By The Navigator

This is a wild and strangely true tale of my experiences at GODZone this year. 

37 hours before the start, it’s 11pm and I get a text, ‘Are you keen to race?’ Even though it’s late I’m awake, I’ve been awaiting this message all evening. ‘Yes’ I messaged back. ‘Ok, you’re in.’ And that was it, in just over 36 hours' time I was going to be lining up on the start line of my third ever GODZone, and once again not only as the token girl, but I was going as the navigator.

Joining a team so last minute is definitely a potluck, with only about 90% of the odds stacked against you. This is a race whose entire premise is suffering and misery with a side of danger. The joy that comes from a race like this is the teamwork required to get everyone through every stage, every low and eventually across the finish line. My second race was a resounding success in this regard and an experience that I’ll always cherish. It worked because we shared one goal as a team, and so no one cared who was carrying what and no one respected anyone any less for crying, just as long as they kept walking too. I’d been trying to find a team for my third attempt since the entries sold out and I got real about my training goals in the middle of a low fitness patch. I found one for a few months, but it wasn’t a good fit and a month before the race we went our separate ways. Them to find someone ‘bigger and stronger’ ie more male than me. And me back to the sidelines, but with a desperate desire to still get out there on the race. I had joined another team, only for it to fall apart around 24 hours later, I made some mountaineering plans which then got cancelled, reinstated and cancelled again more times than I could keep track of. They were currently cancelled at the time of joining the team, only for them to again become a possibility the morning of the race. I should have gone mountaineering.

The morning before the race I’m up early. I have so much stuff to get done today. Not just organizing myself for a race that I normally take a week considering the logistics of, but also other tasks such as job applications that I now need to get done before the start line. I spend all morning packing and organizing, making trips into town to buy last-minute items prior to gear check and then meet my team, most of them for the first time outside the gear check. Actually, first I meet the guy who I have last-minute replaced on the team when the Team Captain started messaging me just yesterday about joining he said it’s because he wanted to kick one guy who didn’t seem very committed out of the team. At 36 hours before the race, this absolutely is a red flag, but I wanted to race. It was an awkward meeting. That over with, I toss my stuff in with theirs, there’s no time to ask about things like whose tent would be better to take (and I haven't had time to make the necessary repairs to mine anyway). Gear check is smooth, I meet several people I know, surprise my old team and have to refill in my medical form, as it was deleted when I was removed from the race.

Home for a few hours of admin, I manage to submit my latest timesheet for work, which is good, I need the money. I get a call about a prospective job, but still haven’t completed my two very important job applications. So once the maps are released I take my laptop with me to the Team Captain’s AirBnB to sort the final logistics. The course looks amazing and I’m stoked, the Team Captain and I take some time to plan the routes on some of the stages, including the very big bold navigational choice available on stage 3 right near the start of the race. I’m quite distracted by which route is best here, it probably detracts from planning many of the other routes and I wish I’d bought my guidebook! We sort our personal food and gear into boxes, it’s chaotic and not at all the measured approach I’m used to. Our other two teammates are first-timers who hadn’t even heard of GODZone until a week ago. Their girlfriends are helping them pack and while I offer occasional advice I’m mostly leaving it up to the support crew and Team Captain to supervise, and when the Motivator comes to ask someone to check over his food etc., I’m busy with the maps. I assume I can leave this up to the support crew and the Team Captain, as after all they have about 8-10 races between them, but with the restrospectacles that ends up being a mistake. After all is somewhat tidy if not particularly more organized, we group up briefly as a team and make the plan for tomorrow. Still to be done, is marking up all the maps and maybe have a chat through the route. But the Motivator and Packhorse don’t seem particularly interested in this, and the Team Captain proudly proclaims for about the third time that he has a compass that accounts for the declination, I’ve still never seen it, but assume it’s just a baseplate? So I take my thick stack of maps, laptop where I still haven’t finished my job applications, and swing past my mate's house to borrow a thumb compass, I had to send mine back under warranty again. This one is right-handed, but it’s better than not having one. My friends want to know what route we are going to take for stage three. I tell them over the tops, it’s what I’ve told everyone who’s asked so far, but on the way home a thought occurs to me, maybe the coast is better. At home I have dad rule up all the maps with magnetic north and mark up the biking route, you can tell I haven’t had the time I needed because at one point I tell him off for highlighting the wrong route and get him to highlight something else instead. It turns out he was right all along.  While he’s doing that I manage to write two cover letters and submit applications for dream jobs. Hope they don’t read as rushed as they felt. And then spend some time researching stage three. Both of the obvious route choices are routes I’ve done on a previous trip and the less obvious route choices, of which there are another 2-3 are not as good. The coastal route is 10-15km longer, 2 hours slower according to the guidebook, assuming that you can do the fast time over the tops otherwise the tops are slower, and above all, I remember enjoying it a lot. That settled I head to bed for the pre-race sleepless night, 15 minutes later I get up and take a sleeping pill. Problem solved.

Gathering, packing and heading to the start line the next day is fairly uneventful. Retrospectively we should have stopped off and got some RAT tests, you know, just for peace of mind. Oh and because one of our team was symptomatic but didn’t feel it was relevant.

Lesson: Communication is important, adventure racing of any sort is very hard on your immune system, so even a minor cold warrants a team discussion about what it means for the race. Particularly if there’s a pandemic going on and the odds are of at least 4+ positive people involved with the race.
Misty Fiordland Forest

Fiordland forest - photo from the Te Puoho album 

We just barely make it to the start line on time and I still don’t know these guys, we race from the start line back to our packrafts that we carefully placed on the beach just minutes before and we are off. Near the back of the bunch and lagging, it’s ok though the racing is the part I like the least about a race like this. And as our Team Captain says, let them sprint off and wear themselves out, we’ll stay steady and catch up with them in a day or two once they are exhausted. How prophetic. Speaking of the Team Captain and the Packhorse for that matter, where are they? The Motivator and I pause for a bit to find them. The Team Captain has some not particularly kind things to say about the Support Crew, turns out his boat is under-inflated and they are stopping to put more air in. We slow our paddling to a crawl so they can catch up with us.

Lesson: Don’t bring a brand new un-used packraft to GODZone, you don’t know what issues it might have, let alone how it steers. Gear needs to be tested in advance. This particular packraft had unbelievably stiff valves, making it very difficult to inflate to correct pressure. You couldn’t really use an inflation sack, we were completely reliant on the small electric pump, and it took ages to inflate.

We watch the next wave off the start catch up with us and eventually land on the beach with the first few teams of that pack. We haven’t practiced transitions, but don’t do too badly regardless, and I pull a chelsea bun out of my bag to eat, these are fast and flat stages without much compulsory weight, so I can afford a little bit of a treat. Off we set up track and up river, there’s a steady stream of teams trickling past us. There are teams everywhere, as we plunge into the bush. I watch several go too far and often turn off trains of other teams to find our own route, but I’ve noticed something. I’m leading the team, the whole time, there’s no turn-taking, there’s no backup bearing on the backup navigators' compass, and when I find the way impassable the others wait for me to pioneer the way around as opposed to seamlessly picking up from me and charging forward. I don’t really have much time to pay this attention, the navigation is making me question myself, but my strategy pays off in the end and we find the first checkpoint of the race near perfectly. We are on the scoreboard, we pause to help a team that’s backtracking briefly and then inflate our packrafts for Lake Ellery. Our transition is slow, and we are lapped by teams, but that’s just a matter of practice. We discuss towing, but decide the boats are moving about the same, also no one seems to know where the tow strap is. 
Forested hills and mist

Rolling misty hills of Fiordland - photo from the Te Puoho album 

Arriving at the bikes without incident, we climb on and bike off with packrafts still in our packs, the supported format of the race means this is no longer a fair playing field, with sponsored teams able to have multiple packrafts and thus forgo GODZones albeit fairly gentle introduction to bike-packing, I’m sure this is a discipline they’ll brutally explore in the not to distant future. Meanwhile, Team Captain is having problems with his pack, it has an internal metal frame and it’s new, as he needed to get it to fit his new packraft. He hasn’t really used it before and the frame is digging into his spine, the position on the bikes is exacerbating the problem. I watch him remove his pack and violently punch it several times, but there isn’t really any practical solution at this stage of the race. I hope that he has another pack available at transition.

Lesson: Don’t use new gear in the race, it needs to be tried and tested or else it could lead to big issues on race week.

STAGE THREE (hold on tight this is a long one):
In retrospect we should have planned a proper pit stop with a meal from our support crew, instead, we had planned a fast transition as stage three felt like it was where the race would actually begin. We packed our bags and they were large and heavy, too heavy with the retrospectacles, and that was despite me forgetting a transition change of socks (sorry to my former Teammate Will, I know you taught me better than that), and underwear (I’d been in trishorts until now and it looked like I was going to have to go commando for a while longer yet). I think the lesson here is to pack and weigh your packs for a stage like this before you start as by this time there weren’t any adjustments we could make, other than removing food, but worried as I already was about the length of the stage, this is something I expressly forbade the Motivator from doing. We set off into the dark, despite the weight skipping gaily and laughing, our route choice was the least chosen and we couldn’t wait to see it pay off. The Team Captain had played around with his pack and thought he’s solved the issue. The Cascade river (my nemesis river) did try and wash me away for a third time, but luckily all that resulted was me getting a little bit wetter than planned, no harm done. 

I think it was about two hours in (I don’t wear a watch on such events, as it just makes me stressed, and besides I don’t own one with the necessary altimeter), and we had paused to take a rest. The guys had begun swapping packs, which seemed to me an odd strategy, but luckily I was exempt, being significantly shorter there’s no way I could fit their packs and I needed to conserve energy for the navigation. But something was now different and the Motivator was declaring it wasn’t possible for him to walk another step with his pack, let alone the 24 hours that we had thought it would take us to get to the Pyke River. Having trained for Iron Man and not GODZone I could somewhat understand why he was finding it hard, but it’s GODZone you just keep moving and know that when your body says it’s done, the red line is a much thicker safety barrier than you think. It was, however, worrying that the Motivator was redlining so soon, teams were still steadily passing us as they would continue to do for the entire race. The Motivator wasn’t carrying a packraft, and so was supposed to have the capacity to take weight off the other two guys if needed, sadly my bumpy training meant my capacity to do so was somewhat less than it usually would have been. Nonetheless, I ended up taking a 4kg bag of food off the Motivator at this point and carrying it the rest of the way down the coast. As he pulled it out of his pack to give it to me, what should roll out? But an apple of course.
‘Eat this now. Is this the only one?’ I ask hopefully. No, there were more. Too many more, we could have eaten them to save weight, but it turns out that the apples and the cans of creamed rice made up a significant proportion of the Motivator food, so would just have to be carried. Apparently, someone had told him that the joy of an apple when you were having a low moment made up for the weight.

Lesson: Pack bags before the race to test weight, work out what the team weight threshold is and stay below it so there is the capacity to take weight off one another during the race. Bring only lightweight or dehydrated food, if you wouldn’t take it on a week-long bush-bashing adventure, then you shouldn’t bring it adventure racing. And if you don’t know what you should bring on a week-long bush-bashing adventure, going on one is probably a good way to start. Leave the fresh fruit and canned food for the transition box, very short light stages, or if you truly are superhuman maybe you can carry one apple to surprise your teammates in their darkest hour.
Waterfall with ferns

Waterfall in Fiordland - from the Te Puoho album

Partway down Lake Alabaster the Team Captain indicates he would like to switch paddling partners. This makes me uncomfortable. I already feel a little scared of him. But I do as asked. He’s sick of the way the Packhorse flaps his paddle and contributes very little to the forward motion of the boat apparently. He doesn't have great things to say about the Motivator either, mostly about apples and creamed rice. We take off again and basically just float the whole way to the take out point as the other boat lags behind. Might be something to do with the fact they are unwittingly paddling it backwards and my pack is half dragging in the water behind them. But we don't realise either of those things until the take out point. Sometime in the last half hour it started to rain, we’re all pretty wet and we have two hours of daylight left to maximise. For multiple reasons including staying warm this needs to be a fast transition, we need to keep moving. There's a private lodge where we’ve pulled off the river and as they have no one else staying they graciously agree to let us pack up under shelter and even provide a cup of tea and a bowl of scroggin. It's clear other teams had similar treatment here and sadly their rubbish bin is full of those teams' discarded rubbish. The Motivator wants to ditch his heavy rubbish of cans here also, I think it's a bit unethical, the company will have to take it out on a jet boat. I express my concern to the team about needing a fast transition so that we don't get too cold and one of the kind ladies at the lodge overhears and opens a door. There's a dry room! (I think she would have regretted showing us that later). The boys vanish into the dry room and I proceed to pack both packrafts, all paddles and everything else I can possibly sort. My pack is packed and I'm ready to leave. But the boys are still in the dry room, trying to dry feet and shoes. A futile attempt. Eventually, they emerge, I'm becoming quite embarrassed by this time as we have well overstayed our welcome. But there's nothing for it, I'm not the Team Captain. They slowly pack their stuff, removing heavy things and leaving them in a pile that they would like me to carry. I wait in the dry room. It's that or hypothermia. I can't do anything about the filthy mess they’ve made of it though. I have a long conversation with myself in Swiss German about everything going on in the team. I reflect that this is actually just a miserable experience and I don't want to be here. Well over the two hours of daylight have been wasted and we pull our head torches out to start the walk to the next hut and checkpoint. I apologise to the lodge ladies for the mess as we leave. I trudge along at the back. 

The Hollyford Track is easy-going underfoot so we make ok time, but probably still not a respectable race speed. It's dark and raining which isn't helping my motivation, but I'm just not sure I can drag these guys up the hidden falls bushbash. Especially not if every bluff is going to go the way of last night. Doing all the work just isn't fun when we are supposed to be a team. I raise my concern with the Packhorse as he seems to hate me less than the other two. He feels as though they haven't had a chance to show what they can do yet and I'm giving up on them prematurely. We’re into our third night of the race though, I would have thought they'd had a fair bit of time so far. We get to the next checkpoint and sit down on the verandah to discuss our plan. The night is still young as far as adventure racing is concerned and I know that if we're racing we need to keep going, but the thought of keeping going and dragging these guys seemed like some next level of thankless misery. Besides, there’ll be no good camping on the way up, other teams would just lie down somewhere for a few hours but I don't think that'll fly. And it's going to be at least 24 hours to the finish if not longer, and we don't have enough food left. Inside the hut with the GZ volunteers is a pursuit team that lost for 2 days before coming back down. I have more faith in my navigation than that, but it's by no means easy and I'm not getting the necessary backup from my team or my second nav. Right now a good team would drag me through the funk, but instead, we crumble under the weight of my declaration. Maybe if it stops raining? We decide to sleep and discuss tomorrow morning.

We wake at first light, it's still raining and cold. The verandah has filled with teams overnight of which only one seems to be showing any real signs of moving, although they have someone who's worried they are getting a skin infection on their legs. I jump on this reason to get away from the very cold emotions all around me and go and check those legs. All the rest of the teams seem very on the fence. Not enough food, not enough time and the possibility of very slow travel, getting lost and getting cold. I honestly think GZ has stopped people going on legs for less severe weather than this. That team was the last to head up the hill in the end. I intermittently pop back around to where my team is but it's a lot colder in two senses around there. We have intermittent discussions about the plan, the Motivator claims to have enough food for all of us, but then it turns out to be a half-day bag of scroggin each, he tries to get food off other teams who are also skint but better than us and proclaims loudly that we shouldn't be giving up when we haven't even tried. What about all the times he put his pack down and claimed he couldn't possibly carry it any further? It seems those were forgotten. The sensible plan here is to take the unranking and head out the Holyford, and when it seems we’ve made the decision to do just that I let the race volunteers staying in the hut know. Only to get a resounding telling off upon returning to my team, apparently, I’m not the ‘team captain,’ a fact of which I’m very aware. I go shed a few tears on the other side of the hut, luckily the volunteers' comms aren’t working so a few minutes later when the team captain makes the same decision he informs the support crew via the yellow brick. Then we wait a few more hours in abject comfort, to give our crew time to get to the road end, so we aren't waiting too long in the rain. In the meantime a few teams come back from a miserable night on the hill, unsure where they even were, so cold and wet they change into wetsuits before heading off down the track. Eventually, we leave, I’m wearing as much as a dare, knowing I need to keep a warm dry layer for the wait at the road end, but with the Team Captain’s feet we are moving so slowly that I’m cold. So I offer to take his pack, it’s larger than mine but the weight is similar, so I wear it, poorly fitting, but no metal digging into my spine and balance my pack on top. The only disadvantage is that I can’t really look up. I know my neck will be sore by the end, and I am burning the energy that hitherto had been focussed on the map and the race to come. But now I had spare to burn, I was pretty certain the race was over once we reached the road end. I carried two packs for the majority of the walk, and was proud to do so. The Motivator on the other hand was fuming that I now had so much energy for carrying. As for the Team Captain; well his comments once we reached the carpark indicated that my efforts to help had succeeded in emasculating him and he had no thanks to give. I got one photo to remember my efforts, which my teammates refused to take for me. The only photo of my GODZone this year. Then we sat in icy silence awaiting our ride, while teams around us kept each other warm and fed. I was miserable.

Lesson: It’s not a team if each individual is being ruled by their ego and it’s definitely not a team if you don’t respect the women on the team and what they bring to the table. Particularly when they are doing better than you.
GODZone athlete carrying two packs

The only photo actually taken on GODZone 2022, me wearing the Team Captain's pack and balancing mine on top of it. - Apparently, this was the wrong thing to do.

Te Anau:
Fortunately, it wasn’t too long a wait and our support crew arrived. Bubbly and helpful, it was nice to be treated like a human being again, as opposed to something disgusting on the floor of the dog house. The support crew could immediately tell something was wrong though and he got an idea pretty quickly when the Team Captain cut across almost every sentence I spoke in the car on the way to Te Anau. A few brief conversations between me and him upon arrival in Te Anau and he had a pretty fair idea of how our race had gone so far, and the fact that the Packhorse probably should be tested for COVID. People racing at this level are supposed to be adults though and so no one, not even his nurse girlfriend when she showed up, got the Packhorse COVID tested. The idea of what we do with a positive test at this stage was a little daunting, it would have been better to deal with it then though. Missed opportunity. We had some chips, some people had some beers, the Support Crew mediated a conversation about the race so far and the plan going forward. A lot of ‘you’ statements were unhelpfully used, and really it was only the Support Crew’s suggestion that we sleep on it and discuss it/decide tomorrow that stopped me from calling my dad to come get me on the spot. Accommodation options were not discussed and we were checked into an Airbnb, where I spread out all the gear to dry for the afternoon. The eventual shower was quite nice and more chats with the Support Crew had me slowly feeling more positive about continuing, particularly the idea of joining another team. So it was in a positive frame of mind that I awoke the next morning, and we had until 8 pm that day to sort out what we were going to do. After toying with it briefly the Packhorse decided he was out, the Team Captain had to grumpily admit that there’s no way his swollen blistered (and possibly starting to get infected feet) were going to fit in his bike shoes, much less last 170km, particularly pushing bikes uphill. I was a little relieved not to have to go out on the course with him straight away again, he was making me more and more uncomfortable by this point, but one stage at a time, maybe if we got the teamwork right without him on the next stage we could manage to add him back in for the packrafting stage after, if his feet recovered somewhat. That left with just me, or me and the Motivator looking for another team. After again much unhelpful discussion and eventually some soul searching alone for half an hour the Motivator finally found a frame of mind that seemed like it would be possible for us to head out and work together. Of course, the minimum is three people though and two sleeping bags that will feature again later. Other teams had noticed our poor dynamics though and later admitted that they would have taken just me, but didn’t want to be anywhere near the dynamic. So after much back and forth and wonderful support from the GODZone staff we were allowed to field a team of 3, featuring our very own Support Crew. The Team Captain would take over that role for at least the time being. 

By the time the restart rolled around, we were amped, but also the Motivator was aware that he had probably caught what it was the Packhorse had. He waited until later that night to tell us though. It’s a beautiful thing to watch small packs of GODZone teams, with varying speeds between them, work together to an average speed that works for all. Often towing or walking as needed. Recognising that speed isn’t key here, it’s all about staying together, and working together, plus the rules require you to be no further than 100m apart. Our team though, we were a scattered three, definitely stretched more than 100m apart, occasionally we would find the Motivator riding back down the hill he had just ridden up, coming to find us. Biking is not my strength, and while normally the Support Crew’s, the complete lack of training would have something to say about that. Fair enough, he hadn’t been planning on racing 170km with lots of hills on a bike. Off the back of the hill, we fared a little better sticking together and letting one another know when a ford was rideable. We moved well and reached Schoolhouse flat, where we had proposed to stop and sleep, in good time, it was just before the next big hill. And although the Motivator was keen to push on, a sleep here was wise and that’s what we did. With our two sleeping bags. The Motivator proceeded to cough, snuffle and sneeze into my face all night, quite unpleasant and spooning with two relative strangers made it quite hard to sleep, but we had to, to stay warm. In practice the Motivator kept his sleeping bag to himself, leaving the Support Crew and myself cramped under one. 

If you are planning on sleeping, just bring one sleeping bag per person. The weight saving really isn’t worth it. Particular in a pandemic. Particularly not if you are female.

Bright and early we were underway again, the Support Crew and I mostly pushing our bikes up the next hill, with a brief breakfast stop at sunrise, it was going to be a long day. Our distance problem from the night before returned and got worse. The Support Crew and I mostly travelled together and intermittently at greater and greater intervals discovering the Motivator sleeping on the side of the track, whereupon he would grunt, get on his bike and ride off into the distance again. At least I wasn’t the one falling off due to clips for a change, just the ruts got me this time around. True to Otago it was four seasons, freezing at the top of the hill, in the wild wind as we searched for checkpoint, only for it to become suffocatingly hot as we careered down the hill to the Roxburgh dam. On the far side the heat became insufferable, and the Support Crew dizzy, so we stopped in the shade to cool off, get coffee into the Support Crew and entertain some curious cows. The Motivator was mad that we were taking the road route as opposed to the cycle trail, but GODZone had gone so far as to give directions for this stage. So I felt we were on track. This would be a perfect time for towing, flat easy riding, but the Motivator flat out refused unless I would take the weight off his bike. Just barely moving faster than the Support Crew myself, while the Motivator hooned off into the distance I declined. So we settled for some drafting. This lasted about 30 seconds until the Motivator saw someone in a still on course Pure Team that he wanted to impress and took off. So I drafted the Support Crew into Roxburgh, for ice cream, coke, chips, pies and lollies before the third and final hill of the stage. We didn’t see any of the people who came looking for us as it turns out something went wrong with our tracker and so we were racing under a different number and the team with our number was miles behind us. Riding out of Roxburgh and starting the slow plod up the hill we met a Pursuit team down to two members and raced with them for the remainder of the stage. It was nice to have the teamwork of 4 people again and the comradery. The Motivator continued to bike off into the distance and nap. If I had spare breath in my lungs I might have cried at this stage. I knew our race was going to be over. There was no way I could continue to race with the Motivator anymore and I didn’t even want to see the Team Captain, whose plan it had been to have the packrafts set up and ready to jump in when we arrived. Turns out he’d had a change of heart, his feet were still sore and he’d caught what the other guys had and just wanted to go see his kids down south (and presumably get them sick too). He also hadn’t bothered to sort any transition food, so dehy it was for dinner again. Yum. I found my own accommodation with a friend that night. After a few conversations that concluded we weren’t going any further, at least not until morning. It was an interesting conversation with the GODZone volunteers when we explained that both the Motivator and I were potentially keen to join other teams, just not together! I knew one of them and stayed back after to explain a little more. And also because I couldn’t listen to the Team Captain tell the Motivator anymore that he was so good that he should be joining the top team that dropped a member at that transition because then he’d ‘get a real test.’ I’m pretty certain he got one of those and failed resolutely at adventure racing, a top team would rapidly drop someone that poor as a team member.

Lesson: Multi-sporters/triathletes make don't always make for great adventure racing teammates as they’re often used to racing as individuals, thus race teamwork is not a skill that always comes easily to them. Although I’m sure there are some exceptions, give me a tramper as a teammate any day.
Cyclist on the St James

Brad from my 2019 GODZone team out cycling the St James as training - so many fond memories of this race!

We woke the next morning and didn’t find teams to race with. Race over. The Support Crew was due to go north to go home and the Team Captain was going to drop the Motivator and myself back to Wanaka on his way south. I gathered and packed my possessions for the ease of a quick exit in Wanaka. I went to open the back door of the Team Captains Ute, looking for my valuables. Thus prompting some verbal abuse from said Team Captain, indicating that my valuables were to be found in a soaked ripped paper bag full of the boy's dirty underwear in the bottom of the ute’s flatbed. The implication was that I should not have left men’s dirty underwear lying around in the back of the ute. My valuables were not there, but the abuse had shaken me enough that I did not feel safe around the Team Captain and so set out across the field searching for a friend with whom I’d been talking to earlier, to see about the chances of a ride for me and my gear. There was no phone reception to get my dad to come rescue me here. The Support Crew, having witnessed what happened followed me, agreeing that I could no longer travel safely in the ute, although he didn’t have space for me and my gear. Eventually, we located the support crew of one of my previous teams, one I would dearly love to race with again. ‘hint, hint, nudge, nudge.’ and secured a safe ride to Roxburgh. Heading back to collect my stuff, the Support Crew tried looking in the back seat for my valuables, at which point the Team Captain became physically threatening towards me, and eventually revealed the location of my valuables after calling me a ‘blind bitch.’ I moved all my stuff to the other side of the field and was finally safe.

Lesson: The threat of violence and verbal abuse is unacceptable behaviour at all times. Adventure racing including. But some people are just terrible humans. And I’m going to write a list of questions for individuals and teams considering joining forces to ask each other to hopefully avoid racing horror such as this.

Of course, it wasn’t quite over just yet. I got multiple messages in the next few days, checking if I was ok. Apparently, most were fairly shocked when they saw me in that team. Turns out the Team Captain has a reputation and no one has ever raced with him more than once.

Lesson: Ask around about potential teammates, even if you join a team last minute. GODZone could help here by keeping old start lists available so you know who you can go to, to get the low down when you need it.

Eventually, despite all the boys having had symptoms, the Motivator got sick enough that he couldn’t avoid getting tested. I found out second-hand from the Support Crew that he was COVID positive. So much for adults in New Zealand being mature enough to do their own contact tracing. My heart sank and even though I was asymptomatic I was positive too. I called everyone I had had contact with to apologise and wished that I had had the foresight to just test myself after that night he spent coughing into my face. A little luck and good public health measures and I don’t appear to have passed it on to anyone, I still feel guilty though as a medical professional, maybe I should have got us evacuated and tested as soon as the Packhorse admitted symptoms, and we never should have restarted. At least I didn’t refuse to get tested so I could drive the length of the country. Instead, I missed half of a long-awaited trip to visit friends up north, one that was infinitely more valuable than my GODZone experience. But oh well that’s life. I have one final COVID gripe. GODZone was informed as soon as I tested positive, but I think the failure to inform the rest of the race that there was COVID present was a little irresponsible. There was nothing for anyone to do but monitor for symptoms and test if symptomatic, but I still think they probably should have said as much in an email.

Lesson: Adventure racing in a pandemic is complicated. Now RAT testing is much more widely available I would probably insist that we RAT test before we race. Although now I’ve had it, I’m less likely to get it again.

Finally, the financial matters got pretty complicated. With no agreement before we started as to what the expected payments were and different things said to different people about it. I have not ever been given a breakdown of what the costs exactly were. But quoted rough figures in the thousands for both petrol and accommodation and asked to pay a share of a trailer which will go on to be used at the Team Captain’s work. As well as asked to fund food vouchers for ex-team members, provide financial aid as the Team Captain was still unable to work due to his feet and pursued repeatedly by someone overseas who I’ve never heard of, claiming to have been on the team previously. Eventually the once again wonderful Support Crew helped me figure out a fair sum, which I paid and then blocked the by then 3 or 4 people who seemed to think they had a claim to my finances on social media. I didn’t make for a pleasant end and I’m pretty sure that those teammates and I will never talk to again.

Lesson: Agree on financial matters prior to the race start and keep receipts etc, so everyone can see the fair costs associated. As a rule, expect to pay your share of the cost for the support crew during the race, and while it’s on an individually agreed basis, if you join a team so close to the start of the race, you are enabling them to race as opposed to the entry fee going to waste. So most of the time you won’t be expected to pay a full entry but definitely pays to agree on this prior to the start of the race.

It’s quite a while now since the race. And will I race again? I still just don’t know. Possibly only if three of my best friends decide to race with me. Or three experienced racers with excellent references need a fourth and are able to give me at least 6 months' notice. Or if my GODZone bachelorette plan takes off, any eligible bachelors please apply here! Although at the moment I’m actually planning to be in Antarctica for the next race. Seems like it might be safe there.

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