Spoke Magazine

Jenna Makgill Rides the Homer Tunnel

Posted by Caleb Smith on Thursday December 1 2011

Jenna Makgill is one of those rare humans to possess both integrity and passion. Integrity in her own beliefs, her social conscious and respect for the environment she breathes and lives in. Passion for everything she does. “Do what you love and you will be happy.” A simple statement that is so easily forgotten by so many people in today’s hustle and bustle existence. Jenna loves riding her bike and she’s very good at it. Jenna is good at it because she loves it.

“Riding my bike is a faster way to get round and it’s a better way for me to treat the environment; plus I just love riding bikes!” Jenna’s love of riding started in her childhood. She’s been road racing since she was 13 years old and racing downhill MTB from 15. “I had a real passion for downhill racing, but ever since I built up a fixed gear out back in a cycle shop I was working in, I was hooked.” That was in 2007, just before the international phenomenon of fixed gear riding hit the world. “I would check out riders and bikes on the Internet and it all just flowed from there” There goes that passion again. That passion led Jenna to two women’s World Courier Championship titles in 2008 and 2011.

So when Red Bull asked Jenna what she wanted to ride next, the typically Jenna answer, loaded with a question was, “Something big?” That simple statement would turn into an idea, the idea into a reality.

Enter the Homer Tunnel; 942m elevation, 1270m long, single lane with walls of unlined granite. A gruelling climb to the eastern portal entrance, rising through glacial valleys shadowed by snowy sheer peaks, 1:10 tunnel gradient, in the pitch black to the western portal, which leads into steep switchbacks winding down out of the Homer Pass.

Hardly what you would call ‘nice’ fixed gear territory. No brakes, loose gravel on the corners, steep terrain and a temperature of 7 degrees Celsius. What did Jenna think of the scenario? “Sounds good, meet you at the airport.”

There goes that passion again.

The Homer Tunnel was opened in 1954 and is a New Zealand State Highway that connects Milford Sound to Te Anau and Queenstown by piercing the main divide at the Homer Saddle. William H. Homer discovered the Homer Saddle on 27 January 1889. Government workers began the tunnel in 1935, starting with five men using picks and wheelbarrows. The men lived in tents in a mountainous area where there was no direct sunlight for half of the year. At least three were killed by avalanches over the coming decades. Progress was slow with difficult conditions, these problems delayed the tunnel’s completion and opening until 1954.

The epic unspoilt wilderness area really struck Jenna. “Since being back from Germany, I’ve been eyeing up places to go within New Zealand, as I’ve avidly taken up bush running and wilderness adventuring. Basically I just want to start appreciating what’s on my doorstep rather than longhaul flights to nowhere.”

Jenna reflects after the ride: “The whole thing was awesome. Riding through the tunnel, getting up in the dark, killing my legs to the point that I could barely walk the next days. Definitely an experience up there on my list of all time awesome things I have ever done.”

Integrity and passion are rare qualities to possess. Don’t go changing, Jenna Makgill; we like you just the way you are.

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