The Sneaky Weasel Gang really made their presence known at Godzone in Queenstown with a 5th placing, so when the call went out who was keen on Godzone 2018 in Fiordland there was little hesitation from the 4 of us in saying yes. Things happened in the mean time, we all ventured to China in some way shape or form, and then we raced in the States at the World Champs. Unfortunately, Isla didn’t come out of all this hectic racing around all over the place unscathed and a few weeks before Godzone, she had to pull the pin. Fortunately, over the course of the last 2 or 3 years we have built a bit of a core team, and when the call went out to Anna, there was little hesitation for her to join in on a epic adventure down in the bottom of the South Island.
Fiordland was perhaps not that suited to our team, but never the less we were all excited about heading in the wilds of NZ for a good few days of tough adventure racing. Stru and I drove down from Christchurch via Wanaka to pick up Mitch and then Queenstown to collect Anna before heading to Te Anau to set up base. There was a few hiccups along the way, a late start, a missed flight, a fire alarm at the airport… we got there in the end, and hopefully that was all of our dramas out of the way.
Registration and gear check was all pretty straight forward, just a little dunking in the water to wake us all up – we had to show we could competently capsize and remount our packrafts. This was the most organised I had ever been for the adventure race, so marking up the maps and packing the boxes all turned out to be pretty straight forward. Just after 6pm we were one of the first teams to drop our gear boxes off and what a relief and a relaxing experience it was!
Stage 1: 110km Packraft/Trek
A little bit of admin dropping off gear and cars, a short walk to the start, the journey was set to begin. Stru and Mitch made a beeline to get to the packrafts as soon as possible, Anna and I had the luxury of just cruising in the main pack until we reached the big paddock where everyone was madly inflating their packrafts. We had a reasonable turn around, and were on the water in what rapidly became the chasing bunch. It was hard work paddling across the lake, packrafts are not all that streamlined and sit deep in the water when loaded up with a bit of gear, but it was only for a short stint as we reached the Control Gates and portaged around into some moving water.
Down the Waiau wasn’t as easy going as I thought it might be and Mitch and I had to work quite hard to keep up with Anna and Stru, but eventually we settled into a rhythm and got it done. The take out was steep and hard going, luckily it was just the paddles I was carrying. Mitch and Stru carried the rafts, I’m not sure how I would have gone maneuvering it around the thick bush. For what it was worth we managed a short jog along the road section giving us a head start on the bunch we were with on Lake Manapouri. Paddling across this lake now seemed a lot easier, not sure what it was now but it must have been just a matter of settling into race mode.
Off the beach and we were into the forest, and this was where things were about to get real for me. I opted to go into the forest at the earliest possible convenience… which in hind sight I was probably better to go along the beach a bit further given the thickness of the forest. Never the less I stuck fast to my compass and we hit the first checkpoint in there fine. The next leg took us around the lake in front of us… would have been nice to have a packraft for that (We had just dropped them on the otherside of lake Manapouri) we bashed down to the edge, but it was not very easy to walk along so it was back up and into the forest to sidle along the side. Here we caught up with Ataraxia and Bend/Yogaslackers and all cruised around to CP6 together.
As we approached CP6, I was starting to relax, we were almost out onto a track and I needed some food, I hadn’t been eating as I had been too busy concentrating. In all of the distraction here we lost touch with the two teams around us and I made the fatal mistake of sitting back behind Mitch and Stru in the bush bash. Contrary to popular speculation we were not and were never intending on making and alternate route choice to the next control, I failed to make a solid bearing and we ended up wandering around in a swamp. I incorrectly identified a stream as being big enough to be on the map and when we did finally surface we hit a track. Now you would think that hitting a track it would be obvious which way we needed to go, however as it turns out when you are not quite where you think you are you can quite easily turn the wrong way. After heading in one direction for a while, things started to feel wrong and finally we worked it out. Crap. Turn around, run hard.
We did just that, the deficit was something like 1.5hrs at this point and it was not so good…. one saving grace was probably the dark zone that may have been in effect. The hustle continued all afternoon until it got dark and we made it to the Abseil. Our fortunes didn’t get any better here, we had a wait for two teams to get onto the ropes, it started raining reasonably hard and then finally when we did get our chance to get onto the ropes, we had to wait a bit longer for the abseil guys to haul some extra gear up! The abseil itself was pretty cool, one of the better ones I’ve done in AR just a shame it was dark and we couldn’t see anything.
So at the bottom of the abseil everything was a bit disorientating, and we went to sidle out and got a bit confused so we just followed a spur down to a river and then since the river was all heading to the same place the main river we followed it there. Seems all very straight forward, but somehow in reality it was all a bit more confusing and at some point when we crossed what we thought was the stream that we were following, but as it turned out we had crossed the main river so we needed to cross back and then we finally hit the track. Which was a relief… back to trail bashing, (aside from a little confusion about where the track started at Borland Lodge) to the bag pick up by the Monowai river.
We rolled into the bag drop area about 1am and we told the conditions of the dark zone. We could paddle on the Monowai but not the Waiau until 6:45am. So we made a tactical call to camp first at Monowai to simplify the whole camping and paddling combination, meaning we could make use of the dark zone but only get changed once. Sleep is a bit of a luxury on the first night of an adventure race so it was hard to get to sleep right away, but sleep did come. Before we knew it we were back on the water in the dark paddling our way down the Monowai. A few teams had passed by us in the early morning but they probably hadn’t got much sleep. It was a fast ride down the narrow river, and there was a few obstacles in there too…including a tree branch which Mitch and I managed to tip out in. A very cold morning wake up call!
We transferred quickly from the Monowai to the Waiau and then it was a lonely paddle down to the transition after we ended up about 20mins behind the mass start. There was a few good drops in the rapids there! Not sure that it would have been very nice paddling down there in the dark.
Stage 2: 55km Mountain Bike + Caving
Onto the bikes it started to dry out a bit. It was nice to be on them, just to get off the feet, and get the feet out of the water! At the caves there was a stand down time of 2 hours and when we arrived, the whole field in front of us was there basking in the sun drying out gear. Not really the scene from an adventure race you would expect. It was encouraging to know now that we were not too far behind the leaders and we hadn’t wasted too much time the night before as a result of the Dark Zone. The caves were pretty interesting, quite long and a little bit chilly in there too. a good interlude into the race. Coming out after being underground for about an hour was like walking back into a sauna. We got round quick enough that we had a little bit of down time to dry feet and everything else out again, so we sat around enjoying this dead time as much as we could because for the next 5-6 days it was going to be all go.
Back on the bikes after the caving we quickly started to make up places, and even at once stage we were in a bunch with team numbers, 35 and 36 (we were #34). The roads within the forest were typical Forestry roads and they changed and didnt quite match well with the map, but we did a good job of figuring it out before getting out of there with a good lead on our close rivals.
Our next transition to the packrafts was quite fast and we got the jump on a few teams but all it really mattered for was the amount of sleep we were going to get in the dark zone. There was all sorts of rumors flying around about the dark zone and really it was just all just that rumors… the real story was that nothing had changed from the handbook rules! Anyway we were underway on the massive stage 3 packraft trek, the “Big Dawg” set to go down in Adventure race history. As we walked away from transition with our heavy packs, into the wilderness there was a fair bit of nervous excitment bubbling away, frothing just like my shoes from the detergent in the didymo baths.
Stage 3: 150km Packraft/trek
After a long walk along the road in the evening, we hit the shores of lake Hauroko with a small amount of daylight left. It was the perfect evening for paddling, not too much wind or waves, and fairly straight forward navigation. I always struggle a bit navigating in the dark on the water, not something I have ever really practiced outside of adventure racing, so I was pretty relieved to pull up to the hut and enter our second darkzone of the race.
It was a relative luxury to again get a good nights sleep…. we opted to stay at the hut and camp rather than walk around the lake like some other teams, to save trekking energy, and minimise gear faffing. There was a small amount of rain overnight so it was quite pleasant to be wrapped up warm in a very small tent for a night of broken but long sleep.
Dawn came soon enough and this time we were part of the mass start off the beaches. Today we were a lot more onto it with the paddling and entered the river mouth with our old foes T7. The Wairaurahiri river was heaps of fun, a long-ish paddle but fast paced with some quite big rapids for little packrafts. It felt like we made up ground, but in the end it didn’t matter all that much as there was a huge scrum of teams at the lodge after packing up the rafts and dumping some of our gear to pick up later.
It felt like we were one of the first teams in that group to leave the lodge, another good transition. I was super nervous as now it was my time to do my job again. I entered the bush hesitantly and on a good compass bearing and went for it. Soon the contours started to make sense and we dropped into the river. Here we meet a couple of other teams, making their way up the river. We all got a bit distracted by this and headed over to where they were for some better travel. We soon hit the main river and followed it for a bit. Things then started to get a little bit confusing. The river did and s-bend and I got all mucked up. We lost a bit of time figuring things out and eventually found another two teams barreling along in the same direction. This lead us into the control nicely.
From here I decided we should take the conservative approach (mistake…) and follow the river as long as possible. We followed it for a long time and it didn’t feel like we were making much progress at all. Soon it was time to go up and we did, eventually getting onto a long spur and making our way into some slow travel trees which opened out into scrub. The scrub was less than ideal travel…. we didn’t really think this through too well when planning, but never the less we still made reasonable speed along there. The rain had started to increase as we made our way along here so besides all the scrub bashing we were now dealing with a bit of rain too.
My route out of the scrub was not much fun either and again super slow going, the sort of place you might expect to see a Kakapo, and hope to never set foot in ever again. The nightmare eventually ended and we were out into the open. I mistakenly thought we had gone further than we had and dropped down a bit early into the Angus burn. Once in there we battled along the side of the river for a long time following the many bends not shown on the map. Again we hadn’t gone far enough when I decided we needed to climb up and out of there and climbed one range to early. The only benefit of this is now I had a pretty good idea where we were and it was just a straight compass bearing to the lake.
It got dark on us as we climbed up the final hill before the lake, so we were not sure that the lake was right infront of us. or whether we were just walking down into a void. All I could go on was a bearing, and that I did. Eventually we ended up in a stream gully. Not ideal for travel, and a little dangerous in some places as first I had a near vertical fall of a metre or two and then Anna had a must more scary looking tumble down into the darkness a couple of metres. We emerged into a swamp, complete with some eels (Stru told us afterwards) and as we did I think the others thought that we had no idea where we were, but I kept the hope that we were about where we needed to to myself and as we hit the shoreline of the lake the checkpoint was sitting right there in the bush beside me, almost freakishly accurate on my bearing. It was about time I had some good karma go my way!
Here we opted to camp and get some rest for a few hours, it was now about midnight. I was quite happy to press on, but the general mood of the team was rest and food was required. We had a bit of company for the night with two other teams also camping nearby. I opted to sleep outside the tent, to actually try and get some sleep, which was good, but a bit of drizzle rolled in and everything got damp. We got going in the packrafts about 3am, paddling across the lake and making good progress for a change. The hut was easy pickings, I was hoping for a bit more of a fire to dry out some stuff momentarily but we continued onwards after a brief chat to Simone (and a blinding of the TA staff member, who awoke to my headlamp at the door, which cause a lot of moaning…whoops sorry!).
The route followed a trapline to start with, I have since found out that this trapline followed along the ideal route for quite a while, but we opted to climb quite soon after the hut and get onto the right ridge early, however thing in the dark seem a bit different and again we had not gone as far as we needed to, it seemed like forever in the increasing rain showers before we found a good spot to cross over and get to the right ridge. Once up on that ridge the sun fittingly came out and it actually felt like we were getting somewhere again. The ridge took us along and speed was not a problem for a long time. We desended and then traversed into the pond and the checkpoint, and all was well. Just an easy checkpoint to pick up near lake Hakapoua….
Sounds simple but it was not. The map was a little bit weird around that pond, the high point near by was much higher than shown on the map and my crappy bearing off the top of it lead us in the wrong direction off the spur. I needed to go for longer, and I wasn’t estimating time on distance accurately… we were moving slower than I felt we should be. We opted to packraft on the small lake Innes, which was a 50/50 call on speed, but it gave us a chance to rest our feet. The control afterwards however was not straight forward at all. In my head I just couldn’t imagine what it should look like, then we reached a high point, and another and another and it just wasn’t on there. We were getting despondent as team after team came and went around us. Finally Mitch was able to take another look and we solved the puzzle (well Mitch did really). It was one of those situations where what was on the map, what I interpreted it as and what was on the ground didn’t quite match reality.
We had been talking about it all day, that adventure racing was full of highs and lows, one minute you can be absolutely at the bottom of the depths of despair only to be riding on a massive high of exhilaration the next! Getting in the packraft, the chips were up again. What seemed in no time at all we were at the end of the lake and the end of the South Coast track. I could basically put the map away now… and just trek and trek. It was pretty much darkness, here and there was a few teams around now so we were back into the swing of things and away from the masses of sandflies we had been lucky to avoid so far.
By the time we reached Westies hut the chips were fading a bit. It was a very cool little spot hidden away in the sea caves, just a reminder how formidable this coast could be in a serious storm. We aimed to sleep in the next hut along the trail but it wasn’t long after leaving Westies hut that we opted to put the tent up and camp on a perfectly sized grass patch. Again I wasn’t all that sleepy but sleep was good for our feet, so I set up to sleep outside again. However…a possum decided to visit us and it was very curious. It took a liking to drink bottles and had a good chew on Mitch’s and then Anna’s. Anna and Stru were out to it already but Mitch and I were on high alert, as he encouraged me to scared the damn thing away. I had to hit it hard with a paddle to get it to disappear, doing my bit for pest control. Unfortunately we think it may have taken off with one of Anna’s gloves out of spite….
Getting going again after this sleep was difficult, mostly the wet muddy socks, as in my prep I had forgotten to put in a new set just for this occasion…We walked the next 10km in the darkness, some of the time with the Victory boxing team, some of the time not. As daylight approached we finally felt like we were getting somewhere on the track. The Waitutu hut, no stopping though, only a short one for jackets and to fix my feet as I was starting to develop blisters on my heals and several wear spots from the sandy mud rubbing against my feet in my socks.
By about lunch time we reached the Wairaurahiri Lodge, which resembled a bit of a battlefield camp. There was a lot of mud on the track from 400 people going backwards and forwards on the track which made for tough going. But we had made good progress, and our feet were in good shape still. From here we pressed on at a steady pace, feeling good for a long time. Food however started to run low. Very low. As we reached Port Craig, it became clear that there was not much daylight left and we might be arriving in the dark at TA3. The closer we got the harder the task at hand seemed, this was a total death march… Anna started to fade a bit, so I dropped back to talk her through, try and take her mind off things as the navigation was almost non-existent at that point. Finally we got there though, even though it never seemed we would.
We needed to refuel and rest here. We went for our standard three hours, but I woke early in a full on night-sweat. My top was absolutely saturated. I got up early and saw the doctor about my feet, getting the blisters seen too. Lots of people at this point in the race had foot rot, but because of our sleep stratergy we seemed to be out of the woods on that one. However both Anna and myself had quite swollen lower legs and the Doctor was worried about cellulitis, especially after I had woken in a fever/cold sweat. So I was put on some antibiotics. While I was getting ready for the Mountain Bike I really didn’t want to do right then… Anna was seen to by the doctor, she also was put on antibiotics and then while Stru was tended to, we had a bit of a meeting of minds, and decided that we would sleep for another couple of hours to make sure Anna was back up and functioning properly.
Stage 4: 160km Mountain Bike
As we hit the road on our mountain bikes the rain started to pour down and I was especially excited to test out my new OR jacket. The rain droplets were beading so nicely off it that it was a pleasure just to watch! Enough of that rubbish, as we were back into the race, and it sure felt like it again. Progress was good, there was a few tricks to the trails, some of the formed tracks which were easy enough to follow suddenly stopped in reality as the forest had slowly overgrown and regained the land that was once theirs. Trick number one was sorted out pretty quick and we nailed the checkpoint. Trick number 2 was coming, again a track that abruptly ended. We opted to take another branch of track here that looked more well used, but also stopped on the map, so it was a bit of a gamble, but we were not the first through there. A large section of bush bashing eventually got us out to the track below, and in the process we overtook a noisy team bashing down the bush parallel to us. There was another little trick to the trail in the forest we were after and a broken bridge, we should have gone with the bike tyre marks but just to confirm we rode a little extra up the main trail…. Someone did mention something about walking our bikes across, but either don’t remember or had forgotten entire over the past 300+km and 5+days behind us! Good thing we did walk our bikes across as it was a big drop down a fairly concealed little hole!
As nature called the noisy team bashing down in the bushes caught us up and we discovered it was Jim Cotter’s team. We all had a good catch up for a while as we tried to figure out the track confusion, and had a bit of game of cat and mouse as we pulled ahead then they caught up and so on. Eventually we pulled clear of them and we reached a junction. I wasn’t feeling great, it was now time to change some clothes, take some antibiotics but I couldn’t help but think things were not feeling right with where we were. So as I sorted my shit out, Stru figured things out and realized we had overshot and we did need to go back a little way. It was time for another little trick, the trail discretely disappeared of into the forest, and that is where we headed. It was a cool little trail too, again the forest was taking back the land that was its own, but there was plenty of tyre tracks leading us the right way. Finally the checkpoint on this leg came into view and we were again back with Jim and co.
The downhill back to the main road was quick, and a bit muddy, I managed to get some in my eye, making it hard to see! Right at the bottom as hit the main road, there was a false tap on a shed that got our hopes up for water. But no sooner than we were going again a farmer had a sign up, offering up his woolshed for Hot water, water and toilets. It was so good, and I managed to use enough water to flush my eye out effectively. As we were about to saddle up again the farmer came racing down to see us on his quad bike. He was so excited about the whole thing and had a good old yarn with us. Re-watered and past the trickiest part of the Mountain bike we got into paceline formation and set down the charge of the Weasels.
The roadside stops got better and better from then on in, one had some cans of coke and some apples, then as if all our dreams had come true there was a bunch of farmers with a BBQ going who waved us on over! Just leaving from there was the Aussie team Thunderbolt which we had been chopping and changing positions with all race. We had a great stop here, sausages in white bread, more coke, fresh fruit, mouse traps and so much more than we could ever ask for. Back on the road we where once again riding a high of enthusiasm! No sign of the Aussies though.
After our brief ride through relative civilisation we were headed back into the wilderness with the ride taking us up and over Borland pass. We settled ourselves into a rhythm for the steady gradient, then we had a couple of near misses, almost colliding with each other as we fueled up while riding one handed…whoops… As we approached the saddle we caught the Aussies, we went right past them, stopped briefly and quickly to jacket up for the descent, then gapped it as fast as we could, and we never saw them again, except briefly for a flash of a head lamp at the top of Percy pass.
The climb up to Percy Pass was tough, I was going through a rough patch, but Mitch, Anna and Stru were going well, riding some of the steeper stuff while I had to push for a bit. Anna dropped back for a bit to help talk me through the lull which was good, and as we approached the bike carry section darkness also arrived. It was a bit of a shame we couldn’t see anything here, but in hindsight maybe the lack of exposure was a good thing. Carrying the bikes was quite hard, especially through the trees, but Anna seemed to be really good at path finding and showing us how it was done. Stru had a moment where he almost lost his bike and himself down a bank, but we all managed to make it through to the top of the pass unscathed. Again at the top it was time for some warm clothes, then a light/battery change was required before the descent of the pass began. It was a super fun descent, I really enjoyed it and we rode fast and well. There was times where we were a bit of the edge, a couple of big stones were flicked up and into the shins but we rode on and arrived at the West arm of Lake Manapouri into an eerie calmness of the deserted sealed roads in the middle of nowhere.
Dad had arrived with his boat at Transition and apparently had been there for a couple of days waiting. So it was good to see him there and make all of his effort worthwhile to get out there in what sounded like some challenging conditions on the lake. Luckily for us the conditions for night paddling were almost perfect, the moon was out and it was super still. We had another efficient transition, and felt like we were now making some progress towards the finish although we were aware that we might be about to get trapped by another darkzone on the otherside of the pass.
We were unable to confirm if there was a time credit from any of the transition staff, I only place I had heard it was at the briefing and that was a hazy 6 or so days ago now, so given we were going to get caught again by the darkzone we opted to sleep in the Freeman burn hut for a few hours before beginning our final push to the finish.
Stage 5: Kayak, 14km
Dad saw us onto the water and we ventured back out into the darkness. The navigation was fairly straight forward, rumors of Chris Forne’s mistake the night before had propagated back through the field so we were onto it. But I was so sleepy I think I nodded off briefly in the back of the boat before being told to wake up and pull my weight! The moonlight made finding the right arm quite easy, it was just a matter of follow the shore closely to the left, then at the transition to through the main part of the lake follow closely to the right shoreline. Life was made easier by the Greenhorns/transition staff on the beach in front and their bright lights. It seemed in a fairly short amount of time we were at the hut. It was 2:30am by the time we were inside and we opted to warm up, eat up and get going in 3 hours time, just as Daylight arrived.
Stage 6: Trek, 24km
The sleep in the hut was for me and I think for Mitch one of the best sleeps we had managed. Mitch woke up not even realising he had been to sleep, Stru even in the same position in the hut as he woke up as when he went to sleep. I woke up feeling pretty darn average, and not very enthusiastic about getting going again, especially at the thought that we were still another sleep away from the finishline. However this was our life now, the only way out was to finish, so we got going again albeit a bit sluggish. No one else had paddled across the lake during the night so we were relatively set in our positioning within the field so that didn’t actually help much with the race mindset and the urgency.
There was a track from the hut which was great for all of about 2 minutes then it disappeared and we wandered through thick undergrowth, battling to get anywhere. Moral was at an all time low, well it felt like that for me at least. We had been going an hour and traveled almost 800m. Soul destroying. Eventually we headed to the rivers edge and found some animal/GZ tracks and finally got enough momentum to tip the enthusiasm levels back into the green. We wound our way up the river bed, time slowly ticking away, soon it went from early morning to early afternoon as we were buzzed by a helicopter which looked like it was trying to flush us out of the bushes! We reached the waterfall we needed to get round, first we had to cross the river at the base of it and it was pretty swift. We linked up to cross it, and I for one was glad we did. The climb was tough going on sore feet, but gradually it felt like we were making some progress.
As the gulley leveled out a bit we headed closer to the stream as it again was the fastest travel. Then after about an hour of walking along it seemed that the zombie mode had been activated. Stru was inhaling all of the food he could get his hands on and it didn’t seemed like could get enough. He really must have gone into deficit on stage 3 more than any of us realised. After a quick chat with Mitch, we decided we as a team needed to have a 5min break to hopefully snap some life back into us all. It seemed to work as Anna was now out in front leading the charge and it seemed like Stru had some life back into him. From here I got a little confused on what was going on on the map, but we were headed in the right direction, and we had encountered weirdness in the map before and the solution was almost always “we have to go a little bit further”. As we neared the lake the terrain got a little dodgy, the stream went under a huge boulder field, and there was plenty of holes covered in moss to fall down. We knew we were getting close to the lake as we could smell smoke and out watches were telling us our height was about right. Then suddenly we were too high according to the altitude. We couldn’t see the trees opening out so we started to wonder if we had gone too far to the right of the actual stream or too far left. We went on a bit further, the smell of the smoke got stronger so we were closer. To solve this problem there was only one thing left to do and that was go to the high point. I got there and still couldn’t see above the canopy…frustrating. Then I resorted to doing something that I have never done before while orienteering or adventure racing, I climbed a tree to get a good look and see if I could scope out the terrain a bit better. It worked perfectly! I could see the lie of the land, and a big cloud of smoke so I knew now we only had to go about 200m in a Northerly direction and we were home free. A full team effort on the Navigation there!
At the edge of the lake Braden Currie and his old man (?) were manning the checkpoint, so it was cool to have a bit of a chat and a catch up with what was going on in the race. Somehow it had appeared we had passed Bivouac, and the Greenhorns were only 2 hours in front of us. So about 30mins earlier we were broken and, crawling our way up the valley, and now we had a whole new lease on life, it was about 3-4pm and we quickly got going on the magical paddle across Lake Herries in inflatable canoes. It was great to get off our feet, and actually make some visible progress and get into the sunlight on what had been a perfect day weatherwise.
As we neared the end of the lake we could see people, and even as we got closer again we could tell it was another team. We began to speculate who it could be, the Greenhorns? had a sleep maybe? Bivouac who had missed the checkpoint and somehow ended up at the wrong end of the lake? well it turns out it was none of the above, it was Bend racing/Yogaslackers and despite one of the guys sounding very enthusiastic, there was some unhappy looking faces and the look in Eric’s eyes as he started back walking was just flat out haunting. As we sorted ourselves out, dumped the boats and got moving again it only took about two minutes until we had caught them then passed and walked away from them. They were surprised to see us and in fact thought we were Bivouac for a moment.
Finally we got out into some Fiordland tops for a bit of terrain variety and Mitch came into his element. He took the lead and we followed him on up into a very nice basin. There was a few spiky plants to avoid and both Anna and Myself were having trouble gripping the bushes to aid ourselves around stuff, as over the past 6 days our hands had already taken a hammering and were peppered with cuts and sores, swollen and probably infected. Over the pass it was down into the bush, where Stru managed to find a dropped map and three of us were able to do some navigating. I held onto my map, but basically Mitch had come alive, Stru had snapped out of Zombie mode, so I may as well have put it away. I started to struggle a bit and it felt like I had gravel in my shoes… which I knew was a sign of trench foot. There was nothing I could do then and there to fix it so we just had to keep on bashing our way down the valley to the TA and the dark zone. Mitch and Stru got quite carried away and every now and then I got a bit separated as the logs were quite high for me to cross and I was keeping an eye on Anna, to make sure we were all keeping together.
As the terrain started to flatten out, we spotted another teams headlights, we sidled around what looked to be a big gorge in the river and the lights got back in front of us and then the heat was on. Hot pursuit ensued, almost to our detriment at one point as we meet up with the Greenhorns and did a 360 loop in the forest. I quickly managed to work out the situation, And redirect things, we just needed to press on to the transition and we arrived right with the Greenhorns. Party at TA6! some foot care, some small talk with some good company, then a good sleep before it was time to get up and get a move on.
Stage 7: Kayak, 35km
I felt like we were reasonably efficient getting ready, but time always tends to creep on you and before we knew it the countdown was on and I pushed the boat off the beach/jumped in and we were underway, the final leg to the finish. The Greenhorns were a little slow off the mark, and our biggest fear was that they would just jump on our wake and wash ride their way to the finish. So the power went on, and after 10 minutes we looked back and there was no one back their close enough to give us any trouble. It was as if they just had let us go, although on paper we were probably a stronger paddling team. With the momentum now in our favour, and the sky getting lighter we spotted some lights ahead…. The Slow Twitchers were not that far in front. They had had spent the night out on the paddle, getting roughly 1 hour of paddling in before getting Dark Zoned. In all reality the Dark zone time credit had them well in front of us, but the thought of catching them was enough to spur us on. We quickly picked up the checkpoint, and were onto the next before we knew it. We got the gap down to around 12mins at one point, just enough for them to be out of sight most of the time. Another checkpoint down and we were now making our way into the main arm of the lake and as we did a helicopter with a load of deer, buzzed low across the top of us. It looked like we were actually going to make it now and the prospect of finishing was a real likely hood.
There was a now a little breeze on the lake, just enough that meant that every paddle stroke of Stru’s in the front of the boat caught the wind and splashed me in the face! Refreshing but kind of annoying, and my body temperature started to drop a little as the water made it down my top and up through the cuff of my jacket. It didn’t matter though, we were now on the final stretch we could see the finish line and we could finally talk about finishing. First task ahead to was actually workout how to come into the finish, like many of the aspects of this race, it was very much open to interpretation, and how two people read the same information didn’t always get the same result! Anyway as we got closer it seemed more likely that we were to go between the buoy’s and my last bit of navigation was over, up onto the beach, out of the kayaks and finally we crossed that finish line just a over 7 days after setting out.
On reflection it wasn’t maybe our best race, but we certainly all gave it our best, there was a few stuff ups from my navigation that could have saved an hour or two here or there, but nothing really huge or major. If anything I think I should have really just been a bit more confident in my compass and bashed a bit harder through the bush. Otherwise I think we played the game wisely, as we intended to, on our own terms. We made good use of sleep, and looked after our feet pretty well, which meant that in the later stages of the race we were strong and that allowed us to go from around 16th place right up into 9th. The field this year was quite strong and the course a lot tougher and maybe with not as much biking so not as suited to us. If one thing is for sure we all worked together really well, we never got too annoyed at each other, we helped each other out when and where we could and we got through the battlegrounds to finish strong. Mitch as always was a machine trekking, and super useful to have his hunting knowledge to help out with the best places to go as well as taking the map every now and then. Stru was strong throughout, carrying a truckload of gear, and he pulled off some really good navigation on the bike as well as backing me up on the trekking and the paddling. Anna was as tough as nails, super strong on the bike, showing us how it’s done, and a real bush weasel getting her 2 piece paddle through some tight terrain!
We were lucky to have Isla come to the finish, rounding us all up and making sure we got warm clothes, food and back to the house before we crashed. The trip home was a long one, first dropping Anna off in Queenstown at the airport, then Mitch and Wanaka, finally Stru and made it to Christchurch, eating our way up the country! It was all a bit sad after spending every waking moment with these guys and then going back to normal life afterwards. While we were out there I just wanted to finish, and once it was over all I wanted to do was to be back out there!
Photo Credits: Godzone, Sneaky Weasels FB Page and Owen Cambridge
Thanks to Bivouac Outdoor and Cycleways for helping me get to the start line in good shape with good gear!