Damiana is a hodophile – a lover of roads, one who loves to travel. Imagine cycling the length of every road in New Zealand. There is approximately 94,000 kilometres of roading in New Zealand, 11,000 kilometres of those are state highway and 83,000 kilometres are local roads, but when you consider the number that are 50-kilometre-long dead ends and the back tracking to get from one to another that number blossoms to at least 120,000 kilometres. Damiana’s planning on riding all of them and she’s already well underway.
But there is so much more to Damiana’s story than that.
Damiana has multiple disabilities. Most days her legs barely work, some days her arms and hands don’t either. Some days she can walk small distances but mostly, when she’s not on her bike she uses a wheelchair to get around. Never sure of where her feet are, the only way she can ride her bike is by clipping into the pedals. She also suffers with memory issues, dyspraxia, dyslexia and post-concussion syndrome. You’d expect she’d have a big support crew. You’d be wrong. Damiana is doing this mammoth undertaking completely solo. She rides a custom modified bike, a 20” Bike Friday, a folding touring bike. It’s got a tremendous number of miles under its tires. It’s laden with panniers and bags and behind it is a solid case trailer with Damiana’s wheelchair strapped on top. Everything is battered and well used.
She laughs and says, “Most people with my level and type of disabilities don’t do what I do.” She’s been on the road for roughly 16 years now, biking between 10 and 40 kilometres a day, depending on the state and steepness of the road – and what her legs will or won’t do on the day. She had walked the North Island half of the Te Araroa trail back when she could still walk and knew what living in a small tent and moving every day was like. “When I lost the ability to walk, the doctor told me to cycle to reduce blood clots and other complications. I found it actually helped in lots of ways. And it still does.”
Damiana carries her world on her bike and while she’ll camp in proper campgrounds when they’re available, giving her the chance to shower and do laundry, she often ends up finding a camping spot by the side of the road. Carrying a Garmin provided by Track Me NZ, along with the satellite data plan and rescue response network gives her a sense of security when she’s in remote places. She likes that she has the ability to tell rescuers what the problem is when she needs help too; something that she appreciates as before TrackMe NZ provided her with her Garman she came off her bike on the Timber Trail near Lake Taupo and suffered a concussion. She was lucky to be in one of the only spots on the trail with cell phone coverage, but only had one bar that faded in and out. She wasn’t sure if anyone was even going to come. Luckily, they did. She does firmly believe that it is a person’s own responsibility to not get into trouble in the first place and to never rely 100% on technology, but knowing that if she needs it, the unit is there, is reassuring.
Other than the Garmin from TrackMe NZ, Damiana isn’t sponsored in any way. She’s not raising money for any particular charity, not showcasing gear, she’s simply riding her bike because she wants to. That said, her gear has been used past its life span and she’s desperately in need of some new camping gear: a four-season tent, good R rated sleeping mat, a new sleeping bag and a modern lightweight all terrain wheelchair, but she’s not letting that worry her. “Don’t tell me what’s too hard,” she says, “And being disabled is a bit beside the point. Disabled people are often seen as other and I’m just me, having an adventure. When I finish this one, I’ll find another one. There are hundreds of bike trails in New Zealand.”
If you see Damiana on the road, give her a wave. And if anyone’s got any good gear she could use, let Tony Glentworth of TrackMe NZ know. He’s monitoring her tracking. He knows where she is.