Cape Reinga, The start of Tour Aotearoa

Cape Reinga, The start of Tour Aotearoa

The morning of my first day of the tour was magical, but led to magically bad! It was as if I had never done anything like this before. Oh wait, I hadn’t! The tour started at Cape Reinga, the most northern tip of the north island that was also a very spiritual and sacred Maori site. After taking in the amazing views I found I was late for the start of the tour. Crap! Once I begin biking it got hot. Real hot. There were hills. Lots of hills. Which made my bike feel like I was carrying lead. My gear started to literally fall off my bike. And then, I was alone and lost. All within the first 15 kilometers, which was confusing to me. I knew miles not kilometers, this meant I had no concept of distance or time.

"Welcome to Tour Aotearoa Casey!" I heard the bike gods yell down to me throwing their heads back in laughter.

"Shut it gods!!! I need to find 90 mile beach and it’s gotta been round here somewhere." I yelled back.

Riding ahead still lost and through tall weeds I was greeted with massive picturesque sand dunes, setting a surreal backdrop. In disbelief my thoughts wandered. I had been waiting over a year for this beach. It’s what first caught my attention about this tour and led to me signing up. Other bikers had told me that riding on a beach with sand and salt water was a no, no. It kills your bike. When I saw that the first day of Tour Aotearoa was riding on a beach, I felt like this tour broke the rules and I knew I had to sign up!

New Zealand Sand Dunes

New Zealand Sand Dunes

But now that I was here and lost I was unsure if I’d make it to the beach. Where is it!!!! I yelled in my head in total frustration.

‘OH! Outhouses, score!’ I said aloud.

I found my mood was easily swayed by every little good (or bad) happening. After relieving myself I saw another TA rider making lunch. I stopped to ask for directions.

“Straight that way.”

He pointed in the direction I was headed but I asked again and was given the same answer. But I couldn’t see a path. What was he pointing to? He saw my confusion and reassured me that going forward in the tall grass there was a path. I bid him thanks and farewell and was off.

As I peddled there was a path and with newfound confidence I moved forward til I hit a stream. What now?

I heard a women say, “that’s it, keep going. The beach is right ahead.”

Stream with tall grass blurred in the background

Stream with tall grass blurred in the background

She was on a fatbike riding towards me on the stream and pointed behind her. So I kept peddling. I felt pretty badass for riding in the wet sand and began to have fun. A few km later I came to the beach, 90 mile beach.

I stopped for a moment, taking it all in. The sand was hard and filled with undisturbed shells in a variety of colors. As the wind blew bits of loose sand were picked up and escorted across the beach in breezy waltz that spun its dancer in floating graceful circles.  The air was filled with the fragrant smell of salt water and rotted sea life that made me smile the moment the scent hit my nose, telling my memory that I was at the sea. This allowed enough time for the lunching rider to pass me and with a wave he sped past. I began to get excited by his pace on the beach, I was surprised to see him move that fast. This gave me reassurance that I was gonna kill it on the beach.

“Ha!” The bike gods laughed down at me.

It wasn’t so bad, at first, riding across the hard pack sand. Until I hit a wet spot that quickly sank my front tire causing my 70 lb loaded bike to stop instantly as I flew forward over the bars. A few moment later, another wet spot causing me to fall to the side. Then another, falling to the left, then the right and at times I didn’t know which direction I fell. With each fall I collected another multi colored bruise. The beach became a playful dog and I was its rag doll, getting shaken in its clutches.

The wind blew from the front feeling as if someone was holding onto my back tire as a cruel joke, bike gods I’m sure of it.  The sun’s rays beat down hard over my head burning my exposed zinc covered skin and the beach was endless. I rode hours after hours felling as if I stood still. The breathtaking views helped to keep my mood from going dark, but only for a short time.

Speeding tour bus that literally drove on the beach passed by me, tourists waving in the comfort of their cozy seats.  I was in awe of this, which sometimes caused me to fall over. My well-traveled midwestern self had never seen anything like that before. But as the hours grew I saw fewer and fewer buses until I was utterly and completely alone, except for the random penguin, yes penguin!

Stopping in the late afternoon for a quick 10-minute lunch I stood, straddling the bike trying to keep it upright without hands, which proved to be beyond my skill level. The bike fell with a heavy thud. Thankfully it fell so I could retrieve my food. Letting the bike lie still in the sand, I unzipping my frame bag I took out a pouch of cooked rice with quinoa and tuna with smokey harissa, taking a scoop from each with my titanium spork. Within a minute I had stuffed my face and was ready to continue on. Just then, riding swiftly past me was the last remaining rider, making me the final and slowest rider of the tour. With a quick wave he disappeared into the distant horizon. I peddled on.

The day continued with in a cycle of falls, wind, break taking views, food, sunscreen reapplication, water breaks and gear adjustments. My mood slowly shifted from good to bad to evil. Self-doubt set in and I was asking myself on the constant

“What are you doing?” Followed by “This is TOTALLY beyond your abilities, you should just give up.”

But how? How am I gonna give up? I’m on a beach with no end in sight, no town in sight and not one person around. I couldn’t give up even if I wanted to!!! I had to continue. Checking the Garmin I had never used before and my (now) husband lent to me I had no idea how much further I had to go before reaching camp. My goal of 100km vanished as I sipped my last bit of water.

Before this moment all the events of the day were pretty superficial caused by my lack of experience, nerves, intimidation, and for being unprepared. But the moment I ran out of water, things got real. I had no cell service. I hadn’t seen a car or a person for over 3 hours. I had iodine pills and a Grayl water filter but didn’t know if this worked for salt water. My survival mode kicked in, I became calm and got down to business. Looking at my Garmin I saw a flag marker, hoping that meant water, I made the best assessment I could. Still struggling with kilometer conversion, I decided this flag was about 15-20 km away and would take me about 1 ½-2 hours if I kept up the pace. It would be getting dark in about 2 ½ hours , If I didn’t reach the flag by then I would be forced to do the one thing I did NOT want to do. The one thing that would prove to myself, and the world watching, that I was a fake, a looser and a coward. I would have to push my SOS button on my spot tracker to call, via satellite, for help. I plead with the bike gods to not let this happen, I wasn’t sure if they were paying any attention.

Damn near 2 hours later it appeared, my saving grace in the shape of the most beautiful green flag flapping in the wind. My spirits instantly lifted and I let out a great sign of relief that I didn’t have to call for help. I made my way to the flag, over the sand dunes, past a gravel road and followed the signs for Utea Campgrounds. Pulling in I stopped at a hose, filled up my water bottles and sat in astonishment of my first day. I had survived, barely. I was burnt to a crisp, covered in bruises and sand, hungry, dehydrated and in WAY over my head. I set up my tent then showered away the day. After cooking a quick meal in the communal kitchen, I stopped to play with the box of kittens that Tania, the camp host, had shown me. I couldn’t help but laugh as they played, purred and gave me the love I very much needed.

My stomach was growling, demanding to be fed so I left the comfort of my new friends to find a spot outside to eat my dinner. Looking up from my feast the sun was setting over the dunes. The sky became an epic lively watercolor where the pinks ran into the blues. Once fed I made my way to the tent. As the colors began faded to black the bright stars began to pop and sparkle in the newly night sky. Snuggling into my sleeping bag I felt a sense of achievement for knocked out my first day. Now only 30 more to go.

Jade Buddha, my  Big Agnes  tent, playing in the sunset.

Jade Buddha, my Big Agnes tent, playing in the sunset.

Next Week

More stories from the Tour Aotearoa.....Stay tuned!

Heart Shaped World

This photo was from the morning of the start of the tour in a near by bathroom, or as a kiwi would say toilet.

Heart shaped world new zealand .JPG