“How hard can we go?” is the question circling your mind. Looming ahead is a scree slope. Between the rocks, is a visible route to the top. Another bead of sweat joins the pool on your forehead with each step you take and the burning sensation in your muscles can’t be forgotten. It’s like nothing you have felt before, aching, fatigued and so tired. Up, up and up, getting higher and higher. The sweat is forming a trail down the side of your cheeks, like the slime of a snail and once it reaches your chin it drips onto your thighs as they power over the rough rocks. The distance to the top is rapidly closing. As you haul yourselves over the mossy volcanic rocks, all that can be heard is the panting, puffing and painful moans.
Due to the scorching sun that is beating down, your mouth has dried like creeks over summer. Uncomfortable sticky saliva coats your lips and tongue, only once a rationed sip has been taken from your drink bottle you begin to feel refreshed. This feeling won’t last long. Mother nature has other ideas as a strong whiff of sulfur overpowers all other senses. Little rocks and slimy moss create slippery obstacles. You pray you won’t fall as you look down into the beautiful valley far below. The weight of your pack slows you down but the nearing brow pushes you further and the people who have any breath call encouraging words, “come on, we are so close!”
As you reach the summit, you realise it was worth it. The feeling overpowers you. You feel fantastic, you feel strong, you feel mighty and you momentarily forget the pain in your legs. Turning around you know you are on top of the world. Scanning the horizon exposes the overwhelming views of the tussock plateaus which are intertwined by creeks that run from the snow-capped volcanoes. Pockets of native trees, kanuka, manuka and beech, stand out against the golden landscape. Near the mountains, where the never-ending blue sky ends, whisks of clouds are beginning to form. Up, up, up and over you and the team continues. As you touch your face, dried salty sweat crumbles off like snowflakes. “How gross!” you think to yourself before you are brought back to the tightening sensation in your lungs. “Almost there, we need to pick it up guys.” Jogging is almost impossible with the weight of your pack and fatigue. But you manage to push that feeling away and find a new lease of life.
The tent flaps furiously and doesn’t stop. Looking to your right, everyone is passed out in their sleeping bags from the demanding day. Unlucky for you, you are on the open end of the tent. A quick peek outside confirms that the weather has turned. Clouds are rapidly rolling over the hills and then the rain starts. Rain? The sleety hail starts. Wild wind whips the tent around and you try to cover the opening so you can sleep.
Waking up, nothing has changed, except for the fact it is 5am and no one can sleep due to the storm raging outside. Everything is wet. So wet. There is nothing that can be done, but keep battling. Although most of the food has been eaten, the water-logged equipment is twice as heavy. Waterproof pants and waterproof jackets soon become another wet layer as you climb. Up, up and up to the next ridge. Vision is limited so you put your head down. All you can see is the shoes in front of you and you follow the rhythm. One step, two step, you follow. One of the boys shouts, but the howling wind and pounding rain, whips the words away. It is cold. So cold, like nothing you have ever felt before. Water splashes up as you start to jog. Once again you wonder where that extra energy emerged from. The all too familiar chaffing sensation flares up between your thighs and you know the red rash that is forming, due to the damp dirt and sweat that has built up. All you can think about is being warm, dry, curled up in your bed and the tears spring to your eyes. “Keep going, we have to keep going,” urging yourself to toughen up. One of the boys fumbles around and attaches a tow rope to your harness. You watch the rhythmic pumping of his calves up, down, up, down as you feel the pull, dragging your forward.
Between the raindrops falling off your hood, you are able to see a side street. You have never felt so exhausted as you run, more like stumble, down the road. Closer and closer. The tow rope is a constant reminder to keep going. Bright orange construction tape guides you and the team down the finishing chute. The grass is saturated, squishy and slippery as you hear the roar of cheers from spectators and other teams. Crossing the finish line, hugs and tears are exchanged as the overpowering feeling of accomplishment and exhaustion rushes in. You think to yourself “yeah, we went as hard as we could!” and victory overpowers the tired muscles, chaffing, scratches and bruises.