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Greenhorns Race Report

Wednesday 20th April 2016

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I have just had a great few days wandering around the Tasman district’s backcountry with an outstanding bunch of young adults. Here’s what I wrote in the Waimea Weeklyabout our epic expedition. Thanks Nathan, Lachlan and Rachel and our brilliant support crew for putting up with me.

When Nathan Sturrock emailed me about joining their Greenhorns team as a very late replacement for the GODZone adventure race, I had some serious reservations. For starters, the race was only two weeks away and I hadn’t done any training. Other teams had been trekking, kayaking, rafting and mountainbiking thousands of kilometres over the last six months to prepare for the epic race through the Tasman district’s backcountry, so how could I expect to survive the 490km journey? I hadn’t even sat in a kayak for over two years. And even if I did last the distance, wouldn’t I be way too slow for my three young team-mates, Nathan and Lachlan Brownlee, both 19, and Rachel Baker, 21. I had visions of Nathan carrying my pack as Lachlan pushed me up a hill with Rachel walking behind muttering something about ‘a pathetic old man’.

I was also concerned about the team dynamics which is always a big part of expedition races. At 58, I was almost older than all three of them put together so what the heck would we talk about during the long treks through the night – certainly not Justin Bieber. I hate Justin Bieber. But the Greenhorns were desperate. Their fourth team-mate had been injured and I’m sure they’d phoned just about everyone who owned a mountain bike to try and get a replacement before they finally got to me. I was their last hope. It was either me or they’d have to pull out, so after getting the all clear from my family, work and cat, who I knew would miss me the most, I said yes. And surprisingly, over the four days, two hours and 27 minutes it took us to complete the race, I only regretted that decision once. It was on the first night when it was so cold I only managed half an hour sleep on the tops after climbing Ben Nevis. It was freezing and I shivered uncontrollably for three hours as I listened to Nathan and Lachlan snoring next to me. I couldn’t wait to get up at 6am and resume our 52km trek through the Red Hills to St Arnaud. But the rest of the race was amazing.

We started with a cool kayak from Kaiteriteri to Rabbit Island and a fun mountainbike along the Great Taste Trail and through the familiar tracks in Silvan Forest into the Aniseed Valley and onto the Wairoa Gorge. The ride through the Porika Track to Lake Rotoroa and raft down the Matakitaki River were also race highlights – a perfect blend of stunning scenery and exhilarating high speed downhills and white water rapids. Yeah! The rafting stage was also a highlight for another reason. After having the worst sleep of my life on the first night of the race, I had my best sleep ever on the third night when I had nine blissful hours snoring my head off in a raft on the banks of the Matakitaki. After that, we charged to the finish, only stopping at transitions for food supplied by our dedicated support crew as we biked up the Owen Valley, trekked over the Owen Range and got back on our bikes for the 140km stage from Tui to Totaranui via the Takaka Hill and Rameka Track. The only speed bumps on these final stages were a bull that had escaped from its paddock that sent us scurrying to safety up a bank and a sudden, skidding stop for a giant Powelliphanta snail with a death wish sitting right in the middle of the track as we mountain biked through the Rameka at 5am.

We also got along really well as a team which is not surprising because Nathan, Lachlan and Rachel are a great bunch of young adults. I think we bridged the generation gap and we shared some side-splitting laughs which made our race even more fun.
And then, finally, we kayaked across a glassy Golden Bay to the finish line at Kaiteriteri and after racing non-stop for 31 hours, gratefully received a pie and cold beer from race organisers. And yes, they were the best pie and beer I’d ever had.

For the record, the GODZone Pure race was won by Team Yealands Family Wines featuring Nelson’s Dan Busch in three days 12 hours 44 minutes with Team Swordfox with Ash and Naomi Whitehead and Brent Edwards second in three days 16 hours 55 minutes. Team Silky’s Vicky Shelling, John Harris, Stephen Busby and Callum Irvine were the fastest mixed team in the slightly shorter GODZone Pursuit finishing in three days 22 hours eight minutes. Greenhorns were fourth in the Pursuit.

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