GODZONE Adventure 2015 - “One Day We Will Stop Winning …”

Published
11/03/2015 by Steve Knowles

 

The current World Champion Adventure Racing team Seagatelined up on the start line of the 2015 Godzone Adventure to defend their unbeaten Godzone record of three wins from the three previous chapters of the iconic NZ Adventure Race. It was also their first race since winning the 2014 World Championships in Ecuador which drew a lot of attention to how the team would start the season, especially with the World Number One Ranked team on the AR World Points Series, Columbia Vidaraid (Brazil/Spain) travelling down to New Zealand to challenge the Kiwis on their home soil. Team Captain Nathan Faavae reports on their experience.

Photos - Godzone Ale Socci

Prior to this years Godzone I fielded a lot of questions from people asking what I thought of the competition with the formation of some strong and fast improving Kiwi teams, and of course the team that finished second to us in Ecuador at the World Champs, Columbia Vidaraid.

The Kiwi teams people were generally referring to were Swordfox, Absolute Wilderness and Torpedo 7. While these teams are really strong, stacked up against our team I didn’t think any of them would give us any serious trouble, unless we were having some issues. The amount of racing we have done together, the skills we possess and the support we have, it’s very difficult for teams to compete with us when you measure things up, but sport is full of surprises so anything was and is possible, for that reason we’re never complacent and always striving for our best performance. Going into the race there was a quote, from Lord of the Rings I think, that summed up my feeling about Godzone 2015.

one day we will stop winning ... but it is not this day.

That said, the day before the race did knock my confidence a little. Sophie and I went for a run before breakfast, I was feeling invincible, in super shape. With about 5-minutes left to run, we cut down a faint trail and I tripped over a low barbed wire fence, bruised and ripped a whole lot of skin off my shin and generally took a knock. Buggar. Later that day I started to get a sore throat and the night before the race I came down with a cold, after having a feverish night with little sleep. Dam it.

Another mildly unsettling thing was Stu was at a wedding in Nelson Lakes National Park the day before the race and was meeting us at the start line. It meant Sophie, Chris and I did all the pre race checks and packed all the gear trunks, it was fine doing this but did feel strange not having Stu around as the race got closer.

The box plan and gear box packing was easy enough but new weight limits on boxes did mean we couldn’t take the gear we normally would, we had to trade out food for some gear and in other boxes trade food for gear, we hoped for good weather as we had limited dry gear in some of the trunks.

Race day started with us boarding buses in Wanaka for transport to the start line, at this stage we didn’t know where we were going but there were not to many surprises when we headed towards Hawea and Haast Pass. We weren’t on the buses for long as we stopped in Hawea to get the course maps and plot the first few stages. Chris made snappy short work of the route plotting with not a lot of route choices to weigh up. Back on buses to the start line still without Stu got me thinking about how it’d be if he missed the start and we had to have a delay until he arrived, I decided I wasn’t to concerned if that happened, provided it wasn’t more than a few hours. Given there was likely going to be a bottle neck on the ropes on the glacier, I figured it’d be better to start a few hours late than less than an hour as we didn’t want to wait at the fixed ropes. But as we pulled into the car park at Fantail Falls, twenty minutes before the start, Stu was there dressed ready to go, only needing to trade his leather dancing shoes for his inov-8’s which we had with us. Rushed by staff to the start line we were quickly underway.

Stage 1   Brewster Glacier Trek   22km

As expected people sprinted off the start line, leaping and bounding through the creek towards the start of the steep trail up the mountain side. Just a matter of seconds into the race there was a big congestion point at the start of the trail, faced with queueing and being forced to start the climb in about 20th place, we jogged down river further and clambered up the bank onto the trail, pleased to see only one team was in front of us, Torpedo 7. We settled in behind them as they set the pace. We weren’t concerned about the starting pace, we just wanted to ensure we weren’t stuck behind slower teams on the glacier, so provided we were in about the top 5, we were happy.

Nearing the top Torpedo 7 team mates started to spread out so we slipped past them and continued to climb. By now we were out of ear shot of the chasing teams, somewhat surprised that we didn’t have company but probably a sign that teams were pacing themselves sensibly, it was going to be a long, hard course.

We reached the first check point in the lead and I wondered if we would manage to lead to all the checkpoints as we’d done in Godzones 2013 and 2014 (In 2012 Richard Usshers team led for most of the first day, the only team to ever beat us to a check point in a Godzone).

Wow factor plus as we reached the edge of the glacier, the lakes, waterfalls and edge of the ice fields looked incredible, I vowed immediately that I’d be back there with my kids in the near future, a wilderness wonderland. It was really cold with a biting wind and swirling clouds. As we traversed the rock towards the glacier it was no surprise to discover the ice section had been cancelled, oh well, down we go. Content on doing our own race, we could see we had about a 10-minute lead over the top Kiwi teams who appeared to be travelling together, good stuff.

Down through the bush and onto the trail exiting to the TA, time for a paddle.

Stage 2     Makarora River Canoe    22km

Not people probably knew this but the TA was staffed by 2001 Southern Traverse winners, Anthony White and Paul Rodgers. We quickly inflated the canoes, packed them and floated off down the river. Being the first boat in a shallow river is a mild disadvantage as any rocks that are sitting in the main channel end up being moved, but in that process your boat gets slowed or even stopped, we spent a bit of time pushing and jiggling the boat off stubborn rocks. It was a pretty river and a good chance to rest our legs before the next stage. Teams Swordfox and Absolute Wilderness arrived at the start of the canoe stage as we departed so we knew they were just behind us, I suspected we’d likely see them later in the night, when the pace settled down and the race got into a rhythm.

Off the canoe the weather had deteriorated and temperature had dropped, it set the tone as we transitioned on the river bank, rain falling, wind blowing. With loaded packs we started off on the trek.

Stage 3    Albert Burn Trek  56km

As we left Swordfox arrived and we knew Absolute Wilderness wouldn’t be far behind. We crossed the Makarora River and then we rafted over the flooded Wilkin River. It was good to get walking actually, warm up and have a chance to eat more food, it was fairly easy travel down the river bed to lake Wanaka and then onto the Albert Burn. We crossed the Albert Burn under the instruction of the water safety staff as the river was rising and discoloured. Once over the river though we were somewhat confused as to what to do next, we could see the marked trail over the river and couldn’t see a route up the true right of the river, we decided to cross back. We only just made it across and then started up the trail on the river left, a little perplexed as to why we had to cross the river in the first place. It soon became apparent when we arrived back in the river mid way through the gorge and the next crossing was amongst some major rapids. In hindsight, we made a foolish decision to cross the river again at this point, while we were all okay, it did create some stressful moments and consumed a lot of energy, a good reminder that when you’re racing you need to take extra care when making such decisions, personal safety should always take priority of the event.

Back hiking we trudged up the valley for hour after hour, it was hard going with no real trail and lots of broken terrain to cross. Finally we made it to the saddle and started the decent. Chris had taken a bad knock and was limping a lot, clearly in a lot of discomfort. Our forward speed reduced somewhat but still early days in the race. We could see the next team back down the valley, perhaps an hour behind, it turns out it was Swordfox. It was dark, wet and cold and basically how I described the stage. As we’d done most of it at night we didn’t see anything so it’d just been a long night out walking in miserable conditions, we welcomed sunrise and the energy that brings. It was a slow walk out the valley, Chris was limping, I was weak battling a cold and Stu and Sophie had big packs to compensate.

Finally the stage ended and we prepped the canoes for the river trip. 

Stage 4  Matukituki River Canoe  41km

The river was fairly low but kept us focused looking downstream for the faster and deeper water.

The paddle went past without any issues, a few sleepy moments but also a chance to get some more solid food in plus rest the legs. Exiting the canoes we had a short walk to Lake Wanaka and then a scramble around the lake shore to a swim section. Although it was the middle of the day, and a hot day too, our fatigued bodies soon started to react to the cold water, our core temperatures dropping each time we had to swim in the lake. After about 10-or swim stages we made it to the checkpoint and the 500-metre swim to the finish of the stage.

This stage was my low point of the race, the main reason being I don’t handle cold water and it threw my body into uncontrolled heat regulation that seemed to create issues for the remainder of the race. I very nearly thought I wouldn’t make it across I was so cold and my body was starting to cease up. It was also a stage that didn’t have a ‘Godzone’ feel to me, it felt like a contrived stage that could have been easily avoided and all it did was put some athletes under unnecessary stress. In the past I’ve felt that Godzone have done a superb job of nurturing teams and not getting them to do unnecessary things, such as cold water swims, this stage disappointed me. Had we been allowed an extra bag with specific swimming gear it wouldn’t have been so bad, but we couldn’t fit any additional gear into our trunks so we were basically swimming in hiking gear, all in a state of mild hypothermia we got ready for the bike stage, grateful that the sun was shining. 

Stage 5 Criffel & Pisa Range Mountain Bike 137km

Warming up the first part of the ride the conversation was focused on “how dumb was that?”. By Wanaka though we were back in focus and ready to get the rest of the maps and discover what else we had in store. By the time we reached Wanaka though I was suffering from mild hyperthermia, my body was freaking out. While the team worked hard in the TA I stumbled to a hose, showered myself with water and lay in the shade trying to get my heart rate to drop and generally get myself to a state of normality. Leaving the TA Chris informed us that we had a long way to go, a real long way. Sophie suggested we detour in Wanaka for some food and drinks but one weakness our team has is stopping, and she was outvoted. I think we would have recovered what the time spent refuelling had we done so.

Righto, let’s get to work. Pisa Range first challenge, a big climb to kick off with. We knew we needed to sleep sometime during the night, the cold temperature ruled out crawling into tussocks or even using our race tent. There was an old hut marked on the map but after an inspection we decided to make Meg Hut a goal. While not going fast, we were constant with our speed. I was struggling on the steep uphill sections, the team were strong and it took a lot of effort to keep contact. I was a bit disappointed as I’d done a lot of work on the bike over summer and it hadn’t seemed to help, I just had to console myself that it was my cold that was limiting me. Eventually the hut emerged into view, after some exciting downhill mountain biking, enhanced with some hallucinations and mind altering experiences. One downhill I believed I was in a downhill mountain bike race and I gave it 100%, it wasn’t until I caught up to the team going half the speed that I snapped back to reality. We opted for a 90-minute sleep, mattress, sleeping bag, zzz.

Back biking we felt a whole lot better and daylight was not that far off, plus we were in the Queenstown region so the stage end was nearing. We finished the stage strongly and transitioned quickly to the kayaks.

Stage 6   Lake Wakatipu Kayak   28km

With some following wind and swell we had a sweet paddle down the lake, it went really fast and before we knew it we were in Kingston drinking hot soup and eating pies. Thankfully we did our transition before the rain hit, and then it poured. Leaving the TA we walked through sheet rain, but we felt good, had packs loaded with plenty of supplies and extra gear, we were in our groove.

Stage 7   Garvie Mountains Trek   47km

We plugged our way uphill chatting away and generally in good spirits, it felt like we were in the closing stages of the race, one trek, one bike and one kayak to go. Chris was back to full strength and navigating flawlessly. The southerly change came through and was fiercely cold but I felt victorious, I had taken mountain gear on the stage and was rugged up, toasty warm and dry, and just as well as my cold was taxing me heavily. The Garvie Mountains is an incredible place, I’ve heard a lot about it and seen a lot of photos, but we didn’t get to see it, we did it all in the dark.

Chris stumbled into a rock bivy which was large enough for us to put our tent up in, so we enjoyed another 90-minute sleep. On waking, it was like we’d gone to sleep in a fridge and woken up in a freezer, miserably cold we did what we needed to do to get hiking again. This is one of the moments in an adventure race that demands a lot of character, being chilled to the bone and getting ready to head back into the bad weather and finishing an arduous stage, with an aching body and questioning mind. Over a few ranges, through untold bogs and wandering amongst countless tussocks, we got sight of the Titan Rocks under an incredible sunrise, that was really uplifting and marked the end of the stage was within a mornings effort.

Stage 8  Old Person Ranges Mountain Bike 152km

Getting our bikes ready Viv Prince at the TA asked us something our ears couldn’t believe “would you like a coffee?”. How good was that, got anymore, please? She also told us that team Absolute Wilderness had been forced to withdraw with injury which was a real blow to hear, we really believed that team could have got top 3 again so we were gutted for them.

The hiking stage had taken a toll and we transitioned smoothly but not rapidly. We loaded our bikes for what we knew was going to be a mammoth bike.

We didn’t know how far back the next team was, we hadn’t seen any lights during the night so we figured we had a few hours lead. We saddled our bikes and started riding the steep climbs from Piano Flat to the Waikaia Orienteering Map.

We dropped bikes and started the orienteering. While a few of us are keen orienteering folks it did seem a bit pointless having it there. We’d just completed a massive trekking stage and we had a huge bike ride to do and here we were doing a really rugged O-stage. While adding navigation is something we’re all for, this stage dragged on. It’s also not a team sport, only 1-2 people are actively involved, the other 2-3 are just doing a completely random walk in the forest. Pleased to clear it in daylight we got back into the bike ride. At some stage we left our bikes for 90-minutes and when we arrive back to them and didn’t see another team, we knew then our lead was at least that. We knew once dark fell we’d need to get some more sleep so we made Old Woman hut the goal, it was good to have a destination to target and work hard for. After a long and challenging uphill we battled through some cold clouds and winds high on the Old Man range. The conditions did improve and our hard work paid off, before we knew it we were sitting around in Old Woman hut, eating freeze dry meals and celebrating a bed to sleep on, yahoo, a 90-minute kip.

Back riding we didn’t have far to go before the big descent into Cromwell. I had run out of food and wanted to stop by the BP in Cromwell for a meal and get a bottle of coffee, fuel up for the final four hours of the ride but I wasn’t 100% sure it was open so was outvoted, handed a few gels and told to keep riding. Sophie who’d had a ridiculously strong race until this point started to show some signs of normality and was getting sleepy so we opted for a 20-minute roadside kip to make the final 2-hours more enjoyable. The sun was also due to turn up again and boost us.

We rode well up the Clutha and as I dropped off the Hawea Bridge a friend Grant Guise welcomed us, saying we’re smashing it and we have a good lead.

“what sort of lead I asked?”

about 10-hours he said

“Bullshit”

He pulled out his phone and showed us. Far out. The next team was Columbia Vidaraid, still back at the orienteering, a very long way back.

We also learned that Swordfox was out of the race, saddening to hear. With mixed emotions we rode onto the finish of the stage. 

Only bike issue for the entire Godzone was 1-broken chain.

Stage 9  Lake Wanaka Kayak  52km

It was a stunning morning to paddle and I was excited to get my paddle in my hands. I was somewhat shocked when I took my shoes and socks off to discover I had badly infected feet, with a fungal infection and also some puss flowing sores, super gross, and not something I’d ever expect racing in NZ, I think it highlighted how racing while ill pushes the body to outer limits in terms of health, it was a good time to finish and allow some healing to happen. We loaded up the boats for the days activity encouraged by lots of friends in the TA. Once on the water though Sophie swiftly nodded off, with her ability to paddle pretty well despite being asleep. But by the first CP I wasn’t prepared to paddle another 40km with her dreaming away behind me, in a grumpy mood I ordered the team out of the kayaks and onto the island for an one hour sleep. Chris started to protest but decided it wasn’t a wise battle to fight. We lay in the sun for a blissful nap until Chris decided he’d had enough sleep and woke us all up [highly annoying], still owed 10-minutes sleep we got back into the kayaks. We were all refreshed, focused and ready for the rest of the paddle. The sleep paid off tenfold and we enjoyed the paddle, exploring the lake, stopping for food and swims and every CP. As we left the final CP we couldn’t believe our luck when we saw white caps out on the lake, it was downwind surf time, oh yeah. The final 10km was a full blown downwind race between our boats, with Sophie and I taking line honours but the boys lodging a protest that Chris didn’t have his spray skirt on so they took water on, you can decided who the winner was.

 

A welcoming crowd was gathered on the beach as we surfed onto the pebbles. Greeted by Warren the race director and told we need to get to the finish line pronto in order to make the nightly news broadcast, fair enough.

Done and Dusted

That was it, another Godzone, another finish line, another victory, it was pleasurable to stop for all the obvious reasons, and get some hot food into our willing mouths.

It’d been another adventure of epic proportion, the course had been rugged we felt the hardest Godzone to date. The weather had been severe at times but we wondered had the weather been hot and sunny it would have presented a whole different set of challenges.

There were some spectacular parts of the course, stunning, no doubt.

The organisation of the event was extremely well done and very professional, one of the things we highly value about Godzone. For me personally my poor health tainted the experience, I struggled so much at times I couldn’t enjoy being out there, all I wanted to do was have a hot shower, put on some dry clothing and crawl into a bed for 2-3 days. Instead I did about 500km of adventure sport in mostly cold and crap weather, risks of racing.

From a racing perspective we were really happy, we had kept to our own race and focused only on us and the course, a strategy that serves us well, what the other teams were doing was their business, we needed to concentrate on what was best for us at any given stage of the race.

With teams Swordfox, Absolute Wilderness and Torpedo 7 all having problems, it enabled us to win Godzone by our biggest ever winning margin to date, about 19-hours, which under the circumstances was a convincing performance.

We always look forward to Godzone Adventure Race and this race didn’t disappoint (except the swimming stage), it’s a monumental effort to organise such an event and we’re ultra grateful to have the opportunity to race a high quality event in NZ, which is also part of the AR World Series.

The teams next outing will most likely be the Absolute Wilderness Adventure Race in Murchison over Easter.

Seagate wish the thank their sponsors:

Seagate, Rocky Mountain Bicycles, GU Energy, Absolute Wilderness, Torpedo 7, Antichafe, Patagonia Clothing, inov-8 footwear, Northface Packs, Nordenmar, Revelate Designs, Gloworm Lighting, Tineli, Wildside Travel, Bridgedale Socks, Wind Paddle, Xinix, Railriders, Ems Power Cookies