Monday, April 27, 2015

ANZAC Weekend: Tongariro Northern Circuit

What did we get up to this ANZAC Weekend? We completed the 1st of the Great Walks, the Tongariro Northern Circuit. This is a trip we had originally planned for over Christmas Weekend, but I decided to get my eyes corrected instead. So we changed the date of our hut booking til this weekend.

Beth and I packed our gear for a 3 day tramp with us overnighting in Waihohonu and Mangatepopo Huts. So we left Kinloch early Saturday morning to drive to Whakapapa Village, the start of the circuit. We started our 18km walk into Mordor with a stop at Taranaki Falls and Lower Tawa Lake before we arrived at the 4.5 year old Waihohonu Hut. This 40 person hut was equipped with solar powered lights and water heating. It also had a wood fire stove that heated the sleeping areas.

Beth and I talked to a couple from Auckland, who were about to complete the circuit. The husband, Dave, was also a keen cyclist. We talked about different rides around the country and how we have an expensive hobby. We also talked to Sally, the DOC Ranger stationed here as the Hut Warden, about kayaking in the area. She had a lot of cool advice about how to get to some cool spots with geothermal activity. We'll have to take our kayaks out to these spots once they have been delivered. Oops. Did I let the cat out of the bag? My friend, Graeme, contacted me shortly after moving to Kinloch about having some kayaks for sale as he doesn't use them much. Beth and I have been looking for some for awhile and just pulled the trigger on buying some. I may have also picked up another bike as well.
Morning at Waihohonu Hut
Morning sun on Mt Ruapehu

Walking into Mordor

Ground view of the Emerald Lakes
The next morning we started out on the frost covered ground towards the Okurere Hut through some remarkable forest. It was surprising to see the dense trees while in a desert. We worked our way up and down multiple ridges and were treated with amazing views of Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe. We made it to the hut after working our way across some barren land and some steep ridges. We stopped at Okurere Hut for a quick bite to eat and a toilet break before starting to tackle the most difficult section of the Circuit. We had to force our way up the scree past the ill-prepared tourists that flocked to do the spectacular Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This was a heart pumping, 1 step up/slide back 2 while being batted around with at least 70km per hour winds, slog of an ascent. We witnessed people loosing gloves while taking photos and having the garment fly into the crater. One German tourist was posing on the ridge with her jacket off and her jacket started to go over the edge and she dove after it. She luckily grabbed it without falling in with it. I can't recall the sheer number of people wearing shorts, jeans, cotton hoodies, carrying no water or food, shivering at the negative number windchill, and snapping photos without paying attention to their surroundings.
Emerald Lakes

After the slog up, it was a rocky stretch to Cathedral Rock, then through Red Crater, before descending Devil's Staircase. It was then a short walk with some elevated boardwalks and crushed stone paths that we made it to Mangatepopo Hut. This was a much smaller hut than our previous night, but it didn't lack for charm. We talked to a fellow American, who has lived here for the past 7 years, who works for ACC. She and her friend were up from Wellington and had originally planned to do the walk in 3 nights, but with the poor forecast they decided to push for 2 nights instead. Sunday night, the winds kicked up and the rain started.
Leaving Emerald Lakes

Beth and I left the hut early as the rain was supposed to get harder. It was supposed to get to 100 km per hour winds and downpours as the day wore on. We did have non-stop rain and gusts of wind when we were exposed, but much of the hike was spent in ravines. Today we saw almost nobody on the trail, which isn't unexpected with the weather, but there were a few intrepid runners who graced the trail this morning. We made it back to the car after some 48kms and tried to find some dry clothes as rain gear can only hold out so much water. I learned the lesson to keep a dry set of clothes in the car in the future.
Mt Doom

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Easter Weekend: Te Ara Moana

While still recuperating from the Oxfam the weekend before, the Ninja Tortoises were busy planning Easter Weekend activities. We were talking about doing an overnight tramp, but a lot of the huts were already booked up. So Peter suggested and organized a trip doing part of the Te Ara Moana.

My partners in crime were Peter, Banu, Banafshe, Todd, and Mia. Beth stayed at home to do homework and some packing. The plan was to pick up the kayaks on Saturday afternoon and leave from Duder Regional Park, a place I haven't been since the P6 Adventure Race, and return them Monday afternoon. Getting the kayaks took a little longer than planned as they were beasts and the place didn't have straps. So Peter had to buy a few sets and learn how to tie a truckers hitch. With the kayaks firmly attached to the cars we left to meet up with Banu, who was finishing up with her Coast Guard duties in the area. The drive over to the launch point took some time as we opted to take side roads instead of trying our luck on the motorway with several thousand dollars worth of kayaks strapped to the roofs of 3 cars.

At Duder, we met Mags, who is with the Council, who directed us to park behind a Council owned building as it was a little more secure than leaving it in the park. We quickly unloaded the kayaks and gear as Todd and Banu were going to drive to our exit point and leave a car there. We proceeded to load up the 2 remaining kayaks with our gear and set off. The pair were Peter and Mia, Banafshe and I, and Todd and Banu. The 2 Bs had never kayaked before so we gave them a little instruction before setting out. The first evening, was a quick paddle around the point, which took us about 40 minutes.

We  set up camp our first camp and waited for Banu and Todd to get back from dropping off the car. They didn't have the best of luck as the White Pearl, Peter's car, decided it wanted to start overheating. In the mean time, we cooked our dinners. Its always fun to watch what people eat on these types out of adventures. I had chicken stock couscous, dehydrated peas, and garlic mussels and feijoas for dessert. Banafshe had nachos.

At around 10:30, I crawled into bed. Mia was already in the tent snoring away. Evidently Banu and Todd made it to camp around 11. They were paddling under the Full Moon and thought the flashing light from the other bay was our camp. Its lucky that Peter was texting them and directing them into the correct camp. Just prior to to lunar eclipse, Peter knocked on the tent. I poked my head out of the door and watched. I took some photos, but they didn't turn out well. Mia didn't budge.

The next morning, we had breakfast and my gas canister finally ran out. We had a big day planned of 24kms of paddling. We said goodbye to our campsite and made for Waitawa Regional Park. This was going to be our lunch spot, but we ended up eating on Pakihi Island instead. We ended up getting a little rain at this point as it had been threatening all morning. Here we met the only other people on the Te Ara Moana. Peter ended up scaring them off right after giving them some chocolate. After a quick bite to eat we were back on our way to our 2nd overnight location, Tawhitokino. Why did we choose these spots? They were only accessible  by water.
 On our way there, the skies opened up and it rained pretty good for 30 minutes. Once we got to the campsite, we didn't want to get out of the kayaks as it only took us about 2.5 hrs to travel the 24kms. We ended up playing a bit in the kayaks and with the camera.
On the beach was the remains of a fire that Mia nursed back while the rest of us set up camp. I ended up losing my sunglasses at some point here. We all hung up our rain gear and started playing card games. This went on for a good while. We then walked up and down the beach. We then gathered around the fire and talked about random things. It was well into the evening when we finally ate. I crawled into bed not that much later. We packed up early the next morning and made our way to Tapapakanga Regional Park where Banu's car was waiting for us. Peter, Banafshe, Banu, and I headed back to Duder to pick up our cars. We stopped to have the first of 3 pies in Clevedon. We got back to Mia and Todd who helped to mount up the kayaks. From there we started back to Auckland. Pete and I went back to Duder where he nursed the White Pearl down the highway before abandoning it on the roadside. We made it Papakura and had 2 more pies. Peter called a local shop to get it towed and looked at. Sadly, the White Pearl is on its last legs. Returning the kayaks was uneventful and now we are planning the next adventure, The Nugget.

Oxfam Trailwalker Review

So it's been a couple busy weeks, but I promised a recap of my impromptu involvement in the Oxfam 100km event. I was a last minute replacement for Sam, as he tore his meniscus just a couple days earlier while doing yard work. Moral of the story is don't do yard work before a big event. Or if you do, know a nutter that is willing to push and punish their body in case the unfortunate happens.

So Friday afternoon, I was picked up by Sam, Lin (wife), and  Qing (daughter, who provided lots of laughs) and driven to Kinloch to meet up with the rest of the team. On the drive down, I was asked some of the most off the wall questions, but then again from the mind of a 6 year old they were probably normal. Some are as a follows: Are there spies in the US? Are you an adult? (My response was how old do you think I am? Hers was 39. Sam is turning 40 shortly so it makes sense that we would be the same age.) Have you ever been to Paris? (My response was, Yes back in 2001 and she responded that was 14 years ago.)

Predicted timeline
So Team Scrambled Legs officially consisted of Rick, Csaba, Marcus, and myself. And the extended team includes our amazing support crew which was made up of the injured Sam, Kirsty, Lin,and Helen. There was also baby Charlie and Qing who tagged along to the event. These guys were a huge comfort to the us, knowing that they were there taking care of everything around us at the Check Point (CPs) so we could totally focus on preparing ourselves mentally & physically for the next leg. There is no way we could have transitioned as fast as we did without your help. To reiterate, these people were vital to us finishing the event, as they provided much needed emotional and physical support, as well as transporting gear throughout the day. Within the CPs, they set up individual aid stations next to the vehicles with our gear set out, refilled water bladders, worked as a gopher for hot beverages, and set up protection from rain and wind during the evening while we changed socks, ate some food, and took care of our bodies.

We arose in good spirits and ate a hearty breakfast (I had 2 pb&j sandwiches and an orange) and drank some fluids prior to having Sam drop us off at the start for our 7am start time. This meant we got up at just after 5am. It was a brisk morning with a creeping sunrise, which was roughly at 7:14am. I started off wearing my headlamp, but it went back in the pocket after a couple minutes. As it just wasn't dark enough. At least we weren't in the 6am wave which would have been pretty dark and a very early morning. Prior to going to sleep, we put the finishing touches on the gear we thought we would need for the first 21km and what gear we would need at CP2, as we wouldn't see our support crew at CP1. There were 2 CPs that support crew were unable to access, so you had to double up on supplies to make it through or be at the mercy at what the CP had to offer. I typically carry all my needs, but at the 2nd non-crewed aid station I felt like having something else to eat as I was eating a lot of pb&j. I ended up getting a jam sandwich and was disappointed as I thought she had said ham. Nothing like 2 pieces of bread and a heap of jam. Nothing like a huge sugar rush.

So what did I carry? I had a 2 litter water bladder, 2 450ml bottles, 100g pouch of biltong, 1 pouch of baby food, 100g of trail mix, long sleeve technical shirt, wool hat, polyprop gloves, chap stick, small bottle of electrolyte pills, SPOT tracker, Quick-eze for muscle cramps, head lamp, baby wipes and hand sanitizer, first aid kit, spare socks, and a rain jacket. My nutrition fluctuated throughout the day, but I definitely ate 8 pb&j sandwiches at the CPs. I then nibbled on baby food pouches, biltong, trail mix, and dried apples on the trail.  After 38km, I started to use my hiking poles as I knew my lack of training would start to play up. I didn't notice myself using them really until the darkness enveloped us and then after I tweaked my knee. It was about the time that I started eating a few salted caramel and root beer gels.

What was the game plan? The image above was the game plan. We planned on averaging 6km an hour, so we could take a 10 minute break at most CPs and do a couple minute stretch at about half the distance of each leg. This would let us average 5km an hour for the event. We blitzed the first four CPs coming in well ahead of schedule. We were looking to bank some time for later as we knew our pace would decrease as night and fatigue set in. We also extended a couple of the other CPs in order to tend to our bodies and reset mentally. I would categorize this as a very mentally challenging event. We definitily could have made it more of a physical event. We only walked the course while the winners did it in just under 13 hours.

The early morning was spent talking and passing/getting passed by other teams. We had a strategy of hitting the flats and downhill sections fairly hard and easing up on the climbs as not everyone was strong at them. We were treated with being passed by the Jamaican Bob Sled Team at the start. Ok, it was just four runners decked out in costumes. While waiting for the port-a-johns they were even sporting yellow helmets. I believe they finished 2nd for the day at just over 13hrs. I kept remarking that this would soon be my neighborhood and that I couldn't wait to finish riding all the trails. While training for Mountain Man, I broke my front wheel while descending on the K2K trail after about 5kms and didn't get to ride the rest of it as I had to drive into Taupo to by another. To say there was a fair amount of jealously on the team would be an understatement. I'm sure our new place will see plenty of guests. Rick, Csaba, and I all imagined ourselves riding the trails at speed while we walking the trails. This started off Whangamata Road on private land and then joined the K2K trail into Kinloch before heading out on the W2K trail.

It seems that every team was utilizing mobile communications to organize support crews. Or maybe just update their FaceBook or Twitter status and we were no different. We would text when were were X km out of the CP, allowing for the crew to get there and get setup prior to us arriving. The first one didn't go off as planned, but we still ended up getting our gear sorted before pushing on to the next leg. It didn't go off as planned as we were well ahead of our planned ETA.

This was the first time that I used race services during the race. On hand were AUT podiatry and massage students. Marcus got his feet strapped up at CP4 as his arch was hurting him. We both got a 5 minute rub down there as well. My left calf would start to tighten and threaten to cramp for the rest of the event. At CP7, we stripped our bags to be as light as possible as we were 13km from finishing and didn't need to bring unnecessary gear. We got massages, blisters popped and taped, and some warm beverages before setting out to finish this little trail walk. Prior to CP7, my little toes started to get hot. I ended up getting them looked at. They commented that my feet were in really good shape. I had only 1 real blister at this point and 2 hot little toes. I have calluses on both them, but he taped up the right one as it might blister. I ended up getting a blister after taping it and another formed on the ball of my right foot. Overall not that bad. They said they had seen a lot worse. I attribute this to my lack of training for the event. Also my ribs didn't play up as I didn't ever have labored breathing which was a good thing. During the massage, the guy commented that these were some rugby legs. I replied that I never played rugby. He then asked how I got such big legs. I said, soccer, riding, running, etc. All the while he is doing some deep and aggressive massaging. He was drilling my hamstring and calf with his elbow. While some girl that also attended my feet rubbed the other. Lets just say that I only felt one of them. He ended up thanking me for giving him such a good workout.
Post race feet

With the short break, we were revitalized and started off with a 9min  km followed by an 8min km. Was this pace going to last? No. With 10km left, I took a little spill down a hill. After which my left knee started to audibly pop and I could feel fluid moving around my knee cap. It was very painful and I slowed right down. Marcus was also shuffling along. While, Rick had hurt his right leg early in the evening and was walking differently. He got it taped up at CP7 and seemed better except for the down and up hill portions. Which the organizers through as many as they could at you. Csaba seemed unphased by the event, but that could have my fog of pain skewing the reality of it.

The day was remarkable and there was a lot of joking early on with other teams as we kept playing leap frog. One team we even started to play tag you're it with. Unfortunately, that didn't last. During the evening morale dropped, fatigue set in, injuries and stumbles occurred. I pushed well past my longest self powered day ever of 45km. The others had trained to 73km leaving just over a half marathon of uncharted territory. Yes, I have done several endurance events, but one solidly of walking/slight jogging at times was completely new. We all pushed through the pain and discomfort to finish the event. We were greeted by most of the support crew. Sam was missing as he waiting in the warm car as he estimated we would take a little longer to finish.

We finished after 23:17. We staggered across the line in pairs, well, soon to be 1 yr old, Charlie was picked up by Marcus who finished Csaba, a stride behind Rick and I. We all got a ceramic finishers medal. We got a free drink. Some had beer. Others had lemonade. We got a team photo. We got a team and support crew photo. We got massages. We drove back to the bach. We slept. We ate. We showered. We ate some more. We slept more. We drove back to Auckland. We plan on being back. Matter of fact, while doing the event we talked about the strategy for next year which would entail training 5-6 people.