"If you have a passion for something - you're lucky because - what would it be like going through life not having a passion for anything" Ann Trason
I get to the registration tent the next day - I had misread the compulsory equipment and not realised that we were required to have thermal pants, thermal long sleeve top, as well as seam sealed jacket, and an emergency blanket. It's back to the motel to pick these extra things up - was it totally overkill - perhaps, perhaps not - I had now to shove all of this into my pack. One thing that it did affect - was how much fluids I was able to carry with me, plan was to carry the 1.5L bladder and 2 small handhelds, one with some electrolytes. This was because there was no aid stations on the course, or was there?! In my view this was a big mistake by the organisers especially what was told to us at the start - this did affect how much water I was putting in my system along the course - I will touch on this later.
Anyway, all registered and on the bus to the start line near Cardrona - the start would be on a farm, and transition stage for the multi-sports athletes to go from the bike to this mind blowing crazy run that they had to do. A 30km, point to point traverse up Mt Alpha and Mt Roy to Wanaka, some 1,900m elevation climbing - the Skyline Traverse, a race through the sky. The majority of the climbing coming in the first 14km. If this all sounds crazy - it is crazy!! For me, the average Kunal, I really underestimated what the climbing would be like at that time of the day, in the heat of the day 31 degrees Celsius. I was about to find out.
We start off flattish, just crossing the farmland, over a few deer fences to join a 4WD track - which would go up the mountain - Mt Alpha. The surface was hard and rocky, but the mood was cheerful, there was talk amongst people passing, or being passed. There were the multi-sports teams who had already had a day and half of the torture what absolute legends. My mind went to Jake and his Dad who were doing the event - where they were - how they were doing - would I see them - I will touch on this later.
Sometimes you just know when you've taken a photo to remember for a long long time - this was that.
Once we are on the 4WD track - there is no flat or downhill bits. Climbing. climbing, climbing! I estimate a mind-blowing 1600m of climbing in about 13km. The body was in shock, and I wasn't taking in as much water - thinking I still need fluids for the last 15km of the race - I want to finish this thing - so I was just sipping water. About 10km I was feeling exhaustion from the heat and not know how much water to take, I had gels to keep me going. I felt I was still going ok, and making the short course cut off with one hour still remaining. I was really heavy breathing and asking the marshall how much climbing left - he said 300m more to climb! So I calculated we were at an elevation of 1300m. 300m more is higher than Mt Eden, Rangitoto, any urban mountains in Auckland - this almost broke my heart. The marshall cheered my mood by saying he'll take a photo of me - with a smile I posed, the view behind me - unbelievable!
I cheered up a bit, but I felt there was effects of dehydration and/or elevation - something was not right and some signs of dizziness - I think dehydration - how much water do I take - I don't know! I carry on and the last 300m are crazy tough - single ridge track with a good gradient, by good I mean crazy.
I make it to the top. The marshall at the top, who appears to be a foreign student asks me whether it had been all uphill to that point - I said yes we've had nothing but climbing. I confirm with him that we are at the top, a sign which says the highest point of the course confirms this and I ask whether it's downhill from here, he says yes BUT there is the small climb to Mt. Roy. This ridgeline section is like nothing I've done before - it is a single trail (goodness) maybe reminding of that trail I know at Anawhata - but that one is beautifully green. This one is rocky, bare, scree, rocks, exposed to the sun. In the mid-afternoon heat. I slow down a lot on this ridge track - lots of people are passing me. On this one bit of the track has given way to a slide on a steep angle, loose scree, rocks. I tell the guy passing me - "at least I'll have a cool photo of you" which I did. I proceed very slowly. At this stage, I'm losing confidence and suffering a lot from the heat. And there an urge to stop and sit, which is exactly what I do right in the middle of the trail in between Mt Alpha and Mt Roy. At that stage, I hear "Kunal!" Yes - it is Jake and dad competing in the multi-sport event - what legends. I ask to take their photo - this would be a very memorial photo of them standing on track with the narrow ridgeline up to Mt Roy in the backdrop. Sometimes you just know when you've taken a photo to remember for a long long time - this was that. I have gifted a full resolution of this to Jake.
With that, I get a boost to carry on along this ridge - taking steps forward is the way to go - slow and steady. The last bit is a very very steep gradient up to the trig of Mt Roy - there are support crews hanging at the trig for those teams competing in the multi-sport event - they are encouraging us to get up this final climb then it's the down hill. It seems like an age but I get to the trig, pretty much collapsing there. I sat down thinking "this is the famous Roy's Peak" and actually thinking - well, this is not where all those Instagrammers take that cliche Roy's Peak shot - I later find it - it's further down the mountain. But here I was at the top - 2nd summit on this damn run - sitting down trying to take it in but also really buggered from this climb. The view is incredible - firstly there a view of the ridge line going back to Mt Alpha where we had come from.
And panning around views of Wanaka, Lake Wanaka all around - it's beautiful, but to get here has been nothing but brutal. I get up and head my way down there. I find it's very hard to jog - I think it's just cramping on my left leg. This is so disappointing, this is the portion of the trail that is runnable, I can't run! It seems I have destroyed my legs and probably where I obtained my knee injury. There's nothing to do but just one foot in front of the other - I walk down as hoards of tourists are making their way up.
I catch up with a team which is also walking down. They have a support crew who are coming down with them - encouraging them on the way down. They mention that there are water and aid station at bottom of Roy's Peak at the carpark. I'm relieved to hear this and then the very next moment - frustrated and annoyed - why were we told there would be no water on the course, no aid stations. Whatever. I've now started taking big gulps of my water. We walk down to the carpark - the people at the aid station are very helpful - with water, ice and of course Red Bull on hand. Now it is time to head back to Wanaka, about 6km to the finish line.
We walk along the lakeside - we are actually fast enough to almost catch up to the next team ahead, we are doing really well, chatting with the support crew - listening in on these guys from Palmerston North - they do these crazy multi-sport events with their support crew - it's pretty cool I reckon. We decided to jog the last 300m to the finish line - yes!! It's a great feeling. I see Jake, we have a quick chat.
I'm well enough to walk back to the car, back to the motel, grab food and pass out. The next day I'm not feeling too bad and able to move around ok - I even send a message to Jake saying the legs are not too bad (did I just curse myself) I check the usual tourist spot #thatWanakatree - I'm sorry it's a pretty sad tree in a lake - the tourists who were there at the time also agreed with me. Maybe I was jaded, maybe I've seen some magnificent trees in beautiful forests myself. Whatever the case - I decide to go to Diamond Lake, recommended to me by my friend Lian. I wanted to continue onto some photography - it's a short hike, with a slight hill up to Lake Wanaka lookout. It's nice - I'm hurting a bit but nothing sharp or bad I feel.
“Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.~Ken Chloub