Cycle Britain

Tour Aotearoa Day 24 – Mossburn to Bluff – The Final Chapter and a New Beginning

I woke to a very cold morning with a thick mist shrouding the landscape. That was unusual and a first for this trip. Another unusual thing was that today I’d agreed to cycle the final day with the big group from New Zealand, and after nearly a month of solitary riding, it was great to have their company. We’ve crossed paths several times throughout the Tour Aotearoa, but today offered an opportunity to get to know them. Conversation and laughter flowed, as we pedalled for the finish-line.

It’s a common cliché that a journey such as the Tour Aotearoa is as much about the people you meet along the way as the places you pass through. That has certainly been true of my experience, and so I’d like to briefly mention the motley crew that rode the final 140 kilometres to Bluff together.

There’s Jost, from Germany, who works as an intensive care consultant in a hospital and is enjoying a well-deserved break cycling thousands of miles. He’s strong and dedicated, both mentally and physically, and he spoke passionately about racing time trials, so much so that he has inspired me to attempt some myself!

Jeremy and I share a common motivation for tackling the Tour Aotearoa; he also recently turned 50. Don’t mistake this for a mid-life crisis however, he has channelled this milestone birthday into a celebration of what can be done with the time we’re given. His magnetic personality meant he managed to persuade four other people to join him and he’s created a close-knit cycling group around him. He’s a great guy, and an exceptionally strong rider with two speeds – fast or faster – and I’m thankful for joining their group on this final day.

Moira is an athlete who is as exceptionally talented and she is modest. She always downplays her achievements, but her calm disposition belies an inner strength that has seen her complete the Hawaii Ironman. I was particularly keen to talk with her as I’m planning on completing the Ironman Wales in September 2024, and she was able to give me some top tips for success. Athleticism aside, she is a lovely person, a great team member, and utterly inspirational.

When I first met George on 90 Mile Beach, he was completely sun-burnt, as red as a lobster, and I predicted he had little chance of completing the Tour Aotearoa. Each time I met him, he struck me as a ‘Ram Man’ character, utterly unshakeable by every challenge and nothing can stop him. He’s strong and larger than life; we always seem to have crossed at unexpected moments and in random locations, but we’ve always enjoyed sharing some banter and having a laugh. It’s impossible to overstate how valuable the ability to laugh is during a challenge as tough as the Tour Aotearoa.

Richard is a natural leader, who is calm and collected and guides his group through any challenge with smart decision-making and great tact. In some ways it’s much harder to ride the Tour Aotearoa as a ‘lone-wolf’ as I have, because you are utterly responsible for every decision on your own and you need to have the varied skills to overcome each challenge, but in other ways it’s harder to ride as a group as you must consider the various needs and abilities of the team to reach a compromise. I’ve been amazed by watching Richard in action as he is a master diplomat and considers his team teammates with utmost care.

Lastly, Mick is another guy from the United Kingdom, which explains why we share such a common sense of humour. He is Moira’s partner, and they make a lovely couple, always supporting each other through the challenges of the tour. Resilience is central to his core. He never complained and just persevered at his own pace, with a sheer determination that was contagious. I think of him as a Superman like character, always appearing out of nowhere looking cool and calm. Even when I was riding alone, I thought of Mick and took inspiration that I could be resilient and overcome every challenge.

I’d also like to say a thanks to the many trail angels who I encountered along the way that helped me succeed, and also make it so special. A BIG thank you!

I think back to Don and Joyce in Auckland, who hosted me at their home, helped with the logistics of arranging a cardboard box and couriering my bike to the start point. I loved riding out of Auckland accompanied by Don, and I was amazed they wouldn’t take a penny for any of their support, even making a donation to Claire’s House, my chosen charity. They were a reminder early in the trip of the inherent goodness of people. I’m excited to be going back to stay at their house for another night after the tour is finished, as they became good friends. I can’t thank them enough, but hope this brief mention goes some way to expressing my gratitude. You inspire me to be more caring.

A massive thanks to my friend in Hamilton, John, for his local knowledge and advising me on the route, equipment, bike setup. I’m glad I didn’t need it, but I’m thankful for the peace of mind his generous loan of a SPOT tracker gave me. In an emergency, I was comforted to know he’d be the one liaising for my rescue, and that I’d be in safe hands. He was always there to offer advice, and without him I’m not sure I could have kept to such an amibitious schedule.

Eddie in Invercargill took the time out of his evening to bring me a cardboard bike box and help me pack my bike away for the quick turnaround to head back home. Without him, it would have been a desperate struggle to get to the airport in time, but with him, it was a memorable evening, and by 10pm we were sharing stories over a pint. As ever, my success is largely thanks to the incredible support of those around me.

Howard, my good friend who also works for Cycle Britain, offered invaluable support in the early stages of planning this expedition. I can quite honestly say that without him, this trip may never have even got off the ground. His amazing support planning this expedition when I was distracted by deadlines in my new business went above and beyond my expectations.

I’m also grateful with Dave who’s superb bike mechanic skills helped get my trip off to the best possible starts. It wasn’t always smooth sailing in terms of the bike, and I battled blown tyres, sealant eruptions and squealing brake pads, but this is all negligible compared to what would surely have happened if Dave hadn’t been on the team!

So, with my new band of friends, those who could be there in person and those who couldn’t, I covered the first 70 kilometres to Winton in super-fast speed, boosted by a tail-wind and with the monotony of the ride eased by the continual conversation and memories. The support surpassed my wildest imagination. It was hard to believe this was the halfway point of our final day on the Tour Aotearoa. For once, I almost wanted time to slow down.

I spoke too soon! From Winton, we had a strong headwind that accompanied us all the way to Bluff. It was a battle to the finish, but then again, that seemed appropriate because none of the Tour Aotearoa had been easy.

Suddenly, I saw the sea ahead. It’s blue surface shimmering in the distance and ruffled by wind-whipped whitecaps. And then, the road ran out. We could go no further. We’d made it to Bluff, and I felt an immense sense of satisfaction and achievement.

We posed for photos beside the finger signpost, just like the one back at Cape Reiniga, all those thousands of kilometres ago. It pointed to distant places and capital cities all over the world, but right now there was nowhere else I’d rather be. Well, except a sign that pointed to London, 18958 kilometres away, which made my thoughts travel back home to where my wife, Nicola, and daughter were waiting. So much alone-time on this solitary journey has made me immensely appreciative for what I have. And so the final BIG Thank You goes to them. I certainly couldn’t have done this journey without their amazing support, holding the fort back at home. Quite simply, I’m thrilled to be jumping on a plane to be coming home to you.

This Tour Aotearoa journey has been utterly life-changing. I’ve discovered an inner strength. I’ve reflected on who I am, and who I’d like to be, and as I board the plane, first to Auckland and then back to the United Kingdom, I’m filled with memories to last a lifetime, and a motivation to keep living a challenging, exciting, and purposeful life.