I had been looking forward to the next Adventure Racing A1 series Mountain Designs 24hr Hells Bells event ever since I crossed the line at GeoQuest back in June. I moved to Australia in August 2018 with one of my intentions being to settle my life enough in order to get into Adventure Racing and Brisbane met this criteria for me at the time.
The first few months in was pretty typical of living in a new country – finding your bearings, bike route to work, getting your head around a new job, new supermarket names, remembering others will take the piss of your accent and making friends. Moving to Brisbane was by far the easiest place I found to make new friends and from knowing nobody within a week I was offered a ride to the Sunny Coast (thanks to my new awesome housemates), was invited to a social event, someone cooked me dinner for my birthday and had found my local bike shop (Cycle Culture just 2 mins down the road!) which proved to be much more than just a bike shop!
Within the first month I had a cycling buddy in Karen Bucholz whom I sparked up a conversation with cycling out of my driveway one morning and has now introduced me to more cyclists and awesome people than I can count on two hands. I had a regular shop ride that I now sadly miss regularly due to other adventure invites and I found a swim squad.
But it was my old and dearest friend Reta Trotman from New Zealand who truely started the cascade of events that led me to Tiger Adventure. As kiwi’s do she told me I MUST catch up with her mate Lucy Caudwell – a tough as nails Scottswoman cyclist who lives up on the Sunny Coast. It took until December for the stars to align but that they did. Lucy met a group of friends and I for a picnic – Day 1. All very civilised. During the convo she said “Well, if you want to adventure race I know a guy in Brisbane you need to get in touch with – Trevor Mullens, he is always organising adventurous stuff!”. Day 2 of us meeting I agreed to go on a road ride with Lucy (at this point I will mention she is ex-Commonweath games Road Cyclist). I turned up with a banana and a litre of water ready for a ride. “So,” she says, “we can either do a 120km loop with heaps of hills or 150km loop round the coast on the flat, you choose”. I reply… “Uh, have you got another banana?”. Consequently sealing the friendship.
Early in 2019 I gave Trev a text not quite knowing what to expect. Well, in two days time I had been offered a seat in a kayak, invited to stay at his house before a hike on the following Sunday and sent an email with training weekends and events for the first half of the year. I didn’t know this guy from a bar of soap so first impressions are “he’s keen!”, and realising he was going to be a good person to know!
Wanting to make a good first impression I was in for the kayak, knowing I had a pretty strong kayaking background I wasn’t too nervous about my abilities to handle the 5am 2 hour kayak. However when I woke up on that morning at 5.30am – with a dreadful sinking feeling knowing I was horribly late for my first session with this adventure guy and a text saying – “Are you far away?”. My lovely housemates heard me yell “SH*****T” and helped me get out the door. What made matters worse was they were double kayaks and Trev had to wait otherwise he couldn’t paddle himself! Thankfully we got an hour in and my paddling skills outweighed any potential annoyance from Trev and my Tiger Adventure journey began! Let’s just say it has made me extremely vigilant with getting up and meeting Trev every training since and I have not repeated the offence!
One year on from my arrival to Brisbane marked the 24hr Hells Bells race – my second in what I consider to be a decent sized adventure race. Feeling miles more prepared since Geo – my only purchase included a bike computer and top up’s of race food, chaf cream and Gurney Goo which was a much sorter (and cheaper!) list than the last one. This time for example – I knew how much my team mates and I loved baked potatoes, savoury “real food” and my infamous Weetbix Slice racing therefore I came prepared. See race food pics below! (And stay tuned for a blog dedicated specifically to the Weetbix Slice).
Receiving the race brief sheet 2 weeks and having a few fun, helpful hints of the course terrain and locations from course director Chris Dixon prior to the weekend revealed an “elite trek” stage mid way through, a rock hopping leg, a leg within the local MTB park and potential for a bus ride out to the start. Finishing at Maroochydoore – it was likely the paddle went down the Maroochy river to the end.
Firstly, not knowing the course and secondly guessing the course is part of the fun of it all and I am sure Chris loves hearing the wildest and most accurate speculations commented on FB with every hint he drops! Thankfully, Sara Barrett’s local knowledge had us pretty spot on in terms of predicting the highlights of the course in advance. A major difference in this race was that we had to drop the first Box A before we were able to look at the course. So packing up the boxes the night before there was still guessing and speculation as to how long it would take us for food planning and the gear we would need for the terrain.
Joel was a new appearance to the team and didn’t I know how it felt to be a rookie! He seemed cool, calm and collected probably having already been schooled from training buddie Rob Preston and with the support from Sara that afternoon seemed to have his shit sorted and was excited to race! With some crazy length endurance running events and titles under his belt Craig, Sara and I were sure we were going to have our work cut out for us keeping up with Joel!
Nevertheless after a night at Sara’s with plan A, B and C up our sleeves we dropped the bikes and Box A at the beautiful picnic area above Kondalilla falls behind Montville. Left our helmets unclipped, socks in shoes ready for a smooth transition. Then backtracking to the Maroochydoore esplanade to HQ we set up our table and chairs ready for mapping the course. Map handout was at 7.30am and briefing at 9am allowing just 1.5hrs for our trusty Navigators Craig (Batman) and Sara (Robin) to do what they do best.
Briefing at 9am revealed some interesting course notes! Lifejackets were compulsory for the first trek up the canyon – running in lifejackets….perhaps swimming is faster? The crunch point for this race our team needed to decide on was whether we were going to attempt the elite Trek. Having a cut off time of 6.30pm we had to fair hoof it through the first 3 legs in order to firstly make it, and secondly make it comfortably enough to be able to get all the CP’s within the trek as there were big time penalties if we didn’t, which may have dropped us well down the ranks. Additionally there was a tough time penalty the next morning for the final kayak that if we didn’t make we could be short coursed. Tricky decisions – we decided on a personal team cut off of 5.30pm to have a chance at clearing the trek, and to play it by ear from there.
After the usual controversies of the briefing we were bussed to Lake Baroon for the start, just over the back of the hill from Maleny and Montville. I’d been to this spot just a few months before with my parents and had thought at the time what a nice kayak this would be! Unfortunately on race day the Ekka winds showed up right on time and the lake was a mess with white caps and chop which was about to make the paddle ahead a bit more of a mission!
Alright lets go! Leg 1 we ended up taking an anti-clockwise paddle direction, the opposite to most teams which meant for a quieter route around the lake except for the headwind to start. Dodging dead trees made for interesting steering and maneuvering of these big old boats. I bet Sara had fun up front in my boat guessing where I would turn next and what tree we would crash into!
Sweeping the lake in a bit over and hour we were next into Leg 2 this Trek-that-required-lifejackets which we were all absolutely looking forward to.
The first part of the track was out of bounds, meaning we were making our way up the Obi Obi Gorge, The terrain quickly got very steep up each side of the creek plunging down into a narrow Gorge of boulders and deep creek pools. Progress was slow and calculated climbing over the slippery rocks and eventually succumbing to swimming after Sara showed off her amazing flexibility – slipping on one of her strides ending up in full splits between two rocks! It was one of those times when you burst out laughing only to realise they might actually be hurt and its horrible to be laughing but you cannot stop yourself! Thankfully she was fine and managed to contort her way out of trouble and I appreciated it wasn’t me in that situation – as many friends would know my fitness does not extend to a great deal of flexibility! Swimming along was rather pleasant, albeit slow progress, but nice to be in the cool fresh water during the heat of the sunshine coast winter day. This is a skill I actually love from my Coast to Coast training – negotiating routes up a creek considering if bush bashing going to be faster than running up the slippery rocks on the creek bed vs clamboring slightly up the bank or swimming along in the pool, making this leg an absolute highlight for me and I think most of the team also.
After finding a couple of sneaky checkpoints up the side creeks we found the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk track and broke into a jog on the comparative highway-like terrain. Running up past the stunning Kondalilla falls (I still have trouble both spelling and saying this name!) we made it to TA at the picnic area to transition onto our bikes. At this stage we made a call coming in to TA at 3.30pm … by the time we transitioned and did a 2-2.5hr bike we wouldn’t make our cut off for the Elite hike and decided it was a smart move to skip it. No longer on a nervously tight deadline I noticed our mood and enjoyment lifted somewhat at this point.
On our bikes we made our way up to the road – one of my favourite road rides – along the ridge between Montville and Mapleton in the late afternoon sunshine to the serene Mapleton National Park. Seen below, tall dense trees provided a canopy of shade from the late afternoon sun in classically beautiful South East Queensland sub tropical rainforest bush.
Throughout Leg 3 we had the pleasure of riding with Lukas and teamate whom Sara knew well. Not only was it more fun in a 6 person wolf pack but we were exceptionally thankful for Lukas saving the day by giving us his spare chain link when Sara had a mechanical, managing to snap her chain link with her quads of steel. I got a quick lesson in the middle of nowhere how to swap out the broken link (noted!) and we were back on track!
As the sun set the temp cooled but with a dry night ahead it was perfect conditions for racing. Coming into TA2.5 – we arrived at 6.15pm, 45mins past our personal team cut off but 15mins early for the deadline to enter the Elite trek. We were solid on our decision to skip it and stopped for a quick yarn to the TA volunteers, grabbed a couple complementary snakes and headed on our merry way back into the darkness for part two of the now 5ish hr ride. The only part I remember from this second bike leg was losing our trusty companions, some seriously steep and technical downhills on the fire roads that I was stoked and surprised I made it down riding in one piece and one nasty hike-a-bike section when I was just starting to think…this is a nice course I had ridden the whole way!
But onwards with what I do remember. Leg 4 was a cool rogaine around Wappa Dam with some really decent undulating terrain! It was here about 11pm that again I hit my low point, along with Craig and Sara came into her element as team Mum “Nicole what do you need? Snake? NoDoz? Ibuprofen? Electrolytes? Hey why not have all of the above?”…”You’re not chatty, something’s up”. It was here that Craig was back in his element bearing after bearing onto CP’s in the darkness of night straight through whatever bush was in our path.
Now just to take a side story here. One thing I find really exciting in adventure racing is when you find yourself just with these four people (aka four headlamps) in the middle of the night running round in the bush. You feel like the only people on earth….until you come round the corner over the hill and through the bushes flashes 4 other little bobbing lights coming down the creek towards you, bobbing, bobbing getting bigger until next minute … you have team Thoughtsports jogging past. What was cool about this race was because of the elite trek it meant that teams that did not do the elite trek were then caught up either in Wappa Dam or on the next bike leg in Parklands. I love it! It was great seeing the fast guys move through the bush, nailing checkpoints, not stopping to smell the roses and the one poor person who happened to be feeling it at the time being towed along or straggling behind.
Out of the dam we found our bikes again and headed down to Parklands MTB park “Parkies” on Leg 6 for the wee hours of the morning. Parklands had a similar experience except the bush was this time full of headlamps, a crazy flurry of lights looking a bit like a crime scene at times with front and rear bike lights going off on abandoned bikes as people search for checkpoints up and down creeks with headlamps on their heads. One of the first CP’s had a few teams (including the top 3) a bit confused as to which creek it was up. Seeing the winners team Avengers hunting around for the same CP we were looking for was humbling.
However at about this time for me nature called. Given the CP wasn’t going to be an easy find, I took the opportunity for a little ‘me’ time with a bathroom break. One requiring a little more time than average if you catch my gist. I like a little privacy when I take a bathroom break you see, therefore often will turn off my head torch and poo by moolight. This time was no exception and all went to plan. However switching back on my headlight, heading out of the bush I realised I was walking out of the Western side of the very creek they were first searching on the Eastern side. As I get close to the track team Wild Earth Tiger Adventure come along and I say a big “Gidday” to Gary, who then proceeds to drop his bike and hastily make his way up the creek where I had just emerged from. In horror of what he might find I said “I definitely wouldn’t go in there to find a CP Gary, there’s only the wrong kind of CP down that creek!” he laughs it off saying “Haha something, something, definitely not in here ay” thinking I was joking…. Well I was a little horrified at what he might find but hey! I gave him warning. At prizegiving he gave me stick for sending him up the garden path searching for a CP in the wrong place…well I let him believe it given the alternative explanation!
Sara did so well navving in the maze of Parklands and the highlight was heading up to the radio tower at the top of the park. The dark descent on the fire trail was epic and one last CP on the way down we broke out onto wide open farmland and with a sky flooded with stars above us, it felt like a rush of energy to the muscles and the brain coming into our final leg.
Arriving at TA a frigid wind cooled us down quick and we donned our wet weather gear for the 3-4 hour paddle ahead. It was at this point at 4am, TA4 I heard the harrowing news…. The All Blacks had lost to the Wallabies just a few hours ago. It was also at this point that poor Craig vomited his guts up on the side of the Maroochy river and was really not feeling to flash at all. Once we had finished rugging up and spewing up we were on our way.
I thought by now I had learnt to never assume in an Adventure Race, never assume, never underestimate and you can never plan enough! I had imagined this paddle later in the morning after thinking we would be in for the elite trek. I envisaged a glassy river, dawn breaking, sun rising over the sea ahead cruising into the finish beach after a stunning long paddle. Just.Don’t.Assume. Raincheck, it was more like… 4am start, “feels like 4 degrees” wind chill (Yes in Sunshine Coast Australia), howling swirling wind which although was overall a tail wind because the river was so windy it was also a solid head and side wind at some points along the way. Our poor tootsies, pinkies and snozzers were rather frozen after the 3 hours and we were chasing the sunny side of the river for a bit of warmth once dawn broke.
Paddling into the finish I appreciated finishing in daylight this time! Once again Race Director Chris was there to shake hands at the finish and take the magic shot below. We were done in a respectable 7th place and rather acceptable 20ish hours, allowing a sleep and shower before Prizegiving.
Thanks to Chris for an epic race once again, we loved travelling round in the backyard of the Sunny Coast. We are absolutely so lucky to have land this beautiful around us in South East Queensland to explore and Chris showed us some cool local spots that’s for sure. Highlight was definitely the Gorge for our team and for me I loved the riding in Mapleton too. Thank you Craig and Sara for your fabulous navigation. once again I felt super confident with you two in charge! Joel – mate well done on your first AR! Enjoyed your company out there and you held your own brilliantly, can’t wait to see you again on the circuit in future. Trev – we missed you whilst you holidayed in Peru but we had you there in spirit and probably dot watching, we hope we did your A1 team proud! Until next time, bring on Rob Preston’s Wildside down in Kangaroo Valley, NSW. Ka Kite Ano!