By Ambassador Jake Hood
It’s weird how much your perspective can change in a year. I think in 2020 everyone’s perspective changed. Mine certainly did.
This time last year NZ was about to head into Level 4 lockdown. For me, it might have been the best thing that ever happened. It gave me a lot of time to think about what matters to me and gave me time to reevaluate my life.
Just before the lockdown came I’d been dealt some heavy blows. The bike shop I’d worked for the last six years had told me it was time I moved forward with my life. They could see the shop was holding me back. They knew I had bigger things ahead of me. At the time I didn’t see it. I actually didn’t notice a lot of things that were happening to myself internally. I was in a down, depressive state. I was telling myself I was all good, but the black dog would come to stay a lot, and not just for short stints. They were long stays.
I was becoming very jaded on the bike shop, I was jaded on the fact I just seemed to work constantly. I was jaded on the fact it was always such a mission to get time off so I just stopped trying. I had massive FOMO of my friends who had weekends off and would get up to fun activities while I was at work. Then I would come to my days off and I wouldn’t have anyone to hang out with as they were at work. My life seemed to be just sort of passing me by.
I’d been to Wellington twice in 2020. I’d popped up for a long weekend to do a bit of riding and escape Queenstown back in February. I thought, “Yeah this place is cool but still not for me.” There was a heap of riding and the city was cool, but I was never that drawn to it.
In July I came back to Wellington for the Shonky video. We had two very busy days of filming around the city. I got to see a bit more of Wellington, See a few more places over the days of filming. When the filming came to an end I had two down days before I was flying up to Rotorua to meet up with Tom Hey of Elevate Trail Building for a trail audit and a bit of a roadie down the country. Over the two down days, one was spent fixing Kona’s marketing manager, Caleb’s bike (standard) and the other I spent really exploring Wellington. I met a friend in town and got shown all the best places around town. It really made me realise how magical this little city is. It’s got a lot of art, music and culture going for it. Great food, great coffee, amazing breweries. People are wild and extravagant. They are proud of being different, being individuals, not sticking to boxes.
I was starting to warm up to Wellington.
I flew up to Rotorua and met up with Tommy. We spent five days auditing trails in the Redwoods for the council. We spend most of the day doing the audit and the rest riding in the Redwoods. The great thing about Tom is he always wanted to ride, so every evening we would head out somewhere for a spin. We finished our time in Rotorua and started diving down New Zealand. We spent two days making our way back to Wellington. Over that time we hit up a few spots to ride. One backcountry tramping trail, which was amazing. I remember saying to Tommy, “We need to do more of this stuff in summer.” I loved it. Being so far away from everything on a trail that’s not designed for bikes. Rugged and raw. It was fantastic.
The next big moment was on the second day of our drive down the North Island. We hit up a small trail centre just outside of Palmerston north.
Caleb had texted us on our way into Wellington to ask if we wanted to go for a ride with Elliot and himself up Maraka peak. Personally, I was kind of not feeling it as my legs were super tired and my body was needing some rest but Tom was keen. We met at Caleb’s and headed over to Maraka.
Now I had kind of thought Makara was just full of easyish trails so I didn’t put on my knee pads. Little did I know what I was about to be getting into. For once it was a clear, not windy night at the top of Mackies. You could see the South Island in the distance. The sun was starting to get low casting a great amber glow over the city. Wellington was looking fine.
Caleb had suggested riding a track called Yeah Gnar. Elliot wasn’t overly keen. He seemed a bit uneasy on the thought of riding it. Tom and I had no clue about any of the trails so we were up for anything. Personally, I was kind of tired and sleepy. I was in the mood for something mellow.
To yeah gnar we headed. “You ready for this?” Eliot said. “Eh sure. It’s Markara. It will be chill right?” I naively blurted out. Oh, how I was wrong. So so wrong.
It was a trail littered with tech jank rocky features. Tights turns. Steep awkward chutes. Not a place you want to take a dive. It was scary to ride but so much fun. I definitely wasn’t in the mindset to be riding this but I was loving it. My mind was slightly blown. We had a few stops on the way down the trail. “This is flipping sick,” was uttered pretty much every time we stopped.
This was the missing piece of the puzzle, the part that made me think, ‘Yeah I could live in Wellington.’ They have the stupid tech I crave. I could get my fix of riding gnarly tracks that scared me. The stuff that really makes you zone in and concentrate when you ride. Little did I know this would be the tip of the iceberg of trails like this in Wellington.
Tom and I caught the ferry across to the South Island the following morning. I was pondering about Wellington. I just couldn’t believe I had a trail like that in a legal “bike park” area. ‘Maybe if I can’t find a new job in Queenstown I could move there,’ I thought. My perspective changed a lot about Wellington in the short time I just spent there.
A few days later we arrived back in Queenstown. On the evening we got back there was a mountain bike film premier. I caught up with a bunch of mates at it. I told them about the trip I’d just been on, about Wellington, how the filming went. I started proceeding to chew their ear off about how good Wellington was.
Days quickly became months in Queenstown. I’d been doing odd jobs here and there. Working for various companies just to try to keep some cash in the bank to get by. I had a lot of spare time, like a lot and I’m not a guy that does great with spare time. I like being busy. Lots on, I actually like having too much in for my own good. I find it helps keep the black dog away.
I would spend a lot of time riding. Heading out riding my usual loops. But I was bored. Bored of these loops. Bored of the trails. Bored of the same climb. I could pretty much switch off and ride on muscle memory alone. I was becoming jaded on riding in Queenstown (I know I’m spoiled, don’t hate me.) Being jaded on riding was making me jaded on Queenstown. All the things that make Queenstown great were getting cloudy for me. It just seems to be in the endlessly repeating cycle. Groundhog day every day.
I had to do something. I also had to go find a new job since these little cash jobs were not going to surpass to keep me going.
Lucky the visa rules had changed in New Zealand. This allowed me to apply for jobs again. I started looking further afield, instead of focusing on just Queenstown. The whole road trip had opened my eyes to the fact there’s more to New Zealand than just Queenstown. I applied for a few jobs. A couple in Nelson, a couple in Wellington, a few in Queenstown town.
A few weeks went by. I had a few interviews with some potential employers. At the time I was doing some trail building for Elevate. On a Friday, I got a call from about five potential employers. They all wanted to take me on.
Five offers. I was shocked, going from nothing to five offers. I guess if you throw enough shit at the wall something will stick. Turns out I must have some sticky shit.
I ended up taking a job as a suspension technician at Wheelworks. They were looking to branch into the suspension servicing game. New shop, new place, new business. Something completely fresh. It was what I needed.
In October 2020 I moved up to Wellington. The first week was spent exploring, getting to grips with the place. Getting used to living in a city. Doing a lot of non-bike related things. Checking out galleries, music gigs. Breweries, bars, a few dates with girls but eventually the urge to get the bike out and go exploring the trails about Wellington came.
Caleb had put me in touch with a really cool group that would go riding on Tuesdays and Thursdays after work. They are a low key group of absolute shredders. I could not believe how fast they all are and how talented they all are on bikes. They could outride 95% of people I know. They definitely school me pretty much every time I go riding with them. I love it.
Wellington trails are so much different to anything I’ve ever ridden before. Really tight width-wise, your line of sight is normally only a few meters ahead of you, really tight turns and awkward jank. A lot slower speed than I was used to. No big wide flowy bike park style stuff. I felt like I sucked at riding when I went out. But it was great to feel like this. It was humbling. It was something I knew I could improve on and ultimately it will make me a better rider.
During the week we seem to ride a lot of Yeah Gnar laps, it’s definitely a favourite of mine, and Scotty (the driving force behind this trail) can’t get enough of it. When you get it right and nail all the lines you feel like a hero. It is so technical and awkward you have to keep your riding tight and precise. If you get it wrong you are going to be in a world of pain surrounded by boulders and rocks you’ve landed in.
Recently I’ve been going on backcountry missions with the same crew. Saturday we normally meet up in the morning. Drive out to the bush, and head off for some backcountry BS on old hiking tracks. Lots of hike-a-bike up stuff, wondering how the hell you’re going to ride down it. Some of the most technical terrain I’ve ever ridden. Just jank, jank, jank, oh and add some more jank in there. It’s so much fun. So humbling to ride. So rewarding when you make it to the bottom and think “I just rode that… WTF… hahaha”
My life in Wellington is vastly different from what it was in Queenstown. Over the last few weeks, I’ve really started to love Wellington. I love the fact every day seems to be different, I love the Tues-Thursday weekend crew that I go riding with. I love the riding that seems to humble me every day. I love the fact I still have so much to explore in this city. I love heading out to the bush on the weekend for backcountry missions. I love the fact they’re so many plans for some totally silly bullshit rides coming up.
Don’t get me wrong though. I miss Queenstown. I miss the people, My friends are basically extended family. I miss the trails. I miss the amazing landscape. I miss going to my local bar and giving the staff shit. I miss hanging down the lake as the sun is going down. It’s a place I think about pretty much every day. All the cloudiness that was causing me to feel jaded has gone. I still get to visit often. Basically anytime I find cheap flights. When I take that first step off the plane it feels like I’ve come home.
A year ago if you’d ask me where I would be right now I wouldn’t have been able to answer you. I definitely wouldn’t have seen myself moving to a city. Moving elsewhere in Nz. Trying new things. I’ve never seen myself as a city person. Never did I think I’d been living in a Capital city but you know what, Wellington is a pretty damn cool place.
My perspective on a lot of things has changed over the year. I’ve learned to deal with problems better. Learned to focus on the things that matter to me. Learned to be more open to things. Learned to embrace change. Living outside my comfort zone. Get out there, try somewhere new. Last year I was stuck in a box I had built myself. This year I managed to escape that box and see what else is out there and things are pretty great outside that box.