Fields, Fences and Frogs

Report on The SunSEQer Rogaine Australasian Championships 2018 – by Tristan White

Team 5 – Tristan White & Mitchell Lindbeck, “A Degree of Indirection”

There were many reasons that led me to once again enter a 24 hour rogaine, but as someone who  does not typically get bothered by Sydney winters, “SEQing” the sun was not one of them. However, plodding into the finish in a wet and bedraggled mess after facing steady rain for the past 9 hours meant that I was most certainly “SEQing” it by then!

I teamed up with Mitchell Lindbeck who had famously been my partner in the 2016 World Champs near Alice Springs. As he moved up to the Sunshine Coast shortly after that, we hadn’t paired for any events since so it was a perfect chance to have another go together. Arriving on the late afternoon Friday, it was pleasing to see how many NSW teams made the effort to show up. Too often the Aus Champs are made up of 90% teams from the host state so it’s great to see a good mix of interstate & NZ teams joining the fun.  

The first thought that went through my mind when I saw the map was the sheer size of the course. It was significantly larger than the standard size in itself, but with a scale of 1:40,000, the line distance was over 50% longer than what I was used to. By a rough calculation, it was an average of 2km between checkpoints, and there were many places that it was significantly more. Whilst far from flat though, the contour lines looked much further apart than in the standard NSW bush event, and it was obviously 80% open grassland. It depended on one’s climbing/running ability to decide whether that made an easier event. Mitch and I planned a base route to the west around 70km that got to the ANC relatively early on, mostly on roads in the dead of the night and temptingly close to the HH around daybreak but resolved not to make a detour to visit it.

Starting out at a steady walk, we went to 65 and 32 with minimal difficulty, before going further off track to get 103, 70, 95, 92 and 61, before the extended trip of about 4km to 101, followed by 68. We then collected 52 and 93, by which point it was getting dark and we pulled out our torches for the trip up the watercourse to the very welcome All Night Cafe.

After a pact to stay no longer than 15 minutes, we departed the ANC for the long leg, mostly on the road, to 81. We had heard accounts from another team that there was an angry landowner who was unaware of the event being held (due to a miscommunication at his end) and had angrily chased people off his land surrounding 81, Walt Kowalski style.

Deciding to take a marked track coming in from the North West, that is where our problems started. After the apparently straight road took several zig-zags that threw us off where we were and walking through a fenced field that we later realized was that of the “Get Off My Lawn Guy” and immediately jumped off. we made an estimate of where we were from a nearby gully junction and guessed the CP was on the adjacent spur. After climbing up it and seeing no flag, we realized our troubles were going to be far from over. After umpteen sit downs, stand ups, and attempted relocations, we had realized it had been 2½ hours since we left the ANC and eventually we decided that we couldn’t waste any more time there and decided to move on. Unlike previous times I’ve been geographically embarrassed, at least we could use the road we had come down as a landmark.

We hadn’t completely run out of luck, as it turned out. By chance we ran into another team coming from the opposite direction, who had just come from 81. We had been on the wrong hillside the entire time!  With a mix of frustration and relief, we climbed up the hill and down into the adjacent gully, and there was a red and white flag. Another 80 points in the bag. We kept this lesson at the forefront of our mind for the rest of the night: don’t trust the tracks!

Now it was 11pm, and the clouds had uncovered a glorious full moon that acted as a guiding light as we continued along towards 66, which we found with relative ease. 106 was found with extreme care, being in one of the many shallow gullies. Taking a bearing directly to one of the creek crossing points, 85 was found without huge difficulty, before we reached W3 to refill at about 1am.

Did I say anything about the fences? Barbed wire fences were everywhere over the course, and extreme care was needed, particularly in the dead of the night, to ensure it didn’t leave a lasting impression on our skin. For some reason, the song “We’re going on a Bear Hunt (or Flag Hunt)” went through my head: “Uh-oh, barbed wire. We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it; we’ve got to go through it!” But practice made perfect; by this point we had been through so many that we had worked out the most efficient way possible to get through: I’d hold up the bottom wire and Mitch would crawl under on his belly and would subsequently hold apart the bottom two wires so I could climb through. Now that’s teamwork!

It’s worth noting the other forms of life we had run into at this point. There were cattle galore over much of the course (which at night became a series of glistening eyes), and plenty of (I think) pademelons and rabbits who would jump out of nowhere. But the most intriguing company that we kept was on the way to 72 as we walked under yet another barbed wire fence and a dozen sets of eyes started heading towards us; as it turned out it was a pack of curious horses, probably wondering what two crazy guys with torches were doing at 2am. Whether they wanted attention or food I do not know but they would not leave us alone.  We gave up two valuable minutes giving them a pat, resulting in them following us across the paddock and having another eight or so turn up and join the fun. The sight of twenty sets of disappointed eyes staring at us as we crossed the fence again was one of the most prominent memories of the event.

Shortly after bagging 72, the stars and the moon were replaced by little drops of water, lots of little drops, and by the time we were along the track towards 105 the rain had really set in and the jackets were out. Although the anchor point was a track junction in a watercourse, it was remarkably shallow and indistinct and if it hadn’t been for my alert partner I would have walked right past. Thanks Mitch!  Heading up the “watercourse,” we found the CP with minimal effort. For the first time ever, I had the ultimate rogaining triumph: bagging a 100 pointer, in a shallow gully, in the rain. It doesn’t get any more classic than that!

Heading back to the track we started working out whether or not to get 67, which was partway up a hill after over a kilometre over a flat field. By this time we were soaked through and I was really keen to take whatever route that would keep us moving. But the anguish of walking past a CP when all points were so hard to earn won out, and we carefully set our compasses across to the hill, climbed under the barbed wire and walked across the now soaking grass. Halfway along, Mitch spied an absolute godsend: a tiny 2 square metre shelter in which I could quickly pull on all my remaining warm gear.  It was amazing what a thermal top and a small headband could do to warm me up. In the process another curious four legged friend came over to me; in this case quite a sizable green tree frog, who briefly jumped up my leg!

Fortunately despite (or possibly because) of our wariness of it, we found 67 without issue and made our long way back to the track, towards 83. The sunrise (albeit with no break in the rain) lifted our spirits as we were once again able to see to get 33 and 78 with minimal effort. By this point it was about 8am and it was a decision point. It didn’t seem as though we had enough time for either 45 or 87, a long way to the east and west respectively (though we would regret this later), and resolved to get 97 and 78, and collect whatever we had time for of 31, 73 and 30. As it turned out the open and relatively flat land made our movements  relatively fast.  We hence returned to the Hash House at 10:30am without anything else we had the confidence to collect in the remaining hour and a half. A good excuse for an early shower before the queues got long!

We ended up with 1870 points, putting us 33/110 teams, and covering around a relatively civilized 70km. Although it was a far cry away from 4th in last years Aus Champs, the slower pace we opted for and the nature of the open & less hilly course meant I wasn’t disappointed in the least. The runners were well and truly rewarded for sheer distance covered, and I just had no interest in running for 24 hours.

It is worth paying homage to a number of great performances of NSW teams, the culmination of several podiums led to us winning the interstate competition! In the general classification, Gill Fowler and Joel Mackay were the highest ranking NSW teams, scoring an impressive 2750 points putting them in 5th. Mitch and I overtook Gill and Joel just after sunrise after Joel described himself as “cactus” so I can only imagine how they’d done had Joel had a better day, as Gill is a very good ultrarunner which would have been a great asset on a course like this. David Williams & Ronnie Taib placed themselves 9th with 2490 points. Also just scraping into the top 10% in 11th place were Andrew Smith and Toni Bachvarova with 2450 points, also taking out the Mixed Veterans. After having dinner with Toni and Smiffy a couple of nights to compare routes, we discovered they did a very similar route to us in the reverse direction and added a few extra CPs west of the ANC and in the NW corner. They made it from the HH to 81 by just after 6pm; we did the opposite route (with one or two extra CPs in over double that time!).

“The Royals,” Andy Macqueen and Greg King also collected a great 2260 points to take out the Men’s Ultra Veteran title, in 19th place overall. Andy and Greg were one of the unfortunate teams to have faced the “Get Off My Lawn,” actually chased off with a quad bike, forcing them to entirely change their route. Mike Hotchkis and Neil Hawthorne paired up once again after Neil’s departure to Tasmania, just ahead of us at 1930 points, after Neil had had some foot issues. Having seen them do numerous 24h events (Mike from personal experience) I know that they are both very experienced rogainers and can all but wonder how they would have done were circumstances on their side. (Mike and I will be teaming up for the NSW Champs shortly so hopefully I can find out!)

The Duerden team was certainly worth a mention. Andrew and Rochelle have competed together for many years before Rochelle moved up to Queensland recently, but it was the first time that 16yo Jemma, who has now started competing regularly in her place, embarked on a 24h. Whilst it sounds like their trip out was not without its issues, it was nonetheless a remarkable achievement for Jem to get through as much as she did!

Martin Dearnley and Graham Field, whom I used to compete with in the old days, just scraped into the top 50% with 1400 points. Given that they came back and slept 7 hours, that was a fantastic score!

 

Just thought I would take a last chance to pitch NSW teams to compete in championship events. Notwithstanding the fact that the travel (and necessary time off work) is a greater hassle and expense than our “local” events, there are many other reasons it is worth making the trip to Tasmania next year:

  • A chance to win a national sporting event (depending on your category!)
  • Experience the types of terrain that exists in other states to test your rogaining adaptability! For example, I’ve never had a 1:40,000 map and it was an added challenge to visualize the distance of points on the map!
  • Meet like-minded people from all over Australia and NZ and even potential future partners (Mitch and I met at an ARC several years ago!)
  • An excuse to see a new part of the country. Why not stay for a few extra days and make a holiday of it, as I did in the Gold Coast the week before?
  • Just like all NSW’s 24-hour events, whilst these are “championships,” teams are always equally free to head out on course for a few hours, have a night’s sleep and get a few more the next morning.
[For reference, you can download the map from the ARC website, at http://www.qldrogaine.asn.au/qraonline/html/wp/results/]