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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 30, September 1986

FIRST CYCLIST ACROSS THE HAURAKI PLAIN FROM PAEROA TO POKENO

By C W Malcolm

Our well-known local man, Laurie Bramble, deserves a place in the records of our history for his stamina and determination displayed in his long-distance cycling achievements. In 1985, at the age of 72, his cheerful photograph in the newspapers reveals a fit man looking decidedly younger than his years. In that year he made the return journey on his bicycle from Cape Reinga to Bluff in 27 days. Later in the same year he rode from Paeroa to Wellington in 38 hours to be met outside Parliament by the M P for Hauraki, Mr Graeme Lee, with a tray of "Lemon and Paeroa", to celebrate the achievement. His effort was in aid of funds for the establishment in Paeroa, of a home for the aged. And these feats of endurance he declares are not the end. He intends "to go on for years."

It is with a due sense of humility and with no thought what-ever of boasting, but rather of recording in sharp contrast, an ill-considered and ill-planned cycling journey of 64 years ago. I surely must have been the first to have crossed the Hauraki Plains from Paeroa to Pokeno, on a bicycle. I say "surely" because no one else could have been so foolish as to have undertaken such a journey before that time, having any knowledge of the state of the road.

It was a Saturday, the first of the May school holidays, in 1922, when I set out with my pyjamas in a parcel on the handlebars and two shillings in my pocket, to complete the 40 mile journey before lunch. I accomplished the feat in a whole day and a half - a total of 30 hours instead of the 6 I had planned!

My father and I were "batching" in our Hill Street home as my mother was visiting my grandparents on their farm in Pokeno Valley. I proposed to surprise them at lunch on that Saturday. I did manage to surprise them at lunch, but 24 hours later than I intended. I set off shortly after 6 00am. I had always been keenly interested in the projected Paeroa to Pokeno Railway and felt myself a pioneer on the route.

My bicycle was a heavy ungeared model and bore a small plate with the inscription "Massey Silver Ribbon" but it would not have won any prize ribbon for ease of pedalling or for speed especially against the head winds I encountered across the exposed plain!

I made deceptively good progress across the flat red-metalled straight roads of the Plain, through Netherton, past Kerepehi, via Ngatea, to Waitakaruru where I broke into my two shillings to purchase a cold drink. The road ahead to the hills was straight and flat. But I little knew what lay ahead - unmetalled clay. I was forced to dismount for the tyres of my cycle picked up the clay and bore it round until it accumulated in the fork bringing the bicycle to a halt - the wheels just would not turn and I was compelled to carry the heavy machine!

Fortunately I noticed narrow tracks in the teatree on either side of the unfenced road and here the soil was black. Here I was able to remount and ride again. In the distance I saw, to my relief, grey metalled road ahead. But it was as fatal as a mirage! The metal was unbroken large chunks of rock known as spalls. My father who once worked on the roads had a spalling hammer for breaking up these large pieces. I could certainly not ride over them and wondered how even a horse could walk on them.

Evening was approaching as I reached Maramarua so exhausted that I dropped my bicycle and sat down with my back to a telegraph pole for support. Then the first motor car I had seen all day was seen approaching in the direction I was taking. I stood up and waved. I don't know why! They might have picked me up but what would they have done with the bicycle I did not think. However, as they passed by they shouted, "Full up!" I felt the same!

Resuming my weary journey, I met two horsemen driving their cows towards the milking shed. I asked, "How far to Pokeno?" They replied that I could certainly not reach it before nightfall and most generously offered me the hospitality of their home for the night. It was a farm cottage occupied by the two and their charming sister. They were kindness itself and after a most welcome meal, I was eventually bedded down for the night on the couch in the front room.

Sunday dawned. All three were away at the milking shed. I left a note of grateful thanks and, without breakfast, set off on the remainder of my journey. The Surrey Flats were flooded but I waded through, endeavouring to keep to the middle of the road. I had a rest and a mug of tea in a road-man's hut. I surprised my mother and my grandparents at their lunch. I surprised myself that I had arrived a day and a half after setting out.

I returned to Paeroa by train, my bicycle in the guard's van!