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Friday, 17 September 2010

Cycling Warkworth - Whangerei 13th - 17th September 2010

Imagine your body as a team. This team is made up of billions of members; from the outside to the inside. Each tiny team member is vital to the overall success of your body. At times in my life, I have pondered what the various team members would look like if the were little beings. There would be the team of scientists responsible for brain function, countless numbers of little folk dressed in lab coats clutching clip boards, processing every message that arrives and helping to filter the necessary from the unnecessary. The brain team have many vital roles and are constantly in dialogue with one another to help you think and feel the way they want you to feel. Say you stub a toe; in your toe, there are many complex and tough team members who first receive the impact of said stubbing. The skin and soft tissue are first to respond. “May-day, May-day, impact on the toe, holy crap!! Somebody send the message to the brain team, we’ve got an injury down here!” In my minds eye, the component members for the feet comprise of little men who are built like marines who are constantly working for an average of 18 hours a day on the front line of your movement, receiving orders from a hierarchy which leads from them directly to the brain. This message is immediately sent from the affected toe via exceptionally high-speed courier to the brain. The couriers in my own body would probably look a bit like the character of Baldric in Blackadder, just a lot faster. There would be many of them, strategically placed all over the body to pass on the information needed to the brain team. So, you have stubbed your toe, within a split second a great number of things occur, a bit like a dream – after all, a dream may only actually take a split second, but it can seem like hours while your in R.E.M. – In that split second Baldric has torn through every area of your body until he meets the pain reception area of your brain and explained what has happened, as he arrives, he might say “Sir, I’m afraid I have some rather unfortunate news” The pain receptor team will reply, in a not too dissimilar fashion to Rowan Atkinson “Oh, you again, and what pearl of wisdom is it that you have brought me this time eh? Has there been a breech of the anal cavity perhaps, or perhaps another mud guard has penetrated the left thigh area. Well, go on man what is it?”
“There has been an impact on the big toe of the left foot region sir, leaving a small abrasion to the area sir.”
“I see. I will need to send a message to the other members of the brain immediately. Everyone concerned must respond straight away.”
“Should I contact the liver sir?”
“The liver? Good God man, why on earth would we need to contact the liver?”
“I have a cunning plan sir…” And so it may go on.

If your body suffers damage, the team members responsible for that area let the overall team know that something is wrong. Yesterday, something was going wrong, and believe me, the messages sent to the brain team were loud and clear. But let’s start at the point where I left you.

It was Sunday evening, late at night; Mel and I were in the Smile Mart. I was explaining that we had hoped to leave, all being well, on a bus to Warkworth at 8:30am. This indeed was the case and we arrived in the township of Warkworth at 9:30am. After a few minutes setting up the bikes and making sure the 50kilo trailer was firmly in place on my bike, we set off towards Pakiri, aiming to stop in Leigh for lunch. All was well, there was a little sunshine and the roads were to a large extent clear and we were making good time. The mountains we had been warned about were no more than hills and before we knew it we were in Leigh. (By the way, you can Google map all these places to give you more of a perspective of distance and terrain travelled.)

We reached Leigh and sat down to eat our cheese rolls, a packet of crisps and some of the huge pack of mandarins Mel had insisted on buying from an honesty box by the side of the main road somewhere. People seemed amazed that we had even begun to embark on the journey, there were a few jaws dropped and even the truck drivers were tooting their horns in such a way that suggested folk were impressed. Impressed by what, this was proving to be far easier than expected. 10 minutes after leaving Leigh things began to change. The road ahead seemed to change, at first imperceptivity, a mild gradient inflection at best. We carried on, changing gear from 3rd to 2nd just to keep things comfortable. Then we turned a corner and; flanked by stunning New Zealand landscape, the gradient changed again. The road ahead was decidedly uphill and seemed to continue as such for over an hour. There was simply no way either of us could have cycled up it. We were forced to get off and push our bikes for the duration of the ascent. Messages were being sent from my several members of team Charlie to and from the brain, Mel was experiencing the same.

We reached the summit of the mountain after 4kms of near vertical climbing, pushing our bikes in near horizontal inversions to the road beneath us and stopped for some pictures, posing by our bikes and trailer with carefree grins on our faces, secretly praying that this was the exception, rather than the rule. We were mistaken. We could see Pakiri on the map, it looked like a decent sized dwelling, surely there would be a place to stay, after all, the place had been written in bold on the map. We set off down the mountain, an easier experience you may think, but no! The road suddenly became unsealed and we had to wear out brakes and fight to stay upright as the tarmac beneath us disappeared and was replaced by rock and gravel. Perhaps this was one of the ‘secrets around every corner’ that I had romantically waxed lyrical about to you before we left. The views from up there mind you, were painfully good!
Going up Parkiri Hill

Just outside of Leigh

Fast forward to Pakiri – no shop, no motel, no campsite, nowhere to stock up on provisions and therefore, no let up. The messages being sent from my arms and legs were becoming louder. We met a farmer and his mud covered Labrador at the foot of the descent and asked him which was the easiest way forward towards Mangawhai and to a place we knew had at least one B&B. He instructed us that the best way was by the unsealed road, “that’s the flattest way; I could walk into town from here in 4 or 5 hours.” 4-5 hours, well, that should be simple on bikes.

3 hours and 70kms from Warkworth later, I don’t mind telling you that the team members for each area of my body were screaming in pain. Not the kind of happy screaming which can be heard in the playgrounds at break times during the final day of the academic year at a primary school in an upper class area of the Cotswolds you understand. Oh no. The sort of screaming which can only be associated with shear, unadulterated agony. Just when I thought my soul was about to depart from my body, a sign appeared in front of us; out of the haze of agony – Fish & Chips – We had made it to Nirvana. We had arrived in Mangawhai. We were freezing cold with exhaustion, I had to pinch myself to see if I was awake, Baldric began sending the message and by the time I had walked through the door I knew it was real. Hoki in batter with chips has never tasted so good!

A couple of hours later we were in our Motel which was coincidentally next door to the Fish & Chip shop. We were shown round by the owner Billy, a fifty something guy with a laid back attitude and a keen sense that we were both exhausted. He took sympathy on us and gave us the room at a reduced rate of $80 for the night, that’s only £40. The accommodation was so much better than the YHA in Auckland had been. For a start it was very clean and dry, we even had a queen size bed with not 1 but 2 electric blankets! The bathroom was equipped with a lovely shower which had a bespoke cobbled floor and nice fluffy towels. The kitchen diner was also more than adequate, with fridge, microwave, ironing board, TV, table, chairs, a sofa and enough space for us to keep our trailer without it feeling at all crowded. We spent the evening in a state of flux between euphoria and desperate fatigue. We ate a great deal of chocolate and doughnuts! Later; having showered and eaten we went to bed. We gently slipped away into the deepest of slumbers on a griddle of luxurious warmth, I sensed team Charlie collectively taking a deep breath, leaning on its collective control panel and saying in deep disbelief: “Bloody hell; that was a bit mental.”

The morning after happened to be the 14th of September, my 31st birthday and I awoke feeling surprisingly relaxed in that there was no pain anywhere in my body, perhaps it was still asleep. Mel had somehow found the time in Auckland to buy me some gifts which she had wrapped in some cute paper. The paper had pictures of puppies looking at the camera all over it. She had bought me a pair of Superman boxer shorts, a fishing hand-reel with a hook and weight attached, a Kinder Egg with a toy octopus inside, some handy camping tin openers and a card. The card had a photo of a man with ‘moobs’ (man boobs) on the front, she said it reminded her of a comedy pose that I sometimes strike, hilarious!

It is fair to suggest that my birthday was far more relaxed than the previous day had been. I dropped in to pay for our room in the morning and bumped into Dianne, Billy’s wife, a property management guru and all round lovely lady who was so shocked by our insane idea to cycle round New Zealand that she offered us the use of her daughter’s car for a month as her daughter was in the UK with her boyfriend for the next 7 weeks. We thought about it, but decided against the idea. Dianne is a generous soul and she offered to bake me a cake for my birthday. How many Motel owners do that? The cake never materialised but it didn’t matter as we already felt like porkers after all the chips and chocolate we had consumed the previous evening.

We took the opportunity to cycle without any luggage to the nearby village, named Mangawhai Heads and I made a short video introduction to our trip to New Zealand on the sand of Picnic Bay (You can see the video on Flickr now). The sand was the colour of ash which was a throw back to a couple of family holidays spent at a cottage on the Isle of Skye. After a nice roast chicken lunch; Mel and I retired to our Motel to spend time on the internet and eat more chocolate. A company called Bennett’s Chocolate are strategically placed opposite the Motel. They make fantastic chocolate, so impressive is it that they have won awards all over the world. We naturally dropped in there and picked up a small amount to enjoy after dinner in the evening. Most of the evening was spent on the internet, uploading images to our Filckr page and catching up with Facebook. We even managed to Skype some of the family back home which was lovely. We saw Millhouse at Mel’s mum’s house, dressed in his indoor jacket and looking very chirpy, he was searching around for Mel when she whistled to him through the microphone! My mother had on a Christmas cracker hat, worn especially for my birthday; we enjoyed the novelty of being able to see each others face from such a great distance immensely.
Charlie at Mangawhai Heads

The beach at Mangawhai

Last year, for my 30th birthday, I was away on tour in Hereford, playing the part of Wild Bill in Calamity Jane. At the end of the show, Leah Bell, the company owner and lead performer would take the time to have a little chat to the audience. That night, after a short spell of stand-up comedy, Leah asked me to step forward and tell the audience how old I was. I was then treated to a huge rendition of ‘Happy birthday’, sung by full-house of 550 audience members and the entire cast, quite a moment I can tell you. I allowed myself to enjoy the occasion despite my fears over Mel’s health; she was at home in Newcastle with swine-flu. She was feeling much better this year!

Next morning I was up at 6am to listen to my beloved Norwich City play on the internet. We lost 3-1 to Doncaster which was a shame, but the novelty of being able to hear them play from the other side of the planet has never waned, better luck next time boys.

After leaving the Motel, we cycled to Waipu, 30kms north and visited the museum there. Waipu has an interesting history as it was settled by a group of former Scottish Highlanders, driven out during the clearances. They travelled via Canada and eventually colonised Waipu. They even have their own registered Tartan and their own Highland games which take place every year on New Years Day. The games have been running for 138 years now. Needless to say; Mel loved it there.

Uretiti Beach is just a further 5 kms from Waipu and we decided to set up camp there for the night. The D.O.C campsite which nestles in the sand dunes by the beach is just $8 per person, per night and despite only having cold water showers, it was a bargain. Nobody was camped within sight of our tent and we were able to walk on the 22 km beach, hand-in-hand, dipping our feet into the crystal clear waters, such a tonic after all the hard work of the cycling.

The picture perfect weather quickly disappeared over night and was replaced with very heavy wind and rain which threatened to sink the tent. We packed up as quickly as possible in the morning and Mel cooked double portions of porridge before we coupled up the trailer and Panniers for the next 35 km ride up to Whagarei City.

The journey was simple in theory, but as you may have already realised, cycling for us is not, in reality, quite as simple. The first 10 kms was fine and then Mel got a puncture. This was unwelcome, but not a disaster. I changed the inner-tube and we were on our way. 3 kms later, Mel got a puncture. Hmn. I had obviously not identified the catalyst of the previous puncture before changing the inner-tube, so I was forced to spend a minute every 2 kms frantically re-pumping up Mel’s tyre until we reached a cycle shop some 20 kms later. The challenge this posed was further compounded by the fact that we had to cycle through a long stretch of road which was effectively wet concrete. New Zealand has a habit of doing this (we learned later that day in the cycle shop). They make a lime mix and chuck it down on the road, allowing all who pass to drive straight through it and in our case, to inhale the toxic dust which blinds you if you get in your eye. But to their credit they do put up a sign suggesting that you wash your car that day, though not a word for the cyclists I noted!

Mel’s puncture was slowing us down dramatically as we entered the outskirts of the city, so; as it was already 4:30pm and New Zealand as a country is normally closed by 5pm, I sped on into central Whangarei to beg the cycle shop to stay open long enough to save our collective bacon. (I say sped on, more ambled really, but it sounds more heroic this way)

Mel arrived 20 minutes later carrying her bike plus all 5 of her panniers as the tyre and inner-tube had completely disengaged from the wheel, needless to say; she wasn’t looking her best. The shop took pity on us and I don’t think they even charged us for the repair, sighting a small staple as the cause of the double puncture.

The YHA here sits at the top of a hill and our room, at $45 (around £23) per night, enjoys a lovely view over the city and the harbour. We finally made it to the YHA here at around 6pm at which point Mel broke down completely and we were forced to go for an Indian meal and drink whiskey at the Irish pub for the remainder of the evening. Purely medicinal you understand!

Today is the 17th of September and it will be memorable for one reason above all, we saw a real, living and very lovable Kiwi! Unfortunately, the endangered Kiwi is a rare sight in the wild these days, but there is a museum and Kiwi House just outside the city and after a short uphill cycle, we found it and we were lucky enough to see the little fellow in his small man-made nocturnal dug-out, beetling around for grubs. We would have taken a photo but they don’t respond to camera flashes that well, so you’ll just have to take my word for it I’m afraid. We are spending the afternoon relaxing in the communal living space; a wise decision judging by the clouds outside. We have been and bought some vegetables for a Thai Curry tonight and I am eyeing up the wood burner in the corner, it could be a nice, cosy evening by the fire!

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