Berowra Bewilderness, “Rivers, Rocks & Ridges”

Coordinator’s Report, by Tristan White

4/8hr Socialgaine, Sunday 25th November 2018

November 25th saw the small town of Berowra become littered with orange and white flags, and a record turnout of well over 400 people on many different missions – to maximise their score, to have fun, to see a new place, to build fitness, etc. It was really a “choose your own adventure” with two duration choices and 62 checkpoints on the course at all sorts of landmarks, and people could really choose whatever scenery, terrain, distance & activities that suited them.

As I visited no CPs on the day, I really am unable to properly comment from a competitor’s perspective, but having visited every CP at least once and in many cases more over the past few months and heard all types of accounts, I certainly have a point of view that others don’t.

I was delighted to see what a positive day people had for a range of reasons – the social activities, the spectacular scenery, the route options and the wildcard strategic challenges that left them “bewildered” at what to do. Taking the highlights of multiple teams in the 4 and 8 hour timeframe, it is impossible to write a linear account of events as a competitor would, so instead I’m going to take anecdotes from each respective area of the course to get a full picture of the event and how it was received by as many teams as I can.

Trains

Probably the first thing that was of particular note to a lot of teams was the utilisation of the trains, as although it is certainly not the first NSW event it’s been allowed, they had never seen it. As Kim Eales put it, “We had noticed the suggestion to bring an Opal card along and were wondering how it would be worked into things.” Even to those who’d done events with trains, the event stood out due to the extent to which they were utilised. With only one other track out of the Cowan section, the train ride was a necessary component of completing the loop to the north, and for 4-hour teams that wanted to go to Mt Kuring-gai, it made it much more accessible. With the start time set to 10 minutes before the first train to Cowan, it was packed with well over 100 rogainers cramming into the rear 4 carriages, the only carriages that fit the platform at Cowan*, making me feel a moment’s sympathy for the “bewildered” train guard. Many more (couldn’t count as train was already at the station) jumped onto the first one to Mt Kuring-gai to head into Lyrebird Gully.

A scene that has probably never before occurred in a rogaine…Northbound platform at Berowra station at 09:33.

The challenge with trains of course, unless they were caught right at the start of the event, was how to get the timing right to avoid wasting time waiting for them, or worse, missing them. Nonetheless this seemed to be perfected by the team who scraped 2nd place, who did the southern loop before getting the 13:35 train up to Cowan, presumably adding in the nearby low-pointers to fill in the time. Well done.

Why did I make a stroller route anyway?

(*) I take this chance to send my commiserations to Adrian Plaskitt and Jon Sayers, who, after bagging a couple of extra CPs at the start and seeing the train already at the station, jumped into the front end of the train and only then realised that the front and rear 4 carriages were physically separated, thus they had an additional detour to Brooklyn and back. I did realise that, whilst the notes said “there will be no compensation for delayed or missed trains,” there was nothing about what would happen if one got in the wrong carriage. Needless to say, I gave no compensation and note, with amusement, that their team name was “Last Minute.”

Adrian & Jon weren’t the only victim of the idiosyncrasies of the rail network. Justin Stafford told me that he and his teammate missed the first train to Mt Kuring-gai due to its convention of having its doors close 20 seconds early. It fortunately didn’t seem to affect their placing too much – they managed to quickly work out an alternate route to put them in second place in the 4hr event.

Urban CPs (18, 29, 15, 19, 24, 46, 23, 24, 14)

I had no idea how many teams with strollers we’d end up getting along, but was careful to construct a loop that would be accessible by them, doubling up as the “Prime Ministers’ Loop,” where each CP had a quote by one of Australia’s (many) recent PMs, with prizes given to a team who could complete all the quotes. I was very impressed with those who had enough knowledge of political history to get all the quotes without even visiting all the CPs in the group.

CP19, only 200m from the HH, was by far the most visited CP, and I had to organize a traffic marshal across Berowra Waters Rd to avoid a backlog of cars. At right, Julia Gillard looks over the CP19 flag.

North Fringe of Berowra (17, 16, 36, 27, 60, 14, 22, 13, 12, 45, 44, 34)

This area tied together a series of tracks (excluding 27 and 60) to make a nice loop for those who wanted to stick close to the HH, and although not widely visited, it seemed to be well appreciated by those that did make the trip out. 18 and 17 obviously became time-filler CPs that teams would collect if they had time to spare at the finish or before a train. 60 was an effort to reach given the elevation but the lovely waterfall it was under made the trip worthwhile.

Many competitors were telling me how their partner was figuratively “cracking the whip” to keep up the pace. Rebecca Parsons was literally cracking the whip at CP46, Barnett’s Lookout, saying that “Rogaining takes hard work and discipline.” Bob Hawke looks on – to quote him on the Monday after a 24hr rogaine, “Any boss who sacks someone for not turning up [to work] today is a bum!”

45 (shown below) was probably the best view of the “urban” CPs as you’d never know it even was an urban CP when you got there. Set over the cliff of a popular rock climbing spot there were views for many kilometres. 34, the John F. Kennedy CP (on the grassy knoll), was really inserted as a waypoint to other more scenic locations but ended up to be one of the most visited CPs. Extra kudos for the teams that bothered to remember the bit of trivia on JFK that was hung there as well!

South Fringe of Berowra (35, 46, 80, 25, 37, 26, 38, 28, 29)

Another loop for families included most of these CPs, but there was unsurprisingly a large divergence between the popularity of each of them. 80 of course was a throwaway checkpoint, inserted to give all teams an easy 80 points at a great lookout, and was one of only 3 CPs to attract over 50% of all teams, and it seems that the poor flag really got very little time to itself all day with many teams setting up a picnic at the table and posing for a wide range of photos.

The steep climb between 80 and 46 was none too hard for these young participants

37, halfway along the GNW link track was unsurprisingly another widely visited CP, making 26 with an arguably nicer view, less popular. 28 stood out on the course as being the only CP not to be visited by any of the top five 8hr teams (and only 11 teams overall), indicating it was too low a score to be worthwhile.

Cowan (70, 51, 42, 32, 50, 40, 101)

The northernmost section of the course had a series of six CPs (excluding 101) that were physically isolated from the rest of the course by about 2km, a 150vm (vertical metre) valley on a single track and the train line.

The main CP of that little cluster was 70, perched at the end of a ridge, and in one way or other had the flag (not the punch) disappear soon into the event, presumably by a pissed off local.  This created some challenges. Being on a short side trail before a sharp bend and steep climb should be enough for people to notice, but there were many reports of teams running by it, which teaches a lesson about why the flags themselves need to be locked. 40 was a nice little playground in Cowan where several teams proved that a Socialgaine is playtime.

I was truly amazed at the volume of teams who went down over 100vm to collect 32 (having already bagged 40 and 50), particularly after both the vetter and the hanger pulled me up asking why I’d given it such low value. What was inserted as “bite” to the top teams became a CP that more than half the Cowan teams went to. I’m not sure whether the combined extra score and decreased distance made up for the climbing, or people really just didn’t study the topography in detail, but no fewer than 40 teams punched off there, out of the 57 that made the trip to Cowan in the first place.

Also the source of surprise was the 13 teams, including two 4-hour ones, that made the 5km, 200vm out-and-back journey to 101, Jerusalem Bay, which both the vetter and hanger asked me what I was putting it there for. It was inserted as an outlier, intentionally there to fluster teams trying to clear the course who would in all likelihood have just gotten the train up and be forced to make the decision at the beginning. Mike Hotchkis told me he didn’t read the larger scale in the inset (slow clap) so perhaps other teams overlooked this. Whether it was more trouble than it was worth is a decision for each team to decide, but either way they were rewarded for their efforts with a stunning view at the bay.

I was pleased to see the lovely, family-run cafe at Cowan being utilized. One of our top competitors “Danish Dave” Williams chose a casual day out with friends – his “Cafe Crew”
(from left) Su Li Sin, Christine Vibet, David Williams & Brent Roylance.

Most teams who went to Cowan did it at the start, but certainly not all of them. The team to take 2nd, place, Bart Vonhoff, Andrew Brown and Richard Mountstephens, started with the big loop in the south, and jumped on the train midway through (well timed given they only are once an hour). Longtime rogainers John and Mardi Barnes took the risk of finishing up there and almost missed the last train back. There was one novice 4hr team that did miss it and, as there was no other way back, they were disqualified. Perhaps a stark reminder that trains in a rogaine are a privilege and not a right!

NW Bushland, Berowra Hts (90, 30, 20, 21, 41, 31, 11, 33)

This is probably the section of the course that I ended up visiting the most in the setting process, and having also been mountain biking in the vicinity many times I knew the area well. 90 of course was by far the best lookout on the course (arguably one of the best in Sydney) and, as intended, was one of the most-visited CPs on the course. Many teams sat down for lunch on the rocks, and who could blame them, particularly if they had approached from the steep climb up from the ferry.

Mardi & John Barnes use up some precious time smiling for the camera at 90, a move they may have later regretted given how close they were to missing the last train!
“Beauties in the Bush” proved that the trip up from Berowra Waters to 90 was some “feat.”

21, 41, 31 and 20 all had interesting views of the valley from different perspectives and teams picked and chose which ones they’d go for when they were in the vicinity. I was surprised at the number of teams who had trouble finding 31 due to ambiguity of which track it was on (perhaps the clue should have clarified, though it said it overlooked the cliff). 11, placed as a waypoint for teams coming in from Turner Rd, also caused some confusion, due to multiple tracks in the vicinity. Again the clue of “a knoll” would have made this clear to more experienced teams, but I do know of at least one team that couldn’t find it at all. Really I saw it as a chance to give some points to teams that read the clue!

30, at the foot of a nice waterfall, was originally a potential out-and-back after teams saw the ferry’s position at 90 and knew if they had time to kill, before I’d found the track to 43. I’m not sure if anyone collected it for this reason but it was obviously visited and appreciated by a number of teams anyway.

Berowra to Mt Kuring-gai via Waratah Bay (91, 65, 74, 73, 54)

As Glenn DiSalvia put it, “First CP, easy to find then realising why it was worth high points when we got there…”

I thought that I had covered all the main details in the course setter’s notes with extensive information about train and ferry times, but I didn’t even think of showing a tidal chart on it as well, which may have made teams revise their route. CP 91, which hung on a boat wreck at Waratah Bay, ended up being in almost chest deep water when the first teams went through. Having run on this track many times I have never seen even knee-deep water so indeed that was a surprise, so was glad that teams understood the “no swimming” rule in the course notes to include Berowra Waters only. Oh well, one way to stop them overheating! The tide went down to normal levels within hours, certainly making the process easier for later teams. Nonetheless, the experience seemed to be a favourite to many competitors, including Open Women’s winner Melissa Richardson (despite noting it resulted in “lots of half-naked rogainers”!)

… but that wasn’t true! Here’s the scene when I put the marker up to prove it!

I had been uncertain whether to add this loop of such minimal navigation & decision making, but the very nature of commitment and lack of pull-out points made it one big decision in itself. I was surprised so many teams – 30 – took this route given the sparsity of scoring along the way, though on further analysis, the minimal navigation and relatively flat terrain – at least compared with other parts of the course – would have have been quite attractive. And as people found out, the scenery was very attractive as well. 73 was a lookout discovered by chance two months before the event, which was intended to be done as an out-and-back but it seemed nobody did this despite the easy terrain in contrast to many of the other high pointers.

Lyrebird Gully & Crosslands (47, 49, 71, 53, 81, 63, 72, 39)

This assortment of CPs in the SW corner obviously turned out to be an interesting challenge, and the beauty of the Lyrebird Gully trail made me regret not offering more points. Kim Eales raves about the view in her blog before she very unfortunately sprained her ankle. Understandably, only a handful of teams made the trip to 71 at Crosslands, but those that did had the bonus of at least being able to refill water and view Berowra Creek up close and personal.

The teams that braved the journey to 63 were rewarded with a great view
(credit: Kim Eales)

The bridge over Calna Creek at 47 has a fascinating history of being built (using two power poles), “upgraded”, broken and rebuilt – and upon further reflection was sorry I didn’t put the flag right on the sign giving that story. Nonetheless there were a couple of teams that remembered details about the sign who were rewarded with a form of chocolate goodness. I was surprised that two teams, including the 8hr winners, made the 3km round trip to 53 – intentionally inserted as an outlier – given how far anyone came from clearing the course. It was, however, the only CP to have no 4hr team visits and far lower than the next least popular CP of 101, with 13 teams. I’ve always found these teaser checkpoints add an interesting dimension, particularly to on-track events, and am glad I put it there.

For those who missed the chance to read about the history of the bridge over 47.

Gundah Ridge (48, 62, 52, 64, 61)

Any teams who could bear with the rather unflattering scenery of the Mt Kuring-gai Industrial area were certainly rewarded with the brilliant views of the creek at 62 and 48 (though the climb up to the latter was certainly an effort for teams heading south). 64 was also a nice view of the valley and quite a contrast to the ugly buildings behind it. People seemed to approach this region in multiple ways (in either direction) – some got 64 and 52 on a direct run between 54 and 29, others went between 54 and 61, and still others went between 61 to 64 and back up towards Berowra.

Jack Havranek climbs to 48 “the fun way”

Berowra Waters (43, 100)

If there were any CP that puts the event into the pages of rogaining history, CP100 would have to take the cake. As Colleen Mock said it will “surely become one of rogaining’s legendary CPs”. I just HAD to integrate the ferry into the course since it was there. I’m very grateful to see some photos of the crazy scene at 100 where at one point over 30 people caught the ferry across in one go. I’m also grateful to the ferrymaster (who was luckily forewarned in the morning) for being so accommodating of the 150+ people that made the trip across during the day. It was nice to hear how many teams saw this strategically as a place to stop and rest for 10 minutes as they planned their next phase of the event.

Despite my prior belief, I found out on the day that it was not the first ferry-gaine in NSW, with the first metrogaine in 2000 utilising the Mortlake Ferry and another metrogaine allowing usage of the Mosman-Circular Quay passage. I think it safe to claim, however, it is the first event to include trains and a ferry simultaneously!

My favourite story from 100 was a group of “bewildered” outsiders who surveyed the mob of rogainers punching on before getting back on the ferry thinking it was an electronic ticketing system! I only discovered the very faint track to 43 (and further up to Nayla Rd) several weeks out from the event, and this was a great find.

Kirrily Dear is delighted at the excuse to have a drink break in the midst of winning the Open Women’s category.
Another unique scene from this event as two dozen teams tap off at 100.
At least the route to 100 wasn’t navigationally challenging. Can you see how much low in the water the ferry is with 40 rogainers on board?

Route Anaylsis

Probably the main surprise for me and the vetters was how far any team was from clearing the course. Although I suspected that it was well out of reach, particularly with 53 and 101 added to ensure this, I was expecting teams to break 2,000 points but nobody even did that. It was clear that our winners, Brian Brannigan and Ivan Koudashev far from slacked off so it, above anything else, gave an indication to the difficulty multiple 200vm climbs that were a necessary component of high scores.

Brian Brannigan & Ivan Koudashev teamed up using the online partner finding service and are presented with their prizes after taking the overall 8hr win.
Colleen & Colin Mock certainly deserved their category win (1st, Mixed Ultra Vets) having made the trip up from Canberra. Colleen told me it was one of her most enjoyable events in 20 years.

 From a course-setter’s perspective I was delighted to see the huge divergence in route choice in the event, not just between high and low placing teams, but amongst the top few teams in both the 4 and 8hr events. By marking up the top 5 teams in each event, I found huge divergences between them.

The top five teams’ routes in the 8hr event. It was pleasing all but one CP got visited by at least one of these teams
The top five 4hr teams’ routes. Note that Daniel and Justin had to modify their route quickly after missing the train to Mt Kuring-gai!

New Event Duration

I took something of a risk to diverge from the well-known 6hr Socialgaine to offer the 4 or 8 hour options instead. This was done as I believed novice and family teams would prefer the shorter duration, but if other teams wanted to get to all the far reaches of Mt Kuring-gai and Cowan, they would need additional time to do it. I got a lot of positive feedback about it at the event itself, and am really glad I took that gamble. What do you think? Please message me or comment below on other duration ideas for subsequent events.

Other Prizes

I was delighted to see how many teams got into all the other “social” aspects of the event. In additional to the aforementioned “Political Bewilderness” challenge, teams were able to take note of the features at CPs to shout out for spot prizes. Every other team seemed to share my belief that it would be easier to score high points than it was, with about 30 teams placing bets on what the winning score would be, all of them higher than the actual winning score (team 134 ultimately won out in this challenge, betting the winning score would be 1770 points).

There were many great team names that I don’t have space to list, but some of my favourites include:

•  Trophy Wives (Nicole Sellin & Sharyn Robins)
•  1 Fast 1 Furious (Ellise Roper & Henry Williams)
•  Cannibal and Lunch (Melissa Robertson & Kirrily Dear. Melissa noted that “thankfully, no one got eaten”)
•  BE-fuddled, BE-wildered & BE-mused (Ted Woodley & Mike Ward)
•  Love your contours (Max Messenger & Emily Rowbotham. Another ironic name, it turned out. Emily unfortunately tripped over early on and sprained her ankle, forcing them to limp through the next four hours to Mt Kuring-gai station before getting a train back.)

Thanks

This report would not be complete without an essay on those to thank for their time and effort, without whose efforts this fabulous event would not have been able to happen.
•  First and foremost, I must thank Graham Field, who, in addition to sending around emails trying to muster up other volunteers in his capacity as volunteer coordinator, took many long hours putting the map together using a very dodgy topo base map and a zillion markups I made from GPX files over a number of months. The fact that there were no complaints about this map is a testament to his work. If that wasn’t enough, he also spent a day out hanging flags around Cowan.
•  Secondly, Antoniya Bachvarova and Andrew Smith, who ended up deciding to bail on us to compete in the NZ champs held the same weekend, became invaluable assistance as they helped vet the course, give feedback on my plans, and hung a number of flags at Waratah Bay (it was dry for them too!) and Gundah Ridge. I’m also indebted to Toni for some brilliant promotional posters and flyers made up to put up in the local area.
•  Marnie Holmes, Lisa Gyecsek, and Andrew Geelan were also very generous with their time in hanging flags, as was Phil Smyth, who put up the Berowra Ferry flag on the morning and warned the ferrymaster of the influx of people. Lisa and Andrew also rendered a great amount of assistance setting up and clearing up on the day.
•  Other on the day helpers included Bob Kenderes and his three children, John Havranek, Bob & Pam Montgomery and John and Mardi Barnes, whose help with setup, traffic marshalling and helping novice teams find their feet ensured the success of the event. Bob and Pam also collected flags right afterwards despite presumably having aching legs themselves. Julian Ledger, Adrian Plaskitt, John Anderson and Martin Dearnley.
•  I’m also very appreciative to Guy Micklethwait, a Berowra local, who reached out to help at the last minute upon reading about the event in the local paper. As it turned out, he had a degree in photography and he and his friend Nicola kindly spent the day getting some great photos at CPs 19, 46, 80, 100 and 90 and the HH.

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