Monday, August 17, 2015

XPD 2015 - Pretty Flash

I had been thinking for a while that I should try an expedition-length adventure race, so when I saw that XPD was heading to Townsville it seemed like a good time to do it. I thought that the weather and the scenery in North Queensland would suit me very well, and I was right about that.

Soon I had linked up with Adam, Alan and Mark and we started regular training sessions on the slopes of Mt Coottha together with team mentor Liam St Pierre (training for Expedition Alaska) and Todd Vallance (also doing XPD with team Neverest). Alan and Adam had each competed at one XPD and were full of good ideas for preparing the team and getting the right gear. We put together quite a full calendar of training expeditions on weekends, including competing in the QRA rogaines and adventuregaine. Mark and I had done very little paddling, so we tried hard to improve in that area (including a very challenging trip up the Brisbane River where we fell out 5 times and Mark dislocated his shoulder trying to get back in!).

As the event approached, we finally ticked off all the gear requirements and Alan shipped it up to Townsville for us. Arriving on Sunday before the event, I was excited and more than a bit nervous about how we were likely to go. I fully expected we could encounter a problem in the first couple of days that could cause at least one of us to pull out. I hoped I had done enough training.

Monday was logistics and gear check day, this went smoothly and I had most of my food sorted out by the end of the day. My basic formula was one energy snack per hour and one meal every eight hours. This plan turned out to work well. We all made attempts to guess where the course would take us, but apart from guessing correctly that we were going to Maggie Island at the start and then to Paluma we didn't get much else right.

Tuesday arrived, and the course was revealed. I thought the course looked fantastic - a lot of variety, and lots of challenging trek legs which I thought should suit us well. It was clear that the paddling legs would be tough for us, and we would have to focus to ensure that we got through those as efficiently as possible. I started on the map prep - vetting tracks, marking routes, measuring distances. It was clear that there were some very interesting route choice options, particularly on the final trek. One area was marked 'the maze', which was intriguing. I took a lot of time to study this area in detail, I thought our route would have to be a bit flexible depending on what we found, but I wanted at least one route that would avoid 'the maze' entirely. I found one option that followed tracks skirting 'the maze' to the west, which I vetted in Google Earth (many of the other marked tracks were apparently non-existent). The other more direct option followed ridgelines through the maze. I felt confident that we could handle that challenge when we came to it. Once the maps were marked up and laminated, we got all the boxes submitted and loaded and then enjoyed one last relaxing evening together before the race start. We listened to the ABC Local Radio interview that we had done with David Curnow a few days earlier. I had trouble getting to sleep; just a bit too wired.

On Wednesday morning, after a big breakfast at the Mercure, we took the bus to the Strand and tried to find kayaks. Unfortunately all were taken and it wasn't until about 10 minutes before the start that we finally found boats. This led to some hasty packing. We lined up at the start line, very excited, and soon we were on our way. As soon as we got on the water we quickly found that the double kayak that Mark and I were paddling was very unstable due to the high centre of gravity. Luckily we had trained for this on our Brisbane River paddle! We managed to get to the island without capsizing, though Mark did go for a swim at one point.

On the island, we proceeded to the first checkpoint, which was out on the end of the headland between Picnic Bay and Nelly Bay. Not far on the map, but very slow 'coasteering' over the giant granite boulders that dominate the Maggie Island coastline. We found the checkpoint no problems, but on the way to Nelly Bay Alan lost his PFD which required some backtracking. It was never clear whether the coastal option was fastest or whether going up and over the headland was the way to go. Both were slow!

We completed the two snorkel legs quite efficiently, it was nice to get in the water for a while. There was then some more coasteering around to Alma Bay, again very slow. Then we ditched our flippers and snorkel and took the walking tracks around to The Forts, Florence Bay, Radical Bay and through to Horseshoe Bay. So many beautiful bays on Maggie! We had to wait for stand up paddle boards at this point, so we had a meal and soft drink at the pub and watched the sun sink below the horizon. Once we got the boards we quickly headed out across the bay, arriving in darkness at the next checkpoint. We put on our headlamps and pushed up the spur into the bush. It took us until 2am to push through the scrub and over the boulders along the northern coastline all the way to West Point. Quite an exhausting first day. We got a couple of hours sleep and were ready to get on the kayaks at 6am.

We were greeted in the morning by family friends Judy and David Ede who were very excited that XPD was visiting their corner of the world (they live at West Point). They were thoroughly enjoying following our dot on the live tracking website.

At 6am Craig gave the signal and a flotilla of boats headed off towards the mainland. Pretty quickly it was clear there was something wrong with Adam's boat, since we were making slow progress. The safety boat assisted us in removing his backrest and this improved his speed markedly. In the meantime, though, we had drifted to the north west quite a way and our original bearing was not taking us on an optimal route. We linked up the boats with tow devices and for a while we made decent speed. Then Alan's boat started sitting very low in the water, and Alan was having to make a very considerable effort just to stay in the boat. Alan is a very strong paddler, and we knew that something was very wrong if he was having trouble staying upright. Once we finally reached Saunders Beach and the first CP, we emptied out the boats (all of them had taken on quite a bit of water) and plugged up some screw holes in Alan's boat which we assumed were the culprits. We were a bit behind time with all the boat issues, and we hurried to set off again for the next CP. Unfortunately, we only managed another 20 minutes or so and Alan was having trouble again. This time, while towing Adam, his boat sunk completely in the space of about a minute. We were quite a way offshore and there wasn't really any way for us to rectify the situation ourselves. So we phoned Craig, requested the safety boat, and waited for quite some time while Alan was shoulder-deep sitting on his purple submarine.

Once we had been rescued and taken back to the previous checkpoint, various discussions were had regarding our situation and Craig and Louise eventually decided to set us off from the next TA ten minutes behind Mawson Tiger Adventure. We had arrived at the Maggie Island TA ten minutes behind them, so the paddle leg hadn't cost us any time or placings. We were happy with that decision, but disappointed that we didn't get to do the full paddle.

Setting off on the trek leg our spirits were higher and we were looking forward to a navigational challenge. We covered the flat roads to the base of the range and then followed the 4WD track marked on the map to what was supposed to be the start of the Foxlees Track. I had been unable to check the tracks in this area during planning due to the dense rainforest cover, and it was soon clear that finding the bottom of the correct track was going to be a bit tricky. There were a number of unmarked intersections on the 4WD track, and eventually we reached a large creek and the track ended. I knew that we needed to find a track heading up the ridge to the west, so we backtracked and started looking for a more minor footpad heading ion the right direction. We noticed that team Goldfish had diverted at a certain point and at the same time found some pink tape, and soon we were progressing up the spur on the marked track.

The climb up to the plateau was a long slog, and about 20 minutes after reaching the top we were all ready for a sleep. We set the alarm for two hours and got some reasonable sleep. Back on the trails, soon we reached a 'sundial' (directional sign on a disc) but I realised it was probably not marked on the map because we hadn't walked far enough. We eventually reached the first of the marked 'sundials' and proceeded to navigate our way around the plateau, generally ignoring the contours and the track bends and just trusting that the track would take us to the next 'sundial'. This strategy worked well, and by dawn we had picked up most of the required CPs. I had chosen a route which minimised the climb but added a little distance. We ran into the New Caledonia Tiger team, Mawson Tiger and the Dutch team a few times. On the track around the dam we we also passed by the leading teams on their mountain bikes - Peak Adventure followed closely by Mountain Designs. They both looked strong.

We trekked across to Paluma and ducked into the cafe for toasted sandwiches and savoury mince. We offended the cafe proprietor with our hastiness, it was made clear to us that they really don't rush for anyone! Fair enough, they must enjoy their laid back lifestyle in the village. We managed a reasonably smooth transition, though not especially fast, and were soon cruising on our bikes towards Paluma Dam. We encountered the photography team at Birthday Creek Falls, and they took some great pics of us enjoying the rainforest ride.

The single track around Paluma Dam was really great fun. Luckily none of us had any mishaps on the fast downhills, and we managed to dodge the trekking teams walking along the track in the other direction. We successfully navigated down the range, and found another section of flowing single track in the vicinity of the next CP. Great fun. Then there was more fast down hill to the bottom of the range, and some easy gravel road out to the next TA at Hidden Valley. The sun was disappearing by this stage, and we prepared for a long dark trek. I had managed to destroy a compass on Magnetic Island (probably a magnetic clip issue) and now I found that I had lost our backup! Luckily Adam provided a third baseplate compass and I took my mapboard compass as another backup. The first part of the trek along the road was uneventful and soon we dropped down into the Running River gorge. Adam by this stage was really struggling to stay awake, so we made a team decision to have an early stop (9pm) and have two hours of sleep. We woke somewhat refreshed and then negotiated a reasonably tricky section of gorge, requiring some climbing around cliffs on the eastern side. Eventually we exited the gorge, and I made a decision to leave the river relatively early and climb a ridge to the south and south-east towards the next control. As we climbed the ridge it became clear that all was not as it seemed on this map. What should have been a steady smooth climb (on the map) was actually a series of knolls with steep sections in between. It was clear that the contours on the map were excessively smooth and neglected a lot of the finer features. I worked out that I could infer some of the features, though, by looking at the blue drainage lines, which seemed to be accurate. This strategy would serve me well the whole race.

By sticking to bearings very carefully and ticking off features as we found them we managed to get CP23 without incident and headed off down the spurs to the west back down to the river. Once we hit the track near the river we tried to estimate our progress by measuring our time at an assumed pace, but turned off towards CP24 slightly early. We contoured around the hill looking for the noticeable indent of the creek and soon found it. However, when we dropped into the creek and searched up and down it for the flag we couldn't find it. I was sure it was the right gully, since the only other candidate was a lot further SW and we couldn't have gone that far. We stopped for breakfast as dawn was breaking and then went back in for another look. The flag had been hung up on the banks of the creek where another watercourse had a very vague entry point, so we were rather annoyed that it hadn't been hung in the feature. Very hard to spot at night, we had all walked past it twice without seeing it.

On towards the canyon, we were glad that the sun was starting to show itself over the ridgetops by the time we had to so the swim-through sections. The fire was also much appreciated in warming us up! The canyon was spectacular, and we all felt refreshed once we moved on towards the next CP. We had no nav issues on that leg, and we were at the next TA and getting on the bikes at lunch time. We were very pleased to see that we had moved up again to sixth place, it appeared that many teams were struggling with the dodgy contours and losing time on the trek legs as a result.

We got a good paceline happening on the sealed roads through to the Burdekin River TA. Team That's Cray had transitioned quicker than us but we then passed them going the wrong way on the bike leg, they had missed the one CP and had to backtrack, costing them 45 minutes. We stocked up on food, got our kayaking gear on and hit the river just after 4pm. It didn't take long to realise that it was going to be a long, slow trip. Every 100 metres or so (on average) we would either lose the main channel or we would get tangled up in low-lying tree branches while trying to follow the deep water. Very frustrating! Luckily for me, Mark was feeling strong and was able to save me getting out of the boat on most occasions. While I did feel guilty for this special treatment, it did allow me some decent rest which I'm sure helped us on later trek legs when the navigational difficulty really ramped up.

We battled on into the night and were eventually joined (and passed) by That's Cray, Neverest, Mawson Tiger and Tri Adventure. At some point it was realised that in the process of repacking gear we had neglected to put in our fire lighter, but to our enormous relief our good friends in Neverest were able to give us their spare. We eventually called it a night after battling as far as the Star River junction, where it became clear that the going would become easier. We built a very nice fire, warmed and dried ourselves, and got 3 hours of very rewarding sleep.

We warmed ourselves by the fire again before setting off at around 4:30am, finding the going a bit easier with more water in the river. A few kilometres down, we were called over by Mawson Tiger who were also desperate for a fire lighter to warm themselves up after a sleep. We were happy to pass on the one we had, and we continued on down the river as the dawn arrived. There were some very entertaining miscommunications happening in Adam and Alan's boat for most of the night, but by day they found it a lot easier and our rate of progress improved. We enjoyed many segments of the river where the going was easier, and there were some very pretty cliffs and rapids at various places. It was still a very long way down the river, however, and it wasn't until the sun was setting again that we finally reached the final exit point and could make use of our portage trolley to haul the kayaks up onto the banks. A quick transition onto the bikes and we were racing in to mid camp at Charters Towers, arriving at a very suitable time of 9pm and getting six hours of well-deserved rest.

Ready to go again at 3am, we trundled out of camp and set off into the chilly morning, setting a decent pace on good roads out of Charters Towers. We found the first CP without issue, and then navigated on some minor tracks through to the next CP at the Burdekin. We had breakfast by the river as the sun was rising, and then treaded our way carefully across the boulder field towards the other side of the river. We waded at a few locations, and had to search pretty carefully for a way though at various spots, but eventually reached the other side without incident.

We then picked up the pace again as we raced into Ravenswood, and ordered pies at the historic pub. While waiting for the pies to heat up we completed the little rogaine around town, which was a good break from the riding and certainly showcased the interesting sights in the town. We enjoyed the meal, feeling refreshed again, and headed out of town towards Mingela. We had a few more photo opportunities on the way, looking pretty flash!

Arriving in Mingela we knew it was important that we got started on the trek as quickly as possible, to maximise the time during daylight available for navigation. We tried to transition quickly, which again was not as fast as it could or should have been, but at around 3pm we were setting off on the last (and hardest) trek. We had kept our 10th placing, and Mawson Tiger were only a couple of hours ahead of us. We had heard that none of the leading teams had yet got through the leg, so we were very concious of the need for precision navigation.

I had planned a route to the first CP that was fairly direct and used the watercourses as the key features. I knew this would work because I had confidence that the blue lines on the map were accurate.

This planned route worked out very well, we followed bearings from feature to feature and the drainage channels were reasonably fast to negotiate.

At CP36 I decided we would try to follow the spur to the north east up to the marked track. This was a bit of a test to see whether the ridges in the area would be easy to follow. It was immediately clear that they were definitely not - the 'ridgeline' was actually just a jumble of unmapped knolls. As soon as I saw that situation, I knew that following the ridgelines through to the next CP was out of the question.

They only realistic alternatives were 1) get into a watercourse and follow it as it meandered north towards the control, or 2) follow tracks that I was sure existed. I had mapped out two alternate routes on the planning day:

The eastern route was certainly shorter, but it went through 'the maze' and I was sure that it was doomed to fail. So we tried to use the last of the fading light to get ourselves over to the western track network, which we managed to do just as darkness fell. We then spent a few hours of very careful navigation walking for fixed times at a steady pace along each of the marked features, which were either tracks or fencelines on the ground. They were all found without major problems, although the top of one of the tracks was incredibly vague. Once down the bottom of the hill and approaching the control, I identified a bend in the track and took a bearing to the knoll with the CP. We found it without any problems, and as we were descending we encountered our friends from Neverest who had been out on the trek since 6am and had yet to find the CP. They were relieved to hear that they had found it (they were on the verge of giving up), and we had a good chat about the navigational challenges we were all facing. We went back to the track, had a quick snack, and then headed north on flat trails towards the Reid River canyon.

Mark was at this point seriously unwell due to some gastric issue. He was able to continue stumbling behind us, but was far from being his usual pillar of strength. We coaxed him into continuing as long as the going was easy, and we managed to make it as far as the first crossing of the Reid River. There we bedded down for 2 hours of sleep, which we all benefited from greatly. Making an effort to rise again, after our final rough sleep out on the course, Mark felt a little better (though still sick) and we progressed towards the gorge. Once we reached the gorge and started yet another boulder hop, we were soon looking for the CP which was supposed to be on a prominent boulder at a creek junction. I was able to use the silhouette of the surrounding ridges to locate the creek junction, but the flag itself was rather hidden in a bush on the top of a boulder that I wouldn't really describe as prominent (at least not at night!). We continued the rockhop, making slow progress, and eventually the gorge opened out a little. As dawn arrived we eventually reached the end of the gorge where the river turned to the west, and found the start of the 4WD track that would take us up to the next CP.

Once there, we were surprised to see a box of coke and pringles, which we all thought was highly inappropriate (the last thing dehydrated teams needed was a diuretic!). However, we appreciated the food and drink, and continued up the spur on our planned route. I had originally considered another option for this last leg via the gorge to the north, but realised that it would be just as slow as the canyon we had just done and therefore decided it would not be a good option. We were able to follow the ridgeline fairly easily in the daytime (might have been tricky at night), and before long we were on the track at the top of the Harveys Range. We continued to navigate carefully along this track, looking for the correct spur to take us to the next CP, and we managed to find it without any problems. There was a huge relief when we punched the last CP and we could see our way down to the TA, we knew that we would be back home very soon. On arrival at the CP we were very excited to find that we were now in sixth place! We had passed Neverest, Mawson Tiger and Tri Adventure on the trek, and the race leaders Peak Adventure had pulled out! Quite a sensational end to the race.

The ride back in to Townsville was uneventful, Mark had overcome the worst of his illness and my main focus was on trying to make sure everyone stayed on their bikes and didn't get cleaned up by a semi-trailer on the busy road into town. We were all very tired and tempers frayed a few times as we straggled into town. But by 3:45pm we cruised into the finishing area and there were smiles all around. We were so proud of our effort - not fast, but careful and almost error-free - and now we could relax and enjoy the achievement. I was extremely happy with how the route planning and navigation had come together. Everyone in the team had worked really well together from start to finish, and we made particularly good decisions on when to stop and for how long to stop. Alan had proven to be an extremely reliable workhorse, indispensable in the planning stages and rock solid throughout the event. Adam had also proven his endurance and his toughness, overcoming some chronic foot and hand injuries and pushing through some soreness towards the end of the last trek. And Mark had continued to show his strength even when struck by illness on the final leg, and had certainly shielded me by carrying more of the team gear and hauling me over so many of the sandbars on the Burdekin. What a team! It was a pretty flash effort. We had punched well above our weight with our sixth place finish, and really felt we had exceeded all our expectations.

Thanks to all of you who cheered on our dot!! We really appreciate the support of all our friends and family and especially our partners who allowed us to take on this very demanding event. Thanks to Craig, Louise, Adrian, Linda and all of the wonderful volunteers who made the event possible. It was really impressive to see it all come together and all of the logistics happen so seamlessly. I was particularly impressed by the course setting, which gave teams some really tough challenges for route choice and navigation (especially on the treks).

I'd love to do another one. I think most of the rest of the team might feel the same. I hope it happens sooner rather than later!

Paul, for the Pretty Flash team.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Thane's Bane Rogaine - Organiser's Report

My track record of avoiding disaster while organising a rogaine is not great. In 2006 I rolled my 4WD on the way home after the event. In 2010 I got flooded in on the course overnight and also broke my car (had to walk out). Although I still thoroughly enjoyed these events, I was a little nervous about what could happen this time around!

I am happy to report that this event was disaster-free. In fact, it was a real pleasure to organise from start to finish, thanks in no small part to an excellent team of volunteers and friendly and helpful competitors.

My first encounter with the course was back in early March, when I drove out to Thane to meet with the key landholder, Andrew Costello. We had held a 12 hour on the northern part of his property back in 2008 and we would need to use more of his land this time around to get a big enough course. He was very friendly and helpful (although very unhappy about the severe drought conditions they were experiencing) and after a morning driving around the area I was sure that it would be a great course. I discovered the Glendon camping ground across the highway and the owners there were also very helpful. I was feeling very good about the prospects for the event.

Unfortunately in the following weeks I was unable to get permission to use some key parcels of land that really would have opened out the course. Landholders were generally nervous about the condition of their stock and I was unable to allay their concerns. But after looking in more detail at the requirements for the course I became convinced that I still had enough land, and I had the good fortune to get access to Blink Bonnie station across the northern edge of the map (avoiding a long road walk) and also access to areas east of Glendon which opened out the southern part of the map.

Alex Morgan and I discussed the name options and we went for the medieval theme, which has surfaced fairly regularly at QRA events. I opened up entries and put together a flyer. I was determined not to offer a short event, since in previous years we had seen participation in the 24hr event plummet. I wasn't so concerned if overall event numbers went down, but I was very keen to see more people camping overnight and enjoying the whole weekend out on the course (either out collecting controls or enjoying the campfire). I feel that QRA has not been very successful in promoting the 24hr event as the classic rogaine duration, and I wanted to encourage all rogainers to consider doing the longer event, while making it clear that there is no need to be out on the course for the whole 24 hours. I came up with the 'roving competition' as a way to reward those who wanted to go out for only part of the time, and hoped that it would appeal to members. I was very excited early on to see elite teams from NSW and ACT sign up for the event. Now the pressure was on to set a good (and long) course!

Alex had volunteered to help with setting the course but unfortunately we didn't find much time to look at the map before heading out on our first setting trip in early June. We had each studied the map and identified possible control locations, and when we did finally meet up we compared our choices. Alex had used a wider spacing than me, but overall it was surprising how many of our choices were the same or very close to each other. We refined our choices, picking some of his and some of mine and some new ones, until we had a rough idea of how many controls we wanted and their distribution. Next we allocated points, being very careful to retain balance between the outlying segments to the NW and the South. We wanted to make it very hard for teams to choose which way to go and which areas to leave out. We also threw in a few fairly low value controls on the periphery that would be tempting for elite teams who could have the intention of sweeping the course.

When Alex and I finally got out on the course, we started with the trek up Mt Gammie (with the 100 pointer on top) from the south, following the broken-down fence. We really enjoyed this walk, and we were happy with being able to use this road reserve as a key linkage between different parts of the map. We thought very carefully about control placement in this area and trying to encourage competitors to stay within the course boundaries.

We hung 74 in a very shallow gully but were happy that the feature was defined enough and correctly located relative to nearby attack points (for example, this rather lovely dam to the NE):

The next morning we went out together to hang 23 and 52. I was happy with the watercourse junction at 23 but there were some major errors in the blue lines to the north of the circle. We spent some time here verifying the actual state of affairs and marking waypoints for map corrections. We then walked on a bearing to 52 and the map in this area was particularly bad, missing several very defined watercourses completely. We spent quite a bit of time mapping watercourses here, and moved the control to a more defined feature. By this time I was a bit worried how long this setting and vetting process was going to take!

Luckily we made much better progress that afternoon. I was able to put out seven controls in the North East, and Alex put out seven in the middle of the map. We went back to Brisbane feeling like we had made a serious dent in the task.

A few weeks passed and the event was fast approaching. Entries had started to build, but I was still hoping for many more. Darren Saunders and Vetti Fawcett joined Alex and I for the final weekend of setting/vetting, and I had a lot of confidence in this team given my past experience of working with them. We split up into three teams and completed the remaining controls in one day. Very efficient! We made sure to use the event map and compass to navigate to controls and checked all relevant features within and around the circle. An event map was also accurately georeferenced and loaded into each of the QRA GPS units, which gave us increased confidence in the control placement. We were fortunate that the contours proved to be generally reliable, although the blue lines were certainly not in some places!

The event weekend came along quickly and Alex and I packed up the truck on Friday morning to head out the Hash House site. Along the way we bought a 1000L water tank which fit rather snugly with all the rest of the gear, and eventually arrived in Warwick. After looking rather aimlessly around town for a water filling station we eventually asked the local council. For the princely sum of $6.15 (and various sign-ins and drives across town) we managed to fill our large tank. After a bit of stuffing around at the hardware store we also bought a length of hose to use as a siphon for emptying the tank.

Around 3pm we finally made it to camp, where Jennie and Tony Bond were patiently waiting. They are very experienced remote area campers and have all the gear. I was very glad to have capable people take on the 'water and safety' role. We unloaded the truck and I managed to decipher Peter's tent instructions while cleverly leaving Alex to dig holes in the completely impenetrable ground for the toilets. Somehow he and Tony managed to get two holes dug, and the tents went up without a hitch.

A couple of teams rolled in around sunset, and we all enjoyed food and wines around the campfire. The weather had been stunning all day and I was really enjoying the clear winter weather. I spent some time cutting out the stencils that I was planning to use to decorate the QRA birthday cake the following morning. Made for some interesting photos!

I was the last to go to sleep and decided I would take my sleeping bag out beside the campfire for a while. Blissful! But by around 12:30am it was time to retreat to the tent.

The following morning was fairly relaxed, as teams trickled through the gates and I got the maps ready for handout. My cake decoration idea, unfortunately, did not go to plan. I took nine of the fruit cakes that we usually use at water drops, and tried to sprinkle icing sugar on them through the stencils I had cut. Let's just say that a combination of wind and poor dexterity led to a very poor outcome! I had slightly more success by just coating the cakes with sugar and then scrawling 'Happy Birthday' across the top.

I didn't get to chat with many teams during planning but I did see some ambitious plans being formed. Several teams submitted plans that would clear the course. I was hopeful that it was just a little too long for that, being well over 100kms in total, but time would tell.

Briefings went smoothly and Richard Robinson appeared to enjoy his Life Membership presentation. I had been thinking about an appropriate way to celebrate QRA's birthday and thought it would be a good idea to acknowledge the efforts of one of those who helped to get it going and sustain it. There are many others, too, who have contributed over the years and we should all be grateful for their work in setting up this great club.

Midday came and went and the teams started fanning out across the course. Alex and Vetti headed off to set up the soup kitchen, and I had a very quiet afternoon pottering around the Hash House. Jennie and Tony headed off on the first of what would be five circuits of the course throughout the event, checking on water and looking out for teams. It took them 2.5hrs per circuit at night, partly due to the need to avoid wildlife jumping out at them from the shadows. We made sure to get a roaring fire going...

Megan and Chris Scott did an amazing job of the catering, as they always do. They have helped us with several events now and they are very good at knowing exactly what is required. And they stayed up all night without complaint!

It was nice to see a large number of teams come back through the Hash House throughout the night, and I enjoyed hearing their stories of success (and occasional failure!). At the top of the competition, it was clear that Julie Quinn and David Baldwin (from the ACT) were making great progress, with Gill Fowler and Joel Mackay (from NSW) nipping at their heels. No sign of Liam and Leo at the Hash, so Queensland's chances were unclear at this stage. Paul and Jamie were one of the teams who succumbed to the cold, and I couldn't really criticise them since I was certainly nice and warm, toasting my toes at the fire. When I eventually shut down the generator at around 2am and Chris and I were the only ones awake, it was eerily quiet and the moon was spectacular. This is what rogaining is all about! Clear moonlit nights and dreams of campfires...

I handed over admin duties to Jock at around 3am and got a few hours sleep. The morning went quickly, and I found the time to fly my AR Drone around the HH for a while:

As teams came back in battered, bruised but generally smiling, there were some great stories of achievement out there on the course. Jacqueline Saunders and her eight year old daughter Eryn (locals from Allora) covered over 16 kilometres and scored 250 points, which is a great effort.

Family teams Daniel and Mark Murray and Ant and Lachlan McConville also put in a fine effort, going out on three separate loops (one at night) and successfully navigating their route. Junior team Alison and Simeon Burrill, also locals, put in a great effort to score 1360 points (before losing 260 of them by getting back late!).

And Neets Pluschke and Dan Browning put in a very fast 'roving' performance by achieving the second highest overall scoring rate.

The top teams all came in with less than an hour to go, and it was certainly a keen contest. Brett Wilson and Terry McClelland had come down from Mareeba to defend their Qld Championship Veterans trophy, and despite some challenges they put in a solid effort to get sixth place and win the Mens Veterans category. Richard Robinson and Tamsin Barnes appeared to have struggled during parts of the night but still managed 5th place overall. On the same score, but coming in a little earlier, were 1st time 24hr rogainers Paul Melloy and Simon Kay - hopefully they will be back for another crack at the Champs in future! In third place was Liam and Leo, flying the flag for Queensland, and taking out the Mens Open award. And at the very top, David and Julie managed to overhaul Gill and Joel, taking out the Championship with 2680 out of a possible 2840 points. They had dropped just four controls out of the sixty on the course. A great effort!

I was very glad to receive a lot of assistance in packing up gear and collecting controls. Thanks to everyone who was able to lend a hand. Special mention goes to the local teams, including the Murrays and McConvilles and the Burrills. Also a big thanks to Hannes and Magda Bronkhorst, who went out for controls not once but twice, despite it being their first ever rogaine and having had a rather tough time of it. What a great bunch of people! By 9pm we had the gear back in the shed in Brisbane and over three-quarters of the controls collected.

I really enjoyed organising the Champs this year. Thanks go to Alex, Vetti, Darren, Jennie, Tony and Jock for being a great bunch of volunteers and carrying out your duties with extreme competence and efficiency.  A big thanks to the eight landholders who let us use their land - Sue Schloss, Richard Gibson, John Howard, Nick Ballantyne, Brian Sullivan, Mac Costello, and particularly Andrew Costello and the folks at Glendon Camping for special assistance. And thanks to all competitors, for showing interest in the 24hr rogaine format and generally having a go! I'll definitely be back for more. And I'd encourage all of you to try it - if you aren't helping to organise events, you're missing out on two thirds of the fun!

Paul Guard
Thane's Bane Rogaine Organiser

Alex's creative repurposing of the frost!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Just Bluffing Blunderings

I wasn't going to do this 24 hour rogaine. First, I was going to volunteer to run a soup kitchen in a nice cosy corner of the map with a nice big fire to keep me warm all night. Then, I had a team all lined up in the 8 hour with Mark Wilson and Bevan Koopman, which also would have allowed me a good meal, an evening by the fire and a decent night's sleep. After all, I was supposed to be playing the oboe in an orchestra concert at 3pm on the Sunday, so I could hardly go out and do a 24 hour rogaine that finished at 12pm Sunday, could I? Could I?

I'll blame Gregor. He was so determined to do the 24 hour that he was planning to go out by himself if he couldn't find a partner. Then there was Rob, who made subtle hints that he'd like to see me in a 24 hour team defending our title. And there were so few 24 hour teams entered, it seemed like such a shame not to have a go. On what I knew would be a fantastic course for rogaining.

So somehow I ended up signing up with Gregor, for what I suspected would be 24 hours of pain, enjoyment, frustration, adrenaline, fatigue, satisfaction and fulfilment thrown together in a strange mixture. There are always moments in a rogaine when you wonder why it is you do the sport, and this particular rogaine did not fail to deliver.

The first challenge was the weather. On arrival at the Hash it was clear that the gods had decided not to be kind to us on event weekend, with plenty of moisture in the air and rain in the forecast. On the plus side, Gregor assured me, and I quote, "it won't be cold". He also said words along the lines of "if you're cold, you're not moving fast enough".

Gregor does have somewhat of a reputation within QRA. He has always been a fierce competitor, and his name has been engraved on the 24h Championship trophy many times over to prove it. The description "being dragged around by Gregor" has found it's way into the Queensland rogaining lexicon, which may explain why he is constantly on the search for fresh partners!

Bearing this reputation in mind, I came to the course planning table with some trepidation, and when I suggested we might decide to leave out some of the lowly 20 pointers I quickly learned that wasn't part of the plan. Gregor wasn't going to get back early, missing out on clearing the course due to some pessimism early on! We did have a big advantage in planning our route - Gregor knows the Eskdale area extremely well, having competed in the 1998 Aus Champs on the same course, set a 6/12 course on part of the map in 2002 and winning a 4 hour event in the Ivory Creek area. He had what sounded like a good plan - clear up the hilly country south of the Hash on Saturday arvo, head for the flatter kinder terrain on Eskdale West in the night, and tackle the really steep stuff on Eskdale on Sunday morning by which time we wouldn't be moving very fast anyway. We settled on planning for a 4km/h pace in the daytime and 3km/h at night. A bit optimistic, but it allowed for a plan that cleared the course with half an hour to spare.

Best laid plans...

The event started, and we set off at a steady jog along the road towards 65. The rain was holding off, and we made good progress through the first few controls, although only just managing to keep up the 4km/h pace. I had been nervous about grass seeds, and had considered wearing boots, but my boots were very new and I feared blisters. So I bought new gaiters, and "grass seed resistant" socks, and wore my usual trail running shoes. For the first hour or so I thought I had a winning combination. The few grass seeds that had found their way into my shoe weren't troubling me. However, sooner or later we moved through patches of lower-hanging seed and pretty soon the front part of my shoes resembled pin cushions. And once embedded, the grass seeds seem to have a way of working their way relentlessly deeper into your skin. I resigned myself to the discomfort, and for most of the remainder of the event, that's all it was.

Between 74 and 89 was the first major creek crossing, and Gregor crossed without getting his feet wet by laying a log across the stream. I wasn't quite so nimble, and managed to soak my shoes. But with the rain starting to set in, not much was lost. Unfortunately, with the increasing rain, Gregor struggled with keeping his glasses dry in order to be able to read the map. This meant that he was actively navigating for less of the time than he otherwise would have been, which would increase our chance of making errors. We had no trouble during the daytime though, and progressed well through to control 100, where there is a particularly scenic section of creek.

This is the same spot that Rob photographed when setting, and hi photo was used as the cover photo for the QRA Facebook page. We also printed a version of it as a thank you gift for Rob.

Near 100 we encountered Bevan and Mark on their 8 hour run, which appeared to be more of a leisurely stroll. Mark's first question was what type of shoe was I wearing - grass seeds were on his mind. Bevan noted that Mark had been talking of little else since the start of the event. His agony was compounded by the fact that he had brought his boots, and almost put them on, but decided for shoes at the last minute. Bad decision! 

Gregor and I continued to make good progress but had fallen a little way behind our plan so we decided to drop our first control - 22 - and go from 96 along the road to W2. This worked well and got us closer to our schedule. The terrain became noticeably easier and more forgiving as soon as we headed west of the Bluff Road. This was the part of the rogaine that I enjoyed most - relatively pain-free, I was moving well and the views from the more open ridges were great. Perfect country for rogaining.

Darkness fell and lights went on just before 76. The temperature began to drop noticeably, although I wasn't yet cold. 72 to 35 brought our first nav error - both following a bearing, somehow we managed to end up at the wrong dam about 300 metres south of the control. We tried a lot harder on the next leg - which we knew would be tricky - across to 103. We thought we found the correct ridge, but no control, so we followed the ridge to the top and checked the top of the adjacent ridge, where we found it. It appeared that it was not hung in the right place, but since we were lucky enough to stumble upon it, we weren't complaining!

We stopped for a decent feed at W1, and put on jackets. I was happy with my water and food intake, and the water points were well provisioned which was much appreciated. We did start to get cold as soon as we stopped, and I was keen to keep moving, so poor Gregor had to attempt to finish his nice hot spag bol while on the move. 88 - 102 - 87 - 51 were very straightforward and I was still enjoying the walking, with not much to complain about. I wasn't too cold (not while going up hill at least), and the grass seed incursions had become a bit numb, or at least I'd gotten used to them. On the way to 87, however, we had a major incident. I fell flat on my face, which wasn't particularly unusual when rogaining at night, but after two minutes more walking I noticed my Navlight tag had come off. We went back and searched for about 10 minutes, but didn't find it. I was worried that we may not be credited with our hard-won points, but we decided we would throw ourselves at the mercy of the event officials and continued on our way.

We had no trouble with the next few controls, although 140 did require some thought about the best route choice and we decided to sidle around the west side of the ridge instead of going up and over. The leg from 80 to W4 was the one that really got us unstuck. I was navigating, since the rain was still making it hard for Gregor to read the map, and I headed off on a bearing. We hit the main creek, but I thought we had hit it a bit too far west, since it was still heading east-west and hadn't yet turned north-south. We followed it to the east, but unfortunately failed to notice when it turned south and instead followed the smaller tributary too far east. Eventually the twists and turns of the creek made no sense, and after about half an hour of stuffing around I realised my mistake and tried to get us back on track. There were a few more moments of uncertainty before we finally got to the water point and met with Richard and Tamsin, who we suspected were perhaps the only other team so brazen (and lacking in intelligence) to be still out on the course in the cold, wet and miserable conditions.

Before we could tell them of our navigational embarrassment, they poured out their own tale of woe having been lost for over an hour. It soon became clear they had made basically the same mistake as us, but had veered even further off course. Suddenly I wasn't feeling quite so upset with myself. It was clear that Richard and Tamsin were not particularly happy campers, and said that they had even considered packing it in. But we all know that was never going to happen!

We parted ways and Gregor and I trudged down through 27, 106, 38 and 85, getting more tired and progressively colder. Somewhere in this section I decided that the chafing caused by cotton underpants had to be addressed. I wished I had scissors to just cut them off me (and actually I probably did have in my first aid kit, had I checked), but unfortunately I had to resort to the alternative which was a full strip. Gaiters, shoes, skins, trousers all came off in order to remove the offending item, which of course did not make me any warmer. Then all of it went back on, and I experienced the agony of putting on shoes where every enmeshed grass seed was reinserted into my skin in a new and different place. Ouch!

A particularly frustrating time was had at 86, where the sneaky setters had chosen to place the control directly beside a deceptively deep pool. Wading into this and attempting to jump out onto a rock was not at all easy or fun, and did not improve our thermoregulation! As soon as I had crossed, I realised that the next leg took us back over the creek, and since I didn't even have a Navlight tag I really didn't need to have crossed anyway. I then had the brilliant idea of trying a different crossing  point to get back, so went a few metres upstream and waded through a pool that turned out to be not much shallower. On emerging from the other side, I looked at my compass, looked at where the creek was, and realised I had crossed a side offshoot and not the main creek at all!! So I then had to make a third unnecessary crossing to join Gregor and get back on track. The joys of rogaining!

We were now a long way behind schedule, so cut out a few controls and went through 41, 60 and 30 to W3. Gregor had been rather subdued for the last few hours, and shivering and yawning quite a bit. As we were making our way to the water point the sky started to lighten, and Gregor suddenly got a spring in his step. I also got a big lift from the return of the daylight (as you tend to do in any 24 hour event) and we put away our torches and had a good feed at the water point. 

It was at this point though that my grass seed injuries really started to take a toll. I slowed down more and more, and each step became more and more painful. Progress was slower and slower up to 95, where I announced to Gregor that I really couldn't handle any more pain and would have to retreat to the Hash. I hadn't wanted to let Gregor down, and I could tell he was very disappointed. But I really was in pain, and we had achieved a very good performance even if we were coming in 2.5 hours early. The extra time also allowed us to relax a bit and increase my chances of getting back to Brisbane on time.

So, was it worth it? Definitely. My feet may not forgive me, but I found this rogaine to be particularly satisfying on many levels. Firstly, it was a really enjoyable course with a good variety of terrain and scenery. The course setting was excellent - lots of nav challenges and lots of difficult decisions on route choices. I was happy with our teamwork, and Gregor was always positive and good company. I was happy with my hydration and nutrition, and mostly happy with my clothing choices (with a couple of obvious exceptions). If I had put on boots, it could have been close to the perfect rogaine.

I'll sign off with a final message to any of you out there who might choose to ignore warnings about grass seeds: 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

One Trio’s Tango in Nanango

Clare (a good friend of my partner Jessie from growing up in NZ) asked Jessie and I if we would like to compete in the Qld Champs with her and her partner Greig this year. I agreed to join Greig in a team, vaguely aware he was very keen on adventure sports and rogaining, but not realising that he had won the last two NZ Champs and had come 4th in the World Champs last year! I was in for some punishment.

I promised myself I would train hard for the event and be ready to do my best to keep up with Greig. The first weekend of training did not go well - I was mountain biking at Mt Joyce, and managed to launch myself head first into a gully, injuring my face, knee and chest. Not what I needed! It was another week before I could run at all, and then there were only a couple more weeks until the event.

I tried to find an alternative victim to take my place on Greig’s team, but failing in that effort, I decided to at least invite Tony to share the pain. The key consideration here was that there would be two of us to out-vote any proposed increases in speed or effort. I did not anticipate at that time the effectiveness of Greig’s “divide and conquer” tactics.

Greig and Clare arrived on the Wednesday morning before the event, and enjoyed a few days of sunshine and relative warmth after recent snowstorms in Christchurch. My sister gave birth to her first child on the Tuesday night, and I resolved to remind myself how much more pain she must have gone through than anything a little rogaine could throw at us.

Arriving at the Hash on Saturday morning, we found relative calm at the Admin tent, despite some whispers about wayward controls and Liam still out on the course with some last-minute adjustments. All would be well! Greig looked on disdainfully as both of his teammates put up tents. We tried to assure him it was for emergency use only (not so sure of that in reality!). We collected our maps and spent quite a while admiring them individually in silence, counting contours and worrying about the implications. I was concerned about the forestry areas, guessing that some tracks would be difficult to follow at night. Eventually Greig proposed a grand circuit in the anticlockwise direction, collecting almost everything along the way (I had feared such a plan!). I suggested a modified version which was more of an inverted “W”, mainly so that we could visit the soup kitchen at a useful time in the early morning. It still involved picking up almost the whole set of controls. The total distance looked manageable, but would be tough with those hills. I attempted to write in our estimated location at each hour but fell about 1 hour short of completing the course - not a good start!

The start soon approached and we wished Clare and Jessie well, quite sure they would have an easier time of it than us and return to the Hash for good food and the warm fire. Event start!

Greig set a brisk pace for the first control, and Tony and I wondered how long exactly we would try to keep up with him. The first few controls, at least! We encountered Richard and Tamsin near the first control (52) and soon found both teams had overshot the mark. Liam and Glenn cruised past us near the second control (49), leaving us rather jealous of their decision to enter the 8 hour. Liam assured us it was so that he could do the MTBO event the next day, but I wasn’t convinced. We descended the gully towards 100 and soon found the scrambling routes the organisers had set out for us. Spectacular waterfalls, and spectacular erosion from what must have been amazing floods. We passed Paul Elby and team heading at speed in the opposite direction, on their way towards their 8 hour win. The creek was surprisingly slow-going, and not particularly straight, as we made our way down to 54. It was a shock to the system climbing out of the creek, we were definitely warmed up by this stage. 32 and 62 were located easily. Back down the ridge, steep descent into the creek, and a longer than expected climb to 74.

We decided to go around the ridges to 43, and spotted the “alternate” 43 on our way down. Tony and I kept our feet dry crossing the main creek (Greig was not so fussy) and we sidled around to 85, where we met Richard and Tamsin for the second time. 23 and 71 were both easy (Greig trying to get us to run a bit, not very successfully), but on the way to 46 Tony and I sacrificed our dry feet. By this stage my feet were starting to show some signs of wear.

The next leg through to 72 was a good demonstration Greig's penchant for going in a straight line between controls without much regard for intervening contours. We fuelled up on fruit cake and mandarins at the water stop and were joined by a number of other teams. Light was fading fast. Headlamps went on at the next control (101), and my knees were starting to scream at me on the downhills. I had been worried about knee problems, and I wasn't looking forward to a long night of knee pain. Luckily, they didn't get much worse, perhaps overwhelmed by my increasingly sore feet! Tony became increasingly silent over the next few hours, and it became clear he was doing it tough. Nausea was the culprit, brought on by exertion earlier in the heat of the day. Controls 48 through 110 were quite enjoyable (for me at least!) due to easy terrain and successful navigation. The weather gods had smiled on us and we didn't even need to pull out extra clothing. The traverse across to 80 was our first major navigational test, as we became disoriented in one of the lantana-infested gullies. Tony had the misfortune to lose his map at this point, adding potential boredom to his list of troubles. At least there would be fewer arguments over route choice! We kept a good pace through 66 and 68, enjoying the 4WD track sections. As we were about to launch ourselves into the scrub at 92 we met Jon and Sean, who warned us that they had spent the last 45 minutes looking for it without success. Armed with this knowledge, we took particular care to find the bend in the track north of the control and managed to locate the flag fairly quickly (and fortunately) in the midst of some fairly low-vis vegetation. 45, 28 and 84 presented no problems, although Tony was really hurting by this stage. You could tell be the deafening silence! 37 caused some consternation, since we were absolutely sure we had found the right gully and could find no marker. Luckily I spotted the tape after some time and we were able to continue. 61 was a bit tricky but after getting on the right ridge from the high point to the north we found it easily. 64 took us back down to the creek and eventually a crossing point.

After 93 I managed to convince Greig to sidle around the ridge via the track rather than the direct up-and-over which kiwis seem to favour. We were very much looking forward to hot soup by this time (~1:30am), so were a little disappointed when we arrived at 70 and had to make do with squished sandwiches from our bags. Tony wasn't eating anything at all (and hadn't for some time) but was glad to get some rest for about 30 minutes, and started improving from this point. My feet were getting more and more distressed, but hadn't started slowing me down yet. We took some time finding a creek crossing to 55, and then launched ourselves up the ridge towards 81. Tony got a bit of a tow behind Greg towards the top, but hadn't really needed much help despite the illness. Once we broke through the vegetation onto the forestry roads we made great progress through 58 and 59, even managing to run on some downhill sections. Tony was back in good form by this point. 69 was also quickly found, and we heard the first pre-dawn chorus break out as we trundled back up the hill to 88. We had a quick stop for fuel and put our lights away, then did quite a bit of jogging through 57 and 65 before hitting leaving the tracks and hitting some scunge near 94. We encountered Jon and Sean again at this point, who must have been annoyed to hear that we had found 92 without difficulty. The bash down and up to 103 was not pleasant at all, and although we were fortunate to be there in the daylight we had certainly slowed down considerably. As we made our way down to 50 and back up to 86 I was starting to slow down the others with my growing blisters and I was not enjoying the hills one bit.

There was some discussion of changing route at this point to go via the canoe crossing and pick up 40 and 90, but I was concerned at the potential loss of time at the canoe so we stuck with our original plan minus 40 and 90 which would have to be scrapped due to lack of time. At one stage Greig proposed a direct crossing from 51 to 91 ("It'll be quick!"), which was met with howls of protest from me. I wasn't going to do any more major climbs than I absolutely had to! The plunge down to the main creek and up the other side to 42 and 51 was particularly tough, especially since the day had warmed up and the heat was sapping strength. The remaining four controls were achieved without incident, although I had definitely moved into hobbling mode by the end and I was very glad that no more running was needed to get us back in time.

We were very chuffed to hear the results and proud of our nice round total of 3000 points. We soon learned that Jessie and Clare had not had a particularly easy time after all, staying out on the course for over 22 hours! An impressive effort given that Jessie's first rogaine was the Toohey Forest Tear 3 hour event earlier in the year. Although I found it somewhat difficult to walk by this time I did manage to soak my wounded feet in the dam near the Hash and tuck into some of the great food on offer. Many thanks to all of the organisers, admin assistants, course setters and vetters and Hash House providers for a fantastic event, which we all enjoyed despite some periods of pain and discomfort! Thanks also to the very accommodating landholders, and special thanks to Liam Town who put an enormous amount of time and effort into the event.

I'm just hoping that Greig doesn't make too much of a habit out of visiting SEQ for rogaines - I'm not sure my body can handle it! My feet did make for good show-and-tell at my office on Monday though.