It’s probably a good thing we committed to this race before we left to go over to the World Champs. Just three weeks of being back and the motivation levels were not super high, but it was time to pull the gear out of the cupboard and get back into doing something! I didn’t pay too much attention to the weather forecast, all I knew was that it was going to cold, so I packed accordingly. As we drove to the start line (from Tekapo) early on Saturday morning it was snowing and quite thick and fast, it was going to be a cold day out. Bog Roy station and headquarters for the race was luckily out of the main divide and closer to the east coast on the shores of Lake Benmore. This meant we were a little bit sheltered from the incoming weather.
The start was pretty casual… as I said before the motivation levels were not high and we didn’t have Isla with us to make sure Mitch and Stru stuck to the time schedule, and just as we were starting another blizzard kicked up, prompting the application of some additional clothes! We opted to go for the long bike ride first, which meant we were starting straight into the wind and the snow. It was pretty hard to see where you are going with the snow coming down and stinging you in the eyes, then just when we thought it could be easing we reached the river and we needed to cross it. I was not super keen to get wet this early on but there was on option, we had time to make up, and we charged in up to mid-thigh on me!
It was very refreshing but, also motivating to get moving so once the checkpoint was ticked off, we switched into high gear and started our move through the pack. No disrespect to the other teams around but with us three charging along we had no troubles catching the others in front and establishing our position out front. It was a bit lonely out the front, the snow was coming and going a bit and now we were starting to sink our teeth into things. It was a far cry from the summer time in Wyoming!
There was quite a bit of climb up to the hut the further-est checkpoint on the leg, and it was quite a long way up the valley which made us feel like we were really out in the back-blocks. Stru was charging out the from blazing a trail for us in the snow which had settled to about 5cm. Every now and then we would catch a glimpse of the Greenhorns behind us, and with the snow stopped for a time it was starting to get pretty warm with all these clothes on! Soon enough we checked into the hut and turned around making our way back down the valley. Any thoughts of over heating were quickly put on the back burner with the cold air now in our faces. The track was now starting to get quite well worn in and quite muddy! I would not have liked to have ridden on it much later in the day as the condition of it was only going to get worse.
We had a big decision to make on the route choice to the next control, we could either got up and over the hill or bike around. On a spur of a moment decision we went with the track we could see, up and over the hill. This didn’t turn out to be all that great… there was no track down and it was fairly steep, so we had to carry the bikes down the the hill! As we left the checkpoint the Greenhorns were just coming into it, so I think we might have lost on that route choice. With some road riding to go we kicked it into gear and blasted home to the transition, all the while, starting to feel good about adventure racing again!
It was getting pretty hot in all the layers I was wearing so it was time to take a layer off especially as we were again heading out on the bike and straight up hill. We opted to do the bike legs back to back to save transition time and it made sense to us to do it this way. We were out before the Greenhorns, but a small error early in the valley, and a rough track later we found ourselves straining ourselves up a big hill with our close rivals not too far back behind us. I had mixed feeling about them behind us, on one hand it was great to have them pushing us, but on the other hand we had to keep pushing to keep in front… so actually it was pretty cool to have them hounding us.
It was cold and windy up the tops, and it was a fast ride down the hill later on. Then it came to crunch time, to get to the next control we went with the bike carry option. We biked up on a good track, good but steep, to a spur which we threw the bikes over our shoulders and walked our way up. It was tough, I was really struggling, I think a lack of food was probably contributing to me slowing down a bit. But this option worked well for us, and we got a good break on the Greenhorns.
In and out of transition, we opted to go for the hills first and do the flat last. This worked pretty well for us, and we cruised around the controls up high before slogging it out on the flat by Lake Benmore. About half way around the ran into our old mates again. They must have done the opposite of us or maybe they were a control ahead… anyway we had some work to do and our nice easy track run turned into a nightmare of rosehips, steep banks and many headlands! It was slow going and all the while in the back of our minds was how far around were the others and were we still in the lead. Whatever the case, as is in any rogaine type of race, we had to just keep doing what we were doing and push hard right to the end.
The sun set on us and it got dark right as we arrived at the last control so unfortunately we were not going to finish in the daylight. Never the less we still managed to storm home, to finish in just over 11 hours and about 45mins to spare, pretty well timed for a 12 hour race I must say. The best thing about this style of race is that everyone tries to finish in 12 hours, and the score measured on the most checkpoints collected. Perfect for winter! We ended up getting all of the checkpoints well under 12hours and finishing first with the Greenhorns only 25mins or so behind! A good hit out to get back into the swing of things!
Or maybe as Stru put it, we must be getting good at this if we end up starting as casually as Chris Forne!