I first bumped into Paora Apera (aka P. Digsss) at Crankworx 2018. He was on the sidelines of the Whip Off with a big grin, a beer in one hand and a phone filming the action in the other. He was stoking on the action, and to say he’s into mountain biking is a bloody understatement. The front man of one of NZ’s biggest bands has the same energy for riding as he does for music. I approached him and asked if we could do a story on him, his riding and of course his time with Shapeshifter. We yarned, sipped beer, hung for a while and swapped numbers. I was struck by what a humble guy he was.
We kept in contact after this, and to be honest I had to pinch myself whenever a text message came through from him. I’m a massive fan of both him and Shapeshifter, as is my wife, and she was super excited I was developing a ‘bromance’ with P. Digsss. We talked about a few different ride options that could best articulate his love for riding and music. He’s based in Cardrona Valley and rides Cardrona a lot, so this was one option. However, a few months on I received this text from him: “Hey I got offered a heli mission to the top of Old Ghost Road on the West Coast of the South Island for myself and four friends.” And of course, my reply was: “Yep, that sounds legit and would be super dope.” This seemed like the ideal opportunity to ride one of NZ’s most iconic trails with the front man of one of NZ’s most popular bands.
As you can imagine, his life is busy with recordings, rehearsals, radio interviews and playing some big gigs around the country and world. Shapeshifter has an energetic electronic sound, and they are known for their live shows and blend of heavy soul with drum and bass. To date Shapeshifter have dropped six full albums, a couple of EPs and many singles, with a scattering of awards and charting successes along the way. The band formed in 1999 and P Digsss joined the group in the 2003. Since then they have worked hard to become a staple of the kiwi summer, a household name in Aotearoa and recognised globally.
I packed my bags and flew down to Christchurch. The drive across the Arthur’s Pass had the windscreen wipers on overdrive as the hard rain poured down; we were entering the West Coast after all, our country’s wettest region. The mountains had cloud lingering in and around them. The West Coast, with its abundant rainfall and fresh water, lush rain forest, mining history and the Old Ghost Road, has all the essential ingredients of an epic place to ride. We arrived in West Port around 8pm. I stretched my legs and remembered I had forgotten something when packing: my bloody sleeping bag! Luckily the red shed, otherwise known as The Warehouse, was still open. I grabbed one and off we went up the coast. We arrived in Punakaiki not long after that.
Yarns and a ton of excitement filled the penthouse room at the Punakaiki Resort, and P. Digsss talked about his recent involvement in the sport. He has only been riding a mountain bike for the last two years. Being based in the Deep South with access to chairlifts, the bulk of his riding has been focused on gravity. However, he’s moving away from his downhill rig and is now on an enduro bike, and he’s searching for more adventures. This is his first overnight mountain biking adventure, so he’s grabbed some essentials from his local camping store. Being based in Cardrona there’s no shortage of shops that stock goods for backcountry missions. On his way from his home up the coast he picked up some fresh whitebait from Hokitika. Although the penthouse was pimping it didn’t have a stove, so P.Digsss lit his camp stove (just packed for the overnight trip) and cooked up some whitebait fritters. We then ate fresh fritters on toasted white bread with a squeeze of lemon. This was true West Coast styles. The plan about the ride and overnight mission was pretty loose – the laid-back vibe felt more like a band meeting than a backcountry mission.
After hitting the hay a little too late we woke up in the morning with the rain still falling. Iconic West Coast weather! We headed up to the spot for the heli pick up, Rough & Tumble Lodge, Seddonville, which was still a few hours away. The plan was to heli to the top, get dropped off at Lyell Hut, ride down to Forks Hut for the first day, stay overnight and ride out on the second day. The heli would transport our overnight gear to and from Forks Hut and would drop us off again at Rough & Tumble Lodge so we could ride light with just a day pack. And, it also meant that we could take more essentials into the hut, such as non-dehydrated food and drinks for the evening. However, great plans don’t always work out…
Words & Images: Liam Friary & Ray Tiddy
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