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Thursday, 26 December 2019

2019 in review - quite a mixed year

Looking back through the photos I've taken during 2019, motorcycling wasn't the significant part of the last 12 months that it's previously been.  Only about 10,000 km this year as opposed to nearly double that in other years.  I guess that you can say that life had a reasonably decent balance although some things certainly weren't planned.  What I thought I'd do this year is to put up a few photos representing each month, most of which which haven't been previously published on the blog; together with a few words on why I've chosen them.  Hope that you don't find the post too boring!

January
For Xmas 2018, we bought our grandkids kayaks which they can launch down our road and paddle the normally calm waters of Coromandel Harbour.  Whilst they do have indoor interests, they all love the great outdoors which I'm sure will help to keep them healthy and give them a more balanced view of the world as they grow up.

Grandkids at play

We also visited south Auckland to have Jennie's Honda serviced at the car dealership we bought it from. A convenient time to start looking at new bikes!  I'd been thinking of selling my Suzuki GSX-S 1000 for some time and not 100 metres from the car dealership was a bike dealership selling Suzuki and KTM brands.  The newly-released KTM 790 Duke was one of the bikes which on paper, I thought might end up on the list of possible replacements.  Having never seen one in the flesh, it was a great opportunity to drop in and have a look, accompanied by sighing and eye-rolling from you know who!  As soon as I sat on it, it made the replacement list - the ergonomics were spot-on and the light weight was fantastic.  All Jennie said was, "You're not having an orange one, it's disgusting".  Fine by me - I knew they came in black and silver too *grin*.  A promising start to the search for a new bike!

The grin says it all!

February
Jennie had a hip replacement after many months of severe discomfort so looking after her and household chores took priority for a number of weeks.  One of my jobs was to make sure that she got plenty of exercise.  We live on the ridge in the background which is a bit tricky for crutches so every day, it was into the car and drive a few hundred metres to flat ground along the harbour edge where we'd walk for half an hour or so.  She didn't grizzle too much as there was a good incentive to get fit with an overseas trip looming mid-year.

Down to just one crutch after a couple of weeks - splendid progress!

With me spending most of the month at home, it was a good opportunity to catch up on some gardening.  The funny thing is, I don't actually care much for gardening, but I like the end result.  Bromeliads do well in our climate and we have a whole area planted in them now.

Just a few of the bromeliads in the garden

March
After looking at several bikes to replace the Suzuki, it came down to the Triumph Street Triple 765R and the KTM 790 Duke.  It was hard to make the decision but an acquaintance in the motorcycle industry had some powerful and surprisingly accurate words for me.  He said,  "It's not the way the coin lands that decides for you, but your reaction to the way the coin lands that will tell you the decision you want to make".  I did a mental coin toss with the Triumph coming out on top and felt slightly disappointed. That sealed the decision to buy the KTM because it made me laugh when I rode it.  It goes to show that good decision-making should be a function of both head and heart!  Ten months on and it still brings a smile to my face every time I ride it.

Bridgestone RS 10 after the demo ride at the dealer.  Really a track tyre

Ready to head off on another adventure

April
You'll quickly realise that this photo wasn't taken in April this year!  It was in fact taken in 1968 but I happened to find it in a box of photos in April and scanned it into the computer.  Here's me in the UK at age 21 on my only means of transport in all weathers.  A bit cringe-worthy in terms of the hairstyles which prevailed at that time but lots of great memories.  Who would have thought I'd still be riding at 72 years of age - certainly not me.

My 1955 Triumph Tiger 100

April also saw the first of some big autumn storms with some local flooding and landslips.  Just before one of the storms hit, I popped up to the lookout on our road and took the following shot before beating a hasty retreat.  It was a wet and very windy night with the road to our village flooded in places the following morning.

Firth of Thames/lower Hauraki Gulf - the calm before the storm....

May
The tourist season is over and it's mainly a few locals and retirees going fishing on a weekday.  The photo was taken in the commercial mussel beds just north of Coromandel Harbour and we had the place to ourselves on a beautiful, calm day.  Truly good for our souls and we got an excellent haul of snapper.

Jennie waiting for the next strike

In the warmer months, the cats are out and about after dark but with temperatures starting to fall,  they tend to chill indoors at night.  This is a typical Annie pose during the colder months.

A tough life for cats (not)

June
A few weeks were spent in China and Hong Kong.   Cruising up the Yangtze, followed by other well-known tourist spots including the Terracotta Warriors, Forbidden City and Great Wall.  China is modernising at a terrific pace with great infrastructure.  Very friendly locals and wonderful food.  Thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and some genuine bucket list items knocked off.

In the first photo, we passed through the locks in the 3 Gorges Dam.  The locks are so big that they will each take 3 container vessels at a time. You can't get the entire dam into one photo.  The scale when you're at water level is mind-blowing. The difference in water height between each end of the dam is 110 metres! 

27 million cu metres of concrete and half a million tonnes of steel

At Xi'an the sheer scale of the Terracotta Warriors burials defies belief.  The photo below shows part of No 3 Pit.  Excavations and conservation work will continue for decades.

A true wonder of the world

My personal highlight was a hike of several km along the Great Wall.  It was something I'd wanted to see since I was a young fella and it didn't disappoint.  The walk was quite a challenge with temperatures in the high 30's C but I guess that made it even more special.

Knackered - moi?

July
Our return to NZ in July saw us acquire another cat to keep Annie company after the passing of 18 year old Thomas in January.  We collected 8 month old Sam from a local rescue centre and after a few days of hiding under the bed, it didn't take him long to settle in.  He talks incessantly, eats like a horse, is hyperactive but has a really sweet nature.  Despite being half his size, Annie bosses him about but they mostly get on fairly well.  The only downside is that he regards the lounge mat as his personal enemy and the most charitable description of its condition is that it now looks rather "distressed".  Good job it's old.

Mad Sam in relaxed pose

Wrecking the mat - defiant stare

July is also a time when birds come into the garden to get food.  My favourite is the NZ native pigeon.  It's about twice the size of a European pigeon with spectacular plumage and feasts on Kowhai tree leaves and flowers.  They're not particularly worried about human presence and this one allowed me to get up close and personal.

NZ native pigeon

August
A trip to Auckland to see Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the pop-up Globe Theatre was great fun.  A bit of a challenge to decipher the English language of the time in places but a thoroughly enjoyable experience and close to the action.

Pop-up Globe stage before the performance

Our soil is largely clay and whilst growing trees and shrubs is ok, growing vegetables requires a fair bit of work.  We decided to avoid all the digging and buy an Australian-made Vegepod for growing salad vegetables and it's been a real winner.  It comes with a built-in water reservoir and water misting system.  Combined with the breathable cover which raises the temperature by a few degrees, it produces more greenery than we can keep pace with.  Perfect for swapping produce with the neighbours.  With it only being a few metres from the kitchen, there's no excuse not to eat healthy food!

The wonderful Vegepod

September
A colleague in the Institute of Advanced Motorists sent me a photo which he took in 2010 on what must have been only my second outing with IAM. I was to be observed (mentored) by the National Chief Examiner and one of the Senior Observers.  We met at a cafe just outside Auckland and was in awe of their reputations, which made me pretty nervous anyway.  When it was time to get on with the ride, I couldn't find my keys and just about had a brain seizure.  The Senior Observer thought it was funny and took the following photo whilst I was panicking and desperately patting my pockets!  The ride actually went quite well and the rest as they say, is history.  Life-changing in fact. 

Country yokel can't find his keys

October
My 72nd birthday although I've long given up caring about the actual number.  The photo was taken on our front deck just as we were heading out to a local restaurant to celebrate.  I made the comment to Jennie that she was still a hot chick and said that I still didn't know what she saw in me 47 years ago.  She said that she didn't either, sigh...

A hot chick and some old geezer

November
It's the breeding season for Kingfishers and there are lots of them living in holes on the roadside banks down our road.  This one often perches in the garden looking for small lizards (skinks) and you can often see up to 30 at a time perched on the phone lines running by a wetland just down the road.  Unfortunately, no photo does the iridescent plumage justice.

Waiting to catch breakfast

I took the following photo about 20 km south of Coromandel, in the hills overlooking the Firth of Thames.  This spectacular sunset has its roots in the tragedy of the Australian bush fires. Large volumes of ash and smoke get blown the 2000-odd km across the Tasman Sea, making for occasional hazy days and incredible sunrises and sunsets.

Caused by bush fires in Australia

December
Alas, riding has been severely curtailed this month with an eye problem.  I suffered a minor retinal tear which was fixed by laser in 10-15 minutes.  Unfortunately, I then suffered a more serious tear and bleeding whilst I was out on the bike.  Getting home safely was quite a challenge with no depth of vision. Jennie has had to drive me 700 km a week for over 4 weeks for the specialist to monitor the tear. To cut a long story short, I've recently had a vitrectomy (look it up on YouTube if you're not squeamish)!  There was a lighter moment waiting for surgery though.  Jennie and I were in a lounge next to the operating theatre and I noticed her shaking with laughter.  She'd just seen one of the surgical team walk into a door!  Like something from a Farside cartoon.  I said that as long as it wasn't the surgeon or anaesthetist, we should be good to go.  Helped break the tension a bit.

5 minutes after surgery and still high as a kite!

In another bit of gallows humour, the photo below shows a tag that I have to wear on my wrist until the eye is fully healed.  Paraphrasing what it says is the use of nitrous oxide gas for dental work or being whisked away in a plane or chopper will cause the temporary gas bubble in my eye to expand and explode the eyeball.  I guess it presupposes that I'll be found unconscious in the street due to too much Christmas Cheer.  Either that or they think I'm senile and will incautiously book a flight to somewhere.  Probably both. Anyway, we seem to be on the mend, although it will be a week or thereabouts before I get out on 4 wheels and  longer again before 2 wheels beckon.  Can't wait!

Danger - risk of exploding eyeball!

My Christmas present from Jennie was a TomTom Rider 550 GPS, equipped with lifetime world maps. The rudimentary but trusty Garmin 76 CX which I've owned since 2006 is on its last legs and it was time to avail myself some of the extra features which a modern GPS has.  I'll probably never use many of these features but pre-plotting routes to conduct IAM testing and displaying them on a decent size screen will be the main priority.  That takes the stress out of giving directions and at the same time,  continuously watching and remembering how the candidate is performing. Navigating in unfamiliar towns and cities will be another bonus.  Now all I have to do is find a switched accessory connection in the back of the KTM headlight to connect it up once I get a clear hour or two!  Full review in due course.

TomTom Rider 550 waiting to be wired in

The December tragedy of the offshore volcano White Island erupting and claiming lives brought back memories from a good couple of decades ago. We visited the island two or 3 times and it really is like stepping into another world.  Each time we went, the topography inside the crater had significantly changed. The main vent is about a 20 minute walk from the boat landing point and on the way, you pass smaller noisy fumaroles crusted with sulphur crystals, streams of dilute sulphuric acid and all sorts of other  worrying volcanic features.  The main vent is in a steep crater of its own and we could only get within 100 metres of it.  Even so, the scream of the escaping gas was as loud as a military jet on full reheat.  The photo below shows Jennie and daughter Victoria with breathing masks to combat the sulphur dioxide and other gases.  The slope to the left of them is the crater down to the main vent.  It was an incredible experience to have been there but the tragedy has highlighted the risks associated with adventure tourism.  I guess that's the appeal to many of us.

Entry to Hell - White Island

All that remains is to wish my fellow moto-bloggers and anyone who chances on this blog a fantastic 2020 and may you receive everything which you would wish for yourselves!


Sunday, 1 December 2019

Fun and frustration

Summer (meteorologically speaking) starts in NZ today and in our neck of the woods, the weather has been glorious for the last couple of weeks with temperatures in the mid-20's C or a bit above.  Perfect for motorcycling.  Truth be told, we could do with a spot of the wet stuff as cracks are appearing in the garden.

A week last Sunday, I took part in a social ride with members of the Institute of Advanced Motorists from our region.  We all converged on the tourist town of Rotorua, known for its bubbling mud pools and geysers.  However, it wasn't to see the natural wonders.  A Rotorua resident called Sue runs a sideline business called Plugz 4 Lugz making custom moulded ear plugs.  One of our members had arranged for her to run a production line for our members.

About 4 years ago, Sue had made some plugs for me because off the shelf plugs always seemed to work loose and weren't particularly effective - must have weird ear canals.  The plugs which Sue made were just fabulous but were getting a bit ratty with use so it was time for new ones.  The plain ones actually improve the quality of bike-to-bike comms by reducing wind noise.  She also makes them with in-built speakers.  The round trip for me was a little over 400 km but we all know, it's about the journey, not the destination.

Bikes lined up in Sue's driveway

It was really well-organised with Sue working round everyone and injecting coloured silicone of their choice into ears and leaving them for a few minutes to set.  Once that was completed, we all headed for lunch at a local cafe whilst Sue trimmed the plugs and sealed them with a clear coat.  A thoroughly enjoyable ride and great to catch up with members from various parts of our region which covers some 40,000 sq km.

Sue, with Rex waiting for his plugs to harden

Nice, pristine ear plugs

That was one of the fun bits, now for a frustration.....

Doing a job at home (hanging out the washing actually!) and I noticed some odd-looking "floaters" in one eye which had just appeared.  To cut the story short, we ended up making a 350 km round trip to an eye specialist who diagnosed a small retinal tear which bled into the eye and it was fixed with laser treatment which took all of 10-15 minutes after a thorough examination.  Only pain was to the wallet.  There was one lighter moment though.  In the hope of helping with the diagnosis, I sketched what the floaters looked like and also took a graph of my blood pressure over the last year in case it had any relevance (it's pretty good for my age by the way).  When I handed them over, the specialist put her head in her hands and said, "Are you an engineer?"  I asked her how she knew.  She replied that her husband was an engineer too and he once took along a spreadsheet when he visited his doctor.  I replied that it seemed  like a perfectly normal thing to do which caused much laughter and eye-rolling between Jennie and her, sigh.....

Having got that out of the way, the next job was to take an IAM member for his Advanced Police Roadcraft Test.  It involved sitting a theory paper, then taking a practical ride of nearly 2 hours covering city and expressway work, followed by a spell on rather challenging country roads.  It also involved him giving commentary of what potential hazards he was observing and how that was impacting on his actions.  I'm happy to say that it was immensely pleasurable for both of us as he absolutely aced the test - a considerable compliment too to his mentor.  To see the massive improvement in riding skill and personal safety since him joining IAM last year is more than ample reward for doing what I do.

Bruce at the end of his Advanced Test

An interesting observation which won't come as a surprise to adventure bike riders......

Bruce rides a Triumph 1200 Explorer.  One country road on the test was exceptionally twisty with limited sight lines and the sealed surface was pretty rough.  The torque of the 3 cylinder motor coupled with compliant suspension meant that he could safely maintain great progress in those conditions.  On the Duke 790 with sport-oriented suspension and less torque, I was having to work a lot harder than Bruce.  I rarely use my quickshifter for up-shifts but was certainly doing so on that part of the ride to get constant drive out of corners.  Clear proof that a well-ridden adventure bike is quite a weapon, especially on less than optimal road surfaces.

The final frustration was that on the way home from the test, my eye started bleed internally again.  Negotiating the twisty coast road with effectively one eye called for a fair bit of care through losing my depth perception.  Yet another 350 km round trip the following day to the specialist with Jennie driving.  So much crap in the eye that the specialist couldn't make a diagnosis.  A further trip is scheduled in a few days when things have hopefully settled down.  Not a smart idea to be driving or riding in the meantime but Jennie has a few menial tasks lined up to keep me out of mischief.  Let's hope that I can continue my motorcycling career for a while yet!