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Godzone 2017 - Chapter 6, Queenstown: 7 days of adventure made up of Hiking, Mountain biking, Kayaking, Canoeing, and whatever else happens to pop up, in this case - abseiling and white water rafting. All done while navigating off maps with a team of 4 - fun times!!!
The Team: Freedom Fitness and Coaching
Richard Dove – Team Captain/leader and veteran of 4 previous GZ’s and an expedition Alaska. Self -confessed OCD organiser – a good trait to have by the way!
Simon Lewis – This was to be his 3rd GZ and our esteemed navigator who seemed to navigate as easily as he breathed wanted to finish this year unbroken and without getting a heli ride off course (otherwise known as a flying coffin).
Miles Watson – Having been a volunteer at the past 3 GZ’s we had poached Miles for a crack at competing. It was like racing with royalty as every time we hit transition there was epic excitement to see Miles. Also Miles brings a warped sense of humour - crucial asset to our team.
Me (Rosie Shakespeare) – this was to be my 4th GZ and I came on board also with OCD tendencies, warped sense of humour, potty mouth and team nurse.
Our team goal: FFC – otherwise known as Full …….n Course (fill in the blanks as you see fit). But this was not the only goal. We needed to race to our best out there, do our best all the time and have fun! And be satisfied with our result whatever the outcome if we achieved these goals.
The course: This did not suit our strengths as a team, so we had to be focused, calculating and keep pushing to get FFC. Transitions were to be pushed through – only there to hold us up getting to the finish line. Stops were to be minimal and sleep was to be sacrificed if needed to achieve our goal. (Man we sound pretty determined…..!)
Day 1 – Prologue – a wee “run” (11km trek with 900m elevation) around fern hill finishing at the gondola – this was where our plan first came into play. It was only day 1 of many and we knew we had to be at peace with other teams moving away from us as we kept our steady pace and didn’t blow out in the first hours of this race. Ernie the Era - my amazing specialized mountain bike was a welcome sight at the gondola and I had a grin a mile wide swooping down Hammy’s for a fun non-technical downhill – anytime I am on my bike I am in my happy place and this didn’t disappoint. We soon left the park and made our way out of Queenstown via a “wee” bump called Queenstown hill – my word this is a steep little number!!! A fast fun downhill had us in transition at the time we wanted - 19km done with 650m elevation on the bike. Here we had x1 inflatable canoe and x1 kayak as a team. This was a 19km kayak/canoe leg. The kayaks floated down while the canoes worked quite hard here. Miles and I found out you can float quite happily backwards down a rapid in the fun AR boats – for experimental purposes of course!
The pull out had us lugging our gear up what seemed a vertical climb to the road – this was “fun”. Then off up the Arrow River for a 6km Gorgeering (is that even a word!!) section to get us to the start of our first big trek. This section was……wet! And consisted of us making our way up the river to get to TA1 (transition 1). I managed to take an unplanned swim on this section, which turned out to be quite good for the boys as not long after a CP required a swimmer and since I was already wet, it seemed only fair I should go and get this.
We hit Arrowtown ahead of schedule which was awesome as it gave us some time up our sleeve for the Bullendale Trek and picking our route out before it was dark. This was a 45km trek with 2500m elevation, and we always knew that we would not finish this in time to get on the river for stage 3 so knew a darkzone was coming up for us. A darkzone means you are not allowed on the water between the hours of 8.30pm and 6.45am. The first night had us stopping for a 2hr sleep and we were away again on a cool dark Sunday morning. We popped out onto the road into Skippers Sunday morning and trudged up this somewhat soul destroying patch of 7km for our first time over the 100m high (this is relevant if you read on) Skippers bridge. Funny story interlude: we went over, under, off, over this bridge – say that twice fast and then backwards!!!!....kept us amused for some time anyway :-)
As we crossed to head into the 2nd part of our trek we saw the front runners making their way to the raft – unreal! The heat of the day was really on us here as we trudged on for hours making our way to Branches Station in the Upper Shotover. We were lucky to descend in daylight still as it was a tricky bluffed steep descent with consequences if we mucked up. As we arrived we saw Ian, Wendy, Tony and Dev and Coxy and his team getting on the river for an hour of daylight before the dark zone kicked in. We didn’t spend long in TA2 and dragged our gear the 1km up the road to get our canoes ready for the morning, have some kai and settle down for a full(!) nights sleep.
Day 2 and 3 - Monday morning greeted us at Branches Station with a frost…..!
Here was the only time we were a bit slow in transition and we lost 15mins getting on the water. It was an awesome paddle that kept us busy picking good lines and having a bit of fun in the waves. We came off this paddle really really cold but satisfied and happy that our training session with guru Bob Maclachlan had been put to good use. Back up the road and an abseil off the bridge waited for us (I refer you back to a previous comment about 100m high – you need to be impressed here!). This had the potential to really scare the heebies out of me as I’m not a major fan of heights. But it turned out to be a real highlight and I loved the descent and stunning views as I lowered myself off the bridge. I have to say I felt about 10ft high here and really stoked not just to have done it, but to have put my fear where it belonged – Rosie - 1 Fear of heights - 0.
A wee swim back in the freezing morning to the canoes and we got changed ready to go back over the bridge for the last time: over, under, off and over! This trek to the rafting was…..well it was pretty hard I have to say. Always a wee sting in the GZ tail and this was no exception. By now it was hot and the climbing was short and steep and a bit unrelenting. Razu our amazing and very laid back Nepalese guide met us for our trip in the rafts. This was so much fun!! My main memory is of his awesome skills in putting the boat where it should be while yelling at us to get down and me looking at Richard in the back and giggling uncontrollably as it was so much fun!! Would do this again in a heartbeat.
From here we hit TA4 ready to see our bikes again – YAY bonding with Ernie :-) Miles continued being famous in TA and we got ourselves sorted. We thought we had dropped the ball a bit here but were told we were at least 20min quicker than any of the teams that day in transition. Off we went ready for a 38km stage with 1510m elevation. The moonlight trail was so much fun and one I really want to go back and ride when I am not so shattered and have more of a play bike (sorry Ernie!). I loved this part including the downhill trails that led us to the MTBO (mountain bike orienteering). We had been told earlier in the day to get here in daylight by Adam and Warren (race directors) as some teams had spent hours in there the night before. So it probably wasn’t ideal that we hit it right on dark!!! I really enjoyed this bit as we all pulled together and methodically nailed each checkpoint (CP) without a hitch. That said it still took 4hrs so it wasn’t fast at all.
We hit TA5 and all came to the conclusion that we needed to go through the night here to give ourselves the best chance of full course. Funny really, in my other 3 GZ's I’ve never pulled an all-nighter so was a bit apprenhensive about it all. In good spirts and full of a warm absolute wilderness meal we headed off for Stage 6 – Mt Crichton: 21km with 1880m elevation. We renamed this Crichton McCricton face – this renaming was meant to replace me swearing a lot (not sure it worked). The first few check points kept us all on our toes and Simon totally nailed these! And so the ascent through the night and into the small hours of the morning, then the daylight……..can I just mention here I am not a fan of sidling or slippery tussock grass - all of which was in massive abundance here – yes you guessed it – Tussock McTussock face amongst other words was used freely and often. Dark times here for me and the boys were great keeping me going and as always on hike taking a bit load off me weight/gear wise. We hit the beauty of the lake at the top (which if I cared at all was just awesome) just in time for a helicopter to land and some tourists to hop out…..What!!!! – helicopter Mchelicopter face I tell you!!!!
The last push had us over the top then just a wee 4hr descent in massive oppressive heat to the lake – did I mention it was really steep and really hot…..well it was….really steep and really hot!
The lake was just awesome to see and I felt a bit like a walking/staggering zombie at this stage. Simon got his blistered feet tended too then we were off for an 18km paddle to Glenorchy, and if I do say so myself we nailed beating long course – WAAHOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Our celebration was short lived as we knew we had only part of the plan covered, we had now only given ourselves the chance for long course – we still had to do this thing!!! Hot meals again and we bypassed the pub in favour of a sleep as it had been 43hrs without at this stage. So we got up the road a bit and found an awesome week spot where we crashed out for 4 blissful hours of sleep.
Day 4 – Wednesday morning and we were on stage 8: a 110km MTB stage with 1550m of elevation to get us to Halfway Bay. Sleep monsters came to visit both me and Simon in the dark hours before daylight hit and I can confirm that hitting yourself in the head does not help one iota in trying to wake one up! Just in case you wanted to try…..
I loved this ride (minus the sleep monsters!). Daylight approached over the lake as we rode the awesome wee trail around the lake. A quick fix of Simons broken chain (our only mechanical on all four bikes!) before our hike a bike and we were into our work. This was an honest grovel back in the main oppressive heat of the day and Richard did an awesome job of towing Ernie up this hill too.
The downhill was so much fun and kept us all on our toes until we hit the river bed and for the final push out through the gorge – the GZ sting in the tail – lots of pushing on short sharp climbs here until we finally popped out to ride to the end of this stage. Simon was really keen to get us going in daylight on stage 9 – Eyre Mountains (33km with 2850m elevation) as there was a tricky exit through rocky bluffs that needed all senses intact. We would have made this but hit TA and were told there had been a rockfall incident and every team was grounded until further notice. I instantly felt sick in my stomach as thought this meant someone had been hurt – no race or adventure is worth that and not getting home. Some hours and helicopters flying over the slip later we got an update that no-one was hurt but we were all grounded for the night until 0530hrs and we would go out on a poled route that the GZ team will mark overnight to get us safely through the bluffs before we were on our own again. This time in TA gave us all a good chance to eat, hydrate, tend to feet and have our 2nd full nights sleep of the race. It was also so good to catch up with mates/other teams and have a natter.
Day 5 and 6 – after a 0530hrs meeting we were away. This trek had been adjusted so we didn't get CP 27. It was an honest 1000m climb out which soon warmed us up in the cool morning air. The daylight showed us amazing views at the top of the lake below that we hoped to be on later that day.
Another hot hot day hit us as we trudged on to our goal. Lots of up and down and some sidling (joy) before the final descent into Kingston.
We all tried to push here and I liken my jog/stagger to that of a drunk/slightly un-cordinated person with a carrot in a certain place!! However it did the trick and we dropped height quickly. It was here I realised we would see Shakey at some stage around or before the TA and this had the effect of making me burst into tears every time I thought of him…….this is not a normal response when I think of my husband – honest!!!! Sure enough when I did see him I was again reduced to a blubbering mess: nice vision really – a staggering, drunk, crying wife – hard core athlete me :-)
We hit TA9 knowing that we were in for another full nights sleep as the Lake had been dark zoned and we needed to be off by 9pm so we were in and gone in 20mins to try to get as many km’s as possible on this 47km section. Just before 9pm we found a really cool spot on the lakeside that gave us stunning views of where it all began 5 days before with the twinkling lights of Queenstown and the gondola. The tent went up for the final time and the last of our Absolute Wilderness meals were consumed. A coo-ee from above before we settled in was Shakey saying goodnight :-) (no tears this time!).
It was a pretty crappy sleep to be honest for us all. Our bodies were starting to recover with all the sleep so everything pretty much hurt by this stage.
The morning greeted us with waves crashing on shore – it was going to be a fun paddle! Sure enough around the point we reckon they were about 1m which made for needing our game face on but lots of smiles and whooping too! It was a pretty cool feeling to turn into the Frankton arm knowing we only had 6km left to paddle and we had finished our GZ and made full course. Not once before this did I dare to believe we had full course dialled. Crossing that line was an amazing experience with x3 of the best team mates you could wish for and Shakey waiting on the other side (and Anne – thanks for coming to see us finish!). Who knew a pie could taste so good at 10am in the morning!
As I reflect back on the week we had I am nothing but grateful to have been able to have had such an amazing adventure in such a beautiful part of our world. Often we take for granted what our bodies and our circumstances allow us to do but a race of this magnitude gives me cause for reflection. Will I be back….never say never :-) Of course next year there is a wee bike ride the length of the country that must be done………
A massive thank you to Darryn and the team at Chain Reaction Cycles. I love Ernie the Era and am grateful to the team and Specialized for their support. If you want a great bike shop with quality bikes, then look no further! Also to Len and Kate from Topsport Kayaking, you guys are awesome!
Great Southern Brevet 2016: 16th – 24th Jan. Tekapo to Tekapo. 18,356m climbed. 1130km total riding.
16th Jan – Day One
A leisurely start time of 10.30am gave us plenty of time to wait for the rain to clear and see new (so good to see Fi and John who were there to see us off!) and old faces at the Church of the Good Shepard. The race brief started with Dave retracting his statement this course was easier than past years, in his words: “it’s not”.
The Alps to Ocean trail and about 50 odd riders meant a good pace of 2hrs was set to Twizel. It didn’t feel too fast but when both my quads were aching on the way to our first incline over Ohau Saddle I realised we needed to pace ourselves for the long week ahead. Omarama around 6pm was a great time for tea and to chat with all the riders there. Great to see Shakies Mum and Dad who had come to see us from camping at Lake Aviemore. Refuelled we pushed on towards the Saddle, our first real climb of this Brevet. The typical hike-a-bike ensued and we grovelled up. The sunset that greeted us at the top was amazing and worth every bit of sweat and effort we had used.
Our first camp for the night was just on dark at Top Hut only 2km from the summit. We joined around 20 other people and were very happy to camp outside in the “silence” of our tent.
17th Jan – Day Two
4.30am is early in any language for an alarm but we had a big day ahead and needed all the time we could get so we dragged ourselves up, put our damp clothes on…ewww….. And headed off down the descent of many river crossings – I lost count how many there were! We hit St Bathans at 8.30am and were a bit deflated but not surprised to see the pub was closed. Nothing for it but to push on (via a wee road side stop) and head for Thomsons Gorge and another climb to warm us up.
Those who have done Goldrush will remember this climb fondly! A bit of biking, a bit of hiking, a lot of eating and we had done it! Time for some downhill and into Tarras for some well earned Kai.
Tarras was busy with lots of smelly hungry riders and it was a good place to refuel and swap stories with many. As it turned out the fuel was needed, Grandview was next and as the name may suggest the view was grand but far out it was earned! A mere 30km over the “hill” to Hawea took us 8hrs to do. Lots of hike a biking again surrounded by others kept the spirits up as we worked hard in the hot hot sun. Some of the inclines hit 40% gradient in places!
A long descent had us into Hawea around 10.30pm and we headed for the pub that had stayed open for a large crew including Ian, Wendy, Steph, Hana and Alisha. They made us food and we all managed to get a bed for the night. The shower was amazing, the bed not so much. Backpackers are not good for sleep and at 3am our partying neighbours finally decided to go to sleep……arghhh!!!
18th Jan – Day Three
Another early one had us heading on the easy river trail into Wanaka for Breakfast with the crew. We would need this as another epic day waited for us. Up Snow farm, then onto the Pisas into Cromwell. It was cold and wet ascending up the access road, but we just put our heads down on got on with it. The Pisa’s were fun and unlike Grandview had heaps more riding than hiking which was awesome. We got up to 1900m so saw some snow/ice remnants and at times when the cloud lifted got amazing views.
Another long descent waited. I managed to wear through my brake pads in the front. Metal on metal is not good so ½ the descent was a bit hairy only using the back brake. A 30km slog into a head wind (okay I sat in behind Shakey J ) and we were in Cromwell. Just in the nick of time as the supermarket closed at 8pm. We stoked up then hit he local Indian – mmmm….curry! Then headed along the river trail to find a spot for the night. Another big day waited, we needed a good sleep!
19th Jan – Day Four
We awoke to rain and that set the tone for the day – but hey ho, we are not made of icing sugar!! Only regret was not being able to see amazing views up on the Old Women Range. We were lucky to get some as we started on the Nevis back to Lake Dunstan, magic :-)
It was a long, cold and wet day on the tops and the mud was quite bad in one patch. I struggled here, but like anything knew it would finish and we wouldn’t be up there forever. It was great to see Dave the organiser all along the course but especially today as we saw him twice and the second time he bought fruit – Central Otago cherries and apricots – perfect!
From the Obelisk was a long fun descent into Clyde where only a wee ride on the river trail had us in Alex for tea. Here we needed to sort our jet boat from Doctors Point as the track is not yet connected for a 12km section. Luckily Shakey had sorted this while we rode in so we knew we didn’t have much time to restock supplies, eat, and wash very muddy bikes and head 10km to Doctors Point. This was a great ride and we met up with Steph, Dan, Russ and Cjell – the latter three had beers and Thai food and were heading to Roxburgh accommodation for the night. An amazing sight of a shelter greeted us as we left the jet boat so myself, Shakey and Steph decided this would be our lodgings for the night. The boys stayed for tea and headed out into the rain and night as we snuggled down for an 8hr(!!!) sleep – bliss.
20th Jan – Day 5
The Clyde gold flat/undulating trail was needed after the four previous days of epic elevation and we needed to make up some km’s if we had any hope of making our target of 6 ½ to 7 days to finish. The time to Lawrence zoomed by and the sunshine helped heaps. A chemist stop was needed to resupply with dressings for Shakeys bleeding and very very sore bottom – oww!!!! We had lunch, stocked up on food and water again and the three of us (me, Shakey and Steph) made our way through the hilly but not mountainous country side to Mosgiel. We were there in good time and after a quick stop were on the bike by 7.30pm to see how much of the Swampy summit climb we could get in before our day ended. We nearly reached the top on dark and found a great stopping place. The first hour of descent on the ridgeline was muddy and slippery and had claimed a few scalps so we didn’t want to be there in the dark. We were pleased to have made such good km’s for the day and made some inroads up the climb too.
21st Jan – Day 6
This was to be for me the day of epicness!!! We started early and easily finished off the climb. Sure enough the first part of the descent was hard going. Shakey managed to end up in a gorse bush and twist his ankle on this part! It seemed to take ages to hit Karitane and the general store was a welcome site. We ate the shop then found a spot to do some bike care from the muddy tops, top up water and steel ourselves for Ramrock road. We both knew this would be long and hot and it didn’t disappoint. It was a matter of head down and being “zen” and just plodding on our now very tired legs. We were lucky to get some more water midway from a farming house and met a lovely local who heard Steph was behind us and drove to meet here and inform her of her place and fresh water. We grovelled into Hyde feeling pretty hot and shattered and drowned ourselves from the tap water. A head wind into Ranfurly was testing on mind and body so 8km out when we saw Waipiata pub open we knew this was our tea stop. The locals were amazing and I think thought we were a bit mad – we didn’t try to tell them otherwise. Refuelled and refreshed we pushed on through Ranfurly and the local forest before Nasby. It was now around 10pm and a warm stunning night with moonlight guiding us along the water race. The body was shattered but the spirit was soaring at this point. We hit Nasby and were stoked to have made our goal km’s for the day in what were really hard circumstances. The first road side verge was ours and the tent was up in record time and we were asleep before our heads hit the pillows.
22nd Jan – Day 7 and our last day!!
We started today thinking we may not get all the way so were pretty relaxed about what lay ahead. Danseys pass was a delight to climb, a gently gradient in the early morning and we hit the top much earlier than we thought. No words were said but we both knew this was now our last day on the bike :-)
Having ridden this part of the course around Christmas time we knew it wasn’t all downhill to Duntroon so were prepared for this. The head wind on the last bit in was a grovel but our spirits lifted when we saw our good mate John Lawson who had come to find us. Some food and fluid at The Flying Pig in Duntroon and we steeled ourselves for the brutal afternoon/night ahead. By this stage the Norwest was in full flight, so that meant a head wind and it was very very hot. The ride from Duntroon to Kurow which would normally be a cruisy 60mins took us 2hrs!! The mid ride swim was amazing and refreshed us for the push in. Kurow was exciting as it signalled the last leg and last 110km of this ride and we knew we would be finished tonight.
As always nothing comes easy on these adventures and this stage was no exception. The head wind was brutal and for the final push it started raining hard and the wind was really strong. At one stage we covered 4.2km in an hour……..!
The pass was a welcome sight and a quick final celebratory selfie for the last climb and we were off into the final 45km home.
We knew this would not be easy and it wasn’t. The wind did not let up and Shakey was amazing here (again). He took the lead and the windbreak and I think I would still be out there if he hadn’t! The last 14km on the highway were brutal, but the sunset was amazing – our own special display of colours and beauty. We had to pedal downhill as it was so windy we weren’t moving far. It was great to see Ian and Gareth turn up in the car to cheer us on and it was an awesome moment to see the Church of the Good Shepard again 6days and 12hrs after leaving it. Dave the amazing organiser was there and Wendy to cheer us in.
I am so lucky to have been able to have this journey with my best mate and have some amazing hard, but beautiful days in our country. We had the best playground on our backdoor step and to be able to go and be a part of it is awe inspiring and soul restoring. So now the body heals and the mind plans the next adventure!
We are just two ordinary people who love riding our bikes and pushing some limits. You can do more than you thought possible, but only if you believe you can!