NI1600 2018 – The main event.

We had a great time joining in with the other Long-Distance riders on our first ever NI1600 ride. This ride has been going for some 8 or so years and now hosts the NI800 during the same timeframe. This year there were some ~x50+ NI800 riders and around ~x35 NI1600 riders.

My trusty C14. I love this bike.

The rides were both set to leave and finish at Turangi on the 6th Oct after a riders briefing on the evening of Friday 5th Oct, where we were all told of our route and checkpoints.

The finer details and entry of our routes into our GPS units was left up to us to sort out after the briefing, we got ours done by about 11pm then hit the sack and tried to get the best possible sleep before our marathon ride the next day.

The NI800 riders were let off at 10am but we had to wait around until 1pm before we could get on the road.

Jon and I headed straight for the closest fuel station to grab a receipt for our IBA SS1600K certification. Felix was supposed to be with us but his start time ended up being different to ours and then he plain forgot to head to meet us. Instead, he carried on directly to CP1. We did see him at the start though and he did obtain his relevant CP photos. 🙂

Our start wasn’t as smooth as we would have liked, between Jon and I we had a bit of a flap in the fuel station and it was a good 10 mins before we were on the road heading out of Turangi. We made reasonable progress up an over the desert road but not more than 30 mins into our ride I noticed an odd whistling noise that doesn’t normally happen when riding my bike. I looked around and noticed that the right-hand side auxiliary light had broken its mount and was flapping around against my fairing being held on by only its cable. I apologetically told Jon over the comms that we’d have to stop and came up with a plan about how I was going to remove it.

A few minutes later I was one light less and back on the road. We called Felix as we came into Waiouru and could only leave a message asking where he was and if everything was ok. He later called back to say he was at CP1 which put him 10 or so mins ahead of where we were. He’d asked if we wanted him to wait for us but we had a fuel stop planned in Ashhurst at ~280km so we said we’d catch up with him before then.

Our first checkpoint was at Cheltenham and just before we got there we came across the back end of the NI1600 group. We were very happy to see them. The first photo was at the pub and so we pulled up onto the footpath outside and quickly got the snapshot of our bikes then headed off.

CP2 wasn’t far away from there and we’d gathered up a few more bikes. It’s not a race, I was however happy not to be at the very back and had about 5 bikes around us when we got to CP2. I grabbed our next photo and was ready to head off when I found myself looking around for Jon, his bike was there but he was nowhere to be seen. The last person to pull off said they saw him heading into the hall looking for the toilet…!

By the time he was ready to leave everyone else was long gone and I’d entered CP3 into the GPS. It had all been a bit of a flap so far and we’d really not yet managed to settle into any type of groove. Leaving CP2 dead last again, and without anyone to follow through the next part proved costly. My GPS was routing us completely the wrong way. I’d first picked up on this after we had missed our turning by the heading it was taking us on, coupled with the ETA at the next CP being 40 mins later than expected. I told Jon we had to stop and sort this out before making things worse. Jon doesn’t navigate so he was honestly useless at this point. He’d also only been taking a light degree of interest in the details of our route planning so didn’t have any solid idea of what we were looking for. I lost my sh*t with him when he was throwing a series of questions at me none of which were helping to get my GPS to show the static track which we had made of our route. When I did get us back onto the road that we needed to be on, Jon continued to question if I was sure, as he’d been down that road before and it wasn’t sealed. … like 5 years before!

Anyway, we knew we were heading for a CP on a bridge but we’d been over 3 or more bridges since turning off. So again I said to Jon that we needed to stop and sort this before we missed the Checkpoint. I’d lost all faith in my GPS at this point and it wasn’t showing me waypoints on my map. Stress levels were building.

Bear in mind we’re in the middle of nowhere right now on a single lane track… Jon says, ‘why don’t you put the checkpoint coordinates into your phone and see what it comes up with?’ – ‘don’t be silly’, I thought, ‘there’s no reception here…’ – but there was! That turned out to be the best thing Jon had said all day! Great idea! – Google maps confirmed that the checkpoint was 8.3km ahead, so we got to CP3 using Google maps.

That’s how back-country the route was at this point, Garmin thought we were crazy wanting to go that way on the road which they had nicknamed ‘The Track’ during the riders briefing. And this is one of the very reasons why I had built a Track from our Basecamp planned route on Friday night- so that if the GPS didn’t want to route as expected during the ride that we’d be able to see what had been planned. Unfortunately in the flap that was the beginning of our ride, I’d been unable to get that track to show, what’s worse was that I had thought that it was showing and so I hadn’t thought that we’d gone off course initially because I hadn’t seen the track vary from the instructed route.

It took me until just after CP6 to get the saved Track to show! And when it did it was wonderful how well it all worked.

Anyway back to CP3, having gone an extra 18km out of our way, stopped twice to sort out the GPS, we were well behind now. This spot, however, was the furthest and most remote spot on our route and so getting back to anywhere from here on the GPS was easy. I set the next stop to be the fuel station where we were due to meet Felix and after confirming the distance and ETA was reasonable trusted it again. Apart from the odd farm ute, there was nothing much on the remote road for the next 80km and so progress was good. It was there that we started to settle back into a decent riding rhythm. I apologised to Jon for losing my sh*t with him during that last segment and we started to enjoy it properly.

We could see the ETA into Ashhurst was actually starting to resemble the planned timing again and so felt a fair bit better about things.

When we arrived at Ashhurst we asked Felix how long he’d been there and it was only a matter of minutes. So after a reasonably rapid refill, again I found myself asking- where’s Jon? This time he’d gone inside the fuel station to buy a drink (despite paying at the pump) – I was organised and was carrying two bottles of water in my packs.

Felix lead out across the saddle road, we were amazed by the strength of the wind up there. One of our later stops was at a wind farm and it got us wondering if we were going to have to battle with strong crosswinds for the rest of the afternoon.

On the way down here we came across the NI800 riders who were on their way back up towards Turangi, they still had a fair way to go. Our next stop was a manned checkpoint at the Mobile station in Masterton. Across our whole route, we had two different fuel stops planned in Masterton and I believe that Felix was taking us to the wrong one of these two. He took us down a bypass road which added kms and minutes to our ETA, so I pushed my way past him and got us back on track.

As we pulled into CP4 we could see the back end of the field again, five other bikes in total, groups of two and three, we stopped and spoke to the marshals who confirmed that we were the last bikes on their list. So another quick pay at the pump fill up and I sat there again in the forecourt waiting, first for Jon then both of us waited while Felix appeared to be chatting to people he didn’t know.

The turnarounds were way, way too casual for my liking. On the way out to CP5 we saw the front of the field coming back towards Masterton after finishing CP6 already. We estimated that we were a good 40mins behind them at this point. That road to CP5 was stunning the flow between corners and the road itself was fantastic- we commented on how much we were enjoying it.

CP5 was a signpost in the middle of nowhere again, it was a routing point to get us onto the next little bit of road which was again a single lane track, shown straight ahead on the following photo.

CP6, on the other hand, was a beautiful little coastal village called Riversdale, this brings me to one of the best things about these types of rides – this was a place that I would never have been to if it weren’t for the ride, probably ever, and it was beautiful. We were lucky enough to have made it down here at a great time in the late afternoon as the light was changing and the shadows were getting longer. We still had another hour or so of light left. That little side trip out and back to the east coast was a highlight for me.

Here we met up with a large group of riders and made a concerted effort to get our photo quickly and to get back on the road with these others. We all took a shorter route back towards Masterton through a forest route which we couldn’t take on the way out as we had to go via CP5 and that didn’t allow for it. On that section, the three of us made some ground through the field and split off the front of that pack with two other riders.

This is when I knew that there was a left turn approaching which would shortcut a lot of the Masterton roads and traffic out. I knew that it had looked like a fairly minor road and that I’d need the help of that working GPS track to show us which road it was. This was another one of those routes which the GPS would never recommend directly. So with the help of my trusty throttle-lock, I was able to work on my GPS settings just in time.

With Jon and Felix behind me and two others in front as we approached the turning, I could see the track marks disagreeing with the prescribed route. Without any idea how far off the turning actually was I started indicating for what ended up being a gravel driveway. When we slowed for it, it became clear that the road was still some distance away so we carried on then turned down the correct road. It turned out that Marius (Swannie) was the rider directly in front of us and he’d seen us take that turn so he had swung his bike around and tucked in behind. Turn shown with the green arrow below.

That route cut some significant time off getting to CP7 which was the wind farm. It took us through some more single track roads, but these were lovely and flowing. I had to follow the track marks on the GPS for the whole way down that section as it wanted so much to get us back onto ‘normal roads’. 🙂

Occasionally as we went down this section we would have to slow and take the odd turn, and we’d look back to count 4 of us. We had no idea at that point who had joined us.

The last part of this shortcut took us down some back country lanes which were unsealed and very dusty. I managed to get Felix to do something which he apparently never does- ride an unsealed road. Lucky for us that he was absent at that point during our planning. 😉

It was when we got to the wind farm that we were able to say Hello to Swannie for the first time. He wasn’t too sure how much further it was back to Masterton from there and had some concerns about his fuel. He also didn’t know where the rest of his group had ended up.

Our next planned stop was the Z station in Masterton for fuel and dinner. Swannie had convinced himself that he wouldn’t make it so he stopped in Carterton to fill up. On our way back from the wind farm it had become properly dark. The long night had set in, and without any moon in the sky until after 5am the next morning it was very dark indeed.

We allowed ourselves 12 mins at our dinner stop which ballooned out to just under 20!! Felix was fluffing, so we left him with instructions to catch us up, which he did quickly once he was on the road.

Just before we left Swannie found us again and we talked about him continuing to ride with us, which he did only briefly… As we were riding out of Masterton he got a phone call from his riding buddies asking where he was. They were just behind and coming into Masterton. So that shortcut had gained us about 20 minutes all up. We didn’t know any of this, just that Swannie had stopped. It was pretty difficult keeping an eye on lights in the mirrors so it took a while for us to know that he’d gone.

Our next checkpoint was a full tank away, north of Napier, at Bayview. This was another manned one. The idea is that they have a chance to check you over, have a chat and make sure you’re coping ok. There were three manned CPs in total. They sign your riders card and take a photo with you. All part of their ride verification and rider safety checks.

This part of the ride and the next 6 or so hours getting through to Opotiki, was the real meat in the endurance riding sandwich. It’s dark, quiet on the roads, and you’ve just got to settle into a steady pace and stay properly alert.

I can remember my bum getting sore and taking some painkillers in Bayview. I grabbed a couple of bottles of V there and drank just half of one so as not to overstimulate myself. Having been off caffeine for two weeks, I only needed a little to pick me up a fair bit. I was munching on nuts and cranberries and drinking water at most of our stops and that had been helping lots.

Some further delays with Felix saw us leaving this fuel stop before him again, we were starting to dislike the casual stops, that’s never been part of our approach.

North of Bayview the road towards Gisborne deteriorates badly, there’s a heap of rutted sections and roadworks to deal with. In Wairoa as we left town on State Highway 2 we came across two sheep on the road, these were the same ones which caused Alan some issues about 25-30 mins later.

Clock in the video was out by two hours, this was actually 00:40hrs.

Jon and I got into our next planned stop at a 24hr fuel station, just outside of Gisborne about 2-3 mins ahead of Felix. We’d filled up, had a pee and a snack and had waited for Felix to fill up – when he started to unpack his bag, looking for his phone charger we left him to it – thinking that he could catch us up on the road. The next time we saw him was at the finish.

The journey from Gisborne through the gorge to Opotiki felt really choppy to me, I struggled with the missing auxiliary light on the RHS, it’s such a twisty road and to do it at that time of night on an exceptionally dark night was pretty tough going. For me, it didn’t flow well at all, my arms and wrists felt pretty beat up by the end of it. The road surface through there is pretty rough too which is why my wrists took a hammering. Part way through the gorge we got to our next checkpoint in the middle of a pitch black village there was a closed pub:

We took a left after Opotiki to avoid the road round and through to Whakatane and on this section, we caught up with another two riders. We passed them sometime before it started raining on us and they caught us back up as we stopped for Jon to put on waterproofs as I changed my gloves. The four of us rode for a while together through the heaviest of the rain before Jon and I ended up leaving them again as it got lighter.

We made it into the final manned checkpoint at Paengaroa and had a chat with the marshals. We were doing ok but starting to feel the effects of being up all night. We were starting to count down the 100s of kms left now.

So we filled up and carried on. Down to Rotorua, around the northern edge of the lake and over to Putaruru where we headed across country to the west, along more country roads (double lane and well sealed this time though). Those early hours when it’s just getting light are tough. That’s when it becomes totally apparent to your body and mind that you’ve missed a sleep.

These were more roads which I’ve never done before and on another day at a normal hour, they might be really pleasant. But both of us were having to dig deep at this point. Our plan was to head for the BP in Te Kuiti have a decent stop some proper breakfast and a decent coffee.

As we came into Te Kuiti we saw a big bunch of riders in the Z station, so we rode on past waving and tooting. 🙂 They did the same as they went by the BP while we were still in there.

As we left Te Kuiti heading south, I was stopped by a policeman in his parked car on the side of the road. 7:24am I think it was, on a Sunday morning. – That’s all I will say about that here.

After which we carried on to Taumarunui, then headed over the saddle and SH41 back to Turangi to finish our NI1600 in 19hr 57mins with 1650km recorded on the tracks and GPS. 18km of which was unplanned.

Felix arrived back an hour or so after us.

We thoroughly enjoyed it. Jon says he’s getting old now and finding these things harder, he also attributed the start time of 1pm as having added significantly to his levels of fatigue. At no point were we in any danger of falling asleep or being unable to judge our situation or our riding properly. Things like start times are all a part of it and also part of the achievement of finishing it too.

It was a very well run event and I would love to do it again next year.

And to top it all off, our SS1600K has been approved:

For others who finished the NI1600 who would like to get their IBA SS1600K certificate and lifetime IBA membership read this.