Godzone 2015

Chris and I enjoy some Chimpanzee Drinks on the summit of Mt Una (2300m) two weeks before Godzone
In October Chris raced the World Champs in Ecuador and won with Team Seagate. Following a race is always a good way to get a bit motivated, and I felt inspired to challenge myself in Godzone 2015, especially given the awesome mountain location of Wanaka. But I was teamless and I wondered if I would get the chance...

In December teams started to lose members and suddenly I found myself with several potential teams. After a bit of indecision I joined Team Chimpanzee Bar - with Greig Hamilton and Milan Brodina and after a bit of further hunting, Rob Creasy. Rob had never done anything like Godzone before, but had a strong athletic background in Ironman and triathlon. Greig and I go way back on mountain missions, and Milan has lots of good adventure racing experience behind him. I was nervous about how it would be racing with a new team, but very excited as well.

We spent a weekend together before the race and got on really well, with similar expectations and motivations. So, on Thursday 27th Feb we gathered in Wanaka to ready ourselves for the race...

Day 1
After a frantic Friday spent organising gear boxes and then a very sleepless night we were up at 3 am to board the bus to... who knows where? I spent most of the bus ride debating if I should stop the bus, because I was so desperate for a pee. In the end, gazing out at all the cascading waterfalls became too much and I tiptoed to the front of the bus past all the snoozing teams and asked the driver to pull over!

The bus parked us at Haast Pass, and the track up to the Brewster Glacier. It was raining and I was very nervous. I knew the start of this race would be tough - straight up 1200 metres and we would be going quick.

Heading to the start of the race.. Milan looks relaxed!
Behind the start line I didn't have time to think much - a quick hug and kiss from Chris and then bang, we were off! A mass of bodies cramming through the start banner and then splashing through the stream. I ran fast and didn't waste energy worrying about where my team mates were, I knew they would find me soon.

There was a jam at the start of the track, then we were heading steadily up. Sure enough my teammates were all nearby and soon we were setting a comfortable pace up the hill. We overtook a few teams and then continued steadily up. It wasn't too long before the bush changed and we were up in the open, with rain and wind pelting down. We stopped to put on jackets and then continued up past Brewster hut and onto some slippery rocks.

Teams near the turn around point by the Brewster Glacier

We were nearing the glacial lake when Team Seagate appeared heading down already. Chris said they had cancelled the glacier traverse because of the weather, so we would just go as far as the lake then turn around. It was disappointing, but the weather was a bit average. As soon as we reached the descent we caught a few teams who found the slippery rocks challenging. We traversed onto the ridge, where the fog made the navigation tricky.

Greig was on form and we hit the checkpoint on the ridge perfectly. We had to run sections of the ridge, it was blasting wind and rain but we didn't want to waste time putting on more clothing. We bashed down through the forest and caught Next Generation on the last section of track before the TA.

We transitioned quickly and inflated the canoes. The raft down the Makarora River went pretty quickly, the river was starting to rise from all the rain! Just before the TA the river channels became very confusing compared to what was marked on the map and we ended up having to carry our canoes some distance to the TA which really strained my lower back.

Makarora River before the rain really came.
At the TA we found out that we were now about 2 hours back on the front teams, so we hurried off on the trek. We chose to climb the hill following a fairly vague track towards the Albert Burn, which retrospectively cost us about 40 minutes. I was feeling a bit low at this point, the others kept running and my running shuffle is so slow.. I felt I was going slowly but I also felt a bit helpless to do anything about it...

Finally we reached the Albert Burn turn off and it started to feel a bit more like a tramp again. After getting ferried across the river by some race officials in a raft we scrambled up the side of the swollen Albert Burn. It looked like we needed to cross, but the river was clearly flooded and given we had just been rafted across it seemed ludicrous to cross back again. First we climbed high, but that didn't work as we found ourselves in ever steeper terrain. Milan was hanging onto a couple of dodgy bushes over a massive abyss - at which point I suggested an alternative route.

We clambered back down to the river and spotted the Bivouac Colts forwarding the river - that looked incredibly dodgy so we decided to persevere with the side of the river we were on. We found we could wade and climb our way round most of the bluffs, and slowly we made it up river to the point where the track crosses back to the side we were already on.

Meanwhile Bivouac was stuck on the wrong side of the river. There was a massive waterfall which they would have to cross directly above, so even if they had saved time on the other side I felt we had made the right choice not to have to make that dangerous crossing.

We headed up the track and could hear distressed shouts from Bivouac as they tried to swim the river, I hoped that they were all okay! Soon the track opened onto more grassy river flats and we caught Next Generation who had also had some trouble in the river, but like us had stayed on the true left.

Fortunately Bivouac weren't far behind either and had made it across the river without drowning. All three teams raced on up the valley. The track went up and down like mad and it felt like the climbing would never end. We decided to have a short 30 minute

sleep in the tent. We pitched it quickly and hopped in. I lay there awake, but enjoying just being off my feet, listening to the rain patter down.

Day 2
Before any time really the alarm beeped and we got going as fast as we could. We could see the Bivouac lights above us and quickly realised we had bashed down into the stream too early. Greig took a very undesirable route (as far as I was concerned) up through some thick scrub. You had to take both hands and haul yourself up one step at a time. I was finding the going pretty tough and was struggling a bit mentally.

We worked out that we needed to climb high on either the true left or right and ended up deciding to stick on the left. After a few more hours of slow bashing we reached the ridge-top and gazed down into a chasmous stream. On the map it only looked like one contour to drop into the stream, but in reality it was a very steep descent.

Several teams including Bivouac and Tiki Tours had stopped here for a sleep. JJ popped over and asked where we were planning on heading. I said that we would try to find a way down and he said that they would either follow, or call the chopper if we needed it! I hoped not!

Clinging onto little tussock clumps we slowly made our way down. Even though it was dark I could see that a fall would send one tumbling down into the river several hundred meters below. Greig took a hairy line direct into the river... and Rob followed him. Milan and I took a slightly easier alternative, clinging on to dracophylim bushes until we eventually reached the stream.

Finally I got to eat the apple crumble I had made up ages ago! I felt slow as Team Tiki Tours raced past us, but I think the fast pace up Mt Brewster had taken a lot out of me. We slogged up the spur, and finally as the dawn broke we could glimpse the large structure of Kea Chalet right up on the pass. We had a very steep headwall to scramble up, and I wasn't very reassured when Greig said, "Just hold on tight to the tussock bushes...but don't pull them too hard cos they aren't really that secure." Great!

Torpedo 7 caught us back up at this point, having had a sleep in the valley too. Lots of teams seemed to have decided that some sleep was a good idea early on in this race which was proving tough from the very start. At Kea Chalet we were very surprised to meet Absolute Wilderness. They had been setting an awesome pace from the start, but had stopped for an hour sleep at the Chalet. It was fun to see Lara, but then we found out that one of their team members had badly injured his knee the night before and would not be able to continue the race. I felt really bad for them, it would totally suck to have to pull out of the race!

Kea Chalet finally popped into view as the sun came up
We headed off down, down, down into the valley. There was a whole lot of burnt off scrub which made the going easier. My knees felt really sore, so I took some neurofen which helped a bit. Finally we were down in the river and completed a couple of hairy 3 wire bridge crossings. Then a long section of track walking saw us pop out on some grassy flats. Greig and Milan were feeling good, and we did a bit of running towing before being thwarted by fence crossings which seemed extraordinarily hard on our stiff sore bodies.

We reached the TA early in the afternoon. Bivouac was spotted heading down the river flats not far behind us. Milan and Rob were having some trouble with their canoe, so Greig and I cruised a bit. Getting some food down and taking a few little turns at having a nap...

Milan and Rob then swapped places in the raft and the speed increased a bit. I was starting to get really bad stomach cramps, so I decided I needed to stop eating sugar. Somehow I let water get into my omeprazol tablets (these help stop acid forming in your stomach) so they had turned into a very unsavoury soup which I couldn't really take any more. The problem was I had a real shortage of savoury food, so I was struggling to find any food that I actually wanted to eat, which is never a good thing.

The East Matukituki became fairly still as we reached the end of it and we were relieved to finish the canoe section and get on to coasteering. There was a wee walk to the Lake Wanaka Coastline, then we were heading round an easy shoreline. However, the shoreline rapidly became trickier and soon we were forced to swim around the edge through the cold water.

As we reached the furtherest tip both Milan and Rob were starting to get pretty cold. We then had to swim 400m to the other side of the lake. I could hear both Milan and Rob struggling to breath they were so cold, but nevertheless they hooned off across the lake, leaving Greig and I wallowing behind. The safety boat came to check on us and we assured him that being the fat members of the team has certain advantages!

Once on the beach we shivered our way along to the transition. About half way there we found Milan and Rob huddling against each other trying to warm up. Milan looked scared, he was cold enough to be worried about how cold he was! We got to transition and Greig put Milan into a sleeping bag. The rest of us got on with transitioning while Milan warmed up.

The sleeping bag proved effective and soon we were ready to leave on our bikes. Bivouac had a made a break on us at this point, and we saw them at multiple points along the ride into Wanaka.

As we pulled into the transition at Wanaka we were told we needed to make a short video about how we were going. In our overly tired, slightly dazed state Milan and I made a poor movie. Rob had started to get bad blisters on the first trek, so he had these seen to while Greig and I marked up the new maps and Milan helped with the cover seal.

My maps kept blurring in and out of focus as I tried to mark them up, it seemed ridiculously hard to concentrate on anything! I remember asking Greig, "Could I just have a wee sleep on the maps?" to be told sternly no and hurry up. The course looked like a monster, there was so much to go. Really we were just starting the race!

Simone (who we stayed with in Wanaka and was originally going to race on the team) popped her bright face round the tent and said hello, it was cool to see her and have her wish us well. The organiser Paula also popped over and gave me a hug, I asked her why and she said I looked so sad! I think I just felt overwhelmed by the monster task ahead when I was already so fatigued.

After almost an hour organising maps we set off down the road and found a nice pine needle patch to sleep in for a solid 3 hours.

Day 3

That was a great sleep and when we woke we all felt a bit more race ready. We stormed up the 1000m climb up Clifford Track, but lost the track at the airstrip in a moment of lack of concentration and it took us 40 minutes to sort out where we were.

The barren and exposed tops of the Pisas

We climbed on up, slowly reaching the top of Mt Pisa as the sun came up. Unfortunately so did the wind! It was the strongest wind I have ever experienced by a long way. Greig was flung bodily from his bike onto the ground hurting his face and leg. Milan and I got stuck clinging on to our bikes trying not to be sucked off the edge of the Pisas. Greig and Rob had to come back and shuttle the bikes at several points, and all you could hear was an extreme roaring sound.

My lack of food the following day had finally hit me and I couldn't get any food down without feeling sick. Things were looking a bit grim for Team Chimpanzee at this point in the race....

After taking about 2 hours to go 2km along the ridge we finally started to descend. The riding was technical and I found most of my balance had also disappeared. Then Rob got the first of 4 flat tyres as we descended to Roaring Meg Hut. It is amazing how fast things can go wrong and time can be lost. We knew Bivouac now had about 2 hours lead and sure enough there was Next Generation coming up behind us, having caught several hours on us.

But this was such a monster race we didn't let our bad ride get us down. We knew we just had to keep racing smart, and there was plenty of time to make up for it. We rode on the 4wd track which supposedly sidled, but really just climbed alongside the Kawarau river. Tim caught us just on dark and in the pouring rain, as we attempted to find our way along some confusing deer fences to the checkpoint. He out-foxed us, and got a lead heading down into the river.

We were now on the Queenstown trails, and we rode more efficiently, keeping an eye on each other as we got a bit sleepy and swerved off the track. We had nearly been riding for 20 hours and we were well and truly ready to be over with this ride!

There was a tricky checkpoint beside the Rivermouth at Frankton and Lake Wakitipu, and we spent a little bit of time hunting around. Then we got confused following the track to the finish, but eventually sorted it out. Reaching the TA ahead of Next Generation was satisfying, even if it turned out they had been getting McDonalds at Frankton. We got to bed straight away and slept solidly in the race organisers tent for 3 hours. It was a really good sleep and usually after a really good sleep the racing improves too!

Day 4
Arriving in from the Lake Wakitipu paddle in lovely calm conditions
A lovely dawn saw us paddling across a gentle Lake Wakitipu, and after a few hours reaching a checkpoint on the lake shore. I ate a can of tuna, and that tasted great so I knew I was also getting back my appetite. At the TA the wind was starting to pick up, so we were happy to be off the lake. Next Generation came in just after us, they had paddled strongly to across the lake. We got some hot soup and I downed a lamb pie! It tasted delicious and my belly felt so much better with some food in it.

Eating some delicious soup and pies on the way out of the Lake Wakitipu TA
Once again Milan and Greig were feeling strong on the climb and a bit of towing action helped Rob and I speed up the hill. Rob was starting to struggle a bit having put up with incredibly sore blisters from the start of the race and I hoped he was going to be okay. We climbed well up to the top of the first range, then dropped quickly down into the Nevis Valley. We wanted to get as far as we could while it was still daylight.

We climbed up into the Garvies near the Roaring Lion where Mat, Lara and Georgia and I had carried our bikes into Blue Lake Hut a few months earlier. At least we weren't carrying our bikes this time! We headed across the amazing green grass swamplands and then the final climb into the Garvies. Rob was really finding it tough going, fortunately Greig picked up on this and helped him out with food and towing.

Heading off on the Garvie Mountain Trek
On the ridge we could just glimpse a route down to the lakes where our checkpoint was, before the darkness fell. We descended slowly to the lake, got our checkpoint, then headed back the way we had come. We had decided this would be the easiest and most direct way to access the next checkpoint by the big lake. It was definitely an advantage having been in this terrain some months earlier, I had a good mental picture of the terrain.

Our progress down the ridge slowed significantly, mostly due to Rob's very sore feet, and Greig's headlamp died so he had to borrow Milan's and Milan was walking with a very faint one. We kept on and eventually reached the lake where Greig waded out to the wee island to get the checkpoint.

I was feeling really alert and awake with the navigation, which was a great feeling. Greig was also navigating strongly. Greig had a chat and said something very effective to Rob, we gave him a couple of neurofen and suddenly the pace picked right up again. We reeled in Bivouac Colts over the following few hours, and as the mist closed in Greig navigated us perfectly down the Titan Rocks to the beginning of the track down to Piano Flat.

We passed a tired looking Bivouac team, and then we decided it was time for us to have a sleep. We pitched the tent and had a good 1.5 hour sleep. We didn't think this would quite see us to the end of the race, but we thought it would get us a good part of the way there.

Day 5
We woke in the tent feeling groggy, Rob was especially stiff and sore, but we got going and after a few hours we walked into the TA at Piano Flat. It was great to see Viv and Dave there, and they made me a lovely cup of coffee. Rob had his feet seen to again. At this TA Bivouac was also transitioning, and we had caught Torpedo 7 again as they had had a bad night up in the Garvies. We heard that Seagate had finished the race and won - woohooo! But lots of teams ahead and behind had been finding the race really tough, which made me feel a bit better, maybe it wasn't just me!

We set off out of Piano flats on the bikes ready for the orienteering. My knees were both feeling really sore, so a bit of a tow from Milan was much appreciated. We started the orienteering in Waikaia Bush with some sneaky manoeuvring with Torpedo 7 who were having trouble getting into the map because they got mixed up whether the map was grid or magnetic north.

After the first section we took the controls in a different order from them so we could do our own thing. Greig started to fade a bit, having worked so hard to get the whole team quickly through the Garvie's the night before had finally taken its toll. It was my turn to navigate and I wasn't sure how it would go, but I took it slowly and ticked off the features. As the controls started to go well I got more confident and into more of a flow.

Some of the trickier controls on the Waikaia map. Finding the way from K to L seemed quite challenging for my tired brain!
Greig was still following closely to back me up. I felt proud of the way I navigated through the controls cleanly, even though we had been racing for nearly 5 days! We jumped in the river at the end of the orienteering to cool off, because now we had a massive climb out of Waikaia and up onto the Old Woman Range.

We could see Torpedo 7 just ahead, they pulled further ahead as we climbed out of the valley. Milan pulled my bike up the hill, I just focussed on keeping up with it! Then we were riding up the technical bog lands. I pushed myself to ride what I could and we made good progress to the Potter's Hut turnoff.

We continued along the range and stopped to put some extra layers on as the sun set and the temperature dropped. The sun set was really beautiful and we had a good goal in mind - we wanted to get to the Old Woman Hut for a 1.5 hour sleep, which should see us good to race hard to the end.

The wind was strong again as we descended towards Duffer's Saddle. We were freezing when we reached the hut, but we were very grateful for the warm mattresses and quickly fell fast asleep.

Day 6
The alarm went off one second later! We were all shivering, it was cold even in the hut. We put on a few more layers than we probably needed, but we knew we had a big descent to Cromwell. As soon as we set off we spotted lights out in front of us, and convinced it was Bivouac we rode hard to catch them. This was pretty foolish, because we soon overheated and had to stop and shed layers. Then we discovered that it was actually a short coursed team, and so we resumed at a more sensible pace.

The descent to Carricktown was tricky and I kept thinking I was going to crash. Rob was incredibly patient behind me not making any rude comments. Finally we made it down to the main road and stopped to take more layers off. Now it was a road ride all the way back to Wanaka. Rob and Milan took turns leading out while Greig and I drafted. They powered us along, and I had to take a couple of no dose to keep alert and not crash into someones wheel!

It was awesome seeing Lucy and Lance cheering us along on the road, even though it must have been about 3am! Eventually we turned off on the mountain bike trail to Albertown. But this went on endlessly! We tried not to stop, and as the light of the day slowly crept in the landscape revealed itself to us. We turned off on the Dean's Bank track and feeling wobbly from so much endless riding we finally reached Dublin Bay on Lake Wanaka.

Here we could see Tiki Tour just setting off on their paddle - that was the third place team! - so we had caught them up big time. Torpedo 7 had also just left, but they were understandably devastated to realise that in the night they had missed one of the necessary sections and a checkpoint along the way, so they were out of the race.

Paddling on Lake Wanaka
We were happy to be on the last section of this epic race, and I was very excited about reaching the finish line that day, hopefully as soon as possible. As soon as we set off the wind began to pick up, but we paddled confidently through the first series of checkpoints. At the furthest checkpoint the wind became so strong and the waves picked up sufficiently that we had to ferry glide and zig zag away across the channel.

Heading downwind to the second to last checkpoint we could not land on the shoreline where we needed to, the waves were breaking and the wind made it very hard to steer. There was not a single boat in sight, and we pulled up on a beach and walked to the checkpoint from there. I was really freaked out, and we didn't think we could relaunch from where we were until the wind died down a bit.

So, sad and a bit scared we decided to wait. We sent a message to the organisers saying we were ok, but wanted to wait for it to calm down a bit before we continued. We dried ourselves out and slept. Given how quickly Milan and Rob had become hypothermic in the lake during the lake swim we thought it was dangerous to continue.

Eventually one of the organisers boats pulled up and asked what we were up to. We explained our concerns, and they said they had just followed Bivouac round the headland to the last checkpoint. I was really gutted that we had let Bivouac past, but that was the decision we had made given the conditions we were experiencing.

The safety guys stuck with us round the headland and the wind had died a lot since we had been there earlier. Rob and Milan capsized, so we paddled back and assisted them to right themselves. Then it was all on to see if we could catch Bivouac. We did catch them at the checkpoint, but on seeing us they were spurred into a flurry of paddling and we could only match them. They still had a few minutes lead and we soon saw we would not gain the lead.

Rob and Milan pull up on the beach
So it was unfortunately a much less jubilant finish than I had hoped for, we were stoked with how we had gone as a team, but for me I was definitely frustrated by our finish. Greig was confident we had made the right decision given the capabilities of our team. But I like things to be perfect and that was definitely not the perfect finish!
A little bit of disappointment when talking to the media at the finish.

Greig hopping out of the kayak for the last time
Never mind, now I just have some frustration fuel to do it better next time, whereas otherwise I would have been much more satisfied with our performance. We walked over the finish line and gave each other a big hug. It had been a monster effort for all of Team Chimpanzee and I think we can all be proud of our strengths that made us the team that we were!

Walking to the finish line
Kebabs at the store never tasted so good - ever! It was great to see Fraser at the finish and share stories with a grinning Chris who produced us many hot vege pies to eat. Rob made me laugh as we dropped him home to sleep that night, he said "I wish I could phone myself up a week ago and have a wee chat, let myself know just what I was in for!" I don't think I would do that though, because we had definitely had an adventure - the unknowns and twists and turns had made the race really exciting.

At the end, checking the website and seeing all the cool messages of our many followers was really special. I love how so many people get excited and sucked into the adventure of this race and I think that is part of what makes it so addictive! Hmm, seems I may yet need one or two more of these kind of adventures (-:

Team Chimpanzee at the finish line
Thanks to the Godzone Website for many of these photos!


Alan said…
great writeup! pity about the finish :)
Gerardine Jones said…
Can't even imagine how hard it was - Congratulations
HeleneSuzanne said…
So cool to read. Could imagine it! Well done team chimp.
Sylvia said…
Good work Em! And great account of your adventures.
Alistair said…
Nice one Emily, well done. And congrats to Chris too.
Neroli said…
You're one tough cookie Em! And the rest of the team, great account of the race :)
Linley said…
I agree with Neroli, Em...you are a tough cookie. What a race and well done to you all.
Tim said…
Great write up Em. Good effort by you and your team.
NaC said…
Hey Emily, awesome story - I think you and the team did great.

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