Team Adventure Medical Kits (Kyle Peter, Rob Preston, Jarad Kohlar, and I) met up in Kaiteriteri, New Zealand to take on the GODZone Adventure Race. This race had been on my ‘bucket list of to do races’ the past few years and I was excited to find out the team was able to experience it this year. We have competed against the race director, Warren Bates, several times and knew he would put together an amazing and challenging race course. This was the 5th year for GODZone, and although the majority of the 58 teams were from New Zealand, there was a mix of international teams toeing the line as well. This year’s race was held in the Tasman District, which is located in the northern tip of the South Island. The race could not have had a more difficult start for me…………swimming. Crap. We started off with about a 300m sprint along the beach before jumping into the ocean. Luckily for me, my teammates are good swimmers and helped me get through the 150m swim which felt like 400m to me. Once back on shore we ‘coasteered’ along the coastline for a quick kilometer or so and popped out onto a beach were a fleet of kayaks was waiting for us.
Once I was sitting in the tandem kayak paddling with Rob, I felt relieved to be done with the swim and excited for the adventure that lay ahead. The 30km paddle was pretty uneventful until we started heading into the take out beach. We were enjoying ‘surfing’ in on the short sets of waves until we got closer to the beach and saw a few boats flip including Jarad and Kyle. Rob and I managed to catch a good wave in, landed on top of Kyle and Jarad’s upside down boat, pushed ourselves off of it, and then caught another wave in and landed safely on shore to a cheering audience. We quickly transitioned out of our kayak gear, built our bikes, and were off for a 60km ride. The first part of the ride had 2 short bike orienteering loops which we were allowed to split up and clear simultaneously before continuing. Unfortunately, while Rob and I were out on our loop, my pedal broke off the spindle. It’s pretty much impossible to fix a broken crank brother pedal, so I had to adjust my pedal stroke and continue on, worried that this could possibly cost us an enormous amount of time with the 250+ kilometers left of riding in the race. After we re-joined Kyle and Jarad, Rob checked the maps and said we would be passing through the town of Richmond and hoped that we could find a bike shop or something. We took a short detour to the local K-mart (the only thing open after 5 pm) where we learned that cheap bikes do not have the same size pedals as our bikes. Luckily there were lots of friendly Kiwi’s lining the streets to cheer the racers on, and we found a kid who was willing to sell us his flat pedals off his bike. We lost several places (~1 hour) while trying to solve my pedal dilemma, but once we were back on our bikes we moved well and started to catch and pass several teams. By 10pm we rolled into the next transition area (TA) in 4th place and got ready for a 52km trek through the Red Hills.
The 1st part of the trek started out along gravel roads, then onto single track, then onto a partial trail along a ridge line, before disappearing completely into rolling hills of large boulders and uneven clumps of grass. It was hard to tell if it was raining or if we were just in an enormous cloud bank, but either way it was wet and the ridge gusts almost knocked us over and put a chill through our bones. We bumped into a few teams as we all searched to find the right hill top where our first checkpoint (CP) of the trek was waiting. Shortly after sunrise we reached the hill top we had been searching for and began a technical decent back down towards the river where we would find our next CP. The next section of the trek had a lot of route choices and we decided to cross the river and head up into the hills while 3 teams continued to follow the river. Some local knowledge would have been helpful on this next part as there was an unmapped trail that would have been a better choice to take, but this is adventure racing and although our route took a bit longer, we eventually made it the next checkpoint but were disappointed to find out we had dropped to 11th place.
We reached the TA and decided it was time for a rest as it was now our second night without sleep. After a 4-hour sleep, we popped up from the warm comfort of our SOL Escape Bivy’s, built our bikes and headed out for a quick, cold road ride to the orienteering Course. Rob flawlessly lead us from checkpoint to checkpoint through the fun, flat, fast course. At one point I managed to trip while running through the trees and landed on my face. The next few days we would be entertained by the ever changing color of my black eye as well as trying to come up with more interesting stories as to why I looked like I got in a bar fight. After the O course, we hopped back on our bikes and rode another 30km and climbed a few more hills into Nelson Lakes National Park before bombing down to Lake Rotoroa as the sun began to rise.
We packed up our bikes, inflated the race provided canoes and headed out for a 2 ½ hour paddle across the peaceful, beautiful Lake Rotoroa. We had 1 team to chase on the lake and managed to catch them at the take out area where we deflated our boats and continued on foot. Luckily we did not have to carry boats, paddles, or PFDs with us for the remaining 8 ½ hours. After grabbing a CP at the edge of a small lake high in the hills we had a long decent down to the Makaki Lodge.
It was now 6 pm and unfortunately our race had to come to a halt. The next section was whitewater paddling down the Matakitaki River and we were not allowed to do so between the hours of 6:45 pm and 6:15 am for obvious safety reasons. As much as it is enjoyable to sit down and take off your shoes, bust out the stove to eat a hot meal and get a full night’s sleep, it’s also very frustrating. 2 teams had already cleared the river and were already on the next section and 3 other teams had started the paddle but would be forced to stop for the night somewhere along the shore. But, there was no point in stressing about it. We still had a fair bit of racing left and it’s never over till it’s over in adventure racing.
At 5 am we awoke to find many more teams had come in throughout the night. It would be a bit of a ‘race re-start’ down at the river. At 6:15 am we managed to shove off onto the river with only a few other teams that were also ready. The first part of the river was mainly fast moving water with a few class I rapids to get us warmed up. As we moved further along the rapids began to get a bit bigger but were still quite enjoyable. The first few teams who had paddled the river the day before had all had some trouble getting through a particular section so the race river safety people decided everyone else would have to portage their boats around it. (After the race we saw pictures of the beating the first teams took and we were thankful for the forced portage.) Just after 11 am we pulled our boats off the river for good and had a short run into the town of Murchison.
The next section was a quick, uneventful 34km ride to Owen Valley. A Kiwi team called Team Motueka left the TA with us, and we formed an 8 person pace line for a while. Eventually we dropped them, but we only came into the next TA about 5 minutes ahead. Once again we packed up our bikes into their boxes and set off for a spectacular trek across the limestone of Mt. Owen. This trek was by far my favorite one of the race. We had several hours of daylight to enjoy the amazing “Lord of the Rings-ish” scenery.
Luckily we were able to reach the highest point while the sun was still out and managed to get off the technical ridge with huge rocky crevasses and holes before darkness once again fell. Navigation was tricky out in the open rolling range of hill tops and headlamps were popping up off in the distance both in front of us and behind. After a slippery muddy decent we popped out onto a road and slogged our way to the next TA.
At the TA we learned that we were in 7th place, but 1 team had left within the hour ahead of us, 1 team was currently sleeping there, and another team was just leaving. The thought of needing/wanting sleep immediately left our minds, and we quickly transitioned back on our bikes for one last ride. Somehow we managed to fight off the sleep monsters that were attacking in full force and 140 km began to tick away as the sun began to rise. There were basically 2 big climbs on this ride. We managed to catch Team Next Generation just as the road flattened out a bit after the first climb and held them off while descending some fun single track and picking up a CP along the way. While we were making the final push up the 2nd big climb, we saw Team Bivouac sneaking up behind us only 2 switchbacks below. They had started the ride ahead of us, but apparently stopped to sleep at some point. We kept pushing hard and used everything we had left in our legs to get to the final TA.
After literally throwing our bikes back into our boxes and grabbing our kayak gear, we pushed off the beach only minutes ahead of Bivouac and saw Next Generation coming into the TA. We were now in 4th, and 35km of paddling through the Abel Tasman National Park was all we had left to do. It was near low tide, so the 4 remaining CP’s all had to be reached by getting out of the boats. This allowed us to keep the 2 teams chasing us in check as we ran back to our boats each time. After 4 days of racing it was literally a sprint to the finish. We rounded the final point and reached the beach from which it had all started. We crossed the finish line in 4th place, with a race time of 4 days 5 hours and 44 minutes. Bivouac finished 4 minutes later and Next Generation came in only 17 minutes after that. It’s truly not over till it’s over.
A huge thanks to Adventure Medical Kits for making this adventure possible as well as support from Darn Tough, Leki, Champion System, SOL Survive Outdoors Longer, Julbo, Nordenmark, Out There USA, Feed the Machine, and Zealios. Use code TEAMAMK2016 at check out to receive a discount from some of these partners. See Partners for details.