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Andy Magness and the Fiordland Endurance and Adventure Racing (FEAR) Society

Ever looked at the GodZone or the Coast to Coast and liked the idea of that sort of race, but not the cost? The FEAR Society might be just what you’re after. The FEAR Society is a grass roots club for people who want to challenge themselves in the outdoors. Its events don’t cost an arm and a leg, have a great track record for safety, and couldn’t happen without the help of TrackMe NZ.

The FEAR Society was created by Andy Magness, a self-described dirtbag climber who wanted to share his passion for adventuring in wilderness areas. He’s not looking for commercial success. He doesn’t want to compete with those big named races with their big budgets. He wanted a friendly competitive community that could get out there and challenge themselves, then come together after an event for a beer and to tell their stories.

He also wanted to put on events in the Fiordland National Park, and you can’t do that commercially; however, a not-for-profit club can hold an event in the park, as long as no one is making any money from it. The FEAR Society’s events cover costs, and that’s it. It has a club structure and events are members only.

In the beginning, Andy says, it didn’t look as if costs could be kept low, because of the safety aspect. “It was looking as if we’d have to helicopter people out into various spots in the wilderness to monitor check points and tick teams off as they came through. The logistics of finding a team that didn’t make it was prohibitive.” Wanting to make the events open to top adventure racing athletes along side those people who just wanted to challenge themselves meant that safety was paramount. “We put the onus of safety on those involved. They have to decide for themselves whether to cross a river or to continue along open tops in bad weather. We expect people to be able to self-rescue, but if things do go bad… at the very least we need to know where they are and what help they need.”

That’s when TrackMe got involved. “All that headache went away. I had used SPOT trackers,” Andy says, “but I had no idea of the functionality of inReach units. Tony and I collaborated early on.” InReach units with their tracking and messaging capabilities changed everything. Now the organisers knew where teams were, and teams had a way to communicate with the organisers if mishaps should happen. This was important. “The real cool thing is how effective the trackers have been. We’re taking the usual outdoor experience and really pushing the envelope,” Andy told us. “For instance, we had an event on the 84km Dusky Track. DoC has this down as a 10-day trip, but we’re doing it in a day. Our people are carrying superlight gear, so for instance, if someone twists an ankle, they don’t have the gear to spend a couple of days in a hut letting the swelling go down. We can communicate with them and decide how urgent and what sort of rescue is needed.”

Andy continues. “On the Wairaurahiri River event a month ago (September ’21), I was on a jet boat on the river with an inReach. Participants sent a preset OK message from their unit at certain places on the course, so we knew where everyone was. However, there were a few teams that had upsets. Two groups capsized and lost their paddles. They were okay, they were just unable to get any further down the river. TrackMe had set up the units’ preset Help message to come to me. We could communicate, discover their problem, and let them know when we could get to them. One group was collected and called it quits. The other group took a replacement paddle and continued. Without the messaging possibilities those groups would have been stuck. They’d have had to resort to pushing their PLBs and getting an expensive taxpayer funded rescue.”

Andy has plenty more examples of when the multifunctions of the Garmin InReach units have made a big difference to the participants and organisers of FEAR Society events. He’s full of praise for Tony and David at TrackMe NZ. The FEAR Society pays a subscription a year which comes out of members’ subscriptions. During an event, participants only other cost pays for their tracker hire. Andy says that after the first couple of events they realised it was easier to have everyone using the same hired units with the same preset messages. When planning an event, Andy lets TrackMe know how many units they’re going to need, and a box arrives. TrackMe sets up an event page. The participants get a briefing on how to work the units and organisers make sure they’re turned on as they leave. The rest can then be done from a laptop in a tent or using the Earthmate app and a unit like an inReach Explorer in a jetboat on a river.

What FEAR Society is doing is definitely on the fringe and involves both big adventure and sometimes big risk. But for those involved, it's exactly what they've been looking for. And from Andy's perspective at least, the simplicity and level of safety provided by TrackMe is what makes the whole thing possible.

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