A Case of the Madness

Morning view from bed in the van, day 4. Even on race days, there’s no need for alarm clocks when you don’t have curtains.

A Case of the Madness Surviving the Trans NZ Enduro with the Free Radicals

It’s 10 p.m. on day two of the Trans NZ Enduro, and we have just rolled in to what might be the only gas station between Craigieburn and Queenstown on fumes.

Mark is pumping gas, Will is attempting to return the windshield to a somewhat transparent state with baby wipes, and Simon is taking the opportunity to practice heel flips under the one flickering light in the parking lot.

After racing all day, we shoveled whatever food scraps we could find in the van down our throats and hit the road south for day three of the event in Queenstown. The drive, it turns out, is taking us roughly twice the estimated time, due to our van’s underwhelming top speed and the fact that we are now navigating twisty canyon roads at night.

For the past hour, Mark has kept one eye on the road and one on the gas gauge, while the rest of us have been tensely searching out the window for any sign of a gas station. The feeling of relief that our van has decided to come to a stop next to this pump, rather than somewhere along the side of the road from Craigieburn, is palpable, if short-lived.

Simon and the interior of the van both looking a little ragged after day 4. Simon was filming the race for episode two of the Free Candy Tour, and each morning he was out on course and in position before all the racers. Each morning, the rest of our crew inevitably ended up on the last shuttle, causing him sleep loss and hours of sitting around in the woods for nothing. Sorry dude!
Afternoon post-race debris. First priority, remove chamois as quickly as possible. Second priority, get food and coffee into your system, stat.
Yard debris at the Fern Hill mansion. One week after our stay, a party transpired here that would ultimately lead to the end of our friend's tenancy. According to the local newspaper headlines, Queenstown PD had to call in reinforcements from surrounding towns to shut the party down. Legendary.
Sometimes all you can do is laugh. On day 3, stage 3, much of the field took a wrong turn on course and followed a much slower trail braid to the finish. Mark and Brian were party training the stage when they found themselves slowly traversing the hillside adjacent to the course.

As Mark hangs up the pump and prepares to get back on the road, he is greeted with the sound of a sputtering engine, a sound which is becoming increasingly familiar as our time in the van progresses. Our bodies weak from the day’s racing, we muster what remaining energy we have and throw our weight into the rear of the van, while Mark steers us back towards the highway and frantically pumps the gas pedal.

What feels like a mile later, the engine finally turns over and the van triumphantly lurches forward. 

What feels like a mile later, the engine finally turns over and the van triumphantly lurches forward. We sprint along the shoulder to catch up and jump in. We are back on track to make it to Queenstown for day three of racing, but we still aren’t sure where we are sleeping tonight.

As we pull into Queenstown, the clock now past midnight, we stop next to a Spark box. These are like phone booths but with a Wi-Fi connection instead of a phone, and with no New Zealand plans on our phones, they present our only means of communication with the outside world. Simon messages a friend of his who is living in town during the World Cup off season, and he luckily wakes up and gives us the ok to set up camp in his driveway for the night. With the prospect of sleep now firmly in our sights, we once again push on the van and get it up to speed as Mark steers us towards bed.

Brian, day 5, stage 3. Photo: Matt Wood
Behind those glasses, the madness is fierce in Will’s eyes as he enjoys some afternoon beers in the sun following the race’s conclusion. The type of house music usually reserved for 3 a.m., not 3 p.m., is pumping from Paul “DJ Vandy Van” van der Ploeg’s phone in the background.
Upon learning that Shark and Will hate reggae, course marshall Nate Corrigan (far right) blasted irie beats from his portable speaker any time he saw them on track all week. Big up yourself one time!
Paul “DJ Vandy Van” van der Ploeg hung out in the back of the pack all week, talked a bunch of shit, had a bunch of laughs, and was one of the last riders to finish each day. If you didn’t look at a results sheet, he could have been any normal dude escaping his work and family commitments for a race vacation.

What stands out most after an event like the Trans NZ Enduro is not the racing action, who made up time where, what skill set the tracks favored, who ended up on top (It was Pete Robinson and Mops, nice work!), but the stories that come from 120 people going on a week-long group ride together.

It didn’t take us long to learn that the best strategy for success, whether that is measured in the form of a results sheet or just an enjoyable week of racing, is to embrace the gong show.