Coach Ray’s Sufferings: Absolute Wilderness Adventure Race
The Absolute Wilderness Adventure Race is put on by Nathan Fa’avae and his dedicated team. It creates options to participate in Adventure Racing regardless of experience whether in the 3 hour (introductory events) through to the 12 hour that is used by teams preparing for the GODZone Expedition Race.
Two thirds of our team (Kit & I) left Nelson on Thursday night driven by our support crew Rick (Kit’s husband). After a stop-over we continued to Twizel on Friday. I had plotted out where I thought the course might be going. We were going to checkout some key areas that I suspected might be involved, but as we turned up just prior to 4pm, and our team mate who was travelling separately from Christchurch wasn’t there yet, we registered and then decided to chill out in Twizel. Twizel turned out to be pretty busy event wise that weekend with the National Rowing Champs on all week finishing on Saturday, the Alps 2 Ocean Ultra-run, and the Salmon & Wine Festival also on Saturday.
After registering Kit & I sat down to look over the map of the Twizel area discussing possible course options as the course maps hadn’t yet been released. That was due to occur at 6pm. We relaxed, enjoying a wine & beer respectively whilst waiting for our dinner to be made. Rick had some work to do and was beavering away on his laptop having driven all day.
Karen, our third team mate, joined us just prior to 6pm and we joined the queue to uplift our race maps. I was excited to see that the mountain bike and hike/rogaine areas were exactly as I predicted, but in the wrong direction (I had the course going anticlock wise through Flanagans Pass, but we were in fact going clockwise), and the raft section I was totally wrong about! We sat down and plotted route options, but in all reality we didn’t need to plot much as the navigation for the run/raft & mountain bike legs was pretty straight forward, and the map for the hike/rogaine leg would be given to us when we arrived in the Remote Transition Area (RTA) which was right where I predicted it.
After the race briefing, we departed to our accommodation which was an amazing wee log cabin that we dubbed the Little House on the Prairie. It sat on top of the hill and offered great views through the full 360 degrees. We prepared our gear and sorted it out to make life easy for Rick the following day and as we had a 9am start (not the usual 4am or earlier wake up for a 6am start), we had a good team chat and general catch up.
With the advice being to allow an hour to drive from Twizel to the start and we were already out of town in the direction of the race start we left just on 8am. We cruised out to Glen Lyon for the start, arriving to a brisk 5 degrees! Arriving with our wetsuits already on we milled around for a bit prior to the start. Nathan gave us a qwik brief and we were off on a 2km run to get to the rafts. This run primarily serves the purpose of spreading the field out allowing the rafting guides to get two teams kitted out in life jackets and into the raft and going without 150 people hitting the water at exactly the same time.
We started right near the very back and as we ran we picked off teams slowly throughout the run. It is surprising to see teams sprint at the start when they had at least 6 hours of racing expected ahead of them. Yes, getting to the raft first does put them at the front of the race, but the speed in the raft is determined more around the water flow rather than effort put in. Throughout the raft leg all the rafts stayed within visual range of each other.
Karen, Kit & I arrived at the raft all together and were directed to a raft being guided by an Aussie called Josh. We joined Team Shortcutz who had arrived just prior to us. Qwikly we all doned our life jackets, putting our helmets and race bibs back on and pushed off with Josh. Shortcutz were an open women’s team also from Nelson. Kit & I both live in the Nelson region and Karen was from Nelson originally. We qwikly got into a good rhythm working together and Serena from Shortcutz cracked the whip as she is a personal trainer at Mi Gym in Nelson. We seesawed with a couple of other teams in the same vacinity. Putting the hammer down when teams put a surge in. Different lines worked well for us at times and sometimes worked to other teams advantage, although we didn’t beach our raft on shallow water when doing any overtaking.
Towards the end, Josh pointed out a channel that branched off to the left. The teams ahead of us all followed the main channel to the right. He explained that it was a risk and the rafting guides had all discussed it after guiding the 6am start down the river, but no one had taken it to explore. There was a risk that we would need to get out and drag our raft a little bit, but it could pay off advancing us up the field as it was going to be shorter. With Team Shortcutz in the boat, it was an easy decision. None of the teams immediately behind us followed us down this channel. As we went the water got shallower and shallower. We got to the point were we needed to jump out and over the edge jumped Kit, only to find she was in armpit deep water!!!! We qwikly got the raft over the shallow bits (and the deep section of the pool that Kit found) and got going again. We didn’t lose much time and I don’t think we lost position and we quickly got to the end of the raft section, getting out and removing our life jackets. We had a short run of about 800m to get to TA1.
When we arrived in the Transition Area (TA), Rick had our gear all laid out for us and our bikes expertly maintained and good to go (they had picked up a lot of dust on the drive up the gravel road to get to the start). We had a qwik change, stuffing fuel in our mouths as we went. Helmets on, confirmation we all had our race bibs on, we had our transponders and maps and then it was time to head off. We went on a qwik blat down the road before we turned onto the track UP to Flanagan’s Pass.
Now this was an epic climb. It literally went straight up at a 9% gradient for 6km and then for the next 1.7km it continued up at an average of 10%. There were also two Controls to get as we went past them. Some teams were straight into walking up it, but Kit, Karen and I soldiered on gently spinning up it. A number of teams raced passed us, but we kept cruising up barely stopping. The girls from Shortcutz passed us. We must have got through the TA qwiker than them. We said gidday and had a bit of banter with them, wishing them well for the rest of the day.
At each control, I’d be out with some food for (myself, as well as) the girls. It’s important to keep yourself fuelled during an adventure race otherwise things come unstuck later in the day. At each control up the hill we would catch up with the girls from Shortcutz and often push on before or at the same time as them. At the road end we had a brief chat whilst I sorted food and Karen caught up to us. We eventually caught up with them on the 10% climb through the more technical trail up to the pass at 1225m. They were walking and we got off and walked with them for a bit before we pulled away. I can’t remember when or where, but they did get back in front of us again.
The downhill into the RTA was quite steep and technical. A good skill tester, but not unridable. On our way down, some of the 12 hours teams were heading up on foot. When we got down into the RTA we were given our maps for the Rogaine.
Lying down in the tussock, I pulled out my pink highlighter to plan out our route, but all the controls were laid out in a circular fashion and basically the decision was either clockwise or anticlockwise. I shot a bearing to get to the first Control and then looked at options to get to the second Control. We could go straight up a reentrant or we could follow a track up and around. The second option was longer, but I figured it could be qwiker. Getting to the third, the track continued up the hill and then we could contour across allowing us to drop straight down on the control and then follow a creek down to get the next and the last few would be relatively easy after that. The plan was sorted, I qwikly briefed the girls and away we went.
As we left the RTA, pulling my compass up I sighted where we needed to be going. As I looked up the hill I realised I wasn’t going to need to follow the compass bearing as the control could be seen and a team was going straight to it. Off we set, until we got to the biggest matagouri bush I’d ever seen. I’d only ever dealt with small versions of this little prickly shrub. Out here they were like hedges. We were crawling around under and through them, eventually popping out the other side and qwikly grabbing the control.
We could see a large number of teams (including Shortcutz) making their way up the reentrant, with one team heading up on the longer route up the track. After a qwik discussion with the girls we set off up the track. This proved to be the best option as we leap frogged ahead of the teams making their way up the reentrant. The girls were stoked to be ahead of Shortcutz again. Avoiding the steep terrain had paid dividends for us.
As we went over the spur line, we were able to see down into the valley to the next control. It was here that I realised the track that was marked on the map, was basically non-existent on the ground. My plan of following it up and then contouring around wouldn’t be an option. We would have to do the same as every other team and go straight up the side of the hill. Due to a calf injury for one of my team, we wanted to avoid steep sections as much as possible, but then I spotted a team heading straight down the valley after getting the control. What were they doing and why? A qwik check of the map I realised that we could follow their lead dropping down and getting CP7 then heading up the next valley and getting CP6.
After the trip down Watson Creek in the very first Absolute Wilderness, I’ve had a massive dislike….okay lets call it what it is I HATE SPANIARD GRASS!!!!! This prickly little plant, is sharp and annoying. Although we had been warned about it in the emails about the race (and I’d considered withdrawing to avoid it), up until this point in the race I’d hardly seen it. The Spaniard I had seen, hadn’t impacted me. I’d easily been able to ride around it and avoid it (although I was still in close proximity to it). Down this unnamed valley from CP5 it was everywhere and I was like a magnet for it!!
We followed the other team down, but I told the girls once things started opening up, we would contour around the base of spot height .1018. The team we were following down continued all the way out onto the track and we sideled around leap frogging them. We quickly found CP7, and noticed teams coming from the opposite direction struggling to see the control as it was on the backside of the cairn.
We commenced our journey up to CP6 and this valley was also absolutely filled with Spaniard. It was very clear that teams that had gone straight up and over the spurline had got to CP6 qwiker than us and were all making their way down the valley, including the girls from Shortcutz. The one advantage we had, is that we had already picked up CP7 and could make our way down the wester side of the stream and contour around to CP8 a little qwikker than the other teams.
,After grabbing CP6 from the middle of the Spaniards, off we set for CP8. As we approached it, it was like there was a party going on there. Were teams struggling to find it? When we got there, I realised that it was easy to find and they were all just having a general catch up, chit chat. After filling up our bottles in the creek, we grabbed the control and let everyone else continue their chit chat and took off for the last control. We had the option of either contouring around the hill or sticking to the road and then going up a creek a few hundred metres. We decided to do the latter. A couple of teams did contour across qwiker than we did, but it wasn’t that much faster and we definitely had the easier route. From there it was relatively simple to get back across the stream to the RTA.
A qwik transition and it was back on our bikes for what looked like a flat ride to the base of a small hill before dropping down to head back to Twizel and onward to the finish line following the canals. We had a couple of controls to get as we passed by, but it was all going to be plain sailing.
Out of the RTA I pedalled a couple of strokes and then flew as I pumped my way along the trail. It was deceptive downhill, that would have been a real buggar going the other way, but extremely sweet in our direction of travel. Climbing the hill we grabbed the first control for this leg and then got a good wee descent and a relatively straight section with two further controls to pick up. CP13 I’d plotted was about 800m from a road intersection on a tree. From the top of the hill we were able to see the surrounding area and able to realise that the tree was a lone tree in the middle of nowhere and I wouldn’t need to worry about measuring the distance from the road junction and should be easy to find. After a qwik couple of team photos I didn’t get the invite to join the selfie (but Kit did take one of me raring to go).
We raced down the hill grabbing the controls, through the forest and out into the open. We set up an echelon to shelter the girls from the crosswind and raced off to the only tree on this stretch of the course. Out onto the road we turned into the headwind for a short section and then over the bridge to the other side of the canal. As we hit the road we could see the pink socks all the girls from Shortcutz were wearing. The girls were now strung out behind me drafting into the headwind and as we turned with the tailwind we lifted the intensity and chased down Shortcutz. Catching up to them I blew past and told them to jump on the freight train if they wanted to. We now had a six person paceline strung out and onto the second to last Control we raced.
Getting to where I thought the CP was I pulled over and mentioned to Kit “This is us” referring to the CP, but I hadn’t told her to expect one. Poor communication from me and the girls from Shortcutz, raced in grabbed the control and were taking off before Kit realised what I was on about. We qwikly caught them and invited them to jump on the end of the paceline again. Which they did for a little bit. Kit wasn’t happy with my pace and she charged to the front. Having fuelled well throughout the day both her and Karen were roaring with energy and storming towards the finish line with me. We reeled in a couple of teams and had another team in our sights as we crossed the power station.
Back on the other side of the canal we now had the headwind again and caught the team at the intersection of the road we needed to go down to get the final control. The gate had a sign “Private Property“. I was confident we were in the right place, but the team we caught were hesitant and asked if it was the right place. Second guessing myself I checked the map and confirmed that we should push on down this road and off we roared not waiting for the other team. We enjoyed a qwik descent down the hill looking for the control near the junction, unaware we had raced past it. Kit qwikly zipped back up the hill, whilst Karen and I waited about 50m away.
The other team identified the control on their more sedate trip down the hill and qwikly grabbing it they got an advantage over us. Whilst Kit was getting the control for us, I confirmed the route from here to the finish line. As one of the other teams we had passed was now with us, there were three teams all in close proximity. The race was on!
As we took off we got a break on the team behind us and I explained to the girls that as we go down the hill, we will hit the road and turn left, travel a short distance and then turn right and go a few hundred metres to the finish line. We were all pumped and racing hard trying to catch the team ahead.
As we went down the hill I realised as the team ahead turned left, we could jump ahead of them by going behind the transformer station and make a straightline to the finish, hopefully cutting ahead of the other team who were looking over their shoulders to see how close we were getting. I yelled at the girls I had a new route and to follow me. As we cut behind the transformer station, the other team saw what we were doing and stopped to consider their options and I realised we had a big bank to go down. I launched straight off it hoping the girls will follow. Follow they did, a little bit more hesitantly than me. The other team continued on their route and were now sprinting to get ahead. Some of the 3 hour teams on their hiking leg saw the approach we were taking and started cheering (I don’t know who they were cheering for but I like to think it was Team KKRaaazzzyyy living up to our name).
We got down the bank and raced off onto the gravel road, just as the other team roared past. We built up our speed and raced through after them. We started to overtake them and they lifted their sprint, ditching their bikes and running down the hill to the finish line. We came in after them a few seconds later arm in arm.
All in all it was a great day out. We had fun and worked well as a team. I’d like to thank Kit & Karen for putting up with me and my burps when I had too much gas and it was really great to meet (many times over) the girls form team Shortcutz, who I found out after the race were called Short, Shorter & Shortest.
Dates are being worked on at the moment for my Spring Challenge Training Camp that I hold in Hanmer Springs each year. I’m currently looking at dates in April and May to hold these popular camps. If you’d like to go on the wait list for these camps to learn navigation and mountain biking skills on a Saturday, before spending some time in the hot pools in the evening, then on Sunday putting your skills into practise with a mini event, then please contact me.