I did it! WE did it! The much blogged about Oxfamtrailwalk NZ 2015 is done and dusted bar the sore feet and blisters. It was not uneventful – nervousness, excitement, pain, tears, frustration, disappointment, disaster, elation, adrenalin, determination – just to name but a few of the emotions we felt as we journeyed from Whangamata Road Landing strip to Taupo Domain.
Our first tears and frustration came when we got lost on the way to the event! Then the adrenalin rush as the countdown was on and we were still in the loo; 7 we ran out, 6 still re-arranging our knickers, 5 held hands and 4, 3, 2 wove through the throng and 1, we were officially off. We picked our way in the half light of a chilly March morning over the uneven ground, passing teams on our way, “Skirts coming through!” “Mad women, on their way!” shrieking and laughing in near hysteria that we had actually made it! As we reached the mountain bike track and the path narrowed, going was a little slower but the passing protocol was cheerfully adhered to. “Passing on your right!” “You go girls”, “Good luck”, “Have a great day” “Love your skirts, so cute!” (from the chicks) “Nice skirts, girls” (from the guys – with a look and a tone that went with it!) “What’s your team name?” “Cool, nice one. Catch you later!”
As the field thinned out we found ourselves amongst teams going a similar speed to us and started playing team tag. We were feeling great. My quads were screaming as we pretty much ran the first leg but it trended downhill and we knew that we wanted to get a good start and make the most of the Grade 2 legs early on to have some time in the bag for the harder legs to come.
The sun had come up and it was going to be a beautiful day; the promised rain didn’t come until the next day and boy, were we thankful for that! Then, CRASH! Jo went down like the proverbial! She was behind me as we ran and picked our way over the roots on the baked sandy path and tripped and fell headlong. It didn’t look good; she was twisted on her back holding her neck. But, no, all good, she turned over, dusted herself down gave herself a shake and took off. Adrenalin was clearly pumping as we could hardly keep up!
We met our support team at Kinloch, 22km in. A quick massage, some blister care for Debbie, take on some food – peanut butter and honey sarnies for me – some electrolytes and we were on our way again. The 16km on the mountain bike track over to Whakaipo Bay winds its way over the headland and down again in the bush. We ran and walked in equal measure staying cool in the trees despite the sun getting ever hotter. Glimpses of a glassy Lake Taupo’s deep blue waters at high points reminded us that there was a world outside our challenge! Our support crew were a welcome sight in Whakaipo Bay but just a quick refuel and then we were off again.
Over the hills and far away. Less running now, uneven ground, across fields, uphill to the trig point, downhill on the Scoria Road, through the quarry and into Taupo. It was more of a battle but we had passed some milestones; a quarter of the way, a third of the way and now the halfway point had been reached. Jo was really starting to struggle though. She hadn’t mentioned it at the time but admitted during Leg 4 that she had been very woozy during Leg 3 following her fall. Her knees were sore and she took to her walking poles for Leg 5 (so did I as my quads were complaining!). Leg 5 took us along the river to Huka Falls and a checkpoint with no support crew. Jo was finding it hard going, her knee was hardly bending and every downhill stretch was painful for her. We were worried. Camaraderie from other teams kept us going. The support out there was fantastic.
As we ventured into the pine forest that would lead us to the Wairake Resort and Checkpoint 6 there was an eerie silence. The ground of dead pine needles was soft underfoot and our feet made no sound as we marched across it. The trees towered tall and sombre above and around us as the sky between grew dark. No birds sang and we could neither see nor hear any other teams. The path took us up and down, looping through and back on ourselves and seemed to go on for ever. We grew weary of the silence, of the darkness and we were increasingly worried about Jo. Eventually she stopped. Nauseous, sleepy, in pain but still determined to keep going. Frustrated, disappointed. We had to make a call.
We waited as night fell in forest. Jo wrapped in warm clothes and survival blankets, drifting in an out of half consciousness as I kept her talking, Debbie and the other Jo directing teams around our friend as they caught us up and went past. We were getting cold too and still rescue didn’t come. Conflicting emotions; on the one hand real worry about our friend and the time it was taking to get help to her, on the other frustration at the time we were losing. It isn’t easy to face up to those selfish thoughts but we had worked so hard and we had done so well so far and were easily on time for our sub 18 hour target.
An hour later, after several phone calls with Oxfam Support, Civil Defence and our support crew and still no sign of rescue, Jo’s husband arrived. We left them in sombre mood, cold, damp and hungry, picked ourselves up and jogged in the darkness to Checkpoint 6. Hot food, more fluids and a bit of a pep talk to get our heads back into a good space. Up until now we had sung our way into every checkpoint. Our skirts and our song were becoming a feature! Not this time, we were just too flat. Fleeting thoughts of packing it all in came and went. Jo would have been mad as hell if we didn’t continue. So we forgot the 69km we had already done. This was a 30km walk. We’d done plenty of those in training. Get up and get out there!
The 18km of Leg 7 was interminable. Darkness and not actually knowing where the hell we were made the kilometres pass by very slowly. We prayed that we had missed a km marker or two and that the next one would say we were a couple of kms further on. But no. We felt like we were making a good pace and we were passing the teams that had passed us in the forest but those kms didn’t seem to be going down and we seemed to be going round in circles. And don’t mention the swede fields!
We sang our way into Checkpoint 7, loud and heartily.
“We are the Pat and Posties Team.
We are strong and we are mean.
Walking the trail in our little skirts.
‘Cos we know the hundy hurts!”
(US Army marching style, me leading the others repeating!)
Nearly there. I, for one, was tearful. We had had to dig deep for that leg. Last refuelling – my boys had made me a hot cup of coffee – never has a coffee tasted so good!
Final leg. 12.3km. Grade: Easy. There is nothing easy about a final leg of a 100km walk! Once again we were directed across fields, stumbling in the dark on uneven, wet grass searching for the glowsticks that were like candles in tin cans that marked the way. It was heartening to have other teams to walk with at times and we provided mutual support in the darkness of the night. The lake front was a welcome sight – 4km to go – and there was Jo in the car with Doug! So happy that she was ok. What an adrenaline rush – come on, we can do it girls! Our support crew had organised a staged re-entry for us! Paul and Aonghas along the lake front (and the runaway campervan!) spurred us on to go up a gear, Lachlan met us as we rounded the corner for the last set of steps (cruel, cruel trick!) and the rest of the team were reassembled as we came into the finishing chute. “We are the Pat and Posties team…..” Once more as loud as we could!
A bitter sweet ending. So glad that we finished. So sad that we didn’t all make it all together.
Thank you “Pat and the Posties”; Postmaster General; Debbie, Courrier Post; Jo M, Fast Post; Jo P, Digi Post; Anne
And a huge shout out to the support crew of Lachlan, Aonghas, Rob, Doug and Paul. We couldn’t have done it without you!