"Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear, well, he eats you."
Expedition adventure races are bears. Logistically complex and both mentally and physically challenging, big races have the added unpredictability of Mother Nature. If you do enough of these big races eventually some of the randomness of the natural world catches up with you and in our case, at Godzone this year, the bear, well, he ate us.
We all arrived in Kaiteriteri a few days before the race feeling pretty fit and ready for an epic racecourse. The one bike that was lost in transit showed up mysteriously a day late, despite the airline never able to tell us where it actually was. As our bodies adjusted to the time/date changes, we decided to stretch our legs on a little bush hike. This sounded like a great idea and would give us a chance to see some of the off trail bush we might encounter. Let's just say gorse might be the worst plant on the planet.
Gear check, registration, and briefing done (Godzone has this stuff dialed, and it's incredibly easy and efficient), we prepped our bins with brief descriptions of the stages, but no maps. This allowed us a rare good sleep the night before the start with not much to do. The next morning we got our maps, made some minor changes to our bins and had a leisurely stroll down for a noon start time.
The first stage is always chaotic with everyone telling themselves they are going to be smart and NOT sprint of the line, then doing the exact opposite. The coasteering was short and sweet with teams crawling over each other and jumping in and out of the surf before a quick transition to a tame, 3+ hour paddle. At least, it was tame until the surf landing. We saw teams flip, roll, and yes, cartwheel into the beach with hundreds of spectators cringing and pointing. When our turn came, Liza and I miraculously stayed upright and just side surfed right up to the sand. Chris and Roy weren't so lucky and swam a bit, but only lost a few pieces of cheap, non-essential gear (unlike the team that lost several GoPro cameras... ouch).
After a quick transition to a bike orienteering course we rode through Richmond and into the hills behind Nelson. After some slow going through a mildly confusing (and painful) gorse bush bash with the bikes, we cruised into the next TA feeling pretty good. The first real test of the race was next, a 50+ km trek where we would meet the bear.
The wind, fog, and intermittent rain (does it still count as rain if it's horizontal?) gave us about 50-100 meters of night time visibility on the ridge. As dawn broke, and we recovered from a brief detour on the wrong ridge, we approached checkpoint #10 over a scree field. Roy and Chris circled to the north of the check point about 5 meters below the summit with Liza and I close behind. Another team (Adventure Junkies-- Hugh lives a few miles from Chris in Sydney) was interspersed with us as we located the CP. As Chris crossed the same rock that Roy had just stepped on, a compact car sized chunk of the mountain peeled away and carried Chris down the slope. After tumbling and grunting about 25 feet, with huge boulders bouncing over and under him, Chris somehow managed to stop himself inches from a 15-foot vertical drop to more jagged scree. In the silence that followed, the last rock ricochet echoing down into the fog, we all imagined the worst. Liza refused to look.
Before I could even scramble down to Chris, he called out that he thought he was ok. Everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. We slowly took stock of his injuries; many large contusions, deep gashes to his backside, a large deep and complex laceration to his elbow, and a badly sprained ankle. None of the injuries were big picture serious, but they put an end to the race portion of our adventure.
Even though the race was over for us, we were still 25 kilometers, mostly off road and steep, from the nearest road. With his trekking poles shattered in the fall, Chris used Roy's (until a weak-ankle triggered fall snapped both of those as well). We all took turns carrying his pack while Chris stoically suffered on legs and ankle newly tenderized by Red Hill stone. Eventually we found our way to a trail, which greatly improved our speed, but the second half of the trek still took more than 24 hours. The first half took less than 9.
Now several days later, with the exposed bone on Chris' elbow covered and no signs of infection, we've all had some time to reflect. You can't dwell too much on the random and unpredictable. We come to these races prepared and fit, then we go out and see what the bear has in store for us. It may have mauled us this time, but serves as great motivation for the next round.
While we didn't finish the race, Team Endurancelife did, and they made a great video, which shows the amazing country of New Zealand's South Island.