Take a journey with me
This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more.
This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more.
The 5th and final race in the Australian Adventure Racing series took place on the first weekend of October down in Kangaroo Valley, 2hrs drive south of Sydney. The ruthless, unrelenting, technical and raw adventure of Richard’s 36hr Wildside was simply an incredible race.
With yet another loaded team of legends, Trevor Mullens back from Peru to captain his team Tiger Adventure, fellow inseparable pocket rocket Sara Barrett, Aurelien Penneman lead nav / gorge hopping moutain goat and myself completely and hopelessly in love with Adventure racing therefore the first to say yes to this kind of team!
This race was a slightly different from the beginning as we were not given Race Logistics prior to the event, merely a list of the “order of events” therefore had absolutely no idea about how long each leg would take and what we would be doing during the day or night. We didn’t know where we would see our gear boxes making it very difficult to plan both food and gear for each leg. My method for this was to pack a supermarket bag for each leg with 3hrs food for each, earlier legs having food I could eat at higher intensities and later legs having more “morale” foods and things I could eat while going more slowly. I packed a change of clothes into each leg and figured I can always take them out.
Checking the weather a week out – it was going to be cold. Checking the weather half a week out – it was going to be hot. Checking the weather the day before – it was going to rain and be early 20’s down to 8 degrees overnight on Saturday then fine up on Sunday to over 30 degrees. Brilliant for when you need to pack your gear and food a week before the race for your team mates to drive it down and have no idea what time you will be doing each leg! Basically the best of planning will be planning at best, as always with adventure racing!
I flew down to Sydney midday on Friday with good mate and training buddie Milford chatting logistics, predictions and strategy the whole way especially as it was Milford’s first race in a while. Greeting our friendly ride and new mate Pierro Francois helped to get excited about the adventure to come. By the time we neared Kangaroo Valley the mist rolled in, the landscape became greener, hillier and more densely packed bush I was buzzing to get into the wilderness surrounds. The setting reminded me more of NZ, a stark contrast to the brown, dry, prickly and relatively quite flat terrain of Queensland. There was one particular road that I am writing in this blog to refer back to for good reason – Moss Vale Road. Remember the name road cyclists if you are ever in the area. Descending into Kangaroo Valley this road offered Tour De France quality switchbacks in dense beautiful green bush descending/climbing almost 600m across 8km. I will definitely be keen to give it a ride someday, but as this weekend called for alot more activity off road – it was an adventure to be had another day.
Arriving at camp my team mates had already taken over our cabin with gear and packing. Trev and Sara – legends – had done the 12hr car trip the day before, truck packed up to the sky with gear. The immense amount of gear required for these races is unbelievable, I will detail this more in one of my blogs over the summer – look out for it newbies as I will share my gear lists after three races of my experience to get you started. My first gear packing venture took two weeks. I now have it down to about 2 days.
Arriving about 5pm, some excited hugs were shared and had a brief meet and greet with my newest team mate Aurélien Penneman. Aurélien has raced many times with Trevor including twice at New Zealand’s prestigeous GODZone 7 day expedition event. He is a very experienced racer having raced in many events in home country France and other AR World Series Expedition events in the Nordic Islands, Scotland and others. I was pretty proud to be racing with this speedy, experienced Frenchman and had full confidence in his role as Lead Navigator – just as much as I always had in Craig Keeling. This for me is such an important factor as a team member who is still pretty knew to the sport. With Aurélien leading Tiger Adventure #19 and my trusty faithful’s ever strong Packhorse and Team Captain Trev, and motivational, everlasting side kick Sara it was set to be a solid team. With a few of the big dawg teams still recovering from Eco Challenge the field was looking promising for us to rank well. I knew I would need my game face on in order to pull my weight with this team, time to pull up the socks and suck up whatever was to come our way!
Packing last minute sammies and baked potatoes before Rego at 6pm where we get the customary “fresh as a daisy” team pics and Map handout and briefing was at 7pm – after which the course is revealed and we can finally pack our bags.
Briefing was a little different to normal – we didn’t have the maps before we were introduced to the course. I actually loved the way Race Director Richard introduced the race. Telling a story of how we would pass through the course revealing one epic leg after another, having full attention of all 60 odd racers in the crowd listening to every detail of the adventure ahead.
Hearing we would be bussed up the river to start with a 7km kayaking up one of the side creeks as far as it would take us on water into the start of the Bundanoon creek gorge. Where we would then navigate up the gorge with approx. 500m vertical elevation over 12km. At the top we would find our mountain bikes and a box of gear in the hub of a large trail network to complete a 50km MTB rogaine. After the rogaine – back at the box to change or restock food again we would head back down the neighbouring Tallowa gorgefor 14km descending back to our kayaks. Next a 24km kayak down the lake would take us to our next and last Transition Area (TA2) before finding again our bikes to complete Part 1 of a 70km Mountain bike (MTB) that would end by taking us approx 600 vertical metres up Meryla pass. At the top we were to complete a 20km Foot Rogaine before completing Part 2 of the mountain bike back to town and the finish line. The second MTB would include a compulsory walk with the bikes along a tourist walking trail and a fast downhill to reclaim all the elevation gained in the earlier part of the MTB. By the end of his description I had butterflies in my stomach – two epic canyon/gorge hikes (my absolute favourite trekking terrain but by far the most energy draining also) and a total of 46km trekking/running, a huge hill on the MTB with 120km to pedal all up and 30km of paddling we would have our work cut out for us across the ~200km course in just 36 hours racing time. What made things more tricky was the two time cut offs at the MTB rogaine and the Foot Rogaine which were essential to make in order to not be short-coursed. We thought at the time we would have a good chance at meeting the cut offs if we were moving steadily through the course but it certainly wasn’t a guarantee. Throughout the brief and course notes Richard still did not give us an estimated time for any of the legs meaning we had to give it a go ourselves after maps.
After mapping the course and Richards adventurous tale we had the best idea we were going to get of what was in store – time to pack our gear and food for the mission ahead. Now remember – briefing started at 7pm, it was 8pm by the time we got back to mark up the maps. By 9pm we were packing our gear and approx 10.30pm we were getting into bed for a measly 5 hours sleep prior to our 36 hour venture. We were due on the bus at 5am to be shipped to the start. Sometimes the adventure racing mission starts well before and clean up certainly ends well after the race itself.
We woke to steady rain on the roof at 4am, shovelled in some breakfast, last minute packing gear in and out – rethinking how wet and cold it could potentially get. I had already done some sleep “packing” overnight, poor Sara waking at about 3am to me grabbing the duvet of the bed we were sharing and trying to “pack” what I thought was clothes into a “bag”. I woke from the eventful slumber in the middle of the night to Sara’s “You ‘right mate?”, us both taking a second to realise I was in fact “sleep walking/packing”. At least no one can say I am not organised right? Off to the start line and onto the bus. Bus trips at the start of an adventure race I find incredibly amusing. Just to paint a picture. Think of 50-60 odd athletes wearing kayaking gear, carring brightly coloured dry bags, lifejackets, packs and paddles, wearing race bibs, tight shorts, rain coats, compasses around their necks, carrying maps and the last minute banana tucked in a pocket somewhere all trying to walk down the aisle of a bus, and fit into the tiny two man seats. I imagine these bus drivers must find it quite a unique crowd compared to their normal shipments!
Arriving at the start at the Tallowa Dam picnic area in Kangaroo Valley to a steady drizzle everyone is collecting their barge of a kayak off the trailer and lugging it down to the waters edge, having last minute wee and other toilet stops, taking off and putting on last minute clothing changes, tying dry bags to the kayaks and putting split paddles together. The lake is beautiful – glassy, misty and green and I am feeling pumped to get going.
Before we know it 6am arrives and the hooter goes. There is not many formalities at the start of an adventure race I have discovered, no countdown, no warning just a hooter so often people are caught out and it requires you to be organised and time keep for yourself. So, off we go!
The kayak was a fast and uneventful 7km starting in fairly clear weather which slowly closed into a steady downpour heading up the arm of the lake to our transition into the gorge. With banks getting steeper on either side and some cool rock formations and cliffs at the top we were getting more excited for the depths of the gorge to come.
Getting to Dougie – the man with the flag on the bank at the top of the arm of the gorge. At the end of the kayak we ran our boats up the bank, ditched our kayaking gear and grabbed our packs out of the dry bags. There was no box at this transition therefore we had to carry everything for the Trek and the next 4hr paddle on our boats – a real staged adventure in my eyes, I loved it! Getting a couple minutes into the Trek a team member from Team Rogue was running back at us – only for Sara to thankfully ask Trevor if he had grabbed our tracker (one of the absolute essential pieces of equipment). Something so easily forgotten was actually forgotten so Trev back tracked and we vowed to make a team effort to remind him at each transition from then on. Thankfully it was only a 2 minute mistake on this occasion!
Heading on up the gorge was fast at first, travelling with team Rogue was pretty fun, knowing they were in the running for the win and having the title to defend from last year we were pretty stocked to be comfortably travelling with these guys up the Bundanoon Creek. It felt fast at first, running over rocks, clambering around trees moving at a fast pace we were travelling well and quickly caught our fellow Tigers team Tiger Shackleton containing my mates Milford McArthur and Pete 250cc Hopwood, previous team mate Joel Claxton and the experienced Kevin Piercy. Finding the right junction easily with these other teams we turned up Nyes Creek where the going got a little tougher and a little slower. The boulders got bigger, the terrain thicker and the ascent steeper. We came to a junction where we could take a right up the waterfall or a longer left up a steep spur and Sara and I, pulling up our courage we put our trust into the boys faith in our ability to climb up the waterfall while team Rogue and Shackleton headed up the spur. It was a potential shortcut that turned out to be a little slower but nevertheless that sort of decision is impossible to know how it will go until its gone and can potentially mean a nifty shortcut or that you fall behind slightly. In our case this was where we lost sight of the leaders team Rogue. We quickly caught and passed our Tiger Shackleton mates again to head deeper into the gorge. Aurélien showed his true strengths at this stage, our team now alone in the gorge he led us with a finesse over the rocks that I could only dream to be able to move with and he did this while navigating with a map in hand. We often had to call back our nimble French mountain goat so we were in sight of his movements, finding it much more efficient to follow his footsteps than bumble our own way through the terrain with an eye on him in the distance. It was at this point I taught him the game Marco Polo often losing sight just 10m away behind the boulder in front. Sara and I held our own well enough with half the length sized legs and strength of the boys while we all collected our fair share of bumps, brusies and scratches on the unforgiving slippery moss covered, wet creek bed. It was absolutely fantastic.
Approching CP 3 we were certain we were in the right place and double checked the area before heading further up and down then around the creek to find the CP. Unfortunately by this time, we had missed the 11am cut off we were racing for at the mountain bike transition and 50mins later we orientated ourselves and had found the CP. We were passed by three other teams in this time, the Avengers (who had also made an earlier nav error costing them the cut off), Mont (who apparently chose the high road out of the canyon for a while) and the trusty Shackleton boys who were impressively without errors in the gorge. Soon learning as we arrived at the mountain bike transition that Rogue were the only team to make the 11am cut off and not be short-coursed for the rest of the race, meaning as long as they finished they had won the race just 5 hours in.
This timing gives you an idea of how slow going it is in the gorge. The fastest team, without nav errors moved at a speed of 23 minutes per kilometre and took approx. 4.5 hrs to complete the 12km gorge. Personal speed is important to know to be able to time when you might be approaching a creek, CP or judging the distance travelled in a race. I am usually timekeeper for the team and Trev has a keen feel for our pacing meaning we always had a fair idea how we were travelling.
By the end of the gorge and transitioning into the MTB Rogaine, simply put I felt like shite. My knee was starting to niggle at the end of the gorge and I was terrified and ashamed that my body was starting to crack this early in the race. I was especially worried because I knew downhill is always worse on joints and we had another, longer gorge in reverse to take back to the kayaks in Leg 4 to come. I popped my first Ibuprofen at around 10am just 4 hours in and was hobbling along the roads to the MTB TA1, this was not good news. I spoke up early to my team – it is always a hard pill to swallow to admit the first niggles for yourself and the team but absolutely essential to be able to go on and complete the race. Often your team mates will have suggestions that will save you that you hadn’t thought of or if you are dehydrated, low on fuel you often cannot see the correct solution yourself. From experience I knew I needed drugs and Sara also told me she had stronger anti-inflammatories I should take next time and reminded me to hand over weight to the boys if it was still niggling on the way back down the gorge.
At the TA we got our MTB rogaine maps and Aurélien and Sara quickly decided and mapped out which 5 CP’s we were getting.
Setting into the bike I was red lining it trying to keep on the wheel of my team mates and quickly falling behind I had to also try and play catch up with food shovelling snakes into my mouth as much as my heavy breathing would allow. Trev dropped back and mentioned I might need a tow. Towing is an important part of a race – the team is fastest when it stays together and helps one another out. Although I was gutted. They were words I never wanted to hear 7 hours in. I have pride in my cycling fitness from the past two years but at this point I was busting my ass and only making 20kph on the flat – something else was definitely up. Thankfully with the word “tow” mentioned and a couple of helpful pushes from Trev and Aurélien I was able to keep on Sara and Aurélien’s wheel…just! Trying not to think of the later consequences of a 2 hour sprint session, I did what I had to to keep up with my strong team.
This was definitely the lowest moment of my adventure racing so far and although I ate something in TA, it was a quick transition and probably not enough. Looking back – the gorge and kayak took us almost 6 hours and I definitely had not had my usual 6hrs of food whilst trying to clamber over rocks and keep up with my speedy team therefore was likely running very low on fuel. Lesson learned the hard way.
Back at TA I shovelled in as much food as I dared before our run ahead. At this point it is super important to realise what is coming. Yes I was underfuelled and we had a 14km trek – during which I would be able to handle a large volume of food in my stomach as we slowly worked our way down the gorge. However to get to the mouth of the gorge we had a 6km run on fire roads – for which we would definitely run at a solid pace. Chatting quickly to my navigators I soon figured this out. Therefore TA food was calculated – liquids with sugar, potatoes, couple of mouthfuls only of rice pudding and baked beans but nothing crazy to upset the stomach. Even some of you may think, I could never run on that! This shows the importance of not only running for training but training the stomach to deal with food whilst running.
Running to the edge of the gorge and slipping into our second canyon of the day we starting making our way down the impressive Tallowa Gorge realising it will take us into the evening to get to the end of it. So, we set off with haste to get as far down in daylight as possible and after I had popped my second lot of Ibuprofen, egg sammie for dinner courtesy of Sara (wham bam thank you maam!) and sucking up my knee issues for the bumpy road ahead. Tallowa Gorge was more knarly than the first with boulders the size and height of cars and sheds often requiring negotiation around or down. For us pocket rockets – we become rather height challenged in this environment. Sara at 1.57m and I at 1.62m understandably find it a little difficult to clamber down the front of a boulder with a two metre rock face. Whereas Trev and Aurélien standing at near 2 metres tall themselves they quickly became essential to getting us down the gorge. Aurélien used the bear hug method standing front on to us and essentially grabbing us like small children and lowering down to the ground or grabbing our hands to pull up a tall boulder absent of footholds. Trev used the tree trunk method, standing strong whilst we climbed onto his shoulders and slid down his back to the rock below and giving us a leg up from the ground for the tall rocks whilst Aurélien gave us a pull up. Thanks boys, we would have definitely had trouble without you!
Finally dark descended on us in the gorge and the progress became slower, but who should come upon us at this time – our mates Rogue Adventure who had been travelling with us in this section of the Bundanoon creek earlier in the day. With 8 pairs of eyes and headlamps, spotting routes in the creek was much easier and we kept up a good pace for the remainder of the gorge, the need to keep up with Rogue outweighing nagging knees and other niggles. Finally we came across our kayaks once again that we had left so long ago that day, after a mighty 11 ish hours in gorges and just 2 hours on our bikes, it was safe to say most bodies were pretty glad to be sitting in a kayak for the next 4 hours.
Usually kayaking at night is sleep-inducing, disorientating and difficult to keep a decent pace however this particular 24km course I really enjoyed. Aurélien and I worked well in the navigating boat, me keeping timing and pacing at approx. 7km/hr and my spotlight on the obstacles ahead and the shoreline for orientation whilst Aurélien kept his eye on the features of the lake matching to the map. He chatted to me about the map and what to look for ahead which was really helpful in both of us keeping our orientation. A strong headlight beam up front was essential to find our way in the pitch black. With cloud cover and no moon there really was a deep velvety black colour in the night. We luckily had Rogue to follow in the distance and kept pace well. Collecting CP’s without error, as we paddled to more populated areas of the river we came across campers and the lights of distance campfires along our travels who were startled to see paddlers at this time of night, and in an intoxicated state called out “what are you doing!!?”. I feel once they got their answer they were probably more confused as we informed them we were in a race and had 12 odd kilometres more to paddle and were only halfway through our race! Nearing the end Trev and Sara became a little dozy and I was in the mood for a song, having downloaded some Elton John words in my mind earlier that week I cracked out some Crocodile Rock and Tiny Dancer to keep the brains of my team going. Nothing like the cliffs of a river to accentuate and echo the voice of an undiscovered star bellowing out a Rocket Man chorus (I always knew I sounded amazing, why did Mum never agree?). Unfortunately I didn’t hear Sara’s request for Eminem whose songs I have had unashamedly memorised since I was 12, oh well I will save it for next time mate!
Making it to TA2 in a nifty 3.5hrs and the second and only TA with a box of gear to restock we were feeling good. My team mates were pretty chilly at this CP however I was thankful for my NZ blood and slight winter layer at this point finally being the one not in discomfort. It all swings in roundabouts over 36hrs! Just to paint a picture at this point – we spent approximately 45 minutes at this checkpoint. You may be thinking woah thats a huge amount of wasted time! But this was our last and only overnight transition, the last place in the race (with 15hrs to go) where we could change clothes, pack extra clothes for warmth, rain, the heat of the next day, shoes for the foot Rogaine to come, reapply chaff cream and gurney goo, eat a decent feed that weighs alot eg: tin of beans or can of coke, refill water and electrolytes, fit lights to our bike, do a poo and dump the gear we didn’t need. We need to pack up our kayak gear, close up the boxes and carry the kayaks to wherever the transition volunteers direct us. Its not a fast process and almost essential to take this time in order to have the energy and gear later on to survive the race. I am sure the fast guys reading this will be thinking that it is a long time but relatively I bet they spent there longest break here also.
Setting off on our bikes we had a big night ahead, zooming through the first few CP’s on the road we set off into the bush, thankfully my bike legs were pretty much back and I mostly kept up with my team, except for the odd hill here and there. There was one descent that lulled all of the team to sleep especially classic snoozer Trev, I become increasingly worried about the lack of NoDoz taken by Trev at this point compared with his usual requirements by 2am and his veering towards the cliff on the side of the road. So I directed him to ride on the inside of Sara and I so at least we could try and wake him before disaster. Falling asleep whilst biking downhill does sound funny, and is certainly laughable at times but the consequences are potentially very severe so it does need to be taken seriously! Paddling is a little safer in fact falling in probably solves the problem! The packs were heavy on our backs with 15hrs of food and 6 hours of fluid plus rogaining shoes and clothes heading up some steep hills including the intimidating and epic Meryla Pass. This was one helluva hill on which once again we found team Rogue curled up asleep in the ditch halfway up. Disturbing their peace they joined us for the walk / granny gear slog after 20 hours of racing up the 550m of elevation over approx 3.5km required to get to the Foot Rogaine at the top. However at least it kept us awake and as we neared the top we were rewarded by dawn breaking across the Crackey’s Creek canyon looking very similar to the picture of the Blue Mountains I had seen.
After frustratingly looking for a CP15 with Rogue for a good half an hour that some little bugger had nicked off with and no longer existed we approached the Rogaine. Now in full daylight, breezing within the first 7am cut off by about half an hour. Us girls and Trev were pretty knackered by now (Aurélien barely seemed to break a sweat the whole race the fit little bugger!), with probably 2000m elevation, 25 hours of racing and 11 hours of gorge trekking in our tired legs, a 20km fire trail run ahead was not a welcoming task.
Collecting our rogaine maps we set off, quickly realising that Sara and I , the pocket rocket twins that we are, had now both developed twin ITB knee pain issues and running was not an option at least for now. Keeping to a fast walk we were pretty bored at this point, collecting CP after CP at a slow pace to our usual in the increasing heat of the morning. With knees becoming increasingly painful and our minds more, to be honest, disappointed in this relatively boring leg of the course we started to get savvy with our race decisions. Trev, realising we wouldn’t catch the teams ahead at our current max pace and that we had been the last team to enter at the 7am cut off suggested we get 5 checkpoints out of our potential 7 CPs allowed which was one more than the 4 CPs allowed for those who reached the rogaine after 7am. To still come ahead of those teams but also to not bust our girls knees completely and take an extra 1.5hrs on course for no change in placings. It was a welcomed and motivating call so, giving the boys our backpacks we were able to hobble an interesting style of jog for the last 2 CP’s.
Now for the last stage – the MTB back to the finish. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy but somewhere involved 600m of elevation loss and a section of sealed road, can’t be too hard right? Wrong.
Zooming through the first few fire roads through massive puddles was super fun to start and then we got to the section of the race where we had to walk our bikes for 3.5km along a tourist scenic walk called the East Rim Walking Track. Reaching the entrance we were greeted with absolutely breathtaking views at Twin Falls lookout over the incredible Yarrunga Creek gorge. Looking even more similar to the Blue Mountains pictures I had seen this was confirmed by team mate Aurélien who knew the Blue Mountains well, that this sight was potentially even more impressive.
Walking our bikes along what was admittedly one of the most incredible short walks I have ever seen past many waterfalls and lookouts, was also extremely frustrating at the time! Just imagine midday on a beautiful Sunday long weekend at the end of school holidays how many tourists and families were out enjoying the trail in the good weather. And here we are now 30 hours in, sleep deprived, hungry, tired, exhausted, now hot and some who-will-not-be-named very grumpy racers trying to keep up a pace through the mahem. Thankfully the pictures don’t look as bad as we felt!
Finally out of the circus, smiling again we came to the Fitzroy canal, we hooned along the fire road keen to get to the finish line. A couple CPs collected and our last hill done and dusted, we had the most epic section of riding to go! A massively steep and fun switchback fire road down down down losing all our elevation in one go, certainly testing my downhilling guts and skills with butt right back behind the seat, brakes on, conservatively pumping, it was a cautious descent for this weary rider. I made sure Trev was behind me knowing I would slow him down and how tired he had been getting in the last few km’s. Sara and Aurélien were fast out of sight with skills vast excelling mine in this terrain. Hitting the road we were almost home. With our second to last CP under the main bridge into town at the popular swimming bend on the Kangaroo River, Sara and I couldn’t resist jumping in fully clothed shoes and all to cool off on what was now a 30+ degree afternoon. Looking a little out of place amonst the other bathers, thankfully our boys joined us for safety in numbers. What an amazing feeling!
Riding into the finish I thought back to that moment in the gorge when I had to admit my knee was niggly and the worry I had at the time about completing the race. Adventure racing really digs deep into your abilities as a human, through sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, mental obstacles and real physical pain shine qualities of endurance, determination, grit, teamwork, strategy and mental toughness. It really is an amazing discovery of self, of those supporting you and those that you are there to support along the journey.
Another race finished, another adventure had, job done superstars. That’s my team of which I am immensely proud to be part of, Tiger Adventure. This pic will always bring a giddy smile to my face. We came away with 5th overall and 4th in the premier mixed my best result yet. This meant that overall for the year team Tiger Adventure finished 6th in the A1 National Australian Adventure Race series of which I was able to be part of for three amazing events with five incredibly gutsy, awesome humans Trev, Sara, Aurélien, Joel and Craig. Thanks for the adventure guys!
Some of you may be wondering why my race report has come out so fast, usually it’s a month later! Well, the aftermath of this race in the last few days have been a tough ride. Scratched and bruised, hobbling with the knee that managed to persevere the remaining 29hrs after the original niggle, a creaking back from carrying 15hrs worth of supplies by bike over the pass and sore muscles I never knew existed after the gorge. On the drive home the immune system started to fail also, leaving me with a headcold, sore throat and mouth ulcers that are yet to heal meaning two days sick at home alternating between bed and couch writing my race blog! I am wrecked. But what better test of endurance, sometimes you learn more about yourself from the tests in life that hurt the most or don’t go to plan.
That’s a wrap for racing for 2019 my debut year into the sport I feel I am truely made for. I’ll be taking a break until March but over summer I plan to blog about stuff that will help those newbies out there get started comfortably into Adventure Racing with gear lists, discussions, recommendations especially for the ladies! Also my forte of food, what to eat, when and how to plan it. So if you are interested, getting in to it or perhaps are still working on getting it right, then I will share all the secrets for your 2020 debut! Stay tuned to Wali’s Adventures, share the blog with your mates and comment away! I love hearing your stories and advice.
Bring on 2020 with first race in the calendar in March, 24hr Explore Gippsland run by AR, Rogaine and Orienteering Aussie legend Rob Preston in Gippsland, Victoria. However, next years overall goal is bigger than 24 hours. It’s been my life dream since its inception in 2011, the world class 9 day expedition race in Rotorua, New Zealand, GODZone 2020. Bring it on Tiger Adventure! Lets get training!
Nicole Walker – 14th September 2019
It’s not the birthday present most would ask for, let alone to agree and grasp the gift of opportunity with two hands. When Gary Bit-Of-A-Legend-Round-Here Sutherland asked if I wanted to join him for the 12 hr Mojo Raid Rogaine on my 30th last month I thought, I am sure this is a decision I will ask myself “why?” many times over but also knowing it would be a fantastic experience I didn’t hesitate to sign up. Also with 12hrs running round in the bush, what better way to get to know someone new? Since it seemed to bring together two of my favourite past times AR + making new friends, I would be silly to say no…right?
4.30am Saturday 14th September morning leaving Brisbane watching the moon set, bright orange from the recent bushfires and then the dawn break was quite spectacular in itself – a reward for being up at sparrow’s fart in my mind. I had it easy, the drive from the Goldy for team mate Gary had him leaving in the 3am’s *shudder*.
I must admit I was feeling a little nervous, will I keep up?, will I do something stupid that would stuff up the race? – mostly centered around gear worries! Forgetting mandatory, or lights or to take shoes or getting blisters, injury etc just so much can go wrong over 12 hours and 3 disciplines. So I have decided that instead of stressing over the million and one things that can go wrong, just imagine it will go right and I like to walk myself through the race, “dress myself” with the gear, look at the temp try to imagine racing in 31 degrees, the impact of the dry, dusty terrain on what food and water and gear I will need. It pays to work on the mind from there and I just told myself this guy is good but he asked me knows I’m a novvie therefore he probably knows better than I do what he’s getting himself in for!
Bike drop was one country block down the road before checking in at Race HQ Lake Moogerah with the passionate and welcoming Jo and Erran from the Mojo crew. Next thing briefing was up and maps were handed out 1 hr pre race start.
WARNING: I don’t have many photos of this race due to the lack of Go Pro and energy from my behalf to stop and take pics whilst keeping up therefore I have photo credited up a storm and patched it together with maps for your reading enjoyment.
We were off to a beautiful kayak start on a glassy lake filled with the classic look in this area of dead white/grey trees protruding boldly from the surface, a perfect place to hang checkpoints apparently…
Most of the paddle was pretty straight forward with one particularly epic CP – up into one of the small corners of the lake with surrounding cliffs proving to be pretty spectacular. Gary and I enjoyed a good yarn, a little too much so in that our chat distracted us from navigating, and I realised he was only human after all having to backtrack a couple hundred metres to a CP we breezed passed moments before. From then we sharpened up, keeping up a solid pace in the barge like double kayaks provided at these events. Turning up to the next CP watching team Mountain Designs Wild Women portaging across a mudflat – exposed only because the dam was at just 50% capacity meaning the CP was now more on the shore than in the lake mapped out. Thankfully this observation gave us the advantage we needed to steal back into lead position on the kayak. However we had to get to this CP first! The mud threatended to swallow us whole, taking two steps and falling flat stuck up to the thighs and elbows in mud is not an easy possie to get out of! Gary called his technique the “paddle crab maneuver” to swim/slide on the mud into the puddle of water where the checkpoint was. I decided I didn’t particularly want another mud facial therefore took a look around – just 2 metres to the left was a river bank looking more like gravel than mud – I took my chances and strolled out of there no sweat, mud or tears! Hopefully others didn’t follow the first couple sets of footprints! Cruising around the rest of the kayak was rather pleasant and we took the opportunity to drink and eat up finishing in about 1 hr 50mins – 10min ahead of schedule!
Transition to the first Run/Trek leg was calculated by me – I made a call to change shoes, unnecessary time that race-mode-Gary didn’t require. I was willing to consider this call except for the fact that I was only 3 days out from taping up my blisters for work shoes from a hike the weekend before and I wasn’t keen to risk blisters on blisters in wet kayaking shoes. Sometimes a little more time here, saves a hell of a lot of issues down the track! But of course with only one shoe off – I look over and Gary is in different shoes, mostly eaten a tin of baked beans, ready to go and saying so how are you getting on? I get my A into G and a couple minutes later I am running out of transition still dressing, finding my map, compass tucked too far away, half a banana in my gob trying to run on Gary’s heels towards the first CP. So with my head still in a flurry, at first fence we come to with barbed wire, Gary kindly steps on two of the wires, lifts the other two – a handy slot for me to crouch through. Then rude and oblivious old me…. keeps running! Only to hear behind me “Really!!!???”. I turn around and here is my poor team mate stuck on the other side of the fence due to me not repaying the parting-fence favour! I think he realised in that moment truely how rookie I am with some of this stuff! Feeling truely embarrassed I quickly got schooled on Rogaining courtesy on how to “hold the fence” for your team mate, and how best to avoid a barb to the bum while maneuvering onself through the fence. I need to sharpen up my game here!
One CP down I was at least dressed. Two CP’s down I had the map out. By the third I found where we were on the map and was able to call out the clues at least! Some team mate! I then spotted the next CP (stoked!) to gain the nickname “Eagle-Eye” to which began the day’s customary Eagle bird call by the first CP spotter. After this admittedly – I did wonder why we weren’t going up the creek which was the route we had marked on the map. But I trusted the experience of my team mate and was happy enough that I was keeping up + enjoying this race so far. 10mins later I said to Gary, so which high point is it? This one ahead or that one? … … *crickets*… … “oh no”… ” I can’t believe it” he says, ” I’ve done a 180!” 10mins later … we were back at the creek. I needed to play a part of this team especially with the heat boiling our brains and the best I could do was keep convo strategic and support my personal GPS!
The rest of the run was a bit of a blur and looking back I was probably a bit ill from the early – mid 30 degree heat after a winter of 12 degree morning trainings. Feeling my heartbeat in my mouth going uphill, a little nauseous and definitely struggling to eat much more than snakes, face like a tomato and sweat struggling to trickle out I identified that I was on the cusp of having to stop. But I did manage to take in the stunning views from the high points, slot canyons and all the other incredibly placed CP’s. Sprouting bird calls with every find, it was overall a great time! Popping out to the CP with surrounding cliff marks on the map was definitely one of the highlight CP’s on this leg. By this stage I remember only blood running down my leg from a nasty vine scratch that I didn’t feel due to the heat, trekking turned rock climbing up the cliff face – challenged by Gary to follow him up the climb vs taking the slow and safe way round, and some amazing person taking the only pic of the day of us as a team!
Finally making it to our bikes at TA and some more fluids it was a welcomed change. My can of baked beans however was not welcomed while feeling so off colour, unfortunately it meant I had to carry the extra 220g with me! Setting off the breeze but soon again finding heat demons on the hills skirting round the first couple of CPs on farmland was hard yakka and it wasn’t until we got to the glorious CP 42 that life changed for the better. What awaited us was a cool, blue billabong which we took no time in deciding to dive into – it was absolute heaven in the moment and the 10 points for the CP was worth a hell of a lot more. Favourite bike CP of the day… apparently unintended by the organisers but absolutely adored by us at least!
Feeling alive again and now having hope I would actually finish we set off for the range. Riding up Spicers Gap Rd was a darn good hill! 3.5km, 370m elevation according to Google maps (no GPS allowed in adventure races to Strava it) and after 6 hrs of racing it was no easy feat but a fantastic climb! Arriving at Spicers Gap in the cool shade of the trees, at higher elevation was lovely and after a short TA we set off into the stunning Main Range National Park. I wish in some respects I had more energy at this point or we had been here earlier in the race as it was a remote beauty full of amazingly tall trees providing a fairly dense canopy, bird sounds loud and a bright green surround in colour. A stark contrast to the barren, burnt farmland of the land surrounding the dry lake. But this also meant for big hills and very dense, uncomfortable looking bush bashing terrain. We got the closest CP worth just 30 pts at the Well and progressed up to the Lizard Point Lookout CP for a 70 pointer which offered incredible views back of Lake Moogerah. At this stage we re-grouped, weighed up our options and decided on our priorities.
The call was made to return home comfortably, enjoyably – avoiding some dense bush bashing and steep terrain. And besides, by this stage a cold beer with Craig Keeling back at HQ was high on the priority list. So we made our way back down the range, stopping at the Governors Chair lookout for a “mental photo” and once again amazing views. I made a promise to myself at this point to return to this stunning place and really get amongst the Main Range National Park another day.
Finally tucking into my baked beans back at TA (well I wasn’t going to carry them for 3 hrs, up a 350m climb for nothing!) fuelling up for the downhill ahead!! Hooning down the dirt road we felt absolutely high on life, while the sun set on the hills around us and the moon rose again in the crimson sky ahead – the exact opposite scene to my drive that morning seeming so long ago now.
Just a handful of CP’s to go in the dark and I was still learning things from my awesome team mate. Such as, that mountain bikes can be ridden almost anywhere until proven otherwise, don’t leave your bike and run, take it with you! And that consequently, long farm grass makes a comfortable landing for when the enevitable happens anyway! And that etiquette with farm gates is not the same as barbed wire fences – it is perhaps strategic for the fastest person to open and close the gate and the slower not to wait or be polite but to simply ride on and be quickly caught up again.
And we made it in at a respectable 6ish pm, with 2500 points under our belts, happy, high spirited, not broken but understanding our enjoyment may not have been strategic for the best placing possible. I was stoked at this point to have achieved my goal of finishing in one piece and feeling like I somewhat kept up with my something-of-a-legend-round-here team mate’s “social pace”. Cruising over to camp we find the other legends on site Craig Keeling and his 3hr race team mate – 9 yr old daughter Meagan. Craig had those ice cold beers waiting for us – the ones we had been dreaming and talking about since 10am that morning! By 8pm and official race finish time I was pretty pleased I had managed to pitch my tent for the night, pack away my gear, have a long deserved shower and sink my first beer.
Coming away with the overall win was a nice surprise after deciding to cut it short a touch but absolutely stoked with this wicked trophy from the Mojo team! Gary got his name on the 12hr Mojo trophy to match his name on the 6hr from the year before but I was pretty proud to have my name on an adventure race trophy of any sort for the first time and especially next to Gary’s.
Thanks to Jo and Erran at Mojo for a fantastic race and absolutely brilliant course! Cheers to Gary my new team mate and adventure buddy for sharing your skills and apologies for the early race rude manners! Massive high five to Craig for the cool beers at the finish. And of course Tiger Adventure for enabling my two favourite past times as always the rich spirit adventure combined with getting to know some amazing people along the way. Nothing could make me feel more alive!
Stay tuned for my long awaited Hells Bells post now I am back on track with the blogs and the next Adventure Race … 36hr Wildside in October.
Note: I intend to update this blog once race organisers pics from the day come through.
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!
Brought to you by Pocket Rocket #2 Nicole Walker
I had such a ball bashing through the bush, hooning round MTB tracks and just general gas bagging with my new found adventure buddie Sara Barrett at GeoQuest in June that I didn’t hesitate to sign up when she asked if I wanted to join her racing at the 6hr Wildfire Raid at Mt Joyce and Wyaralong Dam last weekend.
This 6hr Rogaine had three legs – kayaking, mountain biking and running. For those readers unfamiliar with Rogaining… Definition from Google: a competitive event in which participants find their way with a map and compass. My definition: turn up to an event and having no idea where you are going, how long you’ll be doing each distance for or the terrain, only that you’ll be doing “it” for about 6hrs!
One hour before race start you are given a map with some circles on it and then 59 mins to go, have to figure out how to find them in the bush. Isn’t that like orienteering you say? Well the key difference that I understand between a rogaine and orienteering is that a rogaine you can collect checkpoints in any order, and orienteering you have to collect in the order the race directors set. Or to those that ask, why can’t you just use Google Maps? The IDEA is that part of the challenge of racing a rogaine is the tactical navigational component rather than just pure speed around a pre marked course.
Note to those who want to try rogaining… Things to pack: Fold out table, fold out chairs, highlighters in a few different bold colours (yellow is crap FYI), standard writing pen, black marker pen, ruler, scissors, clear duct tape. Oh and of course a compass! Be prepared food, drink and gear wise for what you expect (we expected kayaking on a lake, mountain biking on mostly trails and running through scrubby scratchy bush off trail for a total of 6 hrs). Once you get your map the time is ticking to figure out what you need to do and how to do it in the most savvy way to collect the most points. Each circle is a checkpoint and each checkpoint is assigned a number. The number refers to the amount of points you’ll get for “punching in” at that checkpoint. Eg: checkpoint 91 was worth a damn sight more points then checkpoint 14…. However this is generally because it’s harder and takes longer to reach. In this case checkpoint 91 was a top of Mt Joyce…400m higher than the Hash House (HH) or aka race HQ.
So what I learned is there are a few things consider when planning a route: 1. Big points are good targets provided they are not going to be too time consuming to collect and to determine this we need to take into account distance – ruler handy here, elevation – looking at contour lines and terrain (this one is still yet to be revealed until you get out there!). 2. Look at what route makes sense to get lots of checkpoints eg: if there are a few in quick succession they may add up to more than the 90 pointer and be quicker to get! 3. Paddle points don’t have elevation so may be more predictable timing. 4. Whatever plan you make, also plan to change the plan…. several times! There’s probably many more tips and perhaps I got these ones wrong but I’ll be keeping these learnings in mind for next time!
We mapped out our route with highlighters, stuck the clues for each checkpoint somewhere handy to look at and decided what food/equipment/fluid we’ll need where, had a last minute wee then lined up all within the precious 59 minutes.
We had a ball! Starting out on the trek choosing an ambitious, albeit beautiful route around the headlands of the lake, practising counting corners, walking up Spurs for stunning Wyaralong Dam views and getting thrashed by speargrass and thick Lantana. For those kiwi readers and Aussies who don’t go bush often I intended on finding a photo of this awful stuff but I couldn’t find anything that did it justice so stay tuned for my next blog during which I’m sure I’ll have another exfoliating session I can take a picture of. Try to imagine walking through a crowd of people where everyone has their fingernails out ready to scratch you as best they can and then the odd child has a stick in hand which they decide to prod you with unexpectedly wherever they like and that’s about Lantana! Why would you walk through that? Well to find a checkpoint off the track we need to follow “handrails” (thanks Rob Preston’s nav lessons!) which are features in the terrain that help you know you’re on track. Such as a fence line, ridge, spur or finding a “flat spot” in the hill. Now if you decide to avoid the scratch fest it’s very easy to lose these landmarks and therefore lose your position on the map, the checkpoint and waste time “beating round the bush”. So basically you can’t go under, over or around it you just have to go through it!
We took an anti clockwise route and decided that no matter the cost we wanted to get up Mt Joyce and would not miss out on the “scenic” route. It was a steep old track but pretty easy to follow so gave the brains a bit of a breather. The views gave us a boost (as well as the bananas consumed at the top) for a steep technical jog down to find CP 22. This one was a little sneaky out and back for us but we found with no dramas and no unnecessary elevation loss or gain. At this point in the race we’d had a feel for what the MTB would be like running on some of the trails and decided to flag most of these checkpoints. Steep fire trails, technical downhills sure looked fun…but time consuming and we were racing after all!
We go a few mountain bike check points on the way into the run course and left our bikes with the friendly TA1 volunteers / go pro photography extraordinaires. It was nice to get back there, have a mid race Sambo (what Aussie’s especially Craig Keelings call sandwiches FYI) and nail a few easy bike checkpoints on the way out. The one actual MTB trail we did get onto gave us a sweet little taster of what fun the park had to offer and Sara and I vowed to get back out there for a bike sesh another day!
I have to say cutting the mountain bike a little short was attractive to me as a paddler at this stage. Having looked out over the completely glassy dam running around in temps of the mid 20’s for a couple hours, getting in that gorgeous water was too good to wait! We got to the paddle leg with 2.5 hrs to go and decided to give it a shot to sweep the paddle course. Hilariously we were so keen to get paddling we forgot to get the easiest bike checkpoint on course a little 14 pointer basically in the carpark… whoops!
The paddle was the other highlight for sure. Absolutely flat as a pancake it’s rare to paddle on water like that in the middle of the day, especially being used to NZ winds! We took an anti clockwise route deciding it would be an easier way to drop just one or two checkpoints and still getting the high pointers if we ran short of time. Paddling without any navigational mistakes, at a modest pace for these pocket rockets, enjoying a Sunday yarn it was a rather pleasent way to spend an afternoon actually. Seeing other teams pretty regularly meant for some good banter on course too. We got nearer to the end and realised we would sweep the kayak course and get all the checkpoints meant we had to knuckle down to ensure some safety time to get back to the finish. And of course time for a selfie to wrap up the arvo!
Absolutely not forgetting checkpoint 14 on the way out after getting back our land legs we were off and away to the finish line! Finished in a time of 5 hrs 49 mins and 1060 points on our belts we managed second placed female team and 7th overall! With the calibre of athletes around us Sara and I were pretty stoked with that!
The Wildfire Raid 6hr at Mt Joyce this year was well supported with some awesome volunteers spending their Sunday help make this fun event happen and certainly the organisers did a great job making it fun yet challenging, scenic yet shitty enough to keep us toughened up and for the top teams it seems to have the goal of clearing the course kept in sight without being easily achieved. Liam St Pierre and Adam Power seem to be the main men behind the manpower – thank you gents!
After some post race yarns, a cold lemonade and fresh Subway Sambo that was a wrap. Watch out for next edition… Pocket Rockets 2.0. Looking forward to the next A1 series adventure race in our backyard Maroochydore on the Sunny Coast in two weeks time….the 24hr Hell’s Bells! Racing with fellow pocket-sized-rocket Sara Barrett, Geo team mate and Nav extraordinaire Craig Keeling and while TC Trevor Mullens is overseas we have a newbie to the team filling in Mister Joel Claxton. Whoohoo!
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.
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.
This space is for memories of great food, travel and adventure with friends and share these memories to inspire others.
Who is Wali?
Wali was born in Otago on one of those nights where you cannot explain quite how you achieve such an ingrained nickname! Nicole on the other hand… grew up in a small town Palmerston North, New Zealand with plenty of Swimming, Surf Lifesaving, Football, friends, family camping and fishing holidays to keep a kid out of trouble.
Going to university in Dunedin, Otago (NZ) was where my true adventurous spirit was born. Cultivated and nurtured well by friends around me and fuelled by wanting to get off my bum and have a break from study, I got into trail running, kayaking, road cycling and mountain biking and in 2010 started multi-sport racing.
2012 brought my first major event Coast to Coast where I scrimped, saved, fundraised, begged, borrowed (but stopped short of stealing) and trained my butt off to get a car, mountain bike, kayak and other gear, pay the race entry fee and complete the 2-day event. Coming in at 9th place as a 22 year old in the Open Women category I was stoked.
Since those days I have enjoyed many smaller events mountain biking, rogaining, multisports, trail runs, three half ironman distance events and a couple of marathons. Exciting travel got in the way of any major events but in that time I enjoyed cycle touring as a means of travel through Cyprus, France, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and now Australia.
2019 has brought with it new goals and challenges in Adventure Racing. This is where my need for a blog comes in and I hope to share with you some of my adventures.