As told to Elisabeth Easther
Dad's parents lived in Paraparaumu, so for holidays, we used to load up the Triumph PI2500 and go on ridiculously long road trips from Auckland to Wellington to hang out with nanna and poppa. My grandparents had a huge back lawn, and every summer they'd put up this big slippery slide, and my brother and I would spend hours throwing ourselves down it. Mum and dad now do the same thing at their place for our kids.
Because of cycling, I was quite young when I first travelled by myself. As soon as I left school, every winter I'd leave New Zealand to chase racing. For about six or seven years, I went to Kutztown in Pennsylvania, a small town with an outdoor velodrome just one hour from Philadelphia. There was a university, a coffee shop and a huge Amish population. It was a weird dichotomy, the clip clop of horse and carts past our apartment, men in top hats, women in petticoats and bonnets, and all these Lycra-clad cyclists racing around on bikes.
As cyclists we had to do everything for ourselves, find an apartment, open a phone account, rent a TV, figure out how to get to races. We had to use our initiative, there were no officials or coaches to help, but that was where people went to launch themselves into northern hemisphere bike racing. Because we didn't have much money, we'd pick races with prize money, and a win would set us up for the next couple of weeks.
My first apartment was above Bob's Bike Shop, and access was via a rickety outside fire escape, or through Bob's apartment. I shared with two other cyclists and we slept on mattresses on the lounge floor, all three of us. But the place was on such a lean, we'd wake up on one side of the lounge, spooning. Every morning we'd move our beds, make them, then the next day we'd all wake up in the same place at the bottom of the lounge.
One of coolest thing about being a sports person is you get to travel by default. I went to South America several times. I raced in Bogota and Cali in Colombia, Quito in Ecuador, and Aguascalientes in Mexico. The first year I went to South America, I was 17 and still at school. The Junior Worlds were in Quito, so we had to spend a few weeks there to acclimatise. We'd heard about altitude but we didn't know what it would be like so, being kids, we decided to sprint from the plane, down the stairs and across the tarmac to see how it affected us. It was hard, the first time on the track we were breathless, and there were headaches, but we acclimatised.
To cycle from our modest motel to the velodrome, we'd pass these enormous manholes with no covers so we had to scream to the people behind us to let them know, or they'd lose their front teeth. I had to go to hospital while I was there and I remember being on a stretcher in the back of the ambulance. But the stretcher wasn't tied down so I was shunted back to front and side to side as we sped through Quito. When I got out, I realised the ambulance was just an old VW Kombi with a sign on it saying Ambulancia.
After I won in Quito, that was probably the first time I thought, "wow I might be okay at this".
I learnt French at primary school, but I never took it at secondary school, so during those long Pennsylvania summers, after training, I'd park up in a cafe with a copy of The Idiot's Guide to French. When I finally went to France, for a women's road cycling tour in the Pyrenees, I remember speaking French for the first time. I was on a bridge covered in flowerpots, and I said one sentence to a man who was standing there. He understood me and I was euphoric. I think I said a few more sentences before skipping away on cloud nine.
Since then, I've been back to France plenty of times. Before we had our first daughter, my partner and I spent five weeks circumnavigating France. Cambridge has a sister town, Le Quesnoy, in the north, so we started there and spent a couple of nights staying with the local history teacher. We were given tours of the town, we rode to where the battles were fought and we learnt how significant New Zealand is to these people. I recommend that to any Kiwi, if they want a dose of pride, to be reminded what an awesome country we have, what we've done for people and what others have done for us.
Later, when the kids were little, we lived in France for about six months. We lived in a tiny little village about 20km outside Annecy and it was one of the best things I've ever done in my life, to just hang out in France. Mum and dad came over, dad is a cyclist too, so we took him round all these Tour de France routes, and he'd climb the climbs.
We live in Cambridge now, and 10 years ago, Simon Perry and Rob Waddell thought it would be a great idea to open the Waikato River to the community and I was one of the first trustees on the Te Awa River Ride Charitable Trust. The trail starts in Ngāruawāhia and includes the Hamilton Gardens, it goes past the Avantidrome and finishes at Lake Karapiro. It'll be 70km when finished, and link all these wee towns together. It's an awesome way to get around and, like to many of these trails around New Zealand, it's a really inspirational way for people to have fun outdoors.
One thing I'm really looking forward to is, together with Podium Lodge in Cambridge, we're putting together Cycle Escapes, and the first of these packages is just for women. We'll ride some great trails, have a go at the velodrome, learn more about cycling and, of course, there'll be coffee and wine.