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GeoQuest 2009 Reports

Gloucester to Forster
(Only in Australia would that rhyme!) by Dave Ellis, Team More Training Required

Quick bit of background for those who don’t know me – or I haven’t talked to for awhile…
I always thought that when I got old (i.e. turned 30) I would maybe settle down, do a bit less on the adrenalin side and try my hand at some endurance sports. So I bought my first XC mountain bike and entered my first XC race since I was 15 – Dirtworks 100km. It was pretty fun, so I did a couple more, extended it out to 100miles and then a friend of mine got talked into running the 6 ft track marathon; I had a bit of a crush on her so next thing I know I’m doing a bit of running as well. Fared pretty well in that race so came to the conclusion that maybe I should try and combine these sports.

Add to that the fact that living in Manly, there are lots of days where you want to be out on the water but the waves are pretty small. So I’d bought myself a surf ski to fill in the gap.
Did the math and adventure racing seemed like a great next step. So I did a 3hr Kathmandu race, went pretty fast but was terrible in the Nav department – confident that our team covered more km than anyone else in the race (quick note –often a tell-tale sign you are going the wrong way when you see a race committee boat out on the water and they are trying hard not to laugh)

So decided to build a team for the Geo half to see what full-on adventure racing was all about. Unfortunately I lost my entire team to injury and work commitments, so ended up with no team 2 weeks out from the race. Luckily, hopped on Sleepmonsters and convinced a team that I could last for the full race and wouldn’t be too much of a liability out there…

Fast forward to 4pm Friday 5 June, and Craig & Louise are handing out the race booklet and it’s all on from there. The next 4 hours is a bit of a blur – but at the end of that point we had a whole series of waterproof maps with our optimal route, distances, key bearings and time estimates. Came to the conclusion that you might not be able to win the race during the planning phase - but you can definitely lose it…

Next thing I know its 8:30 sat morning and everyone is huddled above Barrington tops with a great downhill bike descent in their immediate future. Living in Manly and training early in the morning (occasionally at least) you often see the walk of shame – people stumbling home in their suits and slinky dresses at 7am. But by 9am Sat I was introduced to the ride of shame – glad I wasn’t one of the teams pedalling back uphill to hit the checkpoint they’d blown past – great motivation to nail your navigation!

After a quick and fun bike descent we transitioned into a short but sweet Rogaine section – 3 checkpoints that required some quality creeking, bushbashing, taking a compass bearing and hoping like heck the trail you were aiming for still exists. Conveniently the trails did – inconveniently they were so overgrown I heard tales of teams jumping from 8ft in the air to try and break through the bushes. I’d officially like to thank those teams for making our trip through relatively easy – a few stinging nettles but nothing to write home about

A second bike leg took us through to the next transition – where a white water paddle would have followed if it wasn’t for the week of torrential downpour preceding the race. Special mention should go to the final descent onto the road – I felt like I was back on my downhill bike as we hammered down super steep waist high grassy fields – brilliantly fun.

We then hopped into the truck for a 3 hr commute back to the next start – which sounded like a ton of time to relax – but by the time we had our gear set up at the next checkpoint and a bit of food in our bellies we were out in the kayak for a scenic paddle out of Forster. Beautifully clear night – totally relaxing except for the high tech racing skis that kept trundling past our Mirages… Balanced out a bit right near the end though – a ski tried to follow us through a shortcut which was only 4inches deep – which was fine for our boats with 3inch draft but sure didn’t sound too healthy for them…

Set off on the bikes once again around 9pm into a relatively cold night. The “Bridge out” sign 10 minutes in was a bit inconvenient – the river crossing was rideable but it meant wet feet for the next 8 hrs – think there are some good photos of what those feet looked like by the next transition. Lots of criss-crossing logging roads meant good nav was essential in the woods – our navigator did an amazing job and we stayed out of trouble for the most part. Only minor lapse (apparently when he was distracted by towing his brother up a hill) turned into the best recovery I’ve seen – looked at the map – decided where we thought we were, bashed up to the top of a knoll and found the trail we were expecting to be there – complete with an old rusted out sign saying “Broken Broad Axe Trail”. This was the source of the greatest emotional turnaround for my entire race - first hit rock bottom: suspected we were pretty lost, got the tow system on the back of my bike caught in my spokes and thought my rear wheel might be destroyed, and when I stopped to fix it didn’t call out loudly enough to the first half of my team didn’t stop – and they had the map. So there I am on a sketchy trail, no map, possibly broken bike, middle of the night – and then it all worked out – the spokes held up, and there was our team sitting about 100m ahead at the end of the trail – right next to a checkpoint. Beauty.

After 8 hrs of pedalling we hit Bulahdelah and chucked on our running shoes for the next leg. Started off with a steep enough hill I was kind of glad we’d dropped the bikes. Then came the section I’d been looking forward to – a promised 5.13 top-roped climb. Unfortunately, we came in just after Girls on Top, and they got the choice of climbs – not surprisingly they took the rolling corner section that may have been 5.13. I, however, ended up on what appeared at first sight to be a featureless vertical wall. In daylight, with climbing shoes, fresh muscles and my chalk bag I might have been able to figure out a sequence to climb it. 6am, 22 hrs into a race – not so much. But slowly the headlamp picked out a couple shadows; a few crumbly cracks and a potential route appeared. In what must have been the single ugliest climb of my life I smeared up the wall one move at a time – and definitely need to thank the girl on belay for giving me tension after any number of uncoordinated stabs at holds on the rock – would not have made it up otherwise!

This led us onto a good technical navigation section where we had to find the quickest way to get off the mountain we were currently on and over to the next ridgeline. We went the easy route – found a road over to the powerlines wandered up the nicely mowed slash to the top of the hill – where a convenient trail ran past all sorts of checkpoints. Made it into the next checkpoint in time for breakfast – which may not have been all that leisurely, but did include time to build a raft. Loved our raft design – and think it was pretty unique. Modelled it on the Star Wars X –Wing fighter – if its good enough to blow up the Deathstar it had to be good enough to paddle 5km!

The best part of the design is that the front 2 paddlers can take full strokes – and it has sufficient buoyancy to support our team – likely one of the few in the “Clydesdale” category for team members over 100kg…

This was one of the hardest sections of the race – luckily warm and sunny for us – but wow did you ever have to paddle hard to get the boat moving – and the angled cross-braces did not make for the most comfortable of seats!

It was a pleasant relief to get into the kayaks again – our Mirages felt like they were floating through air in comparison! Hit the kayak portage perfectly – nosed up into the swamp right beside the road, and didn’t even collect any leeches (wish we could say the same for the rafting leg).

Hit the next tubing/running leg just as it was getting dark – and the thought of floating across Smith’s Lake (greatly bloated due to hitting it bang on high tide) didn’t have a lot of appeal from either a warmth or tide perspective. So we wandered around the edge as far as we could go without hitting the Out of Bounds Area – judging by the lights we could see and the other race reports it seems like this was a pretty popular option! Ran into a few rednecks truck camping on the beach – they definitely were having a hard time comprehending what they were seeing – much to our amusement. That amusement came to an abrupt end as we tried to work out how to get out of Cellitos and up towards Bluey’s. Wasted about 30 minutes, then just hit the high ground and took a bearing towards the closest rd on the map – a plan we should have adopted 20 min earlier. And that’s where it all started to go pear-shaped. None of the roads we found quite matched what we were looking for based on the map and the contours we could vaguely make out in the darkness. So we tried numerous roads & explored all over the shop – but never just sucked it up and climbed Mt Taric – the obvious feature and the simplest way to guarantee we got where we needed to be! Suspect that 40 hrs without sleep may have had a negative impact on our decision making…

Ended up following a road that we didn’t think was the right one, but optimistically hoped it would take us where we needed to go anyway. Was definitely not to be – next thing we knew we were on Lakes rd – out of bounds and not at all where we wanted to be. Here came the most difficult decision of the race: do need try and walk to the next checkpoint anyway and accept our penalty – or do we pack it in and chalk it down as a learning experience. We made it to the shops in Bluey’s by about 1:30am (7hrs after we left the last checkpoint) pretty much shattered and unstoked that we were off-course – and unsure whether we would be disqualified totally or just heavily penalised. And so we decided not to find out: instead packed it in – called up our support crew and threw in the towel.

Still not sure if it was the right decision or not – first time in 6 yrs the team hasn’t finished the race – not a bad record at all; but I’m personally 0/1 – not a result I’m comfortable with in the least. And when I think back to some of the adversity of persevered through just to finish races in the past (pedalling 25km with no seat in the highland fling, pushing a bike 17km to the kayak transition in the Upper Murray Challenge) it seems ludicrous in retrospect that I was happy to pull out just because we had wasted 5hrs and were going to be penalised. But I suspect it’s useful to have these experiences as well – now I know what it feels like to pull out and sit at the finish line watching all the teams that made it successfully…

And I think I’ve got a pretty good plan to redeem myself – the preparations have already commenced for XPD 2010… Look forward to seeing you there.

Dave Ellis





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