The Caravan returns
A nomadic weekend away
words & images Tony Hutcheson
Last year I likened Jamie Nicoll’s inaugural Nomadic Weekend Away to the infamous Sex Pistols gig in Manchester, 4 June 1976. This year’s was without question Queen at Live Aid, with Jamie as Freddie Mercury leading the appreciative crowd through Craigieburn’s greatest hits and Santa Cruz as Bob Geldof feeding the throng of grateful mountain bikers their annual fix of craft beer n’ curry.
Admittedly the weather was slightly more varied than it was for the lucky punters at Wembley Stadium back in 1985, but I’d wager the latter weren’t able to throw down no-handers on a 16” bike in slippery mud. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The North Island’s February instalment of Nomadic Weekend Away at Fourforty Bike Park (just south of Auckland) went off like a rocket full of double-happys, so expectations for the Easter event were high. At last year’s event Jamie was well stocked with gifts from his many sponsors. Santa Cruz turned the dial up to 11 this year with a $3000 Reserve Carbon wheelset won by some greedy little piggy for the meagre cost of a coin toss. As matters transpired that greedy little piggy was me. Stoke levels were high in my household, as was my overdraft when I bought a new 5010 frame to strap onto said wheelset.
Rumours of a second wheelset up for grabs during the South Island event over Easter prompted envious onlookers to start searching Grabaseat immediately. Which brings us back to Craigieburn. Once again they came from far and wide to partake of excellent trails, fine campfire banter, and Santa Cruz funded brews and chews. With gleeful attendees well in excess of last year, there would be no leftover curry for lunch and no full kegs to return.
For most, the Nomadic Weekend had been on the radar for eons. On Easter Friday there also appeared a generous serving of woefully unprepared day trippers who had no idea about the event and who, once ensconced, were caught out by their own FOMO levels and stayed for the entire weekend, surviving thanks to the generosity of Santa Cruz and fellow campers.
Friday’s early adopters were rewarded with stunning riding conditions. Hero dirt at an all-time level of hero-ness, sunshine, starry nights, and stunning sunrises. Craigieburn turned it on for sure, though Saturday’s looming threat of wind, rain, and snow weighed heavy in the air. Saturday’s riding conditions were a mixed box of chocolates ranging from Friday’s hero dirt to borderline slippery with bonus rainbows punctuating the stunning Craigieburn views, leaving everyone amped for the evening’s festivities.
A night of semi-organised, nomadic inspired entertainment has become the norm at these events and this Easter continued that tradition. On Saturday, Jamie teased out a little green envy by regaling us with stories and videos of his “work”. Envy was not to the fore of everyone’s mind as Richard Goldsbury laid bare an entertaining public display of affection for the Torlesse Range. He beguiled us with anecdotes from his numerous attempts on the Gap—an objective that has been driving him back to the brink of sanity for years [editor’s note: see Spoke issue 75 for a full rundown of the suffering]. Fortunately the weather held off long enough to pack up the projector and get off to bed, and then came Sunday.
Overnight the weather lost its tolerance for sun-seeking campers and by Sunday morning conditions could conservatively be described as wetter than an otter’s pocket. A fresh dump of snow on the Craigieburn Range made for a picturesque backdrop and a chilly breakfast. But what Easter would be complete without an egg hunt? Probably many, but not this one. Jamie’s generous benefactors once more plied him with gifts for the adoring fans. Michelin tyres, Santa Cruz hats and tees, Ground Effect rain jackets and merino tops, and BBB pumps and tools were on display to the drooling masses. Egg hunters with their bikes were positioned at a considerable distance from said gifts with a trail of Easter eggs laid out Hansel and Gretel style leading back to the loot. One rule: No egg, no prize. Groms were released first followed by those who should know better. The piranha-like frenzy was over in seconds. Then came the main event.
At the North Island weekend I delivered one of the evening talks, a recount of what I did in the holidays. Following this, as mentioned, I managed to overcome all challengers in the game of skill known as the coin toss to take out the Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon wheelset. As we all know, Richard Goldsbury is, in the words of Lord Blackadder, “as cunning as a fox who has just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University”. He had clearly deciphered the algorithm and presented his evening talk with the sole intention of taking out the coin toss. Which is exactly how it went down, and just like that, Richard’s wife Mel gets a new set of carbon wheels. So, let that be a lesson to you. When Jamie Nicoll calls and asks if you would like to do a wee presentation at his Nomadic Weekend Away, don’t hesitate. Just say yes and confirm that he has enough coins in his bus to last him to Easter.
Wet and cold, most nomads were at this stage breaking camp to head for dryer regions. Enter Boyd Goldsbury and Hector Griffin. With a combined age of 23, these two led a team of groms in their efforts to host the Radcore 16” Rampage. A timed event followed by slopestyle would see the winner crowned King or Queen of Cranki-jerks with a bonus prize for the tallest person on the smallest bike. Unperturbed by the impossibly slippery conditions and chomping at the bit to take out the win, the “adults” lined up to stake their claim for glory. With everyone of voting age feeling like a real contender, all eyes turned to 10-year-old Hector who calmly destroyed all comers with his no-hander, no-footer, whip combos. Keep an eye out for this kid. He’s going places, closely followed by his younger but no less enthusiastic siblings Orion and Sterling. You heard it here first.
The few hardcore nomads remaining spent the rest of that slippery Sunday riding in somewhat wetter conditions than the previous day. A bucketload of fun was had by all with the only downside being that things got a little cold. The upside to this was that washing in the river didn’t seem quite as bracing as on the Friday and Saturday. However, Hector once again came up with a plan. To warm up he announced he was going to jump the fire pit. Under dubious adult supervision, a suitable booter was constructed out of firewood, two more suitably cold riders enlisted, and it was game on. Once again young Hector stole the show.
Two Nomadic Weekends in two very different locations. While the mountains and kegs are bigger in the South Island, the North Island weekend at Fourforty was a bloody good time. Great trails, awesome people, a swimming hole across the road, and not a lot of pedalling (if that boils your bagel).
For me the Nomadic Weekend Away sums up all that is great in mountain biking. Make sure you have your 2020 vision set on next year’s events. Keep an eye on Jamie Nicoll’s online personas for event information.