I know I’ve probably written previously about some race being the “hardest thing I’ve ever done” but they were lies. Okay, maybe not lies, but a climb up a ridiculous ladder I’m pretty sure I’ve finally reached the top of. GODZone is literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
It’s been 14 days since the race and i’ve only just stopped dreaming about bush bashing, my fingernails still have dirt under them (I swear i’ve showered!) but my toes have stopped feeling wet even though they are most certainly dry. So that’s a plus I guess?
Also, everyone said Fiordland is the wettest place on earth but I’m going to have to call BS because the weather was actually perfect (thank fark). The wettest place on earth was the ecosystem in my shoes – trail Mud, water, bush bashing mud, didymo cleaning stuff, water from grass not rain, swamp mud (you get the picture…).
I’ve read a lot about elite athletes envisioning their end goals and by doing so are able to push through when it gets really hard. I think it is a true testament to our team, even in the very beginning, that we were constantly talking about the last leg and that it seemed like there was no doubt we would get there eventually, even though “eventually” was in 8 days time.
But the length of the race aside, the really genius thing about it was that although there weren’t very many legs, they all could be broken down into manageable mini legs. (Doesn’t that just sound delightful?!)
This race was really long so i’m just going to acknowledge the fact that some parts were really really brutal and awful right now. But secretly, one of the reasons I keep going back is to see how I deal with the lows. I was also very much a passenger hanging on for dear life (except not as much as Wildside because training actually really works!), so don’t expect me to remember names of rivers, or roads, or anything geographically located. You can go to http://godzoneadventure.com/ for all of that or ask Tom and Paul. You’re coming on my emotional rollercoaster dear reader, buckle up.
Stage one was a packraft/hike/cheeky 150 metre abseil and another packraft (see what I mean about mini legs?) The first portage, which included climbing up a wall of dirt and vines pulling our inflated packrafts along with us was a tiny taster for what was to come (seriously, it wouldn’t even register as anything now. I might be broken). We walked down the river for some time before deciding on Option 2 of 3 bad Option options. Essentially it meant a 1000 metre vertical climb in under 3kms to the top and over some mountain that was between an even bigger mountain (Option 1) and a smaller but dodgier looking mountain (Option 3). The views were pretty good just before we passed the tree line and then the clouds rolled in and it was almost a white out up the top before the darkness descended as we started down the other side, turned on our head torches and were delighted with seeing all the other lights on various mountains around us.
There could be other stuff after this but the next thing I remember is getting to a flat rock overhang about 500 metres from where we were going to abseil and the volunteer who was camped out there saying “it’s not a hard nav to the top”. Well, look, technically she was right. What she did fail to mention though, was that it was going to be incredibly steep and slow to get there. But we did, and after harnessing up and heaving the 150 metre rope Paul thought was too impossibly long to exist back up from the bottom (it existed alright), we descended into the night. Which, thank goodness, because it probably would have been scary otherwise. You know the saying “What you don’t know can’t hurt you”? Well “What Alex can’t see won’t hurt her” was definitely a thing during the race.
Then there was another paddle and we made it to stage 2!
“A straightfoward bike” indeed. The caves were pretty cool. It took the boys a bit of time to orientate themselves but once they had, we bagged all the check points easily. In fact, I think this is one of the only times Tom and Paul weren’t certain the whole race, which is a testament to their skilful navving abilities. Lee even offered to swim the short swim for the last CP and no one complained about that. It did take us the whole two hours so we emerged from the cold depths into the surprisingly humid afternoon and made our way through to the much anticipated, but also dreaded Stage 3. Oh yeah and we decided to walk the 7kms to the lake at the start so we could have a little sleep before the first pack raft. A few things:
- It is very hard to walk in a straight line while trying not to sleep.
- You cannot walk that far with your eyes closed
- 7kms is a long way when you really just want to sleep
This is the leg shit got real. Real muddy, real wet, real blistery and real hungry. The estimated slow time was 60 hours. Well, the fastest teams did it in 60 hours. So while us mere mortals packed more food in anticipation, we didn’t anticipate we’d be out there for a solid 4 days.
- 4 hours of grade 2/2+ wave trains
- The long and strategically genius sleep after getting to the top of a ridge in the dark.
- Entering pack rafts from steep bushy terrain onto the water (see photo below)
- Finding DoCs (Department of Conservation) possum trap tracks instead of having to bush bash
- The 2 km novelty paddle which let our feet rest, if only for an hour
- Westies hut
- The awesome bridges with 1 person max so someone would dibs going last to have a longer sitting break
- Finishing the leg
- Endless mud
- Blisters (shoutout to the medic for sorting me out!)
- Putting sore feet back into wet shoes
- Soft but actually super prickly moss (Paul said he used some as TP and it was okay though).
After waking up from our last sleep with a big section of coastal track to finish, we hoped by some miracle it would be easier for the last “little” bit. I mean we weren’t hoping for much, even if it only had half the amount of mud from the previous section, we would have been stoked. Much to our surprise, the mud was scarce and the trail was wide! This is probably the first time in the race we got to talk to each other properly and it was amazing to realise how important that aspect of racing is. The conversation did peter out though when Tom started struggling (something i’ve never witnessed before) due to the skin around his toes deciding it didn’t need to be attached, or at the very least, loosely affiliated.
We scored a hot Back Country meal at the TA and as the medic popped all my blisters and told me my feet were better than others he’d seen (I was dubious) he showed me a horrifying photo of another teams feet who had said that he thought “it was only a bit of sand in his shoes” but in fact it was an epically horrible fungal infection and he had to get airlifted to hospital. I felt much better about my feet after that.
The Rowallan Forest looked innocent at first, but as we found ourselves at in thigh deep bog mud (with bikes in tow), it was clear that some simple bush bashing to find a derelict bridge wouldn’t be that simple. After sloshing back and forth to retrace wheel marks from previous teams we decided to head back up the ridge (not fun or easy), ride a little and attack from another angle. Until it looked impossible at night and we decided to sleep for a few hours till sunlight. To be honest, it didn’t seem very possible in light either, even less with a bike, but after 45 minutes we made it out and the rest was much easier after that. Except for when we got to Percy Saddle.
If anyone ever tells you that they’ve heard of Percy’s Saddle and that they’d like to go, laugh in their face. There was no such thing as a “grade 5 mountain bike route”. In mountain bike terms it is not a trail. It is a fire road that ends almost at the top of a steep mountain with 700 metres of markers that alludes to a trail they haven’t built yet.
I tried to channel my bad case of the farts to propel me and my bike up this barbaric route and even though that didn’t work we managed to get them all the way to the top. Although I’m really not sure how. I do know that it shouldn’t take 2 hours to travel 700 metres. It was so exhausting both physically and mentally that someone turned on the waterworks behind my eyes and I couldn’t turn it off for a good couple minutes. Paul and Tom stood awkwardly around me and cried on the inside instead.
I forgot to mention we were also racing the clock to make the 3am cut off to the kayak leg which would take us to stage 6 – the last 24km hike before Stage 7 – a measly (I say “measly” with literally no sarcasm) 8 hour paddle to the finish. We made the cut off with 10 minutes to spare and got some sleep at the most sandfly and team infested hut in the whole race.
After enduring window shaking snoring throughout the night and feeling lower than a limbo champion, I sat in silence next to Paul as we ate a Back Country and treated our feet, watching the 3 teams who’d also bunked with us leave, before mustering the courage to put on our shoes and take the tentative first steps of the 24km hike. Although I felt like death, this hike had the most beautiful terrain of the whole bloody race.
Our first goal was to get to a ginormous and extremely powerful waterfall rumoured to have made a team turn back at the sight of it. After that, it was a steep, mossy and holey slog to the novelty canoe. One of the volunteers had some boiling water on the fire (such luxury!) and I think this is where Tom created a concoction of dehydrated mash potatoes and 2-minute noodles which he claims was amazing while we laughed at the other team who had just started paddling in circles.
Except when we started paddle we did exactly the same. After a few spins we got used to the paddles and made our way in pitch black darkness to the other side of the lake where after an interesting attempt by Paul to light a fire with the stove, we set up tents and slept for a few hours till daylight.
Braden Currie (Multiple Coast to Coast winner) boated over to pick up our canoes in the morning and said that we should try to hit the pass before the weather got bad. We later took this as a polite “hurry the f@*k up” as the weather ended up being delightful and the view spectacular from the top. Descending into the valley towards the lake took a lot shorter than we expected, probably due to the steep terrain we either lowered ourselves down by vines/grass/whatever solid thing we could find or slid down.
Boulder hopping, (not one of my fortes) became incredibly fun and we eventually made it to the final TA by following a trail of bright fluro markers which are every adventure racers favourite thing to hunt down. (Or at least our teams anyway). We had very low food rations at this point so it was wonderful to stuff my face while the volunteers politely but firmly tried to get us into the kayaks as fast as possible.
This is where we forgot about our feet and aching bodies, dug deep and clicked into beast mode.
Tom was in the front of our kayak as it had the steering thingos (technical term). The wind was pretty horrendous for the first couple of hours and having not done up our jackets, Tom got pounded by huge whitecaps and was not happy about it. So at the first CP we got out, rugged up and carried on.
As the darkness descended and we made it to the last CP we fully expected to have to camp there for the night, leaving us a piddly 5km from the finish. But as we approached, the volunteer radioed in and HQ said we could carry on to the finish. We had a quick team discussion and after bribing Tom with a chocolate OSM we got back into the boats and paddled our way to the finish line. To find out we’d come 3rd place in the international team category, which was just ridiculous.
So what did I learn from this epic race? Firstly, that team comradery and communication is vital to enjoying and getting through a race. Secondly, that your low points can get lower but you can and will continue through pain and tears because the competitive drive still burns and thirdly, even when you think you’ve reached your physical limit, you can keep one upping yourself.
|Team goal – “Our goal is to finish the full course with our limbs intact and still be willing to speak to each other.”|
Well, we finished the full course anyway.
Would I do it again? Yes. But I’m going to enjoy coffee and my day job for a little while before I sign up for another…
PS shout out to Shapes for making the greatest race food of all time – Nacho cheese flavoured shapes and La Sportiva for creating the most perfect shoe – the Akasha.