A joyful day! A new story from our resident teller of tales, Simon Vincent (search for ‘Simon’s stories’ to find more).  “I often find things catch my eye when I’m riding – sometimes it is because they are unusual or unexpected, but in this case it is things that I notice often and that stay with me,” says Simon, about this lovely list of landmarks along his regular routes… 

As a child, I loved spending time visiting my cousins. The cousins were great, but what made the visits so special was that they lived in Blackpool – the Rotavegas of the English North. The (in hindsight, short) trip up the road in Lancashire felt like it would never end. But there was one thing that always made the journey tolerable: spotting Blackpool Tower. This landmark was visible from a good distance off, in the relative flat lands of coastal Lancashire – and my brothers and I engaged in a highly competitive game of ‘First to see Blackpool Tower’ virtually from the moment our dad’s car left our drive.

Landmarks are obviously of great use when travelling. On a bicycle in Auckland, where signage and routes are not yet common or instinctive, they can be vital. The Sky Tower obviously stands tall within our CBD, and other sights define various corners of the city, but for my rides, the pointers along the way are often more abstract. Wherever I’m riding, I note those indefinable elements that fix me in time and place.

These points are not always fixed, actually, and won’t help you navigate your way around the city, necessarily – but they do give you a sense of place. I think of them not as geographical points; more as sites for reflection. Here are some that stand out to me as I travel by bicycle…

The Post

Heading along the Northwestern Cycleway into the city I always slowdown and scrutinise the Post. Standing alone in the mudflats with a ring of mangroves at its base, it is not tall or impressive. It is, however, the frequent perch of a kotare/kingfisher. If the Post is occupied, I enjoy the chance to observe nature; if not, I get to ponder on the bird’s whereabouts and if it’s having any luck in its hunt. As I ride, hundreds more of these tiny interactions take place, adding great depth to my journey.

Where there’s a Will there’s a way

On the mornings that I ride the twists, turns, and ups and downs of the Henderson Creek path, I always keep an eye out for Will. If he is on the path we may share a quick chat about the weather; if he is off in the distance, I ring my bell and he raises his stick in greeting. Will, voluntarily and without fuss, ensures Henderson Creek and the surrounding area is kept clean. His goal is for tuna/eel to re-establish themselves in the creek – I’ll ring my bell to that.

The Redhead

I love riding my bike amongst the trees, and of course there are plenty of trees to see. Sometimes you ride along a parade of trees, their branches outstretched and seeming to rise in a Mexican wave as you pass. You pass these trees in a blur of green, but along the way there are also TREES! These are the ones that catch the eye and the mind as you pedal by. Prominent trees jump out of their backgrounds and say look at me, notice me, think about me and care for me.

The Stack 1

A backlog of cars seen from the motorway overbridge – how will these people face the day when they finally arrive at work? It never looks like the vroom, vroom, vroom adverts you see. Riding my bicycle against a backdrop of frustrated single occupancy vehicles is not something that makes me feel smug (okay, perhaps a little), but I can’t help receiving a boost as my mind focuses on my wheels turning, and the efficiency and joy a bicycle provides.

The Stack 2

At certain points, we who ride also find ourselves in a crush of commuter traffic on wheels. St Luke’s crossing and Nelson Street are examples. Here, I get to observe the rich community of those who ride; lycra-clad, business suits, school uniforms, construction workers and fashionistas. E-bikes, cruisers, mountain bikes and BMX, DIY adaptions and sleek racers. People on bicycles, who take the time to acknowledge each other, sharing in the journey, sharing in the city.

(No single photo could capture the diversity of this stack of humanity).

Chat Zone

There is not a ride on a bike that goes by that I don’t get to talk to someone else. Often, conversations are quick; headwind horror stories or ‘Where you headed?’ pleasantries. Waiting at lights in a group, I note e-bike questions are common – there are those for and against, and some neutral – sitting on the electric fence, you might say. Always, people are happy to chat and offer advice and share their experiences: a world of positive talkback.

The Hole in the Wind*

This occurs on almost all of my rides – that sudden point when everything goes noticeably quiet, a calmness descends when seconds ago there was a spiteful headwind – and suddenly the joys of riding are magnified. You are a freewheeling free spirit and you are truly in a state of concentrated awareness: bicycle bliss.

Thus concludes my landmark tour. Yes, riding a bike is just a way of getting around, but it also offers a way of being a part of your surroundings by allowing you to observe and think. Wherever and whenever you ride, be it a long commute or a short hop to the shops, you notice things along the way that give you a sense of connection, a heightened sense that you belong.

*’Hole in the wind’ is a nautical term for a lull in the wind, and also the title of a wonderful book by David Goodrich, a climate scientist, who rides across the United States to take the temperature of society as it deals with global warming (review here; interview here; and spoiler alert: we’d be a lot better off if more people rode bikes).

— Words and pictures by Simon Vincent (search for ‘Simon’s stories’ to find more like this)

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Bike People Northwestern Cycleway
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