‘The Cavalcade is supposed to be a week of getting away from the normal hustle and bustle! An opportunity to see new country, catch up with old friends and meet new ones. An environment like ‘the good old days’ before we were all so tightly constrained by political correctness movement!
That being said – this is NOT an event for first timers in the outdoors. Before you come on the Cavalcade we expect you to be relatively experienced in the activity you are signing up for.’
‘They came in their thousands – Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, Chinese, Italians and others – pioneers; adventurers – willing to break new frontiers and risk everything to seek their fortunes on the Central Otago goldfields.
Those hardy men ventured into mountain ranges and swift rivers, they endured searing summers and freezing winters, experienced huge thrills and tremendous sorrow, facilitated booming commerce and created technological innovations that led the world. These people shaped a landscape and left a social and cultural legacy that is part of what makes Central Otago so unique.’ https://www.centralotagonz.com/heritage
Kerry rates cavalcade as the highlight of his running year, and was adamant we were doing it this year.. Me however..
I’d not been so sure, it’s smack bang in the busiest part of our working year.
We’d be at Old Ghost the day before Cavalcade begins and we’d have to bust out a 10 hour drive post race to make it to Central Otago for 10am the next day, but ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’.
So we drove.
We made the start.
The start being a shed in a field and a few beersies being passed around as well as some cattle tags with our names on them. If you want grassroots this is it. You’re wearing the tags that adorn the cows that roam the golden fields that you will also traverse.
Pre-cavalcade Marg had got in touch asking if we would get some kind of cavalcade info brochure. I laughed as I replied to her email saying ‘Umm the answer is most likely no. Terry Davis events are a bit like a treasure hunt, except it’s days long.’
Kerry’s response was to ‘show up, bring shoes and a tent, it’ll be fun’.
And so the treasure hunt began.
Day 1:- Be prepared for the worst, always carry a bit more than you think you will need.
After congregating and sorting stuff out we headed off, today’s trip to Top Hut saw us navigate about 20 river crossings. They offered cooling respite from a hot Central Otago Summer’s day. We dipped in the streams, took photos, laughed and caught up on all that had happened since we last saw each other ‘So Shannon, have you got a new lover? I saw a happy photo and figured that’s what it meant’ No holds barred on the trails I figure I’m in the country I might as well be a straight shooter.
We arrived at Top Hut slightly damp after our refreshing swims only to find that some people’s bags hadn’t arrived yet.. It wasn’t really a worry until it started to get a little cold. Luckily people offered some of the team their spare thermals or jackets.
We awaited sight of our vehicle which had our bags in and was supposed to be bringing the food. Until it didn’t. Ho hum pigs bum. No toiletries or change of clothes, I’d worn my raggedy old sports bra since I was having an ‘easy day’ and didn’t have any of my hypafix with me (to prevent chafing or rubbing) I was facing a lack of hydration flasks and fuel for the next day too. I’m a pretty fastidious ‘clean each day’ kind of girl so this was something that was well outside my comfort zone. I figured I could only roll with it. It’s good to test yourself sometimes.
Dinner was a bit of a let down. Somewhere along the track they’d missed the memo that there were 4 vegetarians, which is a bit of a concern for protein when you are multi-daying and wanting muscle recovery. It’s a really interesting insight into our society the discussion around vegetarianism. No one will call bullshit on your religion but decide to not eat meat and everyone will tell you exactly what you should be doing. I know because I’ve been there myself, it’s something that us kiwis are very vocal about, I guess because we come from the ‘meat and three veg’ generation, and because a huge part of our economy relies upon farming. Either way it should be a bit more each to their own.
The plus side to this day was that as well as catching up with my buddies, I slept like a log after a very busy couple of days.
Day 2:- The Resilience Test. The day that lives on in us all.
This day started with a freezing river crossing straight away.
Wet feet for a long day.
We headed straight into a gnarly hill climb but after around 30-45 minutes of 40 or so degree gradient we were rewarded with vistas that looked out to Mt Cook. Magic.
Then we climbed some more.
We eventually reached the Hidden Lake after crossing a huge boulder field. There were seagulls galore there, hundreds of them squawking and whirling, and resting and we wondered what the heck they were doing there. Either way the turquoise waters and the refilling of bottles was a highlight. We climbed some more, up some fairly loose rocky sections to another boulder field with a rock cairn. This bit made me happy. I love rock scrambling. This was some fairly unique country and damn were we up high!
Eventually we hit the never-ending ridge of Mt St Bathans. 17kms of ridgeline.
Which seems like it would be exciting but it just kind of went on and on and on.
I was feeling pretty meh by this stage.
Letting something someone had said to me a few weeks prior haunt me about my running.
The words kept circling in my head and I felt sad and unworthy.
I had a couple of moments which I guess could be described as overwhelming anxiety and was struggling with my breathing.
‘What am I doing here?’
‘I’m so slow and shit’.
‘I shouldn’t even bother, I should just give up on this stuff and leave it to the fast people’.
I shouldn’t have let myself get to that place but I did.
I had to keep stopping and looking at the view and calming my breaths and my thoughts and then keep moving to keep up with the rest of the team.
For me, it’s always around 40-60% of distance when I get into the challenging spot mentally and need to really wrestle with my mind. I’m disappointed that I let myself get to this place that day but also realise that it’s reality. Words hurt and they haunt, and you’ve just got to give yourself a reality check and be proud of yourself for who you are and what you are doing, or what you have done. It’s also a reminder to spread the good ones as much as you can because we don’t say the kind ones, or compliment others often enough.
We all realised pretty early on that this was going to be a big day. I’d thought it’d take us around 7 hours. I was very wrong. You can look at a route on a map and make a guesstimate but until you actually set foot on said map you really don’t know truly what terrain you’ll be navigating. After a very long time of rolling rocky ridgelines we hit another big bouldery ridge. There was a bunch of around 25 dead sheep which we guessed must have got caught in a snowstorm and met their maker. I started to feel the effects of my old sports bra and there was a raw warmth on my back which was causing discomfort. We had a steep and relentless shale filled clinky descent off the ridgeline and onto rolling hills with beautiful alpine flowers. It was hot. Our energies and enthusiasm were starting to lack. We thought we mightn’t be too far away though. We were wrong.
We started to descend on another ridgeline that seemed to roll forever. It was covered in tussocks as well as Spaniard grass and Matagouri which I used my best/worst swear words to describe. Shannon and Marg’s enthusiasm was waning too. Occasionally we’d bust out bouts of song creating our own ironic songs for the situation we were in There were also big swears at falling over and getting sliced by Spaniard or Matagouri, or when we were finding ourselves trapped in a game of human minesweeper dodging Spaniard Grass or Matagouri. The only real blessing was the girls going ‘at least there’s no snakes’.
We reached a knoll. Nav wise it looked like we had to descend straight off it. It was bloody steep. Around 45 degrees and better on your arse than upright. I cut up my hand with Spaniard grass and was covered in blood but the end was in sight, even if we figured it’d probably take us another 45 minutes to an hour to get there. I’d been doing the maths and was starting to worry we weren’t going to finish by dark. Finally we saw a white truck and hoped like heck it was Roger coming to meet us at the end of our very long adventure. It was. Our knight in shining white armour (t-shirt). He was proffering water and muesli bars, well aware of the heat of the day and the lack of water refilling opportunities. Wearily we climbed into the Landy after 10 and a bit hours on the legs.
I think at that point we all wanted to wash or sleep. What a day. Many of us said that had been harder than any ultra we had done.
It was the day to remember. The day that we will know we trudged through, and have firmly planted in our resilience bank.
We might not be fast but we can keep swearing, singing and busting out some of the slowest KMs in the world, until the job is done. I figured if I was a horse then I’m probably more draught horse or Shetland pony than a racing mare, and that’s ok. We all have our place.
Roger mentioned that there had probably never been any Australians do that route before and that the girls would be the first to have done it from their country. I’m also willing to wager there’s probably not been a lot of women do it full stop.
From here the only way was up.
Day 3:- The calm after the storm.
A good sleep and a big breakfast made for some weary and happy people. All of us girls were feeling pretty battered after the previous day. Breanna was delivered some very sad news, her beloved Nana Mona had passed away and she was far away from her family.
We talked over plans and all agreed that today we would do something but not something crazy. We drove to Oteake scenic reserve, pitched our tents and then set off to climb ‘to the top of the nipple’ (the nipple being a large lump below the ridgeline).
There’s nothing like a good old hike on trashed legs with slightly disillusioned minds. We eyed up the water race as we hiked knowing it would be our post hike swim.
Breanna somehow still beasting up the hills, and managing to be her bubbly effervescent lovely self amidst her grief. Bree is my hill climbing inspo. She trucks on with a smile on her dial.
Margaret somehow managed to get away on us and that was when I realised that sometimes friendship is shouting bad words at friends that can’t hear you.
We had a lot of laughs shouting at Marg-a-ret who was a good kilometre ahead of us.
All in good jest as we all love Margaret. She’s an absolute trooper. Stoically getting things done. She’s like a kind version of a female terminator.
We’d agreed to turn back at 7 kilometres so figured she wouldn’t be far behind.
Kerry and Jonathan and Ruth came over the ridge and Kerry strolled with Shannon and I. Bree caught up and we all had a ‘swim’ in the water race. Icy cool and refreshing.
Back to the tents, lying in the sun, having a Dou Bro *the cavalcade beer of choice* and then said we’d head to the pub.
We figured Marg had summited then would come back down, it was all pretty straightforward. We headed to St Bathans pub for a drink. On the way we got a message from Roger. ‘Have you got Margaret’s number?’ our stomachs sank. It turns out that Marg had got peak fever but somehow headed off track, did herself a little loop around the summit and then finally made it back to the trail. Lesson learned. Never assume that everyone is A OK. Oops. Luckily Marg made it home for dinner and we were all reunited.
Day 4:- The. Best. Day.
That morning I’d been reluctant to do anything.
My confidence had been knocked by Day 2.
My legs were still feeling pretty trashed and this relentless climb looked down upon us with a look of disdain. If it could speak it would’ve said ‘as if you can climb me’.
I decided to give it a go.
We were straight in to a hard arse climb, off track and up through Spaniards and Matagouri but that was nothing. We’d done day 2. This felt ok. Long but ok. A bit of boulder hopping and then we’d made it to the summit and sweet ridgelines. I’d got over my Day 2 insecurities and knew that I could do this day. This was my sort of thing. We’d hit a 4WD track and it was far better going. Along we rolled talking and singing, this time feeling genuinely happy.
Onto a fun descent. Through rocky pillars and looking down to the plains below. We ran and ran until we spied a film set. Word on the street was that there was a Jane Campion movie being filmed. It sounded a bit like another version of Broke Back Mountain. It was interesting to be viewing the movie set from up high. We giggled imagining what these movie stars would think of some random ladies running through the nearby hills. We descended to the road and ran through the road block to bemused stop sign holders who wanted to know what we’d been doing.
Finally we reached our fellow cavalcaders and jumped into the sweet, cool water race with shouts and laughter and ultimate happiness. There’s us in our running undies splashing around in a narrow water race whilst puzzled movie people are being ferried past in white vans, wearing lipstick, fancy sunglasses, and kicking up clouds of dust as they drive by.
We fill the Landy and hit the road with ‘Don’t stop me now’ blaring on the stereo, everyone singing, smiling and car dancing and headed to Wedderburn to set up the tent before hitting the Wedderburn pub for a few cold ones.
Best day. 10/10.
Day 5:- Be ready to try new things, life is short.
One of my highlights of this trip was getting some solid trail time with three amazing ladies. Breanna, Margaret and Shannon are all so special to me for different reasons. Shannon has always struck me as being super easygoing but with my time with her this week I felt a new happy, lightness in her. Shannon had told me how in the past few years she had lost a number of people close to her, some that were far too young and that it’s been a reminder to her to get out and live life. It sounds like a cliche but often a death of someone near us (let alone 3) gives us that renewed focus and perspective. Shannon just rocked up to another country with limited info about what she was doing with a trust that all would be well and that she would have a fun experience. I’m sure she did too (maybe not so much on Day 2 though eh Shannon).
This day we decided to do a Tour de Naseby.
Coffee in the local Black Forest Cafe, set up the tents and then off we headed to explore the locale. Running around town, taking pictures of the cutest old shops and houses, a trip to the cemetery, a run through some of the MTB trails, a feed of blackberries and then a message from Kerry to join them at the Naseby Hotel for a drink. Done.
The biggest bowl of loaded fries.
A REAL SHOWER…. Words can’t describe how heavenly this was. Everyone was sparkling inside and out after their showers.
Curling! Naseby is home to NZ’s very own curling rink (?).
We learnt about how to play it, got some tips, and then had a game. It was a lot of fun and a really neat game where the whole team is involved. A 20kilo stone gets curled towards the ‘house’ at the other end of the rink and your team mates have to sweep it to try and help get it there, the other team might sweep it to try and make it run long.
We had a lot of laughs playing this and it was a reminder to not judge a book by it’s cover and give something new a crack. You might just have a really wonderful time.
Day 6:- You might not have thought you’d make it but you’re nearly there.
Today was all about the rail trails. The team set off in the cool of the morning, reading sign boards, taking photos and also appreciating how quickly the KMs were ticking over, this terrain was flat and uncomplicated.
Finally we went off trail and hit a long hill in the sun up to the saddle in the peak of the days heat. We kept on up and eventually a breeze started to cool.us down. We arrived to the sight of a hundred or so horses and derelict stone houses. Out came the Dou Bros yet again, and sat in a paddock having a chat with the local farmers. We set up our tents and then headed off for the Waipiata pub. The drive took us past a Christian Commune which I dubbed the Central Otago Gloriavale.
Walking into the pub there was a loud burp which emanated from a large group of guys who were sat at a table. They had the gall to blame Breanna saying it was a fanny fart. Wow. Classy around here.
Bemused we headed outside with our drinks and spent the afternoon laughing and telling jokes.
Dinner with the team. Then chats before bed. A beautiful sunset on a very windy night. The weather was turning.
Day 7:- Teamwork makes the dream work.
That night the wind dropped, there was some heavy rain and then all was calm.
It was a cool morning. We all decided to stroll to the cemetery where we would have our breakfast. There was a lot of laughing and joking and reminiscing about our favourite parts of the week.
Breakfast arrived and we ate SO MUCH!
Beans and potatoes and toast and eggs.
Us girls decided to take turns between running and driving the truck back to Patearoa for the finishing parade.
What a way to finish, with slightly downhill country roads, the stereo blaring, chatting and laughter, and excellent company. These people had become family. I love them all for different reasons.
The parade starts with the bagpipes.
A cheer from the MTB’ers.
Hugs and home!
A real country fair to celebrate the end of the cavalcade for 2020.
It ended up being around 130kms with around 5,000m of climbing for the week.
I’d also been Tail End Charlie for Old Ghost ultra the day prior so I’d ended up around 140kms with about 6,000m of vert over the past 8 days.
The legs and feet were feeling it.
The heart was happy with stronger friendships, new scenery, and a big adventure in the bag.
I was glad that I had done it. It was a great way to see more of small rural NZ, it was a big old adventure with challenge and good times and a bit of back to basics to boot.
Cavalcade is like a treasure hunt which follows the old goldfield trails.
You don’t know what your treasures will be, but they will be there waiting for you.