Rounded up and sorted out - Renegades Muster is back for a third year

The Renegades Muster is returning to round up and sort out would be backcountry adventurers.

A recent announcement has confirmed this, “one-off race” is set to run for its third consecutive year. 

At first glance, The Renegade' does not present as the cruel animal it can become. The approximately 844km course traverses the Taranaki back country following public roads, cycle trails and otherwise inaccessible private land. With its healthy balance of paved and unpaved surfaces, it's reasonable to assume it is not total wilderness.

Photo: 2022 Renegade Starters. Credit: Renegades Muster FB group.

It could be for this reason that in 2022 it attracted rider with an age spread of 50 years, sporting varied strategies and setups, from a lone single speeder to a group rocking a tagline, “3x for seniors”. Equally, it begs the question, why, in its second year, did half of the 72 starters not finish?

To say that the route is the brainchild of Faye “Tahi” Cunningham could itself give a clue. Tahi, an enigma of celebrity status recalls how she, “discovered mountain biking on the wrong side of middle age, shortly before succumbing to a spectacular crash, resulting in multiple broken bones.”

Rather than call it a day, Tahi became an early adopter of Bikepacking, joining the inaugural Tour Aotearoa. The event that would cement her “find your edge and push against it as hard as you can” approach. The search for her edge led her attack the Tour Divide as well as providing the underpinnings of the challenge she wanted to offer would be Renegades.

Traditionally the course remains a secret until riders submit their MAProgress registration. But if the short history of this event has taught us anything, it is that even the organisers might not have a finalised course yet!

Tahi noted after last year's event, “against all odds, none of the planned re-routes came into play. After what seems like months of persistent rain”.

As the flag dropped, the unrelenting westerly of New Zealand's' unsettled spring blew. After just 17 hours, the distance between the first and last rider would stretch over 200 kilometres. With the “party pace” riders calling it a night, social media updates on the day so far began to roll in, “when the route goes through a wind farm, you know you are F (in for an unpleasant timed”.

With the highway behind them, the gravel roads, private farms and historic tunnels of backcountry Taranaki awaited. A part of Te Ika-a-Maui that once shattered the dreams of the returned WW1 service men who intended to settle upon the harsh landscape offered nothing short of nightmares for these renegades.

Photo: Whangamomoan, Race HQ.

As rapidly as the front pack rolled toward race HQ, so did the casualty tally. The ruggedness and isolation left one rider stranded, “3 hours of walking and a ride from a local farmer got me to race HQ in Whangamomona” as the field succumbed to broken spokes, seat posts and a couple of freehubs that refused to function. The unforgiving course had begun to take its toll.

For riders fortunate enough to survive that far, a roll of the weather dice could see Jensens farm, a 5-kilometre, 30-minute meander become an ordeal measured in hours as warm sea air meets the cool air of Mt Taranaki. In an area known locally as tornado alley, black clouds and torrential thunderstorms are conjured up in minutes. Tough on gear, the papa clay soil makes for unstable geology, prone to slips. The dry dust is like grinding paste, add water, and you have peanut butter mud that will stop the tyres from turning.

With fatigue firmly scratching at the door, the course stepped up a notch, literally. The ascent of the “brutal Waitaanga saddle” is as remote as it is relentless. A constant 9-kilometre grind eventually gives way to rolling tops and a disproportionately short descent into Ohura, the town the Forgotten World Highway forgot. The former coal mining settlement, now resembling a ghost town, is home to Michelle, a trail angel who watched dots from her Mexican food cart, ready at all hours she served up pre-orders of her famous “one-kilo burrito”. A whole new definition of fast food that provided the calories to propel riders to Taumaranui, the largest town on the route.
Photo: Fiesta Fare, Ohura's resident trail angel.

Taumaranui revealed a mixture of willing minds and able bodies, though most riders identified as one or the other. For some, this was the end of the line, broken helmets, failing knees and a crash at dusk requiring stitches, saw another three riders scratched from the race.

Leaving Taumaranui the route briefly followed that of the Tour Aotearoa, branching off through the alpine landscape of the 42 traverse, the end of the line for another accomplished rider. Having firmly found her edge, she was pushed over it with dodgy takeout, describing herself as “destroyed” ahead of being rescued by a Department of Conservation worker on the remote section of the route.

For those still in the game, the route continued, following sections of the Mountains to Sea trail, including the notorious grade 4 Kaiwhakauka track. The “paving stones” of The Old Coach Road , another unwelcome surface in Renegade bingo, as they descend into the final town for the last resupply ahead of the 130km sprint to the finish.

Photo: Warning sign in the Kaiwhakauka track.

The winning rider in 2022 finished in 2 days 16 hours, 30 minutes, joined in less than an hour by two riders, one on a single speed who tackled the last 500km non-stop, with Amanda Wells taking women's honours in a time of 3d 16hr.

Everyone had their own motivation, racing their own race, the solitude and isolation offering these final words of wisdom for would-be renegades.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional"

Photo: Type two fun, Jensens farm. Credit: Renegades Muster FB group.

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