Michael Brown is going through a mid-life crisis so he thought it would be a good idea to tackle the Pioneer, a seven-day mountain bike race from Christchurch to Queenstown. This is his report from the third day of the race.

Written on the top of Andrew Gilboy's bike are the words, re-born on the Fourth of July.

That was the day, in 2013, when Gilboy had healthy stem cells put back in his body as he attempted to overcome double hit lymphona.

The Englishman had been given three weeks to live. He had a form of cancer that had no known cure only one year previously and his scan had been the worst his doctor in Oxford had seen in 25 years of cancer treatment.

This week, Gilboy lined up with 338 others to tackle the Pioneer, a seven-day mountain bike race from Christchurch to Queenstown.

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Plenty of people have said my journey to the start line is inspiring, which makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I just feel like I'm a regular guy going through a regular phenomenon (mid-life crisis).

Everyone competing in the Pioneer has a story to tell. One guy we rode with today broke his back three years ago and set a goal to achieve something big, another suffers from terrible arthritis and can't walk for any more than an hour but can ride for 10 hours. He's had five hip replacements and a new shoulder.

Few are as remarkable as Gilboy and his story puts a lot of things in perspective. It makes you think about what is really important in life.

Cycling probably saved his life.

"It was very important I was fit to withstand the treatment," he says. "The doctor was almost smiling when I told him I was a long-distance cyclist. He knew I was strong, had good lungs and a good heart and also had the discipline."

Doctors treated him with the strongest series of chemotherapy available. He spent five months in an isolation unit and in there was an exercise bike.

It was grim. He had four life-threatening infections and was virtually a skeleton.

"I was 49 at the time and looked like I had only a short time to go so I had to make funeral arrangements immediately (it demanded fancy dress).

"My wife and I decided we would write down a bucket list of things we would do if I survived, when I survived. One of them was to do an epic bike ride and the most famous one is the Cape Epic [in South Africa]. That's what I set my sights on."

Focusing on the future was one of the things that helped him cope.

"It's a chasm of loneliness because everyone wants to help but no one is really able to. I had three modes of operation. I was trying to live in the moment, like reading or listening to music or chatting with friends. When I couldn't manage that we were planning loads of things when I got better so I was trying to live beyond the illness.

"And when the dark thoughts occur - and they do occur - I thought, 'you don't have to have a long life to have a good life. I'm a happy guy, brought up three lovely children and have a wonderful marriage and lots of friends. In the end I thought, 'if it's to be, it's to be. I don't believe in an afterlife and this was going to be my one and only life so I was going to hang on as best I could."

Gilboy has done a fair bit of hanging on in the Pioneer, even though today's stage was abbreviated because of dreadful weather.

Michael Brown makes his way though the southern country side during the 5 hour ride over 72 km of hilly stage three of the 7 day Epic, Pioneer Mountain Bike ride. Photo / Greg Bowker
Michael Brown makes his way though the southern country side during the 5 hour ride over 72 km of hilly stage three of the 7 day Epic, Pioneer Mountain Bike ride. Photo / Greg Bowker

It was about 20 degree celcius cooler than when we went to bed and even colder on Auberry Range, where we were supposed to go. There were still some pinchy climbs, like the one up Burke's Pass where the wind was so strong even some of the elites walked for fear of being blown off their bike.

Tomorrow promises to be similar on the 104km ride from Tekapo to Ohau. There are a couple of nasty and long climbs in there - some sections have a gradient of 26 per cent - that look like Mordor on an elevation map.

But as we suffer on the way up, it won't be anything like what Andrew Gilboy has been through.