Humbling journey for ‘old bloke on old bike’


John Smithies is cycling the length of the country, paying tribute to his late wife, and says the tour has exceeded all expectations.

Mr Smithies, who is from Lake Ohau, was in Oamaru yesterday on his way south to complete his ride, having already completed 58 days.

“Some days, as you could appreciate, I would get lazy or wait for the weather to improve,” he said.

Mr Smithies had often spoken to his wife, Alison, who died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2011, about giving something back to the people who supported them.

“It wasn’t possible to do it when she was alive,” he said.

“I still have the motivation and I’ve got time.

“It’s exceeded expectations.”

Mr Smithies said the idea behind travelling the length of the country was to meet as many people as possible.

As if cycling the length of the country wasn’t adventurous enough, Mr Smithies is doing it on a vintage 1940s bike.

“Old bloke on an old bike,” he said.

Fortunately for Mr Smithies, he is content with his own company and said he was a very lucky man.

“It’s certainly a time for reflection and meditation,” he said.

“I have my health and fitness and the other is I don’t need a lot of outside stimulation to keep me occupied.”

Mr Smithies said having his late wife sitting on his shoulder kept him going.

The support and kind nature of both strangers and family members has also blown Mr Smithies away.

One motorist, who passed Mr Smithies in her car, pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road and explained she had no time to talk but handed him $20.

“It’s just amazing,” he said.

“That’s [the people] going to leave a permanent mark on me.”

As well as paying tribute to his late wife, the ride is also raising awareness and money for Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand.

“They are lovely people,” he said.

“I’m in touch with them daily.”

There was no training as such ahead of the ride but Mr Smithies said he had been active.

“That’s what we did right from when were teenagers,” he said.

“I ride and I tramp.”

Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand chief executive officer Pru Etcheverry said she was touched by Mr Smithies’ effort.

“His huge personal quest to raise awareness of lymphoma is inspirational, as it’s the sixth most common form of cancer in New Zealand, yet very few people have heard of it or are aware of its signs and symptoms,” she said.

This is the first time Mr Smithies has embarked on a journey like this, but said it won’t be the last.

You can donate money to support Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand and the efforts of Mr Smithies, by visiting


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