Redemption at The North Face 100

Like most of my race reports this is a long one, so grab a cuppa and get comfortable while I take you on a ride through the 2015 North Face 100.

On the Friday before race day I picked up my running buddy Maria and we made our way up to Katoomba in my little Toyota Yaris. I wish I had taken a photo of the boot of my car as it was chockers with gear for the run. We looked like we were going away for a week!!

When we got to Katoomba we did a grocery shop and the amount of food that we bought could probably have fed a small army. It’s quite hard to know what sort of food you’re going to feel like eating when you’re out on the trail for such a long period of time, so you always end up taking more than you actually need. And we only ‘just’ fit the shopping bags it into the boot with our gear, ha ha

We then checked into the 3 Explorers Hotel which was old but very comfortable and cosy, as it had a working heater and electric blankets. Maria and I carted our gear up to the room on the first floor (and spoke of how much we would hate these stairs on Sunday, ha ha) and got our gear ready for race day. My sister (Shelley) who had generously put her hand up to be our support crew (for a second time) would arrive on race morning to drive us to the start line.

My training in the lead up to this race had fallen (very) short of the kms I would like to have run, but a few small niggles had held me back along with starting my own business and not having the time to fit in as much training as I would have liked. I had spoken to my coach Damon about these issues in the weeks leading up to the race and to be brutally honest we thought that perhaps I should drop back to the 50km event, which I almost did. But my stubborn Taurean nature kicked in and I decided to lower my expectations for the race, so instead of aiming for a time my goal of 18 hrs that Maria and I had previously spoke of, instead I would be just aiming to finish the race. This decision meant that perhaps Maria and I would not end up running the course together because I did not want to hold her back from her goal, especially when she had been running up a storm and smashing her running goals lately!

So Maria packed her drop bags in case we did not end up running together and then we caught up with our good friend Emma who was staying at the same hotel. I helped Emma with her drop bags too, as she was missing her ultra buddy Dominic (our team mates from Oxfam last year), and we all jumped in my car and headed to Registration near Scenic World. Both Emma and Maria had never run this race before and were very nervous, okay I was very nervous too but I was just trying not to thin k about it!!

We had a fun time at rego and saw lots of our running mates, it seemed everywhere you turned there was someone that one of us knew. I saw friends who were doing the 50km for the first time, a friend Todd from High School, some friends from old workplaces and other running friends I had met on the trails over the past couple of years. The excitement and buzz in the room was electric!

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For some reason it didn’t feel quite real to me yet, that I was actually going to attempt this run again and I think I had been in denial about it all for the past week. Last year I got injured on Nellie’s Glen (halfway) and I pushed on for a long while, but eventually made the tough decision to pull out at 78kms or risk further injury, I was devastated. I had trained so hard for the run and felt more ready than ever to finish, but (like life) sometimes your run does not go to plan.

This year I was going to be rocking up to the start line with a race plan that i’d prepared the day before (last year I worked on it for weeks!!) and with no expectations, just the goal of crossing that finish line. My race plan is a document that I give to my support crew which has goal times and items needed for each checkpoint, and is usually 4-5 pages long but that’s because it also includes directions and maps to each of the checkpoints.

Now where was I? After a lovely welcome from the local Aborigines from the area, and some funny antics and information provided by the race director and the safety crew, we left rego quite late and headed back to our hotel for some much needed sleep. Setting and checking the alarm had been set a few times before our heads hit the pillow.

Our synchronised iPhone alarms went off at 5.00am, so we got up and prepared ourselves for race day. I had some breakfast (banana, muffin and a coffee) then dressed for the start. Shelley (support crew and sister) arrived at the hotel on time as planned and drove myself, Maria and Emma to the start line. Emma was starting in the wave before us so we let her out of the car close to the start line and then parked the car.

We made our way nervously to the start line and wished many friends well along the way. As we walked up I managed to see Andrew (a friend from my gym) and several of my Sydney Striders mates as they set off in the earlier wave. It was starting to feel real and I could not stay in denial mode for much longer.

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Maria and I chatted to Leah and Liz and slowly made our way to the start area where all too soon the gun went off and we were running!!

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

Start 6.40am at Scenic World (10.5km to CP1) 

The first section of the course is road and includes a few hills, it’s also an out and back which I like in this race because you get to see your mates running back towards you and wish them well for one last time before hitting the trails. It’s also nice to run back past the start/finish area and be cheered on by all of the many supporters, including my wonderful sister, as we would not see them again until we hit CP3 at 46kms.

After the road section you head down Furber step and then head right towards the Landslide and the Golden Stairs, before heading up to Narrowneck. Just after Furber steps somebody had managed to fall and was being taken care of by some other runners, and as I approached them I also slipped and managed to land on my (well padded) butt, cut my hands up a little, and ripped a hole in my tights! But thankfully I was not hurt and I’d chosen to wear black undies that day!! 😉

This section was lots of fun and we chatted to many runners through the different terrain. It felt cooler than last year and there was some cloud cover, and I hoped it would not rain. A man playing music and wearing a fluorescent vest (already) went past us up the hill, so we chatted to him and many others who were all in high spirits at this point.

CP1 at Narrowneck (20.5 to CP2) ETA 8.25am 

Maria and I arrived at CP1 10 minutes ahead of schedule (8.15am) and it was nice to know we had a bit of a buffer up our sleeves, even if only a small one. We both had a quick toilet stop, I grabbed a band aid for my finger as it had been bleeding since my little stack earlier on, and then we got back out onto the trail.

This section had some magnificent views as we run at one of the highest points on the course, however I did not stop to take any photos this year as I wanted to keep my momentum going.

Maria and I enjoyed running together and were keeping the same pace, much to my surprise as I thought she would be much speedier than me on race day (but that came later, ha ha).

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

We took in the views and eventually got to Tarros Ladders to find a short queue and we waited for our turn. If you have read my blogs before you will know that I do not like heights, so I was a little nervous about climbing down these ladders strapped to the side of the cliff. Okay, I was VERY nervous about it!

It came my turn to climb down the ladders (after I let MAria go first) and I tried to calm my breathing and my nerves. And I was doing really well until I got to about halfway and had to walk the narrow ‘plank’ to the next ladder, which meant that I looked down and freaked out. I lost control of my breathing and water started coming out of my eyes, but I just kept saying to myself “One step at a time, keep moving and you’ll get there”. Eventually I got to the bottom, after some much needed encouragement from Maria who was counting the steps for me to let me know how far until it would be over. And when i got to the bottom Maria gave me a big hug and we carried on our way down the mountain.

CP2 at Dunphys Camp (15km to CP3) ETA 12.00pm

We got into Dunphys Camp at 11.10am which was 50 mins before our scheduled arrival time of midday. Woohoo!! We got some food, filled up our water and queued for the toilet. We spent a little too much time here queued for the toilet, but I did not want to have to go in the bush later down the trail.

After a quick chat with our friend Paul we left Dunphys Camp and headed for the next landmark, the Ironpot Mountain. Most of this section of the course is on Private Property so not very many people get to train on this section of the course.

There is a very steep hill section up to the top of the Ironpot Mountain and Maria is much better on the hills than me due to her smaller frame. My goal for this early stage in the race had been to just stick with her for as long as I could and so far it had been going to plan, but I feared she would move ahead of me soon.

Partway along the ridge Maria got ahead of me and I got stuck behind some runners. On top of the ridge there is an out and back section again, so you get to see many other runners coming back towards you and wish them well. I really like this and just about every runner gives you a smile and wishes you well. The camaraderie out on the trails is amazing.

On top of the ridge there was a gentleman playing a didgeridoo, the same gentleman who had welcomed up at the registration the night before. I didn’t stop to listen like last year, but I thanked him (both times I went past) and continued up to the turn around point hoping I would catch up to Maria again soon.

After the turn around point I eventually caught up to Maria and we headed down the slippery section off the Mountain and into the beautiful fields that greeted us at the bottom. Then it was onto some fire trail and up a large windy driveway which met the start of the Megalong Road. It’s a tough, continuous slog up that hill and every bend reveals another incline. So you just keep moving and pushing and praying it will end soon.

We got to the top and Maria started to run, I needed a minute to breath (or so my head was telling me) so I walked for a little while at the top before gathering myself and catching up to her again promising myself not to lose her yet.

Just before the checkpoint there was a professional photographer and we got some great shots (below).

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

CP3 at The Six Foot Track (11km to CP4) ETA 2.40pm

We arrived at CP3 at 1:48pm which was again 50 mins before our scheduled time and we could not locate my sister who was set to meet us there. I gave her a quick call and she was shocked to hear we had already arrived! She was just leaving the car and she sprinted up to meet us with food and clothing while we filled the water up in our packs.

My awesome trail running buddy Sarah-Jane was the first person I saw coming into the checkpoint and I have to thank her for the photo below. It was great to see a familiar face and seeing all the support crews waiting and cheering us into the checkpoint was such a lift!

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I changed into some warmer clothes and we chatted nervously to my sister who was so happy that we were progressing as well as we were. She told us we looked fresh and gave us a big hug before we headed out onto the trail again.

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We left the checkpoint after a 14 minute stop (longer than planned) but felt much better to be in warmer clothes. Maria and I both knew the next section of the course very well as it traveled along the Six Foot track, a trail we had raced and run many times. So we knew the joys of the HUGE stairs that awaited us at the foot of Nellie’s Glen.

Maria was looking strong and I was starting to fade a little. We ran together for a while and we collected and chatted to a lovely lady called Ellen who was from the Mountains (Glenbrook I think). Eventually we got ahead of Ellen and then I also had to let Maria go ahead of me. My head was telling me to walk (stupid brain). I was angry with myself for walking these flatish sections, but felt I needed the break to prepare myself for the 900+ muddy, uneven stairs that were coming up.

I ended up power walking with a gentleman who was doing his 6th TNF100 and another lady who was running it for the first time. We got to Nellie’s Glen together and I let them go ahead of me as I thought I would be quite slow on this section. Unfortunately I was right and soon I could not see them ahead of me, plus I got overtaken by some speedy runners who were doing some very heavy breathing as they went past. My friend Rob from Nike caught up to me at one stage too and we chatted for a while. He had taken a fall and was not doing too well, he wasn’t very optimistic about making it to the finish line, but I tried to change his mind and keep him positive.

To my surprise I caught up to a lady, but she was not in a good way and was vomiting on the side of the trail every 10-20 steps. I didn’t want to get to close for fear that it might make me feel sick too, but I kept an eye on her and talked to her to help her get up the stairs one at a time. Taking the focus off myself for this brief section seemed to make the time pass more quickly and before we knew it we were at the top of the stairs and celebrating!

It was about here that I realised how light the sky was. That might sound a bit silly, but at this point last year it had already gotten dark and I had needed my head torch to see the trail and stairs coming up the Glen. But today it felt like there was a lot more daylight left which really lifted my spirits as it reminded me I was well ahead of schedule.

At the top of the stairs there was a short section of trail followed by some road into the next checkpoint. As I ran along the street there were people out the front of their houses who cheered me on and wished me well, and I actually overtook some runners before I got to the checkpoint.

CP4 at Katoomba Aquatic Centre (21km to CP5) ETA 4.40pm

I arrived at CP4 at 3.55pm which was 45 minutes ahead of schedule, so I was still traveling quite consistently and on target to an 18 hour finish. Was that really possible!! I started cry…

My sisters smiley face was waiting to greet me as I came into the checkpoint and she helped me change and feed. I put on some dry clothes (thermal shirt) and picked up my AyUp headlamp (thanks Nigel). I also had some help from Sarah-Jane who came over to assist and got me moving and out the door again quickly to make the most of the daylight that was left.

I saw Maria just before she was leaving the checkpoint and I would have loved to leave with her but I still needed to eat! So off she went with my blessing and I stuffed some food down my gob. I think it was rice pudding and nutella sandwiches. I only stayed in this checkpoint for 12 minutes, much quicker than last year when I spent more than 20 mins here, and felt elated to be out the door with the sunlight still beaming through the trees.

How good was this!! I was so happy!! But this next section was one of the toughest parts of the course, full of stairs and I had bad memories of it last year when I had hobbled most of it in pain. But this year I was determined to run a lot of this section, even the stairs, and I really was feeling fantastic so I pushed it a little harder than I had all day.

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

And eventually (to my surprise) I managed to catch up to Maria who I think had stopped for a toilet break. I was so happy to see her again! You can tell by the smile on our faces below.

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

This section included some really pretty areas. We ran past Echo Point where you could hear runners being cheered over the finish line in the distance. The beautiful Leura Cascades where I had stopped many times for photos during training runs. There was also Lillians Bridge and Wentworth Falls but it had grown dark before we got to these and so the starry sky was now our only view.

There was a water point at 66km and we were delighted to see our friend Brad here to greet us with a smile. He had been following our progress after he had completed the 50km race earlier in the day (what a LEGEND!). I quickly made a toilet stop here, then grabbed some lollies and we got back out onto the trail again, into the darkness.

It was somewhere in this next section that I lost Maria again. She was still looking so strong and I was still struggling a little, so again I pushed her to go on ahead and kept moving my legs as fast as they would carry me.

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

This year there seemed to be much, much less stairs than last year. I don’t know why, but the mind does play tricks on you when you’re fatigued (and injured like last year). I kept moving at a consistent pace and hoped I would catch Maria at some point.

I was still feeling very positive about how I was travelling and even though the legs muscles were feeling tight I did another check of my body and was feeling much better than I had expected to feel at this point. I had changed into different shoes at the last checkpoint and so was enjoying the luxury of the extra foam in my Hoka One One.

When I eventually reached the end of the trail and hit the road section which I knew took me down into checkpoint 5, I started to cry. Last year I had started to cry at the same spot but for a totally different reason. This year I was still running, and I promised myself to run all the way down the hill and into the next checkpoint. And I did.

CP5 at Queen Victoria Hospital (22km to Finish) ETA 8.20pm

I sobbed my way into CP5 at 8.06pm which meant I was still on track to finish in under 18 hours, it felt like my dream was still within reach. Some of my beautiful Sydney Strider friends were waiting at this checkpoint for their runners and they cheered me in very loudly. Leonor and Margaret had a hilarious sign that said “F**k the wall” and I agreed!

Shelley and Brad greeted me with big smiles and were excited at how well I was doing. They told me that Maria had only just left the checkpoint before I arrived and I was thrilled to hear she was doing so well, she would definitely crack the 18 hour target. How exciting!

We got me into some more dry clothes and I put my CHeBA (UNSW Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing) singlet over the top of my thermal. I had been raising funds through this event to help Dementia research, as my grandmother has Alzheimer’s, and the singlet reminded me of her and would push me through the hard parts of the next section of the course.

I then scoffed down some noodles that I had been craving too and got myself moving again before I got too cold (and comfortable)!

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Finish at Scenic World ETA 12.15am

I spent 16 minutes at CP5 which wasn’t too bad considering all that I got done and in the back of my mind I was trying to calculate whether or not I had a chance of making the finish within our original 18hr goal time. I headed out into the darkness up the hill towards the start of Kedumba. Kedumba is a 10km downhill section that would tear up your quads and knees if you let it. I had promised myself that I would run down all of this section and despite having some knee pain I stuck to that plan all the way, passing many runners as I did so. It felt pretty good to be moving past people and keep the legs ticking over, and it also meant that I kept warm.

Mos of the downhill here looks the same, wide fire trail with trees either side. There are a few small concrete sections but not very much.

I reached the clearing at the bottom of the mountain at 11.05pm and there was a water stop at the 91km mark. This meant that I had about 1.5 hrs to get to the finish line. It was do-able, but there was a lot of up hill to come so I would need to keep moving, no walking.

Here a girl called Ellen caught up to me, we had met earlier on the trail, and we chatted some more as I sat in behind her and just tried to keep up. We were moving at a pretty decent pace (or so I thought) and this section of the trail was  very muddy and tricky in some parts. I managed to stick with Ellen all the way to the bottom of Furber steps where I proclaimed to her that I had 20 mins to get to the finish line within 18 hrs. She moved aside and I shot up past her to push myself and use up every last bit of energy I had. My breathing got really heavy and so did the legs, but I wasn’t going to slow down now, I was too close and had come too afr to give up now. A gentleman moved aside to let me past and nicknamed me “Darth Vader’ due to the sounds that were coming out of my mouth (not the first time hey Damon, ha ha). They seemed to be a bit longer than I remembered.

When I reached the top near the boardwalk I was completely out of breath and thought I still had about 1km to go. As I looked at my watch I saw there was roughly 5-6 minutes till 18 hours and my head dropped as I feared that I wasn’t going to make it.

But to my surprise as i rounded the next corner the finish line was only 50 metres away and I sprinted over the line with the biggest smile on my face! I had done it. I had come back and finished the 100km course in 17 hours 55 minutes!!

The North Face 100 2015

The North Face 100 2015

Getting to bthat finish line is one of the hardest things I have ever done. It had taken me 18= months of training and preparation, but I had finally beaten the TNF100 course. I did not let it beat me a second time! It just goes to show that you should never give up on your dreams, no matter how big they are or how far away they might feel at time, just keep striving and learning and planning and you’ll get there. Never give up! Here’s a pic of me holding my Bronze Buckle which is given to everyone who completes the course in under 20 hours.

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And for all the statistics lovers, here are some more numbers for you:

Distance: 100km

Elevation Gain: 4,308m

Rank: 546th overall (out of 840), 95th Female (out of 187), 45th in my age group (out of 75)

The above results do not take into account the large amount of people who withdrew from the race on the day (DNF). There were actually 1,126 Entrants who toed the start line on Saturday morning but only 840 people who actually finished the race. That means 25% of people who ran did not make it to the finish line, a true testament of how tough this race really is.

So if you include all of the runners who started the race then my ranks looks more like this:

Overall: 546th out of 1126

Female: 95th out of 249

Age Group: 45th out of 102

tnf100 with shell

Now I must say a big thank you to my beautiful sister (pictured with me above on race day) who was not only there for me at this race, but has always been my support crew and motivator at every big race in my life. It has meant the world to me and I will be forever grateful.

Thanks Shelley!

And a big thanks also goes to the generous people who have have supported my running and helped me raise over $5,000 to help UNSW Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA). They are:

Kristian, Ganesh, Leah, Don, Sharon, The Tracey Family, Keira, Brendan, Lisa, Rebecca, Anonymous, Carol, Duncan, Anonymous, Matt, Kelly, The Roland Family, Joyce, Angela, Claire, Toni, The Hall Family, Sam, Anonymous & Anonymous

If you would like to donate to Dementia research through CHeBA you had better do it quickly here: https://cheba2.everydayhero.com/au/haileyrunstnf100

 

Happy Running 😀

The Shire Amazing Race

On Friday 20th March I hit the gym (Shire PTC) for a X-fit class. I have never done a X-fit class so my arms took a bit of a hammering, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s good to push yourself and try new things every now and again.

After the session the owner of the gym came around and asked if anyone was interested in taking part in the Shire Amazing Race the next day, as a team had pulled out so there were 12 spots to fill. I thought it sounded like a lot of fun, I’d actually looked it up online a few weeks ago but couldn’t afford the entry. And after some discussions with my new friend Leonie (we met that night in class) and the gym owner we were signed up!

Leonie and I met up to register before the race and chatted nervously about what we thought might come up on the days travels. We tried to guess obstacles and had a bit of a game plan thought out, god knows if it would help.

SAR 1

 

We saw some other entrants from Shire PTC and chatted to them before the race,and I also ran into Sonia (from Runlab) who was teamed up with Jo, a girl I used to play volleyball with. Such a small world!

The organisers did their introductions and for the warm up (Challenge 1) we all stood up and did Zumba, my friend Erita would have loved it!!

Then the countdown was on and the organisers hurried around to hand out the Hint papers with all our clues. We were entered in the ‘social’ category so we only had to complete 16 of the 20 Challenges to finish, plus we had paid $20 (donation to Enough is Enough charity) to get a ‘Pass’ for 1 challenge, so that meant we only needed to tick of 15 things from our list, and that we did.

We had a out photo taken with the captain of the Cronulla Ferry. we played OzTag on the Tonkin Oval. We took consecutive selfies of us with a race official, with a lifesaver ring & with a monument monument. We visited the local coffee shop to get a ‘cup’ which had to be used to bury one of you in the sand (we skipped this one as it was sprinkling with rain and we both didn’t want to get sandy, ha ha)

As we ran to the next challenge we saw it meant getting into the cold water, to swim and paddle a few laps before carrying the board around Cronulla for a lap. we skipped this on too!!

The next stop was the Rydges Hotel pool which was full of small plastic balls with team names on them. You had to locate your team name. I jumped into the pool and it was only waist height, I thought it would be the quickest way to find our ball but it turns out we were looking for the wrong ball (we didn’t find that out until after the finish!!). The race official saw how long we had been looking for the ball and showed us some leniency, thank you whoever you are because otherwise we would have been there all day!

We ran out of the hotel and down the stairs towards the beach where a Red Bull tent was setup and we were given a riddle which would help us crack the safe which was locked on the table. After phoning a friend and watching some other people we eventually got the safe open and we were off to our next challenge.

Most of the time we ran in between Pitstops (challenges) and the next stop was for a 3 minute spin session at Fitness First, which they filmed and asked us silly questions while we were out of breath and struggling. It was very funny.

And my favourite was next. We got to go inside an Orb ball and run/roll down the hill and back up again while battling the side winds and wet conditions. I wish we could have done a few laps in this thing as it was awesome. Also sponsored by Runlab, woohoo!

pUp next were the Bouncy Spring shoes (see picture below) we had to wear for a lap around a small course. I think I laughed the whole way around, they were good fun too.

SAR 2

 

We ran along the beach towards the south of Cronulla again and I bumped into my friend Amanda along the way, she was out doing her long weekend run – Go Amanda!

The next Pitstop was for a Water bucket puzzle challenge which we had some help from also, the other teams were so helpful. Thank you!

Next up was the obstacle course with Omar and the crew from Shire PTC. We had to take our shoes and socks off, jump into a potato sack and jump around a course while holding hands and not dropping the sack. You then had to slide along amat covered in water and soap suds, down a hill under a low netting which was heaps of fun. I laughed and got suds in my mouth! Then one of you was blindfolded and the other person had to guide you y voice around some cones and to the finish. We did this relatively fast and it was a lot of fun. Thanks Omar and crew 🙂

We got our dry clothes back on and headed south again for the next Pitstop. This challenge included counting a large staircase and then taking off 58 from the amount of stairs. If you got the answer right you proceeded to the next challenge.

Up next was a paddle in a large Outrigger, and it turned out that Leonie knew some of the ladies on duty and had paddled with them years ago. Small world. I had never done anything like this so really enjoyed the team row and trip out and around the bay even though it was cold and rainy.

Next we made our way back up to the Memorial Park and we had to climb (hang) our way along a rope, then perform some martial arts, and then finally get together with a huge group to solve a card puzzle that was 8 x 8 tiles. When we all worked together it was very quickly solved, go team!

Our last stop was at the Library for a short questionnaire (and chocolate) then we made our way running back to the Start area. Along the way I got some cheers from a running friend Jarrod, so funny that he should spot me out of all the entrants in our yellow shirts. Thanks for the cheers Jarrod!

We got to the line in 14th place (out of 79) which i think is fantastic!! Leonie was a lot of fun and I was so glad we had decided to give it a try. Maybe next year we can be in the ‘competitive’ group 😉

The event was so well run and the volunteers were fantastic. I was very impressed with the organisation of the event and am so glad to hear they raised a huge amount for their charity – Enough is Enough. What a fantastic event!

SAR 3

Thanks again Leonie! 😀

Tramping the Routeburn Track

I woke to the alarm at 5:45am feeling very tired and groggy. I felt like I had just gone to sleep. I needed more sleep, but unfortunately there was no time to get it now. I got up, had a shower, scoffed down some breakfast and headed to the reception desk to check out and meet my bus.

Bruce our driver was a chatty man and I felt sorry that he got stuck with me as I just couldn’t find my words that morning. The body was aching and my brain was not functioning yet. We left Te Anau and picked up some other people along the way, but none of them were going to The Divide, the start of the Routeburn track for me today.

We stopped to let a lady out who lives at Glades House on Milford, she was going to trek over the Dove Pass which we had spotted while on the Milford Track a few days ago, crazy if you ask me but she was obviously an experienced hiker. There was another girl from Poland and one from the Netherlands, they were nice to chat to.

Day 1 – Walk to Mackenzie Hut, 12km

It was pouring rain when they dropped me at The Divide, so I shuffled under the shelter to get my wet weather gear out and convinced another hiker to stand in the rain and take my photo at the start.

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The first thing I noticed, aside from the torrential rain, was the technical trail and how steep it was. Underfoot was very rocky and slippery so moving was quite slow on my already tired legs. I’m sure there would have been some beautiful views that day as I spent a lot of it above the treelike, but unfortunately the clouds were blocking the view. I stayed positive and added the uphill side trip to Summit Walk, however the rain just got heavier and the wind picked up so I didn’t stay at the top for very long.

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The walk was very tough this day, but so beautiful. The rainforest was a beautiful green colour and the rocks underneath my feet were all the colours of the rainbow. I noticed because I was looking down a lot, trying to make sure that I didn’t trip over.

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I passed a hut within the first few kms and there was a little lake just next to it which looked very pretty. There was nobody around to chat with so I kept moving.

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I went past several streams and waterfalls, and some very wet sections of the trail. In some parts there was water gushing over the path and you had no choice but to step into and through the water. I had given up trying to keep my socks dry and trudged through making it fun by splashing about. How old am i again? ha ha

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There was also a giant worm on my trail, check it out – even looks big next to my size 8 trail shoes!! (below)

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Eventually I came to a large waterfall that had a detour for flood’ sign, however I decided to take the trail next the waterfall and chance it. As I was about to start a young girl came out smiling and laughing in front of me, we started chatting and she said that I should definitely go past the waterfall. She said she got soaked but it was the most fun she’d had in ages. So off I went being very careful with my footing and she was right. I was giggling like a school girl and had so much fun getting soaked and cried with happiness, life was good. The photo below does not do it any justice but it was a moment in time I will never forget.

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I’m so glad I had gone that way and not chickened out and taken the detour, a risk that paid off thankfully.

I passed a lot of hikers going the opposite way on this trip yet somehow felt more alone than ever, which made me sad at first, and then brave. The trekking was quite hard through this section as there were lots of technical slippery sections to brake your ankles or knees on, but it was like a scene from a movie or postcard. Breathtaking.

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I caught up to a lady called Jane who was from Perth and she was going even slower than I was, being very careful. We also saw a (rude) lady come flying past us without responding to a word we said, which was very strange as most people on the trail at least say ‘hi’ and most stop to have a chat and ask you about your journey. Oh well, her loss.

Eventually I got to Lake Mackenzie (pictured below) and I was very glad to see it as I had been getting colder and colder despite my efforts to speed up. My hands were freezing inside my wet gloves.

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I scored a bed upstairs and chatted to Jane as she arrived just behind me. I removed my wet gear and hung some inside the hut and some outside under the awning. The dry clothes felt amazing. I grabbed some food and went downstairs to fuel the body and score a nice spot near the fire to thaw out. My stomach had been grumbling on the trail too, but it was too wet to stop and put my pack down so I had my late lunch at the hut when I got there.

I chatted to some really nice ladies who were travelling in the opposite direction to me. I also got chatting to Marg and Ken from Canada who were lovely. Marg and I ended up chatting for hours, then I took some time to catch up on my journal.

Dinner was good and filled the belly very nicely, along with the red wine….. such a nice luxury to have and it would send me right off to sleep later. In fact, I missed the ranger talk this night as I was really starting to feel exhausted, the body was starting to show signs on tiredness and I thought an early night with some extra sleep would be perfect. My calves felt like they were on fire just to touch them and my body had chafe in places it never had before.

The next day was another tough 11+km  of mostly uphill so it was nighty night for me.

Day 2 – Walk to Falls Hut, 11.3km

I woke many times during the night, once for a toilet trip and many due to snoring Suzie above me. Somehow I had developed a knack for choosing beds below snoring people, great!

As soon as it got light I was up and I realised that I had not once yet used an alarm during my treks, funny that. It was raining again and very cloudy which meant visibility would be poor and probably no views for this most picturesque section of the trail. Oh well, I would find the beauty in whatever came my way.

I said goodbye to the lake and gathered all of my belongings. I said farewell to my friends and we exchanged contact emails with the promise to keep in touch and to visit if we were ever in the others country, maybe one day I should visit Canada.

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Todays trek started with a large hill through what the girls had called the ‘Fairy Garden’ and that’s exactly what it looked like. It was beautiful and green and felt somehow magical.

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On the way up the first hill the views back down to the lake weren’t too bad, see below.

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And of course another shameless selfie below, getting soaked and still smiling.

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The trail was not as technical as the previous day. The trail wound up and around the mountain and I came across many runners and walkers going the opposite direction, all of them stopping to exchange a few words and encouragements.

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A man called Bernard came blazing up from behind me and we chatted a while. He told me there was a side trail coming up called Conical Hill which was about a 1 hour return trip up a hill and back. Thankfully we had somewhere to drop our packs, Saddle Hut, and then we made our way up the hill into the clouds. I’m so glad that we made the side trip as the views were spectacular!

The hidden lake was eerily beautiful amidst the mountains and the grey sky, beautiful. The weather was incredibly windy at the top of the hill (I almost got blown over a few times) and the trail was very steep and slippery, but I struggled up feeling very thankful to be there.

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There was even snow on some of the peaks of the mountains so that gives you an idea of how cold it was in this place, although I kept pretty warm on this day and thankfully did not get too wet. It was grey but I was smiling from ear to ear. Being in this beautiful place is hard to describe and the emotions you feel sometimes do not have words.

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It was a slow trip back down the mountain and into the valley. I ran into Jane at the hut and a few other people from Melbourne. I made use of the toilet back at the hut and got some food and water into me. Bernard had said farewell and trekked on ahead of me as he had a longer journey ahead of him than I did, and I was thankful for the silence again.

The views along the next section were spectacular. The lake, a huge waterfall that went down the valley and followed the path next to me was beautiful. I can see how this route had become so popular, as it has more view points than Milford.

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I went down the last rocky section past a small waterfall (pictured above) and onto the hut (pictured below). I got some dry clothes on to warm up and had a ‘trail shower’. I felt very refreshed and warm after that, but the legs were still struggling.

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I then gobbled down my food in the kitchen/dining hut (pictured below) and took a seat next to the window which looked out over the valley below, the route we would be taking on the final day of the trek. I ate so much of my food, I had been starving again and didn’t stop for long to eat, just kept moving to keep warm.

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I sat and chatted with Tina from Germany (left most in below photo), Asheem from the USA and Jane who i’d previously met and chatted with (far right in below photo) and played cards.

We were all travelling solo and we got on really well. We even won a game that night which was run by the ranger. You had to guess as many of the languages written on the quilt (second picture below) and we ended up with more than anybody else so we got the chocolate bar. Jane and myself had already gone to bed by the time they had chosen the winner, so Tina brought us some chocolate to have in bed and the rest was shared around to the other hikers.

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My dinner was a dehydrated chicken tikka masala and it wasn’t too bad. I washed it down with the last of my wine and felt very sleepy. My bunk had a view of the valley (pictured below) so I put it to good use and then hit the sack. Only one more day to go.

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Day 3 – Walk to end of Routeburn Track, 9km

I woke feeling quite sad as it would be my last day trekking. But the smile soon grew on my face when I realised that a long hot shower and decent food would be on the agenda for tonight. I’d woken to the usual hustling of people inside the hut and felt like I’d actually got a decent amount of sleep the night before. I was restless during the night but there was no sign of a snoring person underneath me. Finally!!

I has breakfast (horrible dehydrated, powdery scrambled eggs that made me want to vomit!) with Jane and Asheem while Tina was still sleeping. I had a black coffee which I’d grown accustomed to but didn’t really enjoy. I was craving milk. That’s right, fresh, delicious milk and made a mental note to pick some up when I got back into town. Asheem was heading the opposite direction to the rest of us girls, and both Jane & Tina were on an earlier bus than I was so I had plenty of time up my sleeve.

I packed up my things in the top bunk and couldn’t believe that I had been living out of this pack for the past week. Pretty awesome to think that everything you need you can carry was in one backpack.

And it was still raining so on with the wet weather gear (again!). I stood on the balcony (pictured above) and took in one last mental image of the view into the valley and chatted to some other hikers making their way out onto the trail too.

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There were some huge boulders going down the trail today and it was very slippery and wet. As like the other days I stopped to take in the views a few times and they did not disappoint.

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I got to Routeburn flats (pictured below) within 30 minutes and the time on the board had said 1 hour, so I must have been moving well again. I felt pretty cold so I went fast to try and keep warm. The rain was drizzling so I didn’t stop to take too many pictures.

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These huge boulders were scattered along the waterways and the one pictured below is about 2 storeys in height!!

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I crossed a few bridges and the running water sounds filled the air all morning. Speak of water, at one stage I was busting to go to the toilet and was getting worried that I might have to remove my gear and make a side trip into the bush, but just as I was about to get desperate there in front of me was a toilet. I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was out there in the middle of nowhere, no hut in sight, just a toilet all by itself in the woods. Perfect placement if you asked me as I was bursting!

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I slowed down for the last section as I had plenty of time and wanted to spend as much of it on the trail as possible, even though my legs were aching. How often would I get to do this, hardly ever, so I was going to soak it up for all it was worth.

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Most of the days journey was downhill and the poles came in super handy again, they had been a lifesaver really. I don’t think my legs would have coped at all if I did not have them. And I finally made it to the end of the trail (pictured below) and it sure did put a smile on my face.

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There was a little shelter for me to sit and wait for my bus, so I chatted to other hikers who were doing the same. It was just after midday when I arrived. I finished off the rest of my food (which wasn’t very much) and chatted to 2 girls from Israel and 2 guys from Canada. They made the time pass quickly and before I knew it my 2pm bus pick up had arrived.

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The bus trip back to Queenstown included a short stop in Glenorchy for people to grab a quick drink/food if needed. But i was feeling so exhausted that I stayed in the bus and had a power nap. Not that it did much good as 2 noisey americans got on the bus and talked at the top of their lungs!! Seriously, they could see that I was trying to sleep too. Just rude! ha ha

We got back on the road after about 20 minutes and soon I was back in Queenstown where I had a 10 minute walk to my hotel (Nomads Hostel). I was booked into a ‘King Room’ and it was lovely, had a balcony and all. The shower was heaven! I’m not sure how long I stayed in there but it was divine!

After wallowing in the shower for what seemed like an eternity I dressed in some non-trekking style warm clothes and headed out the door for some real soon and some milk. I took myself to Patagonia and had a chocolate milkshake with cookies and cream then took myself across to the pub (view from the pub at dinner below) and had Beef Wellington, which I also washed down with 2 pints of beer. The beer went straight to my head (ha ha) and the food was amazing!

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It had been a very busy and strenuous couple of weeks and it was starting to hit me physically. I felt very tired after dinner so I headed back to the hotel and packed my gear up ready for my flight home the next day. Once packed I put on my pj’s and watched some telly while catching up on writing my journal.

I was very much looking forward to going home and seeing my beautiful family and friends, but the misty mountains have left me wanting more and more, so i will be back one day soon and hopefully with the hubby this time.

Wishing you safe travels 🙂