…we climbed though the beech forest when disaster stuck. Fiona stepped into a now frenzy of angry wasps. Apparently as we moved up the mountain I had stepped unknowingly into the nest, Aaron pissed them off and Fiona took the brunt of it. We was stung at least 10 times. We all ran to a safe distance but the surprise and attack almost froze Fiona meaning more stings. Eventually she got away leaving her pack (which needed to be retrieved later).
She immediately started to show the impact of the stings and started going into anaphylaxis. Things were going bad fast. Her reaction was severe including vomiting, loss of bowel control (which needed cleaning up… welcome to AR… perhaps the most vulnerable you will ever be), swelling, hives and air constriction. We set off the PLB and sent a brief but to the point message on the tracker “Multi wasp stings send help”. This was a backup to the PLB which would be alerting Race HQ through the Rescue Coordination Center.
Back to the action. Fiona was in a bad state and getting worse. Obviously the priority was breathing. This was becoming increasing harder for her. She was unable to keep antihistamines down, vomiting them up. Was about to give them to her as a suppository. Also had by this time a cold Buff on her neck to reduce the constriction of the airway. She was in and out of consciousness and semi-lucid. The situation was now bad enough that I did ask either Aaron or Dave (I can’t remember) how there tag team CPR was. We decided to move her away from the potential of further stings for her and all of us and down too near a clearing next to a creek for the extraction. The short decent through the thick bush wasn’t easy, as we stepped over tree fall and holes. At one point Aaron smacked into a tree branch with his head from concentrating on foot placement. This caused a reaction that in turn meant that he accidentally head butted Fiona. Total accident and not funny at the time but in hind sight. By now about 30mins has passed… No chopper. UGH.
As a side story I had taken a Sat Phone to the race. Normally I wouldn’t do this. But right before the race both my parents were diagnosed with Covid. And being in there late 70s/early 80s obviously meant some potential problems. I had the phone to call Robin and get updates if needed. But was getting good comms from our wonderful support crew in the TA and hadn’t used it. But now time was ticking and where was the helo?
I fired up the phone and called Robin. She was of course surprised to her from me. But that quickly changed when I told her the nature of my call. My instructions were…. what happened, time, symptoms being presented, Fiona’s condition and this is legit. “Get that helo dispatched”…. I’ll leave the phone on, Bye..”. click. Soon after that the phone rings from Medical Staff at RaceHQ. As they started to talk I quickly interrupted them to ask if the helo was in the air. YES came the response. A low cloud ceiling was slowing the response.
Finally after about 65mins from the wasp sting we could hear it coming. On the ground the EMT’s quickly took over. By now Fiona was conscious but in no shape to continue. They quickly stabilized her and prepared to transport in the helo. Within minutes she was gone. It was a long 75-90mins but now she was in good hands. I think Aaron & Dave were assuming we would be leaving too. I didnt want to & anyways the option wasn’t there as the helo was already quite full with pilots & medics.
I suggested we regroup at the small hut across the creek. We sat in there with a lot of feelings, emotions and adrenalin, if only we could have given some of that to Fiona. We fired up the cooker had a dehy meals and discussed our options. I was keen to carry on. “We are here for an adventure… let’s go have one”. And being in the outdoors a lot it’s not a matter of if things go wrong but when & how you respond to them. We are perhaps only half way thru the race & there was a lot of beautiful scenery I wanted to see. I left the guys in the hut to chat & I went outside to call Robin back and tell her what happened. She had a message from Race Director wanting to know if we were going to carry on “Hell yeah” I told her. This was of course before the guys had agreed.
I walked back in the hut and they were in a lot better place about continuing now after a few minutes earlier talking about trekking out to a random road. NO WAY! We can do this if we re group and support each other, were my words. This was a game changer and would mean different dynamics as far as nav, motivation and supporting each other. Shortly that they announced they were ready to go and continue this Adventure. So we put packs on and headed up the same mountain we had just been on the beginning of earlier. I wanted to be at the saddle before it got darks as to see a better view of what we were in for and how many more ridge lines we need to descend, climb, descend, climb, descend, climb… There were are few.
We finally made it to Islands Hut around 230pm. We put up the tent and slept for about 2.5hrs or at least we were off our feet. I felt pretty beat up at that point and I know Dave & Aaron were. And verbalizing that A LOT!
We got up pre dawn, packed and left picking our way through sub alpine scrub that wasn’t friendly. We were with a few other teams and so had some good friendly banter. We had now spent 2 night out on this section and were hoping to only spend 2. But it was apparent we would be out for another night. Uh-oh… hope we have enough food. One of the cool things about GZ is sections where they give you route choice. And this was one of them. 57Km, 3700m elevation get from point A-B with a few CP’s the rest is up to you. And this section was certainly that. Some awesome high terrain in some awesome back country.
To be continued.
Descending from Pass Pass we were informed we were in 5th Place. That is both good & bad news. One reason I agreed to do this race was ‘go and have an adventure’. Racing with 2 rookies meant that our agreed objectives were to go have an adventure, finish the race and still be friends at the end. No mention of racing hard and racing for a podium place. Upon hearing we were in 5th, 2 team mates took off down the mountain. “Wait… time out… team. meeting”. The outcome of this meeting was, I doubt we will make the dark zone cut-off to get on the Dart Awa (forcing us to spend a night beside the river getting some well earned time off our feet.) And its Day#2 of a LONG race, there’s still lots of time for everything good and bad to go wrong. Lets calm down, cool our jets and keep moving at the speed we were.
We made our way down to the Dart Awa in about 8.5hrs and got there right as the Dark zone kicked in. A dark zone is created in AR to not allow team to paddle of moving water, mostly because it too dangerous. Paddling in the dark means you can’t see obstacles, rapids, drops etc making paddling way too dangerous. We were now forced to rest for the night. So we put up the tent ate some food, chatted with the TA staff and were asleep by 10pm. THE REST WAS GOOD, & gave our now hammered feet some air and a chance to dry out and recover.
The next day we were paddling right at the end of the Dark zone time of 730am. The day had dawned well and the river flow was pretty decent. This quickly changed as the NorWest Wind or should I say GALES kicked in making paddle visibility ver difficult. At times it felt like we would of had more visibility if we paddled at night. Eventually we made it to the lake to then battle the same wind now as a cross wind threatening to blow us towards Queenstown.
At the end of this stage we meet our support crew who we hadn’t seen in 2 days. They feed us & helped get us ready for a 70km MTB stage. I was feeling good and the breakfast burritos and coffee went down well. My energy was feeling good and was ready to power on with this adventure. Godzone is now a supported race with means you have a support crew. This is a change from the previous GZ’s I’ve done where you are basically on your own in a TA and race volunteers don’t offer any support only in moving your gear bins. So GZ 2022 with support was like heaven for me. Long may it last.
Onto the MTB we quickly left Glenorchy, about 2hrs in I suffered a puncture. It shouldn’t have been happened because I was running tubeless but the sealant wasn’t working so we had to replace with a tube. The ride down the side of Lake Wakatipu was spectacular with rideable 4WD & single track. We then turned away from the lake front & headed towards the Mavora Lakes area. We made the next TA in good time to swap MTBs for what was going to be the hardest part of the race. 54Km & 3700m of elevation. And will lots of route choice. A good adventure race is good that has sections where you have to get from point A to B and how you get then is up to you. So you can play it safe or take gambles, go high or stay go, minimal bush whacking or lots of it. It mostly comes down to your navigational skills.
We left the TA right on darkness to soon be great by light rain. We past a team struggling to find a checkpoint and pushed on to the next CP at Lincoln Hut. By the time we arrived here it was raining & 2am. the hut was small and we were hoping to sleep in there. unfortunately there was already a team in there. So we had to put up a tent and sleep for about 3hours in difficult conditions. My feet weren’t in great shape here and so Fiona & I took some time to tend to them with medicated foot powder before going to sleep. They had all the signs of Trench Foot… YIKES!!!
After a few hours of sleep we were getting ready to go. It was dark, cold and rainy. And my feel weren’t cooperating, More foot powder and some stepping tape set me up well. And so off we set again. This time a big uphill bushwhack to the Ridgeline which was even colder, windier and clogged in with cloud. We navigated well through here, but changed plans and descended into a valley as staying high was a bit treacherous in the conditions and line of sight hard with some steep drop off, cliffs, bluffs and tricky lines to follow. We descended to Upper Windley Hut after a long downhill bushwhack. Stopped at the hut to make a dehydrated meal and rebuild some energy. We started early that morning it was now 5pm.
My feel we’re feeling good, and refuelled we let the hut to climb another bush clad mountainside (one of 3 more planned before we thinking about sleep. We climbed through thick Beech forest when disaster struck…
This years GZ wasn’t on my radar, with reflections from GZ Chapter 8-Canterbury in 2020 being my last. However last year when I was approached about racing with 2 rookies and some financial aid to pay the sizable entry fee… how could I resist.
I quickly reframed my outcomes for this GZ which was pitched as a massive traverse across the South Island if NZ. I settled on helping a new team with 2 rookies and ultimately going on a 7-8 day adventure. I took competition out of my vocabulary and therefore eliminating the possibility for disappointment. In addition to this, GZ is ALWAYS about the team and the team only. Sure the finish line is the ultimate goal but the teamwork that goes into that time is none like you have experienced before. They say AR is like a years worth of learning squeezed into 1 week. I believe that statement. What happens between the start and finish is the most important, and most of that is about the team.
We finally got maps and start times less than 24hrs before the race. We knew we would be starting in iconic Milford Sound (the start of GZ Chapter 1). The finish line location was also a secret until the time. All this secrecy wasn’t unusual for GZ as it adds to the anticipation and prevents teams from training ‘on the course’ and gaining some advantage.
Were were scheduled to start at 945am on Friday. We had spent the previous night in Te Anau and driven the 90mins to the start line. With the iconic Mitre Peak in the background, Stage 1 started with a short 3km paddle in 2 person rafts around to Deepwater Cove. Here we meet our support crew in the Transition Area (TA- Rod, Tracy, Amber) who got us onto our MTB’s for the 42km ride up and out of the Milford basin through the Homer Tunnel (not many people get to do that) and then down and on the Hollyford Road on the other side. After 42km we TA’d back into rafts to paddle 17km down the beautiful and remote Hollyford Away (River). This included a long-ish portage that took a lot of energy out of us. My rookie team mates had studies maps and declared that the 1st few stages looked simple enough. Unfortunately after 4 GZ’s I have come to know what I call the GZ Surprise. Where simple looking stages have some challenging, misery inducing part that adds to the adventure. Remember its always about the adventure and the team.
We finally made it to Huddle Falls Hut on the Hollyford Track. Here we deflated our rafts and emptied our dry bags of pack etc to begin the 30km +1700m elevation trek that would take us to the Dart Awa(River). That sounds simple enough…hmmmm. Our packs were heavy with PFD’s, helmets and wet wetsuits, and all our other food and mandatory gear. We walked the 1st few km’s on the Hollyford Track/trail then had to find a way into the Middle Falls Valley. No tracks, trails or markers it was straight old school bush whacking.
IT WAS TOUGH!!!! it was later afternoon early evening and we went straight up through some very difficult terrain that was on a mountainside, hard to see in the now dark night (with headlamps of course). For about 6hrs we were only traveling at about 4000m/hour. Imagine taking 1hr to walk 1 lap of an athletic track. We were following the 400m contour line, and finally made it to the river where around 230am we found some flat ground to put up the tent and sleep for about 3hrs. We heard stories of many teams getting lost in here and finding the going even slower.
Upon day break we were soon above the tree line and trekking nicely along the upper river valley. Off to our right was Park Pass where we needed to be going over to access another valley leading to the Dart Awa (River). Again more bush whacking required but a lot steeper. Finally we topped out above the bush into some amazing views of the surrounding peaks and ‘that valley’ below.
This is not a New Years Resolution, however I do need and want to get back to this. I run my mouth enough that I should be able to put some of these ideas down on here. Perhaps a good place to start is as I sit here on New Years Eve in front of a computer (yup welcome to having 2 kids under 5). Don’t worry not complaining at all. But As Robin & I unpack 2010 to 2019 its been quite a decade. Here is some of it in bullet form. And to think that as I was pruning a hedge on our street the other day I meet a woman who lives a few doors down and has lived there for 40+ years. So, here goes and here’s to seeing me running my mouth more on here
We had a 2 year ‘itch’ going on for a while there. USA… NZ… USA… NZ. Past that in September this year. Not going anywhere anytime soon.
We now live across the street from a river, mins from the hills for running and mountain biking. The beach is 15mins away. My parents less than 3 mins drive. Moana will start school next year and she will be able to bike. I can mow the lawn in less than 10mins.
My job isn’t perfect… who’s is. We’ve still got challenges… who hasn’t… But I have food, shelter, water, a family I love & that I know loves me
“Unless you seek you can never find”
Thanks Be To God
Over 16 years of preparing and leading summer staff for the pressure cooker environment of American summer camps has revealed to me a few anecdotal observations of the mental and emotional make-up of youth and young adults. My “first summer” in the late 90’s with this aforementioned age group had the initial welcoming introductions, pleasant greetings and greeting of others with the figurative high outer wall of nicety and tactfulness. This was contrasted with a low inner wall that once one made it past the high outer wall the candor and honesty flowed. This high outer wall of mental and emotional strength included a ‘I have it all together…’ to reveal a low inner wall of ‘I don’t really have it altogether’ revelation and here’s who I really am.
Conversely recently I have witnessed a flipping of this. Where the outer wall in now VERY LOW. “Hi my name is …. and I have depression or bipolar or….”. Boom straight out there, no warning, no concern or care for who hears it, who doesn’t want to hear it, you are gonna hear it whether you like it or not. And forget the inner wall, there’s no need for it anymore.
What has changed? Why has this generation developed an outrageous contempt for sensitivity or tact to cut straight to the “new definition” of who they are. Something previous generations would never had disclosed. Now almost to the point of wearing it as a badge of honor.
I would argue and suggest that we in the church are partially responsible for this new honesty. But not in a something to be celebrated kind of way. These are church youth & young adults who were raised in the church, still attend church, have articulated a statement of faith, prayed, participated (even lead) bible studies, sung in church and more but yet were boldly disclosing some needs that the church was not responding too. Forget what those who are unchurched or not of faith were disclosing. All to say “I am drowning in my mental health and don’t know where to turn”. Or perhaps put another way. The new low outer wall of introductions is a desperate cry for help.
The point is that issues of mental health and suicide are all around, it’s almost like the new sexy term to refer to oneself with… almost like saying you only eat gluten free or organic. Youth and young adults in and outside the church are disclosing boldly and unashamedly to whomever will hear the state of their mental health. Not because they are trying to one up the next person or extract pity, but because they are hurting, in pain and are losing hope and meaningful avenues for help. If we cannot provide for those within the church, for our own youth, we can’t even begin to imagine where to start for unchurched youth. What will we do? How much more shockingly normalized honesty do we need to hear?
Its been a few weeks coming, not out of deep thought or anything, just distractions, laziness and a reluctance to write it.
The last chapter ended like this…
“And so it was over. But not all the feelings that needed to be addressed and spoken about.
That my friends will be talked about in the next and last installment. Part 9 the final chapter. The chapter that doesn’t have any more race happenings or details to share. But more the part that dives into the top 2 inches and shed some light on what went down several days earlier when we walked away from the race and short-coursed ourselves.”
Yes we walked away from a big race. The decision to short course ourselves was a team decision, however the reality was it was one person who didn’t feel like they could continue and because of that the rest of the team had to follow suit.
And that person was…ME! Yes Paul Timothy Humphreys. Yes folks that person who felt as though they couldn’t continued was yours truly. You might read and think so what big deal move on Paul. And thats true and so I will, end of blog…
But I do have to process this and have done a lot of that since mid March.
For me to quit a race is very uncommon. I have certainly not ended races before for lots of reasons… injury, missed time cut-off’s, weather, other team mates…. but for me…never. I felt like I was more prepared for this race than I have ever been. Even had time to treat, doctor -up and harden up my feet in anticipation of the race. Had done long sessions, had done long sessions in some god-awful weather (even got blown off my bike one night at 2am). And then BOOM “Hey team, I don’t think I can continue!”
I’m still not there as far as completely processing it, probably never will be. And one might say. Move on, you had some failure its happens to us all. And I know that and know it well. But for me to quit and walk away or take the easy way home as it might be in this race is not me.
I definitely know about failure but I know failure of this kind is unusual to me and that’s why I want to and need to explore it more.
This is also hard for me to write about this in a public platform. And not because I am afraid of “what people might say” or destroy/ lessen any perceptions people might have. I couldn’t care less. But more so how did I get to that place in the race where I wanted to quit and walk away when it’s not in my nature to do so. This was Fiordland for goodness sakes, one of the last truly wild places left in the world.
My personality, spirituality, faith is very much made up by my experiences in the outdoors. And the harder the better. Therefore GodZone sounds like a perfect scenario right? Right but….
Therefore that is why this has been hard fo me to process not to mention a feeling letting 3 other people down.
That will take time and without rattling off the cheesy cliches of “everything happens for the reason” or “you’ll get it next time”. I do not and will not hang on to those. I am a realist and life isn’t always the way you want it. And its often the times that life goes not the way you want it that end up being more meaningful.
So the journey continues. That said GodZone 2019, Chapter 8 has just been announced and its here in Canterbury… GULP. I was considering volunteering next year and giving back to the race but now…
Yup thats it, all the processing I want to do for now. I’m nothing special just passionately curious.
And so end with the 2 quotes on my bio page at the top. These are more true right now than ever.
“I have no special talents I’m only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein.
“True adventure doesn’t begin until things start to go wrong.” Yvon Chouinard.
The Rowallen Forest was this combination of commercial forestry and native bush and was littered with roads, trails and pathways. And of course the map didn’t match up reality and reality didn’t match with the map. Being a commercial forest in places there were roads created over time and roads abandoned over time. It wasn’t unusual to be biking along and have a road totally stop or disappear into thick bush or scrub. And in the dark it only added to the frustration. Several CP’s were out & back rides, just to add to the “enjoyment” and it was super muddy in places. There were a few hike-a-bikes in places and then times when we were staring at a map with 2 or 3 other teams trying figure where “that road” is on the map, and “why dosen’t this road keep going like on the map.”
Pete’s navigation through here was outstanding and while slow in places to ensure accuracy we were out of the forrest around dawn the next morning after going in right around sunset the night before. I tell you this because about 36hrs after we had finished we were down at the finished line hanging out with other teams and family and friends and we saw one of the teams we left T3 with into the Rowallen Forest come into the finish line. We were talking with the female in the team and she said they were in the Rowallen Forest for over 24hrs. They got all turned around and lost. Took some really decent sleep to clear their head and start again at sunrise. GLUP.
We did sleep for about 45mins in the forest just before dawn. We only had 1 more CP to get at that point and so lay down in a ditch to sleep until rain falling on our faces woke us.
The hardest (or most painful part) of the forest was on the exit as we flew down a long downhill section out to the road when Craig came off his bike and was scraped up a bit. He soon recovered for us to get to the road and begin peddling the long ride to Manapouri. Not before stopping at some very hospitable farmers shearing shed where we were greeted with water, some food and even the radio was on. There was random scatterings of opened bales to sleep on if so desired. Having just napped and with the chance of other teams coming in we pushed on.
This road was long and tiring and it was raining hard and we were biking into a headwind. Lucy was quite sleepy here and literally rode her bike off the road into a small ditch after falling asleep. No harm done though. As we passed by farm after farm the support from passing vehicles was enormous. We stopped at one point as pulled into a roadside school bus stop to escape the rain for a bit and share some food. We were quickly visited by the local farmer and owner of the rickety bus stop. He had the upmost time and respect for us, offering to have us “come up to the house” for some food, warm clothes and even sleep if we wanted. We politely declined and knew we must be on our way. As we left one of our team mates questioned if he was legit. I was quick to respond and inform him… yes the Southland hospitality would have been for real and wouldn’t have been extended if it wasn’t genuine. We might have had swedes and turnips in every-way you could imagine but it would have been genuine.
We biked over a big pass and then finally saw Lake Manapouri off in the distance. The rain had stopped and so it was nice to coast downhill without feeling too cold. As we rode into Manapouri we passed the road where the house we were staying at was on. Pete & I joked about going there and getting some of his favorite gear that had finally arrived and was sitting on the door step. We did however hit the local cafe in Manapouri and felt like we ordered one of everything. We were hungry for real food, stinky dirty and tired. We got back on our bikes for the short ride to the next TA where we said goodbye to our bikes for the last time and prepared for the last 2 sections of trekking and paddling to the finish line.
We left the TA is relatively quick time and trekked up river left of the river connecting Lakes Te Anau & Manapouri which 5 days earlier we had paddled down. We crossed the bridge and left the comfort of a hiking trail to begin a steep uphill bush whack towards a Ridgeline and more CP’s. After some time I noticed there was a bit of a worn path, it was goin in the right direction so we stayed on it. It got better and better meaning our travel was quite quick. We had discovered a animal trap line that park staff and volunteers regularly travel on to reset traps for catching rats, stoats , possums and other introduced mammals that are literally KILLING our bird life.
At this point I would love to tell you that the bird life in this part of Fiordland NP was amazing, but it wasn’t. The bush was for the most part silent apart from Fantails & Bellbirds…. sad.
We followed the trap lines and each time they led us to another CP. I think the race directors wanted us to find these for without the connivence of them the bush was thick. We continued to trek along the Ridgeline in the now early evening light hoping to get off this section to the lake before dark. That was not to be. We still had 1 CP before the lake and of course it was the most difficult to find. However after sometime we did find it and made our way through the bush to the famous Kepler Walking Track to descend to the lake. Not before I fell flat on my face into a small creek and got soaked and scratched up my nose. I had just managed to get my feet dry from being out of the water for a extended period of time too.
We arrived at the lake I’m guessing around midnight Monday and loaded into the Kayaks and paddled off into the night. The race volunteer there allowed me to borrow her phone so I could call Robin to see if she would be at the finish line…. no answer. So we paddled off towards the finish line not knowing if family would be there.
We followed the shortest route to a mandatory way-point then crossed the lake to the finish line. Where the bright lights could be seen. This was familiar territory to me. I had spent over 2 weeks here in January with my job running camps and had paddle this very section of the lake late one night one my own at about 2am. Who would have thought, huh.
As we approached the finished line our celebrations were mixed and subdued. We were finally finished 5 days later. But had short-changed ourselves. Not a nice feeling to have when crossing the line and people are excited to see you and celebrating.
The good thing was that Robin WAS THERE. She is one smart (& Hot) woman. She had figured out by the tracker where we were and what time we would arrive. And there she was cheering and hollering at us at 1am or something as we approached the beach. Of course I heard her before I saw her. That was a highlight. We exited our boats and walked the short distance to the finish line. There we were handed a beer & and meat pie. That part was good too.
And so it was over. But not all the feelings that needed to be addressed and spoken about.
That my friends will be talked about in the next and last installment. Part 9 the final chapter. The chapter that doesn’t have any more race happenings or details to share. But more the part that dives into the top 2 inches and shed some light on what went down several days earlier when we walked away from the race and short-coursed ourselves.
There were multiple teams coming and going, which is a good sign one is in the right area. However as a team you never want to give away the exact location of a CP. By this point the light was fading and while other teams were around you could be right next to it not know. Every point in AR is plotted on the map and is accompanied with a written clue listed in the race notes. CP17 had “20m north or stream confluence” or something similar to that.
Being Fiordland, everything is wet, with thick bush and low visibility therefore the whole landscape looks like a stream or bog…. NOT HELPFUL. We now had our headlamps on and were trying to find stream coming into the main stream to then go 20m north from there. Mix this in with other teams coming and going. Some banter going on with other teams. Then keeping a watchful eye on them, making sure they don’t suddenly disappear a sure sign they have found it and leaving the area. But at the same time not playing follow the leader because they only know as much as you. Add to that we hadn’t slept in close to 24hrs.
For the life of us we couldn’t find 17. We were feeling turned around and even unable to ascertain where we were at that point in time. With thick bush and now post sunset, the river had so many twists and turns that left us thoroughly confused.
After a team meeting we decided to leave the area, go get some sleep and come back in the morning and re-attack. So reluctantly we left there totally demoralized and dejected. We walked/bush whacked back to the trail and back to the hut way back where we had got off the river all the way back around 2or3pm earlier that day. We arrived back at the hut around 2am and therefore had spent about 10-12hrs looking for this one CP.
Not a good feeling!
We slept uncomfortably in the hut with lots of distractions of other team coming and going for about 3hrs. We awoke to be the only team left in the hut and decided to have another team meeting. There was not a consensus of thoughts and feelings about what we should do. We still had a long way to go on this section. Probably about another 48-60hrs left on this section of some very difficult terrain.
This is where it got awkward and difficult, because you always have to go with what the majority decision is for the team. Some wanted to continue others wanted to “Short-Course” ourselves. This would immediately put us essentially out of the race and we would be continuing only as “Unofficial”. This would be a very concrete decision and from which we wouldn’t be able to change. We were effectively skipping about 100km of this trek/pack-raft section to go directly to TA3.
What do you think this did to the morale of the team? There wasn’t a good feeling. While we had daylight and would be able to go back to the area where CP17 was and should have found it relatively quickly and then move on with the rest of the race being still Full Course. This was not the feeling.
I should say at this point for the sake of the recounting this race as a race report there will be more written on this but only in the last chapter, so save your opinions & judgements til then… Keep you reading and interested.
Meanwhile, we decided to pack our stuff and head towards TA3. This still meant a 40+km trek along the Coastal Track to the east of us. This was an all day trek which was done in beautiful sunny weather.
We arrived at TA3 early evening to be eagerly welcomed by a large TA of lots of race volunteers. This didn’t help us feel any better knowing that their applause was not warranted as we had just skipped a big chunk of the course and hardly deserved considering the “choice” we had made. As we punched the CP at the TA we were greeted by race officials who told us they were going to hold us there while the legit leading team came through and we could potentially be there for 36hrs… GULP. That just made us feel worse. Effectively we had arrived there too early and even though now we would be sent of a slightly different course than the full course teams they weren’t prepared to have a short course team arrive there so early.
And so we sat… well and got some well needed sleep. While we didn’t seep well that night we did get some good rest. The next morning saw the leading team (full course) come through. It was hard to watch this and I personally didn’t really hang around to see. We did spend our time in the TA cleaning our bikes and getting them ready for the time when we would be allowed to leave.
After talking with Adam (Race Director) we were told we would be allowed to leave at 6pm. Making it about 22hrs that we had spent in that TA. By this time about 6 or 7 full course teams had come through and about 4 teams that had short coursed themselves with us where all eager to leave by that by 6pm time.
This all meant that now we would be on a different course and that included an approximately 180km MTB ride to Lake Manapouri, we would not get to complete some of the other highlights of the course including Percy Pass (MTB), paddle the western part of Lake Manapouri, trek over the Kepler Mountains and finally a 3?km paddle to the finish line. We would get to MTB the Rowallan Forest, which was the first challenge as we left TA3. This proved to be more difficult than it looked and in the dark presented a lot of challenges. Challenges that we encountered with numerous other teams too. We still had over 24hrs of racing left to complete.
As we left that TA we at least had full bellies, but that combine with full packs meant I was full of not being happy. For some reason as we made our way down to Lake Hauroko I was not doing well mentally. This isn’t uncommon in AR as there are always moments when a person in tired, sleepy, unhappy, in pain, feeling great, no energy, lots of energy…. However I was in a bad place. Thankfully my team mates gave me my space with about 100m separation as we fast walked down the road.
I was really zoning out and taking in the massive trees either side of the road and and beautiful untouched Fiordland bush. The birds, the forrest the density of it all were slowly working their magic on me and bringing me back around. We arrived at the lake after walking for I’m guessing about an hour. There were 3 or 4 other teams there, all inflating their pack rafts to begin the paddle across and down this long lake. I do remember one team there patching their raft that somehow had got a hole in it.
We pushed off and were essentially heading west in the early morning. It was calm, cloudy and very still an amazing Saturday morning to be out on the lake.
Part of my funk was somehow I had got into my head that the 1st cutoff was to be out of TA 3 by Monday @ 5pm. Which wasn’t the case. We knew this section was going to take at least 70-80hrs and by my math Saturday morning to Monday at 5pm was way less than time than what we had estimated for this section and therefore we would get to TA3 after 5pm Monday. And so in my head it made me think that this was all pointless. However Peter put me straight and the reality was to be out of the TA we had just left my Monday @ 5pm. So we were well ahead of the time schedule.
We turned south on the lake and continued paddling to the southern end where the lake emptied into Wairarahiri River, which flowed all the way to the sea. The breeze picked up for a while and we had a few heavy downpours of rain. I recall in the pre race meeting them saying that on some of the lakes we would be on that if the wind got up…. don’t continue or try to paddle. And looking around I figured this was one of those lakes. It was huge and being surrounded by ALL bush made one feel really small. Not to mention Hauroko is the deepest lake in NZ.
Before heading down the Wairaurahiri River we got a checkout at a hiking hut near the river mouth. While the river didn’t sneak up on us, I sorta did too. We exited the lake into the river and paddled around a corner and boom we were all of a sudden into whitewater. And to save words… that was what it was like for the next 3hours. No joke. Just one wave train or rapid after another and while we were told it would be Class II there were definitely 2 or 3 that felt more than a Class II.
Our fun intensified after about the 2nd or 3rd rapid when we were both ejected out of the raft. We managed to get it to the side and we were about to climb in and Pete got swept down stream and was gone. He still had his paddle. So there I was standing on the side of the river, Craig & Lucy go flying by I tell them to look out for Pete. So jump in and position myself at the back of the raft b/c up till them I was at the front and a-way-we-go. Well a-way-me-go. So here I am piloting this pack raft down stream looking out for a swimmer (Peter) and where the hell did Craig and Lucy go. I come around a corner having successfully navigated multiple rapids by now to sell the 3 of them on River Right waiting for me. I pull over. Pete tells me that he’s not sure why he was sitting at the back trying to navigate that thing when I had more history with kayaks/rafts etc. So the switch was permanent and away we went again as a team.
We then were in a white knuckle ride essentially all the way to the ocean. The rain set in at times but we were already wet. And there were several tricky rapids and strainers to avoid or pay attention too.
We finally made it to a hut on River Left, which we almost shot right past. paddling hard to make the take-out. climbing up a bank we then proceeded to get out of wetsuits to strap even more on our packs and trek a bazillion km’s. We got to Waitutu Lodge late afternoon where we were able to ditch the wetsuits for this section and at least travel a little lighter. We left their in pretty good sprits. Buoyed on by the amazing birdlife we were encountering as we trekked through the bush. I got to see a kaka and the amazing reddish color under it wings and at least heard a kakariki, I was loving this.
The trail was super muddy and you were resigned to this being actually the best mode of travel, knowing what was coming up. This was CP17. We travelled west along the trail, parallel to the ocean, CP17 was on a creek that crossed the trail at approximately 45 degree from Southwest to Northeast. The question was do we trek to the creek and trail intersection or save time and just bush whack towards the creek, cut off the corner and then follow the creek upstream to CP17, easy right.
The bush in there was soooooo thick not like anything I had seen before However as we move more up stream we were finding beaten paths or elehpants trails all heading in the right direction towards CP17. This was all going down around pre sunset.
Then things went wrong, bad, ugly.
As mentioned before sometimes getting to the start line is a major achievement. And this year was an exceptional one for that. In fact some of the challenges we had didn’t resolve themselves till after the race and started and by then it was too late.
Peter arrived on the Monday evening from the USA a little delayed but nothing scary. We drove to Timaru to break up the drive to Te Anau. Unfortunately his stuff didn’t make it with him and was lost in transit. No problem its only Monday. We will get it before the race starts on Thursday.
2 items were missing. A bike box (kinda important for doing an adventure race) and big duffle bag with the majority of his race gear. Not bike lights or headlamps though.
As we drove to Te Anau on the Tuesday we received confirmation that the bike box had been located and actually would be in Te Anau before we would arrive later that afternoon. Thats not bad service. However the duffle bag was AWOL.
And this is where the fun and game began. I decided to take on this project and deal with “Customer No Service” at Air NZ in part b/c I had working phone and could navigate this issue here in NZ a little better And it was one less thing for him to stress over along with getting over jet lag.
By the end of Tuesday we had heard that they had located it… lies and it was on its way to us Wednesday…. Lies. When it didnt show up Wednesday lunchtime I called again. Still being polite but to the point and going up the chain. The issue was they were showing the duffle had been delivered and they were now off the hook. The reality was the bike box had been delivered. Some how the tags or tracking numbers on 2 missing items had got switched and so they were showing a completed case, resolved and closed. It got to a point where I had to get the person on the other end to draw pictures with a crayon and count 1+1=2. And 2-1=1, which means 1 item is still outstanding. In fact I think I did do that at one point. I had gone so far up the chain at this point I was able to call John Key, now Air NZ board member but he was busy practicing his short game for President Obama’s recently completed trip here.
When they finally gone the picture some more time passed and it was finally located. In the meantime though we were now at Wednesday late afternoon and Peter had none of his personal race clothing etc. We were able to give him the rest of ours, pass the gear inspection. Oh and thankfully the other pack-raft we were using was in his bike box or else we would have been up the creek without a paddle and a raft. BTW… we found a friend in Te Anau who had an extra paddle. But in the meantime Pete had to go into Te Anau and ‘go nuts’ at the only outdoor store and spend up… GULP. While the rest of us hustled around town to try and track down various pieces of gear and clothing to use.
Needless to say this put us under the pump quite a bit. With gear drops and final packing we didn’t get to bed as early as we wanted on the night before the race. No excuses, just saying.
Race day dawned….. vomit. lets not start that way. We drove to the start line. Parked the truck and as we were about to walk over to the start line. I receive a call as I go to turn off my phone and its Air NZ telling me that they have Pete’s duffle and its in Christchurch and they are working their hardest to get it down to Te Anau ASAP. “We will have it to you sir by late morning”. Like that was supposed to impress me. I responded. “Well sir, too late. last night would have been ok, but today is too late. Take your time, we won’t need it or see it for another 7-10days, have a nice day.”
In the next post I will pick up the race reporting. haha keep you hanging.