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: