Life is a struggle….and that’s why we divert our attention from the daily grind by taking up sports and hobbies….but sometimes that can be a struggle too! The 24th Grand Challenge (my 5th) was one of those times, but I persevered and finished.
I’ve done relatively little riding over the past year, partly due to weather, but mainly just circumstances because weather isn’t really a problem when one has a good bike and gear. Anyway, over the last year I’ve only done 20,000Kms instead of the usual 30,000 so I wasn’t really conditioned for a 24hour ride….but I’ve been riding well, I was as keen as mustard and the wait leading up to the event just seemed to drag on forever. There wasn’t much to do in the way of prep’ because over the years I have acquired all the bits I need, I have the purpose built bike which is kept serviced and always ready for a ride and some of my gear is a little tired but still functioning well, so all I needed was a new Nth Island map to trace the route on for the display in my Board-Room (spelt Biker-Room) at work.
The bike came due for its 96K service a month out so I asked the boys at Boyles to do the usual pre-GC super WoF at the same time, then I picked up the usual supply of water, nutbars and bananas the night before I left. Steve had dumped me for the ride up on Friday, to have a date with his wife, but that wasn’t a problem because Hitcher’s partner let him go up with me instead.
Waiting…waiting…10am Friday and we were off, suitably attired in ‘wets’ as it was rather gloomy, I picked up Hitcher at his place, then we scooted down the hill for our first fill at Caltex Kaiwhara’ before hitting SH1 with Mr H in the lead. It was quite refreshing to follow someone who was doing it all proper-like…indicate – head-check – change lanes…and so on and I thought to myself, “Mr H, you should be the mentor, not me, ‘cos I’m more a do as I say sorta guy”. We had flagged a cruise via the Wairarapa due to the inclement weather and decided the choice of Parapara’s or SH1 would be made at Sanson, depending on how the conditions looked at that point.
By the time we got to Tawa (10Km) the weather was clear, ...by the time we got to Paraparaumu I was getting a little warm, …and when we struck red lights in Levin, I had to leap off the bike whip off the ‘wets’ jacket and change to the summer gloves because I was expiring as the temp rose through 13-14°. I also suggested to Mr H that the Para’s looked the better option and I
assumed the lead from there as we nipped up to Campion road, slipped around Ohakea then on-on’d to Whanganui, where we would pause for Mr H to fill his Aprilia Shiver.
I signaled him to take the lead just prior to Whanga’s (just in case he had a preference on flavours for the Shiver) and as we were stopped at a set of lights, I noted the occasional puff of smoke coming from his machine. When we stopped around the corner, sure enough, there was an instant drip, dripping of oil on the pavement….dash, bother & blast…so it was on-on to Mr Honda’s shop. It was soon established that the oil was coming from the gearbox bleed valve and whilst we were in the workshop, the eagle-eyed mechanic spotted something shiny in the tyre. It was just a shard of metal that brushed off, but a inch or two further on was a fine piece of wire sticking from the rubber…..so they fixed the bike and we went for lunch on the ST. Unlike Lemony Snickets, this was a series of most fortuitous events, as the bike got fixed before there was a problem, we enjoyed a coffee and exchanged lies whilst sitting in the sun at a roadside Café, then continued on to have a delightful ride up the Para’s and over the Ponangana Saddle, getting to Turangi before 1600hours.
We checked-in, got the bikes scrutineered, settled in and chatted, went for the usual feed at the truck-stop and returned after 1900 to check the route and start planning. What a doozy….there was only one section I hadn’t been on (being the inland route from Wairoa to Gisborne over Tiniroto Rd) so I got my bits and pieces and started planning the ride and gas stops….one lot of three stops for me on the ST and another of five, for Steve on the ‘Busa, as he wouldn’t have much time after arriving the next day. Also I wasn’t sure what group he was starting in and therefore if we would be riding together or not. (As it turned out, we were both in Group two, him at No.11 and me at No.12, so it was easy for me to adapt to his fuel schedule).
I turned in about midnight and was awake by 0430…bloody marvelous! …so lay there going over the route and check-points in my mind, probably managing a few more naps, but it didn’t seem like it, then arose at 0645 to get ready for breakfast. After that it was hurry-up and wait as one would stand around and chat, go for a lie down to catch a few zzz’s but that wouldn’t work, so go for a stroll around the camp and more chats…and so on, until a freshen-up shower at 1315, the Ulysses Photo at 1400, rider briefing at 1430, then dive into the gear for the Group 2 start at 1503….and we were off…but more at a steady creep than a swoop.
This suited me though as the bike’s motor and tyres were cold, so we warmed into the affair as we pootled down SH1, over the Desert Rd, at a sedate 110kph, behind three other riders. Neither Steve nor I carry a radar detector but I knew that it wouldn’t be long before we were ready to get on the pace as riders from later groups passed us, at which time we would leap from our comfort zone and hitch a ride (safety in numbers and all that jazz), so we were soon scooting briskly towards Mangaweka.
As we turned onto Ruahine Rd, which had a liberal coating of that awful gray clay-dust, Steve & I were behind half a dozen other riders, who didn’t look that comfortable on the unfamiliar (to them) surroundings, so we were soon past them and free to engage and a ‘spirited-pace’ that was just a notch or two below a ‘good-fang’ (after all…we had all night to go) down to Kimbolton, then around the Apiti loop and into Ashhurst for the Time-Check. Meanie was their to say ‘gidday’, we clocked in (at 2 hours for the first 200Km). I sent Steve on to gas-up in Woodville as I wouldn’t need fuel until Waipuk’ and I took the opportunity to take a couple of pix as more riders arrived. I was tempted to ride over the Saddle road but restrained myself and went through the gorge, waited for Steve, then we continued down to Pahiatua.
As we left Woodville, we ended up behind a cop, following another motor cyclist…bloody hell! They were sitting on 100-110 indicated, so took the bull by the horns and passed them both then maintained the allowable limit until the cop turned off at Mangatainoka and just down the road, we slipped off SH2 to embark on Pahiatua-Pongaroa Rd and Route 52 to the first Check Point at Waipukurau. I can’t remember the last time I did this road from West to East, as we would normally come out from Pongaroa, so I inadvertently rattled onto Ngaturi Aohanga Rd but immediately realised the error of my ways, backtracked the 100 or so metres and continued toward Makuri, but my error had given Gremlin the opportunity he needed to slip past us.
The road around this area was littered with ‘loose stuff’ so we maintained a good pace whilst taking care by sticking close to the centre and ‘riding the ruts’ on both sides, but bugger me, next thing we knew, the ST and the ‘Busa (big 1300’s) were being passed by a GN250. The bloody ‘Ginny-Man’ had it tapped out and wasn’t slowing for anything as he scurried through the crap and corners, because he knew it took too much to get the pace back on what is probably the most sluggish of all 250cc learner bikes. It was a marvel to behold and I thought to myself, “Damn, we better get back in front of him before Waipuk’ or we’ll never live it down”!
Just to make our adventure more exciting, no sooner had Ginny-Man disappeared from sight than we started to get bombarded with vicious wind gusts, but we managed to keep the pace on and those conditions seemed to settle once we had passed Pongoroa. From there the road surface improved as we ducked and dived our way through to Porangahau, after which we enjoyed a veritably wide, smooth surface and we could resume a more spirited chase to pull in Ginny-Man… and I soon had him in my sights. I sat behind him for a bit and enjoyed the show as he seemed to maintain around 115 to 118kph, occasionally tipping 120 if he got some downhill assistance, rarely touching the brakes as he deftly nipped along. I was so impressed, I passed him and signaled for him to slot in behind so he could enjoy a draught and drag behind the ST, although I wasn’t sure if I was helping or hindering him…probably a bit of both!?
We were soon gassing up and checking-in at Waipuk’, enjoying a snack and ‘natural break’ as we watched Ginny-Man shoot off and other riders come and go. Before the start, I had hummed and hawed over what to wear earlier in the day and as the temp went through 15°, I had opted to remove the liner from my jacket to start the ride with a T-Shirt and skivvy on. As we arrived at Waipuk’ on dusk, at around 1930, I figured another layer would be in order and the easiest option was to throw on the ‘wets’ jacket and swap to the winter spidi gloves. That done, we were on our way again, up through Napier, Wairoa and on to checkpoint 2 in Gisborne.
I led out and we were soon crossing SH30A, but there were road works at Flaxmere, with no signage, so I looked dumbly at 30A thinking, “I’m sure I should turn there??” as I led the others into Flaxmere, but we only did an extra few hundred metres before getting back on track with Steve leading. We were soon through Bay View and onto the sweet riding strip between Napier and Wairoa, except it was now pitch black and the storms over the last week had strewn crap all along the road, so much care was required.
We were barely out of Bay View when we hit a bit of fog and it became apparent that Steve wasn’t too comfortable in the front. The ‘Busa light isn’t the greatest compared to the ST’s, but it transpired that he was also having problems with his visor fogging, so I resumed the lead. It was a nice wee jaunt all the same and we were soon through Wairoa and I can’t remember why, but we paused briefly at the turn-off for Frasertown. At this point the Ginny-Man passed us again (we must have passed him when he was fuelling at Bay View), then we passed him as he was checking turn-offs just prior to Tiniroto Rd.
Sure enough, our pace wasn’t sharp enough for him so we let him through... again ...and I buttoned off a bit more to let him get away so I wasn’t constantly dipping my lights. All was fine, but we were soon climbing and sure enough, the poor wee Ginny was struggling so we were soon back within 100 metres or so and it was a pain in the arse as I was constantly up and down between high & low beams......and so began ‘The Struggle’!
I buttoned off a bit more to see if he’d get away again, but we still held station about 100m astern and I didn’t want to pass him, so in the end I thought, “Bugger it! I need to close-up and ride off his lights”, so with that decision made, I opened up as we descended a slight decline and lined up to follow him into a left hander.....and then it all turned to shite!
Ginny-Man was deftly pushing his wee bike to the limits and of all times he picked to overcook a corner, it was right when I lined up on his tail and although I was still a healthy distance behind, I was probably up to about 110 and closing quick when we watched him enter a left hander, brake hard and twitch as he struggled to pull up and keep control. At this point my brain went into overdrive and in the briefest of moments (which seemed an eternity) I remember running options.
What the hell has happened?
Is the road blocked with a slip and he’s aborted?
Did he slip and save it?
Has he overcooked?
I can’t risk taking the corner ‘cos I don’t know what’s there and he’s too close to my line. (I’m sure he wouldn’t feel too good wearing a 450Kg missile up his date!)
Danger! Danger Johnny Boy! Abort! Abort! There’s a small edge and a wide grass verge! Aborrt!
I straightened and hit the picks....real hard!...deploying all the stoppage that linked ABS brakes can deliver, but my speed and position in the centre of the road were against me because although I had washed off about half of my speed, I could feel grit under the wheels as I rapidly closed on Ginny-Man and the edge of the road with a proliferation of BHM’s (Biker Hail Marys-“Oh Shit! Oh Shit! Oh Shit”...or words to that effect). At this point my heart and half my other organs were in my throat because I knew I still had way too much pace on and every bikers worst nightmare was upon me....I was going off!!
As soon as the rear wheel hit the verge (I was probably angling in at about 30°) it lost all traction slipping out to the right, throwing the bike down onto its left side in a spin, with the rear coming around so the bike hit the grass sideways, still doing about 50-60kph. All I remember is the back starting to go, the bike starting to drop and the next thing I was slammed onto my back on the solid verge (but I can’t remember if I bounced 2 or 3 times) and the bike came to a sudden, dead stop. I lay there for a moment assessing my condition, fearing the worst but feeling OK, then got up and switched off the bike, which also looked OK but I had to wait for the other two before trying to pick it up.
Steve had managed to scrub off enough speed to safely stop on the grass and Ginny-Man sat there, stunned at his situation, when he realised that lights were bearing down on him so he booted it and took off like a scolded cat to get out of the way. He then came around and bought some light on the situation while I grabbed Steve’s pack-rack to help him get back on the road. We then picked the ST up and the only damage appeared to be the left mirror cover had popped (as it is designed to do) but the indicator had separated from the cover, so I picked them up and put them in a pannier. The bike started straight away, but it was up to its rims in water and mud, so I put it in gear by hand and we walked it back on to the edge of the road. Meanwhile Mike (another Ulyssian on an ST) rolled up, but we were right now, so we sent him and Ginny-Man on their way...I was charged with adrenalin and the bike seemed fine, so Steve & I continued on.
It was a real miracle that neither the bike nor I suffered more than a scratch or bruise and I shudder to think of what could have happened. The wing on the bike did its thing to save the bike from damage and to prevent it crushing my leg...the soft muddy earth acted like a cushion to bring everything to a sudden but damage free stop...but if the bike hadn’t spun out, the front wheel may have buried in the mud and thrown me over or through the screen. I was sore but sound and able to continue. Hallelujah!
We were in Gissy before 2330, checked-in, gassed-up, relieved, snacked, I donned an extra skivvy and my ‘wets’ pants (for warmth) and we departed for Karapiro via the Waioeka Gorge and Rotorua,
On this leg, I started to wilt as the adrenalin wore off and I found my speed drifting on and off the pace. I was still leading (with the better lights) and I would bring the pace up to get in ‘the zone’ then find my concentration and speed fading off....I struggled! But we finally made it through the gorge, when Clive, the Xena Commander (although I have referred to him as Beemer-Boy in previous sagas, prior to meeting him). Anyway, the XC rolled up and over us, just out of Opotiki, so I slotted in behind him and that made life much easier as he dragged us through Taneatua, Awakeri, over the Rotomas and down to the lake, where he had to pause to change batteries in his GPS or whatever other electronic contraptions he was decked out with. Then we continued round the south end of the lake, through Rotorua and over SH5, where we encountered a bit of rain and rolled into Mobil Karapiro around 0345. This was a pretty good leg for economy because we were expecting Steve would need gas by Tirau, but he made the 355Kms on the tank, which was a bit of a record. I guess it was the easy pace and big downhill off SH5...the leg did get pretty cold though with the temp dipping to 8° but.
As was usual on this ride, Steve and I took our time at the stop, seeing XC depart before us, Ginny-Man (and a few others) come and go, but I decided I needed to put the liner in my jacket and make sure I was right before carrying on. I felt great each time we stopped (even for just brief pause on the road), but soon wilted again once under way as the fatigue kicked in again. We got away though and soon rolled over Ginny-Man for the last time on Golf Rd, whistled through Te Kuiti and Pio Pio and got to work on one of my favouritist roads, the Awakino Gorge....but this wasn’t fun. I was still struggling at lead and the road seemed foreign to me as the glow from my lights caused an aura that gave the impression I was constantly riding into a huge cavern. I felt disoriented, struggled with my lines but pushed on and eventually caught and passed XC in the gorge...which was dumb because if I’d had half a brain operating at the time I would have slotted in behind again. (There’s no helping some people). I got confused about the Inglewood turnoff at Waitara, XC passed us again, we got back on track, slipped past him again through traffic, gassed up in Hawera, and finally made the last checkpoint in Patea.
These last two legs were amongst the worst in all the GC’s I’ve done and although I just wanted to finish, I finally came to my senses enough to follow XC down to Wanganui and back up the Para’s to the Turangi, so I resisted the urge to put the hammer down. We had expected the weather to turn shitty anytime after Awakino and although the clouds had come in and the wind was getting up, so far we had missed any rain and were running ahead of it, but did have to turn to cross it as we slipped up the Para’s. It was great following XC as he pootled along keeping good lines and requiring minimal brakes, although at the time it seemed like an eternity as we crossed National Park from Raetihi. Through this area the wind did come up more and it was most odd as I would be sitting on the bike, relaxed with my left hand on my knee, when all of a sudden it would blast me around wrenching my left arm into the air and try to pluck the helmet off my head. Steve must thought I having some sort of seizures from behind, but the struggle finally finished when we rolled into the camp grounds at around 1030.
I was shattered, slumping on to the tank for a moment before attempting to drag myself off the bike! My lower back ached where it had been slammed into the deck, my left hip and calf were locking up and cramping, my neck and shoulders were sore but I was still in one piece and jubilated to check in and collect the prized year bar and patch for the ride, sit down for a coffee, then recover sufficiently to enjoy the usual Rusty hearty lunch/brunch.
We sat around for a bit chatting and I finally got cleaned up, I went for a nap around 1300, got awakened by a phone call from Ann at 1500, then got up for more socialising until retiring for the night at 2200, slept until 0430 then dozed on and off until being awakened by another phone call at 0700, after which I arose to get ready for breakfast, pack, gas up and depart from Turangi around 0930.
We encountered gales on the way home and although it wasn’t too bad over the central plateau, it was diabolical through Himitangi and the Foxton straights. They got stronger and stronger as we came down from Hunterville, then for something totally different, …a lens popped from my glassed as we rounded onto SH1 out of Sanson, so I fixed that, then we were in for a treat. Not only were we canted out and shuffling around on the road, but we got treated to a splash of horizontal rain and hail. I could see it being blown across the paddocks as we approached and it looked like a morning mist, floating above the ground...but this was moving...wickedly. It blasted us and both pressed my helmet onto my temple and cheek, while at the same time choking me as it pulled the strap taught on my neck. I was cranking myself out to the right to keep the bike on track and feared each time a truck passed. It was a challenge taking on the long bridge just out of Levin, where I slowed to time for a truck to get off as I entered, at which time I booted it, taking the speed to 140 to get off before more traffic came, or if it did, to lessen the effects on the bike. Fortunately the wind subsided a bit after that.
We stopped for a coffee in Otaki and finally finished the weekend with a gentle pootle over the Paekak’ Hill (we didn’t relish following the Mufti Car all the way down Centennial Highway). I did 2,349Kms for the weekend, clocking up 98,929Kms on the bike.
Life is a struggle….and that’s why we divert our attention from the daily grind by taking up sports and hobbies….but sometimes that can be a struggle too! Brett and I encountered problems on the way to our event, 75 odd bikers started this year’s Grand Challenge and struggled through the night with 10 failing to finish. I experience the worst with an ‘Off’ but was being looked after with some Devine help and survived to struggle on and complete. We struggled over a wide range of roads, many strewn with storm damage and one poor riders struggle finished when a perfectly timed slid caused a large rock to roll into his bike as he happened to pass that spot. Others struggles finished with mechanical failures and a couple got blown over, causing enough damage to have to withdraw. We struggled through rugged conditions on the way home ....but it’s over now .....and shit I had a great time!
I’m already booked in for next year’s Long Weekend (900Km Friday and 1600Km Saturday) and I can’t wait...but I might struggle through a few more Kms in preparation for next year. Bring it on Lee Rusty and your merry band!
These blogs were posted on the KiwiBiker forum but I decided it was time for a change.