New Zealand cycle trek finale: Family tale to be continued

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 22, 2016 20:18

Bateman’s Blog

This is where I’m supposed to look beyond possums, sheep and sandflies. This is where I zero in on “the greater truths” of our New Zealand journey.

Here’s where I tell you how 10 days of bicycling on New Zealand’s South Island with my son Ben forged deep, lifelong bonds between us that are transformative and certainly must transcend something.

I think I’m also supposed to wax poetic about the scenery, the people and the adventure of it all.

Chris and Ben en route to Okarito

Chris and Ben en route to Okarito

But, probably to the relief of the few readers left after the above paragraphs, none of this is going to happen.

Instead, let’s zero in on what was wrong with our 500-mile coast-to-coast cycle tour: We didn’t crash. We didn’t get hurt or even scraped. We didn’t go to the hospital even to visit. We weren’t held up even in traffic. Our bikes didn’t break down. The weather was perfect. The people were friendly. We weren’t arrested, cited or even reprimanded. We survived no near misses or close calls.

Bored yet? You should be.

Disaster, disappointment, humiliation and mortification, readers know, are what make for juicy travel stories. Our trip had none of those.

An uncomfortable bike saddle, a clerk who tried to charge us 50 cents for ketchup, sandfly bites and a train that ran late were as close as we got to disaster. Not exactly the stuff of the Donner Party or Shackleton’s voyage on the HMS Endurance.

Endurance? Ben and I barely broke a sweat.

So, followers of our journey know, I built stories around bra fences, non-existent moa birds, possums, creeks with strange names and other Kiwi quirks.

But here is a greater truth, mercifully buried a dozen paragraphs into this piece: The stuff that makes for juicy travel stories really doesn’t make for great travel.

Sure, you remember on-the-road mishaps, but you don’t want to relive them. And given my druthers, I’d rather not live through them in the first place – particularly as I near 70.

So yes, I loved this disaster-free, almost ripple-free bike tour with my son.

As a few readers may know, our New Zealand journey reprised a 3,900-mile, 66-day New Jersey-to-California ride we took back in 2008.

Both of us – now 69 and 28 – have continued riding since that cross-country trip. But we’ve probably pedaled together fewer than a dozen times in the eight-year interim.

Working for a tech outfit in San Francisco, Ben travels abroad often – he flew from Hong Kong to meet me in Auckland for this trip – and he doesn’t get home to Columbia as much as either of us would like.

Yet we hit a familiar and very comfortable cycling groove on the first day of the New Zealand trip.

We woke, ate breakfast and hit the road almost on cue. We knew almost instinctually where to stop for water, meals, snacks and rest.

“We know biking, Mom,” Ben told Suzy when during one of our daily calls she expressed concern over an upcoming day’s ride.

Ben would go faster on the downhills and I would beat him up climb grades. Often we wouldn’t see each other for an hour or more. But whoever was ahead instantly recognized the rendezvous spot – be it by shade, a cool river or a welcoming pub – and pulled over.

Then for 30 minutes we’d talk, likely first about our route, then about politics, work, family or other nooks and crannies of a shared 28-year past.

We’d continue over dinner, then I’d write chapters of our trip log in our motel room while Ben read and called or texted friends or checked out the news via Internet.


Ben hoists bike in triumph, Monarch Pass, 2008

But none of this was of the transformative, transcendent stuff I alluded to earlier.  Ben and I really don’t “go deep,” as evidenced by this excerpt from a Q-and-A Friends and Neighbors published after our 2008 trip:

Q: What did your learn about your dad during the ride?

 Ben: Now I know what he’s going to order for lunch.

Well, OK, we may go a little deeper than that.

And Ben and I do make a pretty good and pretty rare cycling team. On the South Island, we met boyfriends riding with girlfriends, guys riding together and many solo cyclists. But we never encountered another father-son pair.

My age was often a curiosity: Most of the bike tourers  we met were in their 20s or 30s. Rafi, a 57-year-old Swiss solo rider we joined on the Crown Range climb, was the next oldest – and he was 12 years younger than I.

My fellow cyclists offered nothing but encouragement, telling me to keep up the good work and adding that they too hoped to still be pedaling when they reached my apparently advanced age.

On the other hand, the bartender at the Bealey Hotel in Arthur’s Pass decreed me “insane,”  “way too old” to be riding over mountain passes and in imminent medical danger every time I mount up.

“Get smart,” he advised. “Give it a bloody rest.”

I didn’t, taking off the next morning to tackle the Arthur’s Pass climb. Yes, I beat Ben to the summit, an outcome which he said I’d best enjoy while I still can.

“Your days of out-climbing me are numbered,” he warned.

Ben and Chris in Watsonville at close of 2008 cross-country trek

Ben and Chris in California at end of 2008 trek

I don’t doubt it at all, as Ben runs, bikes and hits the gym religiously. Then there’s the mortification factor: Next time we tour, he’ll risk being smoked by a septuagenarian.

That could throw a scare into anyone.

But it hardly dampened Ben’s enthusiasm for another trip with Dad. We talk of heading to Argentina or Africa on a future ride, and many times during the February tour of New Zealand, Ben told me how much he enjoyed the journey.

Not only that, but our daughter Hallie – who keeps herself in shape by pedaling up nearby hills during visits here – now wants to lure me into a winter ride.

“How about Bermuda?” she’s suggested. “Or Hawaii?”

And son Nick, now almost fully recovered from back surgery, is ready to go with me on training rides.

Now I don’t care if all three of my kids outride and out-climb me – it’s all music to a father’s ears.

This is the final chapter in Chris’s New Zealand cycle trek stories. Read past chapters at














Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 22, 2016 20:18
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  1. Thad Waterbury March 23, 20:05

    I have enjoyed reading about your adventures, and sorry to hear that this one is over. I’ll be waiting for the next one.

  2. Hooey March 26, 09:48

    Lots of fun reading!! A suggestion for a shorter, but quite an arduous ride with fanastic views is Cape Breton Island off Nova Scotia. Can’t wait for the next trip!!

  3. Wells April 6, 21:41

    Ah, Chris! That was a really cool adventure, and I was truly jealous. My best biking memories are the much shorter day trips I have taken with my son. And, that barkeep can go soak his head…when I’m on my bike, I feel essentially ageless. Keep pedaling and writing.

  4. Peter August 22, 10:00

    Chris, I loved reading the reports of your adventures and the humor made it very personal too!

    thanks for writing, Peter

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