When an ankle injury cut Larry Blair’s Te Araroa journey short after 250km, he ditched the boots and bought a bike to instead ride the Tour Aotearoa, cycling from Cape Reinga to Bluff, and writing the experiences in his first book Broken Heels and Bicycle Wheels.
Why did you want to do Te Araroa?
I was mid-thirties, alone and rudderless. On paper everything was sorted but that made every day I wasn’t worse. You read a lot about people sorting their act out on these long pilgrimages and in Te Araroa I hoped to work through that crisis in myself and also find where I fit as a ‘NZ European’ in Aotearoa.
How did you feel when you realised you couldn’t walk the Bluff?
I swore a bit on the trail when
my heel decided I should go back to Wellington – I was embarrassed and angry with myself. I had always meant to return to the trail, but as the plantar fasciitis healed so slowly, I had a growing despair – every day my life-changing journey was ebbing from my grasp.
I was pretty chuffed to discover Tour Aotearoa and throw myself into Plan B.
How did you prepare for the ride?
I trained on a bike for a month
over Christmas, up and down the Hutt River mostly, absolute kids stuff. I was tramping fit and comfortable with overnights but my butt certainly wasn’t bike-ready. I was so inept I accidentally bought and wore women’s bike shorts for a bit of my training.
How did your body react to endurance cycling?
I took the daily pies, ice creams and café lunches in my stride.
I never connected to the ‘enduro’ element to the Tour Aotearoa route, I just enjoyed the journey and rode about 60-80km each day. I often found cycling could be too fast, especially when riding with others, but it’s very easy to stop everywhere so I did that a lot.
Did you have any spills?
My most shameful off was at the feet of some stop-go road workers, in front of a long line of traffic outside Nelson. My foot slipped and I just collapsed into these guys. It was so embarrassing.
I think I broke my speed record getting away from there.
How were your interactions with TA walkers?
Mixed, and bittersweet. I met some wonderful walkers on Te Araroa and it was hard to see them along the way and no longer be one. Biking had more solitude for me and I wasn’t in a ‘hiker bubble’ so I crossed paths with a wider range of travellers which I found quite enriching.
Did biking give you a greater sense of freedom than walking?
One hundred per cent yes.
On the bike a five kilometre detour is nothing, so you can indulge yourself, and when you reach your destination for the day your feet are quite willing to explore the area.
What were your biggest changes in gear when you transitioned to bike touring?
I missed my big tramping jacket the most, having swapped that for a useless translucent high-vis cycling thing. My four bikepacking bags carried 55 litres of gear so almost all my tramping stuff came biking aside from the boots, gaiters and hiking poles.
Did you have any long-trail epiphanies?
Good stuff really is everywhere when you get out and about. I had fallen into a deep funk before I left and I hoped Te Araroa was going to save me from my mopey sad-sack ways. Before I finished my journey
I knew I’d found my place again in our beautiful country surrounded by all these generous, funny and interesting people who were delighting in their lives from all over the world. There’s so much light outside your darkness. For anybody going through something, I can’t recommend getting away on a big journey enough. By foot or pedal is fine, though downhills are better on a bike and you can have a pie most days.