Waking up in the wine country of Martinborough in the lower North Island of New Zealand is never a chore. Especially on a morning when the sun rolls over the surrounding sun-burned golden hills at the end of summer.
There was a definite spring in their stride as the members of the MitoQ NZ Tour team stepped out of their accommodations and hopped on their bikes to take a short cycle to breakfast. It wasn’t just the still, clear morning and crisp air that excited them. Neither was it the smell of coffee wafting out the open windows of the cafe as they stacked their bikes and congregated inside to fuel up for the day. It was the fact that the prize of the day was a goal they’d worked a year for, to stand on the shores of the Cook Strait at the bottom of the North Island and try to catch a glimpse of their next challenge – the South Island. After cycling the entire length of the North Island in five stages over the past year, a few of these 50-something-year-olds had quietly wondered if it was a moment that would ever happen.
“How good is this?” said Paul Millet, the tour organizer on the morning of their final day of riding in the North Island. Even the thought of the rugged Rimutaka mountain ranges standing between the team and their goal couldn’t dampen that enthusiasm, after all, what was one more dirt track up and down some hills after what they’d already achieved?
“What a great achievement this has been,” said Millet. “For the whole of the North Island, it’s something like 1700kms (1050 miles), and we’ve still got the South Island to go. So, it’s going to mean so much to the guys when we get to Lyall Bay and look across the Cook Strait. And hopefully, we’ll even get to see the South Island.”
The journey so far
Looking back, the journey so far has passed by without too much drama. There have been no major injuries, and apart from one horror day on leg two in the rain, even punctures have been rare.
Starting with a massive ride down the famous 90-Mile Beach from the Cape Reinga lighthouse at the tip of the top of the North Island, the first day was probably the hardest, Millet said.
“The North Island for me was just full of a lot of experiences. Some highlights for me would be the Timber Trail and the Bridge to Nowhere. Then there was the bad weather and the punctures in the Waikato. But really, the most unique experience was that first day riding down 90-Mile Beach.
“So yeah, it was a tough day because riding on soft sand is not easy. But it was also the most unique and memorable day.”
Friendships to last forever
The other part of the journey that will resonate with everyone for years to come will be the friendships and the laughter, said team member Damian O’Connell.
“Look, I think I’ll remember the camaraderie. It’s been a great bunch of guys and the fact that we’ve got through it, and we’re all still really enthusiastic, we’re all still really good mates, I’ll take that away.”
That – along with what he describes as both the best and worst moment of the journey so far:
“Probably the worst day was when I went off the side of the Whanganui National Park Trail,” he recalled. “Which anyone who’s seen it, will know that it falls away quite steeply. So, it was a terrible day when a lack of skill sent me flying over the edge.
“Luckily, I managed to grab hold of a tree a couple of meters down, and I was a little bit shaken and quite nervous because I knew what lay below me, which was a deep canyon!
“So the boys had to help me up and they formed a bit of a human chain to do that, but not before they all stopped and took photos, which I thought was an odd order of doing things!
“But afterward we looked at the photos and had a laugh. You just think ‘my goodness me, that could have been so bad, but instead it was just part of an amazing day’. So yeah – that’s both the worst day and the best day!”
For many of the team, the interest of MitoQ has always been a curiosity. After all, the team is made up of guys who are all on the wrong side of 50 and “mostly broken” as O’Connell observes. But over the 1700kms of riding from the top to the bottom of the North Island, the reasons have become pretty clear.
“You know, when MitoQ approached us,” said O’Connell, “I was quite surprised because we’re all 50-something and we’re no oil paintings.
“But the more I think about it, the more it does make sense because MitoQ is really about looking after yourself at a cellular level. At our age, we need that kind of help because we do a lot of self-sabotage, and we really need to overcome that and put back in because it’s really taxing doing legs of this trip and then to go home and be present with your family and try and share the experience with them.”
And that’s the core of the message right there – that it’s not just about being able to ride an insanely long distance in middle age. It’s more-so about having the energy to live a balanced and fulfilled life of passions, family and work without having to compromise on any of them.
“I think that’s the reason MitoQ were interested in sponsoring us,” reflected Millet. “They were proving a point about how we can look after ourselves at a cellular level. So, I’m not wiped out after doing all this adventurous stuff, and when we get home, it’s our family and work that actually also see the benefits.”
One big happy family
After another hot, hot day, the MitoQ Tour of NZ team arrived in Wellington at a fast clip, looking as fresh as they had when they’d left Martinborough in the morning.
Having made it to their destination, they stood on the shore at Lyall Bay snapping photos to mark the occasion. Then, they enjoyed a couple of beers at a nearby pub before packing up their bikes and heading back home to Auckland where they’ll plot their assault on the South Island.
“We’re probably now going to wait until the winter’s over,” said Millet when asked when the next leg will be. “The South Island's a lot colder than the North, and being so isolated, we’ve got to make each leg a bit longer. But we can’t wait and it’s just going to be epic.
“I think that’s the word, really – epic. As one of the guys said just now, he never thought a year ago he would be here, even halfway. So, you know, I think everyone’s got something out of it and we’re just loving being together as a bunch of mates and then going home to our families to tell them all about it afterward.
“And that's the thing, it’s not just about the guys here. It’s also about our families back home – My son in Australia follows us on Instagram and sends me messages saying ‘Dad, I’m so proud of you’, and my daughter is really getting into her cycling as well. So yeah, it affects the whole family. It’s just brilliant.”
Stay tuned. Because there’s much more to come!