I was pretty excited heading into this GODZone, we had a team that was well balanced, with a good amount of experience, probably our only collective weakness was we were all small and light so if it got cold it was going to be rough! We went into the race as relative unknowns, no mention of us was made in the pre-race predictions, complete underdogs. But that’s how we liked it.
This year the logistics planner was released early and coupled with that the maps were made available the day before. This took quite a bit of stress out of the pre race planning so sleep the night before was easy. Eventually we found ourselves milling around in the dark with 70 other teams pre start. Nervous chatter was exchanged and then finally it was time for us to start.
The pace was hot, sort of as expected to start with. We all ran at a quick pace along the foreshore before beginning the charge up the hill. My first navigational mistake came out of a lack of local knowledge, luckily we recovered ok, but it got stressful for a moment. A little bit further up the trail it was time for the leading teams to panic a bit as the control appeared to be placed differently in reality to on the map. I think here we did a good job in figuring what to do quickly which put us into good stead in 5th place.
Transition at the gondola to mountain bikes, was quick and efficient, 1.5mins down on the lead 4 teams. The bike trails were quite cool and a good bit of fun, little bit stressful navigating down through the trees as I was pretty scared about overshooting the checkpoint! Then it was onwards navigating the urban streets of Queenstown so we could get out and away as fast a possible. Mitch set the tone for the whole race with the team at this point too, “we have got a good gap on those teams behind us now, lets make it difficult for them to catch us”. Queenstown hill was a bit of a grind on the bikes, I’m not sure we made the best routechoice but we got up onto the tops without giving up any distance on those trailing. In what felt like no time at all we were back in transition, this time packing our bikes away and onto the water in 1 double kayak and 1 inflatable canoe between us. We went with the tactic of the two stronger paddlers in the slow boat and the other two in the kayak, which evened things out quite nicely when the tow line was attached.
The hardest part of this section was at the very end. We had to get everything, 30kg or gear plus a kayak and an inflatable canoe up a steep little goat track up to the main road. It was by far the toughest section of the race looking back now! Once it was done it was onto the gorgering section. For somewhere so close to Queenstown you could have mistaken it as anywhere in the country. It was not a place that there was much evidence of tourists at all… for good reason too, it was not the most spectacular place I’ve been been either, anyway we were just glad to be out of there and into transition with AMK (Team Adventure Medical kits) in the race for 5th place still.
Grabbing that full pack and running out of transition was hard work (we were not required to carry as much gear for the first Multisport stage) but it was a relief to actually feel like we were into the race now. There was a 45km Trek ahead of us and if we made good time we would be getting some sleep tonight at the start of the Darkzoned river. Our first route choice turned out to be a good one I think, Tiki Tour gained ground on Yealands taking a different route but our one meant that we caught Torpedo 7 at the first checkpoint. We stuck with them for a while as the walked fast down the valley. We then made a break when the going got a bit slow. This seemed to kick them into action and they took a different line through an ugly gully and the race was back on. I was pretty happy to get to the next checkpoint in the day light as it was surrounded by bluffs, but in my opinion we spent too much time mucking around in the creek before getting going again. This resulted in us seeing a rather gleeful looking Mrs Forne and her boys going down where we were coming back up from. This in turned spurred us into a bit of action and we were soon jogging again. From here our route over the top seemed more sensible than the river gorge but on further anaylsis it was apparently slower. No worries for us though as we had a similar route to those in front and behind.
We hit the skippers bridge around nightfall, just enough light to see the abseil that we were going to have to make tomorrow though! A little bit scary! At the lights on stage we were back together with our old mates T7. After some light issues, I had a dead extension cable, the gap had opened again. There was a long track follow through the cold stream so I kept the pace going to make sure we were kept warm. We arrived at the checkpoint around midnight and knew we were going to make that darkzone sleep. However there was a big hill in between us and it, the spur up provided us with a nice goat track, complete with an actual goat! The way down provided challenging, and we had to negotiate some quite steep terrain, avoiding bluffs and sliding too far on the slippery grass. T7 had got out of our sights on the way down but as we wandered into transition we saw them leaving with their gear bags, heading back to the put in point to catch some sleep. We followed suit, finding enough space in a gazebo to avoid having to pitch the tent for something like 3 hours of broken sleep.
Several teams made it though the night getting anywhere between 6hours to 45minutes of sleep, so there was a hive of activity at 6am as we all prepared to hit the river bang on 6:45am, when the darkzone opened. We didn’t make the best start on the river, better than Mrs Forne’s boys but our lead evaporated somehow on the abseil section and we found ourselves at the back of the darkzone pack. Mitch did a pretty stella job of steering us down the rapids, which was a pretty fun way to start the day. Unfortunately We had a bit of a mix up out the front, mistaking one of the bivouac boats for Stru and Isla, and had spaced ourselves a bit far ahead at one point. We were back together for the abseil, which got very cold standing around waiting for our turn as it was one rope per team. Once over the edge it wasnt as scary as I thought it might be and I was down quickly as I could hopefully not holding proceedings up too much.
Carrying the kayaks and the canoes up the hill on day 1 was pretty bad bad but almost just as bad was the up-down scrub bash of 7kms to get to the start of the rafting section. We opted for wetsuits on, the majority decision, as there was way too much gear for us to carry comfortably. Starting from the back of the pack, we worked our way back up the field, making good route choices and following the right people when it counted. We all felt this was the worst section and really struggled to find the best way down to the rafts, especially carrying a whole lot of extra gear. Its quite hard negotiating death defying cliffs while carrying packs, drybags, pumps, 3 lifejackets and a drink bottle in one hand!
Such a relief if was to get off that horrible trek. No rest for the wicked as our raft guide, the infamous “Chief” had us hurrying to get on the river (I think the guides must have been racing each other too!) The raft section was quite fun and exciting, I enjoyed it for the most part as I didn’t have to think too much and was able to recharge the navigation brain. The others didn’t have much to say either so hopefully we didn’t upset Chief too much by being so quiet as he was very the legend on the river he was portrayed to be. At the very end were steered through the tunnel, which was quite pleasant, but holy crap the staircase we dropped down was a surprise and a thrill all rolled into one, quite a nice way to finish the raft!
Talk about dusty transition at the end, everything that was wet got coated in sand! My bike box ended up with a whole heap of sand after everything was chucked in there. It was super hot leaving on the bikes, and straight up the hill we made a very small error, just by not having someone to navigate out the front. Once corrected and switched on we sorted our shit out and proceeded forwards! I found the first bit of single track hard, because it was hot, because I was riding with my pack and because there was quite a bit of false flat riding. I sensed Isla was struggling a bit too, Mitch was out the front paving the trail, and there wasn’t much navigation required for a while so I let him and Stru go for it, and I was keen to sit at the back and blob out a bit to warm myself into things. I started to feel a bit better once we caught up to Mrs Forne’s Boys again, it felt like they were a bit slower than us, and after a successful checkpoint, Isla got us motivated to put some distance into them. This was all going well until we hit the Mountain Bike orienteering, I took a wrong turn somewhere and got a bit confused with where the Eagles nest actually was.
Unfortunately for us we got to the Eagles nest right as our rivals we had just gaped caught up. Annoyed about the situation, we were back into a full-on battle. The pace got a bit crazy and by about the 3rd loop we managed to open the smallest of margins. It was about here that Bivouac and AMK? turned up at the eagles nest to find a full on test match to rival the All Blacks vs Wallabies in full force! They all looked a bit perplexed as to what was happening, as there was some intense faces and a small amount of yelling going on too! Eventually we broke away and calmed down a bit, settled into the repetitive pattern of going round and round in circles… then somehow we had some issues and were suddenly passed . A bit dejected we finished the loops and finally got out. Escaping the forest, out onto the road and into transition, surprisingly in 5th place with no one else around? A little bit confused we found out they had also made a mistake and had to fix it up before moving forwards.
Onto the trek, almost dark and into night 2, we made for some quick pace walking and eating, loading up after a day of not having much solid food at all. A little bit complacent, too involved in discussion and we overshot the first control, hidden down a silly little “track” that was all over grown and hard to see in the dark. So back we were we Mrs Forne’s Boys…. this time everything was a bit more civil and we wandered around the next control with them too. This one was pretty hard to find too so we eventually had to round up the troops and redirected them, another 20mins or so wasted. The final checkpoint on that little loop was also down a faint disused track, but we were honed in for them now. At the checkpoint we split away from the others, we knew they were planning to stay in the hut, but we were also battling and in need of some sleep so we headed straight there. We were alone when we arrived so we made a call to sleep in the hut too…knowing this might upset Tim a bit but really you cant “bags” a hut in a race. When they eventually turned up ( not such a great route choice…) we let them in and managed to fit 7 onto 3 mattresses! A tight fit. Having had an extra hour sleep the first night out we opted for 2 and them 3 hours.
Once up and away we never saw them again. It was good to finally get a break but the next few hours were quite challenging bashing our way along a series of contours in the dark hoping not to get bluffed out. With some joy I finally spotted lake Isobel and I knew we had the crux of this stage complete just before sunrise. Several teams were camped up at the lake, my guess was that they were all pursuit teams, but as we found the gap in the ridge at the top of Mt Crichton, T7 came barreling down firing off rocks as we descended the narrow little gut section. We were not that impressed and told them so, not realising they were probably annoyed we had just passed them again. So back together with our old trekking rivals we made reasonable time down the ridge line in good spirits as the sun came up, for our paddle up to Glenorchy.
We might have had T7 under a bit of stress in the transition as we jumped in our kayaks not long after them. It was a pleasant paddle in very nice flat water, and what was shaping up to be an awesome day in a very cool place. For some reason T7 had a complete mare at the control, we punched first and got ahead of them again.
Transition we were a little slow, and T7 leapfrogged us yet again. The pace was hot on the bike to begin with, too hot for Viv’s pursuit team, well all except one who rode of the front of our bunch with an excitable Stru for a moment. After knocking off the sealed section we consolodated our position and just rode at a comfortable pace for a while. This seemed to work for us and before long we were back neck and neck with our old mates T7. We were pestering them and I think they might have been getting sick of it. All along the lake it was like that, backwards forwards, backwards forwards, then again up the road to Afton saddle. Here we were unaware of what was going on in front of us but, Swordfox apparently looked down and saw us and T7, getting a little bit of a fright! We had a break at the saddle, T7 were well down the road when we got there. Finally getting away from us I guess.
After food in we decided and talked about going fast but sensibly on down the hill. So that what we started out doing… then Isla caught her front wheel on a rock that it just didnt roll over, the back wheel flicked up and she went over the handlebars, the bike still attached landing upside down and partially on top of her. Mitch and I were first on the scene, Isla doesn’t make much noise, pretty much never complains but was clearly immediately unhappy. Mitch and I freed her from her bike, realised quickly that we needed the team medic Stru, as there was a big cut in her arm, through which there was a bit of blood and some white stuff? maybe bone?
Isla was most concerned about her bike while Stru set about patching her up, Mitch and I were thinking that this was potentially race ending and now a battle of survival. Testament to her toughness Isla got up and got going again, a little slower and a little hesitant with some guidance. The race went out of us guys for a while I think, but Isla was storming on. I’m not sure when her adrenaline kicked in but we were up an racing, and racing hard not so long after! It was clear she was using some of the pain and frustration to drive her, as she just started smashing it up the hills towards the transition. Not a lot was said about what was going to happen once we got to transition, so I figured we had to make it clear so that when we got there we were not going to sit down and have a picnic. Before I asked the question I expected the answer but not quite the delivery as I was definitely told in no uncertain terms that she was good to keep racing! Sweet, game on them one tough team mate!
At Transition there was a medic waiting for Isla, he was pretty impressed by the seriousness of the cut, the best one of the race so far! We transitioned almost with a new lease on life, we could see the finishline again and still right up there as the wet tyre tracks we had been seeing were those of Torpedo 7. Indecently still in transition when we arrived.
Out of transition it was good to be moving again, I was feeling better as the route had now been suggested to us through the bluffs as the organisers had a change of plans. Im not sure what Greig and our old mates T7 were up to but again we were back in a tit for tat battle up the track. They gave in for a bit and followed us as we picked our way across the scree. Mitch and I scouted some tracks through the traverse that got us a good way through but eventually we reached an impass of sorts and we took the option to sleep, Stru was pretty much dead on his feet. We found a nice flat spot, pulled the sleeping bags out and got a couple of hours of quick sleep. It was hard getting up again, into the third night it gets harder and harder to get up from sleep, but we were moving again and rejuvenated. From Wards creek we climbed and then began our massive siddle. In the dark I felt like we were going further than we actually were and encounted some pretty difficult terrain. About 30mins before daylight my confidence was low on where we needed to go up. I had been struggling on the bike a bit to concentrate and now this was beginning to exacerbate things.
As things were not going well we took the option to stop, catch a little sleep and then get going again when it was light. This technique worked well, however all it really did was confirm where we actually were and had we have just kept going we would have been fine anyway. Thats what you pay for a piece of mind anyway. We got up on the ridge early on in the day, the team was feeling a bit down again, convincing ourselves that we had been passed in the night and probably lost more than 1 or 2 places. We were brave enough to talk out loud about it and realised we probably were not as bad off as we thought. Stru was starting to struggle now, his feet had him in a bit of pain and who knows how much pain Isla was in but you wouldnt know it.
We reached the ridge line and again to there dismay T7 were not that far in front of us again, clearly we took a more optimal route at some point along the way as they seemed to be moving faster. Stopping was becoming a bit more frequent today, and after killing off all of our hard earned climb for a checkpoint we were on the uphill again. I took some of Stru’s gear, had some food, and bashed a path up the hill in front. I took an alternate route, keeping us from T7’s view and our view of them so we could see no one behind or in front for quite a while.
Eventually after and agonising climb and siddle we started to make our way down the spur. My feet started to ache and I was struggling to concentrate but Mitch seemed in good condition so pack carrying and map reading became his job as us zombies followed him down through yet more bluff’s in the forest. No sighting behind and only one brief glimpse of those in front started to play on my mind at least and once we got down to the flat, we even broke out into a jog just to make sure the gap was maintained behind us.
At Kingston there was a doctor waiting for Isla to stitch her up but we knew there Mrs Forne’s Boys were hot on our tails so she refused to let the doctor touch her. We were on a mission to get on that water and bring it home fast. Once again we were treated with the most perfect conditions you could imagine possible, a far cry from GZ2015 when we were paddling in the opposite direction. There was a fair amount of support out there for us to keep us awake, several kayakers came out and paddled near by for a while. Darkness hit us right at the final checkpoint on the lake, a good stress relief for me. All that was left now was to skirt around the bay and up Frankton arm. Longer than it looked like especially in the dark, but we had a good chance to have a good chat about the race, about what we had achieved and how excited we were about it all. Eventually it started to get cold, and Isla called for us to paddle hard for the final few kms to keep warm. The power went on, there was a little hesitation about where exactly the finishline was, the closer we got the further it actually felt but then finally it was all coming to an end. Getting out of that kayak seat was a little difficult but it was so good to walk across that finishline with three of the best team mates. We all worked hard together, we all helped each other, we all had the same focus, the same drive and it all fell into place so well. In a fast and furious Godzone, the underdogs, mixing it with the big names and Sneaking our way into the top 5!
Looking online afterwards it looks like we got some good coverage during the race, the Sneaky Weasel Gang definitely has some name appeal I think! But I think those we impressed the most was the Race organisers, and much to our surprise we were awarded the “Young Guns” trophy. We were out there with the aim to challenge for the win and thought that this award was set in stone for a team which has a total age of under 100 (we were 108) but as explained by the prizegiving it is open to some subjectiveness, so it was a special honour to be recongnised for our efforts with this trophy!
Thanks to Bivouac Outdoor, Inov8 and Cycleways, for helping with gear, shoes and bikes!
All images from godzoneadventure.com, sleepmonsters.com or the Sneaky Weasel Facebook page and maybe subject to copyright