It’s hard to articulate in a couple of words just how the landscapes of New Zealand’s Southern Alps and it’s surrounding countryside will make you feel.
Majestical, towering, moody, brazen. These are snow capped mountain ranges with lakes and braided rivers weaving a path at their feet.
Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, New Zealand on January 20, 2018
Red Bull Defiance in Wanaka, New Zealand on January 20, 2018
While it would seem that anywhere and everywhere in New Zealand is accessible to one and all, this is far from the case due to the negotiated privatisation (free holding) of land to farmers in return for releasing land back to the Department of Conservations for public access (you can read about Tenure Review here ) making any opportunity to cross these privately held pockets of outstanding natural beauty all the more special.
Such was the case as the 4th edition of Red Bull Defiance rolled into Wanaka this past weekend to pit two person teams, mountain bikers and mountain runners against the rigours of the waters and mountains that surround this melodramatic sleepy lakeside village.
In stark contrast to last year where we faced freezing temperatures and the biggest summer snow storm that anyone could remember, 2018 blazed as hot as the wild fires that have scorched the district in recent weeks. The Nor West fan on full blast presenting the opposite set of climatic challenge in the competition not to compete against others, but just manage yourself in order to make it to the finish line.
Taking the opportunity this year to tackle the Minaret Burn MTB event which was run as a single stage race alongside the 2 day, 2 person multisport event, this is a prime opportunity to see first hand the remote north western shores of Lake Wanaka which are usually exclusively reserved to the deer that roam, the chamois and thar that dance around the snow line and the guests of Minaret Station, this 64km traverse of the western shores of Lake Wanaka is far from a walk in the park.
If I thought that doing the whole shebang (the 2 day multisport) event last year was up there in the pain-in-paradise department, the frenetic pace off the start and the first climbs across the southern reaches of Minaret Station were a stark reminder that any time a gun goes, you’re about to pay a visit to the hurt box.
As the Nor West gathered pace whipping white caps across the lake and the shelter of the valleys sent the mercury well into the mid-30s, the sight of river crossings became a welcome respite, all the while draining the contents of my 2x bottles and a 2L Camelbak in hope of replenishing the fluids and salts that were being lost far quicker than they could be replaced.
If there’s one thing that ‘s harder than remaining upright climbing lose rocky single track on a stupidly steep gradient with your heart pulsating through your neck and into your mouth, it’s descending on equally sketchy off-camber steep descents with your arms having the living daylights shaken out of them in the process. Hopefully remaining rubber side down.
Coming past the Glendhu Camp Ground and entering the Millennium Track for the final stretch to the finish on the Wanaka lakefront, the three hideous climbs that this track is so well known for loomed large. You were either about to pop, cramp or both, it was just a matter of when not if and pray that no-one is coming around the corner on the blind corners and bluffed sections of the track.
There are days when you really wonder why you do things and your mind can be your biggest enemy. This was one of those days. One of those days when you really start to question why….
It’s not until you cross the finish and the feeling of relief that sweeps over you helps erase some of the horrors you just subjected yourself to. But maybe that’s what keeps bringing us back, the chance to go to those dark places to test our mental fortitude and get a gauge on our mental fitness more than our physical.
This for sure is one weekend and one course that will continue to be human versus mother nature before human versus human.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked ‘what are you doing’ in the past three months…I may almost have a contract of the financial size that Mo Freitas has been reported to have signed in recent days.
The reality is, I haven’t, I didn’t, but I’ve been asked this question A LOT (I placing the bet that no one else is brave enough to place – who ever it is could likely have contracted 5x girls for the price of Mo #congratsMo #takeawinwhenyoucangetone #suckstobeagirlsometimes #thisisnotadig #genuinelyhappyfortheguy #toomanyhashtags ).
In lots of ways it’s been a refreshing chance to answer this question openly and most importantly, honestly.
At this time of the year I’m around the people that have known me for a long time and have known me across my multiple careers that have been the last 20 years of my life.
They look you in the eyes, they ask you questions, you give them honest answers.
When you are perceived to be a highly goal focussed individual, throwing around the answer of “I’m not sure” can instigate some interesting and colourful conversations, some of which have been highly entertaining.
The Girl From The Mountains
You see, this is how the story goes. You can take the girl out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of the girl.
It’s also the reason why every year for the past four, I’ve come ‘home’ to the mountains. The reason? Clarity, perspective and removing myself from the microcosm that can be the world that I have travelled in year in, year out for the better part of the past 10 years.
There’s something about humanly powering your way up the Southern Alps that gives you the feeling of being on top of the world and earning the views that you are rewarded with on the tops.
In the process, anything sitting on your subconscious that is nibbling away at you will come to the fore and trust me, you’re forced to face it front on…as well as potentially sweating from the eyeballs in the process.
So What Does This Actually Mean
It means lots of things. First and foremost it means living to the mantra of Running A Muck (yes – I, with the encouragement of a couple of others actually coined it a way of living).
Running A Muck
The last half of 2017 was truly hectic, so hectic that the term “Running A Muck” was coined and the “Runamuck” way of living became a thing. It became a daily phrase of conversation. We found laughter in the connotations it gave. It eloquently gave meaning to the situation I/we were living through.
If I’m really honest, this Runamuck way of life has actually been a decade in the making but it’s only now that I’m brave enough to put a label on it, throw caution to the societal norms that I once would never have done for the fear of the backlash I may have received and embrace the French Art of Not Giving A F*** (it’s a published book title, therefore it’s ok to make reference given the appropriate nature of it’s meaning in this context).
But just like that first week of October 2017 when I ‘balls-ed’ up and asked the question if ‘we’ were ok with girls not being invited to the Red Bull Heavy Water event in San Francisco, I’ve once again found the courage to step up and to speak publicly about the need to do things differently.
This time last year I did what was close to un-thinkable, I had the courage to embark on an overseas campaign with no support other than the ‘village’ of friends who had my back, the tiniest shred of belief, an accidentally destroyed shoulder and the need to succeed when the game of life was dictating that I had to perform every time I stepped up to the plate.
To walk away with the outcomes that I did was representative of so much more than the world-beating ‘results’ seen by outsiders. It was about playing…and winning the game of life.
There were times when I was about to fly home. There were times when I was so mentally and emotionally broken that I’m still unsure of how I managed to pull myself together to produce some of the best performances of my life. But I did.
I’m glad I played that round of the game of life, as few will ever be brave enough or create the opportunity to put themselves in those situations.
I saw the opportunities that others didn’t and I embraced all that I could learn from those experiences.
Irresponsibly Responsibly Adulting the Heck Out Of Life
This my friends is how ‘Runamuck’ and Running-A-Muck came to life. The embracing of the chance to irresponsibly-responsibly-adult-the-heck-out-of-life. To embrace situations, to see a crises and to see opportunity it presented.
The chance to become a better version of myself by throwing myself into the situation, surviving and ‘experiencing’ for the sake of experiencing.
When things are out of your control
In the small little world that is the highest level of competitive Stand Up Paddling (yes – it’s actually a ‘thing’ for the uninitiated who are reading this), uncertainty has been rife, allegiances have been formed, alliances made and promise after promise laid on the table (and broken on many an occasion).
What goes unpublished and unspoken outside of the chinese whispers that do the rounds of WhatsApp and Messenger are the realities and truths in favour of the rose tinted glasses approach to pretending things are ok in the hope that they will be.
Quite frankly, things are not ok and #ipaddleforequality was testament to that.
But that is merely scratching the surface on the reality of what equality means (it goes so much further than the superficial nature of perceived equal prize money – but far deeper to the value of contracts, media and many other career enhancing opportunities).
The International Surfing Association (ISA) and the International Canoe Federation (ICF) are stuck in the Court of Arbitration for Sport mediated by the IOC as to who is allowed to ‘govern’ the sport of Stand Up Paddling otherwise known as SUP. Debates around the lengths of boards we race depending on if we are male or female and other contentious issues rage like a wild fire overshadowing the overbearing need for governance that has a view to the need for a strategic 5/10/15 year plan for is actually best for all disciplines and participants which sit under the banner of SUP as a sport at all levels.
We have continued to receive promises from various organisations and sporting leagues casting promises for a better future, but one cannot help but be a sceptic until we see the actual proof of these words with our own eyes in the months and years to come.
So Many Unknowns
As someone who likes to be in control of their destiny and have an idea of the road map of where they are going in life these points aforementioned equate to many unknowns and not a lot of road signs to plan and navigate by.
What to do?
The only thing I know – to take back the control..and throw caution to the wind.
in the spirit that was the back half of 2017, 2018 will be dedicated to the metaphoric notion of Running-A-Muck.
With so many unknowns, I will navigate by gut and follow the road signs of the heart.
I will throw caution to the wind, along with the notion of those that try to impose controls as to what or who they deem to be the ‘best’.
Why? Simple, I cannot control the actions of others and the potential impacts these may have upon my life and my career.
Once again, it’s going to take some balls to potentially step outside and away from the titles and affirmations of others that have defined my career to date, but it’s not just a chance I’m prepared to take, it’s one that I must make in order to break through personal boundaries to strive to become a better version of myself and what ever I take on.
If that’s irresponsibly responsibly adulting the heck out of like, then that is exactly what I will endeavour to do.
Not afraid to be afraid
Am I afraid? Heck yes, but once again, therein lies the opportunity to grow and to see opportunities in the periphery that I may not have seen otherwise. It is also forcing me to deal with the high possibility and reality of failure(s) along the way but once again, it’s only through embracing the chance to fail that we might unlock our real and ultimate potential. I’ve already physically been to some very dark places in the last couple of months and I’m not going to lie..it’s highly uncomfortable with a real chance of failure served up every time.
Same thing = Same Result
If you continue to do the same thing, there is a high likelihood that you may reap the same result. That result may be the dream of others, but for someone who has crested that mountain on many occasion, same thing, same result can also mean the fear of comfort and complacency.
And complacency is a place that I choose not to live.
Where to from here?
A good question and as I opened, one that has been the subject of many an entertaining conversation on many a mission over the past few weeks.
My grown up response? There is a plan….it’s a plan with a high amount of adaptability. A plan underpinned by the feelings of the head and of the heart pulled together in a colour coded excel spreadsheet.
It’s a rather unorthodox approach to planning for someone who loves to plan and has every day of the year accounted for in a spread sheet.
It’s full of challenge, potentially scarily so. So scary that it’s definitely given me more than a few anxiety attacks in recent weeks.
To those that have chosen (or choose) to join me in my planned approach to irresponsibly responsibly running-a-muck at the game of life this year, thank you for believing in my spirit of putting it all on the line at times and pitting myself against the best and the best of mother nature.
What I do know is that it’s going to be one heck of a journey, we are going to create some epic memories, have some incredible stories to tell and by living to some old fashioned and rather strong morals and values be better humans for the experience.
This is about being raw, it’s about being real and it’s about embracing this opportunity to break through some new barriers and attempt to become a better human for doing so.
Here is to Running-A-Muck and the people that already make up the Runamuck Society – you absolutely know exactly who you are, and you do it oh-so-well.