GODZone 2014: Milan's report
Written by: Milan Brodina
“An experience does not need to be enjoyable. It just has to be memorable…”
KAIKOURA – a place where mountains meet the sea – teeming whales, seals, penguins, dolphins and 3 000m high snowcapped mountains… What a playground!
I wondered where the adventure will take us this in 2014. Will it bring long distance kayaking on the ocean or bush-bashing in forests, wading through creeks and rivers? Rafting? We did not know until Saturday in early March just a few hours before the race started on the Kaikoura beach …
Stage 1 and 2 – Sea Kayak and Coasteering – about 2 ½ hours – “a warm-up”
Our team of 4 split into 2 couples – Jim with Petr and Lara with Milan. From the start gun we all ran on soft sand beach to the boats. Jim and Petr were kayaking first so we helped them into their boat and push them through the surf. We were doing well – until we realized that Petr, allready 10 meters from the shore, does not have his paddle – he was focusing on putting his spraydeck on. We had to act fast as waves kept on coming. So Milan found the paddle just floating around in water, run into water until waste deep and throw it like an javelin. It landed right next to Petr – that was lucky. While they kayaked, keeping the pace with world champions we set off for a coastal run. With life jackets on we ran around Kaikoura peninsula, avoiding curious seals, wading in water, jumping reefs and climbing over cliffs. Just beautiful. We paced our self as we knew we have long 5 days ahead of us. After coasteering we ran back to the boats, found our one and pierced the waves. I remember that during the kayaking I thougt a lot about my preparation for the race - it is a self-supported race so it's important that your equipment is in perfect order. With GODZone, which has so many disciplines, careful preparation is imperative. Failing to pack a spare bike part or taking a Gore-tex jacket with a rip in its lining could bring about your withdrawal. Equally, if you’ve underestimated your calorie count, going hungry is not a happy option. I trusted my carefull planing and rather focused on landing the 6m long boat through the waves crashing on beach. We maneged well. Transition. Jim and Petr were already there. Onto the bikes as 4th.
Stage 3 – Mountain Bike – around 53 km – 5:11 min
We started to draft as as soon as we left transition – to save energy. I was pulling Lara and Jim and Petr were taking turns up front. Then there was the first major navigational choice which split all the teams – Jim our navigator made a very good call. We were carrying bikes on our backs up this steep hill for a very long time. All the way to the summit. Then a long downhill which left a smell of brake pads behind us. Another river bed – big boulders, unrideable, few crossings, fill up our drink bottles. Another hill to climb and yuppiii – transition. Our trek box with clean cloth, dry shoes and food was waiting for us.
Stage 4 – Alpine Trek – Tapuae o Uenuku – 51 km, 22:07
It was getting dark. Lights on. Compulsory gear check in this transition surprised us – we must have missunderstood instructions and did not packed a strobe light. So instead of it we had to carry extra 3 lights on every stage from now on – untill we get the box with the strobe light in it. We left into comlete darkness. Our plan was not to sleep that night. A huge trek up the highest mountain on South Island outside the Southern Alps – 51 km, 4 500 ascent (and 4 500 descent) was awaiting us …
Untracked tarrain, bolder hopping up George stream with many cold crossings are keeping us awake. The last climb up to a saddle is very steep and involved bushbashing. The reward is sweet - an awesome scree slide down the other side. We picked our way down the Jam Stream navigating around waterfalls, the river opened up and we reached Clearance River. The river was in flood – so GodZone crew set up a zipline and we rafted acrossed. The biggest climb of the whole race just started. Our feet need looking after them after all those river crosings – so we dried them, put more antichafe cream on and changed into dry socks. As we were climbing up towards the summit of Tapuae (2 885m) Lara was falling asleep - we put her on a tag line not to loose her in complete darkness. The ascent is tough – big scree slopes, snow fields, boulders, scorching sun. We spotted another team behind us! We pass the checkpoint tent on top by first sunlight looking at clouds from high above again. It feels good when we were told that we are 3rd team through here. Bumm slide down on snow on and through a beautiful canyon with endless river crossings. The water is freezing cold. So good to be here during daylight. To the next checkpoint we are bashing through bush and on our hands and knees this steep climb. Got it.
Another ridge and down to the transition to get ready for a monstrous 151 km long mountain biking section. Tiredness is setting in.
Stage 5 – Mountain Bike – Molesworth – 151 km - 15:16
Transition crew gave us hot lasagna and soup. Our bikes needs cleaning after that last ride. Jim is organising maps. Everyone is sharing the chores – filling up drink bottles, assembling bikes, pumping up tires … It will be dark soon so we mount headlamps onto helmets . We left with the last traces of daylight but quite a bit less organized then on the previous bike. This section starts with a few massive and very, very long up hills. Milan is pulling. The night falls in and we switch on the big lights. It is getting colder and colder. Misty. We are stopping freqeuntly to put more warm gear on. Everyone is cold. We are tired and really slow. Jim falls and brakes a rib. Within couple of minutes he is back on bike and wants to carry on. Around 4 am we take 2 ½ hour nap under a willow tree. We should have slept next to each other to stay warmer, but brains are not fully working . Beautiful morning riding up Jollie Pass to Hanmer Sprigs. We stop to get water and local farmar pulls over in his truck and have a chat with us – how he is following our progress online, where other teams are and motivate us to keep going. Next transition is about an hour away. With start of a new day and some sleep we feel good.
Stage 6 – Mountain Trek – Glynn Wye Range – 38km - 20:27
We took about 3 liters of water per person and head up for the ridges. The plan is to stay high up covering many miles over the tops of the mountains. The ridge is offten narrow, steep and exposed so we are helping Lara and each other. We know that we are getting dyhydrated – but there is just no water around. Late afternoon we made a key (and wrong) decision to stay longer on the ridges instead of heading down to the forests and rivers. It will cost us later quite few hours – a few hours of precious sleep. We think it is still ok as we will get full night sleep next day on the long river section.
Finaly we stop climbing. Sliding down massive scree slope is sooo fast and sooo much fun. End up in beach forest and roll down as stones as fast as we can to the river bad. We want to get there before it gets dark. It is partly walking, partly sliding and partly falling. Hard to keep up with Jim, even though he broke his rib on a bike last night. End up in the creek which is very cold and very, very slippery. We are expecting to find a trek there and move fast into the transition. The trek is not there! Frustrating, hours lasting bushbash through dents vegetation is ahead of us. The progress is slow. In the middle of night we find a cosy hut and sleep there for 1 ½hrs. Jim does not want to get up and hope that this race is just a dream. We want to be in the transition by 6 in order to get changed, inflate the boats and be at 7:00 on the river.
Stage 7 - River Canoe – Harunui River – 101km – 14:07
And this is exactly what happens. It is a busy one hour to get everything organised – wetsuits, inflate boats, drybags, pack up overnight camping gear, food, safety meeting with the officials… At 07:01 we are allowed on water along with 3 other teams. The race is now clearly split. Seagate at the front racing just against themselves, then another group of 5 top teams racing each other with a few hours. Then another gap and the rest. The Hurunui is a long, beautiful river paddle that takes on almost the entire length of the river all the way to the ocean. The river in it’s upper reaches is surrounded by gorges, steep mountains and native bush. The rapids come thick and fast with near constant grade 2+ rapids until Maori Gully where the difficulty increases to grade 3. Jim is really sore and paddles in various picturesque positions. Some of these are really creative. In one of the rapids Peter finds out that he is the only person in the boat. Jim is waving him of the shore. Petr picks Jim a few hundred meters down the river.
We paddle non-stop. If in need for a toilet we hop into the river. Two gorges. Lots of rapids. Lots of willow trees. The river is expected to take about 23 hours which would force us to spend a night on the river. We are all looking forward to getting 7 or 8 hours of solid sleep. Well things turned out differently. In the early afternoon after we do the math we realize we might be able to do the whole lengths of the river – all the way to the ocean – in just one day – instead of two. Instead of paddling steadily we spend the rest of the afternoon and evening paddling very, very hard. 30 minutes before the “dark zone” time (8:30 p.m.) we get off the river to the next transition. We are excited.
Stage 8 – Mountain Bike – Gore Bay – 25 km – 2:50
I am cold, Lara is very, very cold. Petr makes her a cappuccino. Jim is sorting out maps so we help him with his bike. Our bike boxes are becoming a big mess. I feel exhilarated to be there. In transition we are with 3 other teams. Next bike leg is short and easy but already in the dark. We pass another team.
Stage 9 – Coastal Trek – Kaikoura Coast – 25km – 14:29
The night is very dark, the mist is thick, the moon is not up yet and the mountains are covered in clouds. Petr has a sleepmonster - he is seeing boats, microwaves and letterboxes everywhere. His eyes are closing while walking. Navigation is difficult and we are not making much progress. We put on our Goretex top and bottom to protect bodies from prickels during endless bushbashing. We all need to sleep. There is a white-baiters hut on the map which we should reach in the next 30 min. We get there 3 hours later. It’s an old, small hut and there is already another team sleeping on the floor in dust, amongs dingi, nets, paddles... We fall on the ground and sleep from 5:30 to 6:30. Peter is feeling not good, is vomiting and has no energy.
We cross a chest deep Waiu river. The next few hills are steep and Peter is getting slowerWith Jim we pull him up the hill to move faster. Finaly we leave bush and endup on beach. The coast is beautiful and endless. Pulling Petr and soft beach sand and stones is a hard work. Petr is spaced out.
Stage 10 – Mountain Bike – Spy Glass Point – 38 km - 5:51
Peter goes through the transition sitting on the ground. He is feeling sick, too tired to stand. When he gets up he has to hold the bike not to fall down. The fever starts to set in. But once on the bike he can keep on moving. After a few hours he is getting better. Jim is helping Petr on every steep and technical sections to push his bike. Final descent towards the kayaks makes everyone quite happy. Not really racing at this stage as we know nobody is close behind and nobody is within an hour of us …
Stage 11 – Sea Kayak – South Bay – 26 km - 4:30
We launched by sun set, the moon was there early on as well as the coast guard boat to help us navigate around many reefs. It is quite an eerie feeling to paddle on massive waves hitting the kayak from all sides and a large boat looming close in the middle of a night. I feel tired and every now and than fall a sleep while paddling towards the distant lights. We have curious dolphins and small shark for company. The safety boat marchal sent us to the wrong place on the beach. We leave the boats on beach, garther all our gear and walk on deserted main street to the official finish line. We get to the finish before midnight. Warren, Adam, Anna and other organizers are all there to shake our hands, offering a pie and a beer.
For me Godzone became highlight of the year. The event is well organised and during every stage of the race I knew that organisers have put lots of thoughts into designing the course. The team dynamic was great, we enjoyed each other company and had an awesome time together. We covered 550km with 12500m of ascent and seen some spectacular parts of New Zealand. Thanks so much to our sponsors who helped us to get to the start line:
Chimpanzee Bar – very nutritious, tasty and natural energy food. We went through 140 energy bars (raisin&wallnut the team favourite), 30 quick mix shakes and many, many liters of gunpowder energy drink.
Blairs Kumho Tires – others envy us their spacious transit which took us safely there and back.
The Cyclery – keeping my Specialized Epic bike in shipshape.