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TA Countdown 9: Philosophically Speaking

31 October 2021

By Ollie Whalley, Anja McDonald, Tristan Rawlence & Scott Emmens

Without wanting to overthink your Tour Aotearoa too much, some 'in the beginning' navel gazing helps to resolve decisions on bike, gear, training and attitude.

It’s Not a Race

Yes, but for many part of the buzz is to push your personal limits of endurance and speed. Others will treat the TA as a semi-structured tour - long but not ridiculous days with goals centred on the number of obscure tea rooms visited or new BFFs made with the locals.

If you’re unsure where you sit on the spectrum ask some searching questions… What’s your natural inclination - competitive or chilled? How hard do you push yourself? Have you tested your stamina, say riding for more than 12 hours over a 2-3 days? It's worthwhile to compare notes with others to figure out your approach, but remain honest to yourself and your own intentions. Don’t get drawn into adopting someone else’s plan. And be aware of start line adrenaline hijacking your plan - leaving you cooked after the first day.

Two for Tea

You can tackle the TA solo or as a team of two (or more) sharing a single SPOT tracker. Both approaches have their merits. Teaming up lets you share equipment and egg each other on - however you do need to all get along. Going it alone allows more independence and you'll invariably be able to hook up with compatible riders when you crave company and conversation.

How Long is Long?

3000km is a long way. About half of that distance is on tarmac. The balance on cycle trial, gravel road and some singletrack. Hard nuts will knock it off in the minimum 10 days - an intimidating 300 km daily average with up to 18 hours in the saddle. In touring mode you'll be closer to the 30 day maximum, but are still likely to punch the clock for longer than normal days. The average completion time is happily in the middle at 20-21 days.

Regardless of how fast you ride, most of the strategies to enjoy your TA apply similarly. Your bike travels the same distance and terrain to incur similar wear ’n’ tear. More gear and a heavier bike equals harder work, slower average speed and more ropey bike handling. As Anja observed, everyone has to hoist their laden bike over the same number of gates and fences.

Slowly Grasshopper

More than one experienced voice has opined to not charge into the TA over-cooked and over zealous (unless you’re in the 10 day brigade). Treat the first week as the final stage of your training program. Ease into your work with shorter-than-normal days and build up to your maximum halfway down the North Island.

Preordained Mission

If you’ve got a good gauge on your capability and a head for details it's possible to map out each 'stage', prebook accomodation and shortlist eating options. It can be reassuring for some to dial in what lies ahead each day. But like mice and men, best laid plans can be unravelled by the unexpected. Ollie had his shoes stolen overnight in Whanganui, forcing a detour to a bike shop and delaying his start that day. Paradoxically if you’re an archetypical planner then a 'plan disrupted' can be quite stressful.

Be Prepared

An alternate strategy is to rock with no preconceived itinerary. This lets you call it a day when you’re fried, rather than when you reach the last outpost. An arguably more adventurous (certainly more flexible) approach, but it does rely on a considered selection of equipment and clothing to tackle most eventualities. Our TA Gear List is a useful starting point to compile your own list.

The Middle Way

As a good Buddhist, you’ll invariably (hopefully) borrow from each of these extremes to settle on a philosophy that’s comfortable with your skills, experience and personality.

Camping and Cooking

The most common approach, and consistent with the ‘Be Prepared’ flexible mode, is to carry a lightweight sleeping bag and tent - camping whenever and wherever you run out of puff. Hot meals in cafés and takeaway joints. Cold food around camp.

Full touring mode with complete tent, cooker and cookware is an option - but requires more gear, heavier bikes and tougher progress.

Hopping Town to Town

Generally compatible withe ‘Preordained Mission’, you can bypass camping kit and wallow in the luxury of a motel or backpackers each night. Note you’ll still need emergency overnight shelter incase of an unplanned night out.

Tortoises and Hares

Camping light keeps the weight down and allows maximum flexibility. But it takes a toll on your body. At least occasionally it's worth splashing out on an actual bed to aid recovery and catchup on housekeeping. If you’re pushing hard, then this might be your fastest strategy. Some of the advantages include:

  • A restorative hot shower and warm bed.
  • Hitting the laundry to gift your shorts a machine wash.
  • Respite from bad weather, allowing you to regroup and dry out.
  • Recharging your electronics.
  • Recharging your mojo.
  • Ordering up a pizza!

On the flip side, these home comforts can soften your resolve - making it harder to hop on the horse the next morning. And amidst the surfeit of tourists, hunting down a room can be time consuming and not always successful.

Next time: It's All About the Bike