An interview with Toni and Smiffy on their experiences at the NZ and Tas Rogaining Championships
While many people, including regular “shorter duration” rogainers, believe that doing a 24-hour rogaine and staying out all night is crazy, longtime NSWRA competitors Antoniya Bachvarova and Andrew Smith decided it wasn’t enough and had to enter 24h events on two consecutive weekends. Publicity Officer Tristan White asked them a bunch of questions to hear about their experiences in the recent New Zealand Rogaining Championships (24-25 November) and the Tasmanian Rogaining Championships (1-2 December).
Tristan: What was the location of each of the events?
Smiffy: The NZ Rogaining Champs were set on the outskirts of Dunedin with a small part of the course covering a suburban area, other parts explored the extensive network of walking and mountain bike tracks just NW of Dunedin.
The Tasmanian Rogaining Champs were held on the northern part of the Forestier Peninsula, 60km south-west of Hobart. While primarily on the Bangor farming property it also included parts of Tasman National Park.
Tristan: Tell us about the two courses and how they compared?
Smiffy: The course for the NZ Champs was unusual for New Zealand, set in the hills behind Dunedin, with altitude ranged between 80 and 700m. The terrain was mostly steep, and varied between native rainforest, pine forest, rough open areas overgrown with flax, gorse and other weeds, and sub-alpine tussock/shrub land. A lot of the off-track was almost impenetrable and the rest was slow. There were some patches of native forest with moderate undergrowth. A couple of reasonable size creeks intersecting the course were potentially tricky to cross in high water.
The course setter, Matt Bixley, and his team put a lot of effort into mapping all the tracks and variety of vegetation to make route planning easier.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t kind to us, nor to the organisers. There was a major rain event in the week before the Rogaine. As a result, the creeks were up and most of the vague tracks on the course had become unrecognizable. It also rained throughout the event, which not only made us wet and very cold for most of the time, it also made the already tough course even more challenging.
We were struggling to read the fine detail on the map, as our glasses were wet and foggy. At night our torch lights couldn’t penetrate the mist, so any navigation off track was almost impossible. As the rain intensified, all surfaces became extremely slippery, tracks turned to either muddy slides or ankle deep bogs. Some controls placed on creeks also became tricky to access, as water gushed down the waterfalls.
The persistent misty rain also meant we missed out on the many apparently great views from the high points on the course.
In contrast, the Tasmanian course was mostly open farmland and reasonably open forest. It was a lovely scenic landscape with rolling hills and beautiful coastline.
Fortunately there was some moderately dense scrub in the south-east otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to grumble about the setting. Elevation ranged from 0 to 330m, the weather was mild, and the forecast 10-25mm of rain forecast for the second half didn’t eventuate. There was a rain squall in the hour before dawn (which destroyed the Hash House tents) but after the weekend in New Zealand we hardly noticed it.
Tristan: How did you place in them?
Toni: As the wisdom goes, if we find the event tough, most likely other teams will as well. We finished the NZRC 11th overall on the same score with two other teams with 1860 (but finishing later than one of them) and 2nd mixed veteran – 70 points behind the winning mixed veteran team. The overall winners Tim Farrant and Tane Cambridge collected a smashing 3100 points – about 75% of the course score.
For the Tassie Champs, while there was a great turn out for the 6 and 15 hour events, only 18 teams did the 24 hour event. People just don’t realise how much better the 24 hour event is! To our surprise, we won overall! It’s the first time we’ve ever done that. Ciara Smart and Ben Armstrong put in a very solid performance to take second place (unfortunately we denied them the open mixed win – sorry guys!) and Gary Carroll and Ken McLean (MSV) took third after a navigation mishap took the wind out of their sails.
Tristan: What blunders did you make (if any) and what would you have done differently?
Smiffy: We had a few issues on the course during the NZ Champs.
The biggest frustration was a control placed in the rainforest, which was meant to be just 80m away from a track. First we had trouble following the vague track that was meant to intersect with the main track. After we found the right track junction, we tried to navigate to the control which was supposed to be placed on a junction of two minor watercourses. We thought we’d identified one of them and tried following it for a couple of hundred meters with no success. After a couple of back and forths we decided to abandon because it was just a 20-pointer. This is always the hardest decision – when do you pull the plug and abandon? We usually mull over these decisions for days. An even bigger disappointment was to later see our GPS track so close to the control – we must have somehow walked right past it twice!
After this experience we made a decision to avoid controls that required cross-country navigation for the dark part of the event and changed our route to some ‘easier’ controls.
There was still plenty of challenge finding knife-edge spurs on hill sides when all we could see was white mist in our torch light.
What we learnt the hard way in those weather conditions was a pair of rain overpants paired with a good quality rain jacket would have made all the difference to our level of comfort.
I got so cold, I didn’t have the motivation to keep pushing and try to do as much as possible right up to the end of the event. And that was the main reason I felt so frustrated after the rogaine.
The Tassie Champs went quite smoothly. I find Australian landscapes so much easier to navigate. Partly because the maps are usually higher resolution (<=1:40,000 & 10m contours) but also because the spurs and gullies are less intricate and often the vegetation provides better visibility. We didn’t make any significant errors on the course – the closest we got was 75 where the spur was difficult to read in the scrub and I thought we’d climbed too high and missed it. Fortunately Toni was confident we should keep going and the control appeared 50m further up (I walked past it – Toni spotted it). Our plan was working well – we dropped a less valuable control here and there to stay on schedule and we were able to make the most of the critical final hours by timing our return to the hash house via a productive route. The last hours of a 24 are always stressful and hectic – trying to avoid serious navigational errors with a mind dulled by exhaustion while trying to pick up those last precious points and finish just before the bell. We often find these last few controls are the difference between a win or not. It’s extremely satisfying to finish just in time knowing you did everything you could.
Tristan: Given that, even among rogaining circles, competing in a 24h event and staying out all night is seen as crazy enough, what possessed you to fly out to two of them on consecutive weekends?
Toni: We only found out about the Tas Champs after we’d entered the NZ event. 24-hour rogaines are our favourite format, so we are usually keen to do as many as we can. Still, we decided it would be too much to do both events back to back. We had a pretty rough time in Dunedin. It was the first time I was happy to finish a 24-hour event with 4-5 hours to go. Thanks to Smiffy’s persistence we kept picking up controls but still finished an hour early, even though there were two more controls within reach. I was quite happy to finally warm up with a hot shower and change into dry clothes. Still, our capitulation made the whole experience unusually unsatisfying and was made worse by the fact that we would have won the category if we had pressed for those two controls in that final hour. So on Tuesday we had a look at the airfares to Tassie and entered the Return of the Oysters Rogaine in the hours before entries closed. We were both pretty keen to end the season on a positive note.
Tristan: Why do interstate and overseas rogaines?
Toni: Every time we’ve done a Rogaine outside NSW or ACT I’ve appreciated how lucky we are to have perfect terrain for rogaining right in our backyard – large areas of native bush, often open and pleasant, and mountain landscapes that can challenge our navigational skills while rewarding with spectacular views.
Yet, competing in different conditions and against rogainers from other parts of Australia or the world gives us a chance to get out of our comfort zone, adapt to different conditions and meet the local rogainers and learn from them.
Rogaines in NZ are always challenging – tough and physically demanding and weather is usually a big consideration. Other places might offer easier terrain but then you would be tempted to go further. So there is always something to learn, an experience to remember.
And there are always great people to meet and get to know. Rogainers are always lovely people – you have to be to survive long distance team sports.
Tristan: How do you feel now?
Toni: Surprisingly we didn’t feel that tired after the NZ Champs. The rough terrain and vegetation forces a slower pace and shorter distance which in turn takes less of a toll on our bodies.
We did pay for it after the Tassie Rogaine with both of us having a slow run at the Wednesday Sydney Summer Series. It all caught up with Smiffy one week later at the Western Sydney Summer Series – he really crashed afterwards and slept the rest of the day
Tristan: Finally, how did New Zealand and Tasmania compare with other 24-hour events you’ve done in 2018, especially our NSW Champs?
Smiffy: It’s interesting to look at our stats for the championship events we did this year:
<> ACT Champs Yarrangobilly: 78km 2942m
<> NavShield Yengo: 59km (no GPS track for this event)
<> Australasian Champs Manumbar, Qld: 99km 2860m
<> NSW Champs Abercrombie: 76km 3802m
<> NZ Champs Dunedin: 69km 3039m
<> Tas Champs Bangor: 89km 3219m
Abercrombie wins for vertical distance! And it was also the most demanding physically – our legs had absolutely no hills left in them at the end.
In Dunedin, where the vertical relief across the course was twice as big, the track network and minimal off-track options made it easier to minimise the ups and downs.
At Abercrombie there were very few controls you could link up without significant up and downs. Next time it would be nice to have a few more controls arranged so that it is worth doing a couple of ridge traverses to provide some relief from the vertical. But in a championship event you definitely can’t complain about it – it’s supposed to be demanding. However, it has prompted me to make a mental note next time I’m setting a course.
Tristan: Thanks for such a great update, Toni & Smiffy. All the best for 2019!