Murray Gray turned 80 last week and 1st up on his bucket list was to do another 1,000 miler (ie 1,608 km ride) and naturally enough, he approached the NZ Distance Riders for assistance to achieve his goal. We were more than happy to oblige and right from the first word, I was in.
I first met Murray about 10 years ago when I started doing Rusty Nut Grand Challenges (1,000 miles in 24 hrs). My first thought at the time was, “Wow, I hope I’m still riding at 70…but doing GC’s?..that’s amazing!” Murray did about 13 GC’s, so I met him a few times and I was there when he received his silver mug after completing his 10th and then when he was welcomed into the Rusty family along with Cam (another legend who did all 25 GC’s).
Damn!!...now he’s 80 and he’s still going at it!!
We met with Murray at the NI1600 to discuss the concept and come up with a plan to make it happen, then over the next few months it all fell into place and although we were initially expecting to have a party of 5 or 6, as it turned out, there was just Brian Rusty and myself and on Friday morning, I departed for Waihi on my next adventure.
Unlike my usual modus operandi, I didn’t have a plan for Friday’s ride to get to Waihi because sometimes I hate making choices and I had so many options? I could go straight up SH1 and over the Kaimais…nah, that wasn’t really an option, I could go through the Wai’rapa to Napier, then Napier-Taupo, Rotorua, Pyes Pa?....nah I had a 1600 to do the next day, maybe through the ‘Naki?...nah did that after Christmas!? That left my favourite for up the centre – Paras, Western Lake, Waipapa Rd, so I started out with that in mind when I left home at 0820 with an almost full tank.
The weather predicted that I would encounter rain along the Kapiti Coast, but that didn’t eventuate, so I enjoyed an easy ride through light traffic, bypassing Whanganui and cruising up the Para’s, but when I got to National Park, it looked decidedly gloomy over towards Turangi, so I stayed on SH4 since I hadn’t done that for awhile. That was nice and I also had to readjust the approach to Waihi, so I just adopted the end of the planned 1600km as that included a scoot up the western side of the river from Ngaruawahia to Rangiriri, which I had only done once in the dark, then across from Te Kauwhata, which I hadn’t done at all.
I was down to two bars when I arrived in Te Kuiti and I figured it was time for a break, so I stopped for fuel at the BP to pick-up some AA rewards…and what do you know, the bike would only take $38, so I missed out there, but the Pepper Steak pie and coffee went down a treat. The temp was finally getting up so I also took the opportunity to remove the wet liner from my jacket and open the zip panels.
The rest of the ride was uneventful, although I did note that the GPS tried to go onto SH1 at Ngaruawahia, so I just ignored Kate and did my own thing. I also noted that NZ Open Maps had the fuel at Te Kauwhata as Mobil whilst Google Maps had it as G.A.S….but it is actually Waitomo brand! (I only noted that as it was to be the last checkpoint on Sunday). 90km to go, which included the delightful Karangahake Gorge, but that was bumper to bumper traffic and at 1610, I was pulling into Murray & Val’s place….and we had a pleasant evening catching up.
The plan was for a 1300 start and it was a pretty relaxed morning. I awoke about 0530, dozed for a bit then went comatose again until about 0715, when I arose. We had breakfast (and I should note that dinner included ice cream and homemade stewed plums, then breakfast I opted for the homemade marmalade jam on toast…Murray was already a legend in my eyes) then I did the usual fluffing around: checking tyres, ensuring the supplies of nutbars, water and bananas are packed right, checking and mounting the GoPro & remote, GPS and Camera etc. etc. Brian arrived after 1100, he scrutineered my bike and we eventually decided that we might as well get on the road early, filling at the BP, then having our official departure from there, which was at 1240….we were finally on the road…but that road was SH2, which was littered with traffic and a proliferation of double yellows. *Sigh*…it was steady as she goes.
Murray led out, which gave me the opportunity to observe how he rode (what sort of pace etc) in case I had to lead later. I would describe our track as ‘fast and free-flowing’ for NZ roads, but that also meant ‘arse-numbing’, with the MapSource predicting 20:49, but once loaded to my GPS unit, it reckoned 18:30. That would be reasonably accurate for my normal approach to a 1600, but it didn’t allow for the stops of course and there were 5 photo CP’s and 6 fuels stops. It certainly meant we had plenty of buffer to enjoy a relaxed and casual pace and stops.
We turned off at Bethlehem to amble down to Tauriko, then take Pyes Pa Road down to Lake Rotorua, scoot around the top, then get on to the Rotomas with the first CP between Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoehu, being ‘The Tree’ (or Hinehopu’s Wishing Tree if you prefer). (137km done)
After a leisurely stop, which got filmed due to forgetting to turn the GoPro off, we were on our way again for fuel at Opotoki (238Km), then the next CP at Ormand Pre-School via the Waioeka Gorge. By the time we embarked on the gorge, it was 1600 and we arrived at Ormand at 1727, and being a cloudless day with little wind, it was a rather warm 27̊ through here so the prolific tar slicks were often glistening. Me being me, I was very careful picking my lines but Brian mentioned later that, “Nah, I tested it a few times and never got any movement.” I didn’t incur any twitches and prefer to think it was the careful lines on my part? …And we were now at 360km.
Murray continued to lead and I continued to closely monitor our overall average via the GPS, as one only requires to plod along at 67kph to achieve the distance in 24 hours and we were hovering around 71kph, lifting to up to around 74kph on the road then dropping back to 71 after the stops…so we had about an hour plus up our sleeves….but Gisborne to Wairoa to Bayview was going to be one of the slowest sections of the ride as it abounds with nice curly stuff, not to mention that our timing meant we were in for a good dollop of sunstrike!
It continued to be a pleasant wee pootle though and although Murray did struggle at times with the abundance of corners through hilly and wooded countryside, which meant a multitude of transitions from deep shade to bright sunlight hitting the eyeballs head-on, from just above the horizon, we made good time to arrive at the next fuel stop in Wairoa at 1853, having done 464km at an overall average of 75kph…only to leave 17mins later with the average back to 71kph. I didn’t find the sunstrike too bad with a very good set of transition lenses that go very dark and Brian has a Shoei Airtech that has the internal slide-down tinted visor…but our eyes aren’t 80 years on either. I also didn’t bother to fuel here as I figured that with the economy up around 19.7km/ltr, I could get to the next fuel at Caltex Woodville…and collect some AA rewards.
It was more of the same from Wairoa to Bayview, arriving there as it started to get dark at about 2030 and Murray slowed a little so I slipped past to navigate us through to SH50, and stay in the lead throughout the night to make it easier for the old eyes. Afterall, we were now in my backyard so it was all pretty familiar territory. I didn’t lift the pace but just tried to set a consistent tempo that would aid Murray’s night vision by extending extending his view and enhancing it with the ST’s good lights. I’d closed all the zips on my jacket at Wairoa but the plummet from 27̊ to 18̊ through here had me feeling it, so I paused in Dannevirke to check if the others wanted to stop for a layer or continue the 20 odd minutes to Woodville…and Woodville it was.
We arrived at 2215, 737km done, with the average back to 76kph, I got my rewards doing 497km on the tank for 23 ltrs at $43.72….(yes!!), adding a much needed skivvy and wet liner for warmth….and we left half an hour later with the average back to 72kph (hot diggity…we’d gained about a quarter of an hour!) At this point I also put the GoPro and remote into the topbox to recharge.
Nearly halfway! …We hit the halfpoint, which was between Masterton and Carterton at just after 2300, and that meant we were on track for a sub-22 hour ride and had a very good buffer, but the temp had continued to drop (to about 10̊ ) and I was bloody freezing, so I added my outer wet jacket and swapped to the winter Spidi gloves at the Pauatahanui checkpoint. Murray didn’t seem to like the Rimutakas (but you can’t please everyone with a nice curly bit of macadam) and his grumblings reminded me of my first encounter with a wet highway 22 on a dismal night in 2007. *Sigh*…Brian was responsible for that route too and he cackles away to himself whenever reminded of his past dastardly plottings.
We were on the downhill run now and let Murray off the hook by bypassing the Paekak’ Hill Rd, taking him back to SH1 via Grays Rd…which seemed kind of fitting really. Then it was more droll, easy riding to the next fuel at BP Bulls (1,033km done at 0235), before heading for the checkpoint at Challenge Rahotu on the Surf Highway (1225km) and an almost dawn fuel stop at Z Waiwhakaiho on the norther side of New Plymouth (1276km at 0600). The temp had bottomed out at 8̊ and I was now adding the heated grips to ensure my continued comfort.
I’d done my stint and Brian now took the lead as I slotted in behind Murray, but the last 400’ish km wasn’t going to be any picnic. The next hour or two treated us to a mix of dawn sunstrike, thick fog, damp roads and a proliferation of unmarked repairs scattered with lashings of loose shit, throughout the Awakino Gorge, not to mention that the surface on Mt Messenger is really crappy right now too. I must say that this is a far cry from the sweet ride we had through here before and again just after Christmas.
So the Awakino Gorge was harder going, but once through there, the temp did start to rise and things got easier. By this time, Murray wasn’t riding as freely as before but there were no complaints with the gnarly old bastard toughing it out.
As we entered Te Kuiti, we met Graham, another old Rusty who joined us for the rest of the ride and we took the opportunity for an unscheduled stop to have more refreshments and a chat before embarking on the last 200km. Then more easy going up to Otorohanga and through Pirongia to Ngaruawahia, then avoiding SH1 by taking Hakarimata Rd to Huntly, then Te Ohaki Rd to Rangiriri, and finally across SH1 to the last checkpoint at the Waitomo fuel in Te Kauwhata…and we were effectively onto the finishing straight.
Murray fueled up and we offered for him to lead in from here, but by this time, he was operating on ‘mean & ornery’, stubborn, ‘I can do this’, cantankerousness. He advised that he was operating in the margins and was happy to follow until Waikino (9km to go), so that was the plan and that was how we finished at 1120 for 22hrs 40mins. My odo recording 1649 km for the ride….so I must have taken some wide lines!
Murray was stoked….and shattered….and he looked a mess…but he had done it!!....and a local legend is born!!...and I did 1600 Km With Gray!
Epilogue: Tokaanu and Home.
Val had lunch all prepared for us so, no sooner were we off the bikes and starting to wind down, with certificates issued, then we were being handed a beer and ushered in for a feed…and bloody marvelous it was too. We chatted about things Endurance Riding, old Rusty Rides, upcoming NZDR rides and so on, and in no time it was time to make a move.
I could have stayed another night (which would have been the smart thing to do) but I didn’t relish the thought of a 6+ hour ride back to Wellington the next day and wanted to try to get as far as Tokaanu if I could, but would stop and settle earlier if I had too, so thanks were given and farewells said.
I didn’t want to think too much so I just poked Oasis camp ground into the GPS and went for the most direct ride, which was over to Tauranga, across the Kaimais, on to Putaruru, …but then I did have to intervene because Kate was trying to send me via Taupo. I had filled at Caltex Tauriko, (just missing out on my rewards with a $38 fill …again!!) and felt pretty good as I cruised along, then forced Kate to keep recalculating as I took to Arapuni Rd, to Pearsons Rd, to Old Taupo Rd (sweet little fang that that is), then down to Whakamaru and onto the Western Lake Rd.
I was good as gold until just before the dam, when the first yawn manifested, but no sooner had I made the turn at Whakamaru than I seemed to be making another at Kuratau Junction and I just had the short squirt over the saddles to a hot pool and a bed, arriving at 1600. Fortunately they had plenty of beds available, but it was still too hot for a soak so I just showered up, checked out the pools for later, then got a feed while they were still open. I napped between 1730 & 1830, feeling much better afterwards to dump my GPS plottings, then go for a short soak before checking in with Ann and it was around this time that I started to realise that I couldn’t remember much more than the odd snapshot of my ride down the Western Lake!!?? On reflection, I suppose it was a dumb move as 1900km and about 33 hours on the go is a bit of a stretch and I must have been operating in the margins…or something??!!
Needless to say, I slept very well that night, arising at about 0700 for a much better soak, before finishing off the remainder of my now somewhat scabby bananas and a couple of nutbars with half a bottle of water … and a coffee. I repacked the bike and finally got on the road at 0916.
It was ‘almost drizzly’ in Tokaanu but I still had all the zips down, however the weather deteriorated as I progressed toward the Central Plateau and I managed to even close the zips on the back, but it was soon persisting so after much deliberating, I stopped after the Sisters to put my outer wet jacket on. I should have known better though and did tell myself, “I knew it!” because as soon as I reached the plateau, one could see the weather was clear on the way down, so I had to stop again in Waiouru to take the jacket off. (Only three cars repassed me but!)
I’ll note here that the dizzy heights of 19.7 km/Ltr economy had inspired me and although I had slipped between Tauranga & Tokaanu, arriving at a slightly better than normal 17.5 km/Ltr, I decided to still try to get back on the single tank, so I was puttering along at much the same speed as most of the traffic…??...ok, some of the traffic….??...ok, some of the time I was going at the same speed as the other traffic and occasionally passing most of it!
Anyway, I pootled away down SH1, going on reserve after Paraparumu and easily made it to BP Johnsonville by 1250, where I managed to shove 25Ltrs in the bike for a $50.05 fill…so not only did I earn my points, I figured I would use them as well. I don’t know where Mr Honda gets off with telling us that ST1300s have a 29Ltr tank, as I could have gone another 15 or 20km probably, but I’ve never put much over 25Ltrs in because the rest is keeping the fuel pump submerged and is unavailable.
These blogs were posted on the KiwiBiker forum but I decided it was time for a change.