But Safe & Sound?
In February 2018 I did my first ever bike packing trip around the Coromandel peninsula, over Auckland Anniversary weekend. I really enjoyed my first experience, but when I found out the chap who organised it had cycled the length of New Zealand, I thought he was off his rocker.
Fast forward two years, and now it was me attempting to cycle from Cape Reinga to Bluff in less than 30 days, in a brevet called the Tour Aotearoa. The preparation had taken months but my plans had nearly been derailed the week before I was supposed to start when I took a stack off my bike, landing on my handlebar-ends and fracturing some ribs. Fortunately, my GP is also a cyclist and she knew the importance of this ride to me. She gave me a script for pain meds and wished me luck.
For those of you who don’t know, bike-packing is quite different to cycle touring. Cycle touring normally involves pannier bags on racks and the bikes are robust, heavy and usually geared up for travelling on roads. Whereas bike packing is aimed at using as little gear as possible to allow going off the beaten track onto gravel roads and even MTB trails. For example, my friend Rebecca Wardell cycle toured from Switzerland back to New Zealand and her total gear weighed 46kg. My bike and gear weighed 28kg at Cape Reinga, but that included a tent, food for three days and lots of water. Some bike-packers will have much less than that.
As I mentioned on my blog, once I started planning to cycle the length of New Zealand, I’d been replying to people who asked 'Oh no, I'm not fundraising. I'm doing it for the adventure.' This was partly because I couldn’t think of a charity that resonated enough with me to get behind during this adventure. But after finding out about Radiology Across Borders last year, I realised this was the charity I wanted to raise awareness and funds for during my journey.
This turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. On the tough days, knowing I had a spot tracker showing my progress to my supporters, was enough to keep my legs turning, or even the gentle push I needed to get out of bed and back on the bike!
I learned a lot on my trip. Expectations pay a crucial role in experience. The days I thought were going to be the hardest such as the Maungatapu Saddle or my longest day of 175km from Palmerston North to Martinborough, were made bearable and even enjoyable by the unexpected company I had along the way, and the fact I thought they would perhaps be too much for me to handle. The toughest moments came when either I thought I knew what the day would be like since I had cycled them before (Timber Trail, Bridge to Nowhere from Whakahoro), or after Queenstown, when my planning the previous day was inadequate to prepare me for the day ahead through Walter Peak station. Oh man that was a tough day!
Having my Mum and Dad at both the start and finish was just wonderful. It meant so much to know they supported me even though they were facing almost a month of full-time worry. My mum was also in charge of my daily blog updates which would have been quite tricky on the road.
I also learned the importance of a good team, Scott and Nerena were great cycling buddies and I’m so glad I got to share this experience with them. I’m looking forward to when the lockdown ends so we can meet up again and share stories and raise a glass to our efforts.
Once I got back, in the week following my trip I would often wake up in my own bed but not know where I was, already starting to think about what I had to do to get on the bike and where I was meant to be heading that day. I also had to fight the compulsion to try to buy food at every dairy I went past.
I knew it would be weird to come back to normal life after such an intense experience, but it has been even harder with the big changes brought about by COVID-19. During the ride I imagined catching up with friends after the ride and sharing some of my experiences with them. Since we entered Level Four lockdown in NZ this hasn’t happened, but I hope I get to do that soon. I dropped my bike at the mechanic during Level Three so I’m guessing it will be there a while! My mechanic Jason is a top bloke, he and his wife Sarah bought me some flowers to congratulate me on finishing my mission. Although I’m not allergic to flowers, when they presented me with the bunch, they somehow made my eyes water... Weird.
The ribs are still a bit tweaky when I sneeze, but so much better than at the start of my journey. That is another thing I learned; my body is capable of so much more than I thought. On the days I wanted to stop, I somehow convinced myself to keep going. One caveat to that, only if I had enough food. The day I ran out of food was the day I dozed in a ditch. So, if this virus lockdown has sharpened your focus for a challenge you’ve been meaning to tackle, I’m here to encourage you. If I can cycle the length of a country, you should chase your dream too.