And so a plan was hatched

I wiped the tears, picked myself back up and we set off to devise a plan for our own 100 mile adventure.  I came here to run 100 miles, my crew were here, my friends who were running Northburn were keen as mustard (standard trail runner mentality to ad-hoc join me in running 100 miles).  We would make our own adventure!

So it was off to the ice cream shop…because, you know we were still going to be running 100 miles and could do with all the calories we could get!…that burger had probably worn off a bit by now anyway 😉

With the awesome local knowledge of our friends, the Wild Things directory and a good old pen and paper to write down the distance, vert and estimated times, we devised a brutal 100 mile adventure of our own.

I was still a bit wobbly and tears came and went throughout the day. To be fair, so much needed to be processed but I was pushing it to the side for this great adventure, I would deal with all that later.  For now we would run, we would adventure and we would tick off an epic mission of our own.

Saturday dawned with rain on the rooftop and a chill in the air, snow was coming!  Not too much could dampen our spirits though as we set off on our epic mission! We cruised out to our first section – a wee jaunt up Little Criffel. Starting with a river crossing, wet feet were to be the order of business for the next 30 hours and we headed up, up, and oh yeah, up.  The wind was freezing at the top of the mountain and conditions weren’t looking much better over on Mt Alpha, our next stop after this section. Were they snow clouds? Perhaps. But, one peak at a time, we would cross that mountain when we came to it!

Heading back to the motorhome (and mobile aid station) after Little Criffel there was talk about alert levels for COVID-19, a new development that had occured while we were out running.  Things were good at the moment…but the situation was changing rapidly.

After refuelling thanks to our awesome crew with coffee and warm food (seriously, motorhomes are the bizzo!) we headed off for our second segment over the Skyline Track.  The ascent was intense on a route that seemed to climb forever with the wind and rain gaining momentum and slowly reducing ours as we summited. The fun and laughter subsided as we battled the elements to get down the other side of the Skyline on Roys Peak track.  Our (might I add amazing) crew had ordered pizza and after a fair few hours on our feet in the cold and the wet some slices of pizza goodness couldn’t come soon enough! 

Little did we know that the world had been rapidly changing once more while we were out in the mountains.  We hit our aid station to hear that we might be moving into ‘Alert Level 3’, businesses shutting down, maybe schools, what was going on?  As we set off for our third section which would take us out to the start of the Motatapu we were blissfully unaware of what was going on in the world and just how much life was going to change in the next 48 hours.

We were closing in on the third section from Glendhu to Motatapu along the gravel road to the trailhead when we heard a car coming up behind us.  We moved over to let it pass, but it slowed, then stopped. It seems we had a new trail friend (what did I tell you about trail runners!). The Riverhead Relapse had been cancelled so now Ian (@adventurian) was keen to join us for our night mission through Motatapu.

While we were blissfully unaware of the changing world running through the wilderness, my crew couldn’t escape the near constant stream of media alerts, talk of quarantines, reduced emergency service availability and social distancing. Oh, and the weather was potentially pants through the valley too!

My crew weren’t too keen to have us head into the hills by ourselves as the sun went down on a technical piece of trail that would take us at least all night, having already been running all day.  Things had changed throughout the day, the COVID threat was real, maybe we shouldn’t be out here doing this? Who did it serve? What seemed like an amazing idea was now being questioned.

So with Ian already in our crew, super local trail runner James (@jbtrailsnz) crossed over from the support crew to the dark-side to have our backs overnight through the Motatapu.

Bags were repacked for a projected 12 hour mission, food was eaten, ankles strapped, niggles attended.  Headlamps, batteries, food, warm and waterproof clothes. The rain had finally stopped but the mountains could be unforgiving and it might get cold.  PLB’s checked, re-registered to include contact details for our crew, and we were ready to head off into the night.

Off the five of us went,  the sun went down quickly and the stars came out.  The climbing was relentless with no views to speak of just up, up, up and then down, again and again!  The hours wore on. Conversations ebbed and flowed as energies waxed and waned. Feet that had been wet for the better part of 24 hours were dealt with, patched up and lubed.  At one point we all bundled up to have a quick nap by a stream. Unfortunately I couldn’t sleep, but the rest buoyed our spirits and we continued on.

It was just before sunrise when I was at my lowest.  Climbing the final saddle I was falling asleep on my feet, looking up to where the others seemed so far ahead and the mountain too big to climb.  My legs were shot and I just wanted to stop and sleep. There was of course no choice but to continue. There was no other path out and we still had about 15kms to go to finish this section (I think it was actually closer to 25…but we didn’t know this at the time!).

The sun came up and the majesty and beauty of the mountains around us were revealed as energy renewed where it had been failing.  The morning wore on and it became apparent that we were not going to be out of this section in the predicted time. Ok, we were totally kidding ourselves, rather it was going to be much, much later, but the illusion was worth it at the time.

It was at this point that we had to consider whether we went on for the full 100 miles or whether we finished after this section.

Again, so many emotions.  I have never DNF’d anything, and the stubborn side of me wanted to keep going.  But then, I had been very aware that my amazing sister and partner support crew (wonder duo!) were going to perhaps need to leave to go and deal with issues at work due to the COVID-19 uncertainty.  If we kept going at the rate we had been going I calculated it would be sometime early the next morning before we finished, and for what? This was not a race, we did not HAVE to complete this, as much as I felt I had needed to do it.  Perhaps it was time to finish, time to appreciate my crew for running around the countryside after us, time to just stop. Time to accept and process the end of the challenge.

We were 5km from the end of the section when we were joined by Andrew (@hardykiwi) and Ben (@benrunnerbean) who had run in from Arrowtown and brought a new energy and chatter…..then they told us that they had run in a little over 10km, wait, what, TEN, WTF. Oh my life!

Those last 10km where we ran (shuffled) and walked while chatting in the sun were some of the best.  The decision had been made, we were calling it a day. It was done. Ben took my pack from my weary back 29 hours after I had first put it on and it felt blissful to run unencumbered for a time.  It was at this point, in these last few kilometers as the sun shone down, surrounded by breathtaking mountains that new friendships were formed and older ones reached new depths.  

We came into the park to see Vanessa, my little sis Chrissy and her husband Luke, waiting to welcome us in! We hugged, old friends and new. What an epic adventure.  It might not have been Northburn, and that was something that would take some time to process. But, this run with this amazing group of people, with equally crazy tendencies gave us something Northburn wouldn’t have, and it was a hell of a journey.

The chapter closed with the same surreality that it began with. There was no breakfast hangout exchanging the highs and lows and comparing who smelt the worst.  Instead we were now faced with being back in society and civilization and had to do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19.

There were some sobering ‘see you soons’, and then just like that, we all left.  Without a trace, we left only footprints that would be washed away, but created memories that will last forever.

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