Kōpiko is a new film from Deane Parker and Dylan Gerschwitz that shares the candid perspectives of a small group of riders as they twist and turn their way across New Zealand’s North Island during the 1,100-kilometer Kōpiko Aotearoa bikepacking event. Watch it here, along with a gallery of images and an interview with Deane…
Spanning more than 1,000 kilometers between the widest part of the North Island of New Zealand, the Kōpiko Aotearoa is a self-supported bikepacking challenge that attracts riders from a diverse array of backgrounds and experience levels.
In last year’s edition, one such participant was Salsa-sponsored rider Deane Parker, who teamed up with director Dylan Gerschwitz to document his story and share the perspectives of those he encountered along the way. The resulting film offers a uniquely genuine take on what it means for everyday cyclists to push themselves to complete a daunting physical and mental challenge. It also explores the bonds formed among participants and locals alike through their shared experiences. See the full 22-minute film below, followed by my brief chat with Deane.
To start, tell us a little about the event and what riders can expect on the route.
The Kōpiko Aotearoa bikepacking event is a course designed by the Kennett brothers, a trio of legends in mountain biking circles who are responsible for most of the iconic bikepacking events in New Zealand. The course covers 1,100 kilometres across the North Island. It’s a convoluted, twisting, and turning route to maximise the more remote areas and encompass a few bike trails, most notably the Timber Trail and the Waikato River Trails. The course climbs almost 19,000 metres.
The unique aspect of the event is that riders can choose to start at either end (East Cape or Cape Egmont) and travel in opposite directions. This means riders are constantly meeting others going in the other way. Also, there were eight dates to start over the weekends of February to spread riders out through the small towns and villages to not max out the homestays/farmstays.
What drew you to participate in and document Kōpiko?
This was the second running of Kōpiko and I had heard a heap about the challenging course dissecting some amazing parts of the North Island. I was intrigued by the crossing paths aspect, giving Dylan (the cameraman) and me the opportunity to meet plenty of folks going in the opposite direction. We knew that there would be stories of endeavour to capture and decided to dedicate the film to the people we encountered.
From the whole field of around 300, how’d you decided to focus on the particular group of riders highlighted here?
Ha, they were simply the riders we bumped into. Or I should say Dylan bumped into while I was busy trying to negotiate the daily challenges. So, it was completely by chance. I reckon the riders we captured speak to the essence of this event and the regular people who set out to complete these physical and mental undertakings.
I had talked with Amy online before the event, and she was the one character I wanted to track down. Fortunately, she finished the day before I started, so we followed her into the East Cape and interviewed her on the finish line. Amy epitomised the dig-deep character that makes a true bikepacker, and the film is better because of her involvement.
It seems interaction with locals was an important part of the ride. Tell us about a memorable one and how it added to your experience.
On day three, Patsy and I passed through a small town, stopping for ice cream and pie. Before leaving town, we encountered a car blaring loud music, and a heavily tattooed guy got out. He was wearing a leather vest and had a fully tattooed face and “Black Power” across his neck, indicating that he was a member of one of the most known gangs in the country. He smiled widely at us and asked us what we were up to on our bikes. Both of us were intimidated by his fierce appearance, but he was casual and joking, and we had a very friendly chat. He wanted to hongi us (traditional Maori greeting with the pressing of noses together and the mingling of breath). This was Patsy’s first hongi, and we rode on talking about how cool of an experience it was.
Many riders seemed to be having a tough time at various points and you mention it being a “mental game.” Beyond the physical challenge of riding more than 1,000 kilometers, what were the most difficult aspects of Kōpiko?
The elevation every day was close to or more than 2,000 vertical metres. Basically, there was minimal flat terrain. Water was scarce, and refilling relied on the generosity of the locals. Resupply opportunities were also seldom, and the locals helped here as well by providing meals and packed lunches at the various accommodations. I struggled with the heat in the first days, though it was only hot by New Zealand standards in the high 20s (Celsius).
On the flip side, what’s one highlight that has stuck with you?
New friends. I set off solo and made some lifelong friendships reinforced by the physical challenges we faced together. This reminded me how important physical interaction with new people is, a social skill that I believe is essential for the betterment of community and general mental well-being
Standing at the finish line and looking back at your time on the route, what surprised you the most about the ride?
How massive my ability to eat pies is! Also, how great of a choice my Cutthroat was for the terrain and how cool it is bumping into strangers and riding with them for a few days.
Lastly, having completed this one, what’s your advice to other bikepackers who are considering taking on big challenges such as Kōpiko?
Do it! Seriously. I came across riders from all walks of life: young, old, fit, large, and small. The key is in preparation, having adequate time, and being resilient in the face of setbacks and the inevitable low patches we all go through in times of exhaustion and fatigue. Choose your event wisely, as there are generally plenty to pick from.
There’s a great deal of satisfaction in reaching the finish line of an extended multi-day brevet-style event by returning to the basics of “eat, sleep, ride, repeat.” It’s an empowering realisation of how simple life can be when you let it. I think the words of Reg, the most senior rider we came across, resonate, “Get on the bike and just cruise and take your time.”
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