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!