PAUL AND MIKE WORK THE 5-TO-9 SHIFT
It’s 8.30am on Wednesday morning. As usual I arrive at work on my bike. Unusually though, my bike is loaded up with luggage. At the end of my working day I’ll leave on my bike, but today I won’t be going home to my family.
The luggage is my overnight camping gear. Tonight I will stay at Baked Beans Bend in Wellington’s Belmont Regional Park. I wouldn’t call it a campsite—it is nothing more than a small area of grass above the Korokoro stream. But if space away from the bustle of life, drinkable water and shelter from the wind are classed as ‘facilities’, then Baked Beans Bend is positively luxurious.
“Have you been kicked out of home?”
I understood my co-workers’ bemusement—I wasn’t exhibiting normal behaviour. For a small workplace in New Zealand, this one has a high proportion of cyclists: on a nice day six of the twenty employees might commute by bike and a couple more would happily call themselves cyclists. But taking a short ride to a basic campsite and staying overnight, almost within sight of the office and home? That was filed in the ‘slightly odd’ box by my co-workers—cyclists or not.
Mike lives a couple of kilometres from my office. I rode for five minutes along the road to our pre-arranged meeting spot. Mike was late. Or, more likely, I jumped out of work a little early. I had a few minutes to watch the commuters driving home. My choice to break from this routine made me feel alive. Mike and I rolled along a cycle-path on the northern side of Wellington harbour. We were in no rush: it was late summer, days were long, and our camping spot was only 15 kilometres away. Our off-road excursion started from an ugly industrial area, a demarkation zone between urban and backcountry landscapes. The Korokoro stream trail would lead us from here into the Belmont Regional Park and glorious isolation.
The section of the Korokoro stream trail open to bicycles runs for five kilometres up to the Korokoro dam. The dam was built in 1903 to provide high pressure water for firefighting and is thought to be the first gravity dam in New Zealand. It is mostly silted up now, but the old iron water pipe still remains in places along the trail and forms an odd little obstacle to mountain bikers like us.
Our camping spot at Baked Beans Bend was along a rough track that branches off the Korokoro stream trail alongside (and occasionally, in) a tributary. We continued past our turn to the dam to explore a little further. We lingered until signs of dusk were apparent, exploring the perimeter of the old reservoir, then retraced our tracks to the Baked Beans Bend turn. I remembered the track as a rough, but mostly rideable, with a precarious fallen-log bridge to negotiate. It was obvious, though, that the previous winter had dumped serious flows of water into the stream, as the log bridge and much of the trail had disappeared. After an hour of stop-start riding along the stream and bike hauling along the old track, we climbed into the grassy clearing of Baked Beans Bend.
Our camp was a relaxed affair. We were no more than an hour or two from home, but a long way from normal life. It was comforting thinking of the half-million people in their homes within easy reach, the majority of whom had never been to this place, let alone stayed here overnight. We pitched our tents, cooked up dinner, watched the last light fade and listened to the wind in the trees on the hills above. Mike revealed two bottles of beer squirrelled away in his pack and we enjoyed an evening without distraction from electronic devices.
The following morning dawned dry and reasonably warm. We rose early, packed up and rode out. I had a deadline to meet—it was a work day after all—and we had plans for a very civilised breakfast. We splashed downstream to the Korokoro trail and zipped down the valley, avoiding the pipework. The sight of near-stationary traffic commuting into Wellington greeted our return to civilisation. This wasn’t a wilderness ride by any stretch, which had it’s advantages—breakfast was at a local cafe and coffee roastery. Two espressos, garlic mushrooms on foccacia, and thirty minutes of road riding later I waved goodbye to Mike.
It’s 8.30am on Thursday morning. As usual I arrive at work on my bike. Unusually though, my bike is loaded up with luggage. But today there were fewer strange looks from my co-workers.
“Did you have a good night?”
I sure did.