So Close Yet…

Before we slept we got all our equipment ready for the paddle down the Hurunui River. This was going to be around 100Km and in the race briefing they told us that there were “Dark Zones” which means that we could not be on the river between certain hours because it was moving. In fact there were some quite big rapids to navigate.

Part of getting our gear together included inflating 2 rubber 2-person rafts or duckies as they are called. They are self bailing so have holes in the bottom and therefore your feet are sitting in cold water all day. I have paddled the Hurunui however it was about 15 years ago. So some part looked familar.

We woke at around 530am after a rough few hours of sleep to the sounds of people snoring and other teams coming in throughout the night. It was nice to have a few hours nap and get up and be ready to go. Running around getting gear together and even just moving after being at it for a few days with little sleep in more than a chore. Before getting on the water i checked in on the status of a replacement bike for Scott’s broken frame. They informed me that they put a request out on the race Facebook page and were inundated with offers. I told them to choose for us, they agreed and reassured me that it would meet us at the other end of the paddle where we would once again get on our bikes for the 2nd last MTB section.

Us and several teams got on the water right at 700am while a few other teams were messing around with gear. Some experience paying off there on our part. We were quickly into the rapids and they were coming thick and fast. The water while really cold felt good as a wake-up and somewhat cleansing after days of grimy buildup.

A few rapids were really tricky and pushed our skills. I was with Michelle as i had spent the most time in a boat like this. After some time the river opened up into a flat section where the river braided and required that one choose the right channel or risk running aground and having to drag the boat over river banks and in places sharp stones. We made it through here quite well.

Traveling down a river like this is really easy and having no CP’s to collect it was a straight forward paddle. I did know where we were from previous experience and couldn’t help but think that we were making good time and might make it through in one day and not get caught in the dark zone that night. In the race meeting they told us that almost every team would get caught in the dark zone and be prepared to camp out on the side of the river. This was looking like it wouldn’t happen to us.

We made it past the town of Hurunui which was also a cut off for the slower teams to make it past there by 100pm Thursday. We were through here 24hrs before the cut off.

But this is when we had another disaster. As we continued to make our way down the river the current can sometimes take you close by a river bank or small island. One has to be careful to not get caught in the limbs and potentially dangerous obstacles. Pete & Scott got close on one such occasion with Scott using his paddle to push off the bank. It got lodged in the soft earth or similar and ended up stuck. Of course they floated past and as he tried to remove it the paddle would not move and upon his body coming up against it the paddle snapped! Right were the shaft molded into the paddle blade (these were single blade paddles).

Yup, this was bad. It all happened very quickly and Michelle and i were behind them (away from the dangerous banks) and witnessed the whole thing. We pulled over to assess the damage… it was bad, and a real game changer. What were we going to do. Immediately one has visions again of ‘thats it, the race is over for us, we are done.’ However once again adventure racing teaches one so many lessons about life and if nothing else how to be resourceful.

As we looked at the paddle shaft on the bank the paddle blade was still lodged in the bank. I made the choice to swim out into the swift current to the small island hopefully retrieve the paddle blade. This was not easy and fraught with danger. The current was fast and there were lot of underwater obstacles that i needed to avoid. But we had no other choice. So i went for it… successfully grabbed it as i floated by on my back, feet pointing down stream. When i swam back to where Scott, Michelle & Peter were Scott has somehow magically found a piece of tree limb that amazingly almost perfectly fitted into the hole at the end of the paddle blade. No joke it was like a perfect fit and to find this particular piece of tree right there almost custom made was incredible. We made a few minor modifications and soon were underway with this modified “paddle”.

As the day wore on we continued to make good time, but the day was getting short and the 830pm dark zone was fast approaching. We were getting closer and closer to the river mouth and the take out. Make this would be huge because we would be able to then continue on our bikes and not lose time on the teams 1-2hours ahead of us.

We could see the river mouth off in the distance, and were really starting to paddle like crazy to try and make it before 830pm. Quite tired but determined.

Pushing really hard.

We didn’t make it, it was at about 820pm i called it and said we aren’t going to make it, we might as well pull off here and make camp for the night. So agonizingly close. I have since heard that Robin and other family and friends following us online were almost yelling the online tracking willing us on to make the cut off.

But we didn’t make it. So set up camp, ate, got inside our sleeping bags and tent and sleep.

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