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GodZone 2018

When I heard that Godzone 2018 was going to be in Fiordland I was super excited. How could it not be?  The south west corner of New Zealand, is filled with nothingness. No roads, no towns, just pure wilderness.  Ten days of racing here sounded epic!

I was excited to be racing as part of the Torpedo7 team again. It?s always great racing with Richard and Jo and I was keen to see if we could improve on last year?s race. With Sam Mason joining us as the 4th teammate we were a strong team.

After months of training it was great to finally arrive in Te Anau.  Our excitement mounted when we received the maps. There were some really long legs with lots of off track travel and tricky night navigation. I was stoked that almost all of the race was going to be in the wilderness to the west of Te Anau. Richard and I spent quite a bit of time discussing routes and came up with what we thought were good safe options.

Once all the packing was finished, we had just enough time for a short sleep and then it was race day.  At first light, along with the other 400 odd competitors we sprinted through the centre of Te Anau and down to lake edge. Then we madly set about inflating our packrafts before setting out across the lake. Godzone 2018 had begun fast and furious.

The first couple of days of packrafting, mtbing and trekking went smoothly for us. The hard yakka was punctuated by an exciting abseil and a cool caving section. Due to the dark zones imposed on the rivers we were getting a more sleep than past races, so it felt more like a multiday day staged race. Each morning we would re-start with a mad packraft sprint to regain our place on the river. I was over these paddling starts and looking forward to the trekking stages coming up.

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After a fun white water paddle down the Wairaurahiri river we were off into proper Fiordland wilderness. Ahead of us were miles of off track travel with the possibility of thick bush and unmarked ravines.

We managed to navigate cleanly through this section and made it down to the south coast track.  Unfortunately, our route, which had looked fast on the map, proved to be a slow muddy track with few coastal views.  Sometimes, adventure racing is about just keeping on putting one foot in front of the other, and that was one of those times.

In general, the trekking section went pretty well for us.  Our navigation was solid and the team pulled together well. Near the end of the track I persuaded the rest of the team to packraft the last 10km. At the time, we had no idea that packrafting wasn’t allowed in the Southern Ocean, as a last-minute memo from the organisers hadn?t reached our team.  Unfortunately, we ended up with a penalty for paddling here that ultimately cost us a place. But the magical moments of paddling beside some friendly dolphins and an exhilarating but perfectly timed surf landing nearly made up for it.

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The next leg was a long mtb leg with the usual forest trickery of tracks on the map not always matching those on the ground. I really enjoyed this leg.  We were feeling good and making progress catching the teams in front. Unfortunately, during the ride some mud flicked into my eye. I thought nothing of it at the time, but unbeknown to me this small bit of mud was going to nearly cost me my race and possibly even my eyesight.

By the end of the next short paddle, my eye was sore and had become sensitive to light. In an effort to fix the problem I replaced my contact lens. But after a couple of hours walking I noticed my eye was a bit misty and then that my vision began to spin.  Not long after this my vision clouded over completely. I had gone from being out in front as the team?s navigator and route finder, to finding it challenging just to keep moving.

Luckily Richard took over navigating and got us up to the next CP just before nightfall. By then I was mentally exhausted and demanded a sleep in the hopes my eye would improve. After removing my contact lens the pain was extreme, and I whimpered myself to sleep.

In the morning, I felt a bit better but still couldn?t see at all with my eye.  Jo patched me up so I like a real one-eyed pirate then we set off to finish the race.   We worked together to bush bash down to the last transition. Then, with the finish line in sight discussion turned to dinner and having a shower and full nights sleep.

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But, for me, it wasn?t to be. The dreams of food were put on hold as the godzone organizers whisked me off to the doctor to get my eye checked.  From there I was sent straight to Dunedin Hospital. I wish to thank the amazing Katie Cambie, who I hardly knew, who offered to drive me there straight away.

While the race was long and hard, the recovery this time was longer still.  I spent the next 4 days in hospital getting woken every 30 minutes to receive eye drops.  This was definitely not the best way to catch up on all the sleep I missed during the race!  And it was only on the third day in hospital that I started to get some of my eyesight back which indicates the severity of the infection.

It’s been five weeks since GodZone and my eyesight has mostly recovered.  However, the experience has left a lasting impression. It shows that when you are pushing your body to the limits during adventure racing that small incidents can rapidly have dire consequences.  Lying in my hospital bed the reality hit me that I really do like being able to see out of both eyes, as even pouring a glass of water without spilling it is much tricker with only one eye. Did I make the right choice to continue? Well it seems to have worked out okay this time but perhaps pulling out would have been the more prudent decision.

Overall, I had a fantastic time racing Godzone 2018 with some great friends  in an amazing place. We didn?t win but at times we did lead and we gave it our best shot. We had lots of fun doing it. I?d really like to thank Richard, Jo and Sam for being great teammates, Dunedin and Christchurch hospital staff for nursing me back to health and Torpedo7, Mike Greer Homes, Benchmark, Zpacks and Farm to Farm Tours for their sponsorship of our team.

Team Torpedo 7 were at times in the lead of this year?s GodZone. Eventually they finished 5th, 40min behind 4th after having to sit out a 1 hour time penalty at the last transition.

Author – Torpedo7 Athlete Greig Hamilton

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