Who will be the King & Queen of Salmon?

Salmon Run is one of the many fine trails that have been built by Queenstown Mountain Bike Club in the Wakatipu Basin. It’s highly regarded not only within New Zealand, but also around the world as being one of the finest and most challenging trails out there. Due to my mediocre riding skills, coupled with owning a hard tail and downhill bike (neither of which I wish to get to the start of, or ride down Salmon Run with), this was was my first trip onto this hallowed trail.

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The Through the Loop Enduro is the brain child of two local legends, Jimmy Pollard and Quentin Kenning. The whole point of this race is that it’s hard and certainly not for the faint hearted or unfit, adding in of course a rather large slice of fun and banter. As you might expect from a race like this, the prize pool was a little different than the usual, two King Salmon stuffed with a bottle of bubbles for the race winners who were also crowned the King and Queen of Salmon.

The format is fairly simple, a mass start to ride up to the top and then 30 second gap race runs down the slippery Salmon. As mentioned previously, the format may be simple but the riding is anything but. There are a few sections of the climb which could almost be considered to be straight forward, but for the most part it’s gruelling, especially considering the sun finally made an appearance pushing the temperatures well into the twenties at long last.

After witnessing the very start of the the uphill battle, very possibly more on a personal level than a group one, it was time for me to take my first glimpses into this trail. Even though I’ve not ridden it, I know that it works its way through native Beech forrest which is always stunning, that still didn’t prepare me for what I found. Salmon Run is one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever laid eyes upon.

With my camera pack weighing me down, the visual treats that lay all around me took my mind of the physical exertion. The trail criss crosses a typical Queenstown stream, strewn with rocks and roots and greener than you could ever imagine. You constantly hear native birds singing their way through life over the undertones of the trickling stream which every now and again reveals itself to be a mellow cascading waterfall. I feel privileged beyond belief to be able to walk up this trail, one of only a few moments in time when this is possible.

My eyes are constantly searching for places that I can shoot. I’m sure there are many a place which can produce jaw dropping cover images, but this is race day. The focus has to be upon getting as many good shots of riders as I can and also to try and get some variety. Moving around once the race has started will be tricky so I need to pick my starting spot well.

I end up climbing further than I needed to, but perhaps I did need to so that I could know that where I thought was going to be the place really was. And then the waiting game begins. Shooting a race like this brings so many benefits for the photographer. I find myself immersed in nature with extreme focus on one thing. Listening and looking out for a rider, not knowing when they will appear.

You can’t loose your concentration, even if you do have a fairly long view up the track. Allowing yourself to drift off isn’t an option, this is meditation at its best, surrounded by nature. It takes a little practice to get used to it, thoughts other than shooting bikes start to enter my head and I have to acknowledge them but also dismiss them as soon as possible, these will not serve me well.

I’m also very aware of the fact that every rider will take a slightly different line, where are my escape routes? How many different shots can I get when they are in my vicinity? Where and how will I focus and what am I going to do about the shadows and highlights constantly moving around me. All of this goes on and on as I patiently wait.

And then it begins, the first of 28 riders comes into sight, it’s not the largest of races this year but the old adage of quality over quantity comes to mind. I do my best to execute the shots I had in my head as well as possible, constantly adjusting and then making the decision to up sticks and move.

All the while as each rider appears I do what I can to capture their skills, and trusting that they will navigate by me without incident. At times my footing isn’t quite as sure as I thought it was and I think I’m going to end up in the stream below. Add in some heckling and lots of commotion and before I know it the last rider has passed me by. Finally I can safely bust out the cheese sandwich’s without fear of having to drop them as I grab my camera.

As my cheese sandwich’s filled my groaning belly I was able to further appreciate the stunning beauty of this trail and its surrounds. The pressure was off and the anticipation was building, who was going to be crowned the 2018 King and Queen of Salmon?

The numbers at the Season of Shread party had expanded vastly since I’d departed Mini Dream a couple of hours before. The music and voices carried through the trees getting louder and louder as I approached. My space of meditation was coming to an abrupt end, my phone sprang in to action and it was time to get sun baked and dusty with a few hundred other keen mountain bikers.

Reece Potter and Kathy Morris were soon to stand upon the podium stumps, wearing their crowns and wondering how they were going to get the smell of salmon from their hands.