A few years ago, some of Andrew’s friends did the Tour Aotearoa - an epic 3,000km bike packing trip from Cape Reinga on the very north tip of New Zealand, to Bluff in the south. It follows a combination of cycle trails, paths, lanes and roads. He thought it would be a good idea to give it a crack himself so in February he lined up at the start and off he went. He knew there would be plenty of challenges along the way, but he certainly wasn’t expecting to ride head on into the chaos of a global pandemic.
“I’ve always had a love of New Zealand” Andrew explains, “and I thought this event looked really cool and thought ‘Why don’t I do it?’”.
As many of you will know, most great adventures start with a question like this. And sure enough, despite having never done anything even remotely like it, that question was all it took for Andrew to make a plan and be on his way.
“I was into cycling but had never done a bike packing trip where you carry whatever you need. Usually I go mountain biking for a few hours in the Adelaide hills. I had to push much longer times when I was training for this, mixing it up on roads and trails and lots of hills.”
Armed with that preparation, and a little previous experience heli-biking in New Zealand, on February 17 he lined up with 716 riders who started in waves, and set off to travel the length of the entire country in what he says is “an event, but not a race”.
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“There’s a few rules”, he says, “like you have to have at least six hours a day off the bike and you can’t finish it in under ten days, so there’s a few people who might do close to 300kms a day, but that wasn’t us. Our goal was to finish in about 21 days.”.
The start waves are staggered across a few weeks to allow for a break in the actual waves, where riders have to navigate 90 mile beach between tides, a section of the race Andrew says was probably his least favourite.
“The beach was mentally challenging riding flat and straight in the same position. I prefer the hills because you drop down a gear, you stand up, you go down the other side.”
He says the 80km long ‘Timber Trail’ was spectacular, and the climb over Queen Charlotte pass was exhilarating, but about half way through the ride they started getting news of the pandemic taking hold around the globe and things got a little uncertain.
“We were mostly staying in pubs and cabins along the way, and we weren’t really watching any TV or getting news updates, but the mate I was riding with has a travel business and was getting a lot of information about what was starting to happen and decided to pull out on day eleven.”
Andrew decide to push on, but when the Australian Government called all Aussies home, he knew it was time to get serious about pulling out himself, especially when he was at an easy access point for his return trip.
Andrew pushed on for another four days, clocking up more than 2,000kms in total, and occasionally sharing the trail with other riders along the way, before deciding it was time to head home while he still could.
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“Funnily enough, the first half of my last day was the best day of riding - the ‘Big River Trail’ was single track on rocks and mud and tree roots, so I was covered in mud and was just like ‘woo hoo!’.” He says it wasn’t a feeling shared by all the other riders, many of whom hated it.
Despite wildly varying conditions between the North and South Island, and at various elevations, Andrew said his ioMerino cycling jersey remained consistently and reliably comfortable.
“I was wearing synthetic in my training and getting a lot of rashes and it was quite uncomfortable - when you’re sweating tons you put a jacket on and you’re cold. But I wore the ioMerino jersey for the whole trip and it was the most comfortable thing I could have had - even if it got wet or I was sweating under a jacket, I never got cold. You just unzip it when it warms up, and it breathes and was still very comfortable.”
As far as washing it goes and testing out it’s anti-stink properties?
“I did take another top with me but went with this one the whole time. I jumped in a shower one day with all my gear on and gave it a wash” he laughs. Not bad for 16 days on the bike.
As for going back when the event is on again in two years time, Andrew says it’s a no from him. “I enjoy mountain biking too much. I might go back to New Zealand and just do that for a few days.” And after staying so comfortable in his ioMerino Jersey, we’re pretty sure when he does, he’ll go with io.
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