Sunday, February 28, 2016

Family fun in the Far North

My most anticipated ride of 2015 was actually not until the first week of this year. 

Despite all the road racing I've been doing, I'm a cycle-tourist at heart.  After very successfully sharing that passion with Sarah back in August (a somewhat outrageous month in NZ to try touring for the first time), I figured it was time to give my beautiful daughters a taste of it.  

I've been to Bluff once, about 16 years ago, but have only been north of Auckland on a small number of occasions, and never further than Goat Island. Aside from my own urge to colour in that bit of my Age of Empires-style map of NZ, my proposed route - from Cape Reinga down to Auckland - was surely one of the flatter rides possible in NZ, and I thought, a sensible taster.  The Kennett Bros seemed to think it was a good idea too, and it would be a matter of linking together the Far North Cycleway (from Cape Reinga to the Rawene Ferry), the Kauri Coast Cycleway (from Rawene to Dargaville), and the Kaipara Missing Link (from Dargaville to Auckland).

Apart from keeping the riding vertically modest, I had in mind lugging all the gear too, which I hoped would help with the not insubstantial length of the ride.

That lead to my first logistical success.  Simon was very happy to lend me his BOB Trailer with its ample capacity for four sets of evening-wear.  But with the sandy stretch of Ninety Mile Beach early on in our ride, and a smattering of gravel later on, I realised I might have to take my Giant CRX (flat-bar roadie) with the fattest tyre I could find that would fit.

A little internet sleuthing later, I was able to indulge my 2nd or 3rd favourite hobby - shopping on the internet (the others would be riding, and writing about riding). Courtesy of the Robert Axle Project I had soon landed a 142x12mm through axle which would allow me to hitch the trailer up to my Yeti Big Top.

After that win, there were several fails which eventually saw me starting from scratch with the route. First, I discovered that Cape Reinga is not only far from Wellington, but it's pretty damn far from anywhere else too.  The Kennett Bros made the first leg sound tantalisingly simple ("From Cape Reinga, cycle down Highway 1..."), but it soon became apparent that getting four Wellingtonians to the top of the country would be expensive and time consuming, and throw in four mountainbikes and a trailer, a thoroughly non-trivial exercise.  

The second hurdle was the Kaipara Harbour.  The crossing of the Hokianga was a piece of cake, with the Rawene ferry running regularly to a published schedule.  On the contrary, the Kaipara Harbour was again looking like mega-bucks, and it would be dependent on both tides and weather.

There are some things I do very confidently, but I have a bit of a mental block when it comes to picking up the phone.  In fact, dealing with logistics by actually talking to people is at the other end of the scale to shopping on the internet.  A few years ago, I'd even planned an entire 4800km trip around France so that the only conversations I would need to have were relating to food and beds...

After scouring the 'net for boats and vans, I started to get very cool on the idea, and put my mind to finding an alternative route.

I wasn't so worried about the girls' distance capabilities, but time was going to be the scarce commodity.  We weren't going to be able to spirit Kaitlyn away from Wellington for too long, and I wanted to spend some time visiting my extended family in Auckland before boosting North.  I wanted us to get to the Cape, catch the Rawene Ferry, and to see Tane Mahuta.  After factoring the travel from Wellington, and putting a couple of dots on the map, it was time to dust off the MTBO skills and make a plan.

It didn't take long to materialise, and despite its complexity, it looked like it would have a nice balance between riding and playing tourist.  Kaitlyn was happy to fly to and from Auckland, which bought us a fat stack of time, and Khulie thought it would be fun to join her on the first flight.  Sarah and I would drive the bikes up, overnight in the Central North Island somewhere, and meet them at the airport at lunchtime.  From there we'd go and have a night with the family out at Muriwai.

We'd book a motel in Kaitaia, and would drive from Auckland, pop up to the Cape in the car, after ditching our bikes on the way through.  After a night back in Kaitaia, the riding would begin.  Opononi, about 100km away from Kaitaia seemed like a good target for Day 1, and then Kaikohe for Day 2, and a short ride to Kerikeri on our third day would put me within 90-odd km of the car back in Kaitaia, which I could knock out in the afternoon, sans trailer and companions...

The plan didn't seem madness, but nor was it going to be a walk in the park. Khulio has been clocking up some 100km rides on the roadie, but we'd be on MTBs, and the Timber Trail ride earlier in the year had been both ambitious and only 85km.  The second day, about 100km, unlike the first, had some serious vertical gain in it, which I decided to keep fairly quiet about.  On the other hand, I pimped the hell out of the last day, clocking in at a mere 40km!!

Simon peer-reviewed my "final" (and complete) route, and gave it a thumbs up. And that was that.  We all got about our preparations, including, in my case, a monster one-day ride during which I'd cover the total tour distance and then some!  At least once or twice a week, I'd declare "I can't wait until our cycle tour" or some variation of that, just like a broken record.  

The final tweak to the plan happened at the New World carpark in Carterton about a week before we left.  I had four things in my hand, and managed to drop the only one that would mind.  I smashed the top inch of the screen of my phone, rendering that part of it useless.  It was the 28th of December, which is a pretty shit time to need anything in NZ, and over the next days, I became intimately aware of which of my regularly-used apps supported screen rotation...  I tracked down a repair chap who not only lived near Auckland Airport, but was cheap as chips, had a screen in stock, and was happy to receive visitors on 4 January.  Highly recommended, and a life-saver.

Sarah and I left Wellington on the 3rd, and made a beeline for Simon and Sarah's in Rangataua.  Since they had a fullish house, we decided to decline the offer of a bed, and in turn, Simon declined our suggestion of a ride up to the Turoa ski-field carpark, 1000vm and 17km uphill from Ohakune.

Part of his justification was the low cloud, which meant there'd be no view to speak of at the top.  In that moment, I realised I'd never actually gone up for the view - the road itself is reason enough for me to ride up.  It was going to be Sarah's first time up there, and reminded me of a pivotal conversation I had with Dave Sharpe at the start of our Raid Ruapehu - where he'd suggested that continuing to fend off Sarah's advances might not be such a good idea.

In any case, Sarah and I made it up to the top, and while the climb didn't trouble me, the descent sure did.  My hands froze like never before, and while I didn't get the sharp pain that coldness sometimes brings, my fingers stiffened up to the extent that I needed help to undo my helmet at the end of the ride.

We hung out with Simon, Sarah and co for a while, before heading as far north as Taumarunui for the night.

The phone mending and airport mission went well the next day, and we enjoyed catching up with my Aunt Rose and Uncle George that afternoon, and Para and Theo out at Muriwai that evening.  The following day was action-packed too, including me having to sprint up a massive sand-dune, hoping very much to find the good-as-new phone that had dropped out of the torn seam in my rarely-used rear pocket (ironically, I'd put my phone in there on account of the zip...).

So, to the riding...

Day 1

The next morning, the women started their ride a bit sooner than I did - once we were ready to roll out, my first task was to move the car from our motel.  I parked up across the road from the Police Station, which seems an unlikely place for a car to be broken into.

I met up with Sarah and the girls back on the main drag, and smashed back a coffee.  Then, it was time to hit the road.

We left town on the Kaitaia-Awaroa Road.  Sarah, Kaitlyn and Khulan rode ahead, while I lumbered along with the trailer behind.  About 1km short of Ahipara, on the coast, we turned inland, and made our way up the first of a few climbs.  I'd found the handling of the bike a bit off at first, but was managing the mass OK.

The road was lovely, with very few cars, sweet native bush, and for the most part, I got to admire my family from my vantage point at the back of the peloton.

One of the nicer things about touring alone is the ease with which you can stop - for photos, or anything else for that matter.  Being quicker than your cobbers was similarly useful, and whenever anything took my fancy, I reeled the bike in, snapped away, and then chased them down.

Something that took my fancy...

There was very little navigation required, though we did make the left at Herekino as recommended by the Kennett Bros.

In much the same way as Khulan and I had once watched Sarah being harrassed by a magpie 100m up the road, this time Khulan was ahead when a rather large and vocal Rottweiler sprinted towards her.  His fence was of the log variety, and he ran through it like it wasn't there.  A very high-pitched scream filled the air, and we all watched the dog, powerless to do anything to change its mind.  Luckily, it retreated, as did our collective heart rates to their previous positions...!

While Sarah and Khulan had ridden together a fair bit on the Wairarapa back-roads, Kaitlyn had little experience drafting.  After some initial hesitation, and some coaching, she soon got the hang of it, and quickly learned to enjoy the shelter that sister and step-mom had to offer!  So far, so good.

Our major milestone for the morning came at Broadwood - the first shop we'd seen since Kaitaia.  We browsed for quite some time, before making our selections and enjoying them on the bench out front.

There was an impressive statue across the road, which I'd mistaken for stone.  He'd actually been carved out of a decent size kauri log.

Not long out of Broadwood, we justified the use of our four mountainbikes for the first time.  Even though the original motivation for bringing them had been Ninety Mile Beach - which we hadn't ended up riding on - the gravel road we headed up a few minutes out of Broadwood was 20km long, and was all the sweeter for our fat tyres.

Paponga Road
Both the quality of the road, and the quality of the scenery were off the hook, and it was also nice to be off the relatively windy and narrow state highway (even with its low traffic volume).


We had subjected ourselves to a bit more climbing, but we kept the pace civilised, and enjoyed being able to ride side by side a bit more.  I was well used to the trailer by now, and the tiny tyre behind my 29" bike wheels was pumped up real hard (I had no spare tube for it), and the whole package seemed to be coping really well with the occasional rough sections.

The road was very quiet indeed, though we weren't completely alone.  We occasionally met a car, and even a couple of people on foot.  This sign, near the end of the road, had us scratching our heads for a bit...!

We got there in the end, and I'm sure you have...!

By the time we started the final descent into Kohukohu, we had about 200vm to peel off.  I kept waiting for the upper reaches of the Hokianga Harbour to come into view, but we got only glimpses, and they weren't much to write home about.

At Kohukohu, we found a table at the local cafe, and upon hearing the next Ferry wouldn't leave from down the road for almost an hour, settled in for afternoon tea.  The girls didn't seem to appreciate the significance of an actual shop, and I almost had to force them to buy something.

The warm pulled-pork and apple sauce sandwich caught my eye, and not long afterwards, I was proclaiming it the best sandwich I'd ever had.  The iced-coffee was pretty sweet too.

Beautiful daughters!
After first admiring the Hokianga Arch of Remembrance...

... we figured we'd better follow the sign to "New Zealand's Oldest Bridge" 100m down the road.  What a fizzer!! It might have been built long ago, but it hadn't been particularly ambitious!

Built sometime between 1843 and 1851, from Sydney sandstone
The ferry terminal was only a few minutes down the road, and we were in good time.  The settlement at Kohuhohu looked not only lovely, but like it had been there a good long while.

It had also been a good long while since the rugby field had been mown! 

The Rawene Ferry was just arriving as we pulled into the waiting area.  It docked, and unloaded about a dozen cars, before we made our own way on.  Very exciting!!

Boarding the Rawene Ferry

The short trip cost only a few dollars each, and took about 20 minutes.  Apart from the novelty factor, and the views, it was a nice opportunity to further rest our legs for the final 25km ride into Opononi.

Rawene itself
We had one short climb out of Rawene, and then a couple of bumps to negotiate.  Rather than metres, it seemed more useful to describe them as "about-half-a-Mt-Vic" - a more familiar metric.

Not long after Rawene, we joined the SH12 from Kaikohe, at which point we were given a nice teaser of what was to come the following day.

I gave the first climb one hell of a nudge, and at the top had that horrible metallic taste which, whatever its actual origin, I've always thought of as my legs...

We proceeded somewhat more sedately, though the mass which I'd successfully defeated on the way up the hill, defeated me on the way down, and I had to wait for the girls at the bottom too. Unfortunately the somewhat intriguing shed was closed for the day.

John's Fair Dinkum Kiwi Shed
My legs weren't quite so eager on the final hill, and by the time we reached the Opononi "city" limits, we were all quite glad to see it!

As we passed the various stores at the northern end, any food anxiety quickly evaporated, and we checked into our cabin overlooking the harbour before heading out for dinner and to get breakfast supplies.

For the first time ever on a cycle tour, I enjoyed heading out in a pair of jandals.  Given the weight of the trailer, its capacity, and my long, tense history with this particular issue, it seemed crazy to skimp on this comfort once again!

Our cabin on the hill, bathed in sunshine
The campground owner had recommended the fish'n'chip shop, so we got dinner there, and due to the long wait, I popped back to the 4 Square for the second of three visits for some crackers and dip to tide us over.

Back at the cabin, I proudly presented some entertainment (also a first)!!

PASS THE PIGS YO!  And that's a leaning jowler, if I'm not mistaken...

Day 2

The 100km to Opononi had gone well, but today's 100km had some decent climbing in it.  First a pair of 100vm climbs to loosen the legs, and then a 400vm whopper up into the Waipoua Forest.  Err, and then another 500vm climb with a few short downhill sections which probably meant it was more like 600-700!  But, from there it was mostly downhill into Kaikohe...

Kaitlyn was rightfully nervous about this, and I could tell that her subtle change in speed this morning was more to do with a pacing strategy than because her legs were tired from the day before.

Opononi sort of flowed into Omapere, and before we'd really got going, I was diving into a petrol station cafe for a coffee!

It was worth a bit of extra riding out to the lookout over the harbour mouth, though the book was wrong about where on the climb it was, and I got a couple of dark looks once the troops realised we were going up some more.

Finally, a decent harbour view!
About half an hour later, there was another mandatory coffee stop at Morrell's Cafe in Waimamaku.  The coffee was good, and it seemed rude not to have a scone too.

Sarah and Khulan drifted off the front as the road tipped up, and I rode behind Kaitlyn, admiring the aplomb with which she dispatched one of the longest climbs she's done in one hit.

The scenery continued to be fantastic, including a couple of fine examples of a  tree-within-a-tree.

Soon, we had forest on both sides of us, and I kept scanning the bush for unfamiliar giants.  But, for the time-being, it looked like pretty standard fare.  We crested the top, and had a nice fast run down to the carpark for Tane Mahuta.

Rather than worry about unlocked bikes, or face the rigmarole of digging out the big combination lock and wrestling with it for the 3 or 4 attempts it usually demands before the thing opens, we walked our bikes along the boardwalk.

It really was quite amazing how close we got to Tane Mahuta before actually seeing it.  And what a sight he was.  The scale really was very impressive, and DOC had a couple of well placed platforms from which to admire the biggest kauri alive.

King of the Forest (with a few puny humans hiding in the ferns for scale)
We sat for about 15 minutes, before heading off.  A few kilometres later, we took a gravel road up to another carpark, and from there we walked for about an hour - here, the kauri were more common, though they still crept up on us. 

Two sisters in front of the Four Sisters
Back on the road, we had a lot of elevation to peel off down to the Waipoua River.  Unfortunately I was at the back of the bunch, so wasn't able to bring the mighty kauri-squeeze to my companions' attention. 

Darby and Joan
Once at the river, we took a very pot-holed gravel road down to the Waipoua Forest Cafe, enjoying a sandwich each, and a coffee for those inclined. Unfortunately we were a day or two early to enjoy the labours of the carny crowd that were setting up for a show.

I'd misread the map somewhat, and the long gravel climb I was expecting was actually mostly on the highway still.  While the Tumens were quicker, Kaitlyn continued to do a great job of knocking out the hard yards.

As we neared the top, I was able to point out the long (and relatively benign) ridge to our left that we'd be continuing our climb on.

This gravel road was something I'd really been looking forward to.  While Paponga Road the day before hadn't taken us anywhere the highway wouldn't have, this one was about 50km long, and was taking us well off the beaten track.

Simon's always had a great nose for roads like this, and I've thoroughly enjoyed them on our various trips together.  I hoped my current companions would get a similar thrill out of this one. 

Heaven on earth?
The road was as kind to us as I'd hoped, and the gradient was very mellow.  The views from close to 600 metres above sea level were also pretty majestic.

Waipoua Forest from above
There were occasional short descents.  These were invariably fast, and the combination of the rigid carbon fork, and the rattly trailer behind typically saw me lag behind.

On one such descent, Kaitlyn did a fine job of bringing her bike safely to a halt on a completely deflated tyre.  I asked her what she'd hit, but we soon discovered that the answer was "absolutely nothing".  There was no patching this sucker!

Something missing!
After slowly mending our only puncture of the trip - taking the opportunity for an impromptu rest - we got underway again.

We soon passed a couple of beekeepers, who must have been fair sweltering inside their suits.  At least they weren't being stung, I suppose, and nor were we. 

I made sure to zip my jersey right up before passing these two and their thousands of charges
Not long after this, we dropped down to a major intersection.  There, Kaitlyn experienced a similar reaction to the kilometre markers on the Timber Trail, which had taunted her in the middle half of the ride.

Here, a sign pointing towards Kaikohe included the distance:  a troubling 41 kilometres.  She was feeling pretty pooped, after two seriously big climbs, and a long day already, by virtue of our kauri-tourism.

Say what?!?!?!
The thought that we still had another two-thirds of what we'd covered to go really upset her.  The poor thing wasn't particularly conscious of the fact that we still had a lot of altitude, and nor that the quiet roads might easily afford some power-assist from the old man.

For parts of the next climb, I rode alongside her, and with a hand in the small of her back, gave her a few extra watts.

A long descent followed, and hopefully reassured her that at least some of my reassurances were accurate.  I took the next hill as an opportunity for a big interval, and successfully rode the Tumens off my wheel, all the while towing the trailer and helping Kaitlyn up the hill...!

We stopped at the top for a snack, and by virtue of the cell phone reception, busted out the Duolingo app on my phone for a French lesson or two.

The next descent was the roughest we'd had to date, and I was pleased to stop for a couple of photos...

... including one of the strangest signs I've seen.

One of these things is not like the other...
While the forestry operation had been fairly photogenic, it also brought with it significant deterioration of the road.  Corrugations were now frequent, and while the road was now fairly flat, it was no longer a pleasant surface to ride on.

After a long while, we broke out onto the seal, and a few short climbs later, we turned right onto the State Highway that connected Kaikohe to Rawene and Opononi.

We soon arrived in Kaikohe, and I was pleased to note that Kaitlyn perked up a lot, once the positive psychology took over and her fatigue was overcome by a strong sense of satisfaction.

In an attempt to distract her from her labours, I'd nattered away almost incessantly, at one point making the point that every cycle tourist in the history of the world had at some point felt exactly like she did.  She was joining a BIG club!

It took us a little while to find our accommodation, and were welcomed by a lovely proprietor, even though the building wasn't much to look at.  We took his dinner recommendation too, and enjoyed strolling down the main drag afterwards. 

Pretty (x4)
Before heading back to base, we did our grocery shopping, only barely resisting the temptation to buy some mutton...! 

Not something you see every day!
Day 3

The weather forecast hadn't been too good for our final day's riding, and when we scraped ourselves out of bed, it looked like the met office had got it right.  Gone were the blue skies of the previous days.

The breakfast and packing routine was now pretty familiar, and it didn't take us long to get organised.  Although the girls had a relatively short day through to Kerikeri, I had another 90km to ride, and then a 100km drive to reunite with them.

We rolled out of town the way we'd arrived the evening before, and picked up the access path onto a 14km rail trail.  Simon had been keen for us to do more of Pou Herenga Tai (the Twin Coast Cycle Trail), but neither end of it was particularly well placed (for us, or at all, by the looks of it).

Don't mind if we do!

However, this short intersection of that trail with our north-east traverse was perfect.

Not so perfect was the light drizzle, though it wasn't cold, and every so often, we had the opportunity to get out of it for a bit.

Towards the northern end of the trail, the cattle stop cum motorcycle barriers became really frequent, which was a shame, because I needed help with the trailer at either end of them.  The trailer was just a bit wide to fit past a timber posts planted squarely in the middle of either end of the cattle stop, and the length of my truck-and-trailer unit meant it was nigh on impossible to lift the trailer and wheel the bike at the same time.

The views of Lake Omapere might have been nicer with clear skies, but the moody gray cloud had its place.

No sooner had we emerged from the trail on the outskirts of Okaihau (on SH1), than the heavens really opened. We initially cowered under a big pine tree, then made a run for the shop awnings on the main drag.

It very quickly became apparent that the deluge wasn't going to ease off any time soon, so we relocated to the cafe up the road.  The wonderful folk inside greeted us with towels, which was not only a nice gesture, but also a sensible way of preventing us from dripping all over their floor.  Luckily the seats were wooden, so we didn't feel bad about sitting down.  We ordered an early lunch, and enjoyed the temporarily dry surroundings.

While we were sitting there, an old timer came over, and started explaining how to calculate the gear inches of a track bike.  He would only tell us his first name - Bill - but mentioned that he'd been pretty handy on the track back in the 50s, even saying he'd held a world-record at one stage!

Eventually, it was time for us to go.  We promptly crossed SH1, and began our 21km run into Kerikeri, along Waiare and Wiroa Roads.  The rain had abated slightly, but it was still pretty damn wet.  The road was one of the busiest we'd ridden on too, but that said, the traffic volumes were still pretty damn low.

Before too long, we were on the outskirts of Kerikeri, and not long after that, were checking into our motel on the far end of the main drag.

While the girls started thinking about who would get first shower, I began organising myself for the ride back to Kaitaia.

The motellier offered to drive me there, but despite the conditions, I wasn't keen to know how much that would cost.  Instead, I unhitched the trailer, swapped out the through-axle with the original Fox one I'd been hauling, and organised a few tools, drink, and some One Square Meals for my ride.  And, before I had a chance to cool down too much, was off.

I joined SH10 at Waipapa, an immediately became conscious of my stealthy black raincoat.  It was still pouring, and there was much, much, much more traffic than I'd become used to.

Before too long, I stopped and put my fluoro Gabba on over my coat, which made me immediately feel more conspicuous, and despite the nasty feeling of the wet coat against my upper arms, was glad I'd done so.

I stopped at Kaeo for a coffee, and asked the barista about the likely road conditions up ahead.  She recommended I call in at the petrol station, and there I was told that the route I had planned was likely to be pretty cut up in this rain.

I really wasn't enjoying the highway, so when my GPS bleated that I'd missed a turn soon after, I wheeled around, and made my way onto Weber Road.  I was very pleasantly surprised, and while my expectations had been set pretty low by the service station attendant, the gravel road was showing less sign of the rain than the highway was.

I almost immediately turned onto Weber Waihapa Road, and started climbing.  So far so good.

I was further reassured by a couple of cycle tourists I soon met coming my way.  From astride their CX bikes, they reported that the road had been absolutely fine, and pointing at my fat semi-slicks, told me I'd be very fast.  Excellent.

I made the next left onto Otangaroa Road, and a while later a right onto Fern Flat Road.  That second intersection signalled the start of a particularly lovely climb, on one of the finest gravel roads I've had the pleasure to ride.  The bush cover was stunning, and it was rather fun watching all the water running this way and that.

On that front, the descent was even better, and it was just a shame that my camera was out of the picture, so to speak.

Near the bottom of the descent, Fern Flat became Kohumaru Road, and there was even some tarseal for a while.  I made the left onto Oruru Road, and soon after was shocked to find a cafe!  Peria was an actual place afterall, and it was a pleasure to stop in at the Bush Fairy Dairy for a pie and a coffee!   

The hot food was great, and the weather was clearing too.  I felt compelled to stop and take a photo, just because I could. 

Peria Road
Just before I passed a wildlife park of some sort, the gravel ended for good.  Even though progress improved slightly, it was still a bit disappointing.  Not so much though that I was prepared to take the long-cut I'd mapped through Clough and Church Roads.  My legs were fading, and SH1 afforded both much more space than SH10 had and a faster route to the car.

It was somewhat of a relief to arrive in Kaitaia to find said car unmolested.  I'd also not forgotten the key, which would have been similarly disastrous. 

The drive back to Kerikeri passed quickly enough and I was soon both clean and reunited with my family. 

While in many ways the afternoon had been a happy ending, the solo ride in foul conditions had been an abrupt change.  I'd been expecting a turbo boost after decoupling from the trailer, but of course, I just went faster.  The sensations were largely the same, in some ways testament to the sound logic of me towing the whole party's gear. 

The next day, we visited Waitangi, and then caught a boat from Paihia to Russell for lunch. Later that afternoon, we dropped Kaitlyn at the airport, before driving as far south as Taihape for the night, in the ever-welcoming Taihape Motels.

By the time we arrived back in Wellington the next day, I was pretty shattered, having driven almost exactly 1000km since Kaitaia.   One of the big frustrations of doing anything cycling-related away from home is the hassle of getting there, and however much I'd love to explore more of Northland, its possible that the logistical costs are too great for it to happen any time soon. 

The trip had been a roaring success in almost all other respects.

Kaitlyn, Khulan and Sarah (from most surprising to least) had coped incredibly well with the schedule, and had seemed to have a wonderful time.  I am an incredibly lucky man to have these three amazing women in my life, and even luckier that I'm able to share my passion of riding with them. 

The surroundings had also been among the finest I've enjoyed, to the extent that I wonder if there's a dud gravel road anywhere in Northland!  Now, if only someone would invent a teleporter, I'd be back up there in a flash!!!