Norm Antcliffe Rides Tour Aotearoa
Tour Aotearoa 2018
Well it has taken me more than three weeks to recover from the fatigue and thrill of completing the Tour Aotearoa!! It was, without a doubt, the most challenging and rewarding event I’ve ever undertaken.
And to be fit, healthy and disciplined enough to entertain and complete an adventure of the scale of Tour Aotearoa was a privilege.
Here’s a bit of the story:
I trained for 10 months with Ray Boardman (Qwik Kiwi Coaching) using TrainingPeaks software. My weekly training was sent out to me on Sunday nights and all the bike training was recorded via my Garmin 520 Edge and uploaded to the Training Peaks site after each ride. In addition to the cycling training, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I swam a kilometer; and on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays I did about 45 mins of stretching each morning. I rode five days a week with the time and energy on the bike increasing slightly each week. This was all about endurance!! The data uploaded to the TPs software created graphs, pie charts, column charts to show how much fatigue I had, how my fitness was tracking and other information. It was all very technical.
The trip to the start line
40 TA riders caught a 1984 Hino bus (used to shuttle mountain bike riders in Rotorua), to Cape Reinga together with our bikes on a purpose built trailer. This was the third big trip the old bus had undertaken getting riders to the Cape. It was leaking, uncomfortable and noisy and the driver was double clutching to boot! It was raining heavily when we got underway and when we stopped on the North Shore for more riders the windscreen wipers fell off! A further 15 minutes along the road the accelerator cable jammed and the driver pulled off the motorway shoulder and onto the saturated grass verge – the wheels spun and the bus sank! The clutch was damaged as a result of the driver having to control the bus with a jammed accelerator. One of the riders diagnosed the stuck accelerator and sorted that out and like an ant colony we all pushed the bus and trailer out of the mud and back onto the road. The bus coughed and spluttered down the road to the BP service area where we waited for a mechanic to arrive. After three hours broken down the mechanic said he had fixed it. We started again but didn’t get out of the service area as the driver said the clutch was still not right. The bus was dead! One of the riders organised a coach to get us up to Waititi Landing so we could get to the start line the next day. We arrived 7 hours later (11pm) than expected and our bikes arrived 2 hours after that.
At 12pm on 14 February 2018 Wave 3 (about 80 riders) set off from Cape Reinga heading for Stirling Point, Bluff.
Let me introduce you to Stew
There were three of us riding together when we set off – Phil Matheson, Stew Mathiesen and myself. Phil was ill before he got to the start but only became fully aware of it on the second day. Despite having a night at a Bruce’s place (trail angel who owns the 4 Square at Waimamaku, north of Waipoua Forest) and catching us up again at Cornwall Park he pulled out at Clevedon and went home to try and recover. He had another go at catching up and got as far as Whanganui before he called it quits. So that left Stew and I to ‘carry the flag‘!
Stew turned out to be the perfect riding partner; really solid, easy going and into the details. We’re both morning people and happy getting up at 5.30am and had a similar sense of what was attainable each day and how we’d go about getting food and where we’d sleep. I was not going to sleep on the ground under any circumstances but Stew had a bivvy and a ground mattress just in case. We slept in both our homes, hostels, backpackers, hotels, motels, cabins in campgrounds and a RoomMate Cabin in Pipiriki (never slept in one of those before – the bed was the worst encountered)!
I was having difficulty with a gas hob at the Pine Grove Motel (30kms south of Fox Glacier) and got Stew to have a look at it. He was between the fridge and the hob and lit the hob with a match ……there was a whoompha! Stew didn’t flinch. He looked at his clothes, looked at his hands, turned them over and calmly said “that gas build-up came from under there“. Solid as!!
If there wasn’t a café or restaurant available when we arrived at our destination, we ate pasta, tuna and canned tomatoes for dinner. Breakfast would be muesli with milk, banana, and yoghurt until we could get to a café where we would have the “Big Breakfast”. This could be 30 to 70kms or 3-7 hours riding from the start of the day.
Lucky with the weather
Only about a day of rain and virtually no head winds! We had half a day of cold rain and wind from Ashurst to Pahiatua – 60kms. The worst weather was an 80km cross wind, rain and hail on our last section (29kms) from Invercargill to Bluff. This was also the most dangerous section as we had the bad weather plus logging trucks, container trucks, B trains, buses, cars and a very narrow shoulder! With about 12ks to go we were a forlorn couple of riders huddled under a broome bush before deciding that if we couldn’t ride we had to push – so away we went.
We walked for a bit until the weather eased and then got back on our bikes. (The section we had been most worried about was Ninety Mile Beach but conditions were the best we could have wished for – still and overcast.) The first 7 days riding were hot and very humid and then it cooled off and we had drizzle at the tops of some of the big climbs and sunny days on the West Coast.
The TA is exceptional with the riders it attracts. There is little space for moaners or bad attitudes (although Stew did tell me to”lift my head” at one stage on the West Coast!) It’s a hard, challenging and relentless journey and the riders are not necessarily what you’d expect. A lot of grey hair and no hair, a lot of different shapes and sizes and ages (few were the svelte shape of road riders). Because Stew and I were 30 day riders we met some great people at the back of the pack ‘those that were along for the ride‘, those that said, “we want to savour the experience“, husband and wife teams and solo riders.
We met at accommodation spots, bike shops, cafes and restaurants and while we were riding. Two 10 day riders, who left in Wave 5 – 12 days behind us (we were Wave 3), caught us up on the Big River/Waiuta Track section. They stopped and talked to us for about 30 mins which we felt was really generous considering they were seriously riding against the clock.
…in out of the way places like Apiti (north Manawatu) and Pine Grove (south of Fox Glacier). Helma (in blue top in the image here) in Apiti, went out of her way to find us accommodation at her friend Blanche’s place (only beds available $20/night each) and came back from her place the next morning with muesli, fruit, yoghurt, bacon, eggs and toast for $10 each. Carol, at the Pine Grove Motel, welcomed us and went out of her way with WiFi, food and accommodation. In Greymouth the owners of Colls Sportsworld, Lara who manages the iSite, and the staff at Ali’s Eating and Drinking were super helpful, friendly people providing a great service.
The huge sign welcoming us to Gladstone (Wairarapa) and other signs throughout the country in obscure places (such as the one on the Waiuta Track with a container of food under it and a cellphone number to call when the food ran out) were always appreciated. People offered free camping, water, showers, washing facilities and swimming pools. In Eketahuna, riders were offered free food, accommodation and a brandy to warm up!
A beautiful country
New Zealand has nooks and crannies, hills and valleys, rivers and beaches second to none!
The early morning light on the tannin infused lakes, the rivers and canals and the Alps that frame Westland were spectacular, as were the saddles and passes that we rode in the North and South Islands.
On Day 27 our journey started with a water taxi ride from Queenstown across Lake Wakitipu to Walter Peak Station. From Walter Peak we rode 103 kms of gravel roads through Mt Nicholson Station and 1000’s of hectares of spectacular rolling tussock grazed with Hereford cattle and surrounded by beech forests and eroded mountains.
We came off the gravel roads and onto the Around the Mountains cycleway alongside the Oreti River and then rode through lush emerald green rolling farmland in Southland to Mossburn, where we stayed the night.
The tracker, energy and support
I watched the 2016 Tour Aotearoa and became fascinated with the tracking – but I didn’t realise what it would be like to be tracked! It was amazing to feel the energy of all the people who were following us. For me, this was one of the highlights of the TA. The Tour’s scale, both in numbers of riders and the 3000km (length of NZ + 1000kms!) route captured imaginations and enabled people to participate. Getting a short text acknowledging reaching 1000kms or halfway or 2000kms, or a medical solution from family and friends, was a boost – always. Mark came and rode with us across the Hauraki Plains (worst section of the Tour), Ian and Jenny met us with coffee and muffins at the First Street Dairy in Masterton, Axel rode with us from Masterton to Longbush. Chris White met us on the Rimutaka Incline and then Andrew and Phil escorted us 50kms into Wellington. Vicky welcomed us in Aro Valley. All this incredible support was thanks to the tracker. For the watchers knowing what climb we were doing, or what remote part of the country we were riding through, where we were staying at night or having lunch, created more depth to the whole experience.
Kaibosh Food Rescue
Thank you for your very generous donations to Kaibosh. I, and they, so appreciate the support you have given them.
Donations are the life blood of this fantastic organisation and your contribution has made a difference. A $1 donation contributes $10.95 worth of food to people in need and reduces our carbon footprint by preventing food going to the landfill. Any food not up to scratch for eating goes to a farmer for animal feed, and anything that’s not fit for the farmer is composted. Nothing is wasted. Kaibosh do a brilliant job.
Was the Tour Aoteoroa fun? – No! (well…sometimes!) Was it a hugely rewarding physical and mental challenge? – Yes! There were so many layers and strands to the TA that made this a significant experience for me. I’m thrilled that I succeeded and relieved I got through the gauntlet of injuries (**see appendix) I sustained to ride a bicycle from Cape Reinga to Bluff.
28 days from Cape Reinga to Bluff. It was a true journey and a true adventure!
- Crutch issues (no further information necessary)
- Fractured wrist (right side)
- Swollen lower legs
- Inflamed toe
- Bee sting inside lip (resulting in swollen side of face)
– Norm Antcliffe