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Race Report from Team Tangerine – Mountain Designs GeoQuest 2005

Where to start? We'd really been focussing on this race all year, with a number of other events as lead up - AROC 24 urban, Jindabyne multisport, rogaines, 6 foot track, Canberra marathon, etc. Things were falling into place as Andrew Rowe, Julie and I lined up Gary Lilley as our 4th team member. We had two double sea kayaks and were getting into regular paddle training to work on our weak leg.

In early May Andrew decided that his legs wouldn't be up to the trekking after a hip operation the previous November, but would still be prepared to support us. Several frantic weeks of e-mails and phone calls followed before we settled on a 4th member, Karl Strode-Penny, highly recommended by Tom and Alina of team AROC. Support crew was Andrew and Brock Mckinlay, both with previous Geoquest experience. Gary and I had both done the race in the past too.

Our training as a team was mainly focussed on getting our paddling up to a passable standard. Early morning and evening sessions on the lake 2-3 times/week. Also did a bit of riding and running together, but the real team bonding was achieved with the prototyping and construction of a raft made from inner tubes which we would need for the race. How significant the rafting would be only time would tell. The week before saw endless preparations, lists, equipment checking, packing, etc before we met on Thursday morning to load the boats and head up to Port Macquarie. The drive took nearly 10 hours, arriving just after dark and finding our cabin at race HQ, the Rainbow Beach Holiday Village in Bonny Hills.

Friday morning we organized our gear, then in the arvo had a briefing and competency and gear checks. Down at the beach we had some pace-counting practice and had to paddle out past the breakers, capsize, get back into the boat and get back to shore. After a kayak skills weekend in early May we thought we'd have this wired, but the re-entry through the surf saw Gary and I accidentally surf our boat all the way to the beach (heap of fun), and Julie and Karl take a big swim.

Friday evening we were given course descriptions and control grid references, so spent an hour plotting them all up and coming up with questions to the race directors about some specific sections. Legs 1&2 were pretty straightforward, both including substantial tube raft paddling (3km in leg 1, followed by a 7km trek carrying the raft; 2km in leg 2). Once these details were clear we refined our raft and a carrying system with climbing tape going over our shoulders. Many teams were seen making modifications.

Saturday morning we carried our boats back to the beach ready for the start. A glorious sun was rising over the sea. The race would start in 3 waves - first off were the "geo-half" teams doing a short course and paddling inflatable kayaks supplied by the race. Next would be mixed division, then the all-male and all-female teams. The surf was fairly quiet - around 50cm with a few larger waves. The first wave started, then we got ready.

On the signal we carried our boats to the water. Brock held the back of our boat while Gary and I climbed in and attempted to fit our spray decks. A couple of waves swamped the boat and I turned on the pump, but the water made us unstable and we got overturned by another wave and we were swimming! Triathlete habits of starting races with swims are hard to break it seems. We pulled the boat back to shore, emptied it out and started again, 5 minutes or so lost. All good on 2nd attempt and out through the breakers to find Karl and Julie waiting for us, then off down the coast for about 5km to the Camden Haven entrance. We passed most of the inflatables on this section and a number of the slower teams, but the leaders had pulled well ahead. Some big waves at the entrance, but we got in safely and rode the swell and current in to the estuary and a couple of controls in a flat-lying area of mangroves before heading back to the boat ramp transition.

We quickly pulled the boats up and got our gear together. Julie was carrying just a Camelbak, but had a drybag of compulsory gear that one of us would be carrying. It was nowhere to be found. We checked all the hatches and double-checked before starting to scratch around in our gear bins for replacement items. Finally I had another look in the front of the boats and found it wedged in the nose at full arm's stretch and was able to retrieve it. Crisis over we headed up the street to the foot of North Brother Mt, rising to around 500m. We pushed the pace up the hill passing many teams. At the top my legs were starting to twinge a bit. We punched the control and started the descent, but I could feel the dreaded quad cramps coming on. We stopped several times to stretch letting teams through each time. This was the section I'd been dreading, and I knew if we got down this hill I'd be OK for the rest of the race.
A steep shortcut down a ridge turned out to hae an overgrown track on it, and finally we reached the houses at the bottom and a short run to the transition at Queen's Lake.

Our tube raft was waiting, and we stuffed gear into dry bags for the 3km crossing. My wetsuit booties had been left in the kayak, so I was barefoot, and I had my backpack on too which made paddling pretty awkward, finding it hard to get a balanced position on the back of the raft. The others were paddling strong though, so we were making steady progress and overhauling many teams whose rafts weren't as streamlined as ours. We finally reached the far shore and pulled up to put our shoes on for the trek back to HQ. My dry bag had leaked, so 1 shoe was full of water, but it wasn't a problem. We got our slings in position and started jogging down the track. It took a while to get used to the rhythm of the raft. If you were out of synch it was very rough, but by keeping in time we managed to maintain a good pace and overtook a couple of teams. Coming into HQ a few other teams were starting out on their bikes, so we transitioned as quickly as we could and set off in pursuit onto the 2nd leg.

We had about 20km to ride, mostly on fire trails, but including a nice section of trailbike singletrack. A couple of trails were a bit overgrown at the end, but we found our way to the shore of a lake for a water crossing. First we had to wade/swim across 500m wearing our PFDs.
Mostly the water was waist deep or less, but a couple of spots we had to swim about 30m. At the far bank we grabbed an inflatable kayak and headed back to where our bikes were. There were about 5 teams who had just completed the crossing as we headed back, so we weren't far off the main pack. We stacked our bikes on top of the kayak and attached some towing straps on the front, then Gary and I towed the raft while Karl and Julie ran alongside. At the final deep section Gary and I were able to swim and tow while the others swam.

The crossing complete, our support crew had our raft waiting for a 2km paddle. This time I didn't have a pack on and was able to paddle much better. We followed the river channel down to Lake Cathie and the transition by the road, then pulled on our running shoes and packs for a 5km run along the beack past some magnificent rock formations down Rainbow Beach back to HQ. It was now about 4pm and the first 2 legs were complete. We grabbed some food (Gary's wife Angie had cooked up a fantastic chicken lasagne which went down a treat) and instructions for the surprise 3rd leg and plotted up the route on our maps. There was about 45km of MTBing up to Bago Bluff trig and back, then a rogaine section near where we'd finished the first rafting section, followed by a short ride back along Tube Highway. We had only about an hour's daylight remaining, so were carrying heaps of batteries for our bike lights.

We headed out along Tube Highway again. A couple of big puddles were starting to get seriously churned up now that many teams had passed through. The first couple of controls we chose to take tracks we'd ridden before, then we were heading NW out towards the Pacific Highway as darkness fell. Some nice riding on trailbike singletrack where we negotiated a few unmarked tracks before crossing the highway and heading out towards the hills. After a tricky to find control on a creek junction we started the long climb to Bago Lookout at 360m. Julie got a tow some of the way, but our route up Lookout Rd wasn't too steep and she rode most of the way. We passed the turn off to Boundary Rd which led to the next control and reached the end of the track and clambered up over rocks to the trig and found the control. Back to our bikes and a steady descent for a whil ebefore the last big climb of the leg of 200m up to Rollover trig. We passed another couple of teams around here looking a bit lost, but had no real trouble finding the control at the trig.

Next was a whizzing descent down Rollover Rd back down to about 80m altitude in about 4km. We turned right at a T-junction at the bottom and did and out'n'back of 1km to the next control. As we came back past the T-junction team Hardtale was coming down the hill. About 100m past the junction I looked back and they had turned to follow us! We strung them along for a couple of km before I casually asked them if they'd got control #20 yet, and mentioned it was back the other way. They quickly stopped in a chorus of muttered accusations and we left them behind as we headed back to the highway and our last couple of controls before the rogaine. A short diversion down a wrong track then past some farms, we pulled into the picnic area at the lake shore at 10:45pm.

A master map was in the picnic shelter, and I transferred the circles onto our map. There were also some track corrections which for some reason I didn't draw on. This was a big omission as we later discovered.
We dithered a while about which controls to go to. We had to climb Jolly Nose Hill (250m) and do a 50m abseil, plus pick up 80 points visiting any of the controls which were 10 or 20 points each. We headed off in the direction of the abseil, picking up a 20 pointer on the way in a gully. The bush was mostly easy going, but there was a big lantana patch which we could easily bypass by taking a track up the hill rather than following the gully. Having punched the control, we climbed out of the gully and did the steep climb to the summit of the hill. A marshall fitted us with helmets and harnesses and we were led through the scrub to the edge of a cliff. In turn we were clipped onto the rope and descended off into the darkness. The last 20m of the abseil were hanging in free space. When we had all descended, we next had to find our way back from the bottom of the cliff. This was quite rugged and we skirted the bottom of the cliff on steep slopes before eventually reaching the track we had come up on.

Our next control was down in another gully. We set off on a bearing from the track, and after realizing we were on an unmarked track (turned out to be a marked map correction), we headed north to the marked track and descended towards the control. The contours showed the control at around 80m, so we planned to hit the gully at around 100m by our altimeter then drop down to the flag. As we were making our final approach to the gully we hit an impenetrable patch of lantana. We dropped down the hill and skirted it to the gully, hitting the creek at around 80m by various altimeters (we had 3 between us!). Progress up the creek was blocked by an impenetrable wall, so we headed downstream thrashing through various thickets. When we got to 70m we were too low. I headed up the hill and stumbled onto an unmarked fire trail which looked like an extension of a short dead end trail on the map. A quick trip down the hill proved the case, and following back from the junction I crossed a minor gully then climbed to another minor gully. Hopefully this would lead to the creek junction with the flag, but on reaching the main creek we were back where we started. Further progress along the track was blocked by more lantana jungle. Even though the flag may have been less than 50m away (we had no way of knowing), it seemed easier to cut our losses and try our luck elsewhere. Fortunately there were plenty of options and we quickly bagged enough points. Coming back from the last control to the picnic area we made another diversion onto an unmarked track (also on the map corrections), before finally getting back to our bikes. A few lessons learned here!

A short ride along the now very muddy Tube Highway had us back at HQ.
The mud was bad enough that Gary's Time pedals clogged up totally. A bit of work for Andrew to do while we were on the next leg before we needed our bikes again... We had 20 mins allotted to repack and grab food before Brock drove us out to the drop point for the last leg. We power-napped in the back of Gary's car which unfortunately had a very uncomfortable seat. At one point Brock took a corner fairly hard and I woke with a start thinking he'd run off the road. I dozed off again only to be awoken by a bumpy wooden bridge, again convinced we'd left the road and woke everyone else up in my panic. We all had a good laugh, and were shortly at the drop point. We had 10 mins or so before we could leave (1 hour was allotted to prevent any need for unsafe driving). Two other teams, Mexicans and Mountain Designs had just left and we were in 7th place. At 5:40am we started the long trek of the final leg.

The first control was down the hill along a track at a creek junction.
We caught up to the Mexicans again here, and the sun had come up so we could put our torches away. Mountain Designs had apparently taken off up a gully somewhere on business of their own, so we didn't see them. The next control was up the creek - the Mexicans headed up the creek, but we took a track up the spur and then cut down to the creek about 2/3 of the way there. When we got to the creek the Mexicans were nearby, so there was no advantage either way. Past the control, we got into some very rugged gorge country as we headed further up the creek to the next control. Although only 1km, it took over 1 hour to get there. Teams who came through here in the dark reported glow-worms, bats, crayfish and even a giant python! We reached the control a little ahead of the Mexicans and charged off up the hill to the nearest track. Unfortunately it was overgrown, and we climbed higher and higher on the hill, knowing we'd missed it. Our altimeters clocked an extra 150m before we finally hit Big Nellie Rd and the descent to the next control at Waitui Falls.
From here we had to climb 400m in about 6km to Flat Rock Lookout. We passed the Mexicans again 2km up the road, just as we started the really steep climbing. Keeping the hammer down, it took us just under an hour to do the climb, and after briefly admiring the view over Lansdowne Valley we started the descent over about 6km to 50m, with the final 350m in under 2km taking us just under 20 mins! We were flying! At the bottom we found the NSW Stingers team. Christie was suffering very badly and in great pain. Another 6km of road bash with a few more hills into dairy country and finally we reached transtion at Hallam Vale Hall. Gary ran out of water here so we gave him what we could from our own supplies, but he was starting to suffer.

I'd been promised some cold pizza, and Andrew was as good as his word - it was delicious. We also found some sodium-encrusted shapes which went down well, and refilled our camelbaks before heading off down the valley on our bikes. We were now in 4th place, and determined to hold that to the end, but knowing that 2 teams behind us were strong paddlers, and an 18km paddle yet to come. Gary started complaining of calf cramps, and shortly had to stop. We tried massage and stretching, and he got going again, but for the rest of the 20km or so MTBing was forced to walk many of the hills and had to stop several times. He was slowly coming good though, and as we passed through the town of Kendall and across the river we were all feeling strong for the paddle.

The transition was well laid out, and Judi and Halina the marshals gave us plenty of encouragement too. We put on shoes or booties since we knew there would be a portage and possibly some shallows to negotiate. We were soon on our way paddling as strongly as we could. We guessed we had
15-20 mins on the chasing teams, hopefully enough of a margin to hold them off to the start of the run. There were some headwinds on the first river sections, but we were soon passing under the highway then onto a sweeping bend. The control would be on the left bank, and I watched the landmarks pass by before finally the flag came into sight. Next was the portage, which turned out to be just 200m across a flat grassy paddock - perfect! Still no sign of our pursuers. Back onto the water and we searched across the broad reach for the buoys marking the channel entrance about 2km away. Once spotted we paddled hard again. A sand bank or two on the way didn't slow us much, and as we reached the channel we looked back and could see a chasing team carrying their boats. Into the channel we skirted oyster beds and picked our way past the channel markers, under the bridge and into the stronger tidal currents. For some reason I didn't pick that the current was running with us, so tried to stay out of it. Julie and Karl pulled away easily no matter how hard we paddled. Finally we wound our way into the main channel and tried to spot the transition. Eventually we spotted Brock and Andrew waving wildly from the shore and headed directly for them.

The transition was well set up again, and in less than 3 minutes we'd changed and charged off. We had about 9km to the finish, with a last control at the end of the breakwater along the sea wall. I ran ahead of the rest along the breakwater and punched the flag, then we headed back to hit the beach. We were about 6 min ahead of the Mexicans and could see then coming along the channel before we jumped onto the sands. We were holding a good pace though, and ran solidly along the firm sand, glancing back occasionally. The gap seemed quite big, and 4km after the breakwall we had climbed onto the top of Grants Head. The chasing team was about 1km behind still. We ran down the footpad back to sea level and negotiated several rocky sections before finally hitting the beach for the last 1km to the finish. It was in the bag now, and we held a steady pace to the finish, clocking 54 mins for the last 9km - not a bad pace after over 33 hours of continuous racing! 16 mins later the Mexicans finished - we'd pulled 10 mins out of them in the last section.
Even more satisying, we were only 4 hours behind team AROC, a truly world-class team.

Time to relax. Back to our cabin for a shower, then off to grab some takeaway. It was now dark and rain had started to fall - things were getting tough for the teams still battling it out on the course. By 9pm we had stuffed ourselves silly and were tucked up in bed. The next morning teams were still finishing as we sorted through our gear and started packing. A breakfast feast was laid on mid morning after the last team had crossed the line. Presnetations followed, then it was time to hit the road for the long haul back to Canberra and back to work the following morning.






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