Over the hill: Avoiding the body bag - Pioneer day 1

By Michael Brown

Michael Brown is going through a mid-life crisis so he thought it would be a good idea to tackle the Pioneer, a seven-day mountain bike race from Christchurch to Queenstown. This is his report from the first day of the race.

One of the trails on the first day of the Pioneer mountain bike race is called the Body Bag.

It was our intention to ensure we got through the opening stage of the seven-day race from Christchurch to Queenstown without being in one, both literally and metaphorically.

As the organisers had said to us the previous evening, the race can't be won on the first day but it can be lost - and the sight of one rider being attended to by ambulance staff was a good reminder.

Despite the urgings of my highly-competitive five-year-old daughter, Herald photographer Greg Bowker and I are not hoping to win. Our ambitions are slightly more conservative - finishing.

It was good to finally get the race under way. After five months of focusing on this outlet for my mid-life crisis , whether it be training, eating, getting kitted out or thinking about it (man, have I thought about it), it's now not something on the horizon.

The first stage, a 20.5km prologue, was held at the recently-opened Christchurch Adventure Park, which even has a chairlift to ferry most riders to the 50km of trails (not us, unfortunately). It was a stage I was a little anxious about, given my lack of technical skill, but it mostly went off without a hitch.

There were a few tricky sections (some of the switchbacks were so tight you really needed a BMX bike to get around them) and the Body Bag so steep most opted to walk up, but it was also a lot of fun. You even had time to check out some of the views to Lyteltton Harbour or the Southern Alps.

Michael Brown makes his way up the Body-bag track at Christchurch Adventure Park on Sunday during the first stage of the 7 day Epic, Pioneer Mountain Bike ride. Photo / Greg Bowker
Michael Brown makes his way up the Body-bag track at Christchurch Adventure Park on Sunday during the first stage of the 7 day Epic, Pioneer Mountain Bike ride. Photo / Greg Bowker

Today the mountains didn't look too daunting, way off in the distance. Tomorrow, we'll get a first taste of them in a 106km ride from Geraldine to Fairlie that contains 2480m of climbing. They will never be far from us, reminding us who's boss, over the next six days as we complete this journey through to Queenstown.

There was a fair degree of nervousness from most as we lined up for the start this morning. Nerves have been such a constant companion of mine over the past 10 days I could have opened a butterfly enclosure.

Even ex-Formula 1 driver Alex Yoong admitted to feeling anxious this morning, which probably had more to do with the fact he had to worry about his own engine for a change.

He was all smiles at the end, though. Most were - perhaps not the guy who tried to give his partner a high five at the finish line only to lose control and fly over his handlebars, or another who punctured after about 400m.

Everyone had a story to tell and, like fishing, it's likely they will grow in legend as time passes. There will be plenty of opportunity over the next week to relay an account of survival or woe, with a tent city set up each night for us to stay at.

The next six days are going to be tough but I also hope there will be some generous portions of fun and a sense of achievement. Right now, though, I'm just happy I'm not in a body bag.

* Follow Michael and Greg's progress each day throughout the Pioneer on nzherald.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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