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Race Report from Team Crank – Mountain Designs GeoQuest 2004

Eden on the NSW far south coast was the location for 2004 Geoquest. iRule's own Team Crank earned a hard fought 5th place outright on tough and scenic course. A lot happens in 38hrs so you might want to make yourself a cuppa before sitting down to this report from the Team.

In only the 3rd year of its existence, Geoquest has earned a reputation as Australia's premier adventure race and rightly so with a beautiful and challenging course. The 2004 edition brought 50 teams, including most of the best teams from around the country, to Eden on the NSW Sapphire Coast, close to the Victorian border. Team CRANK's combination of Matt de Belin, Jane Cooksley, Hugh Flower and Michael Meryment were stepping into the ultra competitive mixed category in this event for the first time. As it turned out the top 5 teams were all from this category showing the depth of talent in Australian AR teams.

The event got underway with compulsory competency checks with all teams having to launch their kayaks from the surf beach, paddle beyond the breakers, perform an unassisted self rescue and return to the surf beach. The surf wasn't huge but enough to see a few breaches and capsizings on the way out and in. Surfing a 7.3m kayak was certainly a new sensation for all on Team CRANK. If that exercise wasn't wet enough it was followed by a 50m swim with snorkelling equipment. Little were the competitors to know that they had been exposed to a small taste of the cold and wetness that was to come.

Next section of the event was the course giveout. Racers knew they were in for something special after the advice of the local ranger regarding the significance of Mt Imlay to the local aboriginals and the number of sacred sites in the area. National Parks had allowed the race through on the condition that they could brush the dirt off every racers shoes before going over the peak to prevent the spread of a fungus. It was great to see them accommodating the race. After pouring over the course we discovered that there was a section still unknown, an adventuregaine on foot and bike that had to be plotted sometime on Saturday night or Sunday morning depending on how fast teams were travelling. In summary the course was:

Leg 1 - Paddle
Leg 2 - Snorkel with running between water entry points
Leg 3 - Run, Bike
Leg 4 - Run, Adventuregaine on foot and bike
Leg 5 - Run, Paddle Ride

Like soldiers waiting to go into battle we all stood on a mist covered beach waiting for the 7am start. The surf appeared bigger than the previous day or was that just pre race nerves and the fog rolling in gave you a sense of heading into the unknown. After a short briefing the siren went and we were off. Around 100 boats headed straight at the breakers. Crank decided that the surf was nicer a little further down the beach ,took straight to the water and blasted through the breakers with little incident. It wasn't until we were clear that Matt realised that the map was no longer attached to the front of the boat. That map hadn't been cut down and was marked with several checkpoints required on later legs. The decision was made that Matt and Mike would go back and get it while . After a less than grace full exit on the sands we were back on terra firma with a very confused support crew. Soon all were looking for the map and after 15mins we gave up and decided that we would replot the course and the end of the snorkel leg.

Back into the boat and out through the breakers again with minimal fuss, we stormed along picking up teams en route to the first CP in Leather Jacket Bay. The time loss was being minimised by some great navigation and inspired paddling as we moved our way back up through the field. I couldn't help remembering last years sufferfest in the boats and how much more enjoyable this leg was.

After an even less graceful beach landing ... um yes Matt and Mike's boat was flipped and had to bail, we set off on the snorkelling leg wearing a PFD, thermal tops, iRule Ninjas and carrying small fins, goggles and a mask each. The plan was to spend as little time in the water as possible so we moved along the headland and entered the water from the rocks to join several other teams swimming around in circles at the southern most checkpoint. Bearings were taken over again from landmarks and distances checked and rechecked. All this time the swell was increasing and the visibility decreasing do after over 40 minutes in the water we decided not to risk it anymore and got out willing to accept the time penalty. The other end of the beach proved to be much clearer and calmer with each checkpoint punched by Janie with minimum fuss. Our decision to get out of the water proved wise as teams would later suffer with hypothermia.

The next leg required a car transfer to the start of the Mt Imlay climb. After checking out of race HQ each team was given 1 hour to start the next leg. With a 25 minute drive this should have been more than ample time however an untimely gearbox problem with the 2nd support vehicle saw Matt and Mike have to get their bikes off the roof and ride to the start of Leg 3. Fortunately no time was lost and the team started the trek at the scheduled time. Mt Imlay's 888m peak could be seen in the distance and any cold from the previous leg was soon replaced by warm sweat. Over the top we were constantly running off the non existent trail and made the slog to the creek at the base in good time. From here Crank chose to bush bash up a ridge to take out 6km of road. This proved to be a good move with the discovery of a fresh unmarked logging road to make progress easier.

Darkness was approaching as we mounted the bikes for a long journey north on reasonable fire roads. Routes to checkpoints located in pine forests were treated with care as foresters have a habit of cutting new roads as needed and in the dark bearings are easily lost. At CP 16 we joined 2 other teams to make a call from a public phone to race HQ as per the race instructions and had enjoyed a gradual descent from the ridge behind Mt Imlay. This soon changed with an incredibly steep bike pushing slog that seemed to go on forever and as we found out later broke the spirits of a number of teams. After that climb every stop involved putting on another layer as the temps started to plummet. We collected the rest of the CPs without incident (except maybe a few over cooked corners by Hugh) and returned to HQ to start leg 4.

Leg 4 saw us leave on foot only to meet up with the bikes soon after. At this stage we had been running everything where practical and found it a good antidote for the sleepmonsters. With tows in place where needed we made our way to the course give out to spend time marking up maps. This is the first time we've been required to actually plot points in order to pick a route as previously they have been given and a route selection made based on the number of CP's required to be collected. All we knew prior to plotting the CPs was that 10 of the 12 were to be collected and 7 were on foot and 5 on bike. The logical course for us was to collect 5 of each and leave the farthest foot points out. We left on bike picking up one CP along the way to get to the bike storage CP around 11pm. From here we decided that watches were no longer required and were not to be looked at. Getting onto the course on foot proved to be interesting as the route we wanted took us over a sizeable river. This wasn't flowing but no one was prepared to get wet again with temperatures dropping quickly, so we looked at alternatives. Heading west and upstream we went in search of a easy crossing point and found one where the river became a trickle. Foolishly we convinced ourselves that what we had crossed was a side creek and proceeded to follow the river downstream until the directions made no sense and Team Life wanted to know how we'd crossed. With that sorted out we went in search of the remaining CP's.

After picking off a few relatively easy points and finding the stash of Pringles beside one we tackled CP L. This was at the base of a gully on a creek junction and seemed no worse in vertical drop or location than previous CPs. In all the race post mortems to date we still can't pinpoint where we went off course and when we eventually found the control the description "north side of creek junction" seemed misleading as it was on the north creek bank opposite a cliff face. Anyway, it was dark and we had wasted over 90mins combing the area with 2 other teams before deciding to blow it off. It was only on the walk out that we stumbled across the control. The best thing to happen during this time was Janie's alarm going off. It had been set for 5.30am to get up the previous morning and hearing that alarm held mixed emotions. We were pissed off that we were still in the same creek bed and at the same time glad to know the sun would be up soon and no one had fallen victim to the sleep monsters during the night.

The return to base was uneventful and the river crossing made way more sense during daylight. Back at HQ we were unsure where we stood in the rankings but knew we had to keep up the pace. Mike had his wrist heavily strapped to cope with next paddling leg and the team was back out on foot heading up the coastline to Pambula. Along the way we were treated to spectacular views, especially from the cliff tops of an island separated from the mainland, became up close and personal with too much tea tree scrub and slowed to a trudge on the 6km of soft sand run. Janie was the driving force behind keeping us all moving along the sand with her crazy theory that it was easier to run than walk in the soft stuff. After being on the go for around 30hrs it kind of made sense. After the trek we were back on the water in much gentler seas than the previous day. It seems that we were fortunate with the tides as later teams struck breakers at the river mouth and the start of the leg was moved up the river further. The paddle was magic as the river was dead calm and sun was setting. Unfortunately it was over too quickly and we had the challenge of keeping warm with wet gear on the bikes.

This was it the leg to home. It seemed easy enough, collect a few CPs in a loop to the south and return on a trail that had been used previously. No one mentioned the 5km road climb that seemed a lot longer. Matt was still way too strong rode away from Hugh and Mike with Janie on tow just showing what a machine he is. And just in case we weren't finished off completely we sighted 4 tail lights about 500m ahead within the last 2km to the finish and decided to chase. We caught and passed the team only to discover they were finishing the Geo Half.
Team Crank finished 5th in the mixed class and overall against possibly the strongest line-up of adventure racing talent in Australia so far. As in every race we learned lessons and have a long list of "could of, should of, would of" scenarios.

Our support crew are amazing. Marti, Myf and Ani never missed a beat, dealt with our dramas (map and car repairs) and proved once again how integral the crew is in any adventure race. They were the envy of many other crews with their setup and never ate any of our race food ..... we think. We can't thank you girls enough !! Keeping us fuelled with Hi-5 and Gu as well as regular food, washing and going without sleep are not anyone's idea of a fun long weekend away. Overheard at the last transition "Wow, you guys have the greatest support. Look how organised they are. We've just been following what they've been doing".

Credit must go to the crew at Bike Addiction for the flawless operation of all four bikes. The only mechanical was a bent chain joining link, due to Janie's huge power output on a granny ring climb. They stood up to 120km over all sorts of trail conditions with little more than chain lube each time we got off them.

Thank you to the organisers, Craig and Louise for putting on yet another outstanding race. The planning, preparation and on the go administration of 50 teams is a challenge and Geocentric organisation pulled it all together well.

Lastly, I'd like to say that Australian AR scene is going from strength to strength and it is as much the good nature and approachability of the participants as the fantastic events that are driving this. Can't wait to see what next year's race has to offer.
Till next time

Cranky Mike






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