BIVOUAC OUTDOORS WHANGAMATA ADVENTURE RACE
Continual road closures on the Coromandel peninsular should have been indication enough of how wet it had been, in fact it has been the wettest winter on record, so we knew that the conditions would be challenging. On race morning, the temperature gauge was reading a chilly 10 degrees and it had been raining steadily all night creating substantial puddles on the gravel road leading out to the start point. However, the less than ideal weather did nothing to stop the 700 people who turned up to compete in this year’s Bivouac Whangamata Adventure Race.
As we stood in the rain waiting for the event to start, wrapped in every layer we had in an attempt to stay warm, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was that drew so many people to an event like this and what it is that makes adventure racing one of the fastest growing sports in the world? Most adventure races are held away from main city centres but it doesn’t stop people from wanting to take part – in fact it’s the opposite. Adventure racing allows you to get experience some of the most beautiful and remote spots in the country. This is one of the draw cards of adventure racing for me and the Whangamata event was no exception, being held in the picturesque mountain ranges of Whangamata and Onemana on the Coromandel peninsula. Being immersed in the outdoors and especially in such stunning scenery seems to offer a counterbalance to the physical demands of adventure racing.
Adventure racing is also as much about (and in some ways more about) challenging yourself rather than being in a race against time. It's more of a race against nature and what you as an individual or team can achieve; overcoming obstacles and finding your way from place to place. Of course, there are teams who are in it to win it, but for many it’s simply about completing the event rather than competing against another team.
But one of the things that draws many people to adventure racing is the camaraderie of being part of a team, and I think that’s really the winning ingredient. It is often said that a problem shared is a problem halved, and adventure racing is just like that. You have a group of people you are working with to overcome challenges and this makes the experience that much more enjoyable. As part of a team even the most inclement weather and steepest hills are that much easier to overcome.
Coming into the Whangamata Adventure race this year, most of our team had not had time to do much physical training so were not anticipating a placing, or even a fast race. The demands of work, family commitments, lack of sleep and a month-long battle with the flu meant we were well below our physical peak. Visiting the Whangamata bike shop for a few last-minute bits and pieces we explained to the bike shop owner that we were feeling a little bit underprepared. His reply was classic. "You could train and put your body through hell for three months so that on the day you can move more freely, or you can do nothing and just put yourself through hell for one day only!"
With speed being ruled out as a strategy, we decided to use the event to focus on our navigational skills and set out with a goal to collect as many checkpoints as possible. The trouble with this plan was you needed time on your side to complete the extra miles needed to get all the checkpoints, and as well as being less than at our peak fitness we made a rookie mistake on the first leg of the race by following the crowd rather than relying on our own sense of direction. As a result, it took us half an hour to find the first checkpoint, putting us towards the back of the pack throughout the whole of stage one.
During the second trek stage, despite being behind on time, we were determined to find all the checkpoints as well as the bonus points and found ourselves very much on our own. Most of the other teams towards the back of the pack realised time was precious and kept to the just finding the checkpoints but we were happy to go out alone and see what we could find. Being more on our own meant we couldn’t “follow the team in front” as there was no-one else around, and therefore we really had to rely on one another. We felt a great sense of achievement at reaching each bonus point and despite the fact that we were walking in the footsteps (and biking through the mud puddles) that 700+ people had also biked through, we felt like it was just us against the elements. Despite our best efforts, however, our navigational skills fell short, and although we hiked some serious distances, some of the bonus points remained out of our reach.
The third and final leg of the six-hour race was another mountain biking leg with the chance to gain a lot more bonus points, however, we had spent so long on the first two legs we were running short of time and were unable to complete the last leg in full. Yet as the day had wore on and the tracks became more slippery and most of our bikes and bodies became caked in mud, some things had become clear. We were out deep in the bush with our friends, battling the elements and battling the challenges of our ageing bodies, yet we were having an incredible time. We were covered from head to toe in mud and muck and at times our legs ached from biking or hiking up a steep hill, however we were content, laughing and enjoying every moment. At no point did we stop or even think about where we were placed in the field, it simply wasn’t at all important. It was not at all about winning, we don’t even know where we placed, it was simply about challenging ourselves and we definitely did that. It's incredible what you can achieve when you work together as a team and as we all celebrated the end of the 6 hours with a cold beer or two we were already planning our next adventure. We look forward to seeing you there.
Above top to bottom: Navigating one of the many stream crossings - Mystery activities to gain extra points were fun -The terrain was both beautiful and challenging - Images by Paul Peterson