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GodZone Adventure Race 2012 – Race Report

Posted by on 25 April, 2012
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I’m not sure where to start this report. I guess I have to go back to December 2011 a month after myself and Karen got engaged. We were busy with wedding arrangements and planning our honeymoon. The destination for the honeymoon was always going to be New Zealand. It just turned out that the GodZone Adventure Race fell around the same time. We both agreed that the return of Adventure Racing to New Zealand was too good to miss. We still needed to find a team. I contacted the race organisers and posted on a number of race forums in NZ. Eventually we were contacted by two Kiwi’s (Wendy Riach and Ian Huntsman). Both experienced multi sporters and excellent paddlers they didn’t want the opportunity to pass. It would be Wendy and Ian’s first attempt at a multi day expedition lenght adventure race. We knew it was gamble entering such a race as complete stangers but we were all clear on our goals for the race – to have fun and finish.

Friday
After two weeks of our honeymoon in NZ we finally arrived in Queenstown the Friday before the race. After months of emailing it was great to finally meet Ian and Wendy. Its fair to see we hit it off immediately and we were on the same wavelenght. That night we discussed important topics like race food, sleep strategy and race gear. Myself and Karen learned we would require a trip to the MacPac shop to pick up some gaiters. We’d never done a race before that required gaiters!

Saturday
Saturday morning we went to race HQ at the school in Queenstown. There was a real buzz of activity. All the top teams were there Seagate, Subway, Blackheart… I was pretty awe struck when we joined Seagate for a demonstration of the Yellow Brick GPS tracking device we would be carrying during the course of the race. We collected our race bibs, completed the mandatory gear check before having our team photo taken. At this point we received a sheet of paper outlining the overall course. We wouldn’t receive the race maps until late Sunday afternoon en route to the overnight camp before the race. The course was made up of 11 stages. Each team had 4 gear boxes labelled A,B, C, D and we would have access to different boxes at the end of each stage. Some boxes we would see many times, others only once. We would have access to our bike boxes at the start and end of each bike stage. We could also store additional gear/food in the hold of our kayaks. It was going to be an interesting race logistically.

Before leaving registration we got our first look at the kayaks for the event. These were brand new kayaks build specifically for Adventure Racing and this would be the first time they would be used. They were slightly narrower than what myself and Karen were use to. Ian and Wendy were more use to racing on the edge of a razor blade so they were a good deal wider than they;re usual boats. We also got a look at the canoe’s we would be using.

We picked up some fresh bread and other food items before returning to base for the rest of the day. After digesting the race plan we set about packing gear and food into each of the boxes. It was slow and deliberate process to ensure everything was in its rigth place. Any mistakes made at this stage could cost us dear during the race. As the day progressed everyone had a clear picture of what lay ahead. It was largely a trekking race. The stages were as follows:

Stage 1 Kayak “Milford Sound” – 15km
Stage 2 Bike “Milford Road ” – 49km
Stage 3 Canoe “Eglinton River” – 36km
Stage 4 Trek “Dunton Range” – 54km
Stage 5 Bike “Oreti Cromel” – 81km
Stage 6 Trek “Eyre Mountains” – 48km
Stage 7 Canoe “Mavora Lakes” – Stage Cancelled
Stage 8 Bike “Thomson Mountains” – 129km
Stage 9 Trek “Earnslaw Burn” – 24km
Stage 10 Bike “Rees Valley” – 21km
Stage 11 Kayak “Lake Wakatipu” – 46km

WILD RACERS – Full course fly through from NothinButShorts International on Vimeo.

The real “meat” of the race lay in stages 4, 5 and 6. Stage 4 was estimated to take anything between 17:00 – 24:00 hours. Stage 6 estimated to be 22:00 hours. Stages 1,2,3 were nothing more than a sprint out the gate for the top teams, stage 4 would shape the leaderboard and the rest of the stages would test each team differently according to ability, fatigue, injury and mental toughness.

Sunday
While the race was based in Queenstown, the actual start line was at a secret location which we would spend most of Sunday being bused to. We handed in our bike and gear boxes in the morning before boarding the bus. We still hadn’t received any maps. We all presumed the race start would be somewhere in the magnificent Milford Sound. Without the maps we were free to kick back, enjoy the journey and chat to the other teams. It was a nice relaxed atmosphere (no sign of “the Bull”). We stopped off in Te Anu for some lunch where we were I had the pleasure of chatting to Nathan Faave as we queued in a pie shop waiting for lunch.

WILD RACERS – GODZone Pre-Race Journey from NothinButShorts International on Vimeo.

At 4pm during a short stop we received the maps and returned to bus. The race start was indeed Milford Sound. Before reaching the overnight camp we stopped off to assemble our bikes in preparation for Stage 2. We were given 30 minutes to do this. It was getting dark when we reached the overnight camp but there was still enough light to take in the magnificent surroundings. The remoteness of the race start meant teams needed to be self sufficient providing their own food and accomodation the night before the race. We quickly located a good spot to pitch tent before moving to the ferry terminal where we set about marking our planned route on the maps and have some food. Stages 1-3 were relatively straightforward. Most of our time was spent contemplating the many route choices available on the long trekking stages. We generally opted for a safe route. The safest route not necessarily being the easiest navigationally we needed to consider other factors like terrain, team safety and available daylight. With 11-12 hours darkness each day the going would be slow on some of these stages. The NZ landscape offered many route choices and the organisers made no attempt to force teams down any particular route. I really, really liked this. There would be no “cotton wooling” of competitors in this event.

Stage 1. Kayak “Milford Sound” – 15km (Monday):
4 am and all teams were packed into the Milford Sound Visitor Terminal. We were all waiting to board a cruise ship to the start at Bridal Falls. When we got to the bay we were brought to shore on a small rib. Still dark at this point I was having trouble believing my eyes. The whole thing felt like a dream. The shoreline was alive with head torches like fire flies. You were surrounded by large columns of rock illuminated by moonlight with Bridal Falls in the backdrop. We sat in our kayaks staying warm before being allowed on the water. Richard Usshers team were first onto the water. Again I was a bit awe struck as a the Coast to Coast champion and his wife (another coast to coast champion) paddled in front of me. Then it was our turn. We moved out onto the water with Wendy and Ian in the front of our boats dictating the stroke. Conditions were choppy and only for the pressence of Ian and Wendy myself and Karen would have been uncomfortable. Instead we were confident and calm as other teams struggled around us.

The hooter sounded signalling the race start and we were off. Immediately Ian and Wendy went up a few gears. Our first task was to paddle around the cruiser before turning and paddling down Milford Sound. It was a little frantic and congested at this point but Ian and Wendy had us in good position. So much so we bumped into Team Seagate and Nathan Faave’s boat. That doesn’t happen everyday :) As we rounded the cruiser we were now exposed to some very choppy conditions. The boat was totally submerged at points. Teams were struggling to stay in close contact with eachother. The video footage on 3 News gives you a good idea of the conditions. We had no such problems. We now had a tailwind, some big waves and more importantly ace paddlers in Ian and Wendy to take advantage of the conditions. We surfed wave after wave and held 4/5th place for the entire paddle. Myself and Karen did our best match Ian and Wendy’s cadence and follow their instructions, these guys were good…very good! Approaching the first TA and to cap off only what can be described as a sureal start to the race we were greated by a pack of dolphins. They were within touching distance and playing with our boats for the final km of the paddle. An experience we will never forget.

Stage 2. Bike “Milford Road ” – 49km (Monday)
We forgot to checkin immediatly at TA1 when we came off the water so unfortunatly our 4th place did register on the leaderboard. Still that was our blaze of glory and now it was time to settle down and focus on what lay ahead.

After a slow transition we were on Milford Road and settled into formation. The climb out of Milford was long and steady until we reached the Homer Tunnel. During this time we were passed by a number of the stronger teams and we took up our true position in the pack somewhere around 20-25th. Cycling through the Homer tunnel we then began a fast decent in the direction on the Upper Eglington river. It was cold and we were well wrapped up with gloves, hats and jackets. The road was wet and myself and Karen struggled to keep pace with Ian and Wendy on the descent. They’re 29 inch Gary Fisher MTB’s definetly rolled better than our KTM’s. As we reached the end of the stage we were comfortable and in good shape.

Stage 3. Canoe Eglinton River – 36km (Monday)

Entering transition we immediatly set about breaking down our bikes and packing them into their boxes. We grabbed the opportunity to take some food on board as well. Before we could get on the water for the canoe stage we had to collect and inflate the canoe’s. This took some time and meant another relatively long transition. After inflating we had a short portage to a put in on the Eglinton River. This stage contained the only dark zone of the entire race. We needed to be off the water by 19:00. The water level was very low and the race organisers even started the race ahead of time in fear of teams being caught on the water after dark. We paired up for the paddle the same as the Kayak (Ian & Karen, Wendy & Finbar). Wendy and myself struggled to gain control of the boat early on this stage so we changed the pairs to be (Ian & Finbar, Wendy & Karen) Wendy’s boat was now alot lighter and easier to control now that I had been evicted. We wasted sometime coming to this conclusion but from that point on we made some excellent progress. It was still a very slow paddle but we had other teams like Hard Yucca’s and ProActive Physio for company during this stage. The canoe’s which were meant to be self bailing were anything but. We found ourselves pulling over to tip out water every 15-20 minutes. We also had to reinflate the seats on the boat on a good few occasions. Late on in this stage we would enjoy some deaper waters and rapids.We reached the end of the stage around 18:00, comfortably ahead of the cutt off for the dark zone.

WILD RACERS – GODZone Day 1 from NothinButShorts International on Vimeo.

Stage 4. Dunton Range – 54km (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday)
Exiting the water temperatures had dropped as evening had closed in. I was cold and shivering along with a good few others in transition. Ian took care of deflating the canoes before returning them to the organisers. We changed out of our wet suits and into our trekking gear for the first trek of the race. We completed a mandatory gear spot check just before exiting transition after dark. This would be our first night on the course.

We set off for CP4. We could see headtorches in the distance and behind us in the early stages. As we got closer to CP4 we ran into ProActive Physio and Team 215. They were having some trouble locating the CP. I knew we were still quite a bit short of the exact location and we moved on to find the clearing where the CP was located. The navigation was tricky but nailing the first CP was a good boost for confidence especially after passing a few teams along the way. We now had a long trek to CP5 with some challenging nav. We covered as much ground as we could that night safely. Around Dunton Ridge we encountered some strong winds and were faced with contouring along a steep bank of scree in darkness. We decided at this point to drop down into the tree line and take our first sleep. The ground was uneven which meant the quality of sleep in the tent wasn’t great. After 2 hours of sleep it was now bright and after some food we were better equiped to tackle the immediate terrain and progress to CP5. We ran into “Asses Ears Bites Back” briefly before pushing on and following a creek down to Upukerora river. The terrain was steep but once we entered the creek we were happy with our route choice as the descent to the river was relatively easy. We were making good progress and our navigation was spot on as we got closer to CP5. At this point we were passed by “Shakespeare & Co” exchanging some friendly banter. The terrain at this point started to become very difficult. Our chosen route involved traversing some major windfall and bushwhacking down to a stream where we would ascend and follow a ridge to CP5 located on the second summit. The descent to the stream was the most physically challenging terrain I have ever encountered in an adventure race. We were literally crawling under and climbing over windfall for hours. Once we hit the stream and saw the ridge we were confident of finding the CP and we did. Careful navigation was becoming critical. It turned out that many teams struggled with CP5 and missed the cuttoff of 23:00 on Tuesday night at CP 6. The route between CP5 and CP6 again was long but we reached the manned CP6 at the Hunters Hut around 21:30 on Tuesday night. The hut was jam packed with teams huddled around the fire. Some teams suffering with injuries and others who had failed to pick up CP5. It was a cold night and no one was in a rush to leave the hut. The next stage of the Trek was up over Snowdon and navigation wise was a very tricky leg. Teams were given instructons that we would be sent an alternate route and be unranked if we did not leave the hut by 23:00. We still had another 8-9 hours until sunrise and we were reluctant to head over Snowdon in darkness. We left the hut but made a tactical decision to set up tent only one kilometer away. This confused many who were following us on the GPS tracking but the race organisers knew exactly what we were doing :) The ascent of Snowdon was a very steap climb which navigationally wasn’t too difficult. We estimated it would take roughly two hours and we should aim to hit the summit around sunrise. We set our alarms for 3:30am and settled in for a slightly longer sleep than planned. That night temperatures went to as low as -3 and the following morning we awoke to find our shoes and socks frozen solid. Shivering in our tent we used our body heat to warm ourselves and thaw out our shoes. Luckily we had the steap ascent of Snowdon to keep us warm that morning. As we reached the summit the sun was just rising. Perfect timing. We took the safer route contouring left around and down to the stream before moving in the direction of TA5. We covered alot of ground this day and were happy with the tactical and navigation decisions that we made. Later in the afternoon we bumped into “Rogue Samurai by Macpac” who had experienced some problems during the night. The remainder of the Trek took us into late afternoon/ early evening before we finally reached the TA. This stage took us a whopping 46 hours. The terrain and tricky navigation had claimed many teams. We managed to get through the stage on 24 hours food and were in good spirits. The scenary was spectacular especially as we summit Snowdon as the sun rose.

WILD RACERS – GODZone Day 2 from NothinButShorts International on Vimeo.

WILD RACERS – GODZone Day 3 from NothinButShorts International on Vimeo.

Stage 5. Oreti Cromel – 81km (Wednesday, Thursday)
It was a beutiful evening and entering transition we received a round of applause. Well deserved we taught after 46 hours of treking! We were all starving having got by on just 24 hours worth of food in the previous stage. We weren’t alone in transition, our friends ProActive Physio were there and so were Rogue Samurai by Macpac. We got some hot food in and assembled our bikes for the stage ahead. At this point the stage had been shortened slightly for teams. We would skip CP’s 8, 9 and 10 and take a more direct route to CP 11. After receiving our instructions we set off just as it got dark. We would cycle 21km before turning off a gravel road and down towards the Oreti river. It was very dark and our first challenge was to find a good crossing point on the river. After pacing the river bank for a while we picked our spot and crossed. The water was cold but somehow we managed to stay warm. On the other side we were greated by long grass. It was difficult to pick up any sort of track but we made good progress. We would cross another river before reaching CP11 at the entrance to the Exotic Forrest. CP 12 wasn’t far away located at a track stream junction.
The nav proved tricky as we missed a turn off for a path to our right as we climbed from the Oreti River. We were quick to spot that we had climbed too high after checking the altimeter. Returning to the correct altitude we found the turn off and the control at the end of it. Everyone was getting cold and tired at this point. We had a quick pitstop for food. It was 02:30 and we had a long cycle to CP 13 but I explained to everyone that the navigation was easier and we should try and get as much of it done in the dark saving the daylight hours for more tricky sections that lay ahead the following day. Everyone dug deep and we hammered out a large chunk of this section before finally setting up tent for 2 hours sleep. The following morning conditions were thankfully alot milder. Just as we packed up tent we were joined by Shakespere and Co. CP’s 13 and 14 we picked up with relative ease. CP 15 proved very tricky. We failed to pickup the correct path and as a result were too low on our approach to the control. After some major bushwhacking we finally picked up the control. It was late afternoon and the sun was beating down on us as we rolled into TA.

WILD RACERS – GODZone Day 4 from NothinButShorts International on Vimeo.

Stage 6. Eyre Mountains – 48km (Thursday, Friday)

Shakespere and Co were there having avoided our problems at CP15. Breaking down the bikes we began contemplating the Trek that lay ahead. It was every bit as challenging as the first Trek we did and our timing meant that we would have some very difficult night nav. We made sure to pack plenty of food before departing on this stage :) Exiting the TA we made a conscious effort to pick up the pace and hit CP17 just past Mansion Hut.

WILD RACERS – Stage 6 Mansion Hut from NothinButShorts International on Vimeo.

We managed to do this before nightfall and locate our attackpoint up the western side of the mountain just before dark. It was very slow going at this point, surrounded by thick forrest as we ascended the ridge we were very careful not to leave our bearing. This of course meant loads of bushwhacking and climbing through windfall. Add to this the fact we were all suffering with the sleepmonsters we took a couple of power naps along the way. Once we hit 700m we changed bearing to continue along the ridge and up to a height of 1100m were we would finally emerge above the tree line and get a view of the night sky. Visibility was good and we could see our route along the tops before descending to CP18, a hut at Irthing stream. We could see the lights of a number of teams ahead as the exited the hut and made their way to the next CP. We were greeted at the hut by Hugh who had been manning the hut for a number of days now. It was roughly 5-6am and the time was right to get some sleep before pushing on in daylight. We took a short sleep of about an hour but the relative luxury of the hut meant it felt longer which was a bonus. We had been passed by a team as we slept and now we were the last team on this stage. Hugh was now free’d of his maning duties and joined us as we departed the hut on the remainder of the Trek. CP19 had been dropped and we would now have a more direct route to TA6 (CP20) at Black Spur Creek Hut. It was still along way but we were blessed by clear sky’s and some absolutly breathtaking scenary on this day. We were treated to some amazing views as we crossed over Shepard’s Saddle and descended towards Shepherds Creek hut. We now had a clear view of our route up Eyre Creek which lay ahead. We would follow the creek all the way to a saddle before descending and joining a stream on the other side which would lead to TA6. There terrain was good and we had a nice track to follow up the creek. Once the track ended we were left with numerous stream crossings as we followed whatever paths were available. The terrain was beginning to deteriorate and we were left to follow the stream bed. We caught up with another team at this point, the “Stunts”. One of their team members was suffering badly with injury. We kept eachother company for the remainder of the stage. We were now climbing over rocks and wading through rock pools. The water was cold and we were running out of daylight fast. We were anxious to get over the saddle before dark and down the other side. Up on the saddle, in fading light, we managed to catch a glimpse of the view back down Eyre Creek. It was pretty special. The remainder of the trek was relatively straightforward. We arrived at Black Spur Creek hut around 23:30 were we received some warm soup and bread. It tasted soooooo good. We built our bikes for the next stage before catching a few hours sleep in the tent.

WILD RACERS – Black Spur Creek Hut from NothinButShorts International on Vimeo.

Stage 7. Mavora Lakes – Stage Cancelled

Stage 8. Thomson Mountains – 129 km (Saturday)

We had been on the go for 5 full days and the organisers were now routing teams back to the finish in Queenstown. Our route involved cycling down the Vonn Valley picking up CP30 before making our way to Walters Peak where we would get the ferry back to Queenstown. The views on this shortened stage were absolutely stunning. The descent was very cold in the shadows of Pasture Hill and Mount Nicholas but we were greeted by the sun as we approached Lake Wakatipu. Distracted by the views and suffering with tiredness we overshot CP30 slightly. At Whites Bay we turned right for Walters Peak and the home stretch. We still had to push hard but arrived at Walters Peak in good time for the 10:45 ferry. We were now slowly re entering civilization and the restaurant at Walter Peak was busy with hungry teams looking for scones and coffee. After boarding the ferry this theme continued and the coffee dock on the ferry being raided by hungry adventure racers. I enjoyed my first cup of tea in almost a week and I have to say it tasted alot better than the hot water and Nuun tablet combo I had been drinking as a “fruit tea” The ferry was busy with tourists and it was strange to be surrounded by so many “ordinary” people after our adventures in the wild. The cruise back gave us time to reflect on the race and determine our final race position. We worked out that we had finished 19th out of 31 teams! We never set ourselves a target in terms of the leaderboard knowing that if we focused on “our race” that our final position would take care of itself. Arriving in Queenstown we disembarked and had a relaxed cycle through the town centre before crossing the finish line. We finished ranked on what many considered to be one of the toughest courses set for an adventure race. We felt pretty good about that! :)

Aftermath
GodZone was an amazing experience for both myself and Karen. We were very lucky to find two excellent teammates in Wendy and Ian. The gamble paid off and we gelled well as a team. We all had our ups and downs but we pulled together and got each other through.

We would like to thank the race directors for staging a truly epic adventure race. I hope we can return to NZ in the future and do it all again.

Finally we would like to say a big thank you to our fellow competitors. We were blown away by the friendliness of the other teams.

Other Race Reports and Interviews
Seagate Part 1, Part 2
One Square Meal
Subway
Nathan Faave – Team Seagate
Adam Fairmaid – Event Director

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