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Adventure Racing Urban Style

Updated: Sep 27, 2018

I’m going to put it out there … I was a sceptic. Geraldine is my hometown (OK, village) and if you’ve followed my adventures, Mt Peel is without a doubt my favourite adventure playground in this big wide wonderful world. So, when I missed out on getting into Spring Challenge South, I was gutted. I really was. I felt like I had been cheated out of competing on my back doorstep, not to mention the free accommodation at Mum and Dads!! But there is always a silver lining, and we were fortunate to be given the opportunity to head north for the ‘urban’ Spring Challenge based in Manukau.

Standing in the hot showers straight after the event (one of the many advantages of the day), I ate my humble pie and admitted that not getting into Spring Challenge South was a blessing, because Spring Challenge North was bloody awesome! It was a day full of surprises, new activities, stunning locations and a great bunch of people. And of course, plenty of fresh bruises.

First things first, heading north meant taking my mountain bike on the plane. And with no male in sight (or answering their phones) I opened YouTube and step-by-step I packed my bike in my borrowed Evoc Bag. Once done I almost did a wee jig, feeling extremely smug with myself for now having completed the task at hand. I then realised I had taken the wrong part of the handlebars off! Oh well, I decided to leave it and deal with it later.

Meeting Jess at Christchurch Airport early on Friday morning we flew north to Auckland (silently crossing my fingers that my bike would arrive in one piece) where we met up with Jacqs who had come from Hawea. All kitted out in our super-smart Lululemon gear; we were ready to go. A USave Cargo Van would be our wheels for the next few days, which turned out to be the perfect mode of transport. Bikes and bags were loaded in the back, and with Google Maps at the ready, these three country bumpkins were ready for their first ‘urban’ adventure race.

We arrived at Janny’s (my aunt) house where we were staying having done a supermarket shop on the way. Our first task at hand – assemble our bikes. We figured we needed to give ourselves as much time as possible to fix anything that could have gone wrong! As it turned out, we needn’t have worried as in no time three bikes were put back together in what we could see as perfectly working order. The real proof of our skills would unfold the following day.

The second (and far more exciting) task was to try on our brand-new cycling kit, specially designed by the team at Champion Systems. I think Janny was just excited about it as we were! ‘All the gear, no idea’ did cross my mind, however. I did my best to look like the two supermodels beside me! “Your legs are the biggest”, Janny said, directed at me. Gotta love family honesty. And no, I didn’t take offence to this. a) I’m used to it; b) She was just speaking the truth, and c) She has the same affliction!

It wasn’t long, and we were back in the mighty USave and heading for registration and briefing at the Vodafone Centre. Located right beside the Vector Wero Whitewater Park this was also the start of the race the following day. Expecting to receive our maps we were a bit taken back when we were told we would only get our maps at the start of each stage – crikey, this was going to test our orienteering skills! But looking at the dummy maps they had there, it would be more a test of route choice than using the compass. Phew.

With a 5am start, we were on the road at 5.43am, two minutes ahead of schedule! We were in the first wave of the day starting at 7am, so had to get there with enough time to rack our bikes, get organised and get our rafting gear. It turned out this was a good thing, as Jacqs bike had managed to get a flatty overnight. Kitted out with lifejackets and helmets it was time to head to the start line, but not before a few body slams to get the blood pumping.

Stage 1: 150m Swim and 4 laps of the Water Park (2 x Grade 2, 2 x Grade 3) - 3km

‘Bang’ – the horn blasted, and we were off, jumping into the flat section of the water park and heading for the end where the boats were lined up. Having not swum since Brecca in March, it took me a few seconds to get into the swing of it. But a few kicks to the face were all that was needed to kick it up a gear and head for the front. We managed to be the first team out of the water and into the boat and teamed up with some great young girls from Auckland. The same couldn’t be said about our guide, however, who immediately took us the wrong way!! We went straight up the conveyor belt (which popped us out at the start of the runs) instead of going around the buoy. But don’t worry, we got it the next time around! The Grade 3 runs were good fun, and we managed to stay upright the whole time, with plenty of water pumping down to keep us on our toes. A couple of boats weren’t so lucky, however, with a few bodies spotted floating down the river.

Once out of the water we boosted back to our bikes, grabbed our gear and headed for TA2 which was in the Botanic Gardens, about a 10-minute bike away. As we were heading along a path beside the motorway, this section wasn’t timed (safety reasons), and the clock would only start again once we crossed the mat to begin the next stage. Unfortunately, the concrete path was still slightly dewy, and Jess took a slide on a corner, ending up with a few nice grazes to start the day!

Stage 2: Orienteering on Foot, Botanic Gardens – 4km

We grabbed our maps, made a quick route plan and were off and running. The first marker we came to was not what we thought it would be, and we quickly realised these maps weren’t like what we were used to! Normally 1cm = 1km – but these maps were more like 100 metres! Backtracking we picked up the lost checkpoints and were on a roll. When we planned the route we (Jacqs and I were on map reading, Jess was on collecting the markers) didn’t write down the order in which we wanted to collect them; instead, we just made a line with our highlighter. We were three-quarters of our way through the course when we realised we had missed a checkpoint, so had to backtrack once again! I can honestly say this was our only major mix up of the day, a good lesson to learn early.

Stage 3: Orienteering on Bike, Totara Park – 15km

The bike stage needed more planning, as on some tracks we could only go a certain way and had to collect checkpoints in a specific order. This meant more time was taken at the beginning to make sure we had planned a route we were happy with, even with teams passing us. But that extra time we spent was well worth it, managing to have a great bike section. There was the odd steep hill to get the heart pumping, but most of it was rideable. A mixture of single track, 4wd track and shortcuts across the paddocks kept it interesting. Near the end, we did a check of our checkpoint sheet and discovered we hadn’t even seen #2 on the map at all! As it turned out, we could quickly collect it on our way home, but I suspect this caught a few teams out.

Stage 4: Orienteering on Foot, Botanic Gardens and Totara Park – 5km

Switching bike shoes for sneakers, we were once again off running. We had a better understanding of this map having done both areas already on foot and bike, but still managed to discover different sections. We ran through beautiful forested areas as well as open farmland, working well as a team. The weather had cleared, and it was now a blue-bird Auckland day. The pace was a lot faster than we were used to, all commenting that it has been a while since we had run so much on the flat(sh). This urban racing was turning out to be lots of fun! Heading back to TA2 we quickly grabbed our gear and crossed the timing chip to stop the clock. No point in sorting out our gear with time running on the clock!

Back on our bikes, we retraced our path back to the Whitewater Park for the next stage of the day. Loading our gear and bikes in the back, we jumped back in USave and headed East, passed Clevedon to Duder Regional Park. Stuck in traffic getting out we couldn’t help but laugh; this was a new experience! With the clock no longer ticking we pulled into the Z Station for some refreshments and to change clothes before making the last 10-minute section of the journey to the start of the next stage.

Stage 5: Orienteering on Foot, Duder Regional Park – 8km

Having looked on Google Maps the night before, I knew we would be in for a treat out here, and we weren’t disappointed. It was beautiful. The course took us to all four corners of the park, as well as the ridgelines along the top and the views were stunning. It was super warm by now, and the calm water lapping the beaches was very inviting! I was envious of the people we passed who were out there enjoying the day, not racing against a clock.

We managed to find each marker, with only one taking us longer than expected on the journey home. Standing there discussing what we were going to do as we couldn’t find it, Jacqs saw it out of the corner of her eye. It was right there in front of us! The relief of seeing a marker is always sweet, even more so when you have spent what seems like too long looking for it!

Stage 6: Orienteering on Bike, Waitawa Regional Park – 15km

While we weren’t timed on the driving sections, our goal of the day was to make it back in time to partake in the ‘special’ section – the waterfall. Until the day before I didn’t even know it existed! This meant there was no mucking around to get to the final mountain-bike stage of that day, a 20-minute drive from Duder Regional Park. It was a quick turnaround once we arrived getting the bikes sorted and cycling kit back on, before heading out on the course. Much like the others, we had sorted our route, hoping it would take us about an hour and a half to complete. We rode our way around the course in a clockwise direction, with a few back-tracks to pick up checkpoints in the middle.

Highlight (or lowlight from Jess’s point of view) of this stage would have to be watching Jess do an unintentional dismount into a massive puddle of mud. Jacqs and I were following and quickly slammed on the brakes as we came down the hill behind her. Add this to her earlier dismount, and I think we can safely say she got MVP of the day on the bike!

We picked up the last checkpoint and found some new energy as we headed for home. We could sense the finish line, and the idea of getting back in the water was very appealing!

Stage 7: Orienteering on Foot + Special Test – 500m

Even though travelling may sound like a break, it’s a bit of a killer. We were all yawning as we drove the last section back into Manukau, our bodies feeling weary from the day. The mighty USave pulled into the carpark for the final time, quickly jumping out in search of the Spring Challenge crew. They gave us a page with a mini orienteering route to complete from around Transition 1, which we managed to find quite quickly. There was a huge sense of relief and excitement as we pulled on our life jackets and helmets for the final adventure of the day – the waterfall!!

Jumping in the boat with our guide, we headed up the conveyor belt while listening to his instructions. “Don’t let go of the paddle. Heads forward. Knees in the boat.” I hadn’t thought it through at all, so when Jacqs asked if we went under and our guide confirmed we would, I suddenly felt quite nervous! But no time for that, the water was flowing one way only, and that was off the edge!

I’ll let the photos and video tell the story, but it was a boomer way to finish what was a fantastic day. We paddled the last few strokes to the edge, hopped out and crossed the finish line in second place.

Team Say Yes to Adventure had a great day out; many laughs, a few lulls but nothing that couldn’t be fixed. It was no wilderness race, but it was never going to be. Instead, we experienced a man-made whitewater park, some breathtakingly beautiful scenery and had an absolute blast. Jacqs and I worked well together on the nav, with no significant hiccups. And Jess is a bloody machine, a powerhouse on the bike even with a few false starts.

Massive thanks to the NZ Sock Company who have supported me since forever with the best socks, which mean I haven’t had a blister since I ran 250km through the Sahara. Also to Lululemon who provided all three of us with a full new kit for the day. You can’t beat quality gear, and theirs is not only super comfortable, but it also looks good on a shortie like me. And to Champion Systems for the great colourful cycling kit, we had may comments! And lastly massive thanks to Nathan, Jodie and the Spring Challenge crew for putting on such a great event. I know you are heading back to the wilderness next year, but I can guarantee if you did another urban race you’d have people lining up.

And as it turned out, maybe with all this gear we did have an idea!

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