Newsletter - February 2005
Inspiring families to live adventurously, promoting independent family adventure

The Family Adventure Project and Family on a Bike e-newsletter

Welcome to our February 2005 update

We're now 2300km and three months into our journey. While the first month was full of novelty, the second established a routine. The third was tough and all of us lost it at some point but we persevered and made it to the top of South Island. We're all well, looking a bit wild with clothes a bit tatty, but feeling pleased to have made it from one end to the other of New Zealand's South Island on pasta power. We've now crossed the Cook Strait and are looking forward to the challenges of the North Island; apparently hills, hills and hills.

Before we left home, which seems like a very long time ago now, we received an email invitation to join a classic New Zealand mountain biking event, The Big Coast Ride. Organised events like these are a great opportunity for families to get out adventuring together and a good social scene too. We couldn't resist the opportunity to throw away our baggage but couldn't find a way to offload the kids. So, here's how two novice mountain bikers got on towing toddlers and trailers on some of Wellington's classic off-road trails at this family friendly introduction to the Kiwi mountain bike scene.

If you prefer you can read this story online where we've included a few pictures to accompany it.

The Big Sausage: A Family Challenge

"I can't do it. I just can't take any more."
"Oh come on. You're three quarters of the way there."
"My body just can't take it. I'm stuffed."
"Look just three more to go. I know you can do it. Just take it slowly, one at a time."
"No I really have had enough. We've gotta stop."
"OK, you've done really well. Let's pack the last three in foil and maybe we can manage them later."

It was lunchtime on the second and last day of the Big Coast Ride; a two day, 109km mountain bike challenge over the Rimutaka Incline (North of Wellington) and around the windy South Wairarapa coast to Eastbourne. In a field of just over 800 committed mountain bikers, numbers 804 and 805 (Family on a Bike) rolled in for lunch with the safety sweepers but without kids. The boys had been confiscated for their own safety and our sanity while crossing bouldery scree slopes on the way to the lunch stop. By the time we arrived the volunteer caterers had already served up nearly three thousand sausages in an hour and were busy scraping the grease from barbeques and tidying up. "Would you like some extra to take home?" asked a friendly old guy trying to offload a tray of left-over bangers. While we were coping OK with the race, the sausage challenge had by now defeated us. We managed three at the registration evening, three more at the pre-race breakfast, another three for dinner on day one, but could not face the deadly trio offered at lunch on day two. This event is for serious sausage eaters and we were out of our depth.

"Seven and a half hours I reckon" said one official to another as he nodded at us crossing the starting gate. The electronic timer beeped and the clock was running. With strong legs, no luggage and just the kids in the buggies, we settled in amongst the pack confident we would finish and hoping we would not be last. There was a party atmosphere as glittering wigs, tandems, tag-alongs, choppers and the meanest of mountain bikes began the challenge ride. As we climbed the Rimutaka incline, the more serious bikers began to pass while fun-riders came alongside for a chat or to offer words of encouragement. "Awesome" "Good on ya" "Room for one more in there?" "That's the way to travel" The boys hooted and waved. "It is going to take seven and a half hours at this rate," said Kirstie exhausted from trying to chat while climbing. Stuart knew better than to try and converse with Kirstie on a hill.

Riders and bikes everywhere at a lunch stop

This classic ride follows the route of an old railway through long, dark railway tunnels. Unnerving for the riders but a lot of fun for little boys with head-torches and horns. We wove an unsteady path across unseen ground in the pitch black, headlights occasionally picking out tunnel walls as they veered towards us. We followed the meandering light of the rider in front, aiming for a pin-prick of light at the end of the tunnel while praying that no-one would fall and start a game of sardines. After 17km of ascent, we arrived at what looked like the scene of a serious accident. Bicycles lying abandoned, sometimes three deep, with trucks, landrovers and emergency vehicles all around. People lay spread-eagled on the grass while Red Cross officials in luminous orange boiler suits chatted intensely. This was Station Summit, the morning tea stop, where Scouts tended giant tea urns and refreshed tired legs.

Amongst the debris we found other families brave enough to tackle this family friendly, entry level event. Hiding behind a tree we found a soulmate, David, tending his four year old daughter Gracie, long blond curls resting on a yellow pillow inside her bright blue chariot, purple ribbons and pink tinsel trailing in the wind. Five year old Campbell was the youngest pedaller in the field, riding stoker on his Dad's tandem. Dad, a bearded figure who would have looked equally at home in a gang of Hell's Angels, offered us some advice about getting Matthew to contribute some power. "Campbell loves it up there. He's been riding over a year now and pedals all the way," he said proudly about his son. Kids from 6 to 10 were on tag-alongs while those over 11 rode solo. Most were with their parents in family teams; younger ones riding with Mum and Dad while older ones asserted their independence, shooting ahead with their mates.

Family challenges: Playing sandcastles on the trail   

Never too young to contribute some power

Mountain bike riders face the triple challenges of terrain, distance and elements. For many, the killer on day one was the wind, the enemy of all cyclists. Out of the 800 cyclists, the Red Cross treated 47 for injuries, many of those riders blown off their bikes in gale force Northerly cross winds. The wind played shoot the duck, picking off riders as they entered exposed sections of trail. One moment you'd be chasing a rider up ahead, the next you'd be in the lead, passing a body forced flat onto the grass verge, wheels spinning, feet still clipped into pedals; hardened professionals baffled by their vulnerability.

The wind played havoc with the overnight camp too, pulling tent pegs like teeth, ripping nylon like paper, turning tents into kites and scattering sausages everywhere. A Dunkirk spirit prevailed over the day's competitiveness as people helped each other recover tents, keep toilet doors shut and retrieve flying bread and sausages. As the sun set, a band braved the elements and those with energy left danced in the wind.

No guy ropes, no tent

On events like this, family teams face an additional challenge, that of keeping the family happily, coping with tiredness, tantrums, mixed ability cyclists or restless passengers. Our kids were up dancing until darkness, refreshed by an afternoon snooze in their buggies. "Look Mum, a cow poo dance," laughed Matthew as he imitated the ska dance of the band while compressing a cow pat. The morning after they were shattered; as far they were concerned the race was over and it was time for a lie in. While early riders were setting off and late risers were queuing for breakfast, we spent an hour trying to wrestle Matthew's thermarest from under him and cope with a tearful tantrum. We were one of the last to leave the campground and faced a day full of further challenge having missed breakfast altogether. "One biscuit each," said Stuart, "we'll fuel up at tea break.. it's only 20km."

"One biscuit each," said the official handing out the rations at tea, some 2 hours later. Feeling pleased we'd overtaken a few stragglers on the Ocean Beach climb, we were confident a biscuit would see us through to lunch. "Can't be far," said Kirstie, "probably half way, maybe another 10km."

Still in touch with the pack on the Ocean Beach climb

We'd been warned the going would get tough but were still in denial. We thought we'd seen it all in our travels so far, but touring and mountain biking are very different disciplines as we were about to find out. The trail looked flat and easy, yet everyone was walking. It was hard to understand why, until the sand gripped your wheels and your feet sunk into the deep soft ground. With four wheels to push and the weight of the children in the buggies, progress was slow to stop. For two kilometres. Arms straining, feet slipping, wheels spinning and sliding, sweat dripping, tongues cursing, we inched our way forwards with a little help pushing from Matthew. "Why are we last in this race Dad?" he asked as he puffed, panted and helped us along.

It looks straightforward but this sand is a killer

You know you're struggling when you meet Sweeper Sid, the cheerful yellow jacketed rider who sweeps for stragglers at the back of the ride. Sid and his mounted marshals swept in to help us out as we arrived at a long section of bouldery scree. "It's going to be real bumpy for the kids along here. Would you like us to give them a lift in a truck?" The boys were keen and it seemed a safer option looking at the distorted terrain ahead. They jumped happily into Ted's bright red Truck clutching Puppy The Wuppy, Spiderman and a lollypop each. The quartet waved us goodbye as we bumped and scraped our way through the rock slides.

We were the only riders in this alien landscape but we were not alone. We began to feel looked after as men in yellow jackets appeared from behind boulders to give us a push on steep sections, haul the bikes through swamp or lift us over a tricky ditch. A convoy of official vehicles sweeping the trail followed behind, having as much trouble as we were negotiating the terrain. We wondered whether Matthew and Cameron were faring any better than we were. An hour and a half later, powered only by two biscuits, we were reunited at a late lunch. "Going in the truck was fun," said Matthew, "I liked the bumpy bits. Cameron nearly hit his head." "I not hungry I had a lolly Mummy," said Cameron looking disgustedly at yet another plate of sausages.

Helping hands get us over the bouldery scree slopes

We crossed the finish line after a final gravelly 20km from Pencarrow Head to Eastbourne grinding against a blustery coastal headwind. As the electronic timer beeped for the last time, the Event Director sounded his car horn to mark the end of the race. "Seven and a half hours" said one of the officials as a round of spontaneous applause rippled around the school field and the marshals quickly dismantled the finishing gate before we could even get a photo. When you are trailing buggies and transporting children, it's not the time or the winning that matters but taking part. Well, we'd have to say that because we came last, accompanied by David with Gracie in her buggy and a relieved Sweeper Sid. Elated and exhausted we collapsed on the field with a box of left over muffins donated by the caterers. "Look, there's our luggage," said Stuart pointing out four lonely bags transported all those bumpy kilometres for us. The kids ran wild on the playground, celebrating their freedom and the end of the race. "Why did we lose the race Dad?" asked Matthew. "We won our race Matt, in our own way," said Stuart.

We finally made it.....four lonely bags greet us... but where is everyone else?

The few remaining riders hopped into their cars and headed for home. The masseurs and caterers packed and tidied up around us. With the competition finished, we transformed ourselves from hardened mountain bikers back into tired tourers. We were pleased to have completed the challenge and grateful for the help, support and professionalism of the whole event team who helped us to do it. We are especially proud of our two boys for tackling the event so cheerfully and pushing when it mattered. Families are made of this.

We left the site last. It's habit forming. "Would you like a sausage for your tea?" asked a kindly caterer as we set off, "We've got loads left over." Matthew pulled out a little tin foil parcel from his buggy. "No thanks, we've got some," said Kirstie. As the caterer drove off laden with sausages, we tossed our foil package in the bin and headed off for a celebratory pizza. No pepperoni.

In the news

The media interest in our tour and project continues. Since our appearance in the Southland Times way back in November, we've been featured in The Christchurch Press, had a mention in the Wellington Dominion Post, and spent an enjoyable half hour on National Radio (RNZ) being interviewed on their afternoon programme. Each time the coverage has generated a lot of interest in the project and some good leads for other families to make contact with, meet and interview. We hope over the next few months to start publishing some stories about what other families get up to. If you have a story you'd like us to feature or know of someone else with one, then do get in touch.

What's new on the website?

A few people have wondered why they aren't getting more emails from us. Well, we don't want to clog up your inbox with things you may not want to read. The majority of our journaling is posted directly onto the website and is not emailed out.

So if you want to know more about what we've been up to, take a look at our postings from the road page at:

Since the last email we've posted stories about: how we gatecrashed a beautiful honeymoon (The Wedding Party), what happened when it all got too much ('Boiling Point' and 'Breaking Point'), and how Cameron keeps losing it ('Lost again' and 'Another Lamby to the Slaughter'). Check back regularly and keep up with what we're up to.

Big thanks

We're continually touched by the unsolicited kindness of the people we meet through this project. Big thanks this time to Lou, Bruce and Dean who shared one of their cows with us and gave us our first experience of a waterbed; Sam and Helena who serenaded us, served us pasta and contributed to a mighty hangover; Suzy, Andrew and Angus who treated us to a picnic in paradise; Simon Bannister for sharing his thoughts and experience on mountain biking with a baby; MSR and their New Zealand distributor for fixing our stove when it fell apart; Steve Hart and all the Big Coast crew who shepherded us around theWellington Coast.

Keep in touch

If you have any suggestions for things for us to see and do, or you'd like us to personally deliver a message to friends or relatives, drop us a line and we'll see if we can follow it up. It's always nice to hear from people so don't hesitate to e mail or give us a call. We still welcome any contributions you have for the web site and your ideas for things we might write about. Our appeal for a publisher on RNZ fell on deaf ears so if any of you know anyone..

You can send us a message by replying to this email newsletter, by mailing us at or by calling us on our mobile +64 (0)21 203 2392! Our technology pannier means we're contactable throughout our travels. We'd love to hear from you.

And that's it from us for now as we head North towards Cape Reinga

Until next time,

Stuart, Kirstie, Matthew, Cameron, Puppy The Wuppy
The Family on a Bike

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