The wheel deal

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By Gord Stewart

Travel writer, Tim Cahill, once said: “An adventure is never an adventure when it’s happening. An adventure is only an adventure when you’ve had time to sit back and think about it.”

I have now completed my Cape Reinga-to-Bluff cycling ‘adventure’. The Big Boys & Girls do it in one go and follow an official route. I did it in three legs and veered off course to explore new places and to revisit spots special to me.

With the North Island covered previously, this year’s challenge was the Mainland. Arriving at the Interislander Cook Strait Ferry, I knew I was in the right place to board when I saw the sign: “Bicycles, Canoes, Dogs”.

For the record. Picton to Bluff via the West Coast. Fifteen days cycling, 1,183 kilometres covered, 8,579 metres climbed. One hundred and forty-six one-lane bridges crossed. No punctures. One happy cyclist. To truckers and travellers with whom I shared the roads: Thank you for your courtesy.

I never thought I’d … Have a sleepover in The Old Nurses Home (alas, now just a guest house). I’d cycle 76 km one day and finish farther away from my destination than when I started (wind, rain, cold, change of plans). I’d make it to Cowboy Paradise (you decide!).

Cafés. A refuge from the rain and wind. Time for a rest and a cuppa and slice. A chance to consult your maps or chat with a local. One place had posted advice: “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first.” If you arrive too late, most have a “Closed” sign on the door. One simply noted: “Shut happens”.

The West Coast. Where the blokes hunt and fish, drink beer from quart bottles, grow really long beards, and don’t wear watches. Well, some of them anyway. I have never seen so much water, and crystal clear. Water as it’s meant to be.

The West Coast cycle trail is a must

Cycle trails. So many opportunities to get off the roads. Some trails are rugged and steep; others are easy going. The West Coast Wilderness Trail is an absolute must. Sweeping into and out of Greymouth, Hokitika and Ross and up into the hills, ‘Wow!’ and ‘stunningly beautiful’ come to mind. The signage is brilliant. You’d have to be very dull or not paying attention at all to get lost. Any niggles with your bike, Gary at the cycle shop in Hokitika is your man.

Encounters. Back to the beginning in Northland. Day three, leaving the holiday park in Ahipara. A young boy on his way to school called out to me, “Can you do a wheelie?” (Definitely not.)

At a lovely café in Paeroa, the owner, once learning of my travels and destination, asked, “Is it a fundraiser for something or just madness?” (Just madness.)

At the longest suspension bridge on the Timber Trail in the Central North Island, a teenager, mid-bridge, announced to his mates, “This is f_____g scary!” (It wasn’t that bad really.)

In Fox Glacier, after a long day of riding with three hill climbs between Franz Josef and Fox, asked by a young woman where I had come from. On telling her, she surmised: “You’re an idiot!” (Forthrightness is an admirable Kiwi trait.)

At a takeaways just outside Invercargill, I asked the attendant the population of the city. “700,000” she said without hesitation. (It was 50,328 at last count.)

Courtesy on the trail

Queenstown. I was reminded of a newcomer who rang up an Otago University professor, an energy specialist of some repute, and said, “We’re building a five-million-dollar house and we really care about sustainability and the environment. Can you give us some design advice?” His reply: “Build a one-million-dollar house.”

Reality check. The Climate Change Commission’s first official report to Government was tabled while I was on my ride. Arguably the most important directive to our Government ever, the challenges are great, it said, but we can meet them. I read a summary of the report and some early critiques, but didn’t let it break the spell. If anything, it provided a frame for what I was seeing and thinking: This is a glorious country eminently worth protecting.

In the end. A long bike ride is variously a challenge and a breeze, a struggle and a joy. You never know what’s around the corner. Much of the time it’s simply pedalling along in the sunshine down a road narrowing in the distance. It’s a chance to take a break and catch your breath, to distance yourself from your everyday life.

Robert Pirsig captured the feeling of being out on the road in his 1974 classic Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. (I reread the book – a handsome 40th Anniversary Edition – while on my ride.)

“You spend your time being aware of things and meditating on them,” wrote Pirsig. “On sights and sounds, on the mood of the weather and things remembered, on the machine and the countryside you’re in, thinking about things at great leisure and length without being hurried and without feeling you are losing time.”

That’s what a long bike ride is about. I highly recommend it.

  • Gord Stewart is a sustainability consultant with a background in environmental management and economics

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