Wheel alignment

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Going a little mad

Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad: whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive, we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.
  - John le Carre

I like John le Carre's quotation very much in light of the recent big ride through the night and it's particularly applicable to all motorcyclists who take the opportunity to reflect when they're out on a journey.  Alone but not lonely.  Experiencing something which is very personal and almost impossible to share.  Wonderful stuff.

It's also appropriate because I'm a little mad at present.  Didn't mention it in the 1000-miler blog post last week as it wasn't relevant to the ride itself but I have a problem which is stopping me from riding or doing much else at present.  Exceedingly frustrating given the superb run of weather we're having.

On the day of the big ride, I had a slightly sore calf and really didn't think much about it.  Not a clue whether I'd knocked it, strained it or whatever.  Just one of those things you take no notice of when you're busy with other things.  Anyway, the last 6 hours of the ride was more than a little uncomfortable with a throbbing leg which was clearly swelling.  On reaching home, the leg was starting to bruise badly and as Jennie is still in Australia,  one of our lovely neighbours (female of course, a guy neighbour would have just given me a beer and told me to harden up!) saw the pronounced limp and bullied me into going to the doctor.  To cut a long story short, the day ended with me driving to a hospital an hour away for an ultrasound to make sure that I hadn't got deep vein thrombosis.  The trip was almost worth it in that the technician was a very attractive young lady and having ultrasound gel massaged into your leg from groin to ankle for half an hour was a not altogether unpleasant experience (rolling of eyes and sighing from the female readers at this point).  However, the Goddess of Hospitals evened the score for having impure thoughts by making me wait for 2 hours in a corridor until a doctor was available.  The outcome was that a blood vessel had burst and caused a painful, but not risky haematoma and the treatment has been to sit on a couch for a week or longer with leg elevated.  Arrgh.... a terrible punishment.  Can't abide sitting about but have generally been a good boy so I can get back to riding in double quick time.  Don't want Jennie's mates ratting me out either. Just shuffle slowly round the house with a walking stick wincing at every step and feeling sorry for myself.

I might just add that the females in the vicinity haven't actually shown much sympathy after having initially nagged to get it checked out.  It's now just another version of that pathetic "man flu" as far as they're concerned.  Sigh.....

Anyway, I thought we'd have a break from bikes this time round.  You might remember an earlier post about an ornate carving knife that Jennie and I had commissioned which was made from Damascus Steel. We both love art objects which employ "traditional" skills and it's a real pleasure to support people who keep these arts alive.  Going back a few scant years, I used to sit on a government-led committee which ensured that employers who employed mechanical apprentices met their obligations and also received the appropriate support.  Part of this work involved visits to employers and one particular day will genuinely stay in the memory forever.

That day involved a trip to the town of Taupo and the visit was to a blacksmith who employed his adult son as an apprentice.  It was special enough in that blacksmithing apprenticeships must be as rare as hen's teeth anywhere on the planet but what rocked my world was that both the smith and his son had represented New Zealand at the World Smithing Championships on two or three occasions and had been highly placed.  This was going to be a very special occasion.

We were met at the forge by the smith, Brian McDonald.  I don't really know what a smith should look like, but if I was casting one for a movie, it would be Brian!  Around 60, not very tall but massive around the shoulders and arms, hands like bunches of bananas, silver hair and and an impressive silver walrus moustache, leather apron, thick glasses, cloth cap and blunt north of England accent - absolutely wonderful!  The son was was probably going to grow into a caricature of his dad.  The business derived its income from a base load of farrier-smithing (shoeing horses) and the rest from private art commissions.  We walked round the forge slack-jawed looking at work in progress - a dragon with a 2 metre wingspan, gate for a wine cellar with life-size bunches of grapes, leaves and vine tendrils twirling around the gate bars, all forged from wrought iron.  I could go on and on; it was genuine sensory overload.

However, it was two tiny objects which really caught my eye, just laying on an anvil.  One was a leaf and stem, about 2 1/2 inches long and the other was 1 single petal from a rose.  Both beaten from wrought iron and even had veins in them - simply exquisite.  I asked Brian what the story was and he said he'd just "knocked them up" to show his boy who was still the master!  I asked him what he was going to do with them now he'd proved his point and he said he was going to chuck them away.  The first thought was to ask him if I could have them as a souvenir but as it was Jennie's birthday in 2 weeks, the idea slowly formed about asking Brian to finish the rose as a gift.  Before we left, a deal had been struck and I told him that I'd bring Jennie down to pick it up on her birthday.

The due date arrived, we rocked up to the forge and I introduced Jennie to Brian with her expression clearly saying "What the hell are you up to?"  Brian pointed over to the anvil where the object sat. Not only had he made the rose to full scale, he'd also hand-forged a specimen vase for it to sit in, also from wrought iron. Every petal, every tiny bud case, every leaf and stalk had been hand-forged together, not drilled or welded. He'd also scoured it with a copper brush whilst still red-hot to give it a sheen. Jennie was on the edge of tears and all I could do was shake my head in wonder.  There are a few special occasions in life that lift the soul and this was indisputably one of them.  As well as being visually stunning, it's amazingly tactile and the weight is very reassuring.

Here are a few photos and if you think it's a nice object, it's better by a wide margin in the flesh.  What an utter privelege and humbling experience it is to meet people like Brian McDonald.  Human beings who absolutely enrich the world we live in. Click to enlarge the photos.

See the bud casings peeled back at the bottom of the rose?

Close-up of veins and texture in petals and leaves

Leaf stems forged together

Another close-up of texture

Another angle

Thursday 21 October 2010

1000 miles in 21 1/4 hours on a Street Triple

Well, as our most revered NZ'er Sir Edmund Hillary said about conquering Mt. Everest, "We knocked the bastard off".  Enormous pride in getting under the 24 hours limit imposed by the organisers, the Rusty Nuts Motorcycle Club who as always; managed to set one hell of a route and had a direct connection to the Weather Gods to throw a whole range of conditions at the hapless entrants!  Pride in making it, but without the slightest exaggeration, pride in sharing it with 4 great mates and riding partners; one who has done 4 previous ones with me, 2 "virgins" and one who had done it a lifetime ago.

I'm hopefully going to avoid boring you to death with the absolute minutiae blow-for-blow of the ride, instead adding a bit of other stuff such as what our thoughts were and how we felt at different parts of the ride to give it a bit of a human angle. Some entrants, usually travelling on their own, go hard out to do it as fast as possible.  Others just hope to do it within the allotted time. We fell in the latter category - enjoy each other's company, sharing the experiences and to get home safely.  My personal motivations for doing it again after a gap of 7 years and turning 63 the day after the event were primarily about whether I still had the willpower and constitution for it .  Also wondered what it would it be like to do it on a small(ish) naked bike after 4 previously on litre-plus faired bikes.  Hell of a way to find out!

Fellow bike blogger, Julian Pearce from Australia of Tar Snakes fame wrote to me recently and quoted the old military adage - the 7 P's.... Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.  How absolutely true and over previous months, the guys and I got out in all weathers and times of the day to get mentally and physically prepared.  Lots of emails flying about too on topics such as lighting, clothing, nutrition and so on.  Sort of our own version of the 7 P's in effect!  Now to find out if the planning had actually worked.

This is our tale - click on photos to enlarge:

Three of us, Andy, Richard and me live some distance from the start/finish point so we booked a motel near the venue and converged on a half-way point to meet up for lunch and then travel south together.  John P and John H will be riding down on the day of the ride as they're a lot closer.

Apprehensive - who, me??

Richard and Andy's bikes in Tirau - lunch stop at Subway

After lunch, Andy who rides a BMW K1200R, confesses to not entirely having complete confidence in the gel pad he bought to protect his nether regions from prolonged pain.  There's a shop a few km down the highway which sells sheepskin products, so a stop is in order to see what they've got in the way of offcuts to soften the seat.
Andy with shaggy sheepskin - the long haul icon!

..... or maybe a hairpiece for Richard

From the sheepskin shop, it's an easy cruise down to the motel, check in and fit the sheepskin properly.

The object of grubby sheep jokes!

After settling in, we ride over to the temporary Rusty Nuts HQ to introduce ourselves, sign in and get the bikes scrutineered.  The Rustys don't take a current official warrant of fitness as sufficient evidence and have their own rigorous checks, including testing headstock bearings on a precision turntable.  If you don't meet their standards, you don't ride and fair enough too.  All the bikes pass and it's back to the motel for a beer and an excellent meal.

The course for tomorrow's big day is to be posted at 7pm so we head back after the meal to see what horrors are in store for us.  The map is on the wall and route sheets are picked up.  The initial impression of the easterly part of the course is dismay and alarm as it will be negotiated in the dark in an area which just 2 days previously, had road closures due to appalling weather and massive slips.  "Bless me", we said, only we didn't say "Bless".  The offhand comment by one of the organisers of, "They've cleaned up enough of the slips for you to get through with a bit of care" didn't do much to ease the jitters either.  Still, if it was easy, it wouldn't deserve the Grand Challenge title.

This is what 1000 miles/1600 km looks like

The start/finish is at Turangi on the southern end of Lake Taupo in the centre of the map.  The first leg will head south, then east through what can only be described as "Deliverance Country".  Lots of narrow winding roads at the bottom of deep valleys and over ridges in pretty inhospitable terrain, ending at Checkpoint 1 (CP1) in the small town of Waipukurau.  Navigating the often poorly-signposted roads in that area will be extremely difficult so I volunteer to programme my GPS and lead the leg. Programming it turns out to be quite tricky with a lot of similar direction minor roads in the area. The trap is that a number of them are dirt, so make a mistake and it can lead to tears!

Andy volunteers to lead the northerly run up the east coast to CP2 in Gisborne as he grew up on the east coast and still makes regular pilgrimages to see his parents.  This will be the first full leg in the dark and the start of where all the slips are.  We decide that the westbound third leg to CP3 at Karapiro should be lead by one of the Johns as Richard knows the leg south and down towards the west coast and CP4 at Patea very well.  The other John will lead the leg to the finish along the southern Taranaki coast, up through the Parapara Valley and Tongariro National Park to the finish back in Turangi. The organisers have given out a list of 24 hour fuel stops along the way, plus a few that open at other times, so some calculations are done with respect to where and when we might need to stop for fuel.  Although Richard has the best range on his BMW 1200GS,  my bike and John H's ZX10-R will probably be up to100 km short of that.  However, we really need to refuel at the same time to keep in step with each other, even if it's only a "splash and dash".  Hey ho, time for bed as it's the big day tomorrow!

A lie-in is called for as our start (Group 2) isn't until 3.03 p.m, which gives nearly 5 hours of daylight riding.  A decent brunch late morning, then it's on to the diet of mainly dried fruit, nuts and so on to give a linear energy release and reduce the risk of unplanned comfort stops in inappropriate places!

Richard, me and Andy waiting for brunch

After brunch, we ride over to Rusty Nuts headquarters to see what's going on, meet some of the other entrants and have a look at what other bikes are about.  There are apparently about 70 entrants, although there have already been some withdrawals.  The thing with the Grand Challenge is that there are nearly as many motives for doing the ride as there are entrants.  Some enter on small capacity bikes, just to make the ride REALLY interesting.  Some enter on gas-guzzling 2-strokes to make life hard for themselves and that variety is part of the joy of the GC.  Here are a small selection of some of the bikes:
 Yamaha R1.  Another sheepskin but oh, those low bars and high pegs!

 Gorgeous RZ 350 - sluuuurp!

ZX 1400, Concours and Multistrada, mile-munchers at pace

Moto Morini Corsaro 1200 - unbelievably loud Termignonis

Nice long-range fuel cell on a Bandit - serious stuff

John P and John H arrive early afternoon , check in and proceed straight to scrutineering.  Both bikes pass with flying colours.

John H anxiously watching the VERY thorough check

A short meeting then follows to discuss the route and the proposals for leading the different legs are confirmed, as are the proposed fuel stops.

Andy, John H, John P and Richard discussing strategy
John H's ZX 10-R and John P's ZX 9-R in background

Two hours to go to our start and the seconds tick by very slowly.  The atmosphere is typical of all Grand Challenges as the riders start to "Zone In".  No raucous laughter, just quiet chatter among small groups, many just laying in the shade alone with their thoughts.

Andy meditating for a few minutes

John P, John H and Andy chilling with their bikes

Two thirty comes round and it's time for the briefing by the GC organisers.  Lee Hurley, head honcho, talks about expected weather conditions - fine, but it's going to be very windy as we move east and heavy rain sometime around daylight out west.  Well, at least the only (big) positive is that it's not going to piss down in the dark like so many of these runs.  He then reminds us that this is not a race, it's all about the personal challenge so ride within your limits and take extra care in the areas where slips are still being cleaned up and watch out for lichen on some backroads.  Isn't it refreshing in these litigious days where personal responsibility still rests with the participants, and is accepted by them?

Machiavelli reincarnated - Lee Hurley

The Rusty Nuts organising team - super organised, super low key and super helpful

Riders being briefed

Lee then mentions that when the colour cards allocated to each group of starters are held aloft from 3pm, it's time to get on with the job in hand.  Finally, he announces the winners of the raffle and I'm staggered to find that I'm the recipient of some fantastic Oxford brand throwover saddle bags!!  How cool is that?  I never win anything!!   Back to the bikes to kit up, a lot of us throwing on Icebreaker brand  merino undershirts as they are the best of the best in both hot and cold conditions.  Time for a quick handshake among all of our group and onto the bikes to await the start cards to be raised.

The first card is raised at 3pm and Group 1 depart.  The 3 minutes until our departure seems more like 3 hours in our heightened state of awareness until finally, the green card goes up and so it begins....

I lead off south on State Highway1 and we almost immediately begin climbing up to the Desert Road at around 2800 ft altitude.  Not your normal desert, a barren volcanic ash plateau which surrounds the active volcanoes of Tongariro National Park.  Only fit for military manoeuvres and a few wild horses.  Godless place in bad weather but today in warm, sunny conditions, the snow on the volcanoes makes for a breathtaking backdrop.

Mt Ngauruhoe from Desert Road - altitutude 7500 ft

The group concentrate on settling into a reasonably quick pace, but one which can be maintained without fatigue.  Suddenly, the radar detector goes off and a highway patrol car can just be seen in the far distance.  The universal hand signals for cops go up among all the riders in the vicinity.  As we slowly close, the cop pulls over and stops, turning off his radar too.  Maybe he knows about the ride, maybe he's more keen on nicking errant cage drivers, who knows?  A welcome gesture, whatever the reason.  

Approaching Mangaweka, the GPS indicates a turn to the east and the start of narrow roads and inhospitable country.  None of us have been down here before so it's going to be quite an experience.  Almost immediately, I wonder whether I've programmed the GPS correctly as the road is narrow, rough and covered with a fine clay dust which has been falling from the bluffs on one side of the road.  It isn't long before we come upon the Moto Morini rider.  He's had a lowside on the clay but apart from one side of his bike (and him) being covered in road dirt, everything else seems ok and he tags onto the back of the group.  I'm conscious that we want to maximise distance in daylight so keep up a decent, but stress-free pace.  The GPS seems to be working really well and it's surprisingly comforting.  This area east of SH1 is honeycombed with tiny roads leading in all directions and for people who don't know the area and just using maps or the route instructions, the potential to lose time is quite high.  Not that there's much time for sightseeing, but the terrain is astoundingly beautiful and several of us remark later that we must re-visit with our better halves.  

There's a time check (safety check in case people got lost?) at Ashurst, the end of this twisty section, then through the Manawatu Gorge to Woodville for the first fuel stop.  Leaving Woodville, the wind is building noticeably as we continue to head east and entering the next set of twisties, it's pretty diabolical.  Bikes are getting blown around with the swirling gusts and extreme care is needed when leaned over (i.e most of the time!).  Richard has the map pocket on his fuel tank torn off the velcro and slap him in the helmet, it's that windy!  Equally bad on both the mountain range valleys and going over the saddles - guess that's why there's a huge wind farm near the Manawatu Gorge!  

Coming round a corner just east of Pahiatua, I spot a bike with hazard lights on and start slowing.  Just round the next bend, there's the appalling sight of a rider laying prone on the road with his bike on its side.  Some riders are already on the scene and fellow blogger Bandit Rider (Andrew) is one of the first two bikes to arrive.  Miraculously, one of the other riders there is a doctor and is applying care.  I ask whether any additional assistance is required but one of the guys says that emergency services have been notified.  We carry on badly shaken, all of us thinking that it could easily have been us.  Only considerably later do we find that the rider had suffered a medical condition.  As a postscript, the rider was rushed to hospital and was sent home a few days later.  Profound relief for everyone and every good wish to the rider.

Dusk is settling in and every time we dive down into one of the deep valleys, it gets worse.  A horrible time for riding as the headlights never seem to work particularly well in these transition conditions.  Adding to the stress is the odd cow and other livestock wandering about on the roadside which are hard to spot in the endless twisties.  There's a lot of flooding in the fields adjacent to the road, testament to the terrible weather a couple of days ago.  With it becoming fully dark, the Osram Nightbreaker headlight bulbs fitted to most of the bikes for the ride really come into their own.  Nothing at all wrong with the Triple's lights on this run!  CP1 at Waipukurau is reached without further drama and my 409 km stint in the lead comes to an end at around 8pm.  Now I can relax and follow Andy, who will lead us up north to CP2 in Gisborne.

After some sustenance and a drink, Andy leads off and I drop towards the rear.  The Morini rider is just in front of me and we've been joined at the rear by a VStrom rider who linked up half way through the previous leg.  Andy is setting a great pace on an open, sweeping road, only easing back a little when a vehicle comes the other way out of the pitch blackness in case it's the Highway Patrol.  I'm the only one with a radar detector and being near the rear, I'm as useless as tits on a bull.  There's something really comforting about following other tail lights in the dark, really taking the stress off  and it looks really cool too.  However, the first irritation starts to emerge.  That Morini with its Termignoni pipes is REALLY loud despite the use of ear plugs and whilst listening to it for a short while is great, it starts to get bloody annoying before too long and becomes a distraction.

We reach the city of Hastings and Andy (remember his confident local knowledge of the area?) confidently manages to guide us to a dead end in the middle of a housing estate.  Other members of the group laugh out loud at the irony (nothing like showing no mercy to a great mate).  Fortunately, my GPS is showing the way out of the dilemma and I take the lead for a couple of km until we get back on track.  It's here that Karma bites me in the arse for laughing.  As we turn onto the corect route, I'm looking in the mirror for Andy to resume the lead.  What I've failed to notice is a sort of pavement extension just round the corner sticking out a little into the road.  Fortunately, the sides are sloping rather than vertical and the Triumph leaps over it motocross-style to the immediate hilarity of all who see my inattention.  No damage apart to my dignity, but it's a wake-up call to concentrate in the blackness.  Overall the two stuff-ups have provided some comic relief so it's not all bad!  The section from Napier to Wairoa where the road goes through a series of gorges gives an indication of what's to come.  Water seeps across the road in many places from the cliffs, mixed with clay from the heavy rains just 2 days earlier - a treacherous combination.  Andy's riding is inspired and he sets just the right pace and takes perfect lines to minimise risk.  Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the Morini rider who lags behind on the straights and closes right up on the bends, taking some strange lines into the bargain.  It would be quite unfair to label him a poor rider but he's different and maybe not as smooth as the rest of us who ride regularly together and it's breaking up the natural flow of the group watching out for him and wondering what he's going to do.  It harks back to the implicit trust we have among the regular riding group.  This issue was to be remarked on by other members of the group several times later in the journey.

Soon we arrive at Wairoa and stop for a quick safety "splash and dash" as CP2 in Gisborne might be towards the edge of the range of some of the bikes.  It's from Wairoa that Andy really earns his keep as group leader.  Rather than going up the main coast road, the route calls for us to head inland up Tiniroto Road.  We came through here on a trip earlier in the year so know what to expect.  Continuously twisty for the best part of 100 km, maybe 4 metres or so wide, generally poor road markings and slips - eek!  Andy makes it look easy although the personal toll on him trailblazing up front must be pretty high. He sets a good pace but is so smooth in his actions that line changes to avoid slips, rocks or other obstructions are hardly noticeable and stress levels remain low, thanks to his great lead.  We roll into Gisborne somewhere just around midnight (I think), check in, gas up, have more sustenance and put on more clothing for the long night ahead.  Andy has dragged us through just under 300 km of what were potentally hazardous conditions with little seeming effort - bloody magnificent.

Now it's John P's turn to guide us through the next 350 km leg to CP3 at Karapiro just south of Cambridge, the most northerly point on the route.  The first challenge is the Waioeka Gorge which was closed due to massive slips just 2 days ago.  John rides fast but smoothly, gently easing back as he comes across hazards which gives the rest of us time to react with plenty of time.  This makes for a really pleasant ride because of the implicit trust in John and the 140-odd km long gorge is disposed of in quick time.  The only problem for the naked bikes is that there's a fairly strong headwind which makes holding on tightly pretty tiring!

However, another drama is about to unfold.  There's supposed to be a 24 hour gas station in Opotoki which was going to be used as a "splash and dash" to Karapiro.  Oh dear, it's closed and although there may be one that nearby that we don't know about, the decision is taken to go into economy riding mode and gas up in Rotorua, some 140 km distant. A bit of a stretch, but just about do-able.  We set off and run into a bit of mist which coats my visor, but nothing too alarming. A bit further down the road, some of the group peel off to the nearby settlement of Kawerau as they think that Rotorua might be a bridge too far.  The rest of us carry on,with John waiting for a while to allow the others to catch up.  We arrange to all meet at the BP gas station in Rotorua.  My fuel light comes on at approximately 260 km and with about 20+ km to go, my backside starts to twitch.  It's at times like this when you realise that rural NZ is a lonely place at night, with nothing on the road but the GC riders.  I creep into Rotorua and reach the gas station, getting just over 14 litres into the tank.  If my math is correct at that time of the night, there's over 2 litres left in the tank and if it's all useable, I would have achieved over 300 km to a tank.  Pretty darned fine for a Street Triple, even with fairly gentle throttle control over the last 140 km.  We're all reunited some 20 minutes later and set off for CP3.  A really fast transit as this is John's normal riding territory and he does a fantastic job of towing us along!  Refuel, log in with the Rustys manning the checkpoint and snatch some food and drink.  First light is less than 2 hours away and the spirits are starting to lift.  Interestingly, the GPS provided quite a psychological lift for me in the dark, watching the little triangle (me) steadily moving round the map!  And another thing.... we've now covered 1046 km and my arse is still in fantastic condition thanks to the Airhawk pad I fitted for the ride.  Some of my mates are now standing on the pegs whilst riding along on a regular basis to get relief, hehe! 

Richard and John P at 1046 km and still smiling!

Richard takes the lead for the 320 km leg down to Taranaki Province and CP4 as it's a region he knows particularly well.  Someone with reasonable local knowledge up front has worked extremely well although it has to be said the trust between all 5 riders is probably the single most important factor to have made the ride so enjoyable.  Much of the leg consists of interconnected sweepers which is rather pleasant for tiring bodies after the previous conditions!  We pull into Te Kuiti to refuel in early daylight and this gives a real mental uplift.  Time has got a bit distorted and it feels much later than daybreak.

Richard is setting errrr... a "brisk" but totally safe pace and we're munching up the miles.  Going through the magnificent Awakino Gorge is more like a hooligan day ride than towards the end of a long haul which is great fun and breaks up the routine a bit.  However, some confusion reigns over Mt. Messenger.  Just over the summit, John H pulls into a rest area for a comfort stop.  Andy goes with him and John P and I pull in a little further down the road.  Out front, Richard doesn't see this happening and carries on for a bit before stopping for a while.  Because rain is threatening, Richard decides to cruise on down to CP4 in Patea and wait there.  Soon, the rest of us get underway again and near New Plymouth, the rain comes down in torrents, and plenty of wind to go with it.  John H stops to pull on full wets over his Goretex and the rest carry on towards CP4, which isn't too far away.  By now, the empty roads have got a little busier and the reputation of Taranaki Province for its dairy industry is reinforced with the high number of milk tankers on the road.  In short, they're a bloody pain, throwing vast amounts of road spray everywhere and getting safely past is a bit of a nightmare.  A bit of time has been lost since the heavy rain set in and after a wait at CP4, Richard decides to continue on his own.  As we check in, the rain eases and we get ready to tackle the final 240 km to the finish.

John H takes over and with drying roads and a strong rearward wind, we fair scoot along the southern Taranaki coast.  John is particularly vigilant for the Highway Patrol on this stretch, but they don't seem to be out of bed yet.  Turning north in Wanganui, we enter the Paraparas.  This is motorcycling heaven - a twisting road 90 - odd km long at the bottom of a gorge.  John attacks it like a normal day ride and it's great for keeping the concentration levels up as the finish beckons.  We encounter a boulder in the middle of the road which is the size of a car engine block - a good reminder to keep observational skills up. However, the pace combined with the very strong headwind is giving Andy and me on the naked bikes a bit of a tough time (oh, ok, we're knackered!).  The two of us pull over at the Raetihi gas station for a few minutes to coax some life back into seriously aching wrists and fingers before getting underway again.

Gaining altitude as we enter the Tongariro National Park, the weather packs up big time, with torrential rain, high winds and plummeting temperatures.  Pretty darned unpleasant on tired bodies but the bikes handle the conditions with no dramas whatever.  Andy says later that he's fascinated with the huge volume of water that the tread pattern on my rear Avon Storm Ultra is displacing.  They're certainly a fantastic tyre in wet weather and pretty darned good in the dry too.  Soon, we see a sign saying Turangi 10 km and I can't help grinning like a lunatic.  In what seems like only a minute or two after seeing that sign, we're rolling into the finish, 21 1/4 hours after setting out.  No punching the air or anything crass like that, just handshakes between us and a well-done from the Rusty organiser who comes to check our odometers.

We stagger inside, ditch our wet rain gear and collect our badges from Lee Hurley to a feeling of enormous pride, not to mention relief!  The Rustys have a huge pot of steaming stew and dumplings on the go for all the returning riders - absolute perfection given the conditions outside.  John H says that the only thing which doesn't hurt is "this", pointing to the tip of his nose!  The rest of of us hurt in various places, my problem being in the fingers through hanging onto the bars tightly in very gusty conditions.  Can't be helped with a naked bike on a run like this but we'll all recover quickly.

 5 minutes after finishing - grimace or smile?

Mission accomplished and a shower and nice warm bed beckon!

As a matter of note, the 1000 mile in 24 hours rides in NZ take place on twisty 2 lane backroads to make them a genuine challenge, especially in the dark as there is always about 11 hours of riding in these conditions. There's a short video here: Grand Challenge  of part of one daylight section posted by fellow Kiwi blogger Andrew after completing his 10th 1000-miler, plus a dusk section HERE.  Not an easy ride!

  • At one day short of my 63rd birthday, I'd answered whether my body was still up to it with a resounding YES!  Sore fingers were fine the following day and apart from being a little tired, that was about it.  Preparing for the ride as detailed in some previous blog posts clearly paid off.  Interestingly, I think my mental strength was better than any previous Grand Challenge.  Mental outlook is a huge part of getting through this ride.
  • Riding with treasured friends.  Doing it solo wouldn't have given me anywhere near the same buzz as the shared experience and it further strengthens already strong bonds of friendship and trust.  Each one of my mates were simply outstanding in the lead which took a lot of stress off those behind them.
  • Night riding on unfamiliar territory was ok because we'd all upgraded our headlights from the OEM bulbs.  Getting out and testing them in the twisties before the ride was essential.
  • The Street Triple - what can I say?  Apart from the obvious wind-blast from a naked bike, I was in better shape on finishing the ride than previous rides on the BMW K100RS and the Blackbird.  Lack of a numb bum was almost entirely due to the Airhawk pneumatic seat pad.  An extreme test of any product.  The fairly upright riding position took the load off the wrists and the light weight and fairly agressive steering geometry made 1000 miles of corners a breeze, as opposed to having to wrestle bigger, heavier bikes over that distance.  No scary moments whatsoever.  Before the ride, I honestly thought I'd be writing about huge levels of pain and exhaustion but it wasn't like that at all. OK, it isn't a good choice for prolonged 2-up riding but after replacing the OEM bulbs with Osram Nightbreakers, the Street Triple is a potent long-distance motorcycle.
  • The Rusty Nuts organising committee and helpers.  Terrific people.  Complete absence of beauracracy, unfailingly friendly and helpful, tough as nails and never fail to set a course that stretches you and then some.  They always stress personal responsibility and amen to that.  The two friends who hadn't previously done a Grand Challenge both said that it was the most memorable ride of their lives.
  • It really sharpens your riding skills.  Riding the 350-odd km home after the event, I was in continuous "Zen" riding mode with heightened observational and riding skills -  like I was on rails.  That's what extended periods of absolute concentration do for you!  Guess fellow blogger Gary Francis will understand this as a result of his mammoth ride across the USA.
  • Will I do it again?  Every time I finish a Grand Challenge, it's "never again", so who knows?  Will need  new motivator though although riding with great mates is always a pretty good one!
   My badge for 5 Grand Challenges - rather proud of that

Tuesday 12 October 2010

The time is now...

 Receiving tender loving care

Had a 320 km round trip today to Hamilton to give the Street Triple its 10000 km service (also it's 1st birthday within a day or so).  I'm always impressed with the superb service at the Hamilton Motorcycle Centre where you are always made to feel a valued customer by literally everyone working there.  The service was about 3 hours long, so plenty of time to look round the superb showroom packed with Triumphs, BMW's, Ducatis and Kawasakis.  More on the showroom in a minute.    One of my riding partners for the Grand Challenge also dropped in unexpectedly so it was great to have coffee and a yak on comfortable settees, surrounded by exotic hardware.  Also bumped into a prominent member of Kiwi Rider magazine, Todd Sutherland.  I worked with him at a manufacturing company before he turned a shared passion into a living - we hadn't seen each other for probably 20 years so that was good Karma too.

Anyway, back to the bikes in the showroom.......

I love bikes.  Don't care where they're made or what badge is on the tank, I love 'em.  Back in the 60's, it was the European makes that were looking tired and outdated, with the Japanese being innovative and producing bikes with great performance, stunning looks and superb reliability.  It's only a personal view, but I reckon that the pendulum is swinging the other way.  The Kawasaki range in the showroom, all of them good bikes; looked "same old, same old" - simply an incremental development of previous models.  Of course, this Kaizen approach (small incremental improvements) has been the cornerstone of Japanese prosperity but I can't help thinking that innovation is getting increasingly buried as a consequence.  The European bikes in the showroom all seemed to have flair, whether it be in overall design, an item of detail or paint finish.  Have a look at these photos (click to enlarge and drool):

Thruxton Bonneville
The Thruxton Bonnie retains the Triumph purity of line starting some 4 decades or more ago, but there's nothing old about any of the detail.  A pearl white metallic tank and seat cowl with a red frame makes it a stunning bike.  It takes clever people to create elegant simplicity.

Triumph Daytona 675 SE

Most people know what a huge world-wide success the faired and naked 675's have been and continue to be so enough said on that subject.  I'd seen photos of the blue and white SE and my initial impression was that it was a tart's handbag. How wrong I was!  The pearl white finish combined with an unusual but "just right" shade of blue frame and suspension is absolutely beautiful.  And look at the shot of it's muffler below.  Even an old guy in his 60's can feel certain stirrings when looking at that!

Oh my, my.....  I've come over all faint!

Moving on to BMW's, they had an HP2 Sport in the shop.  Arguably the ultimate development of BMW's flat twin with 4 valve head, fuel injection, Telelever front suspension and Paralever rear suspension with an Ohlins hydraulic unit, it simply drips with class.  Ok, the performance isn't on par with a Japanese sport bike but neither does it pretend to compete.  It's also very expensive but its quality has strong appeal to a section of the market, just as something like a Morgan Plus Eight has to a certain section of the car market.

 The componentry drips class

BMW HP2 rear wheel - tell me that this isn't pure art

I ADORE the BMW HP2.  If ever some unknown rich relative leaves me a legacy, this is where the money is going.  And the bike is going in the lounge, alongside Jennie's art objects! (Subject to executive permission of course).

Ducati - not much else to say when the name is mentioned, is there?  The race-bred styling is legendary, but it was the angular lines of the Hypermotard which caught my eye.  Simple, elegant lines which exude purpose.

 Bad to the bone!

It's fortunate that Hamilton Motorcycles are just over 2 hours away from home or I'd be spending every second day in there drooling on the bikes and their beautiful wooden floor.  However, it's a rare treat and a real pleasure to drop in and see what's on the showroom floor.  I rest my case about European bikes.....

Before finally departing from the showroom, I thought you might enjoy the photo below.  In one corner of the showroom, there's a huge photo of a BMW GS  which I thought was a superb composition.  In front of it, an old 350cc BSA B40 (I think?) prepared for off-road competition.  I reckon the two go perfectly together and would grace the corner of any guy's den!

Old meets new

With the Grand Challenge on Saturday, it's all starting to hit home and I've busied myself for the last couple of days gathering items to take, hopefully avoiding any last-minute panics.  One lounge is strewn with "guy stuff" ready for packing, discarding and re-packing maybe half of it.  Included in this is my staple sustenance for the ride to avoid the energy "crash and burn" cycle of sugar-based junk food from gas stations.  This is a mix of nuts, seeds and dried fruits known as scroggin in NZ, Trail Mix (I think) in the Americas and God knows what else in other parts of the world.  Tastes great, easy to digest, more or less linear energy release and minimises embarrassing unscheduled stops at the roadside to meet the needs of nature.

 Scroggin - yummm!!

 Because it's 7 years since completing the last 1000-miler, I've been getting a wee bit introspective and wondering exactly why I entered as it's never easy and at my age, it's certainly going to hurt.  Going for a decent ride with treasured mates a sufficient reason?  That's part of it for certain, especially as three of my friends are doing the Grand Challenge for the first time and sharing the momentous occasion with them is going to be very special.

It's more than that though.  Without wanting to sound too philosophical or any way "new age", most of us have fairly comfortable routine lives which can border on mundane if we're inclined to let it be that way.  Occasionally stretching one's self and stepping outside the comfort zone is a means of reminding us all that life is to be lived and unless the Buddhists are right, we only get one crack at life on this earth.  That's exactly my reason for doing it and becomes more important the older I get.  Back in the late 80's, I lost my best friend and work colleague in a motoring accident.  He was an innocent victim, leaving behind a wonderful wife and 3 lovely young kids.  Jennie and I were contacted by the police to help break the news to them and with only 10 minutes' warning,  that's something you don't want to do more than once in a lifetime.  That tragedy completely changed the lives of Jennie and me.  It drove home the importance of not sitting back and putting things off as you can never predict what's round the corner.  Stretching one's self in all sorts of ways but enjoying it at the same time all is part of  avoiding those dreaded words "if only I....".  Riding a motorcycle on a physically and mentally demanding long haul is just one step along the path of worthwhile activity and enjoyment at the same time.  (Errrr... if you can call a lot of pain and anxiety enjoyable!)

Phew, that was all a bit deep and I'm not sure that I've done a particularly good job of explaining myself.  However, I'm sure that if anyone is going to understand the sentiments behind it, it's going to be people who ride motorcycles!

Anxiously scanning the weather forecast on a daily basis.  So far, it looks less horrific than some of the past Grand Challenges. Currently, there's a band of rain scheduled to hit the north island around daybreak on Sunday.  Most people won't mind this as it's usually in the middle of the night on some god-forsaken unlit goat track in the back of beyond that conditions are at their worst .  The start and finish is at the southernmost tip of Lake Taupo, right in the middle of the north island.  As to where the bit in between will take us, it's anyone's guess until all is revealed the night before the ride. If any of you have a connection to the Weather Gods, we'd all appreciate some positive vibes please!

Errr... not looking too bad by normal standards

Hope to catch you all next week with a post about a successful outcome.  In the meantime, ride safely everyone.

Saturday, 16th October.  3.03 pm start time.  Showtime.....

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Night and Day, tra la....

Day and night, night and day, why is it so
That this longing for you follows wherever I go
In the roaring traffics boom
In the silence of my lonely room
I think of you

(With a respectful nod to Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra - could have been about riding a motorcycle!)

If you're wondering what illegal substances I've been sniffing, worry not - the lyrics just seemed totally appropriate having done solo night and day runs a couple of days apart as final practice for the 1000-miler a week next Saturday.

It's been hard to organise a group night run with my riding partners for the big event as we live up to 200 km apart so I decide to bite the bullet and go solo on the Coromandel Loop. I haven't ridden in the dark properly since last autumn so it's well overdue.  Twisty roads, as black as the Ace of Spades between the sparse communities - a real test at night and particularly so when you're on your own.  Night riding has a fair bit of psychology (errr...fear factor) thrown into the mix when travelling alone and it's a good opportunity to see if I still measure up.

Big, scary eyes!

Leaving Coromandel at dusk to gradually dial in, all is well for the first 10 minutes or so, then a problem arises.  All the bugs on the Peninsula have come out to play and seem keen to splatter themselves onto my visor to the extent that vision is significantly impaired.  Oh sh*t, sudden realisation that the dampened microfibre cloth I normally carry is still sitting on the garage bench at home.  Never mind, Whitianga isn't far away and I can wash the visor at a gas station forecourt.

 Waiting impatiently for the rider - lights are whiter than they look

With vision restored and the bugs having largely disappeared as absolute blackness sets in, time to press on and settle into a steady pace; talking myself into relaxing and stop gripping the bars so tightly.  The upgraded lighting works well and although the long-distance range isn't as good as my old Blackbird with its 100W Xenon bulbs, the round headlights give a far superior illumination of the verges and hedgerows closer to the bike - perfect for getting good positioning through tight bends.

In daylight, I pretty much know all the bend sequences on the peninsula by heart but in pitch blackness, my knowledge of what comes next becomes completely confused, so find it easier to drop pace a little and take each successive bend on its own merits - probably a wise thing to do anyway.  As the ride continues, I find all the night riding techniques slowly returning (see night riding post HERE) and travelling in a little cocoon of light becomes a pleasant experience.  The open road is virtually empty of traffic and even possums and other assorted livestock seem content to stay off the road for once, so the rest of the journey is completed without incident - nice to know that in fine weather at least, I can still handle night riding ok (I think).

Lit-up radar detector and GPS for company

The day ride is one which was canned a few weeks ago when appalling weather hit but this time, the forecast is for warm, sunny and without a breath of wind - yippee!  The plan is to head up to Clevedon, south east of Auckland via a road never previously ridden through the Hunua Range of hills just in case the devious organisers of the Grand Challenge have it as part of their route.  The return run will be in more familiar surroundings down the coast road with lunch at the Kaiaua fish and chip shop - a real biker favourite at weekends but what about weekdays?

A nice 300km morning ride in virtually no traffic

How come it's so easy to get out of bed when the prospect of a great ride is on offer? Instantly awake at 0600, no staggering about with brain at half-mast, instant focus on the ride whilst shaving and showering - delicious anticipation with a few flutters in the stomach.  Cup of tea in bed for Jennie, bolt down some breakfast and kit up.  Is there any better ritual than getting kitted up?  All part of getting mentally ride-ready I suppose.

It's a spectacular day and the water of the Firth of Thames is like a mirror.  Perfect day for fishing and the number of boats being towed to various launch ramps on the coast road causes extra vigilance as some of them seem to cut corners whether anything is coming toward them or not.  Leaving the coast road and entering the twisties near Miranda, I remind myself that this ride is supposed to be practice for riding smoothly and relaxing, not a Grand Prix (do other people have conversations with themselves as much as I seem to???).  Easing back a touch allows for better situational awareness and remembering some of the trickier parts of the new road.  To the west, farmland and to the east, the Hunua range of hills.  From photos I've seen, there are spectacular views of a waterfall and a water supply reservoir clad by bush down a side road but no time for them today.  It's an excellent, winding road but despite the GPS, I manage to miss a couple of turns and lose a minute or two re-tracing the route.  No worries - all part of riding.  In the 50-odd kilometres between Mangatangi and Clevedon, only 4 other vehicles are seen and they're all travelling in the opposite direction - heaven!

The village of Clevedon appears without warning and I'm back on familiar territory, heading east, then south to a date with a fish and chip lunch at the coastal settlement of Kaiaua.  Arriving at 1130, I'm the second person there, put in an order and sit outside in the sun.  Not long after though, an immaculate GSX 1400 pulls in, piloted by someone much the same age as me.  The wonderful thing about the riding community the world over is that there is an instant rapport and we spend a most enjoyable time chatting about this and that over fish and chips.  He's from Howick in Auckland, has worked long hours for 20 days straight and has taken 2 days off to go riding.  Non-riders would probably spend the time in bed!  He's a member of the Ulysses Motorcycle Club, an Australasian organisation for the over-50's with the motto of "Grow Old Disgracefully" - how cool is that!

Time to jump on the Triple and head home.  It's only 35 km as the crow flies from Kaiaua but skirting round the Firth of Thames by road, it's exactly 100 km - plenty of time for more riding in perfect conditions.  A lot of my riding tends to be on the pacey side with friends rather than cruising but today, the deliberate intention to just concentrate on being smooth and taking in the sights and smells was the best outcome imaginable.  We motorcyclists are truly blessed!

P.S There should have been more photos on the day ride and I apologise; it was one of those days when I simply didn't want to stop riding!

Saturday 2 October 2010

Road trip - Forgotten World Highway and more!

 Note: There is a Nov 2011 post (click HERE) which covers a later trip over the Forgotten Highway route on my Triumph Street Triple with a lot more photos of the whole trip.  The later post also covers the ride over the equally spectacular Gentle Annie road as part of the same weekend ride.  There is also a further trip on my KTM HERE .The following report is about our first exploratory trip in the car.....

Road trips are always eagerly anticipated, even if it's in the 4x4 on this particular occasion.  The trip killed several birds with one stone, so there was plenty to look forward to.  The main reason was to take Jennie and our then Wellington-based daughter to the annual World of Wearable Art Show in Wellington.  The show  is hard to describe but if you imagine Cirque du Soleil mixed with wearable art, all set to brilliant music and special effects, you get somewhere near it!  The second reason was to drive the Forgotten World Highway (B to D on the map).  It was to double as a sneaky reconnaissance trip for a future weekend motorcycle outing with the lads!  This is 170+ km of narrow, twisty road running through extremely remote country with a mix of spectacular gorges and over tall ridges.  Very little traffic, no fuel availability, minimal phone coverage and one of the ultimate challenging  motorcycle roads unless you break down or have an accident - then it all gets serious very quickly.  The other reason for the trip was to catch up with close friends and some relatives in the Wellington area whom we get to see all too infrequently.  The trip was to take a leisurely week, although it was noticed that the distance of 1700 km was similar to the under-24 hour endurance ride we'll be attempting on equally twisty roads a fortnight hence - eek!

The first leg from Coromandel in the north to the small rural town of Taumaranui was uneventful in showery weather.  The motel we stayed in was full of politicians and dignitaries of all persuasions, all there to attend the funeral of a prominent Maori leader.  If there was ever a perfect time for a revolution involving the odd kilo of Semtex or Sarin, this was it.  However, the nagging feeling remained that even with NZ's Great and Good out of the way, the country probably wouldn't notice!  Taumaranui was bustling with great eateries and seemed completely unaffected by the global downturn.

Next morning, it was off down the Forgotten World Highway.  The brain must have been at half mast as I failed to photograph a road sign which said "This is a public road, not a race track".  When we got to the evenings' accommodation, there was a photo of the same sign on the bar wall.  Some wag had taped over some of the words before taking the photo.  There was the blurred rear view of a Nissan Skyline GTR flying by the sign which now read "This is a public race track" - priceless!  Nonetheless, I did photograph a sign a little further down the road warning motorcyclists about the perils to come.  At least one biker has lost their life on it in the last 18 months.
A sobering warning

Just out of Taumaranui, there are some impressive bluffs composed of layers of gravel and mudstone.  These are around 300 metres above sea level in the centre of the north island and were once at the bottom of the ocean.  The tilt of the layers was also impressive, showing how geologically active NZ is, sitting smack on the Pacific Ring of Fire and associated tectonic plates.

Gravel and mudstone layers

The road gradually descends into a river valley with the odd bridge crossing, with the valley walls getting progressively narrower and higher - real Lord of the Rings country and not far from where some of the trilogy was shot.

Te Maire Bridge

Stream having cut through topsoil to bedrock

Where's the Gollum then??

Diving up dirt side roads to explore, the value of a 4x4 was very much appreciated as some of the roads (a loose description) were rough and greasy and the chances of getting marooned miles from anywhere with an ordinary car were pretty high.  Oh for an adventure bike!!!  We noticed on the map that one side road lead to the town of Ohura some 10km away.  Thinking that we might stop for coffee at a cafe, we set off.  There's a sucker born every minute!  Ohura might have been bustling at one stage but it was now a virtual ghost town.  Old boarded-up shops and the only thing which looked well-maintained was a junior school, presumably to cater for kids from remote farms in the area.   

Note for film makers:  If you want to re-shoot Deliverance or Village of the Damned, look no further!  Ummm... I've just Googled Ohura and they have a website!!  It bears absolutely no relation to reality and must have been put together by the Head Zombie to lure unsuspecting victims there.  Guess we were lucky arriving before dark and leaving promptly.  Oh dear, there'll be a price on my head now.....

Ohura main street - not a person in sight

Ohura convenience shopping

Back onto the Forgotten World Highway with Ohura left safely behind, it was up another side road to explore.  The first item spotted was a long-abandoned stationary steam engine, presumably used to power a small sawmill but there was no sign of that.

Relics of another era

Cool grove of appropriately-named juvenile Lancewood trees

A bit further up the road, we came across a convoy of classic/vintage cars out for a run, although they were not doing the whole Forgotten World Highway. Lovely to see them on the road and the first vehicles we'd seen for nearly 2 hours..  We'd intended to visit a nearby waterfall, but rain was setting in and a trudge through the mud for a kilometre was less than appealing.  Instead, we chatted for a few minutes with a local farmer who happened to come by on a quad with his dogs.  The isolation meant that his major shopping trips to town only happened every few weeks. The cattle and sheep on his 2500 acre farm also provided meat for home, supplemented by deer and wild pig hunting in the back blocks.

Classic car run

Back-blocks farmer and his working dogs - note sheep crook on quad

Closing in Whangamomona, our destination for the night, the road narrowed even further (if that was possible!) and we soon encountered the Moki Tunnel, hewn by hand in the 1800's but enlarged to allow modern animal stock trucks through (a very tight fit, I tell you!).  Apparently, there are fossilised giant crabs in the tunnel walls but as it was a single lane, we weren't game to get mown down in the unlikely event of another vehicle appearing.

Motorcycle heaven!

Moki Tunnel - 180 metres long

Tunnel roof - see what the top sign says?

Wild goat at tunnel entrance - wicked horns

Tahora Saddle - miles and miles of nothing

All together now - awwwwwww.....

As we arrived at Whangamomona, the sun was not far off setting and a cold beer and decent meal was the next priority.  The original hotel burned down in a fire and this one was rebuilt in 1911.  Stunningly well-restored and is one of those "must-stay" icons for bikers and other members of the population alike.  (Whangamomona Hotel)

Whangamomona Hotel

The current owners, Penny and Geoff Taylor are superb hosts and the food is equally outstanding.  What's more, they are both keen riders, having toured Europe on a Honda Blackbird and currently own a Kawasaki Concours.  Every year, there's a Republic of Whangamomona day where people come from near and far.  There were two contenders for President of the Republic last time.  One was a goat and the goat was duly elected.  Only in NZ....

Leaving Whangamomona westbound the next morning for Stratford and an overnight stay in New Plymouth, there was more spectacular scenery and a thought that the slightly better road surface and more open corners were a little better for sport-oriented bikes than further east. Must put it to the test although anyone who pushes really hard on this road is inviting serious grief.  Besides, why miss the spectacular scenery?

A shaft of sunlight near the Strathmore Saddle

Yet another spectacularly small road tunnel

New Plymouth - site of first onshore oil discovery in the 1800's

Next morning, it was a gentle cruise to stay with our first set of friends, then on to Wellington for the World of Wearable Arts Award show.  A world-class event with stunning wearable art and technical effects and even for an arts ignoramus like me, it would be one of the best ever entertainment events ever attended.  Loved it all but the bizarre creatures and items illuminated by ultraviolet light were a personal favourite.  Difficult to remember that they were operated by people.

Lit by ultraviolet

2009 Winner from Alaska - made entirely of wood!

The weather forecast the next day wasn't promising but lunch with Jennie's relatives in the Wellington suburb of Eastbourne was very pleasant.  Some houses in Wellington are built on extreme slopes with garaging just off the road and a powered elevator system to get the owners and smaller items up to the house with minimum effort!  The elevator rails can clearly be seen in the following photo:

Hillside house with access elevator

Arriving at the house of one of my close friends (owns a Blackbird) just north of Wellington for the night, there was time before the rain set in to go out for a spin in his latest toy - a tricked-up turbocharged Toyota MR2 which he's preparing for the track.  It will soon be pumping out over 350 bhp and judging by the way it broke traction under heavy acceleration, it ain't too far off now.  Not too suitable as a road car though with it's rock-hard race suspension.  I don't frighten easily but that thing is insane!!!!

Wolf in sheep's clothing

Weather the following day was appalling as a front passed through, so it was just a case of chilling out and heading home the day after in slowly clearing conditions.  Up early and a great brunch in the small town of Bulls, about 1.5 hours' drive north of Wellington.  The locals have a great ability to find fun ways of using the name of their town as the photo of the signpost below shows (click to enlarge).

Clever signpost

Further up the road at Mangaweka, a Douglas DC3 sits on a roadside platform.  Originally a cafe, it's now used by a company as an adventure tourism base.  The trip never gets visually boring, that's for sure.

Douglas DC3

Reaching the central north island volcanic plateau, the bad weather was only just clearing and plenty of snow was in evidence on the slopes of the volcanoes, mercifully not down to road level.

Brooding Tongariro National Park volcanoes
Volcanic ash deposits - Tongariro National Park

Descending from the high altitude of the Desert Road, the weather dramatically improved but there was one surprise left - flooding on the main highway!  It was only a foot deep in most places but all the streams feeding Lake Taupo simply couldn't cope with the torrential rain overnight and proceeded to find the quickest route to the lake.  This is the area where we start and finish our 1600 km ride in 2 weeks' time so fingers crossed.......

Exiting the flood

From there, it was an uneventful 350 km run to home in Coromandel to be confronted by our cats complaining that our neighbour hadn't fed them all the time we'd been away - typical feline ingratitude!!!

I love road trips - never know what you're going to encounter and this one was no exception.  Roll on the next in a couple of months!  Hope you've enjoyed the scenic trip through part of the north island of NZ.