Of Lakes and Peaks

It promised to be an epic week, that volunteering job at the Pioneer. 500 mountain bikers from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and as far as Sweden and Spain competing on a rugged course of 600km across the Southern Alps – and a crew of 100 fearless volunteers to set up the race village every single day. Guess who had more fun?

The Pioneer 2017 Highlights from The Pioneer on Vimeo.

Upcounty Camp Vibes

Friday, two days before the riders would arrive, our crew started build Tent City in Geraldine, a small town upcountry about 100km from Christchurch. Finally an opportunity to meet real Kiwi people! They made the majority of our crew and despite being mostly high school students I enjoyed hanging out with them in the first few days. Later we got assigned to teams, rotating tasks around the camp for the week. Our Pink Team comprised of four Americans, two Germans, a girl from Chile and a Kiwi.

A hard but rewarding day’s work putting up those 600 tents was followed by a lazy day until the race actually got underway. Time to get used to Tent City life of cold nights in the tent, early mornings starting at 6 am, and hot days in the sun. After three nights in Geraldine it was time to break down the venue, move on and set everything up again – our routine for the six days following

In Fairlie, stop 2 and another little town, our first job was operating the finish line. One after another the riders came in from a long day riding, we would hand out their bags and some snacks. Not the worst job, probably much better off than taking down the campsite in pouring rain the next morning. Luckily this was the only wet day, and driving over to Lake Tekapo it became a fair day again. With the sun out hardly anyone could resist a dip in the icy lake, next to our stunning campsite. A climb up a nearby hill then rewarded us with a gorgeous sunset.

Into the Alps

The nights got colder and colder, the mountains even higher and spectacular as we travelled further up to Lake Ohau the next day. Alpine, remote and majestic, it was our team’s job to build tent city on the lakeside, of course to be followed by another lake swim (make it three the next day in Hawea). Driving from Tekapo to Ohau was particularly fun as we could cheer for the riders on the road along stunning Lake Pukaki. Apart from the on-course marshals our crew was fairly remote from the race. The daily awards ceremony and highlights video after dinner would only give us an idea of what they’d been up to all day. Once I got the opportunity to wash some of the very fancy, very expensive bikes, also talking to some riders. Most of them really embraced the challenge and were completely in awe with the landscape. Mayyybe in a few years…?

While about 150 riders completed their four day race in Ohau, the other ones tackled the hardest day of riding to Lake Hawea. Once more time taking down and rebuilding tents before chilling out by the lakeside and scrambling up a mountain for sunset – and sliding back down the steep slopes on our butts.

On the finish line

Camp life had become normal by then. Rising before the sun, breakfast, work, travel to the next venue, lunch bags, work, a few hours to spare, dinner (not too impressive but fair enough, free food). It didn’t take long to get used to mobile showers ina truck, chemical toilets and sleeping out there on rocky, grassy but mostly not too flat ground. Not seeing a building from the inside for a week is something I particularly adored. Maybe I will turn into a serious camper at one point.

For the last two days our team was assigned the social zone; packing all the chairs and tables from the dining area and setting them back up in the next place. This meant lots of spare time at the final campsite Snow Farm. An alpine lodge at altitude and just as freezing as you would expect. One more sunset from the highest hill overlooking Mt Aspiring National Park before the racers headed downhill to the Queenstown finish line.  Some unlucky circumstances meant we had to stay and help with the final packing and cleaning of tents instead of watching the riders complete their epic race. Well, another day in the beautiful mountainside at last!

The event organizers supplied hostel accommodation for the last night, but after being out there in nature’s most amazing settings I felt caught and less happy about the comfort than I should have been. Most of the volunteers were set for a big party that night but I headed back, recapitulating the excitement, the abundance of impressions and incredible scenery. I might not sign up for that job again, it was hard but definitely some experience I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on.

And finally, homecoming to Oamaru. Reunited with the hostel family we celebrated Daniel’s birthday, had some serious ultimate Frisbee matches. These last bike rides around the green hills just added more anticipation for our owb bike tour to come up.

Next: Otago Central Rail Trail

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