It is 5am on a cold, clear and very quiet night in the Eyre Mountains near Queenstown. The only sound that pierces the still mountain air is that of four watch alarms bleeping incessantly from the tussocks. Their owners sleep on, oblivious to the disturbance. Suddenly a tousled head emerges from one of the cocoons and peers blearily and its watch. “Bugger, guys its 5am wake up, let’s get going”. A 5 minute “getting ready” performance follows involving much noisy puffing and moaning before the four souls shut up and continue on their way to CP27, Godzone 2017. Lambing Saddle proving the perfect place for a quick 1hr sleep to finish the race on night three for the now refreshed team Swordfox.
As the new recruit for Swordox at Godzone 2017 it has fallen to me to write a few words about how the race played out for us this year. It is fair to say that I was pretty nervous going into race week. Last years remaining team members Stu Lynch, Brent Edwards and Ash Whitehead need little introduction when talking about adventure racing in New Zealand. They had placed second last year with Naomi Whitehead on the team and I felt like I had some big boots to fill. But, I’d put in the hard yards over summer getting out on some great missions with friends so come 7am Saturday morning I was excited to finally get started.
This year was little different to the past in that we got a logistics planner a week before the race and the maps the day before (instead of just a few hours). It was great getting the planner a week out as it greatly reduced the stress immediately before the race. I normally realise at the last minute that I don’t have enough pairs of shoes or something else similarly critical. I wasn’t as big a fan of getting the maps the day before as it opened up all sorts of channels for information gathering which isn’t in the spirit (or within the rules!) of the sport and given how timing worked out in the end it seemed like we would have had plenty of time to get them the morning of the race. But maybe that’s me being slightly bitter given that we didn’t even look out our window across the lake to check out the route we ended up trying around Cecil Peak in Stage 8. Read on to find out more about why this was to prove a rather critical oversight.
Stage 1 – Multisport Extravaganza
Trying to hitch a ride to TA1 in the Swordfox truck
The race start was fast and furious and took the teams on a 11km run, a 19km mtb, a 19km kayak and another 6km run up a river – “gorgeering”. The pace wasn’t as hot as I expected off the start and we got through the first few stages without any issues. I was focusing on not going too hard and getting used to letting someone else look after the navigating. Thankfully the day was overcast and cool and nobody overcooked themselves. A real risk with a start like this!
Brent with his “game face” running of the start line
We were pretty slick in each of the first three short transitions and managed to hit the gorgeering with Tiki Tour and Yealands despite being a little bit slower moving in each of the stages. Efficiency is key! The gorgeering was probably one of my favourite sections of the race. Funny given it was just a scrubby little river that could have been anywhere in New Zealand! I really enjoyed running up the Arrow River with the other two teams. Everyone was pushing each other along and a good bit of banter was being thrown between rivals and friends across the river bed. The Yealands boys were practicing their bombs in the deep pools I was enjoying being able to get some food in for the stage ahead. We hit TA1 together, dropped our small packs we had used for stage 1 and picked up our gear for the first real stage.
Running up the Gorge with Yealands and Tiki Tour on Stage 1
Stage 2 – More Running!
We set off jogging towards Arrowtown as a pack of three teams. The lead swapped several times as each team stopped for small “admin” tasks but it quickly was becoming obvious that Tiki Tour meant business. They had been pushing the pace through the gorge on stage 1 and again were putting the power on. They moved off the front of the group while running along the flat and left us and Yealands behind.
Jogging out onto Stage Two
From Arrowtown, the first route choice of the race was over Brow Peak to a control in Coronet Creek. We went left up Bush Creek. Yealands went with us while Tiki Tour took a more direct and apparently quicker route. We spotted them leaving the control as we dropped into it. I was struggling a bit on the climbs but we were making good time and moving efficiently. The rest of the trek passed in a similar way with more running than I’d ever done in a Godzone before but relatively easy terrain and navigation. It was quickly becoming apparent that our estimate of arriving at the end of the trek (the darkzone) just on dawn was well off. We were almost at the last CP when it finally got dark and we climbed over the last hill and down to TA for a 5hour break. I was a little bit annoyed about having to stop at the darkzone as it made the first day of quite hard and fun racing seem like a bit of waste. The guys didn’t seem too worried about it though and we figured at least we would get more rest than those coming in behind us over the next few hours.
Stage 3-4 – The Shotover
Down at the river the race restart was underway promptly at 6:45am. No mucking about for the 8 teams that had come in overnight. Everyone who I had expected to be there was there and it was nice to say a quick “hello” to old friends and past teammates before pushing off onto the canoe. It was great to be paddling with the experienced Stu in the boat and we cruised down the upper section of the river on a chilly morning. Stu didn’t complain once about cold hands. This was a fun section of river and we were feeling good after our long rest. I was a little bit surprised how quickly the same three teams were at the front of the race again on this section but I guess experience counts for a lot in this game and these teams had loads.
The remainder of Stage 3-4 was an abseil, a short trek and a guided raft down the lower Shotover to Arthurs Point. The trek involved carrying all the rafting gear and trekking gear from the day before so was hot work! We had been fairly careful in packing to make sure we weren’t carrying anything extra on this stage and looking at the teams around us we did seem to be the most lightly loaded. We had opted to walk in our wetsuits, lifejackets, helmets and harnesses as it seemed easier than carrying the gear. This went ok until Brent starting blowing black smoke up the last hill and proclaimed “either you let me stop to take down my wetsuit or I’m going to faint”. Fair play to him. We let him stop. Tiki Tour managed to slip away on this trek with some cunning route choice and pure speed. We would never see them again.
Stage 5 – Miles and miles at 7-mile
Out of the raft and onto the bikes at Arthurs Point things were still feeling like a bit of a multisport race. We retraced my tracks from a training ride I’d done over the summer complete with a tour of every track at the 7 mile bike park. I was getting a bit grumpy doing laps of the park but Stu and Brent were doing an awesome job getting us through efficiently and we made good time to the twelve mile TA. In hindsight I didn’t eat enough food on this stage (or the ones before) but its pretty hard to get much food down when whitewater rafting or riding single track!
Cruising past Moke Lake. Hot and sunny!
Stage 6 – Mt Crighton
Heading out on the Mt Crighton trek on a beautiful Queenstown evening
We headed out onto the trek after another efficient transition. The first few controls around the Mt Crighton loop track were a bit sneaky with some tracks being quite overgrown but we caught onto this game fairly quickly and didn’t waste too much time. We were thankful we got through in daylight knowing it would be trickier for the teams behind us. I tried to refuel after the bike ride but didn’t get much food in except for some a delicious Kaweka meal butter chicken that I stole off Ash. Hands down highlight of the race for me. I paid the price for not eating enough on the remainder of the climb struggling to keep up as we sidled through tussocks and spaniards in the dark. Ash did a great job keeping me company and feeding me food on the way up the hill and I came right as we headed down to the lake again.
We slept for two hours in this transition under some nasty bushes. Tiki Tour and Yealands slept somewhere nearby but took off on the paddle maybe an hour and a half before we did. This course was proving to be a bit of drag race with little opportunity to do anything different and we started to realise that we were going to have to try something drastic to catch up!
Stage 7 – A beautiful morning kayak
The picture says it all. A nice paddle at sunrise to Glenorchy.
Stage 8 – The infamous bike ride
We started this ride with a morning café stop in Glenorchy. The pie and frittata were awesome and we made good, fast progress on Ash’s wheel to the end of the sealed road and beyond around the shores of Lake Wakitpu. I stashed the remains of my frittata in my back pack for later. Yum yum.
Somewhere along this ride we made the decision as a team to try going round the lake shore from Walter Peak instead of the obvious route over Afton saddle to Halfway Bay. We had not planned on doing this when we marked our maps up. There were a number of reasons why we decided to do give the other route a shot:
- It looked like a feasible route on the map and that the maps had been set up to offer the route choice given the marking of out of bounds areas etc. An assumption that Warren and Ian weren’t trying to trick us!
- We figured there was likely to be some sort of way to join the two dead end tracks together. People must walk around there surely?!
- We felt we were not going to beat the other two teams on speed alone and had to do something different. There was little opportunity for this in this race so we took the only option.
- Afton saddle looked like a huge climb and was likely to be very slow. So how much slower could the other way be?
- We figured it would make us of break us. Sometimes you just have to try these things.
Swordfox’s “big move” in action on day two of Godzone.
Unfortunately we stuck to the lake shore and tried to traverse around the beach rather than hunting for animal tracks up high through the scrub. We ended up stuck between deep water and cliffs and turned around. We did a bit of swimming with our bikes but weren’t keen on kilometres of it! We tried briefly bashing up to find a track that a passing boat had mentioned but I think we had all lost heart by this stage and didn’t want to waste more time. On reflection we probably should have left the bikes and bashed around for a bit. Instead we turned around, had a wee cry and went over the pass. To top it all off my frittata had gone swimming with me and was now soggy and ruined. Back to muesli bars and gels.
After some moments of sadness we shook it off and got back to business. We would have to focus now to make sure we maintained our third place. Luckily our lead was big enough that T7 and the Sneaky Weasel Gang hadn’t quite caught us although we did look back and see them from the top of the pass. Better that they are behind us than in front we thought! We were able to put a bit of time into both of them through their various misfortunes before transition. We left transition before they arrived much to our pleasure.
Stage 9 – Eyre Mountains
We were on our own for this stage. We spotted Torpedo7 and Sneaky Weasels lights coming into transition as we started the climb but we never saw them on route. Stu and Brent were all over the navigation and found us a reasonably way around and up through the cliffs onto the ridge. From there, things were pretty straightforward. We grabbed an hours sleep on Lambing Saddle and had a beautiful sunrise descending to CP27. It felt great to be out in the mountains.
Stage 10 – A sleepy kayak
It has become a feature of Godzone to finish with a long paddle. We were all a bit sleepy for this one but perfect conditions made it fairly pleasant and we passed the time chatting (the most talking we did all race) and trying to stay awake. In my sleep deprived state I kept hearing people cheering for me from the lake shore. No one was there but it was nice to hear “GO GEORGIA” even if it was only in my imagination.
We crossed the line in 3rd place in 3days 10hours something. My shortest expedition race. Stu, Ash and Brent were absolutely awesome to race with. They were always there to help and were efficient in every transition – a quality I rate highly. It was a change for me not taking the lead with the navigating and to be honest, I think I prefer being on the maps to not. But there’s different challenges either way and I think by the end of this race I’d figured out how I could contribute without a map in my hand! I’ll just have to do another race sometime to put it into action.
On the podium with Yealands (2nd) and Tiki Tour (1st). Congratulations to both these teams for the hard racing.