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.