The photos above are of my campsite at Pipiriki this morning, and the night before inside the old school which now serves as the very hospitable base for Whanganui River Adventures, The man with the red cap is Junior, one of the staff, who is brilliant at fielding calls from cyclists to book their jet boat ride down to Pipiriki from the end of the river trail about 45 minutes boat ride up river. He unfalteringly calls everyone he serves by name, an amazing feat, having got to know them thru their booking.
I set off this morning for the glorious ride down the river, with the first stop a very special one – Hiruharama (Jerusalem in English). There is where Suzanne Albert established a Sisters of Compassion convent in 1892. As it happens, my older brother Hugh, a journalist who has lived in Ireland almost all his adult life, has written a biography of her. It is a very spiritual place, as reflected, for example, in the writing of James K Baxter, one of our great poets, who lived in the settlement.
His poem “Song to the Holy Spirit begins:
Lord, Holy Spirit,
You blow like the wind in a thousand paddocks,
Inside and outside the fences,
You blow where you wish to blow.
You can just pick out the spire of the church in this photo, which I took on the road to Jerusalem:
I rode on down the gorgeous river valley for many happy kms. Even the climb up Gentle Annie out of the valley was pleasant, with this rewarding view from the top…my last look up the valley as I turned and headed down to Wanganui.
In Wanganui I checked into a motel because I needed a place to write my Newsroom column (somewhere to sit, with good wifi essential)…and had two great rendezvous thanks to the live tracking system whereby people can follow riders’ GPS positions live. You can track me via this link:
First, I met up with Phil from Auckland, who is riding the Tour. He and his wife Veronica last year spent four months riding from Cairo to Cape Town…they are a similar age to me. They are also in Paul Leitch’s Tuesday evening spin classes with me.
Second, as I was writing, a fella came to the motel ranch slider and asked of my room mate Karl from Dunedin if Rod Oram was there…I was, in the bedroom writing my column. I came out to find Mark, a local rider, who at his request I had ridden with him and his friend in 2009 through Auckland. Then aged 69, they were riding from Cape Reinga to Bluff and were keen to be led by a local cyclist along a quiet and scenic route through the city. He’d been following his son on the TA tracker, spotted my name, saw I was at this motel and came door knocking to find me and invite me to dinner with him and his wife Barbara.
Once I finished and filed my column, Mark came back to take me to dinner. We had a far-ranging conversation …but we did talk a bit about bikes too. I’d met Mark when I was giving a presentation in Wanganui in about 2005. The following morning he borrowed a MTB from one of his sons and took me for a great ride in the local woods.
Below are photos of Mark and his friend Stuart (‘Fido’) as 16 year olds in 1955 on their ride from Blenheim to Queenstown. Their panniers are sugar sacks, and Mark reckoned they were each carrying 70 pounds of kit, including a heavy canvas tent. The second photo was taken more than 15 years ago, when they recreated their poses with their state of the art MTB. Mark’s an inspiration to us all…still out revelling in his riding.