It was a long slow wait for this year’s Grand Challenge (my 4th), until the last month which seemed to fly by and all of a sudden we were away again.
Last week I had the bike booked for a service, pre-empting the 78,000Km check at 76,500Kms, as well as replacing the Metzler Z6 with a new Avon Storm on the front, a new air cleaner, new left main bulb, front right fork seal and the usual pre-GC super WoF check to ensure no problems when Brian Rusty and his crew did their scrutineering. That lot only cost $800+ so I was happy with the bike but my wallet didn’t have the same healthy feel to it.
I had organised a few things along the way, like a new map to record the route, a set of molded audio earplugs for the MP3 and to cut the noise from my crappy Shoei Helmet, a new $20 Blue vinyl waterproof jacket from the warehouse to replace my trusty $13 yellow one that was purchased for one ride….two years ago, (so this one should be good for ten years!) Then, when I was preparing my kit to pack a couple of days before, I found I was missing my torch so, along with the usual supply of nut bars, bananas and water, I purchased a new torch and a bundle of tie-wraps….I figured I had everything, but was surprisingly apprehensive about the ride….maybe that was partly thanks to the weather reports with predicted rain over the entire North Island.
Friday came and Steve and I were set to depart from BP Mana at 1000, (we normally prefer to ride up through the Wairarapa but the atrocious weather put paid to that) I kitted up for the worst before I left home, which was lucky because that’s what we got heading to our meeting point. I just got pummelled by rain but Steve discovered a new lake and river had formed at the top of Haywards and the ‘Busa had to do a bit of wading. With that downpour over, the rest of the trip up wasn’t too bad with me leading out to Bulls where we would decide whether to continue travelling up SH1, or go via Wanganui then up the Paraparas. In the end, after Steve commenting on my lean angle and inconsistent tracking on the Himatangi straights, we figured that wet Para’s was probably preferable to a windswept Central Plateau.
We embarked on the Paraparas with our usual gay abandon but soon discovered, after a couple of nasty twitches, that the wet surface required care and precision in picking lines that avoided even the slightest hint of a slick patch. This was to prove good practice for the GC ride itself but apart from that, our ride through to Raetihi was uneventful. We paused there to decide if we deserved a coffee but as Steve didn’t need a fill yet, we opted to continue onto the Train Station café at National Park, only to find the Overlander was in, so we ended up going all the way to the Truck Stop in Turangi for a coffee and sandwich.
From there we checked into our cabins, had the bikes scrutineered, and chatted as lots of familiar faces and bikes arrived. We went back to the Truck stop for dinner and by the time we got back to the camp at 2000 hrs, the map was up and we got into our route planning and more socialising, finally heading to bed at around midnight.
I awoke refreshed at 0630 to find it had poured that night but the weather wasn’t too bad as we had to fill in the long wait until the briefing at 1430 and departures starting at 1500. This is always the worst part of the weekend and I started out after breakfast going over the route and writing up little notes to stick to the dash of the bike. Then I was happy that I had it sussed, so I filled up the bike, then had to go over the route again and be sure so I’d got it, then I’d go and chat to others …and so on and so on!!
Finally!! ….1506 and the bright yellow card went up on the fence for Group 3 to depart. I had kitted up after the briefing, taken a couple of photos and now I was on my way with Cowboys (Lance/ZX9) and Meanie (James/Concours), who were both GC virgins, in the same group. Lance bolted, as he is prone to do but James and I started a little more sedately as we headed over SH41 then up the Western side of the lake to Whakamaru, Waipapa Rd and onto Kihikihi. I was going to put my ‘wets’ on before the start but with the temp at 18°, I opted not to don my over-jacket and Rain-Off gloves. Dumb because I’d just passed some Group 2 riders halfway up the western arm and the heavens opened up so I had to stop and waste 5 minutes. That’s not a very big portion of 24 hours, but on a ride like this it is very easy to loose time and very hard to make it up, so one tries to avoid unnecessary stops.
Good boyscout XP@ is always prepared...but what for exactly?? (a litre or 5 of gas would have served much better)
Back on the road and no sooner had the rain started than it stopped and it would have been nice to take the gear off again….but that wasn’t an option and so the mood for the ride was set. I settled into a 130 kilometre-eating-pace which had me back with Meanie along Waipapa Rd, where I took the lead and dragged a couple of riders up Paterangi Rd and SH39 to Whatawhata, then out to Te Uka (just short of Raglan). I’ve never been on SH23 out to Raglan and I had a blast, as this section of the trip was dry and the road mint. I had a rider in tow who turned out to be XP@ (another James), complete with golf umbrella attached to his bike, (who knows??? ) so after registering at the Time-Check, we continued our fang up Ohautira, Waingaro & Rotowaru roads to Huntly. James had to get gas in Huntly and the big grin was still slowly fading as we passed the Mobil in search of a garage on the main drag…but there weren’t any. James expressed his concern and after realising there weren’t any but I checked my mirrors to see two bikes still there and thought he must be going to continue, to fill in Kopu, but when the Beemer barrelled past me I realised I’d lost James …..and felt really guilty about that!!?? (Dump the Transalp James and get an ST). As it transpired, he didn’t make it back to the Mobil and now I feel really bad!
After getting over the grief of losing a mate, I continued solo on my spirited pace along SH’s 2 & 25 to Kopu, then up 25A and down 25 to the first checkpoint at Whangamata, arriving at about 1900hrs. I had expected to have my first fill at Tauranga or maybe even Rotorua, but the pace had my economy at 15.2K/Ltr and at 404Kms into the ride I was on my last bar (reserve) so had to fill, taking on 24.44ltrs, which is getting low on gas for the ST!......I guess I was having a good time!
At this point I should have caught Steve, who started in Group 1 but would have needed a fill prior to Whangamata. It turned out, he had taken a wrong turn and did a few extra Kms so I had passed him without knowing. Cowboys arrived while I was there and having filled the bike and snacked, I continued on SH25 to Waihi, then SH2 down to Tauranga but not before stopping before the outskirts of Whangamata because with the black clouds ahead, I thought it might be prudent to put the Rain-Off gloves back on. I ended up catching another rider and following him to Tauranga but lost him as I turned down Moffat Rd as I headed for Pyes Pa Road to take me to Rotorua. I don’t remember the last time I was on this road and with warnings about greasy roadworks I took it rather sedately, getting to Rotorua at about 2100hrs and figured I was making such good time, I could afford to make a quick stop to visit my kids and Moko, but it was a bit brief and I was soon back on SH30 for Whakamaru and next Check-point in Te Kuiti.
Even though it was now dark and wet, these roads were familiar and good enough that I felt comfortable to sit around 120 and as I turned from SH1 onto SH30 at Atiamuri, a rider was stopped under a streetlamp on the corner. I paused to check he was OK and fortunately he just needed reassurance that he was on the right road, so although I’m comfortable to ride alone, I was happy to have company as we flitted across through Bennydale and the 2nd checkpoint at Shell Te Kuiti, arriving about 2300hrs with the more sedate pace resulting in 17.8K/Ltr on the economy.
Bike filled, card punched and partway through my statutory banana and nutbar, Cowboys & Meanie turned up so I figured I might as well continue with them but as we were ready to leave, Duncan, who had followed me into Te Kuiti, asked if he could join me. I figured that was fine so I waited for him before lighting-out after the others through Eight Mile Junction, and down SH4 through National Park, Raetihi and the Paraparas to the next checkpoint at the Gull in Wanganui.
The weather was pretty crappy and Cowboys had to stop to clean his visor, after which I ended up in front to lead down through the Para’s. Duncan had gone ahead and I was trying to catch him whilst also keeping the pace smooth and both sets of headlights in the mirrors so although we would get the odd glimpse of him in the distance, we only caught up once we were in Wanga’s and it was now 0220 on Sunday morning. Even though the weather was worse, I actually found this run down the Para’s better than our ride up the day before and I was still dry warm and feeling fresh. After checking in, I popped back to the Caltex to get some gas as I wasn’t sure if I’d get to new Plymouth or not and I won’t use the ethanol fuel on the ST. At 960Kms done we were over half distance and under half time, on about a 20hour pace
With that done, the usual rituals completed, we were back on our way and I opted to bring up the rear. From my perspective, in these conditions, this is actually the worst place to be because you cop all the crap thrown up from the other bikes. Also, when following another bike at night, my preferred option is to sit close behind within the range of my low beam and ride off the lights of the bike in front, however in these conditions one has to sit back because if the bike in front brakes to avoid a slick spot, you’re left with nowhere to go. This means one is riding on low beam and while trying to pick non-slick lines to ride on the road in the gloom, you’re constantly blinded by leading brake lights and an abundance of crap…bottom line…it sucks but someone’s gotta do it…or ride alone!
The ride up SH3 to Hawera was OK but the ride on SH45 around Taranaki was the worst leg of the event. Disregarding that I was at the rear, even the hump on the roads through here was often slick reducing ones options for good traction. We also encountered a stiff headwind which was strong enough to bring my economy down to 16.3L/Ltr, even though we only sitting on 110-120 and this also enhanced the roar in my helmet to the extent that it was uncomfortable, even wearing my molded audio-earplugs (it was like riding at 160+ for two hours) so by the time I got to New Plymouth, I hated my Raid II helmet and replaced the earplugs with foam ones which worked much better..(naturally since we were out of the wind from here on). The other problem on this leg was that Taranaki is dairy central and therefore, large dairy tankers with trailers are abundant on the roads and these babies can really kick up the crap. Coming the other way they momentarily blind you and following you need to hang back a bit which means you miss a few passing opportunities, but one has to give the tanker drivers their due because their road etiquette is great, they make room where they can as well flicking their indicators if the road ahead is clear. Well done Fontera!
We were at Spotswood Caltex around 0430 and with plenty of time to spare so from here on in we maintained our riding pace but had a more sociable ride with plenty of stops. The ride up the coast, over Mt Messenger and the Awakino gorge was good but not the usual buzz thanks to the inclement weather however, at least by the time we got to the gorge it was getting light enough to see and I no longer had to struggle with riding on low beam, so picking clean lines on the road was a lot easier. We stopped in Piopio because Cowboys needed a natural break but I think he was more desperate for a smoke, then we went on to Kihikihi for him to top-up, only to find the garage still shut so we continued over the Arapuni Dam to Putararu, by which time he was running on fumes (the ST was down to about half).
From here we headed up SH’s 28 & 29 to Tauranga where we had our first encounter with the law…or at least Meanie did. We were just descending from our climb over the Kaimais when we were snapped and the cop managed a hasty but safe u-turn to give chase, shooting past myself and Duncan to stop the guilty bastard as we puttered past, stopping at a Caltex station down the road to await the result of the encounter. I couldn’t believe it when I heard they had ticketed him because there were three targets in their sights and it amazes me that they got it right and knew who to ping!!??
This resulted in a more sedate pace over to Mt Maunganui then along to Te Puke and the last checkpoint on SH33 at Gull Paengaroa. After checking in here, I continued on to Te Ngae to top up then waited for the others to come through and resumed my position at the rear of the group. We were soon repeating our scoot down SH30 and had just joined traffic on SH1 at Atiamuri when we got snapped again. This time it was just Duncan and myself that were targeted….so I knew it had to be his fault and being a good bloke, he fell on his sword and pulled over as the rest of us took the turn back onto SH30 and scooted to Whakamaru to wait for him. As it turned out though, he managed to accuse me and got off with a promise to give me a good talking too…which he tried to do…..and I tried to listen!!??
We were finally down to the last 100’ish Kms, heading back down the Western Arm of the lake and back across SH41 to Turangi. The weather was trying to improve but we still encountered a mixture of rain, patches of wet road, wet steamy road and dry road and as I followed Meanie over the last saddle before dropping down to Tokaanu, it was dry and we were enjoying our last wee fang for the ride. We were cranked right over on the right hander at the summit when ¾ of the way through the corner we suddenly found ourselves on a wet road. That resulted in a quick BHM (Biker Hail Mary) and pucker moment as I sucked onto the seat, but fortunately we weren’t pushing it too hard and were able to ease around with no incident.
We were finished minutes later and I struggled off the bike but felt great. We were 4 of a kind, 4 of 84 like minded nutters attempting to ride all day and all night for a badge, a patch, a feed and a beer,….and because we could. (This field was down on the 100-120 that have started on my previous rides). I now had 4 GC’s under my belt and felt great, not suffering any of the fatigue I had encountered on my three previous rides, which I put down to doubling the dose of electrolyte in my water and all the stops we had throughout the morning. The weather was the usual crap I have come to expect at this event, but having a bike and gear that kept me dry and warm meant that it wasn’t a problem. 11 riders withdrew for various reasons and it is impressive that close to 80,000 miles (130,000Kms) would have been completed in 24 hours without incident at a time when ACC are vilifying bikers as dangerous Cretans that can’t generally ride to the shop without causing injury.
After our hearty Rusty Feed, the rest of the day was spent trading lies as we wound down, until I hit the wall at about 1430 and headed off for a sleep until 1830. Then it was back to the dining room for leftovers and more lies until heading back to bed at about 2300.
Steve and I finished off the weekend with a quiet ride down SH1, getting to work after 1300 having done over 2400Kms over 4 days. It’s a pity more weekends aren’t like this!
These blogs were posted on the KiwiBiker forum but I decided it was time for a change.