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The Half

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After much planning to produce ‘the half’, it was finally time to ride it. ‘The half’ being the ‘North Island 800’, an NZ Distance Riders offering to ride 800km in 12 hours, which is being run in conjunction with the North Island 1600 24 hour event, although for some reason, I’ve never heard that referred to as ‘the Full’.

The event isn’t scheduled until 08 October, but as one of the organisers, I had decided to ride it early to get the checkpoint photos for the Rider’s Guide, as well as free me up to be a volunteer during the event. As it happened, when discussing upcoming rides with mates Woody and Steve, they wanted to join me as a prep ride for the NI1600, because with the ride to get to Turangi we would be completing about 1150km …and the company was welcome.

I sent them the GPS file in the week leading up and we met up at BP Mana for a 0630 start on Saturday morning, as that meant we would start our 800 ride at about 1000hrs. The weather at the time was a little cool, but fine and at odds with what the forecast was predicting we would encounter.

After checking we had comms, Steve led out with me bringing up the rear and the ride to our first fuel stop at Waiouru was uneventful. We loitered there for 23 minutes, fuelling, putting on wets, snacking and generally fluffing around before hitting the desert road, where we didn’t encounter a lot of rain, but there was a lot of wet tarmac! ….slick, treacherous, tarmac! ….shrouded in a goodly layer of cloud throughout the higher levels.

Care was taken and we got to / departed Turangi just before 1015, pausing at the Oasis in Tokaanu to pick up the key for our night’s accommodation and from that point on, I just wanted to get back for a soak in a hot pool. That only took 8 minutes, so at 1023 we were on the ride proper with an ETA back at Turangi of 2042, which translated to 827 km in 10 hrs 20 minutes (plus stops for fuel and checkpoints)! Hmmm….and this was supposed to be a ride aimed at the uninitiated?!

I’d last used the GPS in a van on the Gold Coast and it wasn’t until I loaded it onto the ST and it asked if I wanted to change back to motorcycle mode, that I realised the settings were off. It hadn’t registered on the ride up to Turangi, but when we were soon shedding minutes from the ETA, I finally realised why the route appeared to be so slow, (and was most relieved that it wouldn’t be as bad as had been indicated).

I was leading now and after more uneventful main highway riding over to and through Taumaranui, at 1128 we were turning onto Ramaroa Rd and into the more funner stuff, or at least a narrower and more technical section. It’s been about three years since I’ve been through here and I thought that after the first few km which are always marginal, the surface seemed pretty good, so even though the 98kph average had dropped to 82kph, we were really peeling minutes from the ETA, so after a 2 minute CP stop at the Aria Cossy Club, by the time we had been out to Piopio and up to our next fuel stop at BP Te Kuiti, our ETA was now down to 2002hrs (8:02pm).

With that buffer and considering it was now 1210, I figured it was time for lunch in the new-beaut BP station, so we wasted a whole 34 minutes fuelling the bikes, then scoffing on pies …after all, it was only a half!

Let the games begin! In 15km we would be turning onto Waitomo Rd and the highlight of the ride ….100+km of corners!

And so it was!

We encountered a few critter through here by way of: very placid young cattle strolling along the road, very large and dozey turkeys strolling onto the road, as well as the odd pheasant and bunny, but generally the road seemed to be in better condition than when I last rode it (in April), with less grit, less slumping and less roadworks, so we were able to settle into a nice steady, semi-brisk pace, averaging 76kph over the 1st 55km to the 2nd CP at Kinohaku Hall at the southernmost end of the Kawhia Harbour. As we turned onto the harbour road and eased into the CP, I stated to the others, “Well chaps, I hate to say it but that had to verge on being pleasurable.” Steve just chortled.

After a 3 minute stop, Steve led out, but it was wetter now and more care was required with us all experiencing the odd twitch. I even had one where both wheels let go and that is always a bit disconcerting and I would often be straight lining across slick patches. On one occasion it was so bad that I found myself on a horid slick area encompassing the whole width of the road through a right hander, as I entered I had a dread feeling then I noted that there was an extremely wide verge that appeared to be in good condition, so I straightened to the verge then took that around the corner. To Woody (behind me) it must have looked like a total brain-fade and bale-out, so when he asked, “You OK?’ I just said, “Yeah, I don’t think I twitched but it felt awful, so I took the outside.”

We still managed to maintain a reasonable pace as we wound our way up the harbour, then inland on SH31 and up SH39 toward Ngaruawahia and beyond. At that point I had to override Kate as she tried to get me onto SH1, but I wanted to scoot up Hakarimata and Te Ohake Rds to Rangiriri and the next CP at Te Kauwhata. That has all changed in the last few months as well, because we didn’t get on to SH1 at all.

A quick pic taken and we were back on our way to the next CP and fuelstop at Mobil Paeroa. Well! It turns out when we gets there that Mobil Paeroa is now Gull Paeroa …and I don’t like putting ethanol in my machine, so after a quick chat, we swapped the CP back to Z Paeroa, then had another cruisy stop of 14 minutes. We were just over halfway through ‘the half’.

It was all pretty easy riding from here, down Old Te Aroha Rd, over the Kaimais to Tauranga, then across to the next CP at Z Awakeri. That wee stint of 181km was done at an average of 98kph as we generally stuck on or within the ‘allowable limits’. It did include the odd big gust coming off the Kaimais, a couple of which did manage to push me over the centre line, although I do tend to sit in the middle of those narrow country roads to give myself plenty of latitude from either side. Then going up the Kaimais and to the gloomy drizzle, the automated signs were set for 60kph, (which is always a disappointment) and out of Tauranga we splurged by taking the toll road past Te Puke, so that’s $2 I’ll never see again!

Saturday night was the change to daylight savings and with the gloomy weather, it was getting dark by 1800hrs, (as opposed when the official ride is done) so by the time we pulled into the Z at 1815 it was getting dark and by the time we rolled out after another lazy stop of 18minutes, it was pitch black.

I seemed to end up back in the lead (again) and two thoughts struck me (apart from only 200km to go)….”Hot pool, hot pool, here I come”, and “bloody hell, I can’t see! …Damn I need the night practice!” It was a drizzly, very black night but!

It didn’t take too long to get into a groove though and we were soon making good progress to the last CP at the junction of Kopuriki Rd and SH38, then out to SH5 and down that to the Taupo bypass and on SH1 to Turangi for a big feed at the pub, average 100kph to arrive at 2039, which was just over 10¼ hrs for the 827km. So I figured if newbs didn’t ride quite as quick but didn’t dither at the stops they’d be fine, because we did stop for lunch after our 0630 start where they wouldn’t need to when starting at 1000…..and in full GC-mode, we’d probably cut it out in a bit over 9 hours?? …and that was with a goodly chunk of wet, slick roads.

After a hearty steak, I finally got back to the unit and had my hot soak, the only problem was, it was so nice and hot that we couldn’t stay in too long, but I did get another one in the morning. For that one, Woody was having a shower and my togs were on the heated towel rail, so I had to find a pair of budgy-smugglers, which apparently are only undies when one can’t see the water, so all was good.

It was another dismal, drizzly day though and the change to daylight savings robbed us of an hour in the motel, so we made our way back to Turangi for breakfast at 1010, then over to the cabins to meet the new owners and introduce ourselves and discuss our needs at 1110, then finally departed for home down SH1 (since it wouldn’t be much fun on any roads) at 1214.

We stopped in Bulls for lunch at 1400, getting on the road again at 1449, stopped in Otaki for gas and I finally got home at 1651.

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