Tiger Adventure #12 – GeoQuest
Kayaks lined up on the beach ready to go, the air thick with salt spray, kitted up ready for the ocean, feeling puffed up from wearing lifejackets full of food and water, helmets on…just in case! Everyone chatting excitedly, nervously, last minute toilet stops and all of a sudden the hooter goes and the nerves are gone. We are racing.
How it all began
48hr GeoQuest in Yamba was my first adventure race over 12 hours, launching myself into a true adventure racing challenge! Ever since I discovered this sport existed back in 2012 after watching GODzone chapter 2 in Queenstown with some Uni mates I knew I wanted to be an adventure racer. I have not been able to ever focus on one discipline and I get bored with on road triathlon style training and racing I have always felt “half pie” training for things. Competing in Coast to Coast in 2012 and other multisport events was where I started to feel like I had fallen into what feels “right” as a sport. Always striving for longer, more adventurous and a challenge that seems just that little bit out of reach to begin with, I felt this year was the right time to adventure race. Since watching GODzone, I have followed a convoluted path to becoming ready to race seriously, working on my bike fitness on the road, skills on the trails, bush skills for day and night, my fear of heights and slowly purchasing the vast quantities of gear required. So to line up on the start line for Geo felt like an achievement in itself (competing in an adventure race before I am 30… tick!), especially with such a high calibre field!
My amazing, smiley, well experienced all-rounders and simply tough-as-nails team mates of the original Tiger Adventure team #12 Trevor Mullens, Sara Barrett and Craig Keeling and I set off early Saturday the 8th June at 8am fresh into a 21km ocean paddle. With conditions promising a 5.5ft swell and a decent headwind we started strong, finishing in just over 3 hours for a fantastic Geo start!
Transition was slow with some cold bodies then we launched into a speedy but super muddy 24km mountain bike, flying along on a beachside 4WD road trying to decide whether wearing sunglasses caked in mud offered more visibility than having dirt flicked directly on the eyeball. The highlight was a fun “obstacle” mid-way through the leg where we had to kayak our 4 bikes across a narrow rivermouth then return the kayaks to the other side. In true blue team captain and “packhorse” style Trevor volunteered to wash off the mud, dropping the kayaks to the original spot and then swimming back to us the other side.
A note on Transitioning!
Quite possibly the most difficult and crucial part of the race for me. TA’s were a mix of hectic clothing changes, sometimes being pretty relaxed enjoying a good feed and when tired sitting on the ground saying “I can’t think straight right now…help me!”. A forgotten mandatory item could have cost us the race but forgetting to top up my water, not changing a certain item of clothing, reapplying chaff cream or putting a crucial item into a box I would not see again could have also been pretty detrimental to a good race! Nothing like a triathlon transition where you can just practice tying your shoelaces faster or wear a tri-suit so you don’t have to change, adventure race transitions involve many steps:
Dry feet, remove sand, apply cream to feet, change socks, change shoes, change clothes, swap mandatory items from box to bag, pack other gear that is just as mandatory to survival eg: both warm gloves!, re-stock food, re-stock water, find a place to take a wee, assemble bike, pack certain things into box A you don’t want again during the whole race, pack certain things into your bike box you want to see again! Tidy up – no litter or disqualified. Team – don’t forget these straps, or the right map! After that first three transitions I definitely felt out of my comfort zone and mostly relied on copying my team mates and asking (much like girls preparing for a night out) “So… what are you wearing?” but rather than “Can I borrow your hair straightener?” more like, “Please can I use some Gurney Goo and Ibuprofen?”
Back to racing
Then we launched into a faster-than-anticipated moody weather 19km beach run but unfortunately not as enjoyable due to the silt in my shorts from the bike ride that chaff cream didn’t quite fix! (Maybe I should have volunteered for that swim!).
Ahead of our predicted times coming into TA3 we were keen to get to TA4 and get this next paddle done in as much daylight as possible. Only the tide and water level of the creek was not on our side making for a tedious and then very dark and quite cold (even for this kiwi!) 14km upstream paddle. We finally reached TA4 around 7pm for the beginning of the overnight mountain bike – Trek- mountain bike stage.
Chris (race director) did not disappoint when he said there was one sh*t of a bike leg in the race… steep, knarly fire trails with plenty of elevation gain, then made slippery and very muddy by persistent rain meant for a tiring start to the night. 29km, several 100m elevation, 4hrs and couple of sneakily hidden checkpoints later, we arrived at beloved TA5 to our wonderful fellow tigers Di Rosser and Neil Tahi cooking up sausages, hot chockies and banter by the fire… we took our time here knowing what was to come.
Setting off shortly after midnight for what ended up a 9.5hr trek consisting of either bush bashing or jogging on fire roads over a tough navigational course. We made it through the entire course stoked to get all the checkpoints, some admittedly taking up to 2hrs each…! Craig (aka nav extraordinaire) – hats off to you mate, excellent job! And suburb calls made by TC Trev and back up nav from Sara. I was merely a timekeeper and was numerously impressed by my teams’ skills in the thick Aussie bush. I had my first pretty good tired moment around 2-3am where the team must have thought they had a mute zombie in tow … not Nicole that’s for sure! But nothing a NoDoz, a Snickers and finding a checkpoint couldn’t fix! After getting the first two tricky CP’s we were on a roll smashing out two more from following a bearing in quick succession. The sun surely rose to see another day just in time for us to summit the highest point of the area Mt Clarence.
Notes to self for next time
I learnt a thing or two on this trek –
1. Tough shoes for tough terrain would have been better for my (now black) big toenails.
2. Take Ibuprofen early for niggles (thanks Trev!)
3. Speak up early with niggles and discomfort to your experienced team mates as they will know the answer to help make things more comfortable! (thanks Craig for asking directly “Nicole you are waddling… tell me how you are tracking?”) and
4. Take dry socks. Lots. Of. Dry. Socks. (Thanks Sara for saving my life by lending your spare pair – well my feet!). Once out of the bush we enjoyed breakfast at TA5 and a quick feet dry out in the sunshine as both mine as Sara’s looked worse than this…. (trust me, we won for worst feet on course if this was the benchmark!)
Into the second day
Leaving the Trek about 11am we had a fast mostly downhill 19km mountain bike to wake up again…only to enter into what felt like the longest paddle I have ever done (not even halfway close!) battling to keep awake in the warm afternoon sun! But it was simply stunning starting up stream in a small side creek kayaking 27km through vines and under logs then breaking out into the glassy vast waters on the Clarence with local jetty fishermen out cheering us on and some great chat within the team it was a fine afternoon after the wet 24hrs of day 1! A cold beer would have topped it off just nicely!
We made it in to TA7 after 4hrs paddling, perfectly timed on sunset as planned (because we had enough of dark paddling the night before!) and were now keen to get the rest done and dusted and to not have a full second night out on the course.
Bike Nav master Sara Barrett was on fire and we motored around the fairly flat fire trails, 30k MTB 9th leg to be greeted by the lovely volunteer family of three generations, Grandpa, Dad and Son and the warm fire at TA8.
The first 16km of our next 22km trek leg was mind numbing but beautiful, running under the carpet of stars on the sand before hitting the checkpoint headland. It got trickier with large fallen trees creating tiring obstacles through our sandy path, other options being wet feet and waves (not appealing late at night with blistered sore feet) or bush bashing on the dune. We chose well, heading up the dune for some bush bashing which helped us move fast. See below pics from the route in daylight.
Trev’s NoDoz had no effect from this point onwards and we all worked hard to keep him awake whilst running trying to reduce the number of times he ran into the sea while falling asleep on his feet!
The Final Countdown
Before we knew it, we were on the home straight. After a quick transition taking our bags with us we jumped excited but weary into our last leg just after midnight after being awake for 43hours and racing for 40hours just a 6km paddle, an hour should do it I thought….I was wrong. For the sake of mental and physical longevity in the race I have learnt to never underestimate any section of the race and always treat the upcoming tasks with an appropriate level of respect. It’s wise never to be blasé!
One hour into what we thought would be a one hour paddle we realised we weren’t yet halfway across and we were paddling into a swift current which was the incoming tide. The lights were disorientating and at 1.30am our brains had had enough. It was a slow and difficult paddle across the Clarence river mouth. Compounded by the funny but unfortunate fact that Trevor’s foot had a habit of pressing on the right turning kayak peddle when he frequently he fell asleep (away from the teammates boat when trying to discuss nav tactics!). We decided at one point in a less finer moment of decision making to “ask for directions” of a nearby boat (?)… at 2.30am… yeah then reality of that idea sunk in and we somehow found our direction towards the finish! Only to nearly (actually scarily close!) to being run over by a large fishing boat 300m from the finish! But to be fair, I bet that guy didn’t expect to come across two kayaks at 3am in the middle of the Clarence.
We made it.
3 hrs later. Our supporters had (rightly so) gone to bed, our online trackers given up on watching our dot moving in circles in the Clarence and also gone to bed but we finally saw the finish line at an unsocial hour of 3.30am all had given up on our predicted 45min paddle time as much as we had! It was a lonely finish line shared with just Chris the committed race director and his cellphone to take our finish pic! The elation on our faces in the pic below truly describes how I felt. Exhausted, wet, hungry, blistered and chaffed but exhilaratingly happy and so proud of my amazing team. I could not have imagined a better first adventure race!
The logistics prep was worse than the race itself! Organising my entire race clothing, food and shoes for essentially 11 normal length races into 4 boxes … no thanks, I would take 43hrs of racing over that part any day! I decided wisely to keep a list so I don’t find it as bad for next time (hopefully!) And as Craig pointed out I made some pretty funny “RRRROOOOKIIIEEE” errors, I mean who forgets socks of all crucial pieces of equipment? But with the experience of my team I could rely on them to make up for my inaugural mishaps (and thanks to a feet saving spare pair of socks from Sara!).
I cannot think of a more amazing sport – navigating untouched country as our ancestors did crossing bodies of water, climbing mountains, bush bashing the natural land and, although they probably didn’t have full suss mountain bikes back then I’m sure they would have also appreciated two wheels to cover some fast ground! And never has training been so fun! Going on missions combining all the disciplines into all the hours you can logistically handle every weekend with fantastic like-minded people, exploring the best of the Gold Coast and Sunny Coast hinterland and coastline. Hiking with mates, MTB on the single trails, giving climbing a go and even going out for a surf in the arvo all counts to what you never know you will have to prepare for come race day. For anyone out there adventure minded – just give it a go! You won’t look back.
Pics below: Mapping the course – the Navigational component of Adventure Racing.
Thanks firstly to my team for providing me with such a great first adventure race experience! I always felt safe, supported and in capable hands which was my most important requirement in a team. I felt privileged to race with these high calibre mates and athletes and for the original Tiger Adventure team. Especially to Trevor Mullens for helping me get started into my dream of becoming an adventure racer and to adequately prepare with many hours of 4.30am trainings and all weekend adventures in the last few months whilst chatting non-stop about other adventures mishaps along the way! Thank you to my housemates, friends and family for putting up with the time and energy required of me to train for this. And for supporting me with a healthy level of doubt to fuel me to challenge my limits and worry to keep me grounded to the risks of the sport to adequately prepare.
This was one of the best experiences of my life and I will absolutely be back for more. Stay tuned for more of Wali’s Tiger Adventures.