Topic: Battle of the Minden by Lee Murray

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Wednesdays 6 am they appear. For close on two decades. Some days as many as six of them, other days just one. These are the Minden runners, Te Puna’s unofficial 16km club, including two doctors, an estate agent, two orchardists, a salesman, a solicitor, and a diesel mechanic. Occasionally, our MP turns up, make-up free, and wearing a T-shirt from his shabby-chic collection. And, when there’s no mad dash to do the school drop-off, I join them.

Not waiting around, we duck under the bridge and set out along the Wairoa. At this hour, the river is still snoring, its breath rising in wisps. Glossy amber roosters run ahead. During whitebait season, the baiters get here before us, but today there’s just a car, most likely a left-over from last night, the occupants’ privacy assured by a voile of condensation.

Further on, beyond the hospice, a twisted tree is home to a shock of roosting shags, their silhouettes blurred against the sunrise. Eerily romantic, were it not for the stench of dead fish. By now, the morning banter is in full swing: the birds’ as well as ours.

Veering left we follow the railway track. Cows snort from widened nostrils in the adjacent paddocks. At the hairpin, Ross says, “Remember those cheeky thieves? Stealing avos off the trees!”

Traditions are important, so Ross tries to tell the story every other week.

Now we’re facing south, with the Mount behind, and the Minden, our objective, in front. I try not to peek at the lookout hut, 286m above us. Impossible not to. With its flamboyant cherry roof, the hut shouts, “Over here!”

At the base of the colossus we slurp from the hose at an orchard shed. Recently, the orchardist was there.

“Mind if I use your tap?” I asked.

“Go right ahead,” he said, all crinkles. “All the runners do. I already said it was fine eighteen years ago.”

Here in Te Puna you only have to ask once.

Revived by the water and the air’s lemon zing, we would run, but tradition demands the group walk the first three corners of the climb, and it’s all Phil can do not to fly out of the blocks. We sidestep the rotting feijoas rolling down the road. It’s typical for Ross to chuck a few, as we crank our way upwards.

“Remember the time we overtook that cyclist, here? Scared the life out of him,” says Ross.

A kilometre up the Council has erected stairs, 321 of them, which the group describe euphemistically as a shortcut. The only thing heavenly about this stairway is finishing it. By the time I heave myself over the last riser, Phil is seated on the park bench enjoying the view without so much as a glow on him. They wait while I catch my breath. Then there’s only a couple of turns to the summit, past luxury homes with million dollar views, a tree with knobbly knees, and some partially-developed land the runners have their eye on for a retirement complex in the event they get decrepit.

At the lookout, I’m sorry to tell you, I’m the last of the team to arrive. We all face the Bay. Simon surveys his kingdom. It’s a religious moment, taking in the vista: Matakana, Mauao, the city. Today we can almost read the names of the ships at harbour. Other days it’s a spangled belt of mist, and in winter as black as a Frenchman’s coffee.

Captain Marcom of the 12th Regiment gave the Minden its name. Stationed in Tauranga in 1866 during the Maori Land Wars, the regiment’s belt buckle included the word ‘Minden,’ recalling its role in the 1759 Battle of Minden. Perhaps Marcom hoped for a repeat of that victory, or perhaps the River Weser and its peaty surrounds near the German town of Minden resembled the swampy basin of the Wairoa? Maybe he just liked the name. And, down the years, Minden Peak has been the site of numerous skirmishes, warring signal fires, a radio transmitter, and a wedding.

A few years back Phil got married here, making him a Minden life member. Mind you, just showing up makes you a member; three times and you’re invited to the Christmas breakfast. The exact date is a secret, because it might be illegal. But when it’s on Phil hauls out his portable BBQ and everyone scoffs pancakes and bacon right here in the lookout. Hash-browns at dawn. At Christmas we don’t run, so the old hands turn up: Duncan, Jones-boy, and the run’s founder, former cricketer  Mike Wright. They listen regretfully to our running goals while bemoaning the injury that prevents their coming back to join us.

Time to go. The next section is easier: it’s downhill, with the Mount serving as our inspirational and directional compass. The circuit’s always run this way. I once questioned it, causing an uproar. Apparently, one April Fool’s Day an attempt was made to run it clockwise.

“It was ugly,’ says Ross, shaking his head. “Never again.”

My husband takes the same attitude with Brussels sprouts.

We stop at our secret hose opposite the donkey paddock for the best water in the Bay. Round the next bend, Ross hurls more windfall fruit. On sunny mornings, he’ll say, “Remember that flipped car? Sunstrike!”

Our orchardists speed away. They’ve a big day in the orchard, and a five-hour bike-ride planned. Shortly afterwards, back at the Wairoa, we resume our daily alter egos: MP, estate agent, housewife. That is, until next Wednesday.

Of course, times have changed since Wrightie’s day: there’s a footpath by the kindy and they’ve laid a kerb on Wairoa Road. There’s a coffee kiosk parked at the bridge.

But there are new traditions still to forge. Although we’ve all run a double, Bruce is King with a Minden ultra: three consecutive laps. There’s talk of a four, but so far, no date’s been set.

Luckily, I’ll be in Nelson that day.

 

Lee Murray is a Tauranga runner and writer. Lee’s novel A Dash of Reality (Regis, 2011), was inspired by her running experiences in the Bay of Plenty and has been described by ultra-runner and Running Hot author Lisa Tamati as “a light-hearted, motivational and hilarious look at marathon training.”

Her debut junior novel, Battle of the Birds, was named as a children’s Book of the Year 2012 by The Dominion Post.

You can find out more about Lee by visiting her writer’s website www.leemurray.info. You can read about Battle of the Birds at www.battleofthebirds.info, or order a copy of A Dash of Reality, as Bay of Plenty residents and visitors will surely want to do at only 99c from Amazon, simply by clicking on the following link:

http://www.amazon.com/A-Dash-of-Reality-ebook/dp/B0066VHCRG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1325626916&sr=1-1

‘Battle of the Minden’ was written for the Memoir & Local History Competition 2011, run annually by the New Zealand Society of Authors (Bay of Plenty Region) with support from Tauranga Writers.

Illustrations to be added:

MLH_2011_2A /2B & 2C_Murray.jpg

Views of the Minden track.

MLH_2D_Murray.jpg

The cover of A Dash of Reality 

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This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/34KG-2CF3

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Battle of the Minden by Lee Murray


Year:2011