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Race Report Mountain Designs GeoQuest 2004

48 teams made the trek down to the old whaling town of Eden, located on the NSW far south coast, to compete in the 3rd annual Mountain Designs GeoQuest.

After a day of competency checks, capsizes and registrations, the course was released to teams at 1600hrs on Friday.To view the course outline click here

The race began officially at 7:00am on Aslings beach with leg one, a Sea Kayak. The start was likened by Reggie of Sleepmonsters to the beach landings at Gallipoli. Surreal fog hung over the ocean obscuring the mounting waves. The pre-dawn quiet was an eerie counter part to the carnage that was about to unfold. 120 boats lined the shore in what was about to become the most memorable start to the race yet.

Mountain Designs founder Rick White sounded the siren for the start of the race. Whether it was pre-race jitters or a twist of nature, all the advice of waiting for a break in the sets and launching one boat at a time was quickly forgotten as teams ran to their boats.

Said the support crew of Hard Lithium, “it was crazy, prior to the start our team had planned to set off one boat at a time, but once the start began – they all jumped into their boats and paddled out together. Both boats met a wave and were unceremoniously dumped back into the shore. Laughing the team then emptied their boats and decided to return to the original plan”.

Other teams were more successful in leaving the shore, some finding a break in the waves or just using grit determination to get out. Doug May from Team Mountain Designs recalls “Wendy and I were paddling hard to get out through the surf. I thought we were clear when suddenly in front of us reared a huge wave. I don’t know who was yelling louder, Wendy or myself – PADDLE!!!! Our mirage plunged through the wave and we were both slammed into the deck by the water. Luckily we made it out to the back. The boat was full of water and we discovered the electric pump didn't work, but that is another story.”

Those viewing from the shore were on edge watching as wave by wave the teams disappeared into the fog, until one team remained... the Japanese team “Team Rhino’s”. After unsuccessfully trying to launch from the middle of the beach, the team were manoeuvring their boats up and down the beach to find a clear run out. After a few capsizes it was to a tremendous round of applause that their boats finally made it clear of the surf zone, about 20 minutes after the leaders had left the beach.

All that remained was for officials to collect a raft of lost items including booties, bike helmets and pumps washed up in the rolling swell. Of note a bra also washed up that was never claimed... oh and Team Crank’s race map.

Meanwhile out on the course, teams were recovering well from the eventful start and plowing their way across to CP1 at Mowarry Point. They were accompanied by a rolling swell that caused more than a few bouts of sea sickness. The lucky teams at the rear had a visit from a pod of dolphins to lift their spirits.

“The Mexicans” took the lead early and created quite a gap from the main body of teams. This lead lasted until, what is an uncommon occurrence in this strong team, a critical navigation error was made. “We had a shocker” said Kim Willocks of the teams paddle. “We were way out in front and then we overshot CP 2 by a couple of kilometers. By the time we turned around and came back, many teams had over taken us and we were well and truly in the middle of the field”.

Team Torque Land Rover took the advantage and surged to the lead and arriving back at HQ five minutes clear of the closest team – Mountain Designs and six minutes clear of race favourites, AROC Mountain Designs.

Meanwhile the uncommon swell continued to build until locals were saying “it is as big as it gets”. This created all sorts of issues for the rear teams and some spectacular scenes for the spectators. The capsize of the day had to go to team “SAN” for their nose stand exit (pictured here after the event - actual photo too scarey to publish!). The best controlled landing of the day went to the “Phantom Torsos”. This team had been forced to withdraw one of their team members in the middle of the kayak as a viral flu took its toll. After a drawn out and arduous paddle back to HQ for the three team members in two double kayaks, the lone paddler bought the double kayak back in through the surf unaided for a perfect landing. At the same time teams were coming unstuck all around him.

A bit further ahead of the full course teams, the Geo-Half competitors had also battled their way through the surf and onto an 8km paddle. These teams had much more fun surfing their inflatable kayaks in through the waves. Exiting the water first was the unranked team, the stray Irishmen along with their new friends Team Vignettes.

The Geo-Half teams went into leg two, a leg shared by both the half and the full courses, a snorkel / trek. Teams were given a sketch map outlining where 6 check points were located under water. The map contained bearings and prominent coastal and underwater features. The leg required the teams to first trek to the water entry put in points, then navigate their way to the CPs.

The Half teams plunged into the first of the snorkeling sections initially gasping at the temperature of the water and quickly kicking their way out the find the required checkpoints. All went smoothly as most of the teams quickly found the CP’s, dodged inquisitive fish, exited the water and headed onto leg 3. Team “4 Play” being the last to enter the water had some difficulties finding the initial CP’s which in retrospect should have been a warning to race organisers of what was to come.

A mere forty minutes after the final Geo-Half team had headed out onto the snorkel leg, the first teams from the full course joined them in the quest for underwater CP’s. In the mean time unknown to the organisers, a combination of the tide change and increasing swell had not only reduced visibility to almost nothing but had also actually moved one of the CP’s. What resulted was the front half of the field swimming around blindly, spending up to an hour hunting for the missing checkpoint.

Once organisers had these facts confirmed, this half of the snorkel leg was quickly closed down. All competitors were sent onto the second half of the snorkeling leg. This went without incident and soon all teams finished this leg and headed off on a somewhat drier, but not necessarily warmer, 3rd leg.

The third leg was a spectacular trek up the highest mountain in the region, the 888m Mount Imlay. Once at the summit teams were to follow a fire trail that had not been used for 30 years down the western spur of the mountain. At the bottom they would meet their bikes and ride back to race HQ.

Team AROC Mountain Designs and Millie entered this leg together out in front of the rest of the field. These two teams made short work of the climb and began their navigation down the rear of the mountain. The trail had been marked “over grown in parts” however in reality was barely viewable at first but improved steadily as teams moved down the mountain.

Held up at the snorkel leg, Torque/Land Rover entered this leg determined to catch the leaders. In what was an amazing effort, this team completed the trek from CP10 to CP 13 in 2 hrs and 20 min. This was a full 28 minutes faster than any other team. "We reached the top and I took a bearing to the knoll at the bottom of the ridge, surmised the track when it became
overgrown then rejoined it fairly soon after after descending a bit. It would have been very hard to keep on the ridge as it widened without a bearing as you would loose the track. I had Craig hold the bearing while I worked on the features to find the track" explains Guy Andrews.

The descent down the mountain was the undoing of many teams. Did they upset the spirits that are of great importance the local indigenous community? Wrong spurs were taken leading teams into very difficult terrain and resulting in long creek walks to exit the mountain. Steve Cooper of “Q Kayaks” recalls. We took the wrong spur off the mountain. Once we worked this out we decided to descend to the creek below and follow this around to CP 12. To our surprise once we found the creek we also found several other teams in the same predicament. It was like one great congo line along the creek as we battled our way the CP”.

Said Poune of team Fitness First. “I have never been so glad to see a fire as I was at CP13. We arrived at the checkpoint after 10 hours on Mount Imlay. We were all so tired and cold we curled up with the checkpoint official next to the fire and went to sleep. By the time we left we and the official felt like old friends”.

Once off the mountain teams straddled their bikes and headed off on a 60km ride back to HQ. The ride began with a long gradual down hill ride into the sleepy village of Towamba. From here teams headed up a steep hill gaining 450 metres of elevation. While this soul destroying climb to CP17 broke many teams, it also catapulted others on some of the longest and fastest downhill's ridden in the event to date.

At the end of this leg teams AROC Mountain Designs and Millie were still traveling together and looking strong. As they finished this leg, the teams learnt of a difficult decision that race organisers had made with regard to the snorkeling leg.

"Due to increasing safety concerns to competitors on the Full Course Leg 2, and CP4 moving in the swell, the snorkeling CPs 4 & 5 were removed. This occurred mid leg resulting in some teams spending long periods of time in the water and other teams being turned around at the top of the beach and forwarded to CPs 6,7,8 etc. Other issues such as reduced visibility, difficulty in finding the other CP caused significant problems with this leg.

The race committee decision has been to entirely remove the times of leg 2 from the race for all teams in the Full Course. Your team’s total race time will be your finish time, less the time your team spent on Leg 2.

What this meant for the teams was that from here on in, they need to ensure that they maintained a certain distance and time in front of teams behind them, or potentially they could be overtaken in the race based on timings.

After a short transition the lead teams headed off into the night on leg 4, the “adventurgaine” leg. In this leg, teams were required to obtain 10 out of 12 CP’s. The CP’s were spread over a trekking area and a biking area. Teams received the location of these CP’s on this leg, requiring them to plan their route and strategy on the move. Everything about this leg was hard, the sleep deprived decision making, the technical and rocky mountain biking, thick scrub on the trek and relentless navigational challenges.

“We knew this leg was going to be the make or break of this race. So we separated from Millie and gave it all we had” said Tom Landon-Smith of AROC Mountain Designs strategy. True to form, the team cleared the leg in 8 hours, giving them a lead of an hour and ten minutes over rival Team Millie.

Meanwhile for the rest of the field, the night, cold and exhaustion were taking its toll. Recalls Dale a race official at HQ, “We had a shuttle bus between HQ and CP’s 16 and 17 between 2am and 5am. Teams were loosing one or two members and teams were merging left right and centre. Indeed this was taken to it's extreme when a group containing 21 people formed to finish this leg”. Indeed the mountain bike in leg 3 was the end for 10 of the teams competing. By halfway through the 48 hr race, the field was greatly reduced by this arduous course.

Finally the sun came up promising glorious weather and spirits lifted around the course. For some teams the decision of whether to press on or not was made for them. Hard Lithium’s support crew smiled as she spoke of her teams situation. “Our team had arrived back from leg 3 demoralized as one of their team members had succumbed to the cold and couldn't continue. They decided to take a quick nap until dawn, then work on their course of action. On awaking they started to discuss pulling out of the race. Our support crew quickly rallied together and kicked them out of the tents explaining they hadn’t come all this way for them to pull out 24hrs into a 48hr race”.

At the front of the course AROC Mountain Designs were enjoying a 24km coastal hike down deserted beaches at sunrise on the final leg of the race. “It was spectacular and our favourite leg of the course” recalls Alina McMaster. Leg 5 consisted of a 24km coastal hike followed by a 10km kayak and a 30km ride back to HQ and the finish line.

Behind them Millie were trying to make up for lost ground plus striving to keep far enough in front of Torque/Land Rover to maintain their second placing. Millie Too was not far behind Torque Land Rover and made up a huge amount of time in the the final leg.
“The final leg was fantastic for us” recalls Warren of Millie Too. “The beach run went well, but best of all was our timing of the tides on the kayak. We managed to enter the paddle just as the tide was surging in. It meant we caught a wave at the bar and it carried us all the way up the river.”

Team Crank also had an impressive final leg recalls Michael Merryment. “Along the way we were treated to spectacular views, especially from the cliff tops of an island separated from the mainland. Then we came 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.”

Back at HQ a crowd had gathered waiting for the winners to arrive. After a few false alarms (much to the amusement of the crowd and teams completing leg 4), AROC Mountain Designs arrived to claim the finish line for the second year in a row. Finishing in a time of 29 hours and 12 minutes the team consolidated their current dominance of Adventure Racing in Australia. “It was tougher than last year but my favourite GeoQuest course yet” surmised Nigel. Just over two hours later was Team Millie to take out second place. Echoing Nigel’s sentiments, Toby Cogely gasped “It was tough this year”. This team took it up a level this year keeping the leaders in their sights until the end, proving they are a leading force in Australian AR.

At the same time, teams from the very successful Geo-Half category were starting to cross the line. In first position were the Vignettes in 25hrs and 4 minutes. They were accompanied by the unranked team the Stray Irishmen. In an admirable effort, all of the six teams entered in this category ended up crossing the finish line with at least 3 members of their team. "It was one of the best things we have ever done" said Rebecca from team Are we meant to be racing, "We'll be back for more".

For those remaining on the full course, the second night was very tough. Teams had to endure more cold conditions and deal with additional challenges such as negotiating a choppy bar way at night in their kayaks. None the less these valiant teams struggled onwards and continued to cross the finish line in a steady stream right up until 11:30am the following morning.

The last team to cross the line was the determined four of Team X-Factor/Mountain Designs. For the first time in Mountain Designs GeoQuest's history, a team of three females and only one male entered the race and finished. “Andrew was brought along only as compulsory gear” laughs Lindy Lewis prior to heading off, a little wobbly, for a well earned shower.

 

 


 

 

 

 

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