A WEEK OF PAINWords by Struan PurdieImages by GODZone Chapter 10For most of us, pain is something we try to avoid. So too is discomfort. However, in recent years I’ve come across a bunch of people who thrive on pushing themselves to the absolute limit, enduring a fair bit of suffering along the way. GODZone is one of the world’s toughest adventure races, born right here in New Zealand. For the last couple of events, I’ve been lucky enough to attend and capture the chaos on film.One of the craziest things about the race is that those competing don’t even know what they’re signing up for. Participants only get the course outline 12 hours before the start. 2022 marked 10 years of GODZone and the organisers decided to design a course tougher than ever before. It was a stunning calm day in early March as competitors, in teams of four, lined up on the Jackson’s Bay wharf. Ahead of them lay nine days of gruelling racing – 710km from east coast to west coast, through some of the most rugged terrain in the region.The first day saw competitors paddle around an exposed headland in packrafts before packing them up and hiking into Lake Ellory for more paddling. Our film team followed them as best we could by boat and on foot. That first day, morale seemed high despite many taking more than 36 hours to complete the stage. However, it was the next stage that seemed to really break a lot of teams. Competitors had to carry their pack rafts on a 155km hike/paddle up the Cascade river and then over into the Pyke River before grinding up and over Park Pass in the Mt Aspiring National Park. They then had to descend into the Dart River and paddle down to Glenorchy. For this section of the race, teams were on their own, miles from any roads, let alone civilisation. We shot the action from the air, spending a day hanging out the side of Heliworks’ twin-engine squirrel. The terrain was savage, with huge elevation and hours of paddling down the painfully shallow Pyke, and there was no marked route. Teams had only a compass and a map to navigate, which saw many veering off course – some even circled back on themselves through thick bush. We spoke to one team who’d packed enough food for 36 hours to complete the stage. However, by the time they reached Glenorchy, they’d been on the go for over 65 hours. People started falling apart, with many deciding to pull the pin – only a third of the way through the course! In total, there were six heli-evacuations off stage three, including Richie McCaw’s team who pulled out after one of them developed an ear infection. What shocked me was the toll it was taking, even on people like Sam Manson, who constantly finds himself on the podium at the Coast to Coast Longest Day.Struan followed the teams as they hiked, mountain biked and paddled their way down Lake Wakatipu, over the Eyre Mountains, then up and over the Nevis – the country’s highest public road.Over the next three days, we followed the teams as they hiked, mountain biked and paddled their way down Lake Wakatipu, over the Eyre Mountains, then up and over the Nevis, which is this country’s highest public road (if you can call a severely rutted mud track a road). The country was spectacular and made for some epic shots. Every night we’d find ourselves either back at the hotel or at some pub in the middle of nowhere, sending footage to the TV news outlets and cutting videos together for the tens of thousands of people watching the race online.The stories that come out of GODZone are truly exceptional – everyday people pushing themselves to the absolute limit.Throughout the race, we interviewed competitors about their reasons for doing such an insane race. Some simply wanted to prove to themselves that they could do it; others thrived off the remote country that they would otherwise never visit; while some couldn’t really come up with an answer.Five days into the race and the end was finally in sight. The teams had survived the rugged west coast: forested lakes and glacial rivers, high alpine passes with tussock tops and steep gorges. Ahead of them lay the relatively tame trek and packraft down to Paerau, across the classic Central Otago landscape, then a 100km bike ride following the Taieri Gorge Railway train line to the final stages. Once there, they had to paddle out to the Taieri river mouth and then hike up the beach to Brighton. When the teams finally started trickling over the finish line, there was a lot of emotion – tears of joy, disbelief that it really was over, and sleepdeprived glazed stares. There were hugs exchanged, beers drunk, and a lot of hot pies consumed (a GODZone tradition).Filming the race had been a logistical whirlwind, with some massive days and a huge amount of travel by road, water, and air, but for us, it was all worth it. The stories that come out of GODZone are truly exceptional – everyday people pushing themselves to the absolute limit and helping their teammates to achieve something many never thought possible. It’s what keeps me coming back to this event every year. To watch the 2022 GODZone race film, scan the QR code below.
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