The Southern Lakes Multisport club 24hr race has become one of my favorite Adventure races, having done 4 of the last 5 of them. The midnight start and the Central Otago location always make for a fun 24hours mixed with all the extremes of a expedition style race packed into an achievable weekend. This year the Weasels were going to be missing Stru heading in the race so luckily we had one Bobby Dean very keen to come down as a replacement. Then about a week and a half out Isla, who has been having ITB troubles unfortunately had to make the call to sit this one out…. and it turns out shes pretty hard to replace… and after asking numerous potential replacements, Mitch and I had pretty much given up until Bobby called in his sister, Jess to come and save the day!
Bobby and Jess flew into Christchurch on Friday morning, then some logistics before a big mission through the centre of the South Island to Alexandra, meeting up with Mitch when he arrived after work. The maps were handed out and with some of the time estimates given out it looked like it was going to be fast race…Looking into the maps in a bit more detail, it was in fact going to be fast… but also a long way with a lot of ground to cover. We packed our gear pretty fast, got the maps sorted and even had something like two hours worth of uncomfortable sleep in my car before the midnight start.
We were not super fast getting down to the start and didn’t make too much effort to weasel our way to the front, so started mid pack in all the chaos. Every year this race, starting with a mass start at midnight has always an element of craziness with a big bunch ride and bikes going everywhere. Quickly T7 and Tiki Tour made their intentions known as the Weasels wound their way through the field. A wrong turn early on set everyone back for all of a fraction of a second but it also created a little bit of a break away.
We settled into third position and gradually with Bobby leading the charge and Jess on tow, up (and down!) the hills, we pulled ourselves close to the lead two teams by the bottom of the farm tracks. Onto the road we consolidated into one big bunch, the top three teams together, and I think you can work out what happens in that situation! The pace went on along the flat gravel roads it was a dusty high speed tour of the valley. There was so much dust flying up it was difficult to see what we were actually riding on! Things calmed down a little once the roads got a little bit confusing at a river crossing, after figuring it out we zoomed into transition basically still altogether.
Before heading out on the short rogaine section we needed the maps from the Race HQ so George (Tiki Tour) and I wandered into the building looking for the race director, who we found fast asleep in the corner office and still in a half asleep go-slow mode by the time we were handed the maps! Quickly we were back in business on the move and I decided to follow the other two teams (perhaps un-wisely?) to get a hang of the map for the first few controls. We dropped behind a little bit, but after a split from T7 and some cleaner navigation we got a small jump on Tiki Tour. Through the next few controls I had a pretty good run on the navigation and nailed most of them, Tiki Tour were moving faster, covering more ground but were a little less accurate and in the end we ended up together on the flatter opens sections towards the end. About 1 control past halfway we managed to cross over with T7 so I figured we might have had a slight lead on them but this was only confirmed when we returned to the base with a full clip card.
Tiki Tour were a little bit slicker with their transition and were on Mountain bikes and on the road not long before us, but we were gone before T7 got in. The first ride and the Rogaine had been quite warm and jackets had come off…again a little mistake as we all got super cold as the day started to get lighter. As the sun did come up, it was not instant heat as we were climbing higher and higher the whole time and as we did the ground was looking a bit frosty! It was a welcome relief to turn of the main road and onto a farm track in the full sun, only now did we start to warm a little bit. Soon we ran into Tiki Tour, who had unfortunately had to stop for a puncture. We took the lead very briefly and it was all but gone by the time we had descended into Long Valley Creek. The climb up to Serpentine diggings was brutal and Tiki Tour showed their strength as they powered on ahead to the top.
Along the tops in the early morning sunlight was probably one of the highlights of the day, a cloudless one and truly in “big sky” country. It was one of those moments where you realise this is why you do Adventure Racing! Next up for us was an abseil off the Poolburn Dam, Tiki Tour were in progress when we pulled up so it was good to know that even while they were out of sight they still we within our reach. The abseil when pretty smoothly, apart from Jess having a twist in her harness, which meant she had to switch and Mitch a messy prusik which slowed his abseil. The cup of Coke at the end was a pretty welcome bonus too! As we were getting back on our bikes, T7 turned up, and had a very quick transition, making up a little bit of ground on us.
We had a very short final ride around the lake to the kayaks and we could see Tiki Tour disembarking as we got closer. After almost 130kms of Biking so far it was nice to get out and do something different, and a good time to be out on the water. Once on the water however I realised just how tricky it was to navigate with so many little bays and terrain that all looked much the same. Somehow I got the swing of things and we were at the first checkpoint before T7 had even left transition by the looks of things. The next checkpoint was a bit further away and we didn’t see any sign of Tiki Tour for a long time, actually until we were almost at the checkpoint site. Turns out it was slightly misplaced and the control description did not match the location where it was either, hence why Tiki Tour had had some trouble by the looks of things. Unfortunately it took us long enough to figure it out that T7 caught us back up and we couldn’t get away from them even at maximum paddling effort. So the rest of the paddle we ended up cruising around with T7… although again in hindsight it would have been good to have another eye on the map as Jess and Bobby worked out we could have got the last control a little more efficiently, and put a little gap on T7.
As it happened we had a pretty efficient transition and managed to get a bit of a gap anyway. After transition it took me a while to get back into race mode, and I needed a bit of a kick to get me running again and it came well timed from Jess who was monitoring progress of the others behind us. I took us on a pretty straight line approach, there wasn’t too much else to do really, and nailed the checkpoint. As we got there T7 were right back with us again. I took a split early on the trek and instantly regretted it getting trapped a bit by a cliff. As we figured out how to get round it we could see T7 cruising up the ridge above us climbing away from us. Damn. I thought we had given it to them on a plate at this point.
But as with most races, and in particular Adventure Racing you should never give in, and sure enough about 10mins later we saw them right back behind us again! To the next control we sort of cut the corner and did a bit of tussock bash to get there. This again extended our gap ever so slightly…but it didn’t last too long as we hit the swampy flats on the otherside. A bit more running was needed, and we ran well together as a unit, and giving us a good team like boost as we passed back T7. It was as hot as it had been all day a this point and we were all feeling it, the extreme cold that we had felt in the morning was all but a distant memory now! There was one small climb to the checkpoint before heading in a homeward direction. The next leg was a gradual up hill and we ran it, in the hope that if we just kept pushing T7 were going to drop back…and finally it happened! As we climbed out to the road we caught a glimpse of T7 again but by now we were enough ahead to have a comfortable gap, putting us just out of sight. As we ran down the road we spotted Tiki Tour leaving transition on their bikes so we knew we still about 20-30mins behind.
It was nice to be back on our bikes and on the move, there was a nice downhill just in front of us and T7 were just coming into transition on the road. We had second place within grasp! The downhill was quite a long one, and it was almost a welcome relief to get down onto the flat where I could comfortably turn my map over on the map board. The Bobby train left the station and we flew through the flat sections to start the final grind up the hill. Next control, I had a bit of difficulty locating the track and it felt like we wasted a lot of time here, but in reality it probably wasn’t too much. The map was just quite different here to what I had imagined in my head. We needed to go down but it just took a moment for it to click in my mind. Where we did eventually go down was not where I intended but it worked, it just upset my entry to the checkpoint and some more faffing around went on before realising I hadn’t looked well enough when we first got there.
We climbed the next hill in some brutal heat, before first spotting T7 only about 5mins behind then panicking a bit and doing a short out, off track, then back on track. The final climb was pretty brutally hot, super charged by the thought of T7 getting us after working hard to stay in front powered me on! Eyes stinging, we reached the top, the second last check point and then it was all down hill. The down hill looked super straight forward on the map, but in reality the track was pretty faint and almost a little confusing if it wasn’t for Tiki Tour tracks in the grass! Finally after a considerable amount of navigation stress (I always find downhill MTB controls stressful, you dont want to overshoot!) we reached the final control. No time for a picnic now…Mitch had been the only one not to see T7 behind and hadn’t realised how close it was. No need to worry though, we now had it in the bag and cruised into the finish into second place, just over 17 hours, about 30mins behind Tiki Tour. T7 finished about 15mins behind us in the end, a good old battle up the front… the next team back was about 3 hours behind them!
All in all a pretty good day out in perfect conditions, a really enjoyable day with some solid racing. After Wyoming, I really needed to nail the navigation to gain some confidence back and I felt like I did that. For the “Dean” edition of the Sneaky Weasel Gang, Jess was an awesome last minute ring in and for her longest race to date she did an great job filling some big shoes! Bobby was an animal on the bike, great company to race with, and together with Mitch the most natural paddler you have ever seen, I really enjoyed the day from speeding down the gravel roads in the middle of night to pushing bikes uphill in the heat of the day, trekking through some relatively untracked terrain and kayaking in a lake that was completely different from anything else I’ve paddled on!