You have a dream. You have a goal. You have a plan. You start a journey through half of the world. Following the sunsets, following the sunrises. For weeks and months. Running shoes and temporary stays. Kilometers running away under your feet. Hours and hours in airplanes and at airports, at airports and in airplanes. Landing, seeing a different world, amazing world, beautiful world. You cry at the top of one’s voice and without feeling guilty. Echo, valley, lake. Much more. Lakes, valleys and echo, which multiplies in its sound. Water, which is calling you, water which keeps you above the water line. Air, so fresh, that inhaling, and exhaling equals a harmony of happiness. Everything like in a fairy tale. You believe Frodo and you love the scenery same way he did. And then, finally, you will see it. You will not want to wake up. Lucky you, you are already awake. It welcomes you! Wanaka, one of the most scenic places you have ever seen.
I was hanging around at New Zealand for some weeks already, when I reached Wanaka, a town at the amazing lake in the south of the south island. More than half a year ago I paid for the triathlon Challenge Wanaka, the commercial promised the most scenic triathlon in the world. However, before I was able to enjoy the beauty of this race, few unlucky coincidences happened. Maybe it was the destiny, if you like. That tends to happen, when you travel around the world.
I arrived at Wanaka on Tuesday and the race was supposed to happen on Saturday. Enough time to get adapted and get used to the bike I rented months ago in a local bike shop. On Wednesday a friend-triathlete from Slovakia was supposed to fly in with my wet-suit (the water in the lake reaches 16 Degrees Celsius, they won’t allow you to start without a wet-suit), on Thursday another friend from Dubai (Slovak) with my race-suit and bike shoes. For the first two nights I have booked a bed in a hostel, second time in my life I will share the room with strangers. One night before in Queenstown it wasn’t an issue, I should be able to survive in Wanaka too. I didn’t expect any troubles but other travelers at the hostel have put a question mark under my confidence. Every time when I answered someone’s question about the room I stay at, I received back strange, if not horrific views. It is a room which makes others disappearing just after their arrival, they said. During the first night I found out why.
There was a guy in the room, a Brazilian, whose snoring was something I have never experienced in my life before. To be fair, every evening he went to bed the last, just to allow the others to fall asleep before him. It was a friendly gesture, considering the fact he was the first one waking up every morning, going to work. Of course, that didn’t help me at all, since the moment I learned about his issue, I couldn’t fall asleep at all. After two hours of laying around I finally found my place for the first night at a couch in the kitchen, being the doorkeeper for those, who were returning home from the bars. The next day I asked to be transferred into another room. Great beginning, but real troubles were still to come.
My Slovakian triathlete friend, a person who traveled half of the world and owns a travel agency back at home, someone who knows about every detail a traveler is supposed to know, this person forgot to request Australian visas on time. Not possible! Transiting in Australia for more than 8 hours, you are required to have a valid visa (which was exactly his and his girlfriend’s case). He requested the visa one week before travel and received it within 5 minutes back. His girl didn’t. Back at home she works in media, which the Australian government classified as something to be investigated into more details. The risk of not having the visas on time was high. The couple left Vienna for London, where they were not allowed to board the plane to Australia. They stayed in London, living in the hope, that the visa and the flight will happen the next day, still… All the changes would cost a lot of money, so they finally decided to stay in Europe. Portugal instead of Zealand. The TV in a Portuguese hotel welcomed them with a reportage about the effectiveness and strictness of Australian immigration politic. Can you understand that? What is the universe trying to say? At least, that I am stuck at the end of the world without my wet-suit, which makes it impossible for me to race on Saturday. Hmm…
Another issue came with the bike, which I rented a while ago and which I wanted to try out three days before the race. Arriving at the shop on Tuesday, I find myself in the following conversation with the shop manager:
Runeller: “Hi there, few months ago I paid for a bike and since it should be warm and nice tomorrow, I’d like to try it out.”
Manager: „Hmm… man. Bad news. We don’t know where it is.“
Runeller: „What do you mean you don’t know where it is?“
Manager: „We don’t know. Someone rented it and didn’t bring it back.“
Runeller: „How is that possible?“
Manager: „Hmm… It happens.“
Runeller: „It happens? What are we going to do about this?“
Manager: „No worries, come back tomorrow!“
Runeller: „Hi there, did my bike arrive?“
Manager: „Man, still nothing.“
Manager: „Come tomorrow. I need to call few people.“
Runeller: „What if it’s not going to be here tomorrow?”
Manager: „That would be my problem…“
Runeller: „Hi there, did my bike arrive? Today is the day when the rental starts, it must be here!“
Manager: „Man, not good. I called few people…“
Manager: „No one has it. No one knows, where the bike is…“
Runeller: „Oh, amazing. The race is on Saturday and I still need to do a few kilometers with it. What do we do?“
Manager: „No worries, it will show up! I am sure!“
Runeller: „And if not?“
Manager: „I’ve got some sort of backup plan. You will get another bike, full on electro!!!“
Runeller: „Great, but… cannot you simply give me, what I paid for?“
Manager: „No worries, come tomorrow“
FRIDAY (one day to go)
Runeller: „Is that my bike over there? Did it arrive finally?“
Manager: „Yes! Today a guy showed up and returned it. I totally forgot he is the one!“
Runeller: „Great, fit it, put aerobars on and I am leaving for a ride straight on!“
Manager: „Hmm… man… regarding the aerobars. I know you booked it, but… Can you see these French people over there? They came earlier today, and I gave them the last one. We don’t have any more…“
Runeller: „Great!! Just give me the bike and I am leaving…“
The French people have stolen my aerobars, but I was happy the bike arrived. I was able to do at least eight (yes, eight!) kilometers with it. Before a race during which I will have to do ninety.
Back to London. On Wednesday morning, after a sleepless night on a kitchen couch, a message arrived. My friends won’t make it. Uff. I am without a wet-suit, which is not allowing me to start on Saturday. I decide to train a bit and left for the local pool. Maybe they will have an idea where I could rent one. After my swim I start talking about my problem with the girls at the reception, one of them asking where do I come from. „From a small European country you won’t know. Slovakia.” Her answers is a shock (in Slovakian): „I am from Slovakia too, from Bratislava.“ Isn’t this funny? At the other end of the world, in a small town, at the local pool, while searching for a wet-suit for a triathlon race, I meet Dominika from Bratislava! From my country, from my city!
Dominika lives in Wanaka with her Australian husband. Before Wanaka they lived in Australia and Canada. Dominika would not change anymore. Slowly I start to know why. She started a series of incredible events. She alarmed the locals and just like that, few options were on the table. Strengthen with hope, I left for the local shop, where they will have wet-suits for sure. I didn’t travel through half of the world and didn’t pay hundreds of Euros, to not start in Wanaka! Wet-suit, bike, everything will have a happy end. I know it. One hour later I am trying out a wet-suit, which becomes my plan B. Just in case I am not able to rent one, I am still not ready to buy one. At least not this one. At the local park I meet Rose, who is initially interested into knowing what strange water I drink. I deliver a lecture about chia seeds and by that chance I also mention my story. Rose doesn’t hesitate for a second and offers me to use her smartphone, in order to place a request into a local Wanaka group on one of the social networks. Rose is amazing, she develops into the admin of all the following communication. She forwards messages, answers people on my behalf, she helps. She doesn’t need to. She wants. After two offers of a female wet-suit (if there is nothing better, I would accept!) there is Eddie.
Eddie produces his own wet-suits and he offers me one for Saturday. Just like that, for free. Eddie works in IT, but it was his dream since ages to produce wet-suits. At the beginning he started with 50 pieces and he will see how this goes. On Thursday morning I am trying one out, the decision is made, my problem is solved. On Friday everything is different again, on the Valentine’s day I fall in love with Eddie’s wet-suit. Trying again and deciding: I am buying! I anyway wanted to exchange my old one and Eddie’s is the best I have ever tried. In addition, I will be only one of two people in Europe, who would own Eddie’s product. Before every new race from now on, only with Ruby wet-suit and Eddie. I forgot to say, Eddie is British and he lives in Wanaka since 2002. You would love him. And he would not change for anything in the world. Same as Dominika. Same as Rose. I understand.
And one more thing. If I would not start asking around at the pool, I wouldn’t meet Dominika. Without meeting Dominika, I would not arrive at the shop at the time I arrived. I wouldn’t meet Rose. Without meeting Rose, I would not be able to post my request into the local group on the social network and without the social network, Eddie would not react. Without Eddie, I would not be trying out his wet-suit and you know what would happen, if Eddie would not be willing to rent one for free? He would earn nothing, and I would jump into the water in a female wet-suit. And I might not be able to write these lines now, because the female wet-suit would drag me to the lake’s floor. Key findings? First, everything happens for a reason and how it should happen. Second and third, visit New Zealand and learn, how to do business and never in life be afraid to ask a question. Fourth, chia seeds are not only healthy, they have a magical power. And finally, fifth, always do your best, so you don’t need to get into the water with a female wet-suit.
Ten hours to go, Wanaka. I can’t believe my eyes. This place is like a dream. The whole Zealand is. People, who live here. Kiwis, Slovaks, Czechs, British, all of them… How everyone tried to help me. Unbelievable. Here you can feel love, fellowship, support, respect. No hate or scowls. I cannot stop comparing – would this happen back at home too? Ben, who arrives with my friend Eva (yes, my race-suit and bike shoes are there!) shares a story from one of the Oravaman races: he was searching for some small accessory for the race, everyone at the pre-race expo was sending him to the next stall, no one really ready to help. On the other side, I know there are people also back at home, who would be happy to help. But maybe… Maybe these strangers at the streets, in the park or at the pool’s cash-desk would act differently.
Saturday, 16 February 2019, the D-day. Since August 2018 I didn’t sit on a proper race bike, except yesterday. Today ninety hilly and challenging kilometers are waiting. In addition to almost two kilometers in water with a temperature of 16 Degrees Celsius and a half-marathon. I look forward, I am happy that I can start here, after the troubles of last days. A wrong flag on my race number (Slovenia instead of Slovakia) is only a funny bonus. My drawing skills are amazing, I love Slovakia! Slovenia is also nice, but Slovakia is the only one. The morning of the start, 10 Degrees Celsius outside. Water is nice and warming, I swim like a fish, really enjoying it in my new wet-suit. I don’t feel the cold water, exactly the opposite. Well done, Eddie! I enter the first transition, removing my wet-suit, opening the race-suit, putting on the heart rate belt, booom. The zip on the race-suit breaks. I am done. My bad luck continues. I am using my heart-rate belt, trying to fix it, in order to avoid bad aerodynamics, which would be a disaster. Already after few kilometers I know, that this solution sucks. Today no surprises. Too much air is betting in, which slows me down and exhausts me as well. After 25 kilometers I must stop, otherwise my air-pump, which started to cram against the wheel, will kill me. This would be my end. Or if I get a flat tire. Having all the bad scenarios in mind, I decide to save some energy for later and start enjoying the ride. Beautiful hills, stunning lakes, amazing New Zealand… Suddenly I think of my grandfather, who was a real cyclist. Just, I would wish the terrain to be flat and the headwind to be less brutal. I hate the guy from the bike shop, and I hate these French people, who stole my aerobars. Without aerobars this headwind is a real suicide.
After ninety kilometers, with a torn race-suit and in a sunny but cold weather, I finally arrive at the transition two. From the cold I cannot feel my fingers. I pray for my ability to run and for my fingers to move again. With an energy drink in my hands I am leaving the transition two. Of course, after few meters this falls out of my hand, bending over to get it back hurts, but I will make it! I run again, legs are good, that is great. First 10 kilometers I pass a lot of runners, the time is good – somewhere under 50 minutes. That would be something! If… kilometer twelve and a huge brutal hill, which I expected, maybe not this brutal. This doesn’t make sense; I stop running and walk it up. I lose few minutes. Around the kilometer fifteen a race marshal rushes to me on his bike, with sellotape in his hand. He doesn’t want me to be disqualified for my nipples, which are staring at the world due the broken zip. He decides to solve this problem with sellotape but he’s not doing that well. I am losing here minutes and patience. I ask him to bandage me around, that works. Looks funny but I am not ready to be disqualified today, not after what I went through. Trying to find the previous tempo is not easy so I chose a pleasant pace and decide to enjoy the last kilometers. I cheer the poor runners, who only started the half-marathon distance. The guy running in front of me must have heard my voice even in his dreams that night.
Last meters, I can see the finish line. I speed up, this is what I love. I scream, „Slovakiaaaaaaa”, they all should remember! Someone calls my name. There it is! I cross the finish. I am happy, maybe because I’ve just completed the most scenic triathlon in the world, maybe because all that bad luck of previous days and hours didn’t stop me to finish. Today the time is not important, it is my first and I hope the same time my only result, which goes beyond 6 hours (6 hours and 7 minutes). Today and during the last days, this all wasn’t about time. It was about dreams, which get fulfilled. It was about help from strangers. About smiles at the end of the world, where they are honest and full of understanding. About a gorgeous place and nature, you know only from your dreams. About amazing Wanaka and even more amazing creatures, who occupy this magical place. These magical two islands. After all this, how could I forget Wanaka. From now on, before every triathlon race, while putting on my new wet-suit, my heart and my thoughts will be in Wanaka.
Goodbye Wanaka, goodbye, you lovely place. Goodbye you lovely people. I wish I could see you again. I wish, that life is the same beautiful everywhere.