Blackhead Beach, New Zealand

New Zealand: 3000km, on a mountain bike.

Tour Aotearoa 2016 (Tour website)

Continuing our series of ordinary folk doing extra-ordinary things; Justin Dempsey is taking on the mighty Tour Aotearoa. A mere (!) 100km a day on a mountain bike for a full 30 days: New Zealand tip-to-toe. Here’s his story:

 

A number of years ago, my Dad chose to mark his 50th birthday by doing the Haute Route, and the two of us took an unforgettable walk from Chamonix to Zermatt. Inspired to do something similar for my 40th next year, and while planning spend the winter with my wife’s family in New Zealand, I asked her what their version of Lands End to John O’Groats was. One Google search and a few mouse clicks later I had signed up for the Tour Aotearoa 2016, a 3000km unsupported Mountain bike ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

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The Steed

I would not call myself a mountain biker, and while a moderately keen cyclist, I have not tried anything like this before. Anyway, on 21st Feb 2016, armed with a sleeping bag, a handful of muesli bars and a bucket of chamois cream, I will attempt to ride from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South in no fewer than 10, and no more than 30 days, in accordance with the rules.

 

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… this ain’t no tarmac road …

 I soon realised I would have to step up my game from the occasional club ride with Redhill CC, and go further than my 20km trundle into work. I would also need some MTB skills, and mental toughness. And survival skills. Oh, and some better mechanical knowledge. Not forgetting the ability to navigate remote trails…

 So where am I up to? Well, After a summer of attempting to self-learn some MTB skills on the North Downs, I have signed up with a coach in NZ. As part of my training schedule, I am riding ~400km a week. So far, I have entered my first ever road race, ridden on gravel roads, lime trails and farm tracks, and as day one of the Tour is a ride along Ninety Mile Beach in the far North, I took the opportunity to practise on the sand on our recent family trip to the beach. 

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The Cockpit …

I have the bike, a Salsa Fargo, and much of the gear I will need. It was important that I be confident in using my kit, and that it is up to the task. I have been navigating with the satmap active 12. I like the breadcrumb trail style of navigation with a proper map display – it gives me a good sense of the terrain, trails and distance. I’ve also found that with careful power management, I can run it all day on one charge, though I have the Dynamo if it needs a top up. The bike mount and silicone case have stood up well to the weather and the bumps.

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Blackhead Beach

There are 11 weeks to the start, and I am currently enjoying a recovery week in training. The intensity and distance will start to ramp up from here, and I will need to spend a bit more time getting familiar with my tent. It’s been a great way to see the country so far though, and exciting to be pushed, both physically, and by going further into the wilderness.

 

Two things I have learned so far from being in New Zealand –

1. Even when it is ‘not windy’ here, it’s windy.

2. After riding on sand, hose your bike off immediately. My next job after writing this is going off to replace my bottom bracket…

 

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Sand : a great training surface …
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