Five Minutes With... Dulkara Martig
20 January, 2022
You’re the epitome of a multi-hyphen adventurer; podcaster, packrafter, writer, bikepacker and adventurer. Away from this, what sort of work do you do?
I’ve had quite a few different jobs, mostly in the outdoor industry. For most of my twenties I worked as an outdoor instructor and teacher, with some time teaching in schools and then several years working on extended outdoor expeditions in NZ and Alaska with young people.
Right after the TTW I was doing some contract work in the bush in Fiordland; pest monitoring and servicing trapping lines. All of the stresses of urban life fall away when you’re falling through rotten logs in the Fiordland bush. I love returning home covered in mud and scratches, with sticks in my hair and all my clothes smelling of moss! It’s the sort of work I can see myself dabbling in for most of my life.
But right now I work in an administrative role for Te Papa Atawhai, the Department of Conservation, in Arthur’s Pass National Park/North Canterbury.
Dulkara on the Old Ghost Road - one of her favourite day training rides.
How has your work in the backcountry impacted your approach to unsupported adventuring? If there was one piece of advice you’d like to pass on to other adventurers, what would it be?
It has helped me feel totally at home in a diverse range of environments, especially in adverse weather. I think it comes back to mileage - the more time you spend outside, the stronger your base of experience and confidence in yourself to thrive outdoors. Increased confidence means you rate yourself to take on more ambitious adventures and when you’re out there in the middle of it, it’s easier to stay positive in tough situations because your comfort zone is much larger.
Sea kayaking in Alaksa.
I think there are so many parallels between more remote expeditioning and bikepacking events, especially a course like the TTW. When you’re comfortable scrambling over alpine ridelines in the sleet, hunkering down for five days in a snowstorm...all those things make a few hours riding in the rain or carrying a bike over the Dampier Range or Stag Saddle seem easy. I interviewed Brian Alder for a podcast (mastermind behind the TTW) and we chatted a bunch about mountaineering and bikepacking, including some interesting perspectives on the parallels and differences between the two sports. One thing that resonated with me is that you can’t die bikepacking as easily. It makes the decision making much more simple! So that gives you the option to just push your body way harder.
My top advice is to learn to find joy and have humour in the situations you can’t control. It sounds simple but I think it’s a real art to master. Not just to tolerate the adversity and uncertainty but to learn to relish it - bike parts breaking, crazy weather, unfortunate sleeping locations. There are so many different techniques you can use. My personal go-to is to always laugh at the ridiculousness of the adverse situations I find myself in which lightens the mood immediately. Then I find myself repeating simple mantras like “character building” and “this will pass” and “moving is winning” - anything simple that reinforces a positive attitude. Another personal fave is thinking of all the ways my situation could be worse!
A hike-a-bike selfie on the Tour Te Waipounamu.
You signed up to race the inaugural Tour Te Waipounamu only two weeks before the race and finished strong. How did the race go for you? And was it roughly what you were expecting?
I had planned to do it from the very start but withdrew four months prior, feeling unusually fatigued. I’d been suffering from whiplash after a car accident and was totally wiped. Three weeks out, the FOMO was building and I started feeling better. I was terribly underprepared physically - I’d ridden a total of only 902km in the four months leading up to TTW! And during peak training time I had two weeks totally off the bike! But I think when you have a strong endurance background, the foundation is there, to finish at least.
It was my first bikepacking event so there were definitely some unknowns. But I knew what I was in for with the route and that was an advantage. Coincidentally, I’d carried a packraft across the Dampier and Two Thumb Range several years prior. Those are probably two of the hardest sections of the TTW so it was useful having no nerves about the route. The TTW is a tramper’s course for sure… if you have experience scrambling over mountains, it’s a huge advantage in a couple of sections.
On the first day of TTW I rode further than I’d ever ridden in my life, let alone on a loaded bike! I instantly felt hooked and absolutely loved the way I could embrace my own ‘race’ style which was a very unstructured, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach. I loved the raw feeling. I loved riding on my own just as much as I loved riding in social groups and stopping at every tearoom in Southland in the last few days. I found the terrain easy but I found the heat brutal.
I finished wondering what I could achieve with a good build-up and better strategy in the race. At the same time, I’ve never been a very competitive person so I knew I probably wouldn’t have the motivation to go much faster. My desire to linger on a mountain or enjoy golden hour outside a hut is usually stronger than pushing hard. I’m still not sure where that fits within the bikepacking racing scene!
Dulkara at Slope Point, the finish of the 2021 Tour Te Waipounamu.
With almost 12 months hindsight, what were the highlights and lowlights of the race for you?
My lowest point struck me on day three. I was riding with a few guys and enjoying the rhythm and company. Then, from one moment to the next, a calf strain from the previous afternoon came back with a vengeance. I was in complete agony, barely able to walk some flat sections of stunning beech forest single track near Lake Sumner, let alone ride. I watched the guys I’d been riding with disappear off into the distance and slowly hobbled on. This quickly turned into a highlight though, as the race started to feel like an expedition! I spent three days without seeing one other rider, between Lake Sumner and Methven.
Section of stunning trail near Lake Sumner (where I could barely walk, let alone ride!)
My mind was strong and I felt fit but my body just couldn’t keep up. I chipped away slowly, repeating the mantra “moving is winning” and figured the pain would either dissipate or I’d need to pull the pin near Lake Summer. A few hours later, the pain dissipated and all the weight fell off my shoulders and I felt such a sense of freedom being out there on my own. That same evening quickly became my biggest highlight of the TTW. How cool is it that you can have your biggest lowlight and biggest highlight within a few hours? I think that’s the joy of bikepacking events. I set out over the Dampier Range hike-a-bike knowing it would get dark on me but I didn’t care, it made the adventure seem more fun. I didn’t stop once to take the bike off my back until I was well over the top, the bike felt light and I felt so strong. The conditions were a bit miserable - it was raining, the tussocks were super wet and lumpy, it was dark, I was on my own. But I’ve always loved that buzz… when things are uncertain but you have 100% confidence in yourself. You just know you can do it and you’re totally self-reliant. I knew there was a group of about 6 guys in the hut just ahead of me and I was keen for company again. But route finding got pretty inefficient in the dark so I slept less than an hour from the hut under a tree. It felt like an expedition had just started. That thought made me smile as I pulled my sleeping bag over my face, not bothering to set an alarm. I woke up with frozen shoes, I never caught the guys and I didn’t see another rider until I reached Methven!
Another highlight was doing a wee side-scramble off-route up Braun-Elwert Peak from Stag Saddle, and lingering on the summit for a couple of hours. I’ve been through the Two Thumbs a few times and always gazed at the tops, but I’d never been there on such a bluebird day. Not the most logical race decision but it was a peak named after my friend’s father who passed away in the mountains and I’d wanted to go there for ages.
The contrast between the moments of complete solitude and then riding in a big group of riders, cafe-hopping our way through Southland to the finish, was gold.. I think the coolest thing about bikepacking is you can do it your way, embrace your own personal style. Yet you can share the camaraderie and adventure with totally different types of people.
This year you’ll spend the race watching the dots instead, what are your expectations for the second edition of TTW?
I’m very curious to see what the weather does as that could impact race strategy a lot, with riders’ speeds putting them at a serious advantage or disadvantage depending on where they end up in certain weather conditions. We didn’t see that in the inaugural event so it’d be cool to see something different play out this time. Is it mean to admit that I’d love to see how people go if there’s a stormy weather bomb?!
There are less unknowns for the second TTW so I think it’ll be easier for riders to take a more methodical approach to the event. Now that everybody knows the pinch points and approximate timings of a wide range of riders, I’m expecting faster times and some more well-honed race strategies. The returning racers will be fun to watch! There’s the odd thing that’s easier in the route, like the removal of the Cass Saddle track, which will make the race faster. But I still find it hard to imagine someone beating Ollie’s winning time this year… that would take a real animal!
Ready to descend from Two Thumb Range towards Lake Tekapo.
With the increased interest in packrafting amongst the bikepacking community, do you think there is an appetite for multi-sport ultra-racing, for example a packrafting and bikepacking race? And, how cool would that be?!
I’d be super interested to see how many people would actually enter it! I think it would have to be in Scotland. I think the vibe would work best if it was more like the ‘Alaskan Classic’ which is a low-key event where it’s more about camaraderie than racing. Maybe the top few people race it seriously, and the others are just out to challenge themselves and finish the course. Should we start one?!
Check out an interview I did with Annie from Scotland, who is a keen bikepacker and packrafter. She spins some great yarns! The Packrafting Podcast - Episode # 10 Scottish bikerafting and Greenland adventures - Annie Le