So, the NI1600 for 2016 is done and dusted.
That makes three NI1600’s, and two Rusty Nuts Grand Challenges. Plus, one TT2000 (2016) and one IBA BunBurner (1500 miles in 36 hours). All up that’s a minimum of 12,414 kms total. I think you could say I’m hooked with this long distance riding malarkey.
My friends and family think I’m a bit mental. To date I haven’t been able to persuade any of my motorcycling friends to give these rides a crack. They’re just not interested.
For me, I do it for the personal challenge. I was never a sporty kid, but I always prided myself on my persistence and stubborn nature. I might have come last in most running races but if someone had asked me to go around the course a second time I probably would have agreed to it.
For the NI1600 it’s not about coming first, or last, or in the middle of the pack. I’m not a fast rider, and I’m not particularly good at it. I’m more interested in the journey, the ride, the wind, the country, the smells, the nature, the challenge of finishing while I’m still awake and upright. There’s something wonderful about riding through the night then watching the sun come up on some remote piece of rural farmland. I love it. And if I could only persuade my mates to do it too I’m sure they’d love it as much as me.
Getting to this years ride. I didn’t do so well, at a personal level. There were quite a few things that I didn’t do so well, that frustrated me and put a bit of a dampener on the experience. It’s amazing how little things can really piss you off. Let me recount them, in chronological order.
A broken wrist:
To be fair this had happened 7 weeks earlier, but I’d only just had my cast removed on the Monday prior to the ride. The doctor at the hospital said I shouldn’t be on my motorbike for 6-8 weeks. My physio (God bless him) said “I’ll strap you up – you should be fine!”
My arm ached the whole ride, to the point that I would get to 6th gear as quickly as I could and then rely on the torque of the GS1200 to get me around the road using minimal gear changes and maximum brakes. It worked, thank goodness. By the end of the ride either the clutch was getting really stiff, or I was struggling to pull it in with my defective hand.
Friday 7 October – The route:
The first time I saw the route was at 7pm on the Friday night when all was revealed by Brett and John. If I’m honest I was a little disappointed. The Kawhia Harbour leg looked great, but from then on I felt like I’d done that road many times before, and so it wasn’t (for me) breaking new ground. On first blush it looked like we would ride to Cape Reinga and then ride back. The ‘loops’ didn’t look that big (the bits where you go north on one road and return south on another). But, I wasn’t going to complain – I was here for the challenge – this was just a different sort of challenge.
Saturday 8 October – Start – The riders briefing:
Okay, so I missed this. I thought that I had read that this started at 12.45pm – 15 minutes before departure. I was 45 minutes late. I probably didn’t miss much, but it made my whole start a little bit more frenetic. I couldn’t get the GoPro set up properly. I forgot to set my Spotwalla tracking (I remembered this at the second checkpoint at Kinokahu Hall). Shit. It looked like rain so I struggled into the rain suit which got me hot and bothered. And as it turned out the wet weather gear wasn’t required until around 9.30am the next day.
Checkpoint #1 – Te Kuiti BP:
I started off the grid at #3. I’m not sure how the places are set – possibly by who registers first? I’m always an early entrant. Anyway, we take off, and I’m promptly overtaken by around six or seven riders. I told you I’m not fast, just consistent. I arrived at the first checkpoint in Te Kuiti. Brett took my riders number, I hopped on the bike and was off. Nearly made it to Waitomo before I realised that I was supposed to take a bloody photo. First U-turn of the ride. Rode back to the checkpoint, took the photo, second U-turn and went back the way I had already been. Lost time = around 20 minutes.
Raced off down the road and the GPS made me turn left before the Waitomo Caves turnoff. I led Al Campbell astray – he turned left while his mate Brian carried on. There was a bit of confusion. Al stopped. I carried on, ended up travelling along a single lane country road which eventually joined up with the main Waitomo road. I thought that I must have lost more time with my unusual detour but it was too hard to quantify it so I tried not to worry about it.
Checkpoint #2 – Kinohaku Hall:
I arrived here around 3.30pm. Nice little place. There were about four other riders already there. They left, then Al and Brian arrived so I had beaten them after all with my detour. I stayed a bit longer than everyone else. While we were there a policeman in a stab proof vest, and carrying an exercise book, came to talk to a gardener who was mowing the lawns of the hall. This looked a little out of place. I thought perhaps, given our proximity to Otorohanga that he might have been investigating the Ross Bremner case.
I left the hall to head north along Harbour Road. About ten minutes later I came around a bend to find the road swarming with police and news vehicles along with a big group of locals all looking up to a run down farmhouse. I’d missed the news but Ross Bremner had killed the two elderly occupants of the house, and then apparently killed himself.
Carrying on it took me around 1h45m to get to my designated refuelling stop at Ngaruawahia.
Taking the western road through Huntly was a bit of an eye opener. Lot of poverty. Definitely the ‘wrong side of the tracks’.
North of Huntly near the Glen Murray Bridge that would return me to SH1 I saw a lone figure on the side of the road. It was Stretch! What the hell? He had started the NI800 at 10.00am. It was 5.40pm. Stretch waved me down (I would have stopped anyway). He was on the phone back to HQ asking them where Te Kauwhata was. While he was talking to HQ Alan he was asking if I knew. I pulled out my cell phone, opened Google Maps, and said “It’s across the highway – follow me!”
Sure enough we crossed the bridge then followed some road work detours until we came to a sign saying Te Kauwhata. I pointed at it, and waved Stretch on. I did a U-turn (my third) thinking that SH1 was back the way I had come only to realise that I should have kept riding with Stretch. The detour would have eventually led me north. Another fucking U-turn (my fourth).
Checkpoint #3 – Orewa BP:
I continued without incident to Orewa, via the northern motorway and Auckland Harbour Bridge. Arrived in Orewa at around 7.00pm. I didn’t need to refuel but I did need to eat, so I had a feed at the Orewa McDonalds. Stupid time to buy a happy meal – there were too many people there meaning a wasted 30 minutes of valuable time.
My 300km fuel range meant the next stop for me was Whangarei Caltex. Just before Wellsford my GPS decided to lead me astray again heading me east along a narrow country road, apparently a ‘faster’ route. When I missed a turn and ended up on gravel I realised this wasn’t going to be faster. I made my fifth U-turn adding another 15 minutes of wasted time to my overall total. Shit!
The Caltex in Whangarei was on the wrong side of the road and took me a while to find the entrance given I couldn’t cross the centre island on a double lane highway. More time lost.
Checkpoint #4 – Kaeo:
Pulled in to Kaeo at 10.30pm. No need to fill up – I had scheduled a fuel stop further up the line at Pukenui Wharf.
Kaeo is a pretty little hamlet, at least it was in the dark of night. I pulled the camera out of my tank bag and took a quick snap.
Just ahead on the steps of a building were two people – a young woman and man – clearly drunk. The guy was thumbing rides from the few cars that passed. ‘Nek minute’ a car screams down the road from the north, the guy stands in the middle of the road and waves it down, there’s a bit of banter, laughter and drunken swearing and the two on the roadside leap in. The car does a U-turn and stops right next to me on the forecourt. My first thought was “here we go”. They leered at me out of the car window then the back door opened and the young woman staggered out, went over to a rubbish bin, spat something in it, tumbled herself back into the car and the car sped off.
Saturday night in Kaeo – it’s all go!
My next refuel stop was scheduled for Pukenui Wharf 35km north of Kaitaia. A small 24 hour self serve GAS station – 91 only. I had phoned them earlier in the day to make sure that it was operating normally. They assured me it was.
I filled up easily, in the dark. As I was getting back on my bike I saw a sign saying “Insert your credit card for a receipt”. So I did. Pukenui Wharf was exactly at the half way point – 800.6 km travelled so far.
Checkpoint #5 – Cape Reinga:
Headed off to Cape Reinga where I arrived, alone, at half past midnight. I had passed four riders on the side of the road. I stopped to ask if they needed help. One of their group had a puncture but they assured me they had it in hand, so I carried on.
At the Cape the sky was completely cloud free and there was a yellow half moon. A stunning star-filled night. A pity I couldn’t have stayed a bit longer. I had a quick toilet stop and recorded a video celebrating my arrival at the tip of the North Island. I hopped back on the bike and headed south as the puncture group arrived.
On the NI1600 in 2015 I discovered that you can ride straight over the top of a recently deceased and hefty possum without incident. There were plenty of possums on the Northland road. And there were some narrow misses, lucky for the possum. But it was only a matter of time until I discovered that you can run over a live possum and remain upright. This little guy (he did look a bit scrawny) stopped still in the middle of the road and almost stretched his neck out, like a French rebel readying himself for the guillotine. I have to say the sound of killing a possum with blunt force trauma by motorcycle is a completely unique experience to a car. The main difference is the sound. It’s a crunch more than a thump.
Checkpoint #6 – Kaitaia:
I arrived at Kaitaia without further incident pulling in to the forecourt at around 2am. I had decided that as well as fuelling up I’d have something to eat to warm me and give me some much needed energy. Pulled my wallet out to pay – no credit card! Shit! Paid by EFTPOS then looked in my top box, and through my wallet bulging with receipts. Nothing.
Then I found the receipt from Pukenui Wharf and a light went off. I’d left the bloody thing in the pump slot when I requested the receipt. I had a vague memory of the machine flashing when I hopped back on my bike which was clearly a warning that I needed to extract my card. I hadn’t extracted it. Shit! Shit! Shit!
Pukenui Wharf was 35 km north of Kaitaia. What was the chance that my card was still there? 2.5 hours had passed. If it was there then I wouldn’t have to go through the rigamarole of cancelling it and applying for a new one. So, I made my sixth U-turn of the trip and hoofed it back to Pukenui Wharf.
What a surprise. My credit card wasn’t there. It wasn’t on the ground. It wasn’t on the top of the pump. It wasn’t on top of the console. I had lost it. The seventh U-turn back to Kaitaia! I arrived back there around 3am having wasted an hour of time. Shit!
Checkpoint #7 – Twin Bridges:
The ride from Kaitaia to Twin Bridges was great. It would have been better had I not been preoccupied with all the mistakes I had made up to that point.
The road was twisting and narrow and pretty exciting, what I can remember of it. Largely devoid of traffic except for one motorcyclist who was travelling in the same direction at a very sedate pace.
I pulled up at Twin Bridges at 4.35am, took my photo quickly, spoke briefly to another rider, then departed.
Checkpoint #8 – Kumeu:
It took me two and a half hours to ride to Kumeu.
I was getting pretty tired, to the point that if I didn’t stop I’d be in real trouble. I knew I should pull over and have a rest and something to eat.
A rest stop at the Mangakura Boat Club gave me the perfect opportunity. A bathroom stop, and a snack. It was around 6.30am. A beautiful calm morning of clear skies and no wind. After a 10 minute stop I felt refreshed enough to continue.
The road to Kumeu goes past the Gibbs Farm where huge sculptures emerge out of the farmland. Quite a surreal experience when you’ve been awake and riding hard for 15 hours or so.
Near Kumeu I lost a large group of riders who were following me because I made another mistake – my GPS sent me down Old North Road whereas they continued on the recommended route of Taylors Road. Thinking I’d stuffed up I was surprised to reach Kumeu Z before them, approaching the station from the south. Arrived at 7.12am. Maybe the GPS was right this time!
Checkpoint #9 – Bombay:
A quick jaunt down the familiar North Western motorway saw me arrive at the Bombay Service centre at around 7.50am. Checked in, took a quick photo and headed over to a cafe for a quick gobble down of bacon and eggs and coffee.
Spoke to a patron about the benefits of the BMW R1200GS – he had an earlier model than mine and loved it. 25 minutes later I was back on the road.
There were no more checkpoints between Bombay and Turangi. Because I had done more kilometres than I needed to I decided to stay on SH1 (rather than going the back road through Huntly). I turned off at Ngauruawahia heading towards Pirongia.
The rain started about 15 minutes later. I pulled over into a service station forecourt where I could get some cover. I’d had my rain suit on since I started the ride the day before. Finally I was going to use the damn thing. My stop was more about organising my neck warmer so that rain didn’t run down my neck. All sorted I headed off.
To be honest I can’t remember much of the ride from Te Awamutu to Whakamaru. There were a few riders refuelling at the Whakamaru station. I parked up over the road and relaxed with an ice cream. The rain had stopped. It was a nice day. Left at 10.45am for the final push to Turangi.
Finish – Turangi Campground:
I arrived at 11.41am. That was a total of 22 hours and 41 minutes. It was a respectable time if I allowed for all the mistakes and wrong turns. Hell, it was a respectable time even without that malarkey.
I collected my badge and certificate and had a quick meal and a chat with the other riders. I slept all afternoon, got up for an Indian takeaway (with a Kingfisher beer from New World) then was asleep again at 9.30pm.
The journey home:
You’d think that the dramas were over. Not so.
Monday morning I checked out of my hotel and went across to Hydro for the best value bacon and eggs, and for a Wellington-quality flat white.
When breakfast was over I topped up the oil on the bike, headed across the car park to Z to fill up. I was back on the road by 10.30am.
Just out of Waiouru I had a horrible thought. Did I replace the oil filler cap? I looked down to the left. Shit! A gaping hole where the cap should be. I was surprised that my leg wasn’t drenched in oil. What to do?
I was pretty confident that I knew where the cap would be. When I topped up the oil I had placed the cap on top of the cylinder head. So I guessed it would have dropped to the ground when I took the bike off the centre stand, or it would have dropped to the ground when I rode over the two bumper strips on my way to fuel up.
I made my eight U-turn and returned along the Desert Road back to Z Turangi. I pulled into the forecourt and as I was riding across the huge expanse of tarmac I spotted a small black object. Holy heck! It was my oil cap. It had clearly been run over by something, but was still intact and usable. I screwed it in, did the ninth U-turn (happy to say my last) and headed back to Waiouru.
South of Taihape I pulled over to put my ear plugs in. I don’t normally wear them as my Shoei helmet is nice and tight and relatively sound proof. Plus I’m deaf so what am I trying to protect? Anyway, I stopped cos I was feeling uncomfortable. Put the plugs in and headed off south.
About two kilometres down the road I came around an easy right hander to be confronted by a red highway patrol car. I glanced down at my speedo. 115km. In my rear vision mirror I saw the cop put his lights on and do a U-turn. Bugger, bugger, bugger.
I pulled over and waited for him. He told me that he’d been catching riders all day, and everyone was doing 117 kph average. I knew he wasn’t going to let me off. $80 fine, and 20 demerit points. My second speeding ticket this year, the first one in February as I was on the last legs of an IBA Bun Burner ride. Prior to that I hadn’t had a speeding ticket for 30 years.
From that point I was very careful to keep a steady and legal speed. I caught up with Neville Williams at the Bulls BP. We had a chat and he asked me why I didn’t have a radar detector. I told him that it would be an acknowledgement to my wife that I speed. I don’t consider that I’m a perennial law breaker, just very unlucky as my record shows. But maybe it’s time to consider one, or buy a bike with cruise control.
You’d think that I have done this enough times that I know what I’m doing. I can only surmise that my broken wrist, and the preoccupation with looking after my injury distracted me somewhat from the task at hand.
Missing the riders briefing was my first mistake. The hour before the ride is a good amount of time to make sure everything is set up properly, that the tracking software is in place, that the GoPro is pointing in the right direction. (My GoPro wasn’t. It pointed slightly down so that the majority of the footage filmed during the ride was unusable!) Instead I arrived at 12.45pm thinking that was when the briefing was. It ended up being a bit of a rush which led to mistakes.
Because the majority of the checkpoints were at petrol stations I should have taken the opportunity to fill up at those checkpoints rather than fill up every 300+ kms. “Kill two birds with one stone” so to speak. I knew this, but for some reason didn’t implement it, and because of that had more stops than I really needed which soaked up valuable time.
Make sure to always retrieve your credit card from a self-service pump. I lost around an hour returning to Pukenui Wharf to unsuccessfully look for my credit card.
Despite my stuff ups I had a great ride. I completed 1,742 kms at an average moving speed of 89kph.
Thanks to the NI1600 team for organising another successful event. Next time I’m happy to start near the back of the pack rather than in the first group. I’ll remember to ask for that next year.
Looking forward to the Super Thou in a couple of weeks time!