It was an unexpectedly short ride for some of the Northlanders who took off on a great journey, riding the length of New Zealand after one cyclist ended up in hospital and another had to head home early. But it was an amazing trip worth all the stresses and strains, they said.
In late February, Whangarei friends Mike Waymouth, Jane Sweeney, Rob Meadows, Liz Davies, Paula Lang and John Lengyel mounted their bikes at Cape Reinga to embark on a 3000km tour across the country to raise funds for the Northland Emergency Services Trust.
Seven days and 800km into the trip, Meadows had to be airlifted to Waikato Hospital in a Greenlea Rescue Helicopter.
"I was heading downhill on a cycle path in Pureora Forest Park near Taupō when I hit the pothole. I only remember the handlebars as I went flying over them," Meadows said.
"They took me to the local marae, which had a helicopter landing pad. It's quite ironic."
He spent three days in hospital with a broken collar bone and a concussion before his family came to pick him up. The rest of the group went back on the road to complete the tour.
After 23 days, Sweeney, Waymouth, Davies, Lang and Lengyel reached Bluff, successfully raising $5651 for the Northland Rescue Helicopter.
"They had an amazing time," said Meadows who was happy for his teammates, even though he couldn't complete the journey.
He is already making plans to repeat the adventure in two years – hopefully without accidents this time.
Vanessa Furze, general manager at Northland Emergency Services Trust, said they were immensely grateful to Meadows and his friends, as well as all those who donated.
"As a charity, we rely on the generous support of our community to continue the life-saving work we do. Cycling the length of the country is a huge effort and we appreciate their commitment to fundraising for us so much.
"Rob's accident just goes to show that you never know when you will need the assistance of a rescue helicopter. We wish him a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing him getting back on his bike and completing the ride in 2022," she said.
The group's trip was part of the Tour Aotearoa biennial event by nearly 1000 bike enthusiasts riding a 3000km trail from Cape Reinga to Bluff throughout February and March.
Northlander Polly Thomas started her trip in early March but the bike ride also come to an abrupt halt when she realised New Zealand was about to go into lockdown. She had to race home from the South Island.
"I was so disappointed once I got out and back home," Thomas said.
"I was so engrossed in my sightseeing and tried my hardest to ignore what was happening until I finally switched on my phone and had 7000 hysterical messages."
The owners of the West Coast hostel Thomas was staying at kindly drove her to Christchurch airport where she caught a flight back north – just days before the lockdown.
Thomas had gone on the tour to commemorate her friend Patricia Weiss who died of breast cancer. She is fundraising for breast cancer charity Sweet Louise, which supported Weiss when she was sick.
Thomas said although the unexpected interruption was disappointing, she had a wonderful time, was blown away by beautiful New Zealand and its people, and had a lot of time to reflect on her friendship with Weiss. In Auckland and in Wellington, Thomas caught up with Weiss' friends and family – all dressed in Weiss' favourite colour orange – who cycled with Thomas part of the way.
She said a lot people also tracked the Tour Aotearoa cyclists on their official website and supported them along the way.
"One of my highlights was meeting a couple of homeschooled kids between Opononi and Dargaville. They were tracking the cyclists as part of a project and did some research on where people came from. They welcomed me with some fresh watermelon when I drove past – it was amazing."
About 100 cyclists had their trip disrupted because of Covid-19 and organisers have allowed them to finish the journey next year, instead of waiting for the next event in 2022. Thomas plans to be one of them. .
For more information about Thomas' journey and her fundraiser, visit facebook.com/Patrishs-Memorial-Ride-108191974030235/.