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Milford Track

Milford Track
As planned, I only walked 2km again today.  For some inexplicable reason, I felt a bit more optimistic that I would be back running soon.  Maybe it's because I now have even more incentive to succeed in my dream of running another sub-3:00 marathon (see yesterday's Post), or maybe it's because my right foot is feeling more serviceable.  I have found in the past that sometimes you can just sense when a soft tissue injury has repaired, and I'm hoping that is the case this time.

I will be driving down to Melbourne (1,000km) later in the week to visit family for five days, so will plan to walk as my training up to departure, and then resume some light jogging while in Melbourne.

Given there's not much training to talk about today, I thought I would relate the story of my attempt to run the length of the famous Milford Track in New Zealand when I was younger, fitter, and arguably, more na├»ve.

In January 1979, my then wife and I vacationed in New Zealand with four other couples associated with the Kew Camberwell athletic club.  We hired a minivan for the month and toured both islands, staying in campsites.  The males were all serious runners, as was my wife, and running became an integral part of the trip with us heading out to run trails or roads most days, as well as competing in several races.  At the time I was training hard, running well and looking for interesting long runs to do at every opportunity.

Our travels took us to the tourist town of Te Anau in the South Island, the jumping off point for the boat trip to the Milford Track trailhead at Glade House.  The 54km Milford Track was famous for its rugged beauty, and I harboured an ambition to run its length in a single day.  There were, however, two serious obstacles.  Firstly, traffic on the track was already carefully managed and I could not get on the boat unless I was equipped for the four-day hike and had hut bookings.  Secondly, the Track ended at Sandfly Point on Milford Sound from where the last boat to the village of Milford Sound (accessible by road), departed at 4:00pm (from memory).  If I failed to make the boat, I would have to rough it for the night.


Looking to Glade House, and the start of the Milford Track
from Dore Pass
My fitness was such that I was confident I could comfortably run the 54km along the iconic trail in less than 5 hours and I pored over tourist brochures and maps trying to work out a way I could make the attempt without inconveniencing my friends.  The latter were keen to drive up to Milford Sound anyway, and perhaps go on a boat cruise.  I finally concluded that my best chance lay in them dropping me off at the Dore Pass Trailhead on their way to Milford Sound and from there I would run the 10.5km to Glade House, and the start of the Milford Track, via the 1390m Dore Pass.

I was dropped off at 8:30am, giving me about 7.5 hours to get to Sandfly Point and the boat.  I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and carrying a rainjacket.  For nutrition I had a packet of jelly beans, and for other contingencies, a $50 note.  My friends were going to Milford Sound and would wait for the last boat from Sandfly Point.  If I was not on it, they were going to return to Te Anau and I was going to get a bus or hitch-hike back there from Milford Sound the next day.

I set off confidently at a good pace, but the 1000m climb in just 6km along a goat track to Dore Pass really slowed me down.  It took 2.5 hours, leaving me just 5 hours to descend 1300m to Glade House, and then complete the Milford Track.  The chances of making it in time to catch the boat were slim, at best, and I very reluctantly decided to return to the road and run towards Milford Sound, hopefully meeting my friends as they drove back to Te Anau.  It took less than 90 minutes to retrace my steps and then I began to run steadily towards Milford Sound. There was some traffic, but no settlements en route, and I just plugged away, gradually climbing through forests and past lakes to the more exposed higher altitudes.  Initially, I had thoughts of running all of the way to Milford Sound, 45km away, but as the jelly beans ran out and the morning's toil up Dore Pass caught up with me, this seemed less likely.  As it turned out, the Homer Tunnel - 1.2km long, unlit and narrow - halted my progress after about 30km around 4pm.  It seemed too dangerous to transit on foot, so I stopped and found a place where I could sit and see every vehicle exiting the tunnel.  I could not afford to miss my friends, and they later joked they found me lying across the road blocking all traffic when they emerged from the tunnel around 6pm.

I still haven't traversed the Milford Track or seen Milford Sound, but they're on my list!

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