Finn got a bike for his birthday last October and was sooo stoked. He was on it constantly, up and down the driveway (only occasionally in the bushes beside the driveway) and up the hills around the block multiple times without stacking it once. We even ventured to a BMX track where he hared around like Evel Knievel, scaring the poo out of me. When we headed to Enzed in January he wanted to bring his bike too.
Cycling was a great idea; New Zealand bike trails kick arse. Being based in Arrowtown was perfect as there’s over 110 kilometres of cycling trails to choose from, and a bike rental. We made a day of it out to Kawarau Bridge and back… a challenging distance, but over fairly gentle terrain. It was a bit of an experiment really; I was curious to see how the boys would handle it.
Finn and I got our own bikes while J’s had a tagalong hooked onto it for Rory. After loading up at the bakery with vegemite rolls, drinks and lolly cake we rode a couple of blocks to the Arrow River and got onto the 99km long Queenstown Trail, heading downstream.
Riding beside the river with gravel flying from under my tyres and the boys bouncing over the track up ahead I suddenly had a moment of great clarity. You know, where it feels like a switch flicks on, everything seems sharper, vivider, and you know you’ll never forget it? … The boys are 6 and 4 now, and starting to make permanent memories; experiences that will stay with them their entire lives. I really hope today was one for them too.
I raced along with the wind in my face, yelling out to the boys and grinning my head off. It’d been way too long since I’d done this – I’d forgotten how much I loved it! Especially mountain biking, not just riding on roads. The forest kinda felt like it was in Europe, even though I’ve never actually been there. There’s so many exotic trees in Arrowtown thanks to early settlers that nearly the whole town flames gold and red in autumn.
As it was midsummer we rode through deep, rich greens splashed with rainbow-hued highlights.
White daisies, pink foxgloves, golden native toi toi grass, and no doubt loads of yellow Scottish gorse but I couldn’t tell because it wasn’t flowering. Bumblebees and dragonflies and cute little native birds. Maybe a hobbit. NO snakes, NO spiders, NO killer crocs and NO deadly jellyfish. Enzed rulz.
We had several bridge crossings; it was hot and a swim would’ve been nice but did you know all Kiwi rivers come straight off a glacier? Just after crossing Swain Bridge Finn’s handlebars kind of fell off but the repair kit the rental place had provided had an Allen key and it was an easy fix.
The trail veered away from the river and got more open, sunnier and hilly. Had to wait for Finny a few times because he flatly refused to shift down a gear or three… even though he’s fine with it at home. Other sage advice such as standing on his pedals to give his bum cheeks a break and keeping his mouth closed so bugs don’t fly in was also ignored.
I’d hung back to get a photo of the boys crossing, and when I reached the other side I was 95% sure they’d turned right. A few hundred metres further along I found them waiting for me at another junction.
… Arrowtown’s so picturesque, you know? Like a village of gingerbread schisthouses.
… Arrowtown knows its schist.
… Volcanic Arrowtown: HOT SCHIST!!
… Arrowtown Schist: a brick.
… (Hehehehheh I crack myself up. If you’ve got one I’d love to see it in the comments!)
Crossed the river via a nifty underpass, then encountered a long sealed road section. It seemed to be all downhill, but as a bonus it seemed downhill on the return leg as well.
One more swing bridge – Edgar Bridge. It’s huge and spans the Kawarau Gorge, not far from our turnaround point. It’s reassuringly solid, but if you’re worried about heights you’d probably walk across. Or if you’re like me and like heights you should still walk across so you can enjoy the view without veering to the side hitting your handlebars on the netting and crashing.
We knew we were getting close, but after a cool little tunnel we had another climb – we rode overlooking Whitechapel Rd, the vineyards of the Gibbston Valley and The Remarkables mountain range. So many wineries! You could do a cycling wine tour except for the drawback of getting smashed and still having to cycle yourself around. On high tracks with no fences next to fricken deep gorges full of sharp schist and glacier water where you’d never be found again. But again, at least there’s no crocs.
Finn started saying he was super tired, and stopping on the steep bits. Rory looked a bit weary too. I was super impressed with their patience and stamina today.
We spotted the deep turquoise of the Kawarau River as it joined with the Arrow and used it to coax them onwards. Once we finally reached the top of the rise we had a brilliant long downhill run on the other side. Only problem was there were a couple of dirt roads intersecting it and we had to keep stopping. One time Finny, busily enjoying the burst of speed and unfamiliar with the stopping distance required on gravel, came in a bit hot and ploughed straight into the back of me. I’d seen him out of the corner of my eye just before he hit and was expecting us both to hit the dirt and at the very least get a nasty gash on my leg, but amazingly it was just a bit of a scratch and a bruise. He was untouched and seemed to have quite enjoyed it.
Then finally, the Kawarau Bridge! And lunch!
Was a bit nostalgic, it’d been 13 years since I’d been there during my first visit to Enzed. We ate in the shade, the quiet of the countryside punctuated by the occasional piercing scream of people plunging off the AJ Hackett bungy platform. I made that noise too when I first did that jump; I’m not normally a screamer but I had absolutely no say in the matter. After a couple of seconds I realised I was screaming, managed to get myself under control and morphed it into a “WOOOHOOO YEAH THAT WAS TOTALLY AN INTENTIONAL WHOOP OF EXCITEMENT AND NOT A COMPLETELY INVOLUNTARY SCREECH WAIL OF TERROR.” I don’t think anyone bought it though.
After a bit of sightseeing and a rest it was time to turn for home. It was at this point that Finn realised how far we’d come and thus how far we had to go back and completely lost it. He screamed nonstop for the first k or so – the uphill bit – refusing to ride and just walking alongside his bike. Slowly, stopping constantly, and periodically yelling “I NEVER WANT TO RIDE AGAIN!!” I had thoughts of ohmygod I can’t believe we’re doing this to him, what have we done? I’m a terrible mother! Maybe we can walk back to the bridge and get a maxi taxi?
But once we got past that first long uphill climb we got some easier downhills again and Finn realised it wasn’t all that bad. He settled down and to my relief just got on with it. We actually ended up being quicker on the way back, even though I was quite happy to hop off and walk up some of the hills with him. On the others, the leg-pumping climbs were challenging enough that my quads burned and I felt my heartbeat pounding in my ears. I vaguely remembered something about muscle memory and hoped it was where my body remembered how strong it used to be and would quit complaining so bloody much.
About halfway back, after a pee break, Finny suddenly had an epiphany. After we’d been asking him the whole way out and the whole way back to use his gears on the hills he finally decided to do it. Then he went haring past John yelling “CAN’T CATCH ME DAD!” and I nearly fell off my bike laughing. Ro was much more confident on the tagalong by this stage too; he’d been a bit uncertain at the start but by the end of the trip was casually eating an apple while holding on one-handed.
I was glad to finish with my favourite bit – under the sun dappled green canopy next to the river. It was now in direct sunlight and busy with people – sunbaking on the riverbanks, walking with prams, cycling, running, innertubing, swinging on the rope swing.
As we got back to the dusty carpark I was sorry to be finishing, despite my tender arse, back, twitching quads and all-round stuffedness. We made it! Had a very proud mummy moment. But I was also slightly annoyed/guilty at myself for having doubted Finny at all, even if it was because of completely natural protective instincts. Dammit it’s hard being a parent sometimes, especially when our own biological urges sabotage us! Of course he was daunted, and looking back from the very end of that second 12.5km stretch he worried he couldn’t do it, he’s only SIX! But he did do it, all 25km, and in the process amazed and impressed me and taught me not to underestimate my boys.
We tell them they can do anything they set their mind to, and of course I believe it, but there’s this internal struggle going on where I want to protect them from all hardships and discomfort. That won’t do either of us any favours though, so *I* just need to harden up a bit. Don’t be like, say, a crocodile parent who makes the kids fend for themselves, but don’t be a helicopter parent either. Try to be like this dude…
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, and more than once I was sure we were making a big mistake, but if it’d been 100% comfortable it wouldn’t have been a real adventure. Finn asked if it’d been far for me and in all honesty I said yes it was – in the old days it wouldn’t have been but it’s been several years. It felt great and I look forward to many more, as the kids get bigger.
Returned the bikes with 12 minutes to spare out of 4 hours.
The bike rental guy said “Time to get an icecream hey?” And about 10 seconds later as we were leaving Rory goes “Can we get an icecream?” Copy that.