June is the worst month of the year. It’s cold and wet, the days are short and the hills lack any sign of the snow that makes winter bearable. So why not embrace the misery of June with a ride that encompasses the worst that it has to offer?
The annual ride marking the Longest Night on June 21 is a tradition for many masochistic cyclists. The main 'rule' is to be out from sunset and to sunrise, no matter the weather. The infamy of longest night rides includes sorry states, near hypothermic experiences and falling asleep in ditches or shop entrances in the middle of the night. Fun, right?
A couple of years ago, some friends and I had a goal to tick off an A to Z of Wellington trails on the longest night - riding each trail in alphabetical order. That was a relatively enjoyable Longest Night Ride. This year, our theme was 'Tour de Bunker'. The idea to join the dots between as many of Wellington's historic war bunkers as possible.
Our original plan was start in Lower Hutt with the Belmont bunkers; make our way to the South Coast via a smorgasbord of Wellington bunkers, including the scenic Makara Beach bunker (not that we’d see much in the dark); finish the Saturday with a warm fire and brew at Red Rocks bunker; get a few hours sleep; wake up to a glorious view of Tapuae-o-Uenuku; then tick off a few more eastern Wellington bunkers on the way to a big Sunday morning brunch.
Of course, it would have been a miracle to have a pleasant Longest Night Ride. The week prior to the ride, the capital had a grand total of six minutes of sunshine. We made the call mid-week that an overnighter in a bunker in these conditions would be too miserable. The two days before the ride, we were smashed by one of those southerly storms that Wellington is so famous for. The forecast didn’t show any sign of relenting in time for our ride. A couple of (more sensible) friends pulled the pin completely. After much discussion between the remaining three about how stupid this was (and secretly hoping that one of us would say “this is dumb, let’s not go”), we hatched an abridged Longest Night Ride plan and set off into gale force southerlies and sideways rain as the sun slid below the horizon.
Belmont Regional Park comprises exposed pasture ridges between Lower Hutt and Porirua, with many ammunition storage buildings and bunkers scattered over it. As we crossed the main Belmont ridge, gnarly winds blew us sideways on the wet grassy trails as easily as leaves on a pond. These were undoubtedly the windiest conditions I’ve ridden in.
We reassessed and decided that the Makara Beach bunkers would be too dangerous - we’d likely get blown off the cliff tops, tumbling into the sea below. So we headed straight for the central Wellington bunkers instead.
Pushing on Regardless - who doesn't love Wellington's horizontal rain
This is one of the lesser-known bunkers. Tucked on some steep slopes below a residential area and overlooking the motorway below and harbour to the north, it is sheltered from ferocious southerlies. We stopped here for a late dinner. Normally, eating in a grimy graffitied bunker would be gross, but we were so grateful for the shelter and warmth that the faint smell of wee was barely noticed as we devoured our pre-made burritos. Stopping at Kah’s place down the road as a more comfortable option was considered, but we had self-inflicted Longest Night Ride values to uphold.
Squatting room only in the bunker kitchen
Refuelling ready for bunkers 3 & 4
We might have got a bit lost looking for the bunker entrance but we couldn’t be bothered retracing our steps. This was are penultimate bunker and nice warm beds were calling us. During the day, or even just on a nicer night, the Wrights Hill fortress is a fun area to explore.
A ride with a little bit of grovelling
It was only 11pm when we ticked off the final bunker for the night at Polhill. We night had barely started. The call was made that six hours in terrible conditions was more than enough; it would be nice to regain feeling in our fingers and toes.
Longest Night Ride was not achieved and Longest Night Ride values were not upheld. Oh well. I know many of you would have done that for us, somewhere else in the country. Only 12 months for us to plan and look forward to the next edition of mid-winter masochism.
Our last bunker