This was my first Grand Challenge and since registering early (#51) I had looked forward to the ride but there was always a bit of trepidation in the back of my mind. Would I hack it, would the bike break down or have a puncture, would my 13 litre tank get me between fuel stops? At least I had a mate, Steve K, from the Wellington Ulysses Club who had done it before, was as keen as mustard to go again and we arranged to ride up together on the Friday.
That was an adventure in itself. We left the Caltex Rimutuka about 2pm on a day where the isobars ran west/east over the North Island and looked like a slim line Venetian blind over the map. We had decided to take the scenic/fun route over the Rimutuka’s (only a couple of puffs there), up through the Pahiatua Track where at times I thought the bike and I were both about to be lifted and deposited in the next paddock along with Dorothy and Toto, through Ashhurst – Colyton and all the way round to come out at Mangaweka. Then straight up to Turangi via a coffee in Taihape.
We arrived at the motor camp, went straight through scrutineering, then went in to check the map and pick-up instructions and that’s when the enormity of the task ahead hit me. I had only travelled on a few of the sections and fuel stops was always going to be a problem with my 240’ish Km range, so it was off to my cabin for some planning, then down to the local greasy shop for a feed and bed by 10:30.
I awoke early the next morning (5am), as you do when you’re excited /worried, on a strange bed and in a tight sleeping bag. Tried to lie in for a while but eventually gave-up at 6:30 and went about the day ahead. (Now even more worried when I knew I could be on the road up to 3pm the next day). The Rusty’s put on a good feed for breakfast, we idled about chatting, had a photo of the Ulybods, parked up in Turangi to display the bikes for the locals, enjoy more chatting, and I eventually got sent off at 3:12pm with the other light green cardholders.
I got into a good pace early and had decided to put a splash in the tank at Taumaranui to ensure I got to Awakino which would have been right on my limit. I was surprised that so many others had the same idea, and then on to the 1st time check at Ohura. After that I ended up behind a couple of chaps who took the wrong turn just past Aria and we ended up coming out on SH3 at Piopio instead of further south, but I didn’t mind that as I could top-up again and knew I could comfortably get to New Plymouth from there. I had a blast going through the Awakino gorge and Mt Messenger, then caught up with another rider leaving New Plymouth and rode with him to the first check point at Hawera. This was a hive of activity as there were a lot of riders here, (probably 20+) filling-up the bikes and themselves, chewing the fat over a coffee and preparing for the next leg. The congregation of riders got more depleted at each checkpoint from here on in as the field became more and more spread out.
I had a good run through to Wanganui where I topped-up on gas (again) before continuing to the next checkpoint at Hunterville, via Fordel. I have always thought my bike had a very good light with a reasonably wide beam and long range penetration….yeah right!! That was until I got onto the Fordel road with no cats eyes or markers and it felt like someone had tilted the whole light assembly down. I knew back in the days when I did all my touring on an XL250 that I relied heavily on the marker posts as a guide to whether the road was going left or right, I didn’t realise how much I still do that and I was down to a crawl. That combined with the fact that there were no other bikes passing me was cause for concern that I was even on the right road, but fortunately the instructions were quite specific. At last I got to Hunterville, another top-up, another nut bar and another slug of electrolyte laden water.
When I departed Hunterville I figured I should go close to getting to Waipuk’ if I took it easy. I left behind two young fellows on identical bikes, one number apart on their rego’s and helmets adorned with green Mohawks. After we got past Vinegar Hill, I lagged slightly as they were going a bit faster than I should have been for the economy I wanted to get…but what the hey, in the end I decided to kept up with them and we caught up with Gordon Sherwood around Cheltenham or thereabouts. I had just met Gordon for the first time that morning and recognised his name as he had posted a poll on the Ulysses sight about eating pain for breakfast. At this point I didn’t recognise it was him but the four of us rattled on through to Ashhurst where I followed Gordon round the corner with three others who were there, deciding which way to go. It didn’t feel right but I sat in and went along for the ride….what a dumbass.
The weather had been intermittent from New Plymouth but not bad enough to affect the ride. From the Ashhurst Saddle onwards it wasn’t great as the five of us crawled past the big turbines and stopped briefly in Woodville. I decided to go on to Dannevirke for my next top-up since my speed and the detour would mean I was unlikely to make it to Waipuk’. I headed off by myself and the others pulled into the gas station shortly after me. It was at this point I actually realised that it was Gordon that I had been riding with and we hooked-up for the rest of the ride. This was very much to my advantage because his XVZ12 had much better lights for the trip around Weber, Wimbledon & Porongahau than my Intruder, especially given the deteriorating weather as now we had wind as well as rain to contend with. I found the pace very comfortable and we finally arrived at Waipukurau at around 3am, Halfway through on time and distance.
Another feeding of man & beast and we on the road again, heading for the next fuel stop at Taupo via Napier. This was pretty uneventful as we kept to a steady pace and arrived in Taupo about 5am. I was very thankful that I had fitted a spitfire screen to my bike though, as we had to punch into a fierce headwind on this leg and it was much easier than the last time I had been on this road. From there on to Te Kuiti, via Benneydale, and the next checkpoint. By this time there were only a half a dozen bikes there and we weren’t encountering many others on the road at all. The weather was dismal but at least the wind had subsided and with Gordon coming into his ‘home turf’ it was an easy ‘follow the leader’ ride for me.
Next off to Otorahonga, Kihikihi, then across to Putaruru before heading over the Mamaku Plateau where we were into the low clouds and although the visibility was less than 50mtrs, we were getting along at a good pace thanks to Gordon’s local knowledge. Once we had passed through Ngongotaha the roads were drying up and we made good time through Te Ngae and onto the last checkpoint at Awakeri. This last stretch was particularly exhilarating because once Gordon was in his own ‘backyard’ he took off like a dog chasing a scolded cat….and I happened to be on the other end of his leash, getting dragged along.
We got checked in and headed for home via Murupara and waved to the film crew as we headed into Taupo. Passed quite a few bikes already heading home/North as we got nearer to Turangi, and finally finished about midday, 21 hours on the road and 31 hours since I had awoken on Saturday morning. It felt great to finish and I actually felt surprisingly alert. I put that down to the fact that I had avoided caffeine and sugar, only consuming a couple of multivitamins, a bag of bananas, a box of nut bars and about 5 bottles of water which had a good dose of electrolyte added.
It wasn’t till we had finally stopped that I actually saw what a state my bike was in. The screen, light, mirrors and front forks caked with bugs, no shine from any of the chrome except the handlebars and dirty streaks over most of the paintwork. As usual though, it had performed admirably, purring all the way through.
We got our speedos checked, received the badges and certificates, enjoyed a hearty lunch put on by the Mrs Rustys and discussed the event. I headed off to my cabin for a kip at about 2pm and awoke, fresh as a daisy about 4:30pm…bugger! Everyone else was asleep except for the Rustys who were still going about the business of running the event. I went off for a hot pool, getting back about 5:30. Still bored I searched out a TV only to find there was only one channel available and in the end decided, since there was nothing to do, I might as well head home….it’s only 3.5 hours to Wellington.
I packed up, gassed up and departed at 7pm. Weather looked a bit grey but she’ll be right. There was a bit of rain heading up the desert road but that cleared once I was in the lee of Ruapehu. However, the road ahead was looking more ominous and once I passed through Waiouru I was in it. It was raining so hard I was treated to a brilliant starburst every time I passed a car going the other way, (there were no other bikers foolish enough to be out in this) and it got to the point that whenever a car passed I was totally blinded over the last couple of seconds and would have to get the speed down to less than 60 K’s to avoid trouble. I tried following the odd vehicle but they would invariably turn-off, be travelling too slow, or be a huge truck kicking up more crap than you could shake a stick at. By the time I got to Marton the wind was strong enough to keep the rain horizontal and my starbursts were now complimented with laser arrows of light as the rain whipped past my helmet but by Bulls it all cleared up and the rest of the trip was OK so I was home by 10:40, my own bed, a cuddle and an awesome night’s sleep after a wonderful adventure.
My special thanks to Steve and Gordon for putting up with me, The Rusty’s for their great organising and not to mention the makers of Spool Jackets, Tecknic Pants, Sidi Boots & Spidi Gloves....they all kept me dry and comfy.
These blogs were posted on the KiwiBiker forum but I decided it was time for a change.