March 01 2024 – Day One of the Old Legs Tour of New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Ahipara via the 90 mile beach.

Distance – 124 km
Time- 10.27
Climb – 767 meters.
Average speed- 11.9 km
Average heart rate -132 bpm
Highest heart rate- 191 bpm
Calories burnt – 4161 a.k.a. 26 cheeseburgers.
You might guess from my highest ever recorded heart rate above, today was a tough day on the bike, right up there with one of my toughest ever. My previous best achieved on the Lockdown Tour was 188 bpm.
But before I get into the pain of the ride, let me update you on the sago of our luggage, also painful. Jenny and I flew in from Seoul, South Korea a day late, and without our luggage, and without my bike, which were either stuck in Addis Ababa or Hong Kong, this according to the Air New Zealand lost baggage.
Because we stank and didn’t want to stick to the furniture at the home of our hosts Rob and Tessa Clarke, Jenny and I hit the K-Mart on the way in from the airport to shop for essentials. I bought underpants, shorts and a tee-shirt and Jenny bought an essential long floral skirt. I felt like Jack Reacher shopping, but couldn’t find the tight tee-shirt department.
At the self checkout counter, Jenny and I felt country hicks and botched the transaction repeatedly, causing the K-Mart manger to roll her eyes noisily. She asked me if we were from South Africa. I told her yes.
I made frantic plans to borrow a bike from Rob’s son Wayne and ride kit just in case, but was able to discard the plans when our kit eventually arrived. Which is a pity because the bike I was going to borrow was a sexy, racy full-carbon Specialized.
But I digress, back to the Tour. It is a 6 hour drive from Auckland to Cape Reinga. The scenery was all green rolling hills, very similar to the Natal Midlands, but without the Zulus, and with less rush.
We were hosted for lunch by ex-Zimbabweans Andy and Wendy Smith on their beautiful Kiwi fruit farm. Wendy laid on an incredible spread. I’ve decided I want to be a Kiwi fruit farmer in my next life. But I digress, back to the ride.
Because time and tide wait for no man, especially slow cyclists, our day one started in the middle of the night. Our first leg would have us riding the length of the 90 mile beach, which NB is actually only 80odd kilometers, thank God.
We had a four hour ride window after low tide, after which we would start running out of hard sand beach.
Because we still had an hour drive to get from our over night accommodation to the start line at the Cape Reinga lighthouse, we packed
with a sense of urgency at 04.00 a.m, apart from Macca who forgot his facecloth behind.
I saw my first possum on the road to Cape Reinga . He was a magnificent specimen. Unfortunately he was dead, unless he was playing possum. I also saw possums number 2 all the way through to number 20, all likewise dead. Possums look like bush babies, and would be considered cute by my granddaughters, although not so much after they’ve been squashed. It was like a massacre on the road. Every second bump was a dead possum and I worry they are headed for extinction. I want to open a possum sanctuary, but Mango says if I did, I’d get hate mail or worse. Possums might look cute, but in NZ they are considered vermin. Alas.
Because it was still pitch dark when we arrived at Cape Reinga I never got to see the iconic light house. We started riding just after 05.00. We headed south for 20 kilometers on the main road, before cutting across to the start of the 90-mile beach. It was scary riding in the pitch dark. The beam from my front light is that weak and wobbly, it was like riding by candlelight, but less romantic.
We’ve been joined on Tour by ex-Zimbabweans Stephanus Duvenhage and Craig Henderson from the Phatboys riding club in Auckland. It is nice to have the extra gravitas of another Allan Wilson old boy in the peloton.
To get the beach we had to ride 10 kilometers down a river bed, through water 4 to 6 inches deep. Massive sand dunes straight out of Namibia loomed large in the half dark. Then we hit the beach.
It was my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean on my bicycle. It was one of those proper goosebump moments. I manfully resisted the urge to skinny dip because of strict New Zealand nudity laws and also small penis syndrome. The water looked cold.
Riding on the beach was stunningly beautiful, kilometer after kilometer of golden sands. I was expecting the beach to be Namibian bleak, but it was tropical by comparison, complete with palm trees and 2 pretty girls in skimpy bikinis, both of whom looked at me strangely, because I was riding in the green Dick of the Day tutu. (My fickle team mates ganged up on me like hyenas at the first tribunal and voted me DOD for no apparent reason. )
The sun popped above the horizon at 07.30, an entirely civilized time for the sun to get out of bed. We had the beach to ourselves for mile after mile after mile. I played chicken with flocks of seagulls and terns. We fairly whizzed along at 20 plus k.p.h. Howard reckoned we’d get into camp at 11.00. I wished we could stay on the beach all the way to the south of the South Island.
But then a head wind got up, and we stopped whizzing. Our average speed dropped down to just 15 kph. I especially stopped whizzing because of the drag factor from my tutu. But it was still much fun. I looked for Orcas frolicking beyond the breakers, but didn’t see any. Alas.
But then the wind got up even more. And worse, the tide started turning and we got squeezed up on to the softer sands. Very quickly we were reminded that sand is a four-letter word in bike speak. Riding on the beach stopped being fun. I let my tyres down and the going was marginally better. Mark Johnson followed suit. But because he doesn’t do half measures, the silly boy let all the air out of his tyres and was stranded on flat tyres. Silly boy.
Ahead of us our beach got narrower and narrower. I started cramping viscously in my thighs. I think my heart rate peaked at 191 round about then. And we still had another 12 kilometers in front of us to get to our night stop at Ahipara. That wasn’t going to happen. So we abandoned the beach and headed inland. The gravel roads to Ahipara were viscously undulating, almost as bad as the headwind now gusting upwards of 40 kph and I was officially miserable by the time we eventually crawled into camp 10 hours and 27 minutes after we started. But some cold beers and a delicious meal later, I am marginally recovered. But I don’t think I ate the equivalent of 26 cheeseburgers and worry I will lose weight I don’t have to lose. NB The combined weight of the 5 riders is 432 kilograms. We have started a book on our combined weight at the end of the Tour. After today, I’m going to go low. Without mentioning names, Rob weighed in the heaviest at 95 kilos. Also good muti last night was the opportunity to gang up on poor Craig Henderson with the other hyenas for trivial offenses at the Dick of the Day tribunal. Craig looks good in the rainbow wig and tutu. I think Stephanus will also look good when Craig extracts his revenge.
We have 89 kilometers of stunning scenery in front of us tomorrow, with 1200 meters of climb and thankfully no bloody beaches. Until my next blog from the Opononi Lighthouse, have fun, do good and do epic if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

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