Guest written by John Ramsden
Currently with this COVID thing we all seem to be stuck in this crazy ground hog day scenario. Every day seems a lot like the one before. So, in an attempt to break that up here is a little something to allow you to dream and maybe make plans for next year. In 2018 I embarked on a little event called the Tour Aotearoa.
The tour was established by the Kennet brothers, a dynamic duo who have mapped out a self-supported mostly off road trek from one end of New Zealand to the other. The first event was in 2016 and unfortunately I was unable to attend. The intention of the Kennet's was for the event to occur every 2 years. The second iteration was planned for 2018 and gave me plenty of time to plan. The third iteration in 2020 was halted part way through as New Zealand went into its original COVID lockdown. March 2021 has seen many riders from last year’s event trying to finish the course.
The Tour Aotearoa takes riders from the very northern tip of New Zealand's north island to the very southern tip of the south island
The rules are quite simple. You must complete the entire route under your own power in more than 10 days and less than 30. You must have 6 hours rest in any 24 hour period and you need to take a photo of your attendance at 30 previously established checkpoints along the route.
Not surprisingly the record is 10 days and a few seconds to complete the 3000+ km route. My intention was to complete it in a more leisurely time of around 25 days.
Entry was pretty straight forward. First, register as one of the capped 600 riders. Second, donate to a charity of your choosing a minimum of 100 NZ dollars and third, offset your carbon emissions of travel to and from the event. The 600 riders were slotted into 6 waves of 100 riders each. Sending 600 riders out in one wave would likely over whelm the support ability of many of the small towns along the route. Further, the first day requires you to ride along 90 mile beach which at high tide is completely under water. Your transit time is definitely limited and 100 riders are much easier to manage than 600. I slotted into the first wave to depart on Feb 10, 2018
John's trusty aluminum framed Santa Cruz Highball was his weapon of choice for this epic ride
Once I had that complete it was on to preparation.
First, what are you going to ride? I chose to ride a Santa Cruz aluminium Highball, a 29er hard tail with a SRAM 2x10 drivetrain. Why? Simplicity, easy to repair, reasonably light, and durable. There were many other choices from Tandems to drop bar cyclocross bikes. Drivetrains varied from Rohloff hubs to belt drives.
Second, how are you going to carry your stuff? I chose to go with a Revelate seat bag, frame bag and handlebar roll. For this trip, I also added the ability to carry a small stove on my seat tube, and extra water bottles on my front fork. Since a fair amount of the route would be on single-track I wished to keep as much weight as possible close to the centre of the bike and as low down as possible. This would allow me to ride most anything rather than be forced to use the dreaded bike push. Again, there were many other choices from panniers to back packs.
A myriad of frame bags made up John's luggage for this trip rather than the backpack and/or panniers approach for maximum bike handling characteristics.
Clothing is one of the hardest things to get right on a big trip - you don't want to overpack, but you want to be prepared for all situations.
Third, how do you find your way around an unmarked route? I chose to use the Gaia mapping app on my Apple iPhone 7+. Thankfully I brought along my Garmin 1000 as back up as well as an old iPhone SE as a redundant backup. I’ll speak more about that later. The route was downloaded onto all three devices before I left home. I rebuilt my front wheel with a SON dynamo hub attached to a PLUG 3 USB port to allow charging of the devices as needed. Most dynamo hubs will not provide enough output to charge a phone until you are riding at over 15 km/hr. Roadies may be able to pull this off, but the rest of us riding a 24 kg bike… not so much. It is therefore imperative that you carry at least one battery that leave attached and charging at all times. You can use this to recharge your device at night while you sleep.
Finally, what stuff do you bring? Bottom line, as little as possible. Weight is a killer. Despite my best efforts at controlling my requirements, I still spent most the first five days swearing and determining what I was going to send back to Canada at the first opportunity. In the end, I kept it all and in the final analysis I used it all except for a pair of waterproof rain pants. Retrospectively, I suppose I could have mailed my warmer clothes to the South Island for pick up. They certainly weren’t need on the North Island and that might have saved me about a kilo in weight. I also brought a tent which I ended up using only once. There were numerous shelters along the route as well as reasonably priced accommodations. Looking back it would have been better to have brought a bivy sack instead of a tent which again would have saved me a bit of weight.
Packing light is essential for a trip like this, extra weight will only make every pedal stroke tougher.
Travel to the start is again minimalistic. Your bike is packed in a cardboard box for disposal at the other end. One of your riding kits is on your body for the flight down, and everything else either in your bike box or carried on to the plane. Auckland is well set up for bike touring. Step out of immigration and in front of you lays your SIM card retailer. Step outside the terminal and on the wall is a bike stand to allow you build your bike.
The rest of the trip will be split into three sections in later posts:
North Island: Cape Reinga to Auckland – Trial by fire and perseverance
North Island: Auckland to Wellington – Finding the groove
South Island: Picton to Bluff – The big push