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Race Report 2011

Mountain Designs GeoQuest 2011 - Race Report Team Five Ten - Epic, Brutal, Mesmerisingly Intense.

Original Report at

The start was clearly an omen of what was to come. As the clock ticked to 8 am Saturday - the Premier Mixed teams lined up with their boats ready to start the 2011 GeoQuest - a 48 hr Adventure Race second to none! It was the tenth anniversary edition - little did we know that we would get a birthday present that none of us would forget and a race that will be talked about for a long time to come.

With Col and I skippering and new comers to ocean paddling Carey and Ed in the bow, we paddled strongly from the start to avoid breaking waves and rock bars. Within 50 m of the beach a rogue wave loomed - it was large enough to create an "oh s--t" moment - throwing the rudder down and sweeping hard we managed to crest the wave just as it went vertical - the slap coming off the top was loud. Paddling crazily we avoided two more large waves. The boats behind us were decimated. Six boats swamped and the fleet in disarray. But we were now clear of immediate danger.

12 kilometres of downwind paddling in rising seas provided some of the most intense paddling Col and I had done.

We fought for almost two hours to keep our boats upright. Crews all around us were upside down - some separated from their boat - it was getting dangerous and several times we and other teams went to the assistance of distressed paddlers. Carey was on edge with a measure of trepidation - Ed was laughing like a lunatic in the bow - we were in for a wild ride. Most teams capsized on the beach landing. We side surfed a dumper in and nailed it. Ed and Colin were less fortunate.

Leg two started as a Bike Rogaine and was to finish with a two km pack raft of our bikes down the Kalang River to a transition. Our race derailed here and never recovered. It started with a loose bike rack, sucking mud, leeches and a swim in a drain and quickly progressed to more serious stuff - a navigation error and a lost 90 minutes followed by half of our floating devices disappearing somewhere in the state forest.

The end result - the most horrific and miserable 2 kms of "river paddling" in my life, 4 bikes, 4 people, 4 packs and 4 floating devices made for an epic of suffering. The tide was against us - so two people on a lilo, lying sideways and towing a small raft with bikes and packs lashed on the top meant we had to hand paddle our guts out to move two metres forward before needing a rest - unfortunately we would then float backwards one and a half metres. You can fit a lot of two metre paddling stints into two kms! On dark and becoming hypothermic we struggled into the checkpoint - four hours behind our projected time!

Moral: don't make mistakes!

Leg three was a kayak paddle down the Kalang River to Urunga - the tide had now turned and we had it in our favour - small mercies from the Gods of AR. Twelve kilometres disappeared in just over an hour - a beautiful paddle in the drizzle, calm water and dark night; we finally started to warm up!

Leg four required us to cross two very fast flowing outgoing 300m wide tidal channels in the PITCH black. You could hear the thundering of breaking waves on the sand bar just a little way downstream. No more immersion in cold water - we would sit in the rafts and use our split paddles to get us across.

Ferrying a plastic donut is an interesting exercise - it tends to go in circles. So we went in circles - downstream! My anxiety levels went higher and higher as the sound of the waves approached. It is disconcerting to be in the middle of what you know to be a fast flowing river but can't see either bank, your only point of reference a 4m circle of light around your raft. Making the far side was a relief!

A mangrove wade, some mud and oysters, a few sand dunes and we were on the beach. A little three kilometer traipse up the coastline in the windy drizzle and we arrived at our scheduled dinner stop - 9.30 pm. Our support team had built a wonderful shelter and we needed it - torrential rain had now arrived!

Leg five was a MTB ride with 4 check points that required navigation and bush bashing; each checkpoint was strategically placed at a creek junction, a euphemism for lantana, mud, groveling and lots of swamp work. We predicted 7 hrs, which meant this would take us through to dawn. We rigged for a wet and cold night. With hot food in our stomachs and layers of clothes and rain jackets on we headed out into the storm. It was 11pm.

Our night slowly disappeared into a collection of memories - all associated with mist, drizzle, wind, rain, steam, mud, leeches, swamps, riding and walking. With good navigation and excellent teamwork we nailed all checkpoints. Some were exceedingly tricky and it was a triumph for all of us to "click" our control bands!

The two hours before dawn is the dreaded "dead time"; micro sleeps while riding our bikes caused us to pull up and munch on a handful of coffee beans. With a new found zing and the psychological hit that comes with daylight we "lifted" and the last two checkpoints came easily. At 8 am we rode into a very welcome site - our fabulously hardworking support crew had built another waterproof shelter. Soaking wet and after nine hrs on the bike we loaded up on hot coffee and soup.

Deciding to stay in our wet clothes, a change of socks was all that was required. Once bare skin was revealed, the extent of the swamp marches became apparent - massive leech attacks.Carey had six fat ones on each ankle!

Leg six, a 15 km trek began with a 4 km walk through the beautiful Gleniffer valley and the Promised Land to the base of the Dorrigo escarpment. Here our world went vertical and stayed that way for two relentless hrs - describing the trail as steep climbing doesn't do it justice! Called the Syndicate Track - it is famous amongst walkers and for good reason! After 800m of muddy ascent we crested the spur. Largely manageable and at times enjoyable the previous 28 hrs had varied in "wetness".

Now it became truly ugly. The heavens opened and it deluged - wind and water came out of the sky in biblical quantities. We trudged on. The tracks became streams and the streams became rivers. Being the last team on the mountain and at over 1000m in altitude, we took the brunt of the storm. We started to become seriously cold, hypothermia was looming. For the first time in my life I considered a DNF - personal and team safety was now becoming more important than finishing a race. I remembered that DNF can also stand for Do Nothing Fatal. As a team, we walked on and debated what to do next; deciding to reevaluate our position once we had made the Transition.

A staunch support crew welcomed us in - a sodden Leg six was over. The checkpoint official informed us that the race had been abandoned due to dangerous weather, floods and increasing rainfall! All teams were to be taken out of the field.

At 2.30 pm on Sunday - 30 hrs and 30 mins into the GeoQuest - our race was over. We were disappointed and relieved - it was hard to tell which emotion held sway! We are grateful to our legendary support crew - they went through a tough night and never let us down. No request was too much. A race like this is an equal partnership - without them we couldn't perform. Thank you Philip, Josh and Sharon!

A big thanks to our sponsors: Five Ten, Petzl, Aide, Silkbody, Platypus and SealLine. The right gear for trying places!

And Geocentric Events - Craig and Louise - well done on a terrific 10th Anniversary race!

Over the Sunday and Monday 300mm of rain fell on the race ground. It was a tough outing. Bring on GeoQuest 2012!










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