North Island 1600 – The Ride

I survived.

You will have seen the map from Part 3, and also the weather forecast which predicted rain. Both of these things were accurate. I followed the track (with some slight GPS variations), and it rained like a bastard for 20 something hours.

Long John had planned an interesting ride – a series of small 400km circles (except for the straight line to Kai Iwi) that radiated from Turangi. I’d ridden most of these roads before, except the roads that Checkpoints 1, 2 and 3 were on. This new road was a delight.

There were 33 riders registered to start. As usual, the briefing occurred at midday. The normal warnings and advice were given:

  • It’s not a race
  • Watch out for critters
  • Ride carefully in the rain
  • Make it back alive

I was in the third group to leave and departed around 1.08pm with 63,402 km on the clock. On my return the following day the odometer should read at least 65,011 for me to receive the coveted cloth patch.

My odometer reading at the start of the ride

Checkpoint 1 was at Ngaroma. Before the ride started, Chris Dummer and I had a discussion about how many demerit points we had and how many more we couldn’t afford to get. We both planned to ride at a largely legal pace so Chris suggested he tag along behind me. We rode to Checkpoint 1.

The turn-off to Ngaroma, according to my GPS, was a grass track. Knowing that the route didn’t include gravel, or (I hoped) grass, I carried on and at the next intersection found a ‘marshall’ in a yellow rain suit encouraging us, with circulating waves of his arms, to ‘turn left’.

Checkpoint 1 – Ngaroma

Chris was having some issues with his GPS which James Riley seemed to be trying to solve. I figured I’d take off assuming Chris would probably catch me up at the next checkpoint. That never happened, and I didn’t see Chris again for the remainder of the ride. (He was a finisher with ten minutes to spare.)

There was a big contingent of Honda Goldwings led by Brian Hobson. This crew were at Checkpoint 2 at Otohina. There were so many of them – actually only six, but they do take up a lot of room – that I had trouble getting a clear shot of the checkpoint signpost.

Checkpoint 2 – Otohina

I spent about two minutes here before heading off to the next Checkpoint at Rangitoto. The roads became narrower until I was riding on what was a single lane. The tar-seal was in good condition but we had been warned that there was a lot of mud from cows crossing the road for milking, and silage detritus from trucks and tractors. Because the road was so narrow and curvy it was important to keep your wits about you. You never knew what might be around a tight bend.

Checkpoint 3 – Rangitoto

I arrived alone at what was a typical small country hall. I grabbed the photo and headed off towards Te Kuiti for fuel. Along the way, I came across Steve Klaui who had just had an off on a sweeping right-hander. He was just sitting on his bike, composing his thoughts. There was a big rip in his right knee, and he’d lost his brake pedal which was bent backwards. I stopped to see if he was OK, which he assured me he was. This wouldn’t be the only casualty of the weekend.

I arrived in the back streets of Te Kuiti around 3.45pm. My timing was perfect. When I plan the route on Garmin Basecamp I always add in how long I anticipate stopping at each checkpoint. For all checkpoints, I reckoned I would only need five minutes, and for each fuel stop, fifteen. Some would be faster, some slower, but the intention was that it’d average out over the distance.

I was jeered at (in a nice way) by a carload of Mongrel Mob members. Luckily the blue bandana I was wearing around my neck was hidden by all my wet weather gear. In these parts, Red and Blue don’t match, at all.

I filled up at the Te Kuiti BP and headed south through the Awakino Gorge. The rain was still holding off and I made it to the pub at Awakino at 4.33pm, 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

Checkpoint 4 – Awakino

I flicked onto Totoro Road to head to Aria. We’d been warned that the turnoff required being in the right-hand lane of a dual passing lane. Luckily there was little traffic and I was able to negotiate the turn without incident. Almost immediately though the roadworks started, and continued for 3-4 kilometres. Not really an issue for me being on an adventure bike.

After travelling through Aria (a stop on last years NI800 and 1600) I continued on along Mokauiti Road. I spotted Andrew Thompson and a mystery rider paused at an intersection. The mystery rider, who I have since learned was John Butler, looked ready to head down one road as Andrew headed off in another direction. My GPS told me to follow Andrew so off I went. In my mirror, I saw John turn around and follow me.

My ‘clever’ GPS told me to turn into Takiri Road. Andrew kept going straight ahead. John continued to follow me. About two k’s in the road turned to gravel. I carried on for a while then stopped and waited for John to come alongside. He confessed he didn’t have a GPS and assumed I knew where I was going. We decided to press on, and thankfully, after about 8 km of slow-going gravel, emerged onto SH4.

John stopped at Te Awamutu and I didn’t see him for the rest of the ride.

Checkpoint 5 was the first of three at Turangi Z. The others would be CP7 and CP11. I was getting hungry so after refuelling and checking in with the marshalls I queued at Burger King for dinner. It was 6:43 pm. I was still 15 minutes ahead of my schedule. While I was eating the rain that had been forecast finally started.

Z Turangi
Checkpoint 5 – A blurry Z Turangi

The next checkpoint was at Bushy Park just west of Whanganui. This leg required a trip down the Paraparas and back. There was a bit of discussion between other bikers refuelling at Z about the condition of the road, especially since it was now officially pouring.

I had a chat to Brian Hobson who told me a rider they knew on the NI800 had reported in to say the road was atrocious. It can be dicey at the best of times with rock falls and slips, and especially with that slick grey mud/rock that can coat the road. But in the rain? A recipe for disaster perhaps? Some of the Goldwing crew were going to head to Bushy Park via SH1. It would only add five or ten minutes to the ride, and would likely be a lot safer. Me? I decided to press on with the ‘official’ route.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. There were some roadworks which have been there since Adam was a boy – some of these controlled by traffic lights. There’s nothing more stupid than sitting at a stop light in the middle of the night with no other traffic on the road waiting for the green, then realising when you rode through that you could have ridden against the red light without incident! Sheesh!

I arrived in Whanganui around 9 pm. The traffic police were out in force – one crossed through an intersection in front of me, and the other had pulled over a boy racer just across the Dublin Street bridge. Be careful Alan, remember those demerit points!

The GPS led me right to CP6 at Kai Iwi, except it wasn’t the right place. I needed to photograph the sign to Bushy Park and the sign wasn’t there so, for the first and only time on the ride, I pulled out the ride booklet and went off the description rather than relying on the coordinates. “Cross the bridge and the road to Bushy Park is on the right” – or something like that. The stop was a couple of hundred meters down the road.

Kai Iwi
Checkpoint 6 – Kai Iwi

I took the photo without getting off the bike and then headed back to the Z at Dublin Street for a refuel.

Brett Sangster was there along with Steve Klaui who I was pleased to see was pressing on with only a front brake. Brett mentioned how slippery the Paraparas had been on his Z1000. I think I may have been a little dismissive (apologies Brett) but my experience hadn’t been too bad. Perhaps this was the point at which Brett’s rear tyre was beginning to go flat. He would eventually retire in Wairakei with an irreparable puncture.

The return journey along the Paraparas was slightly scarier than the previous one. I had learnt my lesson about waiting for the red lights, and so I didn’t. In one moment of inattention, I found myself riding about 80 kph on a slick piece of roadworks (hard packed mud that in the dark looked like tarseal but patently wasn’t). My heart leapt into my mouth – I swallowed hard, recovered my composure and carried on as the road curved gracefully to the left.

Checkpoint 7 was at Z Turangi for the second time that night. I arrived at 11:33pm. It was cold. There was only the night window in operation.

CP7 Z Turangi
Checkpoint 7 – Z Turangi

I ate a few snacks and had a drink of water. This was a quick stop. I had pre-planned that I wouldn’t need fuel knowing that I could make it through to Rotorua on the same tank of gas, so after about five minutes, I headed north towards Taupō.

The GPS led me right through the centre of Taupō township. I questioned this at the time thinking that it would have been much quicker doing the bypass. But, on reflection, I made really good time as there was little traffic about. I passed Wairakei BP where Brett would retire with his puncture. At that time I wasn’t sure if he was ahead or behind me. Perhaps he was there when I passed by.

Arriving in Rotorua well ahead of schedule I used the self-serve pumps at Z Fairy Springs, then headed up the road for Checkpoint 8 at the entrance to the Skyline and Luge.

Skyline Rotorua
Checkpoint 8 – Skyline Rotorua

There were a couple of bikes here. It was raining (what a surprise!) so I snapped the picture without getting off the bike and continued on towards Tirau and Karapiro.

A completely uneventful ride along SH 5 through what has to be one of my favourite stretches of road in New Zealand – The Fitzgerald Glade. It’s only a kilometre or so long but is a wondrous tunnel of native foliage. Not as spectacular at midnight as it is during the day!

I pulled into the Mobil at Karapiro at 2.13 am. A few people were refuelling. There was a young couple with the hood up on their Mercedes waiting for it to cool down so they could top up the radiator. I was nearly an hour ahead of schedule according to my planning spreadsheet.

Checkpoint 9 – Mobil Karapiro

I felt OK. I was still dry and warm. I had a few snacks (some beef jerky, some nuts, and some water) and then headed back the way I had come ready to turn off onto Old Taupō Road and on to Puketurua Hall. This had been a checkpoint on a previous NI1600 so I knew where it was. And I remembered the road as a delightful detour around Waiouru. In the night time, it was anything but. Dark and narrow, and wet. Not pleasant at all.

Checkpoint 10 – Puketurua Hall

I made it through to Whakamaru without incident, and, for the second time that day headed down the west side of Lake Taupō and back to Turangi for the third time. It was 4.33am on Sunday morning and Z was deserted except for the marshalls.

Z Turangi
Checkpoint 11 – Z Turangi

I don’t remember being here for long, although I probably ate something to wake me up, and I definitely filled the tank. I felt damp but was still warm enough not to want to stop. I was looking forward to riding a familiar road, and even more excited about daylight approaching.

I headed north on SH1 for the second time, taking the turnoff to the Napier Taupō highway. It was still raining – it never really stopped. I was getting really really tired and was so desperate for a sleep. I always tell people when I do these rides that they are perfectly safe, and that as a rider you need to know your limits. This time, on reflection, neither of those things were true.

It was so wet and miserable that there was really no question of stopping for a rest because there was absolutely no shelter for a bit of a lie-down. I’m ashamed to say I had a few micro-sleeps where my eyes shut for maybe half a second. On one occasion I scared myself silly and found myself on the wrong side of the road. I yelled at myself over and over to stay awake. The road markers were playing tricks on me, and again on reflection, I feel like I was hallucinating thinking the road was going one way when it was going the other. More yelling. I really needed somewhere for a quick nap.

I made it all the way through to the Tarawera Roadhouse where there were public toilets and some shelter. After relieving myself I wandered over to some huge macrocarpa trees that looked like they’d provide some respite from the rain.

I sat down with my back up against the tree trunk to grab some shut-eye but quickly became aware of movement around me. There were a couple of cars parked up and I soon realised that each of them had people sleeping in them.

After 10 minutes of fitful dozing (if there is such a thing) one of the occupants got ready to leave. I kept my eyes shut until the car left the parking area, then left myself. It was just getting light. The time was 6.03am.

The ride through to Bayview was thankfully uneventful, but I was so looking forward to a hot coffee and a pie.

Checkpoint 12 – BP Bayview

I wiped the moisture off the camera lens to take a photo (the damp was penetrating everything by now), filled up with 98, then headed in to get a pie and flat white.

I had a quick chat with Dan Fisher who was making good time on his first NI1600. Eventually, he left. Ken and Tony, who I had been meeting at a few checkpoints along the way, hung around for five minutes more before they too continued on.

The pie and coffee were like nectar from the gods. I felt rejuvenated and refreshed, helped in large part by the fact that it was now daylight. There was still rain, but there was daylight!!! Onto the home stretch!! It was 7.03am and I was 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

My GPS route took me on what was probably a circuitous and slow route through Taradale to the beginning of the Gentle Annie. I love this road, but, on this occasion, even though the tiredness had gone, I can’t remember much of the ride or the road.

The incessant rain had infiltrated my tank bag – not so it was sopping but enough that my normally waterproof phone was detecting moisture. Charging had come to a halt. Because I was running GeoTracker (to calculate my average speed) and Spotwalla (so friends and family knew where I was) the charge on the phone reduced from nearly 100% to 0% in the space of 30 minutes. Much to the concern of my wife, my Spotwalla track stopped suddenly at Sherenden on the early stretches of the Napier Taihape road. To my family and friends that would look like where my ride ended.

My Spotwalla track stopped on the early stages of the Gentle Annie

I came across Ken and Tony at the next checkpoint – the old swing bridge that crossed the Rangitikei River. This was on the Super Thou last year wasn’t it?

We didn’t talk, just nodded at each other and within a minute they were on their way.

Checkpoint 13 – Rangitikei River Bridge

From memory, I was still making good time. I can’t verify this as my Spotwalla was the thing that would confirm my arrival and departure times, and that had stopped. I remember thinking I’d make it back in good time for my estimated 10.28am finish. That was not to be.

About four kilometres from the end of the Gentle Annie I came around a right-hand bend to find Ken and Tony. Ken’s very large VTX1800 Honda was sitting in the water table on the left-hand side of the road. As I approached it looked like Ken was trapped by the weight of the bike but it became apparent that he was sitting on the roadside with his legs dangling down into the ditch, between the bike and the road. Tony was standing on the road.

I parked up and walked back. The Honda was up to its axles in mud. It was abundantly clear that we weren’t going to be able to manhandle that 400kg beast out of the ditch.

Ken’s VTX 1800 parked on the shoulder!

Two minutes later a ute pulled up. The driver hopped out and came over for a look. I asked him if he had a rope because towing was really the only option. He walked back to his ute and came back with a huge coil of three-phase conduit. “Will this do?” he asked with a grin.

Ken and the electrician attach the ‘tow rope’

He (we never got his name) leapt down into the ditch alongside Ken to attach the tow ‘rope’. I pulled out my camera to get a few pics before Ken, Tony and me got back in the ditch to hold the bike up while Mr Ute hopped back in his truck.

It took a couple of attempts to extract the Honda. Ken worked out that if the cord was attached nearer the axle that we’d have a better chance at a successful extraction.

Nearly ready for extraction

Ten minutes later and the bike was on its side stand on the road, covered in mud. The guy in the ute said his farewells – he wouldn’t accept any payment for the length of conduit he had destroyed in the process.

No serious damage, just a lot of mud

Ken wiped the mud off the ignition, checked to make sure the rest of the bike was intact, turned the key, hit the start button, and the VTX1800 burst into life like nothing had happened!

I said my farewells and headed out to SH1. I was now about 30 mins behind schedule. Amazingly the rain had stopped while we were extracting Ken’s bike out of the ditch. It even looked like there was going to be sunshine. My spirits were high – but that was shortlived.

I came out onto the main highway and the rain came bucketing down and remained like that for pretty much the whole trip back to Turangi. I was doing some mental calculations in my head about how far the GPS was telling me I had to go, and how many kilometres I needed on my odometer to show I’d done the full 1,609. I turned into SH41 realising I was about 18km short, so, instead of turning right towards the finish I kept riding for 9 km before doing a U-turn and returning to base.

There didn’t seem to be many bikes at the campground. I quickly took a picture of my odometer and went inside to find Ken and Tony already checking in. We were so wet.

I had no idea where we were in the field but it was soon revealed that I was #7 out of a field of 33. There had been 11 withdrawals, some due to the weather and fatigue, and some due to mechanical issues. It was around 11 am so I’d completed the ride in 22 hours, which, given the conditions, was a good time.

I’ve done a few of these rides, both the Rusty Nuts Grand Challenge and the NI1600. On only one other occasion have I had to don my rain suit, and then only for a 30-minute shower on the Napier Taupō road.

This was a big challenge, mentally, physically, and emotionally. I’m glad to have done it. I took some stupid risks that I’m not proud of, but it hasn’t put me off. Once you have the bug it’s hard to shake it.

Thanks to the organisers for a great route. The numbers were down this year for the 1600 and up for the 800. I really hope that some of the 800 riders will have developed a taste for long distance riding and will be keen to ‘graduate’ to the 1600. Bring on 2018!

The final odometer reading

8 thoughts on “North Island 1600 – The Ride”

  1. Nice one Alan!

    My navigation wasn’t too bad given that my Zumo had died (going now) on the way up on Friday – water I guess. I still had my doubts when I took off up the road but as soon as I saw Ramaroa Road I knew I was mint (it’s been on a GC before).

    Great that the Honda got hauled out ok too.

  2. Thanks Alan-awesome write up. I can identify with you on the hallucinating-I was seeing all sorts of things around the Western Lake.P.S I managed to earn some demerits on the way home at Taihape-2nd time now those bastards have got me.

  3. Bugger bugger bugger. I’m always really careful near Taihape – that’s where I got caught last year. One moment of inattention and they have you. Was he in a car? Hopefully you’re still under the limit!

  4. Thanks Andrew. My GPS was being way too smart. Sad you didn’t complete (I did read that on your blog eh?). Hopefully the sun will be shining on the 1K.

  5. Well done on completion. I always complete these 1,600s when I ride with my wife. I’ve started three without her and finished one of those. Enough said.

  6. A very rewarding ride under extremely trying conditions. Having driven the North island [with my wife] a few years ago I can appreciate your concern for the narrow tarmac. Very well done to all finishers. I also know about the micro sleeps, had one myself on the Hume Hwy. whilst doing a 2000/24 hour ride, scary to say the least. Congratulations once again.

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