Many readers will know this race did not end well for us. It was long and challenging to get to and compete. The good thing is that as a team we had some great moments and had a great race until it turned bad.
Here is the summary of what we did:
- Leg 1 – Hike/Packraft 110km 26hrs including 1.5hrs sleep
- Leg 2 – MTB/Caving 55km including a short nap
- Leg 3 – Hike/Packraft 150km 79hrs including 13hrs sleep (yes that is more than three days!)
- Leg 4 – MTB 160km 19hrs
- Did not complete legs 5 (2hr Kayak), 6 (20hr trek) and 7 (6hr Kayak)
Here is a bit more detail (lots more really, long race = long report).
Godzone for 2018 was to be the “Ultimate”. This meant it was going to be a 10 day race with the winners forecast to finish in 5-6 days compared to the normal 3-4. It was also to be hosted in the Fiordland which at the south west of the south island is regarded as one of the most remote, roughest and wettest parts of NZ. We had originally planned to race XPD in Tasmania, but with winning the A1 series in Australia last year came a free entry to Godzone and after much deliberation we elected to do the NZ race. This was accompanied with some trepidation on the length of the course, the remote country and challenging navigation. We had received the logistics planner a week earlier and there were a small number of legs (7) and a couple of monster trek/packraft legs. The biggest dilemma in preparing was how big our packs would need to be to carry pack rafting gear, food plus the usual mandatory equipment. They would be well over 10kg dry before we even put food in.
We arrived in Te Anau with us all reasonably fit and ready to go. Race preparations went very smoothly with the registration and gear checks being well organised and efficient. We were then able to collect the maps and had an afternoon to work through course planning and get our boxes and bags packed. The latter was straight forward but the course presented a number of different route choice options for the off track sections, particularly on the monster Leg 3. Our decisions would be influenced by the conditions under foot when we got there and how fast we could move on tracks vs the forest.
Leg 1 (110km Packraft/Trek/Packraft)
The start was in the main street of town with a 600m run to a park where we would have the worlds largest packraft inflation race.
From there we paddled across Lake Te Anau down to Lake Manapouri where there was a portage option to cut the corner across to the start of the main trek. We were amongst the pack and enjoyed the good flow in the river to the portage, which consisted of a bush bash up a steep bank (carrying inflated rafts!) and a 2km trek on single track/road. We did not have the best system for portaging with our heavy dry bags slowing us vs the teams that had backpacks at the ready, but got to the next bit of lake and paddled across to the next CP in good shape. We were lucky enough to be able to leave our packraft gear there and not carry it on the trek part of the leg.
The first part of the trek involved finding a couple of off track CPs before heading over a ridge to the next river system and then over a larger range to the North Arm of Borland Burn. This all went well for us with a good route choice, nice weather and great views.
We hit the Borland river as darkness fell and started the climb up to the abseil. There was a bit of a queue at the abseil which give us a chance to dry our feed and get a decent meal in (under a large tarp as it was raining). The abseil was large and they had four ropes so we all went together. Doing it together made it fun despite the darkness meaning no views.
The exit from the abseil was a little tricky with lots of cliffs blocking our preferred route. We eventually found the track and continued the rest of the trek to the packraft put in. We had been taking it easy as we expected to hit a dark zone, but on arrival were informed we could paddle the first part in the dark. We elected to have a 1hr sleep at the TA (we had two tents on this leg so this was comfortable) and arose early to get the first part of the paddle done before another portage over to the Waiau River for the 20 odd km paddle to the next TA. The dark zone effectively made this a race restart with about 20 teams waiting the signal to go. The flow was good and the river proved some fun moments and quick progress so we were on our bikes in good time.
Leg 2 (55km MTB)
This leg was a short connecting leg with some caving and a few tricky pine forest CPs thrown in to keep the navigators busy.
The caving was a highlight with about 1km of scrambling and swimming (in freezing water) to find all the CPs. This took about an hour so, given we had a 2hr time out to complete it, we got a good rest in the grass on what was a nice warm day.
The maps in the forest were a little confusing with overgrown and non-existent tracks. We lost a bit of time finding the right track and then made slow progress down the overgrown track the CP was on before popping out on the main road for the ride up to the next TA.
Leg 3 (150km Trek/Raft/Trek/Raft/Trek/Raft/Trek)
This was the monster leg of the race and expected to take the leaders close to 2 days. It started with a short trek along the road to Lake Houroko. It was late in the day when we arrived and we were treated to a beautiful sunset. The pressure was off as there was a dark zone on the next paddle leg and we had decided not to expend the energy trekking when the river tomorrow would be much faster so made our way steadily to the next CP (a hut) and set up camp. Bern did a great job of setting up a packraft cubby house beside the hut so we did not all have to squeeze into the tent (we only took one for this leg as we had to carry everything) and we all had a great sleep after a hot meal.
It was an early start the next morning (and another race restart effectively) with it just getting light as we entered the Wairaurihiri River which was flowing fast due to recent rainfall (the area had been drenched the week before due to a the remnants of a tropical cyclone). This meant our expected 4hr time turned into 2.5hrs. The fast flowing river made for other challenges and there was little opportunity to recover from spills, which Josh and Leo tested a couple of times. At one hole it got a little stressful as Josh got sucked in and Leo had a shoe came off (not great with 100km of trekking ahead). Fortunately the shoe was discovered wedged in the packraft when we got them both back on aboard. We made sure to keep concentrating from there and the rest of the trip was uneventful.
After the full Didymo treatment for us, our wetsuits, packrafts and anything else that was wet we loaded up and set off to find the south coast checkpoints. The first one set the benchmark. It was roughly 2km from the track and this distance took close to 2hrs as the bush was dense and the ground rough. There was a choice at this CP to head back to the track and go around to the next CP or take a more direct route through the bush and over a number of mountains. Teams were taking both options and we stuck with our original plan to take the direct route. Navigation was tricky at times but we stuck with the trusty compass and nailed the CP without too many dramas, but were very glad for the daylight. From this CP it was a short packraft down the lake and a short piece of river to the get out point (which we almost missed in the dark as the river picked up pace). Getting to the hut (a virtual CP) we discovered we had lost some time to the teams that went around and we deliberated what do to for the next section, which involved a similar choice. Given the darkness we figured being on track would be 2-3 times faster so took the longer option, which had a few less off track km and less climbing.
This proved to be the wrong choice as we later discovered the higher ridges on the direct route provided better going and the tracks were very slow. Hence our long option turned into a 16hr battle with scrub and some difficult navigation. We got it right mostly but it was slow and meant more time on our feet. CP20 proved particularly challenging and we were joined by a number of teams trying to find the right high point amongst what seemed like half a dozen options within the CP circle. Eventually we found the right one but it felt like we had taken the longest of all those around us and we had fallen further back in the field. Still, better to have the CP in the bag and be moving forward.
From here it was another short packraft down to the river’s entrance into the ocean this time. The rest of the trek was to follow the south coast track out to civilisation, with the only catch being there was over 50km of it! We walked to the CP at Westies Hut and had a good sleep there (we had gone through the night before with only a short nap) in the shelter of this hut. In the dark we realised the hut was underneath rock, but only realised how cool it was when we saw the race photos.
Refreshed the next morning we set out to break the back of the remaining km, with the main challenge being we had already eaten almost all the 2 days of food we had brought with us after spending our third night on the leg. We had a wrap each and a few bars and gels to get us through was we expected to be 20hrs of trekking and expected this to be draining – and it was. This section of the south coast is not well travelled and it was muddy and slow. We completed the loop back to the lodge where we finished the paddle but were very hungry and depleted when we got there early afternoon. Then we had a stroke of luck as a team who had with drawn was happy to give us some of their food which was sufficient to rejuvenate us and last till the end (thanks team Charging Moose from NZ).
We did not know what to expect with the track other than more of the same so were pleasantly surprised to find the next section followed an old rail line and was much faster going (perhaps 3 times faster!). We then broke out our new piece of race gear, the MP3 speaker pod. This kept us entertained and even dancing as we walked and made for great conversation for the next 6hrs, which got us almost to the end. We arrived at TA3 around midnight in good spirits, but totally shattered.
We were a little surprised when we were offered foot treatment etc (the organised has suggested that the medics would not help with wear and tear issues, just accute issues or injuries). We gathered that many of the teams before us were already suffering from trench foot and other ailments and we were pretty pleased to be in such good shape with the only treatment required for us being to lance a small blister caused by Josh’s gaiters.
Leg 4 (160km MTB)
This leg started with what we expected to be some tricky CPs in pine forests followed by a long road bash ending with some big climbs and a hike a bike section. We set off feeling good and with wet weather gear due to light rain. The forest proved as tricky as we expected with overgrown tracks being marked and good trails not marked. We got the first CP without too many dramas but getting across to the second proved more challenging with a circuit required to avoid a bush bash (which most teams did apparently) and some wrong turns on unmarked trails.
We did not loose too much time and were relieved to drop down into the valley and begin the 120km grind north.
It was a nice day and we enjoyed the scenery and hospitality of the locals. One of which had gone as far as setting up a BBQ to serve snags, cheese melts, coke and apples (and beer if you wanted).
We moved well but were passed by the Cheeky Weasel gang who were moving better on the long climb up to Borland Saddle (at 900m). We were enjoying the views despite the climb, but enjoyed to cold decent down the other side more even though we knew we had another long climb to close out the leg. We made our way along the undulating valley and up the next climb. All of this leg followed the power lines to Manapouri power station, but there was one section just before Percy’s Pass (1075m) which was very steep and had no road. We were pleased when we found a track, but less pleased when it turned out to be a climb a bike up steep rocky, bushy slopes. This took us 2hrs for the 1km of distance and we were all pretty shot at the top.
We dressed up for the cold ride down and set off. We were a little concerned to have Josh dissappear behind us early in the decent and even more concerned when he caught up and let us know it was because he had to stop to empty his stomach. We pressed on, but Josh’s troubles worsened and by the time we were at the TA he was really struggling. We tried to find a good place to sleep at the TA with limited options and ended up squeezing in the tent with Josh shooting off to the toilet block for most of the night.
The concerned deepened in the morning with Josh not recovering or able to hold any food down. We decided to wait out the day (it was a nice place inspite of the sandflies) and rested up hoping Josh would recover. By mid afternoon Josh had not recovered and we had to decide to wait out another night or grab the last ferry home. We reluctantly took the latter option based on news that the leading teams were taking 20+hrs for the next trek and that Josh was not improving at all. We did not feel we could safely take on the trek with Josh barely able to walk and with not enough food to wait out another day.
Not finishing is the worst feeling in Adventure Racing and we all felt deflated as we headed home and packed up our gear, Josh in particular. Our decision was validated when it took Josh another full day to return to eating and a few more to get his appetite back.
We had been in 12th place when we retired, which we were pretty happy with given the time we had given away on the long trek. Our feet were in good condition so we had hoped to improve further, but this was not to be. The local teams were all incredibly strong with the first international team finishing 13th.
We were very pleased that our friends in CBRAR came home in 16th and the second international team. They showed that moving consistently and finishing would provide a great result. We saw them a number of times on course, including encouraging them as they came through whilst we waited at TA4.
Races like take lots of effort to get to and do, not just for us but our family and friends. We really appreciate the support we have. We have also re-enforced to ourselves how lucky we are to be able to race together as a group of friends. We have a great mix of skills and personalities and get through most challenges with plenty of laughs and positive thinking. This means more to us than the race result so we are coming home satisfied with what we achieved in the circumstances (but we do have to knock the CBRAR guys off their perch!).
This race we were fortunate to be able to try out some gear from a new Australian outdoor clothing company, Aussie Grit. We have been very impressed with what we have seen so far. We wore the shirts for 5 days straight through all sorts of conditions and they were super comfortable. We are looking forward to working with them in the future.
We are also thankful for the many messages of encouragement we got both during and after the race. We love this sport for outdoors and the challenges, but the people are at the heart of it.
Our race video is here.
Till next time …..