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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A scary day for motorcycles!

There's always someone with a stupid idea and this time, it was my turn......

NZ has been battered by a huge storm for the last few days and cabin fever had set in.  Seeing a promising temporary abatement in the awful conditions on the weather forecast the previous evening, it was time to get out on two wheels. What the forecast actually said was, "Long, fine periods with storm force winds abating".  Good enough for someone who has been cooped up for the last 2 or 3 days though!  The historic gold-mining town of Waihi was chosen as the end destination as it was a while since I'd been there and I had never seen the active Martha Mine pit which is only a few hundred metres from the main shopping street!  A good destination and the 160km to get there via the east coast is virtually all bends and sweepers - magic.

There's a phrase which says, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger".  Little did I know that this would be rather too close to the mark for comfort.  Setting off from Coromandel Town in light rain, it was blowing a bit but was quite manageable.  After half and hour, all that started to change.  Pulling in for a quick photo at Kuaotunu Beach was decidedly tricky.  The offshore gale was at least 40-50 knots and holding the bike up between the knees whilst taking the photo could have lead to tears! 

Kuaotunu Beach - white everywhere

After one huge gust whilst parked and nearly going on my side, the notion of calling the ride off and going home for a decent cup of coffee had quite a strong appeal.  Unfortunately, the dark side of the brain was saying, "Ya big girl", so the decision was made to press on.  Actually, it wasn't too bad as far as Whitianga with a largely following wind and a fair bit of shelter but when turning south towards Waihi................ oh s*it!

Just south of Tairua on a short straight with a distinct lack of wind breaks, a gust was so strong and sustained that I was leaned right over and countersteering just to stay in a straight line, but was getting progressively pushed towards the edge of the road and a ditch!  Had less than a metre left and was looking for a soft landing before the gust abated - a very close call.  Interestingly, there was no fear or panic at the time, just concentrating on trying to get a good outcome. However, with the immediate drama over, I was a bit gun-shy  and slowed right up, sticking close to the centre line.  For a few minutes afterwards, any anticipatory skills were completely shot and it took a conscious effort to relax and start scanning again, including looking at debris swirling about as a pointer to what the wind was doing in corners and cuttings.

Just as I thought everything was under control, a curling gust in a blind bend pushed the bike just over the centre line - no time to react.  Fortunately, the intelligent residents of the Peninsula had elected to stay indoors, leaving the road to a few congenital idiots (i.e. me), so it was fortunate that the road was virtually empty of traffic.  This second fright caused another significant drop in pace, not that there were any illegal speeds previously and scanning for evidence of gusts became a preoccupation to avoid getting hurt.  In some parts of the trip through the Tairua forest area, airborne debris in the shape of small branches was an additional distraction, but not really dangerous.

Arriving in the small town of Waihi, it became apparent just how tensed-up I'd become fighting the wind with aching wrists and shoulders, plus a sore ear and neck from the pressure on one side of the helmet; so it was up to the open-cast gold mine viewing platform for a look and the chance to get off the bike and stretch for a few minutes.  The wind was fair screaming through but fortunately, a big display board provided perfect shelter for the Triple.

GPS was spot-on in locating the viewing platform

Waihi is an interesting place.  Gold was first discovered there in 1878 and originally it was extracted by tunnelling. One consequence of this was localised subsidence and about 10 years or so ago, several houses collapsed into a sink-hole!  However, most of it is now extracted from the Martha Mine open pit, just a 5 minute walk from the main street!

Martha Mine pit - several hundred metres deep

Drilling blasting holes near the pit bottom


Parked ore carrier -  wheel over 2 metres in diameter

Old tunnel winch house from the 1800's right by the main street

Old winch tower at the end of the main street

The pit was an impressive sight, especially being part of town.  After a bit of sightseeing, the intention was to grab lunch in a nearby cafe and look round the mine information centre (a mine of information?  Sigh...) before refuelling and heading home.  However, black clouds were looming down south and as the wind showed no sign of abating, discretion dictated a stop in the next town instead; some 30 km north where the nearby hills offered some degree of protection from the elements.

With the wind coming from the rear quarter, riding was pretty pleasant, although a bit of caution was required through bends and cuttings.  However,  Lady Luck decided to spring another surprise!  Rolling into the gas station at Whangamata, the attendant strolled out with the news that the high winds had cut power to town so there was no gas, or food for that matter.  Come to think of it, town did look kind of empty on the way through!  My stomach was rumbling but of more immediate concern was fuel.  Was it just Whangamata with no power or had other parts of the Peninsula been affected too?  It wasn't possible to get home without refuelling and the attendant hadn't got a clue about the big picture so it was on to Tairua, a further 37 km north.   A bit of short-shifting on this leg to conserve fuel was in order!

Rolling in to Tairua and my favourite cafe, it was obvious that the gas station opposite was open for business, albeit slow due to the lack of traffic on the roads - quite a relief.  The cafe is in a sheltered area of town and it was delightful to sit outside in the sun with a large bowl of latte, home-made steak and mushroom pie with salad and re-gather my wits!

Fuel, good food and all is well!

Amazing what a break and some nourishment does and mentally refreshed, continued on my way home.  Again, with the wind predominantly on the tail, it was an enjoyable run and even when turning west, having the wind right on the nose was a darned sight better than the earlier crosswinds.

Reflecting on the ride later, would I have gone out had I known what the conditions were going to be like?  Probably not, but despite the odd stressful moment, the ride was great in that the Triple (and me) got tested in fairly extreme conditions and I now know how it will respond.  Its lack of weight does mean that it will move around a bit more in wind than a heavier machine like my old Blackbird but by the same token; it's probably easier to get out of trouble if things do go pear-shaped.  A full fairing would have offered more protection punching straight into the wind but in cross-winds that strong, the slab sides of a fairing might have been a liability.  By crouching and leaning forward towards the Barracuda screen on the Triple, it was surprising just how much protection it afforded to the head and shoulders.

Next post in a couple of weeks' time - off on a road trip on Friday to Wellington and points in between  (sadly, in the 4x4, not the bike!)

12 comments:

  1. Hey Geoff,

    Thankfully you got through the gusts without incident! Gotta love those moments when (in my case) the brain uses its limited knowledge of sailing to point the bike in the right direction to get through the wind!!

    The V-Strom is prone to moving around quite a bit in the cross winds too...(it's not the most streamlined motorcycle on the planet)

    We've had some shocking weather the last few days too. Today there was no rain to deal with but I'm looking forward to the return of the sun!

    Cheers

    Anthony

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  2. Geoff, Although I envy you, and the roads you get to ride, You were a brave man to brave the current conditions! Still any ride is a good ride in my view, and the experince gained is always invaluable. Glad you kept it sunny side up, otherwise what am I gonna read on my quiet days at work? Always enjoy you thought provking and intelligent posts. You have an uncanny ablilty to descibe what I feel far better than I can.

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  3. Wow, glad you made it through. Wind gusts are terrible! Nice picture of the white water by the way, it shows very much how windy it had been.

    Not sure how to mentally survive the next two weeks without your posts... are you sure there isn't something to talk about during your road trip?

    Keep the shiny side up and enjoy your four-wheeled journey, too.

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  4. Hi Anthony!
    In hindsight, I think it was worrying about what Jennie would say if I decked it that provided the added impetus to stay upright. Big thumbprint on my forehead, that's me ;-).

    Yep, where exactly is this fabled Antipodean good weather!

    Gidday Roger!
    I was an idiot, not brave, hehe.
    Thanks for the kind words but being retired, I have a bit of time to think about stuff. Writing about bikes is far nicer than all those years of engineering and technical reports!

    Guten Abend Sonja!
    I'm sure you'll find something productive to do without missing my ravings! Might have something to write about when we get back. Part of the road trip is to somewhere you've been and I never have! Also going to a fashion show in Wellington, but not just ANY fashion show. You'll just have to wait and see :-)

    Safe journeying all.....

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  5. I hate the wind - rain is preferable! Having said that, the Connie is awesome in most bad weather due to it's fatness and weather protection. Wet roads are not an issue. Not so keen on bad weather on the lighter VTR though.

    This damn weather needs to get it's at together - we're swamped here and it's been totally miserable for weeks!

    The last 3 GC's have been in pretty wet weather but 2007 (http://banditrider.weebly.com/2007-grand-challenge.html) rates as the gnarliest - at least 1,200km of it in very stormy conditions. Clear skies this time around I hope!

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  6. Geoff:

    Excellent description of the food and what do we get, a photo of your bike with a petrol station in the background. A photo which could have been taken anywhere, probably a discarded one from last year.

    and why do you put your helmet on the ground and get the lower lip dirty ? when you could hang them on the rear passenger peg, like I do and of which SonjaM has also taken my suggestion.

    The last time I rode in windy conditions was along the Columbia Gorge. Over a hundred miles east of Stevenson. You sort of get used to leaning over just to go straight, BUT watch those underpasses as they shelter the wind for a few seconds as you roll through.

    I like history. A few years ago I tried to find the Phoenix copper mine, which is on top of a mountain. There was originally a town of 5,000. people there but the copper was underground. Eventually the mine purchased the town and destroyed it and created an open pit mine.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix,_British_Columbia

    take a look at the photos from the cemetery

    http://www.ghosttownpix.com/bc/phoenix.html

    I was getting chills walking about the cemetery, as if someone was watching, it was a funny feeling and we had to get out of there ASAP.

    bob
    Wet Coast Scootin

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  7. Hi Bob!
    I'm going to leave food photography to the Canadian experts. A Kiwi who mostly grabs gas station meat pies of dubious provenance to maximise riding time can hardly be trusted to photograph gastronomic delights!

    Mea culpa regarding the helmet - what else can I say? Normally hang it on my mirror or clip it to the pack rack.

    Will have a look at the link shortly but particularly interested in your comment about feeling that someone was watching. There's a remote ancient podocarp forest in the south island of NZ. It can only be reached by serious trampers and I've read reports by a number of people passing through it that they feel watched by something incredibly old, but fortunately benign. Maybe an NZ version of the Ents from Lord of the Rings!

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  8. Great blog as usual Geoff. I echo the thoughts of Andrew. Wind is horrible , Rain is much preferable. A few years ago I was travelling back to Cumbria after a weekend in Scotland .The wind was terrible and some of the other guys in the group decided that travelling down the A74 was a good Idea! It was so exposed that we were leaning overto go straight and passing wagons was interesting to say the least! An early stop was required as the raincovers on my tailpack and tankbag were in tatters and were whipping me to death! Give me rain anytime.

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  9. My father in law sold a speed triple because he couldn't handle the wind in South Dakota on it. He wound up with a Goldwing. I like the pictures and can understand your wind problem, too... I recently went 3,500 miles on an f650 and got knocked around quite a bit in the plains states. Ugh. It's so tiring just to make it through.

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  10. Hi Brady,
    I hate snow more than wind, but at least that isn't a problem where I live now!

    Safe riding and thanks for dropping by.

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  11. One day I'm gonna ride those Kiwi roads! But crosswinds - I hate em. Back in the early 70s, on the top of the Pennines on the M62 a cross wind knocked me across two lanes - nothing I could do except pucker up the butt muscles and pray.
    A couple of years ago crossing the open ground of the Somme on a V Strom, the side wind blew my tank bag off! V Stroms do not like side winds anyway!

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  12. A friend of mine got blown across 2 lanes on the motorway near Manchester clean into the Armco and was quite badly hurt. Fortunately, really high winds aren't that common in NZ with the exception of Wellington.

    Thanks for dropping by!

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