cups to be an adventure, but that’s usually with the safety of a team to help with organisation. You are also restricted as to what you can do, knowing you have to race that weekend.
This trip I consider to be a proper adventure. I am here on my own and the only plans I made were where I would stay for the first week of my arrival (with my friend Harriet Latchem and her boyfriend Junior, who are kindly putting me up), equipment arrangements and the fact that I will be competing in the NZ National Downhill Series.
My aim here is to enjoy riding my bicycle and ride it often. Therefore, I am ditching the diary and who knows what exciting things the next few months will bring.
I arrived into Christchurch on the Thursday after two days of flying. I stopped over at Justin and Tori Leov’s house for a couple of days while I tried to get a grip of the place and my jet lag.
I was expecting 30˚C temperatures, but instead it rained heavier than what I have seen in the UK for a while. It was crazy to see the place still being built up after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. There have been tonnes of aftershocks too.
My idea to begin with was to head to Queenstown for the first month of my trip, so I decided I would get the bus as this was easy and a cheap option. I was kindly dropped off at the airport and got on board the Intercity bus at 7.30am. It was $65 in total with the fare and the bike box, which works out at £32.50, a great price for what would be a nine hour journey.
Our bus driver, Georgie was 62 years of age, an interesting chap and took me under his wing. I was the ‘adopted daughter’. We set off from town and from the start George gave us a commentary as we passed through the surrounding area.
I was astounded by his knowledge of the place. As we drove past the 18-hole golf course in Christchurch which George introduced to us, he asked: “Does anyone here play golf?"
Silence. Then a few mumbles were heard while some passengers responded ‘yes’ in progressive volumes as they felt ever more brave.
“Well, if you come here to play golf make sure to bring two pairs of socks." There was a slight pause while everyone on the bus was left rattling their brains figuring out what the hell he was going on about.
Then, before anyone got it: “It’s just a rule, in case you get a hole in one." That pretty much set the theme for the rest of the bus trip.
A couple of days after my arrival in Queenstown, I was introduced to my first epic ride. R&R Sports Queenstown lent me a demo Trek Slash for the trip. Nico, a crazy French dude led the route. He’s renowned for his epic adventures, but at that point I was unaware of this! I had brought a small amount of food and a 750ml bottle of water. We set off along the Moonlight track for a couple of hours, a fun trail varying in short uphill and descents.
Then, the trail began to steepen and we spent the next two hours pushing up the mountain, some carrying bikes on their back and every now and then we would pause to ease the calf burn and to take in the views – which, were utterly stunning and breathtaking; a reminder that all this hard work would be worth it at the top.
I was so thirsty by the time we had reached the saddle of Ben Lomond, but the view of The Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown was awesome. I felt so fortunate to be there and I was so struck by the scenery, I almost found it quite surreal.
From there it was downhill all the way back to the house - the trail was awesome fun and definitely worth every minute of the epic climb.
I can’t wait to see what New Zealand brings next!