Con­sid­ered one of the tough­est, both phys­i­cally and men­tally, ad­ven­ture races on this planet, GOD­Zone is the largest and most tech­ni­cally-chal­leng­ing multi-day event on of­fer. This year's Chap­ter Five was held at the top of the South Is­land in the Tas­man

Say Yes To Adventure - - Features - WORDS: Hol­lie Woodhouse IMAGES: Mead Nor­ton and Sup­plied LO­CA­TION: New Zealand

Hol­lie Woodhouse

‘ It was truly re­ward­ing to be part of such an awe­some team of tal­ented girls.’

GOD­ZONE RE­QUIRES TEAMS to be made up of four brave, and some would ar­gue slightly mad com­peti­tors to nav­i­gate across some of the most spec­tac­u­lar scenery and wilder­ness ar­eas New Zealand has to of­fer, to find a se­ries of check­points us­ing only a map and a com­pass. Each team mem­ber must stay within 100 me­tres of each other the en­tire time while cov­er­ing 530 kilo­me­tres at­tempt­ing a num­ber of dis­ci­plines in­clud­ing tramp­ing, climb­ing, moun­tain bik­ing, kayak­ing and raft­ing. A non-stop style of rac­ing gives the teams up to seven days to com­plete the chal­lenge, with Team Yealands Fam­ily Wines, the win­ning team from this year's race, cross­ing the line af­ter three days, 13 hours and 44 min­utes.

While teams are made up of four, rules state that each team must have one fe­male, with most teams opt­ing for a three-to-one sce­nario. But for the first time in the his­tory of the race there were three all-fe­male teams en­tered. One of these teams was Sea­gate, which in­cluded So­phie Hart, Fleur Pawsey, Emily Forne and Lara Prince; four of the best fe­male ad­ven­ture rac­ers in­volved in this sport at present. ‘Sea­gate' was and con­tin­ues to be well­known in the ad­ven­ture rac­ing scene, hav­ing been one of the most dom­i­nant teams in the world over the past few years. But af­ter Nathan Fa'avae's de­ci­sion to re­tire, the orig­i­nal team which also in­cluded Stu Lynch, Chris Forne and So­phie Hart, parted ways. The idea to form an all-fe­male team un­der the Sea­gate name came about af­ter So­phie made a ‘dumb de­ci­sion' to cross a swollen river while rac­ing GOD­Zone the year be­fore. “Chris had swum over al­ready and so I fol­lowed. I nearly didn't make it across. Luck­ily, Chris reached out and grabbed me, pulling me into one of the last ed­dies be­fore a nasty sec­tion of prob­a­bly a class five or six rapid.”

Rac­ing in a team with peo­ple who are more ex­pe­ri­enced and stronger than her­self, So­phie ad­mits it's easy to let the de­ci­sions fall to them. Usu­ally, when pad­dling she teamed up with Nathan who is one of the best kayak­ers in the sport, and would fol­low Chris around the hill tops, who is known as one of the best nav­i­ga­tors in the sport. And Stu is “un­doubt­edly one of the most skilled peo­ple I've been lucky enough to race along­side.” But what So­phie re­alised af­ter that river cross­ing was that she needed to make her own de­ci­sions. “I can't keep re­ly­ing on others to lead the way for me,” she says. And so the seed was sown…

When word got out that an allfe­male team had en­tered, the sup­port and en­cour­age­ment were al­most all pos­i­tive. How­ever, there were a few who were not so im­pressed and quick to point out that surely they were break­ing the rules, sug­gest­ing that four girls couldn't race to­gether in one team. “Pre­sum­ably, that re­sis­tance was just a re­flec­tion of in­se­cu­rity amongst a few guys who were afraid of be­ing ‘chicked!'” says Fleur. They also heard com­plaints that they were ‘steal­ing' all the good girls. So while they might be four of the best, “there are a damn sight many more out there, who, co­in­ci­den­tally, are prob­a­bly much more skilled and ca­pa­ble than the peo­ple who were in­clined to com­plain in the first place,” So­phie adds.

They en­tered in a very pos­i­tive frame of mind, fo­cus­ing on their race with the aim to make smart de­ci­sions, be com­pet­i­tive and hope­fully fin­ish within the top ten. “We had noth­ing to prove; we had noth­ing to lose,” So­phie said. “We had a su­perb sum­mer ad­ven­tur­ing and up-skilling, so what­ever the re­sult, the jour­ney to the start would have been worth it.” They knew that when they crossed the fin­ish line, the feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion would be as good as any win.

Stage One saw the com­peti­tors start on the beach at Kai­teri­teri, im­me­di­ately en­ter­ing the wa­ter for a swim be­fore get­ting in their kayaks. As a team, they had de­cided to stay within their lim­its and be conservative dur­ing the ini­tial stages. “The start of these races are al­ways a bit tire­some. So many teams punch above their weight and sprint off the start line to fight for sec­onds,” says So­phie. Swim­ming takes on a whole new mean­ing too, weighed down by the ex­tra gear such as shoes, a baggy race bib, a clip card around your neck

and a GPS tracker stuffed down the back of your wet­suit.

They were re­lieved to get in their dou­ble kayaks for the next sec­tion, a 27-kilo­me­tre ocean pad­dle to­wards Rab­bit Is­land. A short­age of Bar­racuda's (kayaks), which were a plea­sure to pad­dle, meant that two ended up in a heavy yel­low kayak, more akin to a barge. “Fleur and I drew the short straw here and ended up stuck in this ‘pig of a boat',” So­phie said, both agree­ing they had had never been passed by so many peo­ple on a kayak stage be­fore. Com­ing into shore through the break­ers proved a headache for many, with boats and peo­ple bob­bing around all over the show. They picked their wave and just went for it. “We nailed the land­ing and cruised up the beach per­fectly. Laura and Emily also surfed in un­scathed.” To say they were happy was an un­der­state­ment, and from that mo­ment on de­clared that it didn't mat­ter what hap­pened dur­ing the rest of the race, their job was done. “See you later swim­mers.” Sit­ting in 31st po­si­tion (out of 58) they started Stage Two, which in­volved a moun­tain bike ori­en­teer­ing chal­lenge be­fore leav­ing Rab­bit Is­land. Teams were pre­sented with maps that cov­ered two dif­fer­ent parts of the is­land, al­low­ing them to split up and com­plete it in pairs. “It was un­canny tim­ing, and we rolled into the clip-card check­ing sta­tion to­gether.” From here, they headed out on the Great Taste Trail to­wards Rich­mond and the Bar­ni­coat Range be­fore head­ing to­wards the Wairoa Gorge. Many of the lo­cals were out in force, clap­ping and cheer­ing the teams on as they passed. “I sus­pect it had a bit to do with Mr McCaw (Richie) be­ing in town that day too, but we lapped it up,” So­phie said.

Things qui­etened down as it started to get dark and the forestry road they were fol­low­ing came to an abrupt end. Trust­ing their in­stinct, they bush­bashed their way through gorse and black­berry, even­tu­ally pop­ping out onto a well-formed road. As head nav­i­ga­tor, Laura was busy apol­o­gis­ing for the route choice when they turned onto the main road in front of teams who had been ahead of them at the start of the de­scent. Their sum­mer of up-skilling was more than pay­ing off.

Over the fol­low­ing four days the girls were put through their paces as they hiked through the Red Hills, kayaked across Lake Ro­toroa, rafted down the Matak­i­taki River, moun­tain biked and trekked over Mt Owen, be­fore hop­ping on their bikes for Stage Eight and the sec­ond to last stage. This took them through Kahu­rangi Na­tional Park, across the Arthur Range and to­wards Abel Tas­man Na­tional Park and To­taranui.

Pulling into the fi­nal tran­si­tion, they were sit­ting in an in­cred­i­ble 10th place. They were in good spir­its, hav­ing man­aged a three-hour sleep at Stage Four and a solid seven hours dur­ing the ‘dark zone' while they were on the river. Laura's feet were giv­ing her grief how­ever, hav­ing ac­quired a nasty fun­gal in­fec­tion mak­ing it ex­tremely

painful to walk, even with the help of two sticks she'd picked up along the way. This wasn't helped by an hour of back­track­ing while on the Mt Owen trek, as once again the in­fu­ri­at­ing forestry roads sent them down a dif­fer­ent route.

While at tran­si­tion and sort­ing them­selves out for the fi­nal stage, Team Sneaky Weasels ar­rived 15 min­utes af­ter them. They found this quite dis­ap­point­ing, as they knew that it was un­likely they would be able to hold them off for the five-hour pad­dle to the fin­ish line. Get­ting onto the wa­ter as the sun was go­ing down, the sea was like glass and they were treated to a stun­ning evening with a sky full of stars. Pad­dling steadily with Fleur and Emily talk­ing non-stop to keep the sleep mon­ster away, they pulled into Mos­quito Bay to clip a check­point too early and ended up in the wrong bay. Un­for­tu­nately, this was enough to let the Sneaky Weasels get ahead, and then they were gone. “We spent the rest of the pad­dle ad­mir­ing the night sky and dis­cussing the high­lights and low­lights of the pre­vi­ous four days,” says So­phie.

Pulling up onto Kai­teri­teri Beach at about 10.30pm to a small crowd of friends and fam­ily, they had com­pleted GOD­Zone Chap­ter Five in 11th po­si­tion – four days, 12 hours and eight min­utes later. They were all stoked with their ef­forts, glad to be part of such an in­cred­i­ble race. “It was truly re­ward­ing to be part of such an awe­some team of tal­ented girls,” says So­phie. “It was a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for me, and I loved it.” Fin­ish­ing just out­side the top ten leaves these girls with un­fin­ished busi­ness. “Per­haps we started too con­ser­va­tively,” So­phie says. “I cer­tainly feel like we raced well as a team, but I know we can go bet­ter.”

These four girls have more than proved that gen­der is no hand­i­cap when it comes to ad­ven­ture rac­ing. Sure, the power and strength of a male have their ad­van­tages, but for those with ex­pe­ri­ence in multi-stage rac­ing know that it's so much more than just the phys­i­cal el­e­ment. Events such as Spring Chal­lenge have played a huge part in open­ing women's eyes to what they can achieve in this sport.

And as for the fu­ture of Sea­gate, I've been told to 'watch this space…'

For more in­for­ma­tion and cover­age from GOD­ZOne, head to their web­site www.god­zonead­ven­

Im­age: Alexan­dre Socci / Green Pixel

Im­age: Alexan­dre Socci / Green Pixel

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