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Timber Trail by hand-cycle

Updated: Jan 30

Ancient forest, breath-taking views, suspension bridges, tunnels and a return to my happy place

Words by Susan Reid

Tiffiney, left, and Susan on their Lasher Sport ATH-FS full suspension e-assist hand-cycles

During Labour Weekend this year I was lucky to be part of a group of ten riders who completed the stunning Timber Trail ride through the Pureora Forest in the central North Island. Our group was a mix of adaptive mountain bikers, along with family and friends as support crew. This adventure was the result of more than 12 months’ planning and preparation by #AdaptMTB’s Andrew Burt, AKA Burty. Burty had done a lot of research to ensure the Timber Trail was firstly wide enough to accommodate the 910mm width of our hand-cycles. And secondly, with bollards installed at several points on the trail, he liaised with Lynley, our Timber Trail Champion, to secure keys for the bollards and any gates requiring opening along the way.

L to R: Sophie, Tiff, Burty, Sue, Richard, Lisa, Jack and Simon prior to starting the ride.

Our rag-tag bunch

Our group that was bought together by Burty included myself and Tiffiney Perry who both have spinal injuries and were riding our Lasher e-assist hand-cycles; my husband Mark and Tiffiney's son Jack; Richard Purcell, a lower leg amputee, and his Partner Lisa Jones, all riding e-assist mountain bikes; as well as Burty and extra support crew/adventurers made up of Sophie Vanner, Timber Trail Champion - Lynley Twyman; and Simon Alefosio-Tuck from Rotorua Lakes Council who also came along to increase his understanding of what an accessible trail needs to have. It was a shame that days before the trip #AdaptMTB co-founders Kim Littlejohn and her husband, adaptive rider, James Littlejohn had to pull out due to illness.

It was a privilege to be included in this group, although I’ve been a competitive road hand-cyclist for more than 13 years, I had only taken up off-road hand-cycling a few months prior to this ride. We all knew this ride was going to be a learning experience for all involved and expected to encounter various obstacles along the way.

Day One

We started with most of the crew meeting at the Timber Trail Shuttle and Bike Hire base in Ongarue (the southern end point of the Trail). Here our bikes were loaded, and we got into the shuttle to take us to the northern start of the Trail at Pureora. Unfortunately, due to a communication error, the shuttle company hadn’t allowed for the dimensions of the hand-cycle so had to arrange alternative transport at the last moment, but this delay just gave us more time to get to know each other, some of us having never met in person.

Before we set off, we were formally welcomed by Maadi, the recently appointed DOC Timber Trail Track Ranger, who gave us a very genuine heartfelt welcome and shared his joy that a group of people with disabilities were able to access and enjoy the forest. It was very moving.

This first day was spent biking through mostly virgin native forest that still exists thanks to the protesters who during the 1970s climbed into the forest canopy and prevented any further logging of this ancient native forest. This forest is now one of the rarest old-growth broadleaf podocarp forest stands in the North Island and home to a range of native wildlife. The track wound its way through the trees in the first section and we had to have our wits about us to navigate through. I was very thankful to have spent a weekend riding through Rotorua's Redwood Forest a few weeks before this trip with Tiff to gain more off-road riding experience and a chance to get used to riding an electric trike. I’m happy to say I only tipped over once on this trip and was quickly righted by Burty who was riding immediately behind me.

One of the famous features of the Timber Trail is its suspension bridges. Fortunately, they are wide enough for the hand-cycles and of the 35 bridges on the track, Tiff and I only had to be assisted coming off one bridge where the exit angle was too acute to get our bikes around. The views from these bridges were always a good chance to see down into some stunning valleys or rivers, those who are nervous of heights could be tested, but for me it was a thrill more than anything.

The Lodge

After five hours of biking 40 kilometres on the first day we arrived at the Timber Trail Lodge. Here we were greeted by staff and shown our accommodation for the night. My wheelchair which had been delivered with our luggage, by support driver Tiff’s husband Chris, was waiting for me on arrival and the lodge itself had all the basic accessible requirements which made our stay comfortable. After a nice hot shower, we gathered on the deck and enjoyed drinks and pizza while taking in the breath-taking views of Pureora forest. After such a big day it was such a treat to be spoiled, a lovely meal was served with other guests at the lodge and a talk about the forest, trail and lodge by Lynley. After an energetic day it was bliss to get to bed and listen to the sounds of Ruru in the distance.

Day Two

In the morning, after another great meal provided by the lodge, and our yummy lunches stored away in packs and panniers, we were off on our bikes to complete the second day of the trail, 50 kilometres. Again, we were treated to tracks through forest, open areas of original camps for forestry workers, suspension bridges and a tunnel. The last part of the trail was alongside a deer farm before exiting out onto the road and heading back to our cars at Ongarue.

A lovely element of the trail is that it has many signs and information along the way which really gives you a sense of the history of this beautiful land, and a chance for a breather, I strongly recommend that riders take the time to stop and read as it really gives you a sense of the immense history of the area.

This two-day off-road biking trip for me was two of the best days I’ve had in a long time. Before my accident, 19 years ago, which left me paraplegic, I headed for the bush every spare moment I had and was always at my happiest surrounded by nature and all her beauty. I had over the years come to terms with the idea that this part of my life was gone. But I am now so grateful to the humans who have designed such bikes and trikes that allow people like myself to access off-road terrain. It's a chance to grab back an aspect of my life I thought had been lost.

The Timber Trail is one of 23 Great Rides in Ngā Haerenga / the NZ Cycle Trails network. Thanks to organisations such as #AdaptMTB there is a move to make these trails accessible to all. As far as we know we broke new ground, bringing adaptive mountain-bikers onto this trail for the first time! I suggest that with a bit of forward planning, the right equipment and plenty of support other people with disabilities can achieve this trail too.

A massive thanks to Burty, Lynley, Simon, Richard, Lisa, Sophie, Jack, Tiff, her husband Chris and my husband Mark who shared this extraordinary adventure with me. I cannot wait for the next one!



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