Motorbikes were Brett's passion and he and his partner, Kari, were always opening their home and hearts to total strangers who were bikers in need. They spent countless hours on KB, organising weekly rides, assisting and mentoring new riders, and were both very involved in the Victoria Motor Cycle Club who organise a series of race meetings.
I've only known Brett for a couple of years, first meeting at the Ulysses Ambulance Run, then later at various KiwiBiker (KB) rides. The first time we actually rode together as such though, was last year's Capital Thousand Km Cruise (C1KC), when we started the ride together and rode the leg up to Pongaroa.
This year, once again, at the same event, we happened to be riding together quite by chance. I started the ride at the back ensuring there were no stragglers riding by themselves, then gradually worked my way through the field tagging onto various groups until after leaving Waiouru and stopping to take a photo, I ended up hooking-up with my good riding buddy Steve and another Ulyssian, Trevor. We ended up riding Fields Track and The Parapara Rd with a Dozen bikes until National Park, where half continued on SH4 to Taumaranui, while the rest of us took the prescribed route to enjoy the delights of SH's 47 & 41.
I was the second in line to take the turn and didn't know it at the time, but was following Brett as he lifted the pace to between 130 & 150Kph, apparently easing when he suspected any revenue collectors and we did actually encounter one who didn't even appear to blink as we whistled past at 120kph. After the Rangipo turn-off, Brett slowed a bit so I slipped past and settled the pace at 140, maintaining that all the way over the Ponangana Saddle and down to Tokaanu where I paused for a regroup with Steve and Trevor while Brett and Bryce continued for gas at the Tokaanu pumps.
From there, three of us continued on to Taumaranui at a sedate 120, gassed up, then were rejoined by Brett & Bryce for lunch. Brett and I were still fizzing about the blast we had over the saddle and he declared, “We own the Ponangana Saddle”! We had lunch, chatting amongst ourselves and other riders who came and went, before gearing up for the next leg over to Whangamomona.
Once again, I led out and noted that Trevor was on the phone, so we puttered along at 80-100kph to give him a chance to catch-up and it was also good to ease back into the ride after the lunch stop. Just before we entered the Tangarakau Gorge I noted that Brett & Steve's lights were missing from the group, so I slowed a bit more before deciding I better stop and wait for them and take the opportunity to photograph them when they turned up, but after a minute or two I figured something must be wrong and turned back, meeting Steve a Km or two along the road.
He was visibly shaken and informed me that Brett had gone down and was in poor shape, that there were several bikers accompanying him, but they couldn't get any cell coverage and the only houses in the vicinity were empty so we decided that I would go on to raise the alarm and he would return to the scene.
I took off like a startled rabbit, worried shitless, but not really knowing what the situation was, just that it was urgent. I kept an eye out for any dwellings and soon found myself flying over the unsealed section of road at up to 100kph and thinking, 'you dumb ...., if you come off, what good are you going to be to anyone'! But continued on nonetheless. I was soon out of the gorge and in Tahora, noting the front door on the first house was open so I lept off the bike and ran into the house yelling if anyone was about, only to find it was long abandoned, so I retreated and ran across the road and up a driveway to another house. This one had a couple of kids home but no phone and they informed me the people behind and up the hill were always home. I ran back to the bike noting the lights were still on, so I had left the key in the ignition and on. I went up the road and whipped into the next house. Finally, a phone, the lady called 111 and what a relief that they reported a call had already been logged.
At this point, I asked where the nearest cell coverage was and was directed to the top of the Tahora Saddle, ending up at the Kaieto Cafe, which is owned by Rusty Nut members who I have met at the Grand Challenge. There was no cell coverage but they loaned me their phone to call Kari to come and get the bike. I couldn't offer any other info except that an ambulance had been ordered and with that done, I headed back to the site, which I then found was actually 20-25Km back down the road.
I finally got back to the scene (about an hour after the incident) as the chopper was hovering, looking for a place to set down. Brett was still in the middle of the road, with Jane (a pillion from one of the bikes who happened to be a GP) trying to comfort him. I went straight over to find he was still lucid but struggling for breath and the paramedic and Jane were soon at work, cutting off his gear to get a look and preparing oxygen.
We stood around, helping where we could but their efforts proved to be in vain and we were soon confronted with the gutwrenching situation of a mate's life slipping away. Trevor appeared numb, Steve doubled-up in anguish and I wandered off a little to shed a tear while the medics strived to revive him, but to no avail, and sometime later they were forced to call the situation. From there on we just had to wait around for the serious crash unit, as Steve was the only witness and we were totally helpless to advise or update anyone of the situation, particularly Kari.
The three of us finally got away at dusk, heading for Whangamomona. We travelled at 60-80kph, not feeling very great and by the time we got to Whanga' we needed to pause for the guys to clean their visors when the publican insisted that we come in to get a coffee down us, which was on the house. We continued on, finally able to pick up the pace as we approached Stratford, then Trevor took the lead to take us to his daughter's home in Eltham for a feed.
At this point my bike felt like crap and had moments where it seemed to float and wobble but I thought it must be my imagination and it wasn't until after our feed and finally reaching Hawera for a refuel that I actually checked if something was wrong. As it turned out, there was only 15psi in the rear, so I pumped it up and we took off, checking it again in Wanganui to find it had only lost a couple of psi so topped it up again and headed for home.
By this time the temp was falling from 10° to 8°, but it felt much colder as we were feeling the effects of the day with the knowledge that we wouldn't be home until 0230. As we approached Wellington, the temp continued to fall to 5° and by the time I got to bed, I was chilled to the bone and it was about 0330 before I finally slipped into a coma.
I spent today chatting with different ones about the tragedy yesterday and Ann and I visited Kari. She had reported the loss on KB and the comments and condolences were flowing thick and fast and were a testament to what Brett was really like. That his passion for bikes and caring nature had made him somewhat of a Biker Evangelist, spreading the good word and doing his utmost to help anyone in need. He died living his passion and in full knowledge of the risks involved, but wasn't deterred by it, even though he was on medication to thin his blood. Some would say he was crazy but I believe he was just living his dream and sharing it whenever and with whomever he could.
I didn't really know Brett very well but I did share his last few hours. The buzz of pushing ourselves and our machines to high boundaries, the camaraderie that bikers share on a ride and relaxing over a burger and a drink, then the anguish and tragedy of his loss. I have been blessed to meet a man of his character. Cheers mate.
These blogs were posted on the KiwiBiker forum but I decided it was time for a change.