The Big Loop – Biking Coastal New Zealand by Dunc Wilson
Comparisons between Dunc Wilson’s epic coastal bike ride and Brando Yelavich’s Wildboy are inevitable, and this is acknowledged by the author in the opening chapter of The Big Loop.
Wilson was longing for an adventure of this proportion but there were few unique opportunities remaining. Choosing cycling, as opposed to walking, was a default option simply because Wildboy (as Yelavich is widely known) had circumnavigated coastal New Zealand and written about his adventures in the gripping, amusing, and inspiring book that followed.
I loved Wildboy, and being the parent of a sometimes troubled young man myself, was as much captivated by Yelavich’s personal challenge and self-deprecating sense of humour as I was by his epic journey. Wildboy was – in every way – a hard act to follow. And yet Dunc Wilson achieved it on all fronts.
But unlike Yelavich whose troubled youth and brushes with the law brought him to a crossroad in his life where walking the coast seemed the better option, Wilson was not the underdog as he set out. In fact, he was a high achiever working in media - well connected and well-supported in his endeavours from the get go by colleagues, friends and family.
He was also highly motivated to use the publicity from his adventure to support St John, and his media connections were employed to good effect; creating a social media profile and giving regular interviews to promote the cause. The cycling fraternity and general public were generous in supporting his anticipated visits to their region. But in no way does this diminish the hardships Wilson faced along the way, or reduce the ultimate success of the journey.
Bear in mind, that Wilson stayed as close to the New Zealand coastline as was possible. In many instances he cycled beaches and crossed the mouths of estuaries. He rode across pebble and boulder strewn beaches and waded through streams holding his bike aloft. And – even when it would have been easier to take short cuts – Wilson stayed true to the spirit and intent of the adventure.
There are a few things other aspects of this extraordinary undertaking that are worthwhile noting: Wilson is a vegetarian. Take that those carnivores who cast vegetarians as weaklings. He also slept for the majority of time in his own tent and cooked most of his own meals, existing almost entirely from “the panty” in his panniers.
And yes, despite the support and patronage of Bike Barn, the sheer endurance of this endeavour in conditions for which almost no bike would be suitable, there were punctures aplenty and broken spokes. And then there was the accident that threatened to end it all. Nobody saw that coming (least of all Wilson) and he wrote about this low point with great skill and clarity. I was on the edge of my seat.
Nobody can take away from Dunc Wilson the extraordinary achievement of the journey or the difficulty of writing the book that followed. This is an inspiring and engaging book and one I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys a good yarn and travelogue.
Reviewer: Peta Stavelli