Tour Aotearoa Day 12 – Makouri Lodge to Masterton – Halfway Through!

The bonus of finishing with a climb yesterday meant today began with a cool, 500-metre descent through rural farmland. The Tour Aotearoa has generally taken the quieter roads but after passing Palmerston North, the road to Pahiatua was unpleasant. I shared the road with a lot of other traffic including many large trucks which often passed carelessly close seeming to almost graze my elbows. You feel very vulnerable on a bike with huge chunks of metal racing past. One truck passed particularly close forcing me from the road and I crashed dramatically into the grassy shoulder. My heart racing with fear, I climbed back onto the saddle, channelling my adrenaline into pedalling faster.

After Pahiatua, I left the trucks behind and veered off onto a less-travelled backroad, the kind of place where the rush-hour traffic jams are caused by sheep. I passed a variety of farm buildings, some old and dilapidated, others new and shiny. These gravel roads require a lot of technical riding ability. In a photo or at a glance, the road looks like a uniform grey mass, but there’s a surprising amount of variation. There’s large gravel and small gravel. Sometimes my tyres dig in and skid, other times they spray rock up that ping off my legs or metal frame. I have to stay constantly on guard to avoid falling. In this focused meditative state, hours can pass without me realising and I’ve suddenly done another 40 kilometres.

I met another cyclist today, George from New Zealand, who is also riding the Tour Aotearoa. It was a hot afternoon, so he was grateful I shared my sports drink with him. He’s heading to Nelson where he’ll take two rest days off the bike to explore. For a moment, I envied his more leisurely schedule. My fast pace of 100-160 kilometres per day and without rest days is exhausting. I’d love to dive deeper into New Zealand culture and not race through these beautiful places, but I also want to see as much of New Zealand as possible in my limited holiday. I also relish the challenge. Riding my bike for 12 hours a day, trying to cover 3,000 kilometres of rugged New Zealand terrain in 24 days is as much a mental challenge as it is physical. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, so I feel proud of my accomplishments so far. My motivation and determination remain strong, for I feel privileged to be out here doing this. On that note, I paused beside a river today to celebrate a small achievement. There was no sign, no-one to greet me, but here, on day 12, I’d reached the halfway point of the Tour Aotearoa. I’m still on track to complete it on time… just!

A little later, I stopped to take a photo beside a statue of a Kiwi bird. Over the next few months, nearly a thousand other riders will take a photo with it, for it’s a photo checkpoint on the organised Tour Aotearoa Brevet. A brevet is an organised group ride – not a race – that is tackled by around 750 riders every February. Along the way there’s 30 photo checkpoints to prove completion, of which the Kiwi statue is one. The cutoff time is 45 days so you can ride at your own pace. Even though there’s no guides or support, this is still a much different undertaking compared to my own solo journey. The website provides lots of practical information, and there’s also the comfort and camaraderie of doing it with 750 other riders. These are luxuries I don’t have, out here on my own, no-one to share the decision-making with, or keep me company in those lonelier moments. My only support is my Spot Gen 4 tracker gifted from a friend in Hamilton that would allow me to send an emergency request message in an accident.

Meeting George, and thinking of the Tour Aotearoa Brevet, made me think about all the different styles you can travel by bike. It really is an adventure that many people would enjoy, because you can tailor it so much to your preferences.

I arrived into Masterton much earlier than I’d expected. Tailwinds had boosted me throughout and allowed a faster speed. Hopefully this will allow more rest and recovery before tomorrow’s race to the South Island ferry.