Going the distance to raise $1m

After arriving at the Invercargill finish line of the Westpac Chopper Appeal Bike Ride, Balfour...
After arriving at the Invercargill finish line of the Westpac Chopper Appeal Bike Ride, Balfour Deputy Chief Fire Officer James Merchant was "chuffed" with himself. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A volunteer firefighter from Balfour who rode in the Westpac Chopper Appeal Bike Ride from Queenstown to Invercargill for the first time says he would "absolutely" do it again.

Balfour Deputy Chief Fire Officer James Merchant rode in the charity ride earlier this month.

It was dark and frosty when DCFO Merchant and 99 other riders left Frankton at 5.45am on 11 May.

"I was a wee bit apprehensive," he said.

"I don’t think we held up too many vehicles at the start."

The first stop of the journey was Kingston, 40km south.

"It might’ve been a 20-minute stop. There were a few celebs with us who had to get a few interviews while we were there."

Nathan Cohen, Patrick Gower and Richie and Gemma McCaw participated in the ride.

By the time the group reached Athol on the trek down State Highway 6, rain soaked them.

"Everybody encountered a bit of heat going over Jollies Hill. Came in quick with sideways rain. Just what we wanted."

After a few stops at primary schools including Dipton, Limehills, Hillside, Hedgehope and Rimu, they eventually arrived in Invercargill at 5.30pm.

"It wasn’t a race but at the end of the day you couldn’t take all night to do it.

"I thought the pace was reasonably doable."

A total of 235km was travelled.

DCFO Merchant was inspired to participate in the ride after he received an email from the Invercargill Fire and Emergency NZ staff asking people to register their interest.

"I’ve done a bit of mountainbiking and I do a few running races," he said.

However he thought the ride would be a good way to get out of his comfort zone and "give it a go".

"I’ve never rode in a big bunch. You just gotta get used to it ... I knew it was gonna be one of those things you can’t just turn up and do."

He trained about four or five times with a cycling group in Invercargill to prepare.

He also knew the importance of the Lakes District Air Rescue Trust, to which funds raised from the southern ride were donated.

"I know how valuable these choppers are. Quick responses for the patients but peace of mind for us, as well. When you go to a really serious incident and know that those guys are coming along and going to help, it’s invaluable."

On May 16 the amount raised, shown on the ride’s collective Givealittle page, was $100,584, and more than a million dollars has been raised over 13 rides.