Imagine for a moment that you’re dreaming. Standing in white mist at a set of big ornately scrolled gates. There is music wafting in the air, haunting notes from a harp. A tall man dressed in motocross boots and a nylon shirt patterned with outlandishly coloured graphics of the sort favored by motorcyclists who are too young to know what real pain feels like in a crash.
His eyes are piercing, as if he can see right through you. He introduces himself, as Peter and he has something to do with the big gates, even carrying a key. Strangely it has a Yamaha logo on it.
“You’ll like it here,” he says, his voice is deep and feels like its reverberating in the air. It’s like the start of the 500cc singles race at a classic bike meeting.
“We’ve got the most bitchen trail, truly one made in heaven.”
“PETER!” a loud voice surrounds as it booms you from the other side of the gates.
“Oops sorry,” says the man, “No blaspheming allowed up here. Something about the fairies under a bridge on some island karking it whenever we do that.”
“But we really do have the best trails here for bikes.”
The dream fades as your girlfriend slides into bed next to you and it occurs to you how much she’s grown to look like Scarlett Johanssen.
Then you wake and shake your head in wonder at how real some dreams can seem. Reality bites. Effit, may as well crack out the bike and make something of the day.
When I was young enough to have such dreams there was only one ride that would beat them into submission; the motorcycle equivalent of ridin’ with Scarlett, if you get my drift.
We discovered it at the same time as they closed off the Woodhill forest to trailbiking, must have been around 1975. Woodhill is a large plantation forest just north west of Auckland. Many thousands and thousands of acres of pine trees and underneath them a soft carpet of pine needles and firm sand. It was the ultimate trail riding location.
In the early days of the trailbike revolution of the ‘70s you rode up to the ranger’s office near the main entrance and he would write you a permit for a few hundred acres that would be yours for the day. They did that to prevent the rally cars, offroaders, bikes and horses from becoming one with each other at high speed.
Then one day we got there and the ranger told us the system had changed. We were no longer allowed in the forest because we represented a fire risk. I shuffled my feet guiltily, remembering the surgery performed on my Honda 250 with a screwdriver to prise the baffle and spark arrestor out of the standard pipe. Made a big difference, with more low-end and even better, much more noise.
Me "riding" the MT250
The game was lost. It was the end of a wonderful era, when you could spend all day thrashing around amazing virgin trails without fear of anyone else being in your way. Firm underfoot because the sand had not been dug up by other fast-spinning knobby tyres. Huge roosts of pine needles dug up from the soft carpet covering the ground. Trials-type riding up and down banks, over fallen trees and through gullies. Spitting hunks of huge red and white toadstools out the back of a roost. Rained all week? Even better because the sandy base would be soft yet firm, just like Scarlet. But I digress.
Faced with the crushing news that Auckland’s finest trailbike riding was gone forever we slunk away and immediately found another way into the forest for a ride. Something had changed. We were no longer there lawfully.
Being young we did it anyway and found The Best Trail.
It ran mostly through the scrubby hinterland between the sand dunes of Muriwai beach and the pine trees of the forest. It went for miles. Fast, slow, bumps and jumps of all types, many flat out sections and some tight, twisting parts. It was virgin, no whoops or soft patches. No other bikes. It was mostly really fast, traction was excellent.
It called us back weekend after weekend. Nirvana.
Then came the demonstration of why the rangers were concerned about trailbikes being a fire hazard. I was the lead bike of three hammering along the trail. Pete was behind me on an XL250, Les behind him on a CR250 – an original silver tanker. I’d been roosting and braking and turning, up on the pegs and working the throttle and bars hard, enjoying a really hard trail ride.
Pete riding his XL250 in a motocross event. Note the full protection gear. For some reason Pete always seemed to have skin-free elbows.
At a U-shaped turn in the trail I glanced back and Pete and Les were not behind me. I turned back, riding several miles before coming across a patch burned into the low scrub – about 30ft in diameter.
It was still smoking and there were signs of sand being scattered everywhere. Fear seized me at the thought that one of my close friends had been injured. I lit up for our truck with the throttle hard open and as I rode I imagined Pete and Les, scrambling, demented and feverish as the much-feared fire spread rapidly in the low bush.
The thick ground cover of the dunes lay in one direction, the lofty pine trees in another. We had all been on the precipice of being in deep shit. Very deep shit.
Disobeying the fire orders, causing a fire that destroys a large tract of forest?
These were not PC days and we could probably expect a beating from the cops, followed by having the book thrown at us in court. And rightly so, what’s worse.
I got back to the truck. It was a beaut and we called it Ironsides, after the TV show starring Raymond Burr and his big truck. Our version had been built as a bus for mental patients (as we called them then, now they are mentally disabled). It was the shizzle for transporting bikes and getting into all sorts of mischief. So long as a rapid getaway was not required. It was so slow the speedo needle didn't budge in first gear and it did 7mph in second... and so on.
Ironsides - motorcycle and mischief transportation device.
Les’ CR was already on the trailer, and they were standing looking at Pete’s XL250. It was a wreck. Burned out. Nothing trashes a bike like fire. The tank was splayed out like the legs of a dead cow on a hot day. The tyres were half gone, the seat toasted.
We hightailed it. Never to return.
Well, not until Pete had collected the insurance money for his “written off” XL, rebuilt it with a real sexy alloy tank off a Triumph Trophy Trail and put on a self-recovered seat. He kept the same carby and discovered, as he did his first wheelie, that the fire had melted the internals enough to cause the throttle to stick open just when he didn’t need it.
But we did go back to the track, often.
Motocross track with Woodhill in the background. Our bestest ever track led from the back of the MX track - this photo shows the first time a CR250 Elsinore raced in Auckland. I was transfixed by this magnificent, powerful, silver machine.
A few weeks ago I went back again, or tried to. I wanted to find the start of the trail that in the 1970s we considered the best in the Auckland area. Fired up the Yello Peril on an utterly mint day as the scorching hot summer started to wane and it was possible to put on my black riding jacket without cooking.
I met my mate Boulder en route. It’s an excellent ride to Woodhill, lots of gentle curves and undulating blacktop through farmland and maize paddocks. It gives you plenty to do but is not challenging, so it makes a relaxing ride. The road we took has always been a favourite.
The roads haven’t changed much but the forest certainly has. The big building that housed the rangers and forestry gear used to bustle but now looks half deserted.
Clearly these buildings are not worth maintaining these days.
The main forest road is sealed now. The whole area has an air of dilapidation that has replaced the industry and organisation I remembered.
I wanted to find the start of the mythical track. Heck, Scarlett’s gone and got herself loved up so I may as well find the next best thing, the trailriding track.
The road that led to the quarry and to the start of the legendary track now has “Private Road” signs and is guarded by an angry little dog that came very close to getting his yappy nose stuck on the end of my Sidi boot. In the old days we’d have ignored the private road signs but nowadays people’s senses of humour are as rare as rockinghorse droppings.
We continued on past Rimmers Rd. It’s the way to the “Sand Pit,” an area that was put aside for trail bike riders to make up for losing the whole forest. It now costs $25 if you want to go ride there. It is also access to Muriwai Beach, officially a public road but offering many miles of beach and sand dune riding. If the red flag isn’t flying, it’s possible to ride on the bombing range which is, literally, a target practice area for the military and a cool place to take a bike.
But that’s a ride for another day and maybe when we can borrow some trail bikes. Our priority was coffee and lunch at the small township of Helensville. It had been 7 minutes since Boulder last had a cigarette and he was already gaspin’. We hauled up for lunch.
With the mid afternoon sun on our backs we turned for home, completing the loop through the stunning Wainui valley to Silverdale and visiting our mate Phats who was busy, as usual, selling ceramics to a succession of hot young women. If you got to have a job, may as well have one that is an extension of your hobby.
Chalk up a day up to the success side of the ledger.