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.