Baked Beans Bend, New Zealand
Wednesday morning, 8:30. As usual, I arrive at work on my bike. Unusually, though, my bike is loaded up with luggage. At the end of the working day I'll leave on my bike. But today I won't be going home to my family.
The luggage on my bike is my overnight camping gear. Tonight I will be staying at Baked Beans Bend in Wellington's Belmont Regional Park. I wouldn't call it a campsite. It's nothing more than a small flat grassed area raised slightly above the Korokoro stream. But if drinkable running water and shelter from the the northerly wind are classified as "facilities," then Baked Beans Bend is well-equipped.
"Have you been kicked out of home?"
I understood where my co-workers were coming from. It wasn't normal behavior. For a small workplace in New Zealand there's a decent 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 kilometers from my office. I rode for five minutes along the road to our pre-arranged meeting spot -- the entrance to the Hikoikoi Reserve on Petone foreshore. Mike was late. Or, more likely, I jumped out of work a little early. In any case, it afforded me a few minutes to watch the commuters follow their usual routine. One person per car, leaving work just like they do every day; and driving home, just as they do every day. My choice to break from this routine made me feel alive.
Mike arrived, and he and I rolled along the offroad cyclepath that follows the coast on the northern side of Wellington Harbour. We were in no rush. It was late summer and days were long enough to banish any thought of losing light before making camp. It helped that our total trip this evening would only be 15 kilometers.
We soon arrived at the entrance to our offroad excursion -- an ugly industrial area.
But this was the gateway to the Korokoro stream trail that would lead us up into Belmont Regional Park and glorious isolation. The section of the Korokoro stream open to bicycles runs for five kilometers 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 trail that runs alongside (and in) a tributary to the Korokoro stream. But we had the evening light, so we continued a short distance onto the dam to explore a little further. After lingering until signs of dusk were apparent, we retraced our tracks to our turnoff. I have ridden these tracks before and I remembered the track to Baked Beans Bend as rough and mostly rideable, with a precarious fallen-log bridge to cross.
It was soon obvious that the previous winter had delivered serious flows of water to the stream, as the log crossing and much of the trail had disappeared.
After an hour of stop-start riding we climbed into a grassy clearing -- 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, but disappointing to realize that the majority of them had never been to this place, let alone stayed here overnight. It is a shame that adventure is missing from much of modern life.
We pitched our tents, cooked up curry and rice, watched the last light fade, and listened to the wind in the trees on the hills above. Mike revealed two bottles of beer squirreled away in his pack, and we enjoyed an evening without distraction from television or computer.
Our morning dawned dry and reasonably warm. We arose early, packed up, and rode out. I had a deadline to meet -- it was a working day, after all -- and we had plans for a very civilized breakfast. We rode out the same way we arrived, splashing downstream to the Korokoro trail and zipping down the valley, avoiding the pipework, back to the industrial area. The sight of near-stationary traffic commuting into Wellington greeted our return to civilization. This wasn't a wilderness ride by any stretch, which had its advantages -- our breakfast was at a local cafe and coffee roastery. Two espressos and garlic mushrooms on focaccia. After that came 30 minutes of road riding, and then I waved goodbye to Mike.
Thursday morning, 8.30. As usual, I arrive at work on my bike. Unusually, my bike is loaded up with luggage. Today, though, there were fewer strange looks from my co-workers.
"Did you have a good night?"
"I sure did."
Read more from Paul Smith at his website, Inspiring Riding: Bicycle Powered Adventures.
All photos by Mike Wilson