The sleepy New Zealand resort village of Methven has been transformed for the early morning Monday (New Zealand time, 11am Sunday PST) race start. The flags are waving and international teams, truckloads of equipment, and hordes of media have converged on this ski resort village in the South Islands' Canterbury region.
Over 60 four-person teams are coming in from all over the world, many with highly impressive credentials. Three American members of the Discovery Channel Media Team are hot off their victory at the Eco-Challenge Sabah 2000, whilst Team Nokia
from Finland will be arriving direct from victory in China's Mild
Seven Outdoor Quest.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, and now with the backing of The Discovery Channel and a new name, the former Southern Traverse adventure race is set to be catapulted from its relative backwater status to one of the world's elite adventure racing events. Discovery Channel's sponsorship ensures a TV audience of millions and also brings a very healthy, $100,000 pool of prize money for the victors.
The brainchild of successful adventure athlete Geoff Hunt, the event has had a colorful history and was previously based in the famous resort town of Queenstown.
Each year, the Traverse attracts more and more international teams eager to hone their skills in the NZ wilderness. Asked if he thought the race would change with it's new-found "status," he replied, through the sound of choppers and radios blaring , "The Traverse remains unchanged as a core, rugged event through some of the wildest, challenging terrain this country has to offer. Discovery brings in a new element of the increased media and film crews on course and the international exposure will be huge."
As is the tradition, all course details are kept under wraps until the day before the event which adds to the excitement and mystique for competitors and media alike.
Since the inception of the modern adventure race, New Zealand athletes have dominated the sport. Multiple Eco-Challenge winners John Howard, Keith and Andrea Murray and legend Steve Gurney, just to name a few, have all given credit to the Traverse as the training ground which helps fuel their international success.
Unfortunately, Howard's team, always a hot favorite, has withdrawn due to the serious foot problems Howard suffered during the recent Eco-Challenge Sabah 2000 in Borneo.
Many teams will breathe a sigh of relief, but it's a shame we won't see this awesome team in action here this year.
Of course the home court advantage is always a factor and in an event made up of over half Kiwi teams, they will surely dominate.
The low-key Kiwi approach to these events is often quoted as part of their international success as evidenced by the words of Team inthepacific.com captain Hayden Key, "We like to wing it. We like to have fun and if something does go wrong, we enjoy the challenge of solving it together. That's all part of it. We know there will be pain and adversity, but bring it on!"
Hayden's team won the event in 1998 and are serious contenders this year. Between them, members have been on winning teams in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, and have had international experience in both the Eco-Challenge and the Brazilian races.
Remarkably, this team has not trained together or even met over the last six months. A disadvantage you would think, but as Hayden disagrees, "We are racing as friends who cannot wait to spend time together. I have known these guys for 10, 15 years and it is a neat group of people who I cannot wait to hang out with in the hills. That's the key to this...enjoying each other's company."
Defending Traverse champions Team Propeller Heads (formerly Team Star & Garter), including Olympic mountain biker Kathy Lynch, also is taking a casual approach and has not done any hard training together.
"I spend every day either kayaking, rafting, climbing or hanging off ropes over a cliff somewhere. In that sense I have done no special training for the race. Basically, I've just been running to build up my fitness," Captain
Nathan Faavae said today.
Despite these seemingly carefree approaches, these racers are fine-tuned athletes with fiercely competitive personalities.
For now it's last minute preparations, mundane tasks for the teams, like organizing socks, food and batteries. The hard work has all been done by this point and all that's left is to get this show on the road.
Chris Vile, MountainZone.com Correspondent