The Spring Challenge is an all female adventure race held in the South Island of New Zealand during the last week of September. Teams of three work together to raft, hike and mountain bike their way between a series of check points over a 3, 6 or 10 hour course. The course is not revealed until the night before the race and teams must navigate using only a topo map and compass from start to finish. The 2013 course was set in the picturesque Gibbston Valley noted for its stunning vineyards and the famous A J Hackett Bungy from the historic Kawarau Bridge. The race began this year amongst the grape vines of Chard Farm Winery where waves of 300 competitors began with a 2km sprint down towards the Kawarau River to meet the rafts. Once on the water, it was a 9km paddle under the bridge and along the winding gorge and through dog leg, a grade three rapid which got the better of five of the rafts which attempted it.
The rapids on this section of the river were perhaps the highlight of the day for most (if you don't include the wine tasting at check point 20 that is) and there was a great deal of celebrating for coming through them with a full boat intact. As the boats exited the river a transition without any support crew made for some challenging times with getting wetsuits off and hiking clothes on. We eventually managed to leave the river edge only to climb back up towards the road and into a 6km run back along the gorge. The first check point was easier to find than the second but most teams made quick work of the undulating terrain and made it to transition two in good time. Check point three was actually underneath the bungy bridge and then we were on our mountain bikes and heading towards the Rabbit Ridge Bike Resort.
Getting straight into a hill climb on the bike wasn't the most pleasant start but the riding through to Coal Pit Road was a great change from paddocks and roads. The park is still under development but there were some nice berms to have a little blat around as we followed the bunnies to check point 10 and 11. This section brought us out at the Tavern where we got a quick glimpse of our support crew taking it easy in the sun while we hit the check point and pushed on. Along the road a little way and then we were diving off into Waitiri Creek Wines for another check point. It wasn't all fun and wine though as the navigator in this team overshot the turn off to the next transition costing a few valuable minutes and a few places. Thanks to a record speed transition and the power of jelly snakes we were into the last leg in no time - picking up the few places we had lost thankfully.
The final section was a 700m vertical climb in the space of around 2 horizontal kilometres up Mount Mason. This was the biggest challenge of the day with tracks only leading halfway up the mountain and a demoralising slog to the top across farm land to finish. There was very little passing of teams from this point and the goal was just to keep moving with the trig nowhere in sight. Our hours of training paid off in this section and there was no stopping to rest when we finally gained the summit. Check point clicked we set out at a steady jog down the west side of the mountain towards the last three check points and the finish line.
With some careful map reading we managed to make up a few places in this last dash as several teams stood around confused between circles and lines on the map while we stormed confidently past, en route to the promised wine tasting. We crossed the line at Mt Rosa Vineyard 24th out of 83 teams in our category in a respectable time of 6 hours and 35 minutes. Thankfully the support crew were still able to drive us back to Queenstown after their incredibly busy day of tastings as it would be some time before any of us were walking with ease again.
In New Zealand we don't go hiking, walking or frolicking in the wilderness - we tramp.