I needed some re-writable CD's for the voluntary computer tutoring I do for local Senior Citizens. I can get them in our village but they're more expensive than in the nearest town, 55 km down the coast road. Actually, adding the cost of gas to get there and back; overall, they're considerably cheaper in the village! That ain't the point though to a bike rider, is it? That delicious anticipation of the ride to come, wheeling the bike out of the shed and slowly kitting up with that slight churning feeling in the stomach. All these years and I still get those anticipatory butterflies - nothing quite like it, is there? So today was the day to head to Thames for a ride.
I've posted plenty of other photos of the Coromandel Peninsula, but hardly any of the town of Thames, which is the gateway to the western part of the Peninsula. The town was built in the first gold rush on the Coromandel Peninsula in the mid-1800's. There's still gold extraction in one area on the Peninsula but most of the area has a no-mining order slapped on it to preserve the natural beauty. Consequently, the permanent population of Thames has dropped back over the decades and currently sits at 6 to7000. However, many of the original old buildings and landmarks have been preserved so I thought a photographic tour whilst I was down there might be interesting.
Wheel the bike out, kit up with all those great feelings and....... down comes the rain! Well, drizzle anyway but there are touches of blue on the horizon so away we go. Run through the odd heavy shower but it's getting brighter as we reach Thames.
The photo below is of an old restored stamper battery which is a tourist destination. The old tunnels in the hill behind the stamper are inhabited by cave wetas, cross between a giant grasshopper and something out of a horror movie and with a leg span as big as your hand. Totally harmless though. Can wet your pants if one drops on you though! (Click to enlarge).
Working gold processing (non-commercial)
Restored weatherboard home from the 1800's
The old gold mining training school
Now a museum
Church for a small congregation
Family home offering bed and breakfast
Thames town centre from lookout
Two sexy bits of kit!
See the boat next to the fish and chip shop below? That's delivering the catch - doesn't come any fresher than that!
When they say fresh, they mean it! Boat less than 4 metres away
Lovely old pleasure boat going out onto the Firth of Thames
Fully functional old hotel in Thames main street
This might have been the end of this post but.......
Here's the second part of the day which made it REALLY interesting! Late(ish) last night, I got a call from my Institute of Advanced Motoring mentor, Wayne Holden, asking me whether I was ready for a check ride as he was clear tomorrow. Immediate panic, but as he was suggesting Thames as a meeting point, it made total sense to do my shopping, take some photos, have lunch with Wayne and then get into the serious end of the day's business. Didn't stop me thinking, "Oh shiiit" though, even though the short notice was a good thing to stop brooding about it!
I was feeling increasingly comfortable about the check ride as the sun had come out and the roads had dried. Then something weird happened! I was waiting for Wayne outside a local cafe when a chap comes out of a nearby shop and says, "Are you Geoff James"? I was totally gob-smacked and he must have seen my surprise so he went on to say, "I'm Bob Benton, Wayne's other IAM student"! I hadn't previously met Bob but over the last couple of days, we'd exchanged emails to introduce ourselves to each other as we only live 55 km apart. He'd previously seen a photo of me and the Triple and made the instant connection. What are the chances of me parking right outside where he works and him coming out to pick up some lunch??? You know how it is - within 5 minutes it was like we'd known each other for years. Really nice guy. Had a good chat, admired Bob's DR650 adventure bike parked round the side of the shop, said our goodbyes with a plan to meet up again shortly. A few minutes later, Wayne turns up.
Wayne Holden typifies the IAM members I've met so far - friendly, funny, modest, puts you at your ease and of course, a member of an elite bunch of riders who really are the best of the best. Wayne is an ex-police rider, ex-helicopter flying instructor, runs a driving and riding school in the Waikato district, is IAM Chief Examiner (cars) and an IAM Observer (Instructor) on bikes. It would be completely intimidating if he wasn't such a bloody nice guy!
Introducing Wayne Holden
Wayne's Yamaha XJR 1300 is a joy to behold in metallic blue with the trademark gold Ohlins suspension - a real beauty. After lunch, we set off for a ride around the hill suburbs of Thames with their narrow winding streets. A bit of drizzle is setting in but isn't any bother until on a steep downhill grade with a sharp bend and a smooth surface, I manage to lock up the rear momentarily despite the slightest dab on the pedal - not a lot of traction there. After a spell in the suburbs, we set out for Whangamata, a coastal town on the other side of the peninsula. It's nearly 60 km away and most of the road to get there is twisty so all the skills or lack thereof will be on display!
Leaving Thames, I feel relatively relaxed, having gone through my first IAM observation ride a few weeks ago, practiced hard since then and backed it up with reading the recommended books. The relaxed state lasts all of 10 minutes as the skies open and the rain on the road reveals an awful lot of areas which have lost their chip - traction very limited. Riding in the rain is one thing but riding in the rain on a slippery road with an IAM examiner up your arse whilst trying to ride like a pro is a near bowel-loosening experience! As an aside, Wayne remarked later that he didn't like that stretch either and felt his bike moving about. This section of road is exhausting and I elect to run a lower gear for most of it, both uphill and downhill to aid engine braking and good control.
After 20 minutes or so once we cross the mountain range, the roads dry out and I relax. Traffic is light and I can concentrate on good positioning and situational awareness. We're cracking along at a decent pace through the bends and it's really enjoyable. In no time at all, we arrive in Whangamata and I pull up outside the toilets at the Game Fishing Club - enough said! Wayne walks over, shakes my hand and says, "Well done, excellent riding in some pretty demanding conditions". I'm genuinely taken aback as inside, I was jelly in the wet and slippery section of the ride - no wonder it was bladder-filling! Wayne fills in the Observer check sheet and it's all A's - unbelievable and I'm over the moon. Maybe there is a chance of making it to Observer level after all. We chat about what comes next and agree that in a week or two, I'll ride down to the city of Hamilton to practice urban skills in dense traffic with him. If that works out ok, Wayne thinks I may be ready for the final exam with Philip McDaid, Chief Examiner; based in Auckland. Hmmmm....we'll see.....
Can crack a smile at last with the stress off!
Bike porn - Wayne's gorgeous Ohlins suspension
After offering my profuse thanks for another fantastic day of riding, Wayne departs south and I head north for home, feeling on top of the world. After dinner and three large cups of tea, I sit here typing this with energy levels starting to flag badly. Early night methinks, but what a day!