Godzone 2019: Chapter 8

Godzone in Akaroa was a bit of a different beast this year. With the stalwarts of Mitch and Stru taking a back seat for 2019 I was left a bit low on teammates. After some inter-island chat with Anna and Bobby we formed a threesome which allowed the Sneaky Weasel Gang legacy to continue. We were reasonably organised and had lined up another prospective Weasel, but by around September he pulled out, and so began the journey to find the elusive 4th member. Early on it seemed like it was going to be an easy task, but it took several months and with only 6 weeks before race day we enticed Angus to join us. Admittedly we were a little bit picky, but having all raced several expedition races in various teams we were conscious of getting the right team balance.

With that all sorted, it seemed like all was going well in the lead up to the race, Bobby and Anna were coming down for Coast to Coast, Bobby racing and Anna support crew, so we tacked on a team training mission the Sunday/Monday after Coast. Unfortunately during the early stages of the Coast to Coast Run, Bobby tripped up, fell, landed heavily and ripped the skin on his knee open. In true Weasel fashion, Bobby sneaked his way through to New Brighton before stopping to assess the damage. This lead to an unfortunately long and hungry night in hospital followed by a surgical clean-out the next day.

Angus, Anna and I were still able to get a good training mission in, and a hungry looking Bobby was able to make an appearance to pick us up at the end. From there the others headed back home in the north for some full on recovery. The healing process was a bit of a rough road for Bobby as he battled his way through infection just to have a chance of making it to the start line. In fact, the Wednesday before the race there was still a few question marks, but with the assurance of us to share the gear around we were confident we could make it work, and still have a good crack.

The Friday before the race brought some severe weather around the country, delaying flights from the North Island, and delaying our departure from the airport. Eventually, I was able to pick everyone up in the Weasel wagon with trailer and we headed for a late night arrival in Akaroa. Such a relief to finally arrive with the team all there. Saturday was spent registering and packing, time just flying on by. We were very lucky to have Anna’s Mum to cook us dinner while we discussed tactics and strategy. One interesting facet was the race time was not going to stop when we reached the Adventure park, effectively annulling the results of the “prologue” section from Akaroa. The only advantage to being there up the front end was having enough time to sort out the rest of the maps, eat and sleep. This meant that the most sensible tactic was not to muck around, but not to go full noise and blow ourselves to pieces either.

By 8:30am on Sunday we were down at the Akaroa domain, dressed in our wetsuits and raring to go. Due to the prologue style start there wasn’t quite the sense of urgency around at the start line, but when the start gun went it turned to mayhem anyway with people in wetsuits running everywhere. The coasteering stage was actually more interesting than anticipated, and due to our relative fitness without any effort we found ourselves right about where we were comfortable to be. Being in a wetsuit it got quite hot, so Swimming in some sections was actually quite desirable! There was a lot of sharp rocks to avoid, and I was hoping Bobby was taking extra special care with his knee. We rolled into the transition in what felt like mid pack and had a good chance to practise getting a fast one in without the pressure of having to get it right.

The Coasteering chaos

Running into the first transition

Transition was good, we made up a few places and moved our way up through the ranks. Mountain biking and especially climbing was again looking like a strength of the Weasels. Once up onto summit road the cloud and mist enveloped us, making conditions quite cool. As we left the gravel road for farm track, Bobby paused to fix up his dressing on his knee, and cover it a bit more effectively. I got a little caught up in the competitive mindset and struggled to contain my composure as the teams we just passed when on ahead, but investment in looking after Bobby’s knee now was crucial to the rest of our race.

Into the mist

After picking up the checkpoint along the tops we found ourselves not only back with a small group but in the lead as we took an elusive left turn without second guessing, the beauty of having a “local” in the team reading the map. We opened a small gap, only for it to be closed up again, and then as we hit the top of Western Valley road we peeled away yet again down this hill. After a being quite chilly on top it quickly turned warm again as we heading back up hill to the top of Port Levy saddle. It was a grind but a good grind, and a good chance to get some food in. In no time at all it was down and again and into transition at Diamond Harbour with all the usual suspects.

Transition was again about getting it right and we tried to get it done as efficiently as possible. We opted to inflate the rafts closer to the water, which Swordfox also did, but not a lot of the others. With the rafts blown up it was a rush down to the waters edge on the boat ramp. Angus was in a hurry too, and basically hiffed the boat in the water before we could work out how we were going to sit in it. As a result I tried climbing in and over to the front, I assumed that Angus was holding the boat, but it turns out he wasn’t… as I jumped in, the boat skidded out from under me and over it went, and in I went…

I quickly managed to right the boat and climb back in with some help holding the boat this time, I clambered back in. Bobby and Anna jumped in cleanly and we were away without any hesitation or looking back. I managed to see the funny side of it a bit later, the consolation being as it all happened too fast for the camera to catch it. Out in the middle of the harbour and looking back there was long lines of boats spread out front and back, a very colourful line. We reached the Governors bay mud flats and tried to keep as much of it away from the boats as possible as we packed up.

We began the trek by jogging in an effort to warm up, it’s surprising how cold you can get sitting in a boat when you are already wet. It wasn’t until we started going uphill 20 minutes later that I felt comfortable again. We had a quick pit stop before crossing the road, and that gave the Aussies (Thought Sports) behind us a chance to catch up a bit. By the time we reached the first checkpoint we were pretty much together. From the summit road the navigation was all very straight forward, which was almost a bit of a shame, it would have been nice to have a few tricky controls to make it a bit more interesting to be running downhill on Mountain bike tracks.

We finished the stage in around 6th place and just before 6pm. Pretty good timing, enough to get some gear sorted, food in, maps sorted and even some “quality” sleep. It was a strange situation, to be in relative civilisation mixing with the rogaine people (there was a rogaine on at the same time), with only enough clothing for the next stage and warm gear from the compulsory gear list. After downing some food, Angus and I got onto the maps, while Anna and Bobby, headed back to the tents to finish sorting out gear and attempting to sleep.

Sorting the maps felt like a big job, even though from what we could see the route was fairly straight forward. There was a couple of areas for micro route choice in a few small sections, and then only really one big route choice at the end of the stage 4 trek. In hindsight I feel like we really rushed the decision making on the trek route in order to get back and banks some sleep. Satisfied we at least knew what was in front of us for the next few days, we headed back outside to the tent, and quickly discovered that it had started drizzling and everything was a bit wet. I was vocally not happy at this rain, much to the amusement of my teammates in the dry tent!

The tent was a real hotbox, I’m not sure much quality sleep went down at all, but after 4 hours the alarm went off and it was time to get ready for our 1:40am bus. I got some more sleep on the bus, and by the time we reached Mt White bridge I was pretty happy to get going again.

The race restart was pretty fast and furious with bags bouncing all over the place. We made the conservative decision to stick to the road the whole way and come into the first checkpoint at a known point. At 5am in the morning in the dark with people all around, my confidence in my own navigational ability went out the window and I relied way to much on Chris and his direction. We then found ourselves back and stuck behind a team who also thought it was a good idea to follow along with Chris, except they couldn’t keep up! In my panic once we reached the plateau, I headed right into a really thick and scrubby area as I felt like we had cut so far left that the checkpoint had to be right from where we were. I dropped into a re-entrant and I felt like I might have over cooked it. I doubled back and ran into Chris again, and then Nick. There was a lot of zig-zaging and going in circles, we even crossed a stream which most likely must have feed into the pond we were looking for but for some reason ignored it, possibly it was the wasps that sprang out and stung just about everyone close by. Eventually I figured out roughly where we were and about the same time Chris and Nick appeared to too, however now the entire field was in the area and it was a real log jam. We worked our way around the pond, then we were held up by some slow people. Both Rob Preston and I got frustrated with the lack of movement and bashed straight through the immediate bush in front of us. In doing so Rob stumbled on the checkpoint, Anna and I saw it, now we had to call Angus over with the Passports without creating a scene. Luckily both teams managed to sneak in and out without arousing suspicion and at last escaped down the hill into some open country.

Back down on the flat, we found ourselves behind a good few teams, I think they may have taken a better line down the scrub, rather than our rather direct downhill route and got the jump on us. I began to feel a bit flustered on the climb to Binser saddle, so I got some food into me, while Bobby switched packs for a bit. We reached the next checkpoint in our default position of about 6th place, and headed out to the river bed to join the flotilla of other packrafts.

It felt like a slow transition to boats but we got going in about the same position we arrived, back with Thought Sports. The Poulter river was pretty low and there was a few places we needed to get out briefly. There was a series of exciting moments near the Mt White Station bridge, including quite a bit drop which I felt sure we were going over and then a quick brace stroke here and there to save the day. When we arrived at the Waimakariri there was finally a bit more flow.

Getting out at Broken river was pretty straight forward, we opted to get out on the gravel bank at the mouth of Broken River and walk all the way up the River. We had debated the merits of track travel but the climb seemed excessive. As we finished the packraft pack up Thought sports arrived not far behind us. The lower part of the river was pretty deep and swift so we had to link up to cross several times.

Heading up Broken River

At the Avoca Homestead we got the good news on our route choice, and we only trailed by around 20 mins to the next team in front. The next section of the trek upstream was about double what we had just done in the river bed so we settled in for the long haul, jogging where we could, and crossing as soon as we needed to. We passed the time by switching packs and sharing the load around a bit, but it took most of the afternoon to get up to Cave Stream. We were able to rush through the stream quite quickly with minimal damage. We encountered Highland events going back through the cave… not sure that that was the fastest route choice back? After a quick seeing to by Lynn the doctor we were off again and over into transition at Castle Hill.

It was early evening as we left on bikes, that sort of time of the day where you know it’s going to be dark soon and a long night so you are just a bit hesitant to get moving. The first section of road was pretty straight forward but it seemed to take a while to sort ourselves out. Once the pace line was up and running, it was a fantastic feeling flying along in a nice organised bunch. We turned off the main road and Angus’ broken spoke had developed into a slightly wobbly front wheel. Deciding there wasn’t much we could do we were able to keep the tempo up, racing our way down to the Rakaia road bridge. It felt pretty good to have knocked out that first 50 odd kms – downhill with a tail wind was pretty helpful too.

Across the Rakaia, things were slightly worse all of a sudden,I needed more food, and I tried to get more in me, but was struggling to hold the wheel into the light headwind we were battling. I tried the tow for a while and it was sort of helpful. Once turning off the main road, it was a real grind up the hill and I lagged back quite a bit. We picked up the checkpoint relatively easily and then continued to climb, get a bit confused and take a poor shortcut. After a short interlude I was back in the game. Part way along the fence, the drizzle turned to something a bit more like rain and we stopped to put jackets on. As we did so, Thought Sports caught us up again, and this kinda kicked us into gear a bit.

We now made our way onto the river bed following some vague 4wd tracks which were not on the map but I knew there must have been something there given there was two huts there. The first hut was full of Pursuit and Pure teams sleeping. When we reached the second hut and there was a huge buzz of about 4 or 5 teams fueled by the excitement of spotting Swordfox sleeping in the hut. After collecting the checkpoint the trail ran cold and we smashed our way down the rough river bed. Angus didn’t hold back either and managed to ping another two spokes on his front wheel…

Around 3am came the bike carry section. From down below it looked pretty steep, Jackets off and a quick battery change and we managed to maintain our position. This little section earned us a little gap over Highland events. Back on the 4WD roads again it was far from easy going, the trail was filled with punchy climbs and steep descents. It was a very social section and we rode alongside Thought Sports which was a super useful in keeping our minds off the thought of sleep. We both stopped briefly to put jackets on but opened up a gap and didn’t see them in the race again. Back by ourselves, there was no distractions and the long boring roads meant that it was becoming increasingly hard to stay awake. With the knowledge that almost all the other tops teams had got some sleep that night it seemed sensible that we should sleep briefly even if it was just to get us out of the little rut we were riding into. So we stopped for 20mins in the bushes.

Sleep only happened briefly, it was turning into morning rush hour on the side of the road and I was woken by three teams and a car travelling past, at about 5 or 10 minute intervals…. so after our 20 minutes we got up and going again. I really struggled on the road, it was boring and I was sore, and again I probably hadn’t eaten enough. I did my best to keep up, but kept falling off the back a bit. Finally we hit the gravel road for the final 6kms of suffering and I gradually started to regain some semblance of who I was. Lake Clearwater was looking pleasant in the early morning sun, and we had a brilliant looking day ahead of us.

The Stage 4 Trek was a big one, 84kms, supposedly 21 hours for a fast time. We headed out around the lake in 4th position, not too far behind Perpetual Guardian and Thought sports, chased closely again by Highland events. The first bit of the trek was on a simple little section of trail, so I used it to get some solid food into me. Eventually it came time to go off trail and we headed into the wilderness. The first checkpoint had the potential to be quite tricky and we didn’t want Highland Events to get a free ride, so I made sure I had my brain switched on and we managed to pick up the checkpoint and get out of there very efficiently.

The climb out of the checkpoint to the next section of trail was pretty slow going. I hunted around for the easiest terrain to move through while the others followed patiently behind. When we finally reached the trail again we started to worry about our route, there was a significant amount of climb and hadn’t seen anyone since leaving the checkpoint in front or behind. We need not have worried, we were still making solid progress and this became evident when we reached the next checkpoint.

From here we re-thought our original plan, and aimed to go over a low saddle rather than un-necessary climb over the scree covered tops. The going though this terrain became slow, especially through the tussocks and the spaniards, but we picked away at it and made some steady progress. As we neared the saddle we spotted a team behind us making quick speed. There was some refocus from all of us and we kept ourselves moving as fast as we could. We dropped over the saddle and lost sight of them for a good while. It was a rough stream to walk down but we managed to get down quite alright and still in front. By the bottom of the hill and on the gravel flats of the stream at the bottom thoughts turned to our options for sleeping, it was too early to stop to sleep, so we opted to keep going and to sleep somewhere after the next checkpoint.

As the sun was setting we lost a good bit of momentum, I could feel it slipping all around us. We were just managing to keep in front of Swordfox (trailing team) but we really needed to stop at some water and do some refueling. With a few hour to go this evening yet we opted for a 10min stop by the river for food, and it was only then they caught us. We had a brief chat and they were on their way again. Stopping was good but it killed the little bit of momentum we had left, and it actually got pretty cold. After refitting my sock, I now had a piece of blistered skin dislodge causing a bit of pain, so only after restarting for 5 minutes we were stopped again to sort it out and headlamps while we were at it. It was now that we really needed a pep talk but it never seemed to be the Weasel kind of style anyway, so I just strode on, step by step making my way up the hill. The others slowly caught up and as we crested the saddle pretty much on darkness.

The creek bed we followed down was rubbish and it became very narrow and steep. I had to find a better way, closer inspection of the map showed we needed to get out to the fence line, so I investigated a line out to the true right of the stream and sure enough came across the fence we were looking for. The checkpoint still required a little bit more cunning to get to it but we got it and then hightailed it out of there on what looked like an animal trail.

The trail came and went a bit and we needed to get into the freezing cold river a few times, but it seemed like solid going. I started to get pretty sleepy on the trail, Angus was away with the fairies a little bit, Anna maybe a little sleepy, but Bobby was on the hunt and took the lead. We hunted and hunted for the end of the trail, looking for somewhere that might be a good place to sleep but we pushed on looking for a hayshed or verandah of a building or something close to Lake Heron. I took us on a wild short cut across the paddock but the road eventually joined back and it was only a short distance until we found that hayshed we were looking for.

The hayshed was packed full of hay but there was enough room for Anna and Angus to squeeze themselves between the bails while Bobby and myself sleep on the ground next to it. We set watches for 1.5 hours, as we knew we were being chased down by T7 and Highland events, however when the alarm first went off I was still in a bit of a daze and hit the snooze button. Five minutes later the damn alarm went off again, in my dazed state I accidently switched it off and went back to sleep, not a deep sleep, but a funny sort of very confused as to where I was sleep. After two hours I woke up, bolt upright. I heard a very strange shuffling noise but quickly realised it was a team making their way down the road. I waited for them to pass, hiding from sight, and just before they went out of range I caught the distinct giggle of Tim Farrant. I quickly woke the others and we got up and moving in a very efficient 15 minutes. The extra sleep was probably for the best anyway!

We all felt rejuvenated after our sleep, Anna informed us that another team also passed through during our sleep so we were now in approx. 7th place. We managed a shuffle along flat section, and kept an eye on T7 just infront so we set about hunting them down. As we began the climb into Checkpoint 18 we caught both T7 and Highland events There was a good bit of confusion here as the trail was covered in matagouri. On closer inspection of the map and after a bit of backwards and forwards I followed along the fence and got across and through the matagouri, T7 did the same but higher up, but timewise it turned out to be about the same.

Dawn arrived about the time we reached the saddle, and not far from there was the checkpoint. The following leg was what turned out to be the real crux of the race. We had planned what we thought was a good route on paper, but upon seeing the terrain we decided if we were going to climb up we may aswell climb straight up. T7 had a little conference as headed off up the hill. The scree was really hard going, the contours made it look all very nice and easy on the map, but it was steep and loose. As we emerged at the relative plateau we got a good look at what was in front of us.

For a start it was windy, and by the looks of the mares tails up high it was only going to get windier during the day. We were probably going to need jackets all day and maybe hats, which was good in terms of water, at there was not many places for us to fill up on the traverse. Also in front of us was a number of nasty little bluffy bits to negotiate, again something that the map didn’t really show. We had a bit of a stop to get some food sorted and clothes for the day and as we did Highland events got a whole lot closer. There was now, numerous teams on the ridges all around including some pursuit teams to confuse matters a bit too. That cunning T7 team somehow cut in front of us, climbing up some terrain that must have been a bit nicer to get up.

It was tough in the wind, hard going with lots of siddling to avoid unnecessary climb. As we progressed we began to doubt our route, I could see Godley peak in the distance and it was looking pretty steep and sinister from there. I looked at other options, but just couldn’t figure a better one that didn’t have too much climb.The river bed option looked messy compared to tops travel…. So we pushed on.

About an hour after separation from the other teams the doubt really crept in, we started to stop and doubt ourselves over and over, the wind grew stronger and cloud became darker, we saw less footprints and it all got a bit scary. We eventually made our peace and agreed to press on, it was now too late to turn back anyway. This hesitation probably cost us upward of 1-1.5hours and the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach never really left me until we had pushed through the tops and could see the hill the checkpoint was on.

As if on cue, the clouds rolled in and the rain came down heavy, I was pretty keen to get down and off these tops as soon as we could. We finally saw some teams again, but in the distance collecting the checkpoint so we figured we had definitely lost some significant time. It wasn’t totally detrimental however as we still had the darkzone to work with. Finally we collected the checkpoint and could move on down the hill. It was halfway down when it started to get dark again and that’s when the sleepiness really started to set in. The steep downhill was hard work on the knees but the farmers, Anna and Bobby managed to work out a quick way down… bum sliding in waterproof pants. Very efficient! At the bottom the scrub filled in, this is a Warren special, just when you think its simple, it’s not and catches you off guard. Luckily I had my guard up, and somehow was drawn right to the animal track which took us to the bottom.

A team descending down the final hill of the Stage 4 Trek

Highland events were in transition and sleeping, T7 had got onto the water for probably something like 45mins and were dark-zoning on the packraft somewhere with little chance of walking all night, and the leaders on the lower Rakaia somewhere were stopped for the whole night. The atmosphere was quite relaxing, and we had some hot food which really hit the spot. We opted to take our last sleep for the race, banking 4 hours, before getting up and aiming to walk from 3:30-4am until we either got bluffed out or the light arrived and the darkzone opened up. Overnight several teams also arrived while we slept, so we had to be confident that we had sleep on our side and we could at the very least hold our position on the river and too the end.

When we checked out we found out Highland Events had rolled the dice and opted to start walking at 1:30am. We felt like we had made good progress down the riverbed even though there was several teams hot on our heels. At around 6am we reached a bluff, where the river came right into the bank. The instructions of the darkzone, stated we must stay in the riverbed, and we were told we must not cross farmland. Given those instructions and the fence surrounding the hill, bordered by the bluff we figured we were unable to get past. No sign of Highland Events though, somehow managed to climb the hill and walked around, not sure how that worked with our interpretation of the rules but it gave them a good jump on everyone.

We had ample time to get our boats well inflated and prepared to hit the water at bang on 7:15am. There was now about 3 or 4 teams around us when it came time. Angus made sure every minute of getting ready counted, and was only just set to go with a bit of whip cracking. We had o make smart choices on the water taking the fast water and paddling strong to ensure that we kept our noses in front. Anna and Bobby took the lead, Angus and Myself not far behind. Having that little extra air in the boats seemed to make all the difference, especially when things got shallow and we managed a little break on the chasers. The paddle itself was cold but enjoyable and reasonably fast as the rain overnight had topped the river up.

We did a good job of the packraft and maintained a good size lead of about 20mins, and actually not too far to T7 who were carrying kayaks down as we were walking in about 30mins ahead. At the transition we were not quite as efficient as we thought it should have been, probably due to learning on arrival that we had to fit the packrafts in one of our duffel bags which were already super full! As we were getting ready to depart, PenatiGo arrived, then on the kayak walk out we passed about 3 or 4 other teams, it was rush hour on the river. At the waters edge, Anna took charge of one boat with Angus while I jumped in with Bobby. I felt like this was a good move and it definitely evened the speeds out quite well. Bobby took off like a rocket and we began flying down the gorge, probably one of the more exciting moments in the race!

The gorge didn’t last long and we were through in all of 20minutes. The slog across the plains began. We had to stay to the right early on, but a bit later I think we took this a little bit to heart and ended up in some real ugly side channel bouncing of willow trees and such like. We scratched our way back to the main flow and made an effort to stay there. It took forever to reach the Rakaia SH1 bridge, and then the others were a bit disheartened when I informed them it was at least another 30km to the sea. Eventually we could see the sea, but it was a long long time until we got there. Bobby started to enter a dark period for a bit and the final straw seemed to be the lagoon entry at the very end of the river. The Tide was going out and it was a gravelly entry to it. I jumped out and pushed both boats through as I was getting ancy about the teams behind potentially catching us. We finally dragged our bums through to the wharf surrounded by supporters which was nice to see.

A team paddling up the lagoon

Transition was a bit of a disaster. Angus had some real concerns about the state of his wheel. Anna had lost a rear light on the first bike, and I somehow managed to have two flat batteries for my light in my pack which resulted in having to open my bike box up twice after packing it away. Once we were all sorted it was a relief to get going on the bikes. As we went to depart Transition was now full of 3-4 more teams closing in on us and it now sounded like T7 were probably of reach, and maybe Highland Events too.

We got the Weasel pace train up and cranking and started our way across the plains. Our only chance of closing gaps now was to be super efficient and use the biking strength to pull us through. Angus’s wheel started to cause him some grief with the brake disc rubbing quite a bit, but we refused to stop. Stopped time = lost time on a bike and you can lose a huge amount on long straight flat roads. At one point we thought we might have spotted a tail light at the end of a very long straight.

Somewhere near the end of the flat roads we were treated to a brief visit from a roving Isla (the Golden Weasel!) which was cool to help break up the monotony of the long flat roads. Just one quick stop to collect the control at the beginning of the Little River rail trail, just enough time for some other admin tasks then rolled out again. We made such good progress that I missed the first turn off the trail, and we had to double back, then I got a bit stressed at the checkpoint circle and took the wrong road resulting in a bit more time loss. The bridge really wasn’t that difficult but there was a lot going on and having just gone dark it was the prime time to make a mistake like that.

Problem solved, we began the long climb up onto the Peninsula. I started to get pretty sleepy making the climb, which wasn’t great but somehow I managed to get through it. At the top I spotted a team up ahead, finally we had hunted down T7 maybe? We had to put jackets on cause the mist had rolled in and it was a bit wet and cool with the wind too. Then there was a light battery change, but we started to gather momentum down the hill, we could see our targets just in front and Akaroa Harbour down below. Near the bottom of the hill, about 1.5km from the end we had yet another set back on the ride, Anna’s back wheel started spewing out liquid stans and failed to reseal. It was a big gash so we had to fix it. It was a full team effort, like a formula 1 team, we had that wheel changed and rushed into Transition as fast as possible.

We discovered it was Highland events just in front of us. They were suffering big time with a lack of sleep. We perhaps had our best transition yet and got out onto the water not long before Highland Events and then the sneaky PenatiGo team. It was a relief to be on the final leg, but I knew the last stage around Akaroa Harbour at approximately midnight on a moonless, slightly misty, slightly breezy night had the potential to turn to disaster. As a result, I was on high alert with the navigation. We paddled with lights off, which made it easier to pick out ridges and work out where we were. I was a bit scared having Highland events just behind us, as I felt they probably could just follow us, and potentially sprint us off at the end. Also scaring me a little was having Nick and Tom following along behind, two pretty good navigators, so I needed to be onto it.

We managed to nail the first control, quickly pick it up and get out of there before the bright lights of Highland events arrived. The positioning of the checkpoint was quite out of the way and we finally broke free from them there, a relief as I think they were chasing us hard until that point. We managed to nail the next section the short portage, before heading back out into the darkness. I took a solid bearing and we had good aim, until the closer we got to shore the tide meant that we were drifting a bit. I told Bobby we had to turn into it and paddle hard for a bit, then I thought I should turn my big light on cause this jetty should be right in front of us. Sure enough it was about 10m in front of us.

Now it was 3am and we about an hour to go, it really was the witching hour and it sounded like Anna and Angus had gone a little bit mad! We had made it through the tricky bits just some negotiation of rocks as we rounded the headland. Providing some interest and maybe contributing to the madness was the bioluminescent algae which was stirred up with the boats and paddles, a pretty amazing sight. Nearing the end Bobby and I informed the others that we were being tailed closely, not so closely that we were in trouble, but enough just to be aware of. This kicked them into gear and the final 2kms of paddling went by in a flash. The final section into the finish was just a little bit eerie, as we paddled into the harbour under the cover of darkness noone watching could actually see us. It was super quiet too, just a bit surreal. We climbed out of the water and around to the finish, and that was that, at 4am we crossed the finish line to take 6th place.

The Finish!

I felt like 6th place was pretty much our natural position in the race, we hovered between 2nd at best and probably 7th at worst, but closely followed but 8th and 9th. I felt our strength at the end was due to keeping the foot on the throttle and using our experience to make sure we managed ourselves well regarding speed, strength and sleep. As a whole I think we had a good race as a team, Bobby was super strong on the bike and all around solid, especially with his knee, which he reckons got better throughout the race. Anna, also such a pleasure to race with, kept a good eye on things and made things run smoothly. And Angus, I have never raced with someone so enthusiastic, his real strength, and always eager to take a turn on the front of the Weasel train despite his broken spokes and buckled wheel!

We had a really good Stage 3 Bike ride and mostly good stage 4 trek, but the major learning must come from our route choice there, just we needed to push hard when we were committed and not doubt ourselves. I know when Chris doubted himself, he just pushed harder to make his way work! Had we done that it might have been a different story. In hindsight, I would have taken a different route, similar to the start of T7 but up the valley on the other side rather than the ridgeline. Anyway another good race in the bank, another top 10 for the weasels, we’ve figured out how to complete an expedition race, and how to race an expedition race, now I feel like it’s time to learn how to win one!

Images courtesy of GODZone

Categories: Adventure racing, Exploring, Kayaking, Mountain Biking, Multisport, Orienteering, Packrafting

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