Friday, September 15, 2017

Dodge the Divide Rogaine - 2017 Queensland Rogaining Champs

It's not often that everything goes according to plan in a rogaining event, but for Bevan and I this was one of those rare occasions. We had a good plan, we executed it well, and no external forces conspired to thwart us. A very satisfying outcome!

We travelled to Ironpot with Tony and Mark, in very nice weather, all very much looking forward to a weekend in the bush (without kids! ... um ... sorry, wives ... ). The hash house was located at the new shed on Carolyn and Ken Stone's place, Passchendaale. A very nice set up. Bevan was a little disappointed that I wanted to put a tent up (just as an insurance policy, I assured him). 

We said hellos to a few other teams and picked up our maps with the others at 9:30am. I already knew the lay of the land quite well because I set the course for the last Qld Champs in the area back in 2010. The weather in the preceding weeks had been much drier this time around (a bit more normal this year) so the grass wasn't quite as green as I had remembered. My preferred strategy was to head for the State Forest area on the western side of the map as directly as we could, to try to clean up as much of that area as possible in daylight, since I knew the navigation would be tricky at night. I thought that 4km per hour would be quite achieveable during the day, and 3.5km per hour at night. We did a few quick estimates of total distance to clear all controls on the map, and quickly realised that we should be aiming to get them all. I thought the course was very well set, with a good balance of score distribution, and well chosen control locations. We found it quite challenging to link up the controls efficiently in some places, but at least if you are going to try to clear the course there are no hard choices about what to leave out. Eventually we settled on a route and the total distance came to roughly 88km (straight lines). This allowed us to budget 4km per hour for the first 6 hours, and 3.5km per hour for the latter 18 hours. We highlighted our route, marked on the route where we expected to be at each hour of the event, and contacted our maps.

I then took some time out to try out a new VR headset I had recently purchased for my Mavic Pro drone. Bevan did have a good laugh at this, given how prone I am to buying new gadgets, but I could tell he was also keen to see it in action. Unfortunately I couldn't get the head-tracking feature working (you can control where the drone is pointing with head movements) and Bevan managed to play an effective prank on me by controlling the drone with the remote controller to match my head movements. Very funny, Bevan. Anyway, I have since got it working well and it is a lot of fun.

Fifteen minutes before the start and we were called to the final briefing. I was still flying the drone and hadn't even changed into my event clothes, so I hurriedly got changed, scoffed down some food and joined Bevan at the start area. 

We were soon off and racing. We jogged fairly energetically to the first control, 66, arriving soon after Dave and Kim. Not surprisingly, those two were moving fast. Another easy leg to 57, skirting around the side of the hill on approach. We had made up a bit of time on our plan by running, and now we changed down a gear into walking mode. Up a long ridge and over the other side to 72, then across a wide valley and up the other side to 65. Soon after this we entered the forest, and straight away we were pushing through quite annoying close-packed understorey and eye-height branches. We hoped that wouldn't last too long! Near 34 the forest opened up, and was easier going from then on. 92 and 63 required some careful navigation, and 33 was easy to spot in an open area. We passed one of the few teams we saw on the way to 83, which was perched on a prominent rocky outcrop. 44 and 32 were straightforward, though the watercourses near 44 were vague, and we were still at least 30 minutes ahead of our planned timing. I always try to take note of where we are at each hour mark on the course, and noting that we are only one-eighth of the way through the rogaine at 3pm is always a bit sobering, since it seems like you've been going a while by then! 

From 32 we had a bit of a slog up the hill to the major track, and then an out-and-back to 82 which was quite a way down the hill. We jogged a bit down to 40, then over a gentle ridge to 51, and then onto the track again where we soon jogged past Tony and Mark heading the other direction. They seemed to be in good spirits. We found 60 and 77 without any issues by following compass bearings. We later found out that many teams had trouble with 77 due to confusing creek alignments. Our plan had been to reach 77 at 6pm (nightfall) but because we were ahead of time we had earned an extra half hour of light. So we made it to 31 in daylight, and turned on our torches as we reached the road after the out-and-back to 90. We jogged along the road towards 71, taking careful note of each turn in the track and also noting how much time we had run on each segment. We identified the creek we needed to follow up to 71, and found the saddle where the control was supposed to be... but no control. A bit of head-scratching and second-guessing ensued, and we looked to the northwest and southeast in case there were two saddles in close proximity. On the verge of giving up and moving on, we stumbled across the flag hung about 100m north of the saddle. We were fortunate to have not wasted too much time. Continuing on a north bearing, we found 50 without trouble and then enjoyed filling up on food and water at WP11. Bevan had been out of water for over an hour, but I had been able to give him some of mine. 

We left our packs at the water point and scrambled up to 74 on the top of Piper Dodge Mountain. It was a pity to miss out on the view; the moon had not yet come up so we really saw nothing at all. With our packs back on we navved carefully to 61 and 52, conscious that we needed to be spot on with our bearings since the creek features were very vague. At 41 I suggested that we go around the ridgetops to 80, but we ended up going direct across a few steep gullies before making our way to the ridgetop. The ridgeline between 80 and 30 was quite nice walking, but at 30 we sat near the head of the gully scratching our heads for a while before finally noticing the flag down the bottom of the gully. 53 was also very tricky - we deviated a bit to the left of our bearing and came close to walking straight past the control, but we had been keeping a close eye on how long we'd been walking and we thought we were getting close to the control, so tried walking a bit to our right (downhill) and the (vague) watercourse and the control soon appeared. Always a good idea to make a mental note of the time you leave each control - then you'll know how long you've been walking on each leg. We finally came out into the open for a while between 62 and 42, which was a refreshing change after many hours of closed-in forest. Back into the forest for 91, and soon after that came midnight and the halfway mark. We were still about 15 minutes ahead of our plan.

Controls 43 and 54 were straightforward, and so was 35 although it seemed to take us forever to get there. We chose a mixture of tracks and creekbed through to 64, and then jogged on the track through to the creek near 56. It was getting chilly now, particularly in the bottom of the valleys, but I didn't put extra clothes on because I liked the extra incentive to keep running! We had another good feed and water top-up at WP12, and then up the track to the top of the ridge to the east. We took a bearing to 36, but because we were trying to hit the creek feature head-on we missed it by being a bit too far west and instead got confused by a series of unmarked gullies. We relocated by finding the creek junction to the SW of 36, and then took another bearing to the control. Maybe 10 minutes lost, but nothing too serious. We took bearings to 84 and 55, surprisingly not too tempted by the nearby Hash House, and then headed south to 45 and over the hill to 75. It had been amazingly silent up til now in the nighttime, but soon the dawn chorus began and some light glimmered over the eastern horizon. As we came down from 81 the sky became progressively brighter. We deviated off course on the way to 39 by taking our eyes off the compass and assuming that the creek we were looking for would be in a grove of trees. Once we realised our error we quickly got back on track. The three-quarter mark (6am) came as we arrived at control 59, passing the area used for the 2010 Hash House on the way. We were only about 5 minutes ahead of plan, but still ahead! We jogged down the road to 13, and it was actually a refreshing change of pace for me. Bevan had been having digestion issues, and it continued to get worse for him as the morning progressed. We again enjoyed the food at WP13, and topped up water.

Now with the sun up and some relatively easy terrain, the remainder of the route was very straightforward with no navigation errors and no trouble finding controls. We saw Dave and Kim in the distance leaving 48, and met with Tony and Mark again shortly after 68. They had needed to go back to the Hash House due to an issue with Mark's hamstring, so had not achieved their plan. But it seemed they were enjoying themselves and had still done well. Bevan became increasingly unwell as we ticked off the final controls, with plenty of dry-retching, although he didn't slow down very much and we managed to stay about 10 minutes ahead of plan. By the last couple of legs he was relieved that the end was in sight and that we were making good enough progress to avoid a mad sprint at the finish. As we collected the last control and headed out to the road we were passed by Ken Stone in his big red truck, and he gave us a very warm hello (though concerned if we would make it home in time!). We made it back to the Hash with 13 minutes to spare, and were delighted to have achieved our plan - the first time either of us had successfully cleared a rogaine course. About 109km all up according to the GPS log - the furthest either of us had travelled in a rogaine, too. We were relieved to hear that nobody else had cleared the course before us, and it turned out that no other team had attempted it.

Huge thanks to Dan and Errol for setting such a great course in a beautiful area. Having compared the 2010 and 2017 maps, the new map is far superior because we now have access to 5 metre contour data. This makes all the difference when choosing features for control locations and helps enormously with navigation, particularly in the State Forest. It is now truly a championship-quality map. Thanks also to Ryan, Darren and Blake for assistance with vetting and hanging, and to Nadine for help with admin on the event weekend. 

I also really enjoyed catching up with Ken and Carolyn, Annie McGill, and all of the other locals from the Ironpot community who (like 2010) did a fantastic job of the Hash House food. Thanks to all of them! And a special thanks to all the landholders who welcomed us back, and make it such a pleasure to set up and compete in rogaines in this area.

This was certainly my most satisfying rogaine I have ever completed, and also the most enjoyable from start to finish. It certainly revealed to me the importance of good fitness, because I felt a lot stronger during and after this event than many previous rogaines despite moving faster for longer. It was also very good to complete another 24hr with Bevan, our second ever 24hr together. The first one we competed in together was back in the year 2000, the first time either of us had ever rogained, at Manumbar. Let's just say that we were rather more proficient and successful this time!  

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