Monday, 5 April 2021

2020 – The year of Covid-19

The last time I posted a story on this blog was in November 2019 – 16 months ago. Much of that time has been rather uninteresting with regard to cycling. Of course, there was COVID-19 in 2020 and the resulting lockdown, during which nobody got to go anywhere.

We had planned a trip to Central Otago, and booked an “Around the Mountains” tour with Pure Trails for April 2020, but of course, sadly, that was cancelled because of the lockdown. It was a tour I had really wanted to do for some time, and we were hugely disappointed when it didn’t eventuate. We thought of booking the same tour again for April this year (because I love the autumn colours in Central Otago), but for various reasons, we decided against it, and it turns out that was the right call.

Since then, we have had two trips away which involved some cycling, one to Hawke’s Bay in November 2020, and one to Whanganui in February 2021, and I will write up those trips separately.

But apart from these, we’ve only done local rides, which are not worth reporting on separately.

However, some rides have resulted in interesting photos, so this post is a bit of a summary of the last 16 months.

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In December 2019, I attended the annual Scottish Country Dancing Summer School (yes, I am still heavily involved in SCD), which was held in Cambridge. Our accommodation was at St Peter’s School, which is right by the Avantidrome and the cycle trail alongside the Waikato River – part of Te Awa cycle trail. Our daily classes were in the Cambridge township, a 5 km ride from the school.

A great opportunity to do some cycling, as well as dancing, so a friend and I took along our folding bikes (she borrowed John’s), and biked to class each day. On the first day, we had a bit of trouble finding the entrance to the cycle track, which turned out to be tucked in behind the Velodrome. The start of it is a glorious descent down to almost river level. 


Overlooking the Waikato River, from the Te Awa cycle trail

It was quite exhilarating to zoom down the winding track, which flattened out after a long downhill. Little ups and downs along the way went through farmland, with some cattle and lots of pukekos. But at the back of my mind was the thought “we went down such a long way, we will have to start climbing soon”. And so it was.  

I usually ride an e-bike because I am not good at climbing hills. But we had brought the non-electric bikes, so I would have to rely on my own internal motor and leg-power to get me up the hill. As we approached the town, I could see that it was a long way above us, and that I would definitely have trouble getting up the hill.

The road up to town level was relatively short, but steep! I think I managed to pedal up for about three metres, before I stalled and had to walk the rest of the way. But even walking and pushing my bike was a mission. I maintain that I am a Dutchie, and was never designed to climb up hills! My friend managed fine, and patiently waited for me to come huffing and puffing up the hill.

After a physical, hard-working class, we had the prospect of biking back. Knowing that the lovely long downhill at the St Peter’s end would translate into a horribly long uphill slog going back, we were not keen to go back the way we came. So we found our way to the main road, and biked home along the flat! (you can read more about it here, as I was asked to write about it for our club website.)

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In February 2020, we biked from Mana to Pauatahanui, along the Camborne Walkway and Te Ara Piko, which skirts the Pauatahanui Inlet. There is/was a section between the end of the Camborne Walkway and Motukaraka Point where one has to ride on the road – Grays Road – which can be reasonably busy with cars going quite fast. We were delighted on this ride to find that a new section of the track had been completed. The 400 m section before Motukaraka meant that cyclists could avoid the narrowest and most hazardous part of riding on the road. 


The new part of Te Ara Piko  (photo by John)

Te Ara Piko – looking towards Motukaraka Point (photo by John)

There is a lovely section that takes riders on a boardwalk through the wetlands, and avoids the narrow road bridge, which was always a bit dodgy to negotiate if there was a lot of traffic.


A new boardwalk section of Te Ara Piko (photo by John)

This is an ongoing joint project between Porirua City and Plimmerton Rotary. A year later, in February 2021, we again rode this track, and found that yet another section had been completed, from the end of the Camborne walkway, alongside Grays Road. There is now only another 500 metres to complete the whole track.  


Te Ara Piko – much better than biking on the road!   

The latest part of Te Ara Piko – Camborne Walkway end (photo by John)

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7 March 2020 – A bike ride we do quite frequently is Te Ara Tawa, which goes from the Takapu Road train station to Porirua. On this occasion we found a pipe band practising their bagpipes on the lawn below the Bucket Tree Lodge. As this was around the time that people were becoming aware of a nasty virus looming, John thought that playing bagpipes was a good means of keeping ‘social distance’.


Practising bagpipes in the park (photo by John)

On 18 March, we did what turned out to be our last bike ride before NZ went into Covid Alert Level 4 – total lockdown. We biked from Oriental Parade to Shelly Bay, for lunch at the Chocolate Fish, then carried on around the peninsula to Seatoun.

It was a gorgeous day, and while biking along, I was thinking that even if we were all going to have to self-isolate, we would still be able to go for bike rides so long as we didn’t go close to others, and though we might not be able to go to a café, we could just take a thermos of coffee and something to eat instead. How different things turned out to be. 


I was thinking we would still be able to bike, even if it came to having to ‘self-isolate’ (photo by John)

At that time, a new cycle track was being built from Oriental Bay to Evans Bay. It was looking good, though some sections were not yet completed (and at the time of writing, it is still not completely done). 


The first bit after Oriental Parade had been completed … (photo by John)

… but the next bit was still a work in progress (photo by John)

Improvements were also being made to the cycle track along Cobham Drive. The existing shared walking and cycling track was being widened, and a separate walking path installed, with gardens to separate the two. As a project, it has taken a long time to complete, as it was only officially opened a few weeks ago.


The improved track along Cobham Drive (photo by John)

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And so, on 25 March 2020, NZ went into lockdown. At Alert Level 4, we were expected to stay home, and only go out for essential shopping, and for ‘exercise’ – walking or cycling – but we were expected to stay in our immediate neighbourhood. Amazingly, most of NZ complied – later being called “the team of five million” by our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, when she thanked NZ for pulling together during the lockdown. 

One of the many government posters

We only cycled a few times during this time – just around our suburb, of course. We could not do our usual suburb ride – going down to Thyme Café on Middleton Road – since it was closed, so we rode into the new part of Churton Park, which is ever expanding.


New areas being developed on Melksham Drive (photo by John)

The hillside has been carved up for more future roads and housing (photo by John

Stopping at the supermarket on the way home was different. They were restricting numbers, so John had to wait outside while I shopped. Fortunately, unlike at other supermarkets, there were no queues to get into our local. 


The barrage of warning posters outside our local supermarket (photo by John)

Instead of biking, we mostly opted for walking around the neighbourhood. I am not naturally a walker – I would much rather bike, which is easier on arthritic feet – but it was a good way to discover parts of the suburb I had never been to. And, like many other families, we counted teddy bears, displayed in windows, cars and on fences.   


One of the ‘bears’ (koala bear) tacked to a lamppost

Bears on a fence

We had no teddy bears in the house, but we displayed what we had in our window (photo by John)
Schools and playgrounds were closed

After five weeks of full lockdown, the alert was dropped to Level 3, which meant we were able to go a little bit further afield, while still keeping to our ‘bubble’. So on 28 April, we biked from Tawa to Porirua, stopping to sit on the steps of the still closed Get Fixed Bicycle Café to eat some chocolate we had brought along. 


The Get Fixed Café was still closed during Level 3 (photo by John)


This lovely little café by the water’s edge of Porirua harbour, was housed in a shipping container, with a nice outside area provided with seats and beanbags on the lawn and lots of children’s ride-on toys to keep family groups happy. Of course during lockdown it was quiet, but still a nice place to stop.


Get Fixed Café in September 2020 (photo by John)

Since then, the Porirua Council has made the café move about 100 meters further up the track, where it is now an expanded café, made up of several containers, with a larger kitchen, somewhere to sit inside as well as a larger deck, and heaps more space outside. We enjoy going there for a coffee and something to eat. They have an interesting menu, but we usually just go for something like a muffin or brownie.


By January 2021, the expanded Get Fixed Café had moved to a new spot (photo by John)
View from the deck of the Get Fixed Café (photo by John)

On 14 May, the country moved down to Alert Level 2, meaning that we could now go for a much longer ride, and cafés were allowed to open again. Yay!

I had read that the Chocolate Fish Café in Shelly Bay was open for business, so we drove to Oriental Pde, and biked to the café and back.

At the café, we had to check in first – someone took down our names and phone number, then took us to a table inside. They had spread out the tables, and had a limited menu. It wasn’t as busy as I thought it might have been, which was good. The woman serving us, who seemed to be the owner, said that they had been able to use the lockdown period to paint the place inside and out, and deep clean and paint the kitchen. They don’t often get such an opportunity to do that when the place is open seven days a week. We had coffee and scones, which were very nice. 


We had to sign in first … (photo by John)

… before we could have our first post-lockdown proper coffee. Bliss!  (photo by John)

On 8 June, NZ moved down to alert level 1, effectively ending the lockdown period, but we still had to remain vigilant, by keeping up with the ‘health hygiene measures’ and keeping track of where we had been, using a “Tracer App”. I got a new phone for my birthday so that I could scan the tracer app code on it, as my old phone couldn’t do that.

Since then, life has pretty much returned to normal, or as normal as possible with the threat of covid still ever present. But as a country, we are exceptionally lucky, when we compare ourselves to other countries around the world, where they are battling second and third waves of the virus and facing further lockdowns.

On a ride on the Hutt River trail in August, while we were having lunch at Janus Bakery, we were reminded that things are not completely back to the pre-covid days, when we noticed that there was a Covid testing clinic at the medical centre across the road from the café.    

Covid testing clinic on Lower Hutt’s High Street (photo by John)

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The final entry for this blog post is nothing to do with rides, or with covid lockdown, but it is sort of related to cycling …

My sister and I went to see an exhibition at Te Papa, called “Up Close”, of fabulous entries from the World of Wearable Art. All of the entries were amazing in their designs and imaginative use of unexpected materials.


The UP CLOSE exhibition at Te Papa

The exhibit that I want to feature here was made entirely of bicycle inner tubes! Incredible. 

The designer, Grace DuVal, was the Supreme Award runner-up in 2017, with her entry entitled “Refuse Refuge”. She had used inner tubes rescued from bike shop trash in her home city Chicago. 


“Refuse Refuge” by Grace DuVal


Back view

Such ingenious use of the tyre valves and wheel spokes 

Hard to believe that is made from bicycle inner tubes!

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