Are we there yet?...that's the motto of NZ Distance Riders (NZDR) and Yes Siree, we got there...we made it!...and had a shitload of fun on the way…..whew!
Last weekend was the culmination of another year's planning for the 2015 Nth Island 1600. The creation of a route and selection of checkpoints, selection of colours for rider and volunteer T-Shirts, design of badges, patches and certificates, production of Rider's Guides, organisation of volunteers for selected manned checkpoints, scrutineering, catering at HQ and managers for the event, establishing a budget, sorting and provisioning the catering...then waiting for the entries to trickle in.....tweeking the route, tweeking the budget,...then waiting for the entries to trickle in …collecting checkpoint photos for the Rider's Guide...then waiting for entries to trickle in....worrying about the budget and lack of requests for accommodation ...and worrying that there weren't enough entries and the budget was blowing out...and waiting for the entries to trickle in!!?? Asking each other... “Are we there yet?”
I don't know what the worry was because at the close of entries there were 50 nutters all wanting to crack out a thousand miler in 24 hours, a GC, or a Grandy, as some still refer to what is now the North Island 1,600 and there were about 24 volunteers eager to assist and monitor progress and the budget looked healthy. Of course, there were a few withdrawals, but come 1300 on Saturday 10 November 2015, the riders were rolling out of the Turangi cabins and embarking on their personal challenges, their epic adventures.....and a bloody good fang!!
For me, the departure from Wellington at about 0900 on Friday morning was almost an anticlimax and relief that we were finally at the start, and since I had planned to be at Turangi by lunch time, I just scooted straight up SH1, to arrive at 1220, while Ann took the loaded car via Palmy to pick-up the all important pre-prepared post-ride meals. (supplied from Barney who was one of the riders)
I checked in to the cabins and started to setup the hall as HQ, got the bike scrutinised by Brian, took a few photos, helped sort the supplies into the kitchen and HQ, then relaxed and enjoyed meeting and greeting new riders and old mates. We went for a feed at the tavern at 1700 to get back for the release of the route and issue of Rider's Guides and T-Shirts at 1900. It was hard case because once we were setup I had donned my volunteer's yellow T-Shirt when Theresa pointed out, “Should you have that on because it's got the route on the back?” ...and we all just looked at each other and started to laugh. What a bunch of dickheads! I put a jersey on and Brett turned his inside out, then we rearranged the issue of T-Shirts to coincide with posting up the route.
The rest of the night was spent planning, or for us, assisting the planners to plan.
Saturday was cruisy. I helped in the kitchen for breakfast, took photos, went down for fuel, water and bananas (I already had my supply of nut bars stowed), then hurried up and waited for the briefing at 1200 (but that was on Gremlin-Time which is a bit like Maori-Time...ie normal time plus a cup of tea, which was about 1215). Brett and Jane hit the road shortly after the briefing, then James led us out about 10-15 minutes later at 1241.
We were both equipped with Sena S20s, so we could chat away while making good progress over Te Ponanga Saddle, across SH47 to SH4, and down the Paraparas to the first checkpoint that we were manning at the Upokongaro Tavern, his brisk but relaxed pace chewing out the 160km in 1:33 for a rolling average of 102kph (well within the allowable limits).
Once the last riders were through, we kitted up and lit out for checkpoint (CP) 2, slotting straight into 'GC Mode', which is just a bit slower than that of a scolded cat, and by the time we had scooted through Fordell to the bridge over the Whangaehu River at the junction with Mangamahu Rd, we had passed a half dozen riders and found another 6 or 8 at the CP.
A quick stop, pic snapped and we were away ahead of most at the stop, but fortunately, we were behind three riders on adventure bikes. I say fortunately, because we passed one rider, then sat behind/with the other two as they cruised along. It was one of those situations whereby, they weren't travelling quite as quick as we would have, but the road was tight and it wasn't really worth gassing it to get past.
Next thing you know, the lead rider of our little group was two wheel drifting through a right hander on Mangahoe Rd, James alerted me as I entered the corner and he didn't seem to have too much bother, but the chap behind him was struggling for control as he tried to keep his bike upright and avoid the other two in front, while I was going, “ooooh, oooooh, ooooh” into the intercom as I straightened and headed for the fence while caressing the linked, ABS stoppers in an effort to pull myself up before tangling with the fence while avoiding the other three. My arse was puckering as I could feel the grit under the tyres trying to make them give way and initiate a slide, but the combination of 'soft' hands and ABS thwarted all efforts of the Turakina Valley Demons to ruin my day....and we continued on!
The wee glitch left our two buddies a bit shaken and they dropped from ¾ to ½ Impulse, then the man in front of me almost ran tooo wide on another corner, so I passed him, then shortly after, the front man waved us through, so it was back to Warp Factor 1 and we were soon rocking through Hunterville, passing another three riders who were at the pumps, then heading up to Ohingaiti before crossing to CP3 at Pemberton Corner.
Pemberton used to be a settlement along Rangiwahia Rd, but now all that remains is a sign on a fence, which we had soon photographed and pulled out behind Judge Dreds and his two Bailiffs. I don't recall why, but I ended up in the lead out of here so we soon passed the Africa Twins and GS and took to the lovely wee strip of road leading into Kimbolton, then negotiated the horrid straights to Cheltenham, turning there to make our way via Stanway (a hall on a corner) to CP4 at the roundabout in Halcombe. There were a few more riders here and I was so focused on the job in hand that I didn't notice the Hyde Bros repairing Grayson's FJR on the side of the road.
Off again and we now took Halcombe Rd to SH1, then Makirikiri Rd to SH3 so we could scoot around the mountain to CP5 at Oakura. Our first fuel stop was planned at 460km for Z Hawera, but as it transpired, James was running 91 in his ST and between the pace and the fact we were now punching into a stiff westerly, he was well into his second-to-last bar on the fuel gauge and although I would probably still make Hawera, it would have been touch and go, so after a quick discussion and rethink (bloody great advantage of the Senas) we altered our fuel plan to fill at Whanganui and Te Kuiti before slotting back into the plan at Bombay.
While we were filling a few riders passed us back, then we saw no one as we made our way to Hawera and around the Surf Highway. This stretch had us riding straight into the gales and setting sun, although from time to time we had the relief of a few clouds and we finally arrived at Oakura just before 1930 and we were 550km into the ride, enjoying some stick from Stretch (CP Marshall) as he cleaned my screen for me. Snacked, watered and relieved, I donned a couple of scivvies for the cooling night, before we were back on our way through New Plymouth and heading up SH3 for a date with Mt Messenger and the Awakino Gorge, albeit in the dark. It was a good but uneventful fang and I found it quite relaxing while James busted his guts to make good progress and I was able to just ride off his lights....Good on ya mate!
At 2120 we were filling at the Te Kuiti BP, about 730km into the ride, then off for Otorohanga, where we turned off to take SH39 up to Pirongia and shortly after that, we diverted over Te Pahu Rd to get to SH23 and take that out to CP6 at Raglan...another rather nice curly road. While we were there, the Hyde boys and Dave rocked in, then we followed them out. Once again, I don't recall why, but I was in front of James and while our plan was to take Ohautira Rd to Huntley, I was sure these guys were going back through Whatawhata, to Ngaruawahia, then up the western side of the river to Rangiriri,....and they were doing Warp Factor 3, so I asked James, “Turn off on Ohautira or follow these guys?” and the succinct response was, “Follow them”….. and so it was that we got taken for a ride.
At this point in the ride, our moving average was 97kph and ETA at about 0945 in the morning. I was really disappointed that when we rolled into BP Bombay a little before midnight that our moving average hadn't budged...but I was most pleased that Barney had shaved a half hour off our ETA. (??....say no more).
We didn't linger, filling, snacking, watering and relieving and didn't bother putting the wets on even though we departed in misty drizzle as we figured it was pretty localised and we were soon back on the road, heading across SH2 to SH25, through Thames, then up to Coromandel and across to CP8 at Te Rerenga School.
James was doing a sterling job, making his way through the dark at a respectable pace and I was doing a sterling job keeping just close enough to ride off his lights...enjoying an armchair ride if you will. We did pass the odd cop along here but James' spidey senses were active and we weren't bothered or interrupted...and then we were turning corners. It was marginal riding up the western side of the peninsular but, my word, what a ride it was across the top. I haven't been through these parts for over 20 years and back then I seem to recall that there was a fair bit of horrid, badly corrugated gravel roads, populated by arrogant SUVs, driven by spoilt-brat teenagers, but now this is the picture-postcard-pin-up motorcycling road (apparently) and I must say, I wouldn't mind attacking it in daylight but that would probably see the macadam populated with cages as well. We only met two cars, a truck and one motorcycle all the way from Thames to Waihi!
After capturing our pictures of the Te Rerenga School sign, James dragged us across to Kuaotunu and down through Whitianga and Tairua to CP9 at Z Whangamata and all I have to say about that is that there were a few more corners. At this stage, James had upped to 98 octane at Bombay, but he was still running about 1.1km/ltr less than my economy, but that wasn’t going to be a problem as we were only doing about 380km from Bombay to Rotorua and he continued to lead through to Tauranga before finally giving me the nod that he needed a rest from lead.
By this time the temp was plummeting and with fatigue taking its toll, we dropped down to a less than sedate pace over Pyes Pa Rd. I'm not sure if it was the cold, the drop in pace out of 'the zone', or because I'm slowly turning into an old fart that I was feeling the effects and getting a tad tired as well, but we crawled on and pulled into CP10 at Z Fairy Springs just after 0500. ...with only about 350km to go.
We filled and James had a coffee while I went for a stroll and jumped about a bit, then put my wet jacket and glove liners on to help stave off the cold. I'd already been using the heated grips, but I really needed them when we pulled out and cracked them up to full.
I was back in front and James wanted me to up the pace to get us back into 'the zone' but as well as the temp fluctuating between 3° & -1°, we were drifting in and out of thick fog on a night that was as black as the hobs of hell....and I was a still a tad tired too. I did my best as we crossed SH30 to Atiamuri, then Whakamaru and I decided I needed to stop for another wake-up at either Bennydale or the turnoff onto Waimiha Rd...but for some reason I didn't. Nor did I need to because Waimiha Rd is a lousy goat-track and we were hooning over it ….and that woke both of us up.
We had been riding smoothly throughout the trip with minimal braking and nice roll-off – roll-on, flowy, efficient riding, but this was all brakes and acceleration and my precious economy was plummeting, but hey, when you’re having fun….
We cracked along to SH4, turned right to scoot up to Ohura Rd, at which point I got confused as to whether to take the first slip-road corner, or the main corner and ended up stopped in between the two, letting James resume control at the front while Gary hooked on behind. More high energy riding and I was soon getting uncomfortable wrists from the constant heavy braking, so I eased up slightly to revert back to a slightly more flowy style. This was the first time I’ve been through here in the dry as the Rustys tended to arrange for wetter rides and we were very thankful for the grip as our ETA continued to tumble.
On arrival at the hall, we grabbed our photos and as per usual, dysentery-dog that I am, I felt compelled to mark my territory before continuing on. At this point Gary took the lead because he felt he needed to be back in Turangi by 0900 to complete inside 20 hours. James and I stayed with him to Taumaranui, then lost him as we resumed our ride on the much easier SH41, which I must say is in pretty good nick at the moment and we glided into the Turangi Cabins at 0901. On the basis that we effectively left as the last group, that put us more than 10 minutes under 20 hours, but apparently we looked like shit as we checked in, then eventually had a feed etc. etc.
As it turned out, it was a pretty slow track due to the high volume of technical riding and I would have said that we would have ridden closer to an 18 hour pace than a 20 hour. Normally half of the field are in within about 20 hours and 90% by 22 hours. On this occasion, half were in by 22 hours but all were home by 23….and the quick quickies were still quite quick but not as quick as usual. Of the 47 starters, 43 finished with 4 retiring due to fatigue or illness (although I did hear a comment that one of the two to off, retired…but I’m not sure)
I took photographs of several of the riders as they returned, we went for a soak in a hot pool around lunch time then eventually had a nap for a couple of hours at about 1500 before getting up to sort some dinner for those that were around. We then spent the night chatting and all was well.
Monday morning we were up by 0630, scrubbed and in the kitchen for an early breakfast. I resumed scromelette duties, we cleaned up and were on the road by about 0930, riding back to Palmy with James and Ally in order to drop off the oven dishes and I got back to the office at about 1600.
What a great way to spend a long weekend!
Are we there yet?...I’m not sure because there’s some financial and such to tidy up, a 1KC to do in November and then we’ll have to start preparing for the next ride?!
These blogs were posted on the KiwiBiker forum but I decided it was time for a change.