The gypsies of the High Country

The month of May means it's TWALK time - basically the best event of the year right? I mean, what's not to love about dressing up and running round the hillsides for 24 hours? Because we are a disorganised bunch, L just entered a group of us and gave us a team name, The Gypsies. We thought it seemed like a pretty good theme although I'm not sure the boys were convinced until they realised that all gypsies need, a caravan.

Having a bit of a caravan construction party!

There were some late nights and early mornings at our house constructing the magnificent speciman. In fact, one morning I woke up about 6am to the sound of the sewing machine running! Miraculously it was finally complete late on the Thursday night so we had Friday night to do the rest of the prep. M really got into the sewing thing, with the 2 of us constructing some fairly hilarious trousers for the occasion as well.

Once we arrived at the university carpark we had to put our caravan together to parade our hard work around the carpark for a couple of laps before deconstructing it again to fit on the bus. So much entertainment! We even had a little speaker 'blasting out' gypsy music.

The Gypsies and our caravan at Lake Pearson

Checking out the course with M and L.

One of the best things about TWALK is not knowing where you are going. There was much tension amongst the team about how 'caravan-friendly' it was going to be! We kept driving further and further into the high country and ended up stopping by Lake Pearson which got as all excited. It was also ridiculously windy which made us not so excited. Fortunately we only had to get the caravan round the first leg but even that was a struggle despite the boys carting it round easier routes for the second half. It sure slowed us all down!

The boys and their caravan on Leg 1. It's starting to fall apart on them.

I was so glad to reach the hashhouse at Craigieburn Station, an awesome location. The next couple of legs all went okay apart from a freezing cold and wet section on leg 2 at the top of a mountain after the sun went down but that's just all part of the fun right?

Leg 2, galloping through the tussock above the Waimakariri River. Sorry Jamie, I stole your photo because it's awesome.

Leg 4 however, there are just no words to describe quite how awful and ridiculous this leg was. Not only were the controls mostly insanely difficult/impossible to find but from #4 the terrain became insane. Getting down the hillside to the river I don't think my feet ever touched the ground as I attempted to bash down through the scrub. Then it was a case of either bashing through gorse or wading deep in a freezing cold river...for what felt like hours! Then to get back up the bank again you found yourself grabbing hold of matagouri to stop you sliding back down again. I think I'm still extracting splinters to this day! Add in some more steep climbs only to not find the controls and you get the idea. We got back to the hash house with less than an hour left which meant only about 26 minutes or something for a brief dash round a couple of controls on leg 5 (there is a mandatory standdown of half an hour between each leg).

Our poor caravan looking a little worse for wear outside the Woolshed.

We ended up coming second after coming in from the first leg quite a way behind the fast teams but we did win the glorious prize of best costume which we were pretty stoked about. Next year will be the 50th event which is pretty exciting! But I really hope we don't have to carry round a ridiculously large and awkward prop again!

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When it rains it pours

Anzac weekend (yay for now having Mondayised public holidays!) we took the Friday off to head down to Te Anau again, this time so I could "race" the Routeburn Classic on the Saturday. We got there in the afternoon and basked in the sunshine...from within our cabin where it was warm and there was a bed to do our basking on. Unfortunately though, the sunny weather was not to hold...

It was a pretty early start the next morning, with the bus heading to the startline leaving at 6am, getting us to the Divide in time for an 8am start. Lots of us were getting into the spirit by wearing our heros masks from the race pack which turned out to be a cool edition since it helped kept my head warm!

Basically, it was raining and cold at the start and continued to be raining and cold for the whole race but the Routeburn is pretty darn spectacular all the same. Running along the tops after the climb up from Mackenzie Hut was tough going though as the rain was horizontal and the wind was pretty strong. I kept getting water in my contacts which blurred my vision - not good when the track drops off steeply next to you!

Arriving at the Routeburn Falls hut. Yep, I'm still wearing my heros mask - it helped keep my head warm!

Anyway, it was a super fun race and especially exciting to have M cheering me on at the Routeburn Falls hut. Yay! Unfortunately he got a bit sore and tired on the way back and I bet him to the finish which was an impressive feat since I was going at snail pace. Not to worry though since there were lots of people to cheer me on anyway.

The finishline, heros style. There was even a crash mat for us all to 'fly' onto. Good times!

I was pretty happy with my time since I really just wanted to get under 4 hours 30 but I can't say I pushed very hard so I might have to come back another year and attempt a sub 4. Actually pushing myself would probably help, as well as better weather conditions! It was fun though! Such a cool atmosphere.

The next day, after a nice long sleepin, we ventured out to the Milford Sound into the wild weather for a cruise. If only we could take good photos because the ones below make it look just wet and dreary. In fact the rain meant heaps more waterfalls (and I LOVE waterfalls) and this really spectacular atmosphere. I would love to come back on a rare day when it's sunny as you'd get a sense of the scale of things. The mountains quite literally rise straight out of the sea.

Here's how it looks when it's sunny! We've been working on this puzzle during the increasingly colder and darker nights!

One thing that does surprise me is how many tourists we saw down here without real jackets. Seriously, if you are planning on visiting New Zealand, especially the West Coast or Fiordland, ummm, bring a decent raincoat no matter the season. You will almost certainly get wet.

Okay, that's enough chatter for now. So much is getting banked up. I even have delicious food to talk about, not to mention the gypsy caravan...

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Horrible runs and magic runs

Before we embark on the final long weekend before we get plunged into the depths of winter (sigh) I better get cracking and get myself up to date! It's been exhausting over the last couple of months. It seems crazy/weird but the winter period always seems to be the main event season. At least it keeps you moving through the dark months!

So last time I wrote, M and I had just raced Le Race and then I'd just flown home from a quick trip up to Auckland to run a half marathon across Rangitoto and Motutapu because, well, it seemed like a good excuse to visit my parents! Like I said on that post, I really don't recommend a tough off-road half marathon the weekend after going hard in an even tougher 100km bike race! I suspect I haven't learnt my lesson though...

I've raced The Dual half marathon twice before, several years ago and was kind of keen to get a PB but I hadn't had the best buildup with some niggly foot issues and spending all summer riding a bike instead of running. I don't run in the same way I used to back then either, with runs these days usually heading straight up into the Port Hills and then back down again and I'd forgotten how much 'flat' running there was on this course.

Basically hitting the wall super badly heading over the top of Motutapu for the final time

It was really not my day. I've forgotten how horribly humid Auckland can be and this sure was one of those days. Pretty much the moment the gun went off I felt awful, just super dizzy and my vision kept blacking out. Just shows how sleep-deprived I'd managed to get in the build up. Somehow, despite this, I made it up and over Motutapu and Rangitoto to the wharf in fairly good time (I think it was roughly an hour to that point which is around the 11km mark and with a fair amount of the climb done). I even managed the technical singletrack round the edge of Rangitoto okay but the dizziness was getting pretty bad and my 'cycling legs' (i.e. thighs feeling like blocks of wood) were really kicking in.

Still, I'd made good time but the final climb over Motutapu back to the finish, well, I just felt so ill so powerwalked most of the final 4km. It was awful! Then, with the finish in sight, I got confused and tried to go through a fence instead of following everyone else (totally my orienteering background coming into play here!). My parents had taken the ferry over to see me finish so I had a cheer squad at the finish which was awesome but I was so gladd to finish. 7 seconds slower than my best which sucked since I lost that trying to cross the stupid fence! But pretty impressive since I walked most of the final 4km! Unfortunately though the race really took its toll on my body and I was horribly sick on the ferry trip home and didn't really recover for another week. Sigh.

And then it was Easter...

M was racing the Tour de Lakes so I was there as support crew (and doing it badly!) and to check out either end of the Routeburn as I was entered to race it 3 weeks later and racing isn't exactly the best way to enjoy what I'd heard was one of the most scenic tramping tracks around.

After doing my best not to screw up my support crew role on Friday and Saturday I had a super early start on Sunday to drive the long road out from Manapouri to the Divide where I planned to run the track out to Lake MacKenzie and back (about 12km one way). In an ideal world I'd have gone further but I was supposed to get back to Five Rivers in time to meet M after his afternoon race and it was at least a 2 hour drive (so much driving...sigh).

I feel like I just don't have the words to describe that morning. From the moment you set foot on the track it is so incredibly beautiful. The bush was amazing (but beech forest is always beautiful), especially with the early morning sun casting thin rays of light through the trees. Then you reach Earnslaw falls and I'm a definite sucker for a waterfall so I hung out there for awhile (and again on the way back when the water hitting the pool at the bottom was creating a rainbow!). Then you cruise along the side where you get some stunning views of surround mountains before dropping sharply down to Lake Mackenzie where I hung out for a while, wishing I could head up on to the tops as the weather was so perfect. After a sandwich and a laze in the sun it was back again. Quite possibly my favourite run ever!

Monday morning M woke up feeling sick so wasn't able to race but fortunately he was happy enough to sleep in the car whilst I headed out on the track from the Routeburn Shelter end this time. The weather wasn't quite so good but most of this side of the track is in bush and quite low. I cruised along the flats then up the hill to the Routeburn Falls just in time for the weather to pack in which defintely made it pretty atmospheric! I cruised along the tops for a little while but it was getting pretty wet and cold so I figured it was time to head down again.

Like the day before, I met plenty of people all keen to chat and everyone was finding the experience as magical as I was. It helped to remind me just what an incredible country I live in. And by now I was super excited about the race in 3 weeks time (and also had learnt that trying to run over swing bridges is not fun).

In case you wanted to see some actual nice footage of the Routeburn rather than just my shocking photos, check out this video or, just actually go and do it!

Next up...wild Southland weather and the Gypsy Caravan.

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Le (windy, hilly, exhausting, rewarding) Race

Hello! So sore, so tired. Don't go doing a half marathon just a week after giving it your all doing a 100km cycling race! But I'm getting ahead of myself (this is what happens when you get behind in posting!)...

Since moving to Christchurch (nearly 4 years ago now - time flies!) I had always wanted to do Le Race, the 100km road cycling race from Christchurch to Akaroa. 2015 was my chance, with M keen to tackle it on the tandem with me.

We've been putting in plenty of "training" (i.e. going for the usual fun rides round the Port Hills and the odd adventure further out on the Banks Peninsula). You don't get photos because I'm too busy riding :-P

Then on Tuesday nights during daylight savings we can usually be found at the CTTA time trials, a 16km there and back time trial along Old Tai Tapu Road. It's tough, especially for those of us who'd rather be riding up a hill than riding on the flat, but fun (well, once you've finished)!

Giving it all we have at the CTTA time trials. Photo credit: Christopher Innes Photography.

Once a year there is also the 16km hillclimb time trial from the Blue Duck cafe up to Gebbies Pass then up the Basdrat (M's anagram for what most cyclists normally call it - I'll let you work that one out) then along the tops to just past Kennedy's. It is brutal but we got a new PB this season which was exciting even if it might be partly down to perfect weather conditions.

Obviously there was a lot of cycling over the summer holidays with our cycle touring trip. We'd also been out making sure we were familiar with all parts of the course. Well, M was pretty familiar with it already but the tandem is a different (much heavier!) kettle of fish.

It was still going to be a tough race. Le Race is definitely not a tandem-friendly course, that's for sure (tandems are not the greatest climbers, especially as it gets steeper and Le Race is definitely not a flat race). Unfortunately I'd managed to slip over and injure my back at an afterwork rogaine on the Wednesday and was still in some discomfort so the goal of getting under 3hrs 30 became a goal to finish before midday (4hrs).

We positioned ourselves by the 3:30-4:00 sign which did make for a bit of a slow start but once we got going it was pretty cool to be whizzing past everyone along Colombo Street, and still continuing passing riders heading up Dyers which surprised me as I always expected to get dropped on the steep climbs. Once along the tops it started to get pretty misty and cold with the visibility decreasing rapidly. I was glad I wasn't the one steering! Fortunately we emerged out of the mist before heading down the Basdrat (and the dreaded cattlestops) to Gebbies. We hit the flat at high speed and in good time which was exciting! Plus M's parents were there cheering us on! And then the real hard work began...

There was a bunch of about 6 of us to start I think which took a while to get itself organised while we spent a lot of time out the front in the super strong easterly wind. Finally the bunch got working and that was quite exciting, having never ridden in a bunch before. Our bunch slowly grew as we caught more people and we were slowly closing in on the bunch ahead as we made it to Little River.

I fully expected us to get dropped on the long (long long long!!) climb up to Hilltop but it was quite the opposite with us even overtaking some of the bunch ahead of us. Unfortunately the climbing wasn't so good on my back and the pain was creeping in. But M was still on form and we were flying along once we got to the tops. But then the lack of sleep caught up with him and it was up to me to keep us going! There are so many steep, energy-sapping climbs along the Summit Road after Hilltop and it was really taking it's toll. Add on the wild winds attempting to blow us off the road (in these conditions there are some benefits with being on such a super heavy bike!) and it was fast turning into a bit of a miserable experience! The tops went on and on and by the last couple of climbs I had nothing left in my legs. Thankfully M had recovered a little bit by then otherwise I might have had to get off and walk!

I was a little worried about the descent down Long Bays Road as it is super steep and has quite a few reasonably straight sections meaning we can pick up quite a bit of speed (cornering is another thing tandems aren't so good at) but it was really quite exciting passing people going down Long Bays Rd (and yes, quite terrifying too at that speed!). It was pretty windy on the descent so our weight probably helped us be able to go faster and stay in control compared to the other riders.

On our way down Long Bays Road and nearly finished - I may look relaxed but let me tell you, I am anything but calm! Photo credit: Marathon Photos.

I was so excited to reach the finish. I'm not a natural cyclist and it's taken an awful lot of work to be able to ride a bike at all. After my mountain bike crash a couple of years ago I had struggled a lot with the fear that used to cripple me earlier when I would go riding and the frustration of not being able to ride in the same way that I used to. I am so thankful for M putting up with me (and my occasional screams!) on the tandem.

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And we climb up and up and up

On Waitangi Weekend (which now feels like a lifetime ago!) M and I decided to head up north to climb Mt Owen. It was raining when we left home on Thursday night and the rain just got heavier and heavier so once we reached our campsite for the night (Deer Valley just below the Lewis Pass) putting up a tent didn't seem like such a pleasant idea. Plus it was getting pretty late by this point so we ended up sleeping in the car. We woke up to a super cold but beautiful morning. Snow had fallen on the mountains above us and it was pretty magical.

We arrived at the start of the track around lunchtime and began the big ascent up to Granity Pass Hut. You climb up and up through steep beech forest for several hours before reaching the tree line. Then you scramble down what's called the staircase which is a rather steep descent back through the bush before walking along a dry riverbed up to the hut.

The hut was pretty full when we got there but there were still some bunks free. Not long after we'd cooked up some dinner though (Absolute Wilderness Mushroom Risotto for the win!) more people arrived! Clearly it was the place to be!

The next morning dawned truly spectacular - a perfect day for climbing Mt Owen. I've been here before, many years ago (at the start of the millennium in fact!) but we never actually climbed to the summit so I was pretty excited. It's a fairly easy track to the tarns at the base of the mountain then some rock scrambling which freaked me out (think deep crevasses, but in rock form - there is a huge cave network underneath the mountain) and then the final steep climb up to the top.

There was still a bit of snow on the top but nothing too serious and the view was just amazing. For any of you Lord of the Rings fans out there, Mt Owen was the location for Dimrill Dale when the fellowship emerge from the Mines of Moria. It really does look exactly as it does in the movie. Pretty cool!

Once we got back down to the hut we decided to pitch our tent under a rock outcrop in the valley nearby. It was an awesome spot for such a calm, clear night. I couldn't resist running back up to the tarns in the afternoon after we'd set up camp for the night. It is just too spectacular a location.

It's a bit of a long drive back to Christchurch so we got started pretty early the next morning in more glorious sunshine. I really didn't want to leave.

The descent back to the car was pretty long and painful on the knees. I much prefer going uphill! Still, at least you had a glorious view over the mountains of the Kahurangi National Park.

I intend to come back again, hopefully soon. Perhaps next time we could climb up from the other side. I have lived in this country all my life but it still amazes me just how beautiful it is.

Oh, and one more picture just because I miss M's awesome beard!

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Lazy days of summer

Since returning from our cycling trip we've been enjoying the beautiful summer weather. I don't remember such a spectular summer in a long time! We clearly weren't sick of biking since 2 days after getting home we were back up in the hills with a couple of friends checking out the newly re-opened road (well, opened to bikes and pedestrians which is awesome!) around Mt Pleasant. Super exciting! It's a bit bumpy for speedy road cycling but it's now officially open and that's the main thing.

There was also a solo excursion up to Trig M from the bottom of Porters Pass while M and his friend were riding the Darfield to Arthur's Pass race. SO hot! One day it would be cool to take the mountain bikes up here although a bit of a grunt. It was hard enough work running/shuffling! From the trig you have a glorious view over Lake Lyndon and towards Craigieburn.

The following day, we headed up towards Mt Aicken, getting most of the way up before deciding to turn back 'cause I wasn't having the best of days up there in amongst all the rock (it is pretty cool how much the vegetation changes from various different beech to scrub to tussock to nothing but rock and scree). The views were spectacular though.

My brother also came down to visit for a little while in the summer for some wind surfing. We took him to Okains Bay for a night and camped amongst the trees. Awesome! Then, after spending the morning splashing around in the water and attempting to steer the paddleboard against the current (way too much hard work for very little progress!) we headed to Akaroa for delicious sorbet.

There was an excursion to Auckland and our beach house for my lovely cousin's wedding somewhere sandwiched between but I don't have any photos of that! It was awesome though! Amongst all this we've been getting in our training for Le Race which is coming up in a week and a half and I've been trying (and slowly succeeding) to get back into running in time for a couple of races coming up. After all the riding we've been doing this summer though it's been hard work!

We also went on an exciting adventure to Mt Owen for Waitangi weekend but that's a story for next time!

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