Monday, January 30, 2023
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The TT2000 – New Zealand’s South Island long distance touring challenge

Some people complain about the fact that facebook spies on you to make your interaction more personalised.  Yeah sure it is an invasion of one’s privacy but hey there are so many things that have been brought to my attention courtesy of facebook that I would have totally missed out on otherwise. Until it popped up on my facebook feed I had never heard of the TT2000, so good on you facebook for knowing that it is exactly the type of event I would love to be a part of. 

The New Zealand TT2000 is a long distance motorcycle touring event held annually in the South Island.  To cut a long story short competitors must ride a minimum distance of 2000km within 48hrs, including any sleep and other stops. The ride takes you all around the South Island, collecting points for visiting specific checkpoints, including mystery ones which you have to work out the location of.  You choose which checkpoints you want to visit and work out the most efficient route to join them all together. Apart from riding the 2000km within 48hrs you also have to collect at least 2000 points on your travels to be classed as a finisher.  If you are really keen you can aim to collect the maximum number of points (5001) which means you will likely need to travel in excess of 2500km. 

Much of the fun is in the hours of route planning and preparation prior to the event. Competitors, myself included, become obsessed with planning a route that gains you the maximum points for the minimum distance travelled. It is an exercise in navigation and a challenge to find as many short cuts as possible.  However no matter how much pre-planning you do you cannot account for things that can happen on the way such as road closures and the weather. 

the planned route plus editing
the planned route plus editing

So after months of planning for my first attempt at the TT2000 I was ready for the off.  Being naïve I was planning on attempting to collect all 5001 points having little idea of how difficult it actually is to achieve that.  My planned route was going to take me 2750km. Road closures had plagued New Zealand in the 2 weeks leading up to the event but on the day of departure most roads were open and it was a lovely sunny day.  What more could I ask for.

All packed and ready to go complete with airhawk seat which allowed me to stay in the saddle all day!
All packed and ready to go complete with airhawk seat which allowed me to stay in the saddle all day!

Just under 300 motorbikes took part in this years event  (2022) and we all gathered in Blenheim ready for the start. The event is open to anyone and it attracts a large variety of bikes and bikers from all walks of life so is very interesting walking around the crowd meeting people.  At 12 noon Friday, after the briefing, we were off. As everyone had planned a different route the 300 bikes all set off in different directions heading for their first checkpoint.

Just a few of the 300 lined up at the start
Just a few of the 300 lined up at the start

Friday was the perfect day, sunny with no wind or rain and the evening remained warm at 16 degrees centigrade up till midnight. That day I remained in the saddle from 12noon until 11.30pm and clocked up 860km. I felt good about the progress I had made and was well up on my schedule. Time to grab a few hours sleep then back on the road by 4am Saturday morning. 

At each check point we had to lay the special edition TT2000 T-shirt over our bikes and take a photo of it with the checkpoint in the background to prove we had visited it.
At each check point we had to lay the special edition TT2000 T-shirt over our bikes and take a photo of it with the checkpoint in the background to prove we had visited it.

Saturday started off good and although rain was forecast, the first 4 hours remained dry and the mood remained positive. However if you have ever travelled the West Coast of New Zealand you will know never to take dry weather for granted. The average annual rainfall along the West Coast is around 3000mm (Hokitika) but at Mount Cook it is 4500mm and it is a staggering 6700mm at Milford Sound. On Saturday at around 8am the heavens opened with torrential rain and it didn’t stop for 10hrs! By the time I reached Haast  I was drenched despite good wet weather gear. My boots squelched with water when I walked, my gloves were so swollen with water it was difficult to put them on and water had seeped half way up my legs and half way down my body.  I still had many Km’s to travel so limped on with an ever decreasing enthusiasm.

One of the many wet checkpoints
One of the many wet checkpoints

I rode on over Haast Pass then Lindis Pass and over Burkes Pass all the way to the East coast hoping it might be drier. It wasn’t. Well to be honest it was a bit dryer but still raining heavily. The passes I had just been over are usually a real joy to ride with spectacular scenery. Today however it had just been an endurance test. I arrived in Oamaru at 6pm (in the rain) with still 350km to go before my planned stop for the night. I had already ridden 960km in this foul weather!  I was soaking wet, cold, physically and mentally exhausted and just to rub salt in the wounds my navigation system had failed due to the rain. I was done! Totally demoralised and ready to throw in the towel.  I had visions of a beer and a nice warm bed for the night. That was it, I quit and booked in to the nearest motel I could find.

My hotel room quickly became a laundry with all my wet gear draped on chairs around a fan heater on full blast. I went to the local Chinese takeaway to get a cupful of dry rice into which I placed my navigation system in an attempt to dry it out.  Then I headed off to the nearest pub to drown my sorrows with a pint and a burger.  

After my first pint I felt somewhat revived and started thinking ‘what if ….’? Did I have enough time left to complete the challenge before the shut off time at noon the next day? Initially I thought my remaining compulsory checkpoints were too far away. However after googling the weather and finding that Sunday was going to be a sunny day I started planning a new route to allow me to finish the challenge. I wouldn’t be able to get all the 5001 points I had originally aimed for but I could get enough points to be classed as a finisher. However it was a 650km round trip and would mean setting off at 3.30am to be sure of finishing before noon.  So no more beer and straight back to the hotel room to get some much needed sleep.

Getting out of a nice warm bed at 3am the following morning was a bit of a challenge in itself but it had stopped raining so there were no excuses. The trip From Oamaru to Glenorchy takes you along state highway 85, the first section of this known locally as the Pig Route (or Pigroot). No-one seems sure where the name came from but in winter it is apparently a ‘pig’ of a route with treacherous conditions.  There are many Alpine roads in NZ and although the Pig Route only climbs to a maximum altitude of 650m it can get pretty cold in winter. I was riding it in the middle of summer but even then at 4am it was only 4 degrees centigrade and remained so until sunrise at 7am. It was a cold, lonely ride across the Pig Route with no other traffic, pitch black, thick fog and  few signs of civilisation for most of the way.

One of the night-time checkpoints
One of the night-time checkpoints

It was a relief when the sun rose and I started to warm up and feel full of energy again. Glenorchy was the last check point I needed to visit and now it was plain sailing with just another 270km to the finish line. It was sunny and all was going well. Then my navigation system failed again and although I had a vague idea of how to get to where I was going I inadvertently ended up adding an extra and unnecessary 100km to the journey! No matter, I made it to the finish line with just 30mins to spare after a total trip of 2450km in 48hrs and a total of 3000 points, enough to be classed as a finisher. I take my hat off to those ‘Iron Butt’ riders who manage to cover 1600km in just 24hrs, it is no easy mission. 

The final checkpoint Glenorchy
The final checkpoint Glenorchy

The adventure was not quite over yet as I still had 1000km to ride home. After spending a couple of hours enjoying a rest and swapping stories with the rest of the ‘finishers’ I set off to Dunedin where I was staying for the night. As I slowed down on the approach to the town centre there was a loud humming noise and vibration coming from the rear of my bike. Fearing the worst like a failed final drive I got off to investigate.  My pannier rack had snapped on one side and the right hand pannier was hanging down low, rubbing on my rear tyre melting it. I guess I am lucky it waited until after the event to fail. After checking the rack on the other side I found that also had cracks due to metal fatigue and it was unsafe to carry on.  Fortunately there was a courier service not too far away so I posted a lot of my gear home to reduce the weight and strapped one on my panniers to the back seat for the journey home. 

The rest of the journey was uneventful. I took the scenic route home and took my time so this time I could enjoy all of the amazing scenery around me rather than focussing on getting from A to B via the shortest route. The TT2000 turned out to be quite an ordeal but I am now hooked and am already waiting to start planning for next year’s event.  That gives me a year to forget about this years experience.

Scenic and sunny route home
Scenic and sunny route home

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