The kayak leg consisted of a 22km downriver paddle. The water wasn't moving fast enough to influence the boat at all, but just being close to land can make you feel like you are moving faster...or slower depending on your mindset! We were able to keep 'Capital Stamina' within sight of us for the first few hours. The paddle was broken up with two portage sections around what were referred to as 'weirs', which were basically a cascading water drop on a small damn structure.
We were still about ten minutes behind C.S. when we started our first portage, but a focused effort on our part allowed us to launch our boats on the opposite side in unison. They were more effective paddlers than us and after a few minutes of pleasantries went back to work and created a gap between us again. There were some really fun sections of shallow water to navigate and for hundreds of meters at a time someone would be hoping out of the kayak to tow it along or help it off of some rocks. Everyone was soaking wet and we were very happy that we did not decide to attempt this section at night. I never had the chance to personally talk to any teams that did, but one story that made its way back to us was of a team actually hitting the second weir and having to back paddle before taking a fifteen foot drop in their kayaks! There were some glow sticks to illuminate the pull out, but I guess some car lights from the side had drowned out the glow sticks and they overshot the take out and came up solid on the top of the weir itself! Talk about an adrenaline rush!
In between the two weirs Mark spotted a swimming snake! I was amazed that this little green guy was so efficient in the water and again I reached for my camera. Nick seemed to think that swimming snakes were incredibly boring and he did not stop paddling long enough for me to snap a shot of it. Damn Aussies!!
By the time we arrived at the second weir team Capital Stamina were again a few minutes ahead of us. We put in yet another focused and efficient portage and managed to actually launch ahead of them on the other side! There was only a few km's of paddling left and we managed to hold them off and hop out of the boats first.
We were docking on the opposite side of the highway to our transition point and basically had a third, short portage to get to our supplies for the next biking leg. With C.S. right on us and a friendly rivalry ensuing we had our best transition of the entire event...in fact we had the fastest transition of any team!! We took just 30min to transport and deflate our boats, refill our food and fluid supplies, assemble our bikes and hit the road. It was five minutes faster than any other team could manage! I was also surprised to see that after a 5hr13min paddle, we had the 6th fastest time on the water! Somehow our paddling time in this race was saving us from our running injuries and biking issues.
After consecutive nights with 4hr's of sleep, everyone was feeling great. We were on the home stretch in terms of the overall event and had managed to get through some soul destroying troubles thus far. We knew that the 91km bike ride was fairly flat and had a lot of road involved. After a twenty minute slower ride to warm up and get the bodies to accept the pain we started to drop a few gears and really open it up with a nice pace line. The kilometers were ticking away nicely and we managed to catch a few teams early on. About half way into the ride my chain started skipping again and just a few kilometers later it snapped. We were fortunate that it happened as we were passing through a small town and a local boy came over to see what was up. He was bouncing his Aussie Rules Football as he approached.
He asked where we were from and what we were doing before Nick had a few questions of his own,
"Hey mate, do you think you could fill up a water bottle for me?"
"Yeah!" He ran off and was back within seconds.
"WOW, that was fast, think you can do another one even faster than that?"
Nick had found us a water boy and kept him busy while I was tending to my chain. I ended up minus four links after the two breaks, and I knew that I would have to keep myself from fully extending my chain within my gears now. We actually felt bad that we had to leave so quickly, as our new friend looked like he needed some footy mates for the day!
In the later half of this bike stage we once again caught up to and quickly passed numerous teams...and as was now to be expected by this point in time, the stage was going to be longer than the listed distance. As we were counting down the kilometers on a very fast ride we realized that there was still a pretty big climb to conquer. The stage ended up being over a 100km in total, but outside of my quick fix with the chain we were without major issue. It was the first time in the entire event that we had been able to bike consistently and uninterrupted as a team, and we clocked the 4th fastest overall time of 5hr37min because of it. The top team on the stage were just 40min faster than us over the 100km and they had a World Cup Mountain Biker on their team!
We arrived at transition with numerous competitors just in front of us. Our stated goal for the last few days had been to stay on top of our sleep and finish the race strong. Even after all of our troubles throughout the race we were right on the cusp of a top ten placing. Now we were heading into what was considered the make or break stage of the race, a 90km trek, having already covering over 600km of terrain, we decided to take our time in transition and make sure we were on top of everything. Megan, Mark and Nick went to work on fixing up their blisters. I have always been fortunate with my feet and wasn't suffering too bad, outside of a small toenail issue. The nail was practically dangling anyways so I sucked it up and ripped the damn thing off. A bit of medical tape over top and I was finished with my feet. (After running the WCT and JDFT and completing XPD I sit here now with but three toenails attached to my feet, total. It's pretty horrible actually and I am embarrassed when I wear sandals now.)
I went about trying to locate a new bike chain. After removing four links from my chain already, it was starting to skip again towards the very end of our ride, and with just 60km of biking remaining, I did not want to take any chances! Amazingly one racer did have a spare (Markus from Caffeinated Adventure Racing, THANKS) and was kind enough to give it to me. I immediately replaced my chain, and then realized that the newly acquired chain was longer than what my bike accepts. I removed it and went about counting and popping out links. It was a timely process but eventually I had a fully functional bike again.
When we had arrived at this transition we were told that the top two teams had taken a full 24 hours to clear this stage, and that the third place team had yet to be heard from! We went about stuffing our bags with two days worth of food and batteries. Any mistake in our packing now could cost us dearly in the end. The packs were so stuffed that everyone was trying to find room in someone else's bag to hide things. If you turned your back for too long your pack would somehow gain five pounds!
Just as we were ready to depart they called all the teams in and said that they had to shorten the course due to how tough the navigation had been on the top teams and how long they anticipated some of the slower teams to be out there for. They dropped a few CP's from the left side of the map, which took about 30km off of the route if I'm not mistaken. We had arrived at this transition right at nightfall, having to turn on our bike lights for the last 2km of the ride. We had discussed pairing up with another team by the name of 'AWREC' (A Wreck), who we had been seeing quite a bit of in the last few days as well. They ended up ready to go about twenty minutes before us so we told them we'd try to catch up.
The trek started off with a simply monstrous climb. We had to turn on and crank up our i-pod tunes to stay awake and after a few hours of climbing we were starting to falter and slow significantly. Out of nowhere a fellow racer blew past us. He wasn't running but held a significant hiking pace, enough so that it scared the hell outta us when he caught up! He was trying to pace his teammates but they were lagging just behind. Megan, Nick, Mark and I realized that this was our saving grace and immediately everyone paired off with another racer. I hiked on ahead to catch their lead guy and to try and slow him down! Eventually everyone settled into a nice steady pace and both teams were travelling faster because of it.
More often than not it's easier for the navigator to have another team around, but from time to time navigators can get to talking and forget to stay focused on the maps. Both teams ended up trekking a few kilometers past a CP that was hidden in the forest and we all had to double back. Along the way we met up with a third team that had just gotten up from a short sleep and between the three of us we managed to locate the CP, albeit about 80 meters deeper into the bush than was described. I was very thankful to have other teams around while searching for this one at 2am!
Up until this point the trek had been all along a prominent 4x4 road. Travel to the next CP was where the real race would begin. From here it consisted of one huge bushwhack, and at midnight everyone was having trouble getting a precise bearing on the maps. If we did not know exactly where we were then it would be next to impossible to shoot an accurate bearing for the next CP. After much fumbling about we all agreed that it would simply make more sense to get some sleep and start our bushwhack at dawn. We lay down for what would be a 2hr nap from 3am-5am.
It was tough going getting up from this short sleep, but if all went well we would be in a hot shower and comfy bed within the next 24 hours! When we finally started our trek again Mark and I agreed that our packs were simply too heavy. We had stuffed them full of food for two days and now that the course was shortened we were anticipating being on the final bike stage by late the next evening. Everyone took out their least favorite food packages and emptied them into the forest. We all managed to drop a few pounds of weight and for at least a few minutes it seemed to have made a difference.
It was not until we came to a high point on the 4x4 road and were able to scramble up to a small vantage point, that we finally nailed down exactly where we were standing. Again we were coming across many smaller features such as rivers and side roads that did not show on our maps and vice versa. Finally just as the sun was rising on us, Mark was able to lock in our position. We were very fortunate that we had decided to sleep on it earlier for we were finding ourselves to be further along than originally thought.
One more to go...I almost feel like I'm racing it all over again...don't get lost on the last trek, don't get lost on the last trek...