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The Landrover G4 Challenge – Stage 4

Tim Pickering

The standing waves on the river made my kayak bounce up and down; a real life roller coaster, I was loving it. We were on the Colorado, not a big section but it was moving water and there were waves, and it was fun. However in his boat, my team mate, Franck wasn’t having such a good time. He was a hardened adventure racer but not a white water paddler and he looked very uncomfortable, in fact terrified.

We shot down over a steep shale bank rapid into a train of waves and I whooped, this I could do, I spun the boat on the top of a wave and travelling backwards I shouted to Franck, ‘Paddle … keep paddling …  Paddle HARDER’ but he had tensed up, his paddles were flailing and I could read what was about to happen …

And there it was, noiselessly, he slowly fell sideways and I could see the bottom of his boat.

I paddled a few swift strokes to hold my position, surfing a wave, knowing the rushing torrent would bring him to me. His head popped up next to the upturned kayak; eyes on stalks and gasping for air. Quickly I manoeuvred close; years of training and experience kicked in, I rescued the boat, emptied it and helping Franck back in in under a minute; we hadn’t lost much time, after all this was a race.

A little dazed, recovering from his ‘ice-cream headache’, brought on by sticking his head in icy cold water, Franck said in his thick French accent,

’That was horrible, I went to the black washing machine'

Franck was the French competitor,currently second and trying to win the twenty eight day Landrover G4 Challenge Global Adventure race, he and I were racing together on the fourth and final stage. This stage started in Las Vegas and headed for the finale in Moab on the West Coast of the United States.

The stage started with a Maximiser, this was where all the competitors raced head to head and the combined times of the bi-national team determined their position; this maximiser was at Snow Canyon. I had expected the weather to be hot with images of Las Vegas in my mind from film and television but the clue should have been in the name ‘Snow Canyon’ we woke shivering to a covering of white.

I paddled a few swift strokes to hold my position, surfing a wave, knowing the rushing torrent would bring him to me. His head popped up next to the upturned kayak; eyes on stalks and gasping for air.

The Landrover G4 Challenge Stage 4

The Maximiser started with a starburst orienteering course then onto the bikes, a sandy track swallowing your effort. At the top of the bike leg we faced a run up a box canyon, terminating with an icy pool with a swim across to the ‘dibber’ (the electronic control point). Then a run back down through the strength sapping sand onto the bike and a hurtling ride down a track to the finish. Franck and I were performing well and came away with a good score.

The next morning dawned and we went to the Strategy Pit where, against the clock we decided on the stages we would compete to determine our score for the day. The skies cleared with the enormity of the landscape revealing why it is known as the Wild West.

Franck’s mission was to maintain his position, to try to close the gap and maybe to overtake Rudi, the Belgian competitor, who was leading. My mission, to support Franck and in the process move myself up into the top eight.

The stage became a blur of awesome views and tough Hunters, the individual challenges we raced on to score points. Many of them at over 2000m, the altitude sucking our remaining strength; running, abseiling, mountain biking, off road driving and kayaking, mindbendingly huge views, sleeping in a teepee and fires under star lit skies.

One of my highlights was abseiling off a huge sandstone natural arch. Several years later I stood next to a computer as stunning screen-saver photos scrolled over and suddenly I blurted out ‘I abseiled off that …’ to a stunned silence.

Franck was a hard task master and I was forced to drive myself to places of exhaustion I had never been to before, at the end of each day, I ate and I fell into an exhausted sleep.

Finally we approached the end of the race and announcement of the positions heading into the Separator. Franck and I had closed the gap on Rudi and his team mate for this stage, Dirk (the German competitor). Franck would start the final stage four seconds behind Rudi and my position had been elevated so I would start in sixth, a gain of several places.

The stage became a blur of awesome views and tough Hunters, the individual challenges we raced on to score points. Many of them at over 2000m, the altitude sucking our remaining strength; running, abseiling, mountain biking, off road driving and kayaking, mindbendingly huge views, sleeping in a teepee and fires under star lit skies.

The Landrover G4 Challenge Stage 4

The Separator course was deliberately designed to incorporate a range of different disciplines. It was made even more challenging by the dust storm which was whipped up by the strong wind during the morning. It could easily have been described as a ‘mini G4 Challenge’. It began by abseiling down a 16 metre drop. Then onto mountain bikes and a ride to the edge of the Colorado River, where pedals were swapped for paddle power in a kayak. Leaving the river we were faced with a ‘matrix’ exercise to test our mental dexterity. Completing the matrix gave a code to get the keys of a waiting Range Rover. A short off-road obstacle course followed by a final testing “jumar” climb to the finish. It was designed to test us both mentally and physically.

For Franck, when he arrived at the river he was out in front, but the river again proved to be his nemesis and a capsize cost him a time penalty served on the bank and Rudi passed him, Franck never caught him.

Me, I made a mistake in the matrix and lost two places to finish eighth overall.

The final places were Rudi in first, Chris from Arabia in second and Franck in third. Landrover weren’t just looking for an out and out winner takes all race they wanted a race with ‘adventure, authenticity and guts’ I think they achieved it.

There was another prize awarded, that was the ‘Team Spirit Award’. This was given to the racer the competitors decided had contributed the most to their race. When this was announced it was my name they read out; I still feel immensely proud that they thought I had contributed so much to their adventure, it is very humbling to think your peers think so much of you.

With the champagne drunk (sprayed everywhere), the post race media interviews done, all that was left was a few beers and to sink into the jacuzzi.

As I sat on the plane heading home, before I fell into an exhausted slumber, the jumble of memories of this huge adventure rushed through my mind, the people who had become my friends, the amazing Landrovers I had driven and grown to respect, the places I had touched on and fallen in love with.

As I landed back in Stornoway it was to a stunning blue skied Hebridean day and as we drove home my eldest daughter wanted to know all about my ‘Top Geezer Award’.

In the end though, from standing on the start line in New York to watching Rudi cross the finish line after circumnavigating the globe, it was all the racers and support crew who had won: We had all won an adventure, friends, experience and priceless memories. Oh, and thanks to Landrover allowing me to share your vision.

Landrover weren’t just looking for an out and out winner takes all race they wanted a race with ‘adventure, authenticity and guts’ I think they achieved it.

Tim Pickering

Tim Pickering is an outdoorsman who lives in the Outer Hebrides; teaching outdoor education and first aid. As a seasoned adventure racer he represented the UK in the Landrover G4 Challenge Global Adventure race in 2003; winning the Team Spirit Award and he recently completed his first ultra marathon.

You can follow his blog at www.58DegreesNorth.co.uk or twitter @58degreesnorth

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