• jeremyburfoot1

Refusing to Get Old

Departure with Chris' perpetual motion jandals circled.

When you are approaching 63, and someone suggests you load up a mountain bike with all your worldly possessions and ride 440km over 4 days from Auckland to Cape Reinga, what do you say? I got paid for being clever for many years, so it sometimes astounds me how naive and optimistic I can be. I said yes. Because saying no would be admitting that I was getting old.

I saw this as an adventure with two other guys where we would often stop at cafes, ride through beautiful scenery, stop to swim naked in rivers, and, at the end of the day, around 1pm, settle in to lovely accommodation and make plans for drinking beer. This is the story of what really happened.

Chris Jones is on the Board of the Prostate Cancer Foundation with me and is riding the Tour of Aotearoa from Cape Reinga to Bluff starting on the 26th of February. He suggested we ride from Auckland to the Cape prior to the event. I agreed and conned my best riding buddy, Scott' Pieface' Lester, to join us. Chris is 69 but much lighter than me, although his bike setup was heavier as he was carrying, amongst other things, all the gear needed to make a brew of tea. There's a trend in Northland to use old microwaves as letterboxes, so he wasn't carrying one of them. But his all up weight would have come in around 112kg. Pieface (because he has a face like a dropped pie) is super fit, an excellent rider and 20 kilograms lighter than me, so his all up weight might have been around 107kg. Mine was 127kg, and I was only half-fit (the left half), so you can already see how this will go.

On Sunday 20th, we were delivered to Puhoi pub by our respective partners at 9am. This was to avoid getting killed by Auckland's maniac drivers getting through the city. We lined up for the obligatory photo where, next to Chris and Pieface, I looked like I should have been training for the front row of the Allblacks rather than planning a bike ride with 5,000m of vertical climbing. Then again, maybe not. I don't think any of the Allblacks are currently 3 months pregnant and starting to' show'.

My first instinct was to head into the pub and hydrate in advance for an hour or so, but it wasn't open, so we set off, or at least the other two did. I started to turn the pedals, and it was like a five-kilometre freight train starting from a complete stop on a hill. The engines start working, there's lots of noise and smoke, some rattling, a bit of wee comes out and then about five minutes later, it starts to move.

We headed up the Puhoi Valley towards the northwest. Within three kilometres, we had passed two cafes and had not stopped. This was disappointing but not entirely unexpected because I was riding with maniacs. This part of the ride was where Chris got his first inkling of the relationship between Pieface and myself. We are good mates, but we enjoy winding each other up, a lot. To an innocent bystander, it would appear as if we hated each other.** Chris would never fully get used to this.

After a couple of hours, we were approaching Warkworth. The route had us coming down Hill St towards the notorious Hill St intersection. This intersection has to be the most stupidly designed intersection in the world. It has about 23 roads leading into it and 67 leading out (plus or minus a few). French drivers who can navigate the famous Place de L'Etoile in Paris with their eyes closed are known to break down crying at the thought of going through Hill St. Word is that it was designed by a military man to stop an invasion. The invading power would end up with all of its vehicles jammed up at Hill St and surrender.

Surprisingly, we made it through Hill St and hit the Matakana road. This route was designed to keep us off main highway one, but for the 30 minutes we were on that road, we were passed, at speed, by every car in New Zealand, plus some Romanian ones who had taken a wrong turn at Bulgaria.

At Matakana, we had coffee and a muffin. This was the first place we had stopped, and we needed a mask to order. I never carry one because I can always find one lying around on the ground or in a bin. It's the same with jandals. Why take two when you can always find one lying around. Chris carried his jandals in his spokes which is clearly unusual but also very clever. Pieface and I decided it was some sort of perpetual motion set up. Once he got going, he only needed to use the brakes to slow himself down and never needed to pedal.

After the coffee, we climbed the very steep hill on the Matakana Valley road and came down near Pakiri. From there, we zigged and zagged, climbed and descended until we reached Waipu Cove after 101km, 1,350m of vertical climbing and 5hrs 33min on the bike.

We checked into a cabin at Camp Waipu Cove, had a swim in the sea, washed our cycling gear, then headed to the local cafe for a well-earned beer and some food. That night in the cabin was hot, with three body furnaces pumping out heat and lots of bad air. There wasn't much ventilation because of mosquitos, and if we had hung a seed potato from the ceiling on a string, by the morning, there would have been a fully grown potato plant hanging there.

We left at sparrows fart on day two and headed 14km into Waipu town for breakfast. The only place open was a Chinese bakery, but beggars can't be choosers, and it wasn't too bad at all. Then we crossed highway one and headed west over the hills to join the Paparoa-Oakleigh road. This road runs up through the middle of the island inland from Whangarei and is one of the best-kept secrets in the country. The scenery is divine, the road isn't busy, and everything is well maintained.

We made our way further north and ended up turning onto highway 15 about 50km southeast of Kaikohe, stopping for lunch at Titoki. By now, my arse was starting to get really sore. In my younger days, it was often said that this was a sign of a really good night out the night before, but in this case, it was just wear and tear from continuous rubbing on the lower butt cheeks. We still had 45km of 133km total to ride, and it's annoying when there are other issues other than turning the pedals to think about. Also, the whole pain thing doubles the stress on the brain.

The weather was great, and this meant lots of sun. This becomes a problem with heat coming off the road and is more noticeable when plodding slowly up a hill and not getting any cooling air passing over you. I had started the day with 3 litres of water in my camelback, and with 20km to go, I ran out. Pieface had just run out too. Chris was very helpful and asked a nearby farmer if he knew where to get water. Indeed he did. It was in his woolshed, which was only 1km up a farm road. We detoured because we badly needed a drink. Much to our dismay, there was only air coming out of the tap when we got there. So with 2km extra under the belt and no water, we resumed. Eventually, a lifesaving pop-up store appeared on the side of the road, and we were able to buy drinks.

A couple of km later, we went offroad and joined the well known Twin Coast Trail for the last 14km into Kaikohe. Finally arriving in Kaikohe was a great relief after 133km, 1700m of vertical climbing and 7hour 39 minutes on the bike.

We had booked into the Left Bank Motel on the main street of Kaikohe. It's a renovated building that used to be a bank and is quite acceptable. We rewashed our gear and made plans for the evening. Chris doesn't drink, so he stayed home, drinking tea, while Pieface and I went for a wander to find some draft beer, but only for rehydration purposes. We hoped we wouldn't enjoy it so that the suffering could continue. A couple of hundred metres down the road, we found an Irish Pub, which also used to be a bank. This was a strange coincidence, and we decided that the banks must have been robbed so many times that they went out of business. What else could it be?

We settled in for some $6 pints of Lion Red that would have been $12 in Auckland and ordered some food. A discussion started about whether it would be possible to have a holiday up north that saves so much money in cheaper stuff that it pays for itself. The answer was yes if you drank enough beer, which we settled into doing. Then we tried to choose between the Kaikohe Opera, the Science Museum or the Symphony Orchestra, but they were all closed on Monday, so we went back to the bank to go to bed.

Day 3 saw us back on part of the Twin Coast Trail as far as Okaihau, where we stopped for coffee and breakfast at a relaxed cafe. Okaihau is quite a climb from sea level, so we had put in some work to get there. After breakfast, we had to ride on highway one for a while. Unfortunately, the road dropped back to sea level almost instantly over a couple of kilometres. It was a high-speed descent, but disappointing to lose the hard-earned gains so rapidly.

An hour and a half later, we reached Mangamuku and stopped for coffee before heading inland to the west, where the scenery was fabulous, but the road designers seemed to like taking the hilly route. At Broadwood, we came across a Covid vaccination setup with pumping music and waiting workers but no customers. It was tempting to get another booster or two for good measure.

Further on, we came to the Twin Coast Discovery Highway intersection and the Kaitaia-Awaroa Rd. At this point, we needed to turn right for Ahipara, but it was hot as hell, and there was a sign pointing left, saying 'Herekino Tavern 1km'. I was keen as mustard for a cold beer, but the others weren't so sobbing uncontrollably, I followed them up the road.

Eventually, we made Ahipara and rode down to our accommodation at the Endless Summer lodge. It was approaching here where Pieface encountered the only real agro of the trip when he said hi to a little Maori boy on the side of the road and got given the finger back. I told him not to take it personally because everyone wanted to do that to him but were mostly just too polite.

After a swim in the crystal clear water in front of the lodge, we did the customary gear washing ritual and charging of cycling computers, then headed up the hill to the Ahipara Bay Motel, where the view was incredible. The beer was even better, and the food quite passable as well. This long-distance cycling stuff does have its good points.

Chris and Pieface

Day 4 was a really early start as the low tide on the beach was at 9am, and we were riding 80km up the coast before heading inland. Chris was leaving us today for a teaup that he had organised in Coopers Beach, so It was just Mr Face and me. Nothing is open in Ahipara at 6:30am, so we had very cleverly anticipated this, and I was busy tucking into a big can of fruit salad that I'd bought the night before. This would be the only food until Cape Reinga, 106km away, which we hoped to make by 1pm.

We hit the beach at 6:45 and started the plod. At least it was cool at first, but the sand was inconsistent and sometimes soft, so we spent our time trying to figure out where the firmer sand was and complaining about it feeling like we had the brakes on most of the time. To top it off, our sore arses were really starting to hurt continuously, so I found myself often standing to alleviate that. The whole experience was quite frustrating because just when you thought your speed was edging up, you'd hit some soft sand and grind to a halt. Four hours and 15 minutes of this without a break can give you brain damage, so it was with some relief that we arrived at the outlet of the Te Paki Stream. "Things will get better now," I thought.

But they didn't. It got worse. You have to follow the stream up for about 2km, and there's no road, so it's varying degrees of sand, water and sludge. At times we'd come to a complete halt in six-inch deep soft wet sand and have to walk for a bit. Our shoes were full of sand and water, and the bikes' gears were graunching and complaining. Eventually, we made the road end that led out to highway one. "Things will get better now," I thought.

But they didn't. Some helpful road worker had dumped a million marble shaped stones on the gravel road, so it was like being on an ice rink and, on the hills, it was impossible to stand without the back wheel slipping out. So we had to sit, on our very sore arses for the 30 minutes out to the main road which eventually appeared. "Things will get better now," I thought.

But they didn't because, in the 16km remaining to the Cape, there were 600 vertical meters of climbing on roads where the heat reflecting off was soul destroying. All the standing on the beach, the trudging through the stream and the previous three days riding all came together at this point, and my legs had run out of usefulness. It was a struggle of epic proportions where you ask yourself why you are doing this, and you want it to end, but it doesn't. Around every corner is another hill. The minister for annoying roads should be promoted because he did a great job on the Cape Reinga road.

Things did get better when the whole sad day eventually came to an end at the Cape. It was good to have done it, but for me, perhaps next time, a little less distance, a few more cafes, and not bypassing the Herekino tavern will be the order of the day.

In Total, over four days, we rode 443km and climbed over 5,000 vertical metres during 24.5 hours of riding.

**Here is an example of a text conversation between myself and Pieface when I asked him for his bank account to pay him the $90 for the trip I owed him.

PF: Westpac 35xxxx39 etc

Me: Password?

PF: No password

Me: How do I transfer money to myself then?

PF: What the f**** are you talking about> You don't need our bank account password to put money in our account. You only need the account number.

Me: But I was hoping to make a withdrawal rather than a deposit. I'm winding you up, you simpleton, and it worked.

PF: Yeah, it did cos I'm really fn busy doing last-minute work, so f*** off, you wanker. Of course, I mean no offence by that last statement.

Me: None taken. It's the nicest thing you have said to me in a while, and I appreciate it.

PF: It won't happen again.

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