Kopiko Aotearoa – Day 1

I put my name down for a cycling event called the Kopiko Aotearoa last year. I'd been working 7 days-a-week on a work project and it had just been abruptly cut thanks to COVID19. My frustrated mind wandered, and for some reason the idea of riding 1200kms across the widest and most remote part of New Zealand seemed to appeal. All I had to do was send and email and I was entered. It was a deceptively easy step and one that made me instantly feel better!

As the weeks ticked over some questions would pop into my head... The obvious one was 'Should I really  be leaving my partner and kids for a 2 week cycle junket?' 'Can I even afford the time off work (if I have any work)? these rational, sensible worries turned to; 'Can I actually cycle 1200km?' 'Could I cycle AND sketch and how would I do that?' 'Could I afford to take an hours break once or twice a day to do nice finished sketches?' 'Maybe I could do multiple 5-10 min sketches throughout the day?'. I settled on this option as I figured it wouldn't slow me down too much – the sketches would have to be quick and loose though. This turned out to be a great option as my mate Ian signed up to join me for the ride and I didn't fancy slowing others down.

I needed to test the process so I spent a few weekends before the event trying a couple of sketchbooks and tools options. I found the A6 Moleskine concertina book fitted easily into my riding shorts, and the concertina pages lent themselves nicely to creating a sketch narrative – I hoped this would make a more engaging read for someone if the days sketches proceeded in the order they were created, telling a story as the days progressed. My plan to use a fude nib fountain pen went out the window when I realised that fiddling with ink refits on the road would be messy and potentially disastrous. I chose an 3.0 Artline calligraphy pen. I would take my tiny Cotman watercolour kit and water brush in case I had time to add colour to the day's sketches at night.

Day 1. 
So here we are, the Kopiko Aotearoa start line! Things suddenly got real in the last week or so and I feel like it's been a mad rush to get here. We're starting at the Cape Egmont lighthouse, It's 6am on the western-most extremity of the North Island, it's dark but you can still see and hear the Tasman Sea waves crashing on the rocks below. Ian and I were riding west to east, and at sunrise the west to east riders would be starting at the East Cape lighthouse on the other side of the country. 

I heard perhaps 300 people are taking part in the event and the starts are staggered over 3 weekends, with up to 50 leaving each Saturday and Sunday in either direction. The plan was to create a sketch reportage of the ride across the country, so I bashed out a 5 minute sketch with cold fingers as the sun started to rise above spectacular Mt Taranaki and the historic lighthouse. 

A small, particularly un-chatty bunch of riders waited at the road end. The event is not a race, yet the other riders take off like it most definitely is! This could be a long, lonely 1,100km ride I thought to myself! 

I needn’t have worried though as we met so many friendly cyclists and locals along the way it didn’t matter. The day took us straight up the side of the mountain, past Parihaka (site of the infamous 1881 raid on the pacifist māori community), and winding over the densely bushed Pukeiti saddle. Then down to New Plymouth, riding this cool trail along a stream that drops you off at the beach front. Organisers the Kennett brothers have designed a superb course for us on this event, we're riding every kind of trail you can imagine, secondary tarseal, gravel road, 4 wheel drive road, single track and footpaths - usually waaaay longer than taking the main road but also waaaaay more interesting. 

We meet fellow sketcher Brian Gnyp and he steers us to the tasty Federal Cafe for breakfast. I get to see Brian’s excellent sketches in the flesh for the first time (much more finely detailed than I realised!) over an enormous breakfast, then, back on the bikes he guides us out past instagram favourite Te Rewarewa bridge to Bell block where we leave Brian and head inland. 

We finish the day 110km later at the Pukeho Domain which had a swimming pool. Great to have a swim on such a long, hot days riding! Immediately after the swim both legs cramped up and I must have looked very odd hobbling around the pool in wet cycle shorts. We meet a couple of west to east riders (they’d started the weekend before) and a lady who was walking the Kopiko – now that’s a long walk!