The Traverse – GODZone 2022

I’ve been Orienteering for many years and I think I can count the number of “perfect” or near perfect races I’ve had on one hand. The 2021 Godzone came close to the Weasels 2017 race, it felt like we dropped the ball for about 12 hours in total across 3 early stages. I was hoping to be back in the hunt for the perfect race when 2022 rolled around but life had other plans for the other three….and suddenly I found myself without any team mates.

Part 1 – Sorting out a team

I fell straight into the FOMO trap when Godzone entries opened. I also worried that the Weasels would disappear from adventure racing altogether if I didn’t get in and figured whatever happened I could just pull a solid team together anyway… oh how wrong I was… I kept running into the reasoning “if you get a good team, I might be keen” which was in real life a complete Catch 22 situation.

Heading into December I thought that I might have worked something out but the week before Christmas, nothing. By January, my stress levels were pretty high and I was probably on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Like any challenge in life, I pretty much just had to sit down and solve the problem, and that’s what I set about doing. I definitely did not want to just give GODZone a $8.5k (entry fee) Christmas present. It wasn’t possible to defer the entry “due to their terms and conditions”. So joining into any of the 4 or 5 teams that were looking for a Navigator option was off the table too. Whatever dreams I had of ultimate supremacy had to be put aside and it was now a matter of pulling something or anything together.

After the “Not” Oceania Champs I found Jason Brown, an Adventure racer from the US whose team was unable to come out. He had some good experience overseas, and at least did some orienteering so could help out with Navigating. Not long after signing on Jason, we had Lisa Haycock jump on board and things were looking up. Just one more team mate to lock in and we would be able to sort that after Coast to Coast….then Lisa managed to break a couple of fingers in the Mountain run, ruling her out. Three weeks to race day and the pressure was on to fill those two slots. Despite the loss of Lisa from the race team, she helped solve one problem and signed on as our Support crew.

Two weeks to go, I got a message from Deb Lynch, never done an adventure race of any kind, but super keen and by all accounts a bit of a beast in the triathlon world. After approaching 6 people over the space of about 3 hours deep into a Friday afternoon, I managed to tempt Oliver Thompson into joining us. This really boosted our experience level and now not only did we have a team now, it wasn’t half bad either.

Part 2 – Pre-race

Wednesday evening before the race start was the first time we managed to met in person. I was so distracted from the stress of pulling a last minute the team together I hadn’t really given much thought to how we were going to race, or even thought about discussing how we planned to work together and our overall strategy, let alone the simple things like who was going to paddle together and stuff like that. This set my nerves running high and the logistics planner information was not much help, this race was going to be a mission.

Registration day should have been pretty laid back but there was actually lots to sort out and we needed to introduce Deb to a packraft. Once the map pick up was done, heads were all in and time dissolved very quickly.

Initial impressions, it was big, it was going to be wild, and big. Stage 1 and 2 were kind of as expected, Stage 3 was a monster, with one of the best AR route choice decisions I think I have ever seen. There were two main options and a couple of variations, but it boiled down to the Coast route (~20km longer, minimal climb, minimal bush) vs the Cascade/Red hills traverse (shorter, navigationally harder, more off track/bush travel, about 2000m of climb). It was something we had to leave and come back too. The Eyre mountains trek presented a couple of options, but was reasonably straight forward as was the rest of the course….if we could imagine that far into the future!

Part 3 – Race day

A had a restless nights sleep, there were so many more unknowns than previous years and I felt I was shouldering a lot of responsibility this time. We had planned our arrival to the start in Jackson’s Bay with a bit more time than required but quickly it evaporated. I did remember to bring my compass to the start line this time… just not the sunscreen! Lisa was able to very efficiently source some from a curious local with less than 5 minutes to go, and then we were all set, well, ready as we were ever going to be.

Some fans from Macraes Flat School!

Stage 1 – 18km Packraft/Trek

Race underway, Jason and Ollie were off to a flying start and quickly disappeared in the flotilla of packrafts while Deb and myself got a bit tangled up at the back. They were apparently up the front chasing a red packraft that was not us as we headed out to sea and around the Jackson’s bay headland. The cold air had deflated my raft a bit so part way round more air was required, leaving us to lag a little bit further behind. Coming into Smoothwater bay got a bit exciting with some swells breaking over and around the rocks on the point.

We quickly reunited with our team mates on shore and made our way on foot inland. First time moving together as a team. Jason and I had talked about it prior and thought it was best to play conservatively especially with the whole unknown team thing, so we kept the pace to a brisk walk and allowed several teams to pass us and move on ahead. The competitive person within me wanted to run with them all, but I managed to hold myself back a bit as we rolled along with the masses up the stream bed. When it was time to cut into the forest I decided on going a bit further up the main stream than initially intended before jumping straight in to the bush to give us a bit more of handrail through the trees. I worked a pretty solid bearing and pulled through another team with us. This was our first introduction to the Westland/Fiordland bush and it was quite thick and pushy. It took a lot longer to bash through than I expected and a sense of relief when we hit the stream bed we were looking for. Gradually the mass of teams quietly converged in on the same area.

On foot through the bush (Credit: GODZone/Facebook)

Up this stream bed were a few diverging river braids that distracted lots of teams including us. At one point we beat our way up the river a bit further than some of the others, eventually we cut across, down and around to the control. I didn’t like this bearing and hope method and at the time quite vocally said as much. This made one team who were with us quickly reconsider their options! Jason’s perseverance held us true and we hit the lake, and the muddy wallow around its edge to the shit fight at the checkpoint, with pretty much all the other teams.

Little mistake out of the way, we seemed to miss a major pack of teams exiting the checkpoint. Once again I took a bearing and dived straight in and dragged a bunch  of teams with us to the edge of Lake Ellery. We even got there ahead of some of the teams that left the checkpoint before us. The nice tailwind was helpful and with Ollie and Deb switching boats, the pace evened out a bit.

Leaders coming up to get out point of Lake Ellery (Credit: GODZone)

The exit point from the river which everyone was landing at was a nasty, muddy little gut, thanks for the assistance Tim and team iSport! It was just short jog to the transition, along with a good bit of laughter to amuse the race directors watching on.

Stage 2 – Mountain Bike 19km

It was good to get onto the bikes and get some kilometers knocked out early on in the race. The ride was reasonably mellow with a few pinchy little climbs and a few descents. For a while we rode with iSport (Richie McCaw’s team) which was good because it was about the only photos that were taken of us! The ride was quick and we were soon into our first supported transition and Stage 3 was looming large in front of us.

Stage 2 – the Richie McCaw ride (Photo credit: GODZone)

Stage 3 -Trek/Packraft 155km

By the time we arrived there I was convinced we needed to that the Cascade river, but it was good to get reassurance that the majority of other teams were taking that option. We discussed as a team for quite some time the night before, and it came down to the shorter, more direct route with more climb. This was because I was confident in my navigation to get us through plus less time and distance on rocky terrain would suit our team better. I was still shitting myself with nerves as we wandered out of transition and up the river valley. We got a good distance up the river bed before we needed lights, then made some good calls on crossing points. Progress was going pretty well I thought, there was a good mix of easy going river gravels in dispersed with some pretty deep crossings in places. When we were caught back with iSport, Jo exclaimed it was nice to have some big rugby guys to help with river crossings… quite a contrast to us aptly named scrawny weasels… some of us may have been off our feet and floating in a couple of places.

As midnight came, so did Deb’s 30th birthday. The cake we had stuffed in Jason’s pack was in sudden need of eating. With all the teams around and our good progress, Ollie and I were pretty reluctant to stop too long, so it was only a brief pause to get out the now water laden cake. Hindsight shows a warning sign emerging, as Jason vomited some of the cake back up. The pace did slow a little and we had to let some teams go on ahead, so we didn’t completely blow to pieces.

Cascade River and possibly close to where we exited the riverbed to the top, on the right hand side of the photo. (Credit GODZone)

Around 2am we came to a point where it was time to climb out of the valley and onto the Red Hills. We did so at a point where not many other teams around us chose to, which worked out OK, but having my time again I would have picked a nicer spur rather than the brutal slope we did. It was a real grind and hard, actually quite hot and humid work. We came to the top of the spur exactly as anticipated and navigationally things were looking good, bit team wise not so great. Jason had quite the spew, and the vegetation became thick and tricky to move through. Dawn was on its way, and we were into the witching hours, we needed a quick break to regroup so a quick 15min stop/sleep was taken. I was in full hype mode, like a tracker dog hot on a scent, so this pause while good for the team, was an irritating pause for me.

At this point I was pretty confident that we were going to get down to the Pyke River by about 4pm and have enough time to paddle most of the Pyke before the darkzone. Sunrise hit as we climbed into tops of the Red Hills and with it the fog rolled in. Thankfully we only had an hour or so before it burned off and we were treated with awesome views right across the Range and out to the Coast, a really wild place to be in.

As with any ridge line there is a lot more little ups and downs than shown on the map. I was well aware of it and tried to traverse where possible, to cut down on distance and extra climb. The longer the day got the the pace really started to slow and it was about here I probably should have swapped some of the extra gear I was carry for the packraft. Eating on the move seemed to be something that not everyone was capable of so a frustrating amount of stopping crept in. Even with all the stopping, I wasn’t eating enough. Mainly from the stress of navigating, but also trying to keep the team together, without wandering off. Everyone’s packs were jammed full of gear and food still so there wasn’t much more we could take to balance the pace.

After being up on the tops for hours, we got very low on water so it was a welcome relief to reach a good sized tarn just before our decent point. Our darkzone calculation had really tightened up now, we needed to drop about 1000m in 2 hours to hit 4pm at the very least. It was heavy going, the terrain got really steep and every now and then we became worried about bluffing out. The vegetation was so thick that Ollie and I could pick our ways down relatively quickly, but Jason and Deb struggled a bit with foot placement and following closely to us. I really struggled with the constant stopping and  having to switch on and off the navigation, the compass bearing and just in general moving forward, which is what we desperately needed to do. As it got flatter near the bottom the bush didn’t let up either, it got thicker and thicker. Close to 6pm we emerged from the bush to the Pyke river bed with about 2.5 hours until the darkzone.

Paddling to begin with was shit, we should have walked at least 2km further down the river before getting in. We also lost momentum and faltered about trying to wiggle our way down rapids that just were not happening. Team 64 who we were with then, managed to figure themselves out and got probably the length of lake Wilmot in front while we reached the top end right on the darkzone.

We really needed to sleep, and quite soon. I had been on the navigation going on 30 hours now and my brain was pretty fried. There was still enough light to keep moving and warm up a bit. It was tempting to throw the towel in and sleep all night. But if we got a fair way on foot we could get ourselves a lot longer along the way in the dark. On the shoreside track we quickly ran into big problems with windfall. Some excellent route finding from Ollie got us through, but it took almost two hours to cover about 2km. At the end of the lake there was a lot of teams camped up, and we couldn’t find where the trail markers entered the bush again. We figured it was probably hidden by another team camping very close to the end of it or it was covered in windfall.

By this stage sleep was on the only thing on everyone’s mind, so given the roughness of the track so far, we opted to camp for the 6 hours until the Dark zone lifted. There was still a lot of racing to come. Travel was going to be easiest on the river, plus it would give our feet a chance to recover overnight.

It was a pretty good nights worth of sleep, but by 6:45am I was ready to get up and go again, there was surprisingly little groaning as we all slowly came to grips with the new day ahead of us. We hit the water just on time at 7:30, all the other campers bar one team had gotten up early and walked a way down the river trail. The going was good on the river, just lots of dead trees to negotiate. Checking in at CP4 it was nice to find out we were not going too badly at this point.

Paddling across Lake Alabaster, a local dude pulled up alongside us to have a bit of a yarn, letting us know that heavy rain was coming about 5pm that night…not great news. He also asked us what team number we were so he could track us, pulled out a pen and wrote it down on his hand. A hand that was already completely covered in team numbers!

Lake Alabaster (Credit: GODZone)

We pulled off the river at about the Pyke lodge, already it was almost mid day and any hope of getting over park pass in the daylight quickly evaporated. It was going to be a long, hard and wet night. Travel along the Hollyford track was a pleasant reset, especially for Jason and Deb, those two were able to stretch their legs a bit. Team spirits dramatically improved as we arrived at CP5. Good news was that there was several teams just ahead, and the bad news was confirmed that there was heavy rain coming.

We took the wide in our approach to the Hidden Falls Valley, coming in at a distinct point that lead to a gradual climb. The going was good for a while, and the easy siddle turned into a real slog. We mucked around a bit trying to find good travel, but in the end just consolidated to the grind. After what seemed like an eternity we turned the corner into the valley. Travel was just as bad in here, and the rain really started to come down hard. When stopping to put jackets on we discovered that we had lost at least one headlamp and potentially a second. It was troubling times as we searched every pocket in Deb’s pack in vain.

Darkness was only a few hours away so we just had to keep moving and get as far up the river as possible. It was super hard going most of the way then every now and then we found some good passages. Progress really slowed when we had to operate with just two headlamps between the 4 of us, then suddenly Deb managed to find her missing headlamp. A short while later was came across team #44 and they very kindly lent one of their spare lights to Ollie. This really saved our bacon and we were so lucky and very grateful for the lend of that light.

I faded in and out of sleepy periods for a long while in there, the bush bashing, trail finding and just no time to switch off and eat properly was taking its toll on me. Somewhere in there my nose started to bleed quite badly which didn’t help either. At one point I had to hand it over, I just had to switch my brain off for 5 minutes or so before I could get my head back in the game.

Every now and then a small gorge would pop up and we would have to jump back into the bushes to negotiate and the persistent rain didn’t help with river levels either. Around midnight we reached the exit point of the valley and began the climb up to park pass. As anticipated there was a pretty good track all the way to the top. It was good to get climbing, generate some heat under our soaked clothes.

On top of the pass it was freezing cold, so we just had to press on, there was no shelter whatsoever up there. From the pass there was a track and cairns to follow most of the way down the valley and these lead to a marked DOC track which was handy. We passed several teams had stopped and camped, so our 6hr sleep the night before was now starting to pay back. Progress did slow a little at times, again pretty frustrating as it was cold and I hate being wet. We had tried our best to rebalance gear and speeds but it still wasn’t enough, I just had to be patient.

We reached Theater Flat right on dawn with only a short walk down the valley… oh and of course there was a good bit of climbing and steep descending in there too. With wet Rain pants on and there was a lot of murmurings of chaffing going on, but I think little was done about it. Again in hindsight, we should have sorted this out on one of our many stops down the valley. About 6km’s to go a bunch of 3 or 4 teams caught up to us and after a brutal night out and so much time by ourselves it was nice to talk to some other teams. It breathed a bit of energy back into me at least, unfortunately it was short lived and we were back by ourselves while they disappeared in front of us.

The closer we got to the bottom the harder things got, but we really just needed to get going down to the shelter so we could put our feet up in the packrafts for a bit. Oh and get the wetsuits on to warm up a bit more. By the time we got the bottom, Fear Youth, Gearshop and Team Mot? were jumping on the river, so we hadn’t lost lots of time to our slow descent, just a lot of mojo.

Jason was in a bad state at the CP, he needed food and by the sounds of things he had been running low for a bit. I was surprised he hadn’t raised this as an issue. By having my head in the map, and trying to get us to the bottom as fast as possible I wasn’t paying enough attention to what was going on in the team.

After a bit of a recharge at the CP and a catch up with Sarah (CP marshal and friend from Uni!) we hit the cold water in the packrafts with Team Jabberwock. There was a bit of shuffling for river positioning and then we took a good braid choice that got us well in front for a while. As the braids converge again, Jabberwock were back with us again and we trailed them as we paddled across the lake. My Alpacka raft seemed quite a bit slower across the flat water so Jason and Deb attached the tow line to keep us together. Our turn to drag the chain a little bit!

End of Stage 3! 3 days later, Deb is now an experienced packrafter

What a relief to hit transition, after being out for 3 nights, now we could finally tick off some easy km’s… although there were some tired and worn out looking team mates, and an over sharing on just how much chaffing was going on to someone’s extremities!  Luckily Lisa was in charge, along with Deb’s Family and they had us sorted with plenty of warm food and drinks, before sending us on our way.

Stage 4 – Mountain Bike 90km

Free speed, that’s what it felt like jumping on the bikes. Team spirits were riding high and all of a sudden we started talking to each other. Something that had been missing for a while. We made the most we could of the daylight and reached the Greenstone junction before needing lights. There was a rather large unscheduled stop here for the toilets…. and I pity the person that was faced with entering that toilet after our team had been there.

We got going again, and it was a rough introduction to some bumpy single track. Soon were on track and making our way through the low branches on the overgrown 4wd trail down the side of lake Wakatipu. As it turned out thatnot only had Deb just trekked further than she had in her entire life so far this was Deb’s first time night mountain biking. She did pretty well considering and even after a crash or too.

Next it was Jason’s turn for a high speed crash coming off a slippery bridge. I watched from behind and it was nasty. Jason didn’t appear to be too damaged other than a bit shaken up and some grazing to add the chaffing. His bike seemed fine so we continued onwards and upwards. The gravel road was long and hard work, team speeds were again quite variable, and we never got a flow on. As for myself , I was battling with sleep big time. It was another 30 odd hours we had gone without sleep. I kept the sleep away by trying to talk, which is pretty hard for me. I can tell you that when I’m tired and I’m talking the appears to filter comes off, and anything that’s on my mind comes out, so I apologize if I offended anyone!

After using the old “we are only 8kms away” for one too many times I was caught out by my team mates at the Von River crossing, but at least from here is was a down winder section and we could see the lights of transition in the distance. We initially talked about just a short sleep in transition before heading out again, but given the state of the team it seemed it sensible to get in a good 4 hours before the next monster trek.

Stage 5 – Trek 56km

We were underway again at dawn and by all accounts feeling good again after a refreshing sleep in the camper. It was nice to have dry feet and a nice day in front of us, only a small chance of the occasional shower. We tried to keep our feet as dry as possible for as long as possible on this stage, which meant being a little bit picky with river crossings. By mid morning we made our way up through the forest towards the tops, with the plan to head along the ridge line most of the way to the CP. The going was OK through the forest, and it was turning into a hot day at bush line. Things seemed to be going well until it got rough out in the open tussocks and the pace dropped back. We hit the first summit by 1pm, then somehow time dissolved rapidly. Just 4kms or so along the route we had to deviate to avoid some steep terrain. In the process we spotted a couple of teams in the distance, one team not really moving. Before we knew it a helicopter arrived overhead and quickly spiraled down to the team not moving, it looked like a rescue was taking place. We sidled just above the rescue, careful not to dislodge any rocks below. If it wasn’t a race we would have stopped and watched but we had to keep moving, hoping everyone was alright.

For a moment there we thought maybe there was another rescue going one when another helicopter turned up. This time they were just taking photos of us scattered across the ridge. Coming down a small descent off a hill top we suddenly realized Jason was no longer just behind us. Immediately we stopped, called back and nothing. There were some nasty looking exposed bluffs to our right, surely he could not have fallen down there without us noticing? I dumped my pack and quickly jogged back uphill to thankfully find Jason standing on top of the hill. He must have lost sight of us for a short moment then taken a wrong turn. After the initial shock of the incident we got a little grumpy with each other for a while.

Things improved when we reached the end of the ridgeline and crossed down to a tarn where we were able to refresh a bit with some food and water. The afternoon had dissolved in no time at all to evening. On the decent down to the CP and out of the wind, things got warm and muggy. For me it was another long hard day on the feet with head in the map and I started to fade. Ollie had seen it on my face so at the hut he made sure we had a good stop for a feed and a break.

The stop at the CP was one of the bizarre stops in a race, not a lot of what went on made sense to me and there was some confusing, very kiwi subtle humour going on. At that point I was quite happy to leave Ollie and Jason to follow the way to the start of the track, it looked pretty straight forward. We used up what daylight we had left pretty quickly and the weirdness continued.

Some how after all the confusion, food had got into my system and I pulled myself out of the hole and took charge again. There was some kerfuffle with headlamps, and my patience started to wear a bit thin. I’d had enough messing about so I chose our line and I went with it. With the help of Ollie in the darkness we managed to pick up the marked route, and follow it almost all the way.  It was confusing as the track did not match what was marked on the map, but by now confidence was my weapon of choice. I forged us a path up to the ridge and down the spur.

Coming down quickly, the team was back on track, and moving well together. Sharing the bright light around across an open spur helped quite a bit. The easy going terrain suddenly got scrubby and it quickly turned to  a battle of attrition through the early hours to bash a way down to the next section to track.

As we dropped in height I knew we were drifting off line a bit, but surely not too much. After quite some time the sound of a river came into view, then upon reaching it we found it was flowing the opposite way to what it should have. Left with only one option of where we could be (more north than east), we made our way down the stream bed towards the junction, close to the junction we bumped into our good friends, team 64. I think we confused them a little but all of a sudden we were on the track and everything seemed to make sense again. It was all a bit strange but it fitted!

We had planned to stay in the Cromel Branch Hut but unsurprisingly another team was sleeping in there. We needed to sleep, so we camped beside it and got 2 hours sleep. Deb tried to tempt us into sleeping longer, but we really just needed to get out of there, so we tore ourselves out of bed and were moving again at 5:30am. It was a difficult period, the chatter was next to nothing, and the track markers were not as straight forward to follow as I hoped. Progress felt really poor and motivation levels very low when we reached Irthing Hut. We sat and chatted to a pursuit team who had a team mate who had had enough. Ollie decided to take his shoes off here and check his feet and in the space of 3 hours since getting up his feet were completely covered with trench foot. We made him put betadine all over them and he put a pair of Jason’s dry socks on. There was not much else we could do other than get to TA now.

As we climbed up to Sheppard saddle we were passed by another team. Our pace was just not there and it was disappointing to see them walk on by and disappear into the distance. The slow pace did allow us to watch the rescue helicopter winch some poor team of a ridge in the distance, then low pass by us as we traversed to the next ridge.

It was still a long way to go and our best bet to keep Ollies feet in shape was to stop and dry them out for half an hour or so. I was also becoming increasingly concerned about my own feet. I was pretty sure we were going to make the 11pm short course cut off and investing time now was a sensible thing to do. Jason and Deb got in a good sleep at the same time… with some impressive snoring!

Part way up the final climb we needed another short stop for Ollie to dry his feet again.  Jason seemed to be feeling good, so he took the lead for a while here, a nice change up. However once near the top he disappeared just out of sight, and without a map. When we reached the ridgeline all we could do was wait for him to reappear, and as he did yet another team caught us up. I wont lie, we were slightly annoyed with him after that and stormed off down the ridge almost making a mistake in the process. It was good to move along with the other team for a bit as we made the final descent to the CP. It helped get rid of the negative energy hovering about and it helped us get back into the race.

After the CP it was just a 13km wander down the stream bed with mostly 4wd tracks to follow to the TA. As soon as the navigational pressure came off, I got real sleepy, and struggled to keep the pace being put down by Deb. When the tow line came out, there was no hero’s in that valley, I took it with both hands. With Deb feeling good, and Jason in good form we walked our way right back up with the other team… much to their amusement to see it was me that was being towed! But that’s just how real teams work together. Thanks to Deb’s enthusiasm on that section, we rocked into transition about 7pm or so, well before the cut off at 11pm. .

While eating and getting ready for the 170km ride in front of us the TA marshals came over to present us with some options, we made the cut off, but not by a huge amount. The next cut off was 4:30pm on Thursday at lake Onslow and if we missed that we would be back to another long trek with the added risk of being cut off completely, and not finishing. The ride was likely to take 20+ hours…with any of the previous Weasels team I’ve been in, we would have taken that and rolled with it, but given our variable pace it was clear the best option was to short course ourselves (along with at least one other team) and salvage what was left to make sure we would at least cross the finish line. It was both a hard and easy decision to make as the goal was always full course. With the decision made, I jumped straight into bed and we sleep through out 6 hour stand down period, while Lisa made a timing plan for us in the morning.

Short Course Transfer

For those watching the tracking thinking we had taken a sneaky route choice at high speed, we were in the camper heading for TA7 at Paerau. The short stop in Queenstown may have looked like we were stopping at the golden arches of McDonalds, but I can assure you the purpose of the stop was for petrol… there may also have been some pies and hot chocolate/coffees purchased too.

Arriving at TA7 in a vehicle was a bit of a hit to the ego, especially as we were surrounded by our contemporaries still locked in the battle on the full course. It was hard to switch the mindset back to racing, but Lisa was very good at kicking us out of the camper and giving us the hurry up.

Stage 8 – Mountain Bike 100km (or was it 118km?)

A large part of this section of ride I had done, so it was like being back home. Once the wheels started spinning and we were back moving again, any thoughts of being out for a casual ride fell away from my mind. The climb was eaten away pretty quickly and I thought we were making good time. The 4WD track brought us back to reality and more gear shuffling was required. The downhill into the Middlemarch basin had significantly improved into the in the 3 years since I was last there. Even so we all pretty much went through a set of brake pads!

Once on the seal and metal roads we tried to get a pace line going. Unfortunately it proved to be unmanageable. The tow line was in use quite a bit, but it was tough going up hill. For a while I had high hopes we might knock this bike ride out before dark, even defeat the darkzone on the Kayak, but all the subtle ups and downs meant that by the time we reached the railway section it was getting close to dark.

The now infamous railway section was a novety for a short while. There was not a lot of gravel between the sleepers and no room to ride beside the trail either. The only way to reduce the repetitive impact was seemingly to ride fast and get it over with. Just as we finished the rail section we bumped into one of the locals, gathered a bit of intel and then set about knocking the next section off.

The climb out of the railway section was quite a beast. At the top we were caught by Ataraxia. I was pretty envious watching them work together as a team, moving well just getting it done. We were joined by another short course team on the descent into Outram, but eventually dropped off the back of them a few kms from the TA. Time for dinner, and another sleep. Not that we really needed heaps more sleep but the way the darkzone was worked we were best to sleep now in comfort, then just paddle through and hit the darkzone opening bang on.

Stage 9 – Kayak 38km

We got up earlier than planned,  I was already awake and excited with finish line fever, today we were going to finish. We jumped on the water at around 3:30am and had quite the trip navigating the upper stretches of lower Taieri. Just finding the deep water and fast flowing sections was tricky, then avoiding trees also equally tricky. I was on it for a while but my headlamp battery went low after a while and Ollie took over. Our timing was pretty much spot on arriving with 5mins to spare.

Leaving on the kayak stage at about 3:30am

With the mass re-start at approximately 7:30am, there was a good crowd spectating on the Henley bridge. We held on the wash for as long as possible but the pace was just a stretch too far. It was not very much further to the get out so we didn’t drop back too far. Our transition was less hectic than the play off for 3rd and 4th. Despite that we were quickly in and out and away on the bikes – last stage.

Stage 10 – Trek 19km

The quirk of this stage was the quick 3km bike to get us across the Taieri mouth bridge. At a small layby we just dumped our bikes… I was kind of expecting some sort of marshal to be there looking after the bikes, but nothing of the sort, just a bunch of dumped expensive looking bikes.

Time to get out of here!

The sand was pretty soft and hard going on the beach, but we were so close now which kept us driving us forward. There were some interesting sections to negotiate around rock outcrops and then other stretches of relative nothing-ness. It was good to see the McLeods cheering us on by the beach near their farm.  Eventually we reached the familiar sight of Brighton beach (as a kid, we spent plenty of time here in our holidays). Deb still had plenty of energy to burn and while I took her surprisingly heavy pack of snacks she skipped through the ankle deep water to the island with the last checkpoint. I followed through this passage and was quickly swamped by a big a wave, then as Deb returned back from the CP it was back to being ankle deep. Then only a 200m jog down the beach to finish and it was all over. Always a relief to cross the line!


Just what to make of this race?

For one the course was huge, it was the biggest and hardest, most challenging course in all of the previous 6 GODZones and 2 other expedition races I’ve done. For me personally it was the most challenging physically and the most challenging mentally. I had to carry more weight in both these departments than ever before, so it really was a beast.

Team (minus Jason) with the supporters Banner!

As a team, I’m pretty proud of the fact we managed to pull something together and given the challenges faced in the lead in I think we did better than I expected. At times we even showed some speed that could have easily had us on the full course. At times we worked really well as a team too. The whole last minute team thing did fall apart around communication. When things were tough, just knowing how to deal with individuals varied abilities, strengths and weakness was lacking a bit. Something you can only really work out with time together. I had hoped for more help around navigation, but it was very NZ centric, even Westland/Fiordland centric, so I shouldered the leg work for most of that.

Deb, for a first time adventure racer did an amazing job, super strong the whole way, and really good at keeping some motivation going at times too. With no previous experience, it was a gamble, but it paid off. Ollie is a super strong athlete and has heaps of experience even at his young age, I really learned a lot from racing with him.  Jason’s strength appeared to be in the packrafts, unfortunately there didn’t turn out to be much technical paddling this year, but despite the challenges thrown up, again and again he pulled himself up and we worked together to make it to the finish. For myself, confidence in navigation is something I always lack, which given the years of my life I have dedicated to it might be hard to imagine for some. My confidence improved a heap as the race went on, so some specific practice beforehand on Topomaps would go a long way to improving that. Being in the captain type roll as well as leading the navigation didn’t work all that well, but the others three slotted into that job when someone needed to take charge. Probably we would have worked better if we had nominated someone else beforehand… And of course Lisa did an amazing job, jumping into the support crew role after having to drop from the race team. She was great at solving problems, telling it to us straight, providing us with food, making up beds for us, then dealing with our mess afterwards, driving thousands of km’s at all hours of the day and night and all the while getting less sleep than us. And thanks heaps to Deb’s parents for giving up their holiday jumping into to help Lisa with the support crew duties. Also my Dad and Lesley for taking us all in after the race!

Doing it all again… or mistakes to try not to repeat:

  1. Sort out a team before entering
  2. Do at least some team training beforehand
  3. Find team mates that are of the same ability and pace
  4. Make sure the team are all on the “same page” before the race
  5. Have a race plan before the race start
  6. Attach my spoon to a string connected to my pack
  7. Try to all have the same type of headlamp – ease of sharing batteries
  8. Practice navigation with topomaps – orienteering maps are just slightly different
  9. Always carry antifungal cream on the course, not just in the transitions

No caption needed 🙂


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

1 comment

  1. So proud of you Tane and your team. It was a .ighty effort for steam that hadn’t ever raced together. After all the stress you all did an amazing job. As always I love following the whole event and really enjoy reading your write ups. And I’m not just saying that because I’m your Mum😝

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