Chasing endless summers, Robin Pieper checks in from her Northern Hemisphere base in Squamish, BC. With a little more idle time on her hands than anticipated due to a broken collar bone, she looks back on a most excellent Kiwi summer of enduro and adventure.
Back to Racing
Refreshed and more than ready to ride, I was back into it for the Craigieburn Enduro. A big day with 1600m of climbing in hot summer conditions on world class tracks. I had a brilliant race and took the win on a borrowed bike (thanks Will Keay). So began my love affair with Rocky Mountain Bikes. I was super stoked to put down a couple of runs that were close to perfect for my current level, and to feel the race come together and go to plan. Above all, good to spend a day with good company in the mountains.
Full gas dropping into Cheesy DH. Photo: Dominic Blissett
Six busy weeks working at the Christchurch Adventure Park followed, including three weeks of school holiday program (30 times 7-12 year olds, anyone?), a full schedule of lessons, school groups, plus women’s and men’s night courses.
My main joy and project through this time was Team Kōhine. Observing that teenage girls are an under-represented group in mountain biking, I started a program to bring these girls together - ride, support and hang out with one another. We formed two after school groups which was both a challenge and a lot of fun to run. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive so I am really chuffed with how it all turned out.
Golden hour at Christchurch Adventure Park.
And just like that – summer was ticking through and autumn not that far away. The race season was only half complete though. A big block was looming with the DH Nationals at CAP followed by the Southern Enduro Series. My aim was for consistency and to take some learnings from each race into the next.
The National MTB Championships marked the start of 4 races over 5 weeks - dovetailed with a full load at work. The Nationals also marked my birthday. I have often struggled to find my downhill racing mojo however home game advantage, local support and a birthday seemed like extra reason to give it heaps.
My bike and body were working well together and the course was a lot of fun. Steep and rocky-tech at the top, opening up lower down with fast corners, plenty of doubles and lots of jumps. Race run was a full-on 3.5 minutes. My mates heckling "Happy Birthday" as I tackled the rock garden crux was pretty special. I’ll keep that with me for a while. Thanks to all you wonderful humans.
I finished 6th in Elite, and was within the gap to the winning time that I had set myself as a target. Happy birthday girl.
Pushing the comfort zone in DH mode. Photo: Dominic Blissett
Robin vs Rock. Photo Dominic Blissett
With the Nationals behind me, it was back to Enduro - hopefully bringing along some DH intensity to the party. A last minute upgrade to my truck saw the addition of a rooftop tent. With Kea my dog riding shotgun, we headed off on a racing and camping combo roadie.
The Southern Enduro Series lured us up and down the entire South Island - starting out in Cable Bay, heading south to Dunedin for 3 Peaks and back to Nelson a fortnight later for the Mammoth. Based in Christchurch meant each round was a 3 day weekend with a short week of bike instruction sandwiched between. Hectic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Cable Bay Adventure Park is an unreal little place. Tucked 15 mins north of Nelson, it’s a grassroots spot with incredible hand-built trails crafted by passionate and dedicated locals. The flavour is quintessentially Nelson - tight and steep amongst beautiful native beech and kanuka. Loui and Jess Harvey put on a solid race with 1600m of climbing and close to 2000m descending. An epic day out with stages testing all aspects of lungs, legs and skill.
Dream setup at Cable Bay Campground.
Sunshine and fast riding at Cable Bay. Photo: Dominic Blissett
A week later and it was Dunedin for 3 Peaks Enduro. Otago truly turned it on with good weather and a fun race course. With the covid regulations at the time, the field was split in half to keep numbers under the threshold. So each day was actually only half a day's racing. That allowed plenty of time to visit the beach, sup coffee and generally lap up what Dunedin has to offer.
Dunedin in the dry is a bit like finding a unicorn and winning lotto. I had a ball. The trails at both race locations, Whare Flat and Signal Hill, are quite different. Part of the challenge was to change bike setup from the tight woods of Whare Flat to the rocks and downhill style tracks of Signal Hill.
The fun got the better of me and I crashed pretty hard during practice at Signal. Luckily I walked away with just a sore body and some bruised confidence. It was a challenge to turn that around and be fired up at the start for fast lines and times. I’m grateful for that lesson and how it worked out. With Rob Roy Dairy ice creams in hand we headed back north to Christchurch. 2/3 rounds done.
Happy and heading to the next stage. Photo: Dominic Blissett
Dry roots made for some fast high lines. Photo: Kane Fleury
Last on this season’s racing agenda was the Mammoth Enduro, hosted by the Nelson MTB Club. Arguably NZ’s toughest single day enduro, this year covid and permits played havoc with logistics and resulted in less climbing than previous years - although the tracks were as gnarly as ever.
Six stages of Grade 5 Nelson is not something to be taken lightly. It felt like a true summer race, with warm temperatures and dunks in the river and sea post riding. It was great to have one final dance for the season. Stoked to take home 4th fastest women and 3rd in the open female category.
Mammoth racing. Photo: Henry Jaine
With the race season done and dusted, I was counting down the weeks until my plane left for the next chapter of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. But there were still plenty of kiwi-based distractions. Stunning autumn days led to rides at old favourite locations like Alexandra and Craigieburn, as well as some new routes in the Canterbury foothills and about the Ahuriri River.
Taking a rest on the climb up to the Edge, Craigieburn.
Princess Kea in her kingdom.
After being South Island based all summer, this flightless kiwi managed to get herself over the Cook Strait to Wellington for a NZOIA Mountain Bike 2 Instructor's Assessment. Four days of idyllic riding around Wellington with no need to seek shelter from the wind or rain with a jacket. Unheard of.
Being assessed is stressful but made easier with good company, good weather and at the end of the day - it’s just abut riding bikes. I even found time to have a laugh and enjoy a clear Wellington sunset from Makara Peak. As they say, you can’t beat Wellington on a good day. Not enough to convince me to stay though. So with my newly qualified ticket in hand, I hightailed it back to the South.
Bird's eye view of Wellington - trying to spot the best coffee shop.
Last on the calendar was the annual St James trip with the Outdoor Education class at Kaikoura High School. This was stunningly different to last year with benign weather, different kids and a new route. Warm northerlies confined my down jacket to its stuff sac and provided a wonderful tailwind on the way home. It's always a pleasure to spend a few days among the mountains and seeing the impact on kids who haven’t had much exposure to the outdoor environment. A great aspect of my job for sure.
Dawn on the St James.
A different sort of pony from the originals used on the St James.
And so it was a wrap on the Kiwi summer. I packed my bike, toothbrush and a change of clothes ready for the flight to Canada.
The summer has been a blast. Jammed full of races, overnight adventures, day rides, bike instruction and training. I really valued the volume of time spent outside, the sunrises & sunsets, pedals with friends, solo pedals and opportunities to pause and watch the world go by. The races went well, and regardless of what the results say, I knew I had a breakthrough season in terms of headspace, riding ability and simply the love of riding my bike.
It takes a village, and so a massive thanks to the people I hang with and who support me. As I wait in Squamish for this collarbone to heal I can’t wait to get back into it and discover what lies around the next corner.
Go have fun outside Robin
Name a better combo. Photo: Dominic Blissett
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