Adaptive Riding the Paparoa Track

(or Paparoa para-pushing)

 Written, experienced and fabulously solved by our Hoki depot manager Dave Richie

It is potentially a little bit un-PC, in this day and age, to coin the phrase Para-Pushing in this context. I will however let Quentin’s reaction to my frustrated admonishment to “get off your fat arse and do something” be my guide in this case.

You see Quentin is a paraplegic, having lost the use of his legs in a long ago paragliding accident. My frustration stemmed from realising just how brutally difficult the next few hours are going to be. The admonishment was an attempt (albeit a weak one) to inject some humour into our situation. The situation was, if not bleak, certainly sub-optimal.

The frame of Quentin’s $20,000 electric mountain hand trike had just fractured, a paltry 7km from the end of the Paparoa Track.

Despite our best efforts with sticks, rocks, tire tubes, zip ties, duct tape and plain old brute force, we were unable to get the beast back on track. After 10 minutes of back breaking effort, I delivered my admonishment to Quentin. He responded eloquently with a raised middle finger and a wry grin. We both understood what would come next.

It had been a pretty much perfect day right up until then. Old mates who haven’t seen each other in some time. Great weather, an unusual mission, plenty of light left and cold beer at the trailhead. Quentin’s goal is to ride the Paparoa Track on his mountain trike – which happens to be electric. The reality is that it has to be – 29inch wheels, 2.8inch tires, hydraulic disc brakes, 150mm of suspension and a frame that resembles Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes F1 rig, it would be impossible to move in the mountains by arm effort alone.

This of course runs counter to the Conservation Act which does not allow motorised vehicles in National Parks. Hence the “no eBikes on the Paparoa Track” rule. While most people seem to acknowledge that this is simply another case of technology speeding ahead of regulation – the reality is that until the Act changes, eBikes will be technologa non grata on this trail.

Except that Quentin’s right as a citizen of Aotearoa New Zealand to access a National Park trumps the Conservation Act. Thanks to Jo Kearns at DoC in Hokitika for her insight and advocacy on this one.

So there we are, 7km from the end of our “shakedown” run, a 35km jaunt up to Pororari Hut and back to the Punakaiki end of the trail, just to see if it’s even possible to move Quentin’s beast of a bike (it is called the Lasher!) on the track with any degree of safety or success.

Turns out it is possible. In fact, I would rate it as one of the most exhilarating rides I have been on. Riding behind Quentin as he negotiated the 850mm wide trike around the trail and across bridges was a thrill. I was somewhat in awe of his athletic prowess, throwing his body into the turns to keep the trike on the track and moving along at a pace I could only just match.

Until the frame cracked! Sometimes aluminium just does that. And there is Quentin, completely immobile at the edge of the track,  with his middle finger raised and a wry grin on his face. And there is me, knowing that I now have to ride out to the trailhead, find Quentin’s wife, get his “street wheelchair”, somehow make it into a backpack, carry it back into him, turn it back into a wheelchair, then push him out the last 7km.

Anyone who knows this end of the Paparoa Track will know that while the riding is fantastic – there is a particularly steep climb that guards the last couple of kilometres off the trail. The one thing on our side at this point (apart from having plenty of light) is that while we were lunching at Pororari Hut we ran into another old friend. Amy Devlin’s calm presence and willingness (actually I would say outright joy) to be involved in a little afternoon adventure, completely saved us! Even more so because she had begun her morning at Blackball and had already ridden the entire trail that day. Epic.

ADAPTIVE RIDING THE PAPAROA TRACK

It was remarkable how much of the trail Quentin was able to negotiate on his skinny wheeled street chair. The slightest incline however necessitated that Amy or I would have to drop a shoulder into the back of his chair and parapush. Loving the teamwork, we quickly developed a rhythm: One person trotting along behind Quentin, ready to push, while the other managed our two bikes. We swapped regularly as the effort of moving the chair was taxing for us all. Amy drew the short straw and was on parapush duty when we arrived at the steepest pitch on the trail. It was all that she and Quentin could do to maintain traction and forward motion, stopping Quentin from tumbling backwards down the track, or worse, off the edge.

As with all of these kinds of days, the number of pictures taken is inversely proportional to the amount of suffering experienced. You won’t see what I saw: Amy, knees on the ground, feet scrambling for grip on the steepest section of trail, shoulders squarely in Quentins back, giving it everything. Quentin, drained from 9 hours of concentration, arms pumped, wondering how bad the seemingly inevitable fall would be.

But we made it. The beer was still cold and I reckon that once the frame is repaired, Quentin will line up a full traverse of the Paparoa. Hope he calls me again.