A GIRL, A DOG and a bike
Having just spent two years on the couch, what better way to face the world again than to cycle the length of New Zealand with your best friend in tow. KIM TRIEGAARDT tells the story of a Canterbury-based multi-sport athlete on a four-month mission with
Leisa McNaughton was a high achiever – she had a great job, good friends and a love of adventure sports. She / had hiked in Nepal, mountain-biked in Banff [Canada], Colorado [USA] and adventure raced in New Zealand – until it all caught up with her.
“My world came to a dizzying stop,” says 47-year-old Leisa. “My mental health took a blow and suddenly I couldn’t get off the couch.”
Leisa credits her friends, an amazing team of health professionals and her best friend, her Border Collie / Bernese Mountain dog named Indy, with helping pull her through the worst of it. It’s been a year of healing, but now she’s ready for her next big adventure.
Leisa plans to cycle the length of New Zealand on part of the Nga Haerenga, The New Zealand Cycle Trail, setting off from Cape Reinga on 1 October and finishing up in Bluff four months later.
She’ll also use the trip as an opportunity to fundraise for charities that are close to her heart. “We are so lucky to live in an amazing country and I want to see all of it. I also want to share the sights and sounds of it with as many people as I can, and help people along the way.”
And Indy will be at her side. Once described by a friendly stranger they met, as part bear/part giraffe, Indy has a specially designed chariot, manufactured from aluminium by a local business in Christchurch. The trailer is attached to Leisa’s bike and he can use it to rest in when he chooses to.
Leisa and Indy are an inseparable team, ever since she found him at the Christchurch
RSPCA as a puppy.
Fielding numerous astonished queries about why she has chosen to do such a challenging cycle, Leisa says her immediate response is always: “Because I can.”
“I will be travelling an average of 9km to 20km an hour – depending on how many hills there are on the route – aiming for a total distance each day of 30km – 50km.
“When the tracks are technically too difficult for Indy’s trailer, too remote or we are in National Parks where dogs aren’t allowed, I will be riding self-supported
and I am hoping adventure riders will join me. My plan is to utilise a support vehicle to take Indy and his trailer for these sections.”
Leisa has divided her route up into 13 different zones and is fundraising for a different charity for each leg of the trip. Each charity has a personal connection for Leisa. Her trip has been made possible through the generous sponsorship of several businesses and individuals.
“I could not do this without the incredible generosity from these people,” says Leisa.
“I’m so overwhelmed and touched by their kindness. I know the spirit of community and support will keep me going when the trail gets tough.”
Leisa plans to Instagram and Facebook her way down the country with photos and video diaries, so people can follow her journey and if they are in the same area as her, actually come along on their bikes.”
Asked what caused her world to come to a dizzying stop, Leisa says: “Stress, loneliness, not feeling like I was contributing enough to helping others after the earthquakes hit. I looked into buying a cycle clothing manufacturing business while working for fel.Group and resigned in August of 2011.
Thinking I was doing the right thing by a company who I’d worked extremely hard for eight years and was extremely loyal to. After I resigned and it became obvious that any future plans I had in securing the business would not be financially possible, I lost all hope.
With a network of very good professional support and a core group of friends I slowly “got back on the horse” at the end of October 2014.
By the end of February I cycled Twizel to Oamaru with Indy and his trailer, self supported. I had the skills and this trip gave me the confidence to start planning my length of New Zealand cycle journey. I felt great; the exercise induced endorphin’s even at a touring pace, which my now unfit body could manage, plus the opportunity to take in the majestic scenery, talk to wonderful people and breath lots of fresh air where all extremely positive.”
On her upcoming cycle journey, Leisa plans to stay in campgrounds, farmers’ paddocks and maybe schools – sleeping in a two-person tent with Indy.
“My hope is that families, including kids, though anyone is welcome, will join me on the tracks. And also help fundraise for the charities by getting friends to sponsor them for each kilometre they do.”
She also hopes to make contact with teachers along the way and make the 3,000km trip a learning experience for young New Zealanders.
“I would love to see children getting out more and, if not cycling on these incredible trails, then at least learning more about the amazing country they live in. If I can encourage even just a few of them to do that through this experience, then it will all have been worth it.”
At the end of this journey Leisa is thinking about getting into public speaking and writing a book. She is also looking at continuing her voluntary contribution to Icecycles [free bicycle maintenance in Christchurch].
“Let’s see what comes out of the journey, maybe another adventure will present itself?”
If you would like to contribute to Leisa’s fundraising efforts, visit: https://givealittle. co.nz/cause/assistleisaindy4nzcyclejourney. Any teacher who would like to involve their class with the trip, can reach Leisa through her Facebook page (Facebook/ LeisaMcNaugton or Facebook/Leisa & Indy’s NZ Charity Cycle Journey) or by email to email@example.com
Cyclist Leisa McNaughton and her four-legged partner Indy, have been training in Canterbury’s Port Hills, for their marathon cycle trip down the length of New Zealand.