better contours with ‘nswtopo’ software

Just a quick note for any NSW setters who have used my ‘nswtopo’ software to make their maps.

I have just put out a tentative v2.0 of this software. The headline addition is a new feature for contours and spot heights. There is now really good, publicly available elevation for all of NSW, so I added a facility to make contours from this data very easily.

Obviously this is significant because contours are our bread and butter. We are used to contours from the NSW database, which are mostly manually created contours dating back decades. 5-metre contours from this new elevation data (derived from lidar) give a far more accurate depiction of terrain. (Also, they look fantastic. I suggest adding shaded relief for the full experience.)

OK, hope this is useful,
— Matthew

First timers

Howdy all… my 11yo son and I were thinking of doing our first ever rogaine for a bit of fun and were wondering what the general process is.

I was thinking that the 3hr Minigaine at the end of Feb 2019 would be a good place to start… would you advise that we try and find someone to team up with, or could we just give it a crack by ourselves on the day? We’re both pretty fit, so I’m not super worried about the physical side of things… I’m more just thinking about stuff like logistics and knowing the rules, and so on. Are there “practice” courses that we could do in the meantime so we can get a bit better at navigation? Any advice would be great. Thanks heaps.

Cheers,
Craig

Go Your Own Way

Thoughts About the Future of Rogaining … by Brett Davis

The main feedback I would like to provide on the NSW Rogaining   Strategic Plan 2018 – 2022 is its failure to embrace rogaining for individuals rather than teams. 

I am aware that the definition of rogaining is “the sport of long distance cross-country navigation for teams travelling on foot” – and I think this is the crux of the sport’s problem, especially if one of your objectives is to “increase participation rates by 15% per annum”. Rogaining is essentially an individual sport that has been forced to become a team sport because of safety concerns that were quite reasonable when the sport was created, but which may now be holding it back.

Would sports like tennis, golf, running, triathlon, swimming and cycling be as popular as they are today if participants were forced to compete as teams rather than individuals?

When I started researching the history of rogaining to find out why the sport was limited to teams, I was astounded to find that solo rogaining was already happening in both NSW and the ACT – and had in fact been happening for years! Because I never go into events shorter than 12 hours, I had no idea that the 3 hour Minigaines in NSW had been allowing solo entries since at least 2010 (despite Rogaining being a team sport). A quick check of past ACT rogaines showed that the Ainslie 5 hour rogaine in 2011 allowed solo entries, as did all the 6 hour Metrogaines since 2014.

I examined the results of the NSW Minigaines and found that the percentage of competitors who chose to go solo varied from a low of 13.5% (in 2010) to a high of 28.73% (in 2013) – with an average solo participation rate of 21.8%. For the six ACT rogaines where solo entries have been allowed, the percentage of competitors who chose to go solo varied from 9.7% to 21.15% with an average solo participation rate of 16.2%. Whether the solo entries were made up of teams that had split up or not is open to conjecture, but at least some of the solo entries would have been competitors who would not have been at the event if solo entries were not allowed. 

While I was going through the stats I noticed that solo competitors did very well in the rogaines. In fact, I could only find one rogaine that had been won by a team in the 11 rogaines I found that allowed solo entries.

As Julian Ledger said in a post on the NSW Rogaining Association Forum in April 2017 – “Looking at the results one has to ask do Rogainers do better on their own? Safety considerations aside if longer rogaines allowed solo entry would the lone wolves clean sweep the places …?” He also said “going solo means no distracting conversations, less chance of forgetting what you are supposed to be doing or partners pulling up with cramp. Left only with your inner voice you can focus on the navigation.” 

On the same forum, Chris Stevenson said “I made a deliberate decision to enter yesterday’s event as a team because I recall from previous events the competitiveness of the individuals … To put it in context, the average score of the individuals was 1,390 whereas the average score in the teams was 855.” Chris also said “Perhaps that is why they can’t find a friend to be their partner” – and this certainly happens to me. I would compete in every rogaine I could if solo entries were allowed.

On the NSW Rogaining blog under “Strategic Plan – What’s Wrong with Rogaining” – Shanti wrote in November last year “I find that the main thing holding me back is finding a partner (the partner finding service is great for this and I usually have success, but a lot of people might not want to walk around the bush for a day with a complete stranger). The 3 hr ones are great because you can do them individually but it would be nice if some of the 6 hr Metrogaines had an individual option.”

Similar feedback has already been published in the outcomes from your 2017 survey. One comment was “Wish you would offer solo entries for 6-hr event” while another comment said “About 3 hours, solo entry, in a natural environment, would be perfect for me …”

So I am not the only one who would like to see more solo entries allowed in more – if not all – rogaines.

What are the advantages of going solo and the disadvantages of teams? As mentioned above, finding a suitable partner can be difficult or impossible, because partners should be a similar age with similar fitness and similar motivation. And even if you are lucky enough to find the perfect partner, they will not necessarily be available for all the rogaines you want to enter. This is not a problem if solo entries are allowed. 

The age categories for teams are based on the age of the youngest team member. I am 65 which means I am an ultra-veteran, but at the Wingello Rogaine recently I was teamed with a 54 year old, which meant our team was not even a super-veteran team, and I had to compete against veterans 25 years younger than me. Solo entries completely eliminates this problem.

Another disadvantage of compulsory teams is the risk that your event could be ruined due to the misfortune of your partner. If they are injured, or get sick, or tire early, get blisters, or have a gear failure like a dead torch or a hole in a hydration pack, then your event is ruined too and you have done your very expensive entry fee cold. With solo entries, you only have yourself to look after, and blame.

The obvious reason that solo entry was not allowed in early rogaines was the safety factor. Teams were, and still are, safer than going it alone. But these days we have mobile phones, satellite phones, personal locator beacons (PLBs) and even the Strategic Plan seeks to “implement GPS tracking”, so solo rogaining is much safer today than it was when the sport was invented 40 odd years ago.

GPS tracking – and solo rogaining in 24 hour rogaining championships – will inevitably happen one day, so why not let it happen now? We already sign waivers acknowledging the inherent risks associated with competing in a rogaine, and if we are prepared to die in our sport and sign a waiver acknowledging this, there should be no chance of repercussions on the organizers. The fact that solo rogaining is actually allowed in shorter events means that insurance and litigation considerations have already been taken into account.  To make it even safer for solo rogainers, allow them to compete only if they have a PLB.

Anyway, that’s my feedback.

Strategic Plan

After the Wingello wingaine (great event thanks all) I can’t help but wonder about the process of awarding wins in multiple categories. I have wondered about this for a while and can’t see the logic. Perhaps there could be some consideration to teams nominating their chosen category and also an open category, but seeing the same team trotted out for four categories does seem a bit dull.

I also feel as an aside that the sport is incredibly cheap for what is provided. Do you know an ironman triathlon entry rates above 1000 dollars currently? UTA may as well be 1000 dollars. Im pretty sure cost is not keeping people away. Could mean ,ore money in the coffers to think about some remuneration to prevent volunteer burnout.

Anyway this is not a Wingello inspired whinge just some thoughts I have had for some time. I think the strategic plan is a solid piece of work. Well done all.

Night Navigation

With the Navigation Workshop coming up in April, I thought I would write some of my thoughts and experiences about night navigation.

My first experience of night navigation was during my first event, which was the 1994 Australian Championships at Bethungra (near Cootamundra). Prior to entering this event I had never used a compass at night, but that still made me the team expert, because my two companions had never used a compass at all.

I was really pleased with my control finding ability until the wheels fell off about 2 in the morning. We found a tricky control about midnight and then proceeded to the next control about a kilometre away. We never found it.

By 2am I had to admit that not only did we not find the control, but I had absolutely no idea where we were. We could see teams moving by headlight in the distance, but pride prevented me from trying to find them and ask for assistance. So rather than move around and get more lost (if that was possible) we slept on the ground until dawn. Once the sun rose the surrounding mountains made it pretty clear where we were and we headed back to the hash house.

From that night on I was hooked on rogaining and rogaining at night still has a special place in my heart. Rogaining at night is an interesting emotional roller coaster. With many emotions playing out as the night unfolds.

The first phase is panic as you rush to get as many controls as possible by the failing light.

The second phase is melancholy. Being at home just after dark usually means food, company and TV (or Youtube these days). Home, just after dark, is a very hospitable place. The bush, just after dark, is quite an inhospitable place and demons tend to lurk in your brain. More than once, just after it has gone dark on a rogaine, I have asked myself “What the hell am I doing here?”

The third phase of this emotional roller coaster is acceptance. Acceptance of the fact that it is dark and you need to shift mentally into night mode. Night mode means pace counting and careful navigation using the lesser number of clues that are available at night.

The fourth phase of night navigation is confidence. Confidence comes at the time you have bagged a couple of controls in the dark and you have your pace counting distance down pat and you are starting to score serious points despite the handicap of the darkness. It’s a great feeling, but it never lasts.

Night Rogaining
Me rogaining at night (I am on the left, smiling).
The fifth phase of night navigation is “the fog”. No not a literal fog, it is the fog that enters your brain from fatigue and being awake when your body is screaming for sleep. This fog has caused me (and my rogaining colleagues) to make some horrible navigation decisions. I distinctly recall my partner, Julian Ledger, and me walking up the wrong valley for 45 mins, at the Garland valley rogaine, and then looking for a control that wasn’t there before realising we had made an appalling mistake. That is what the “fog” does to you. Human beings just weren’t meant to be awake between 2 and 5 in the morning. My sister is a long term nurse on night shift and she gets my respect.

Assuming you don’t walk off a cliff while enduring “the fog” the next phase of night navigation is optimism. This is the optimism brought on by more points under your belt and an emerging dawn. There is something special about the optimism combined with the inevitable fatigue of rogaining into morning’s first light.

Night navigation also brings funny moments. I can’t remember which rogaine it was, but it had been raining and we had to ford the upper reaches of Cox’s river. It was a very cloudy night so it was pitch black. I had no idea how deep the river was going to be at the the ford so, pushed for time, I proceeded straight in. My rogaining partner baulked when the water reached chest deep, but I told him he was being precious and we proceeded across the river. Halfway across the river, chest deep in water, I could hear some people crossing the river next to us. I turned my light to look and see another team crossing the barely ankle deep river at the ford which was only about 3 metres away.

That partner never did another rogaine. I am not sure if it was the “ford incident” or the fact that it rained most of the night or the fact that one of our headlights failed and we had to share a headlight for the rest of the night (when I say share, he wore it all night).

In conclusion, I love night navigation. At the risk of being a bigot, the best rogaining is done at night and the best rogainers barely slow down as they trot uphill and down dale finding control after control regardless of what challenges stand in their way.

Rather than learning night navigation the hard way, like I did, come along to Navigation Workshop in April. Imbued by the skills learnt at the Navigation Workshop your nights in the bush will be full of confidence until “the fog” gets you.

The End of an Era

It’s the end of an era. Welcome to the era of Teslin.

Teslin, for those of you not up with the latest innovations in rogaining, is that “paper” on which we have started to print maps. Teslin is water proof and very strong. I used an unprotected Teslin map in the National Championships on the weekend and the unprotected map survived the event in almost perfect condition, unlike its carrier who has a scratched head from walking into a tree branch.

For those of you are interested “Teslin” is a brand name of its manufacturer PPG and according to their website “PPG TESLIN® substrate is a microporous, dimensionally stable, highly filled, single-layer, polyolefin synthetic material. A non-abrasive inorganic filler comprises 60 percent of the weight, and it is 65 percent air by volume.
The porous, uncoated nature of Teslin substrate absorbs inks, adhesives, coatings, and laminating films to form strong interlocking bonds with the substrate that secure printed data.”

It is interesting that the word “paper” is not mentioned and while Teslin claims it is recyclable I am not sure if it is recycled as a plastic or a paper. In any case, I would not dream of recycling my rogaining maps. The kids can throw them out after I have passed on.

In days gone by the first thing competitors did at a rogaine was cover their map with contact but like the horse and buggy this is a rarely viewed sight these days.

The picture below is my team mate, Julian Ledger, who is not as yet convinced by the power of Teslin. Here he is displaying his contacting artistry having covered the huge National Championship map (bigger than two A3 sheets) without any air bubbles on the front. (The back was not so pretty :<)

Julian proudly displaying his map contacting skill.

The other thing to note about Teslin is that it was great at taking a significant portion of the skin off my lips. I put my map in my mouth, at one stage, to scramble up something and when I pulled it out again I found the skin of my lips were now part of the “microporous, dimensionally stable” substrate.

Personally, I never had much patience for contacting and in any case I used to delegate that task to my wife who is a school teacher and could contact a sand castle, without air bubbles, in her sleep.

Welcome to the era of Teslin!

Avoiding the Lawrence of Arabia country

Congratulations to Steve Ryan course setter, Gill Fowler organiser and Anita Bickle admin, on the excellent Minigaine at Cronulla on Sunday. Exploring an area not so well known to many in very fair conditions was a great pleasure. The beaches, parks and views were all perfect. The dunes probably best avoided for mere mortals. The event was run efficiently and with a good atmosphere most fittingly as it coincided with the end of Gill Fowler’s fabulous five year term as President.
Steve stretched our legs and there was plenty of variety. Route choice was limited in parts but the mid section of the map gave rise to plenty of options none of which stood out as the best. I’ve got a feeling that’s where I lost some time but the good news is that I beat Chris (let’s just get one more check point) Stevenson. And as the old saying goes it is okay to come second last so long as you beat Chris!
The winner, Andrew Hill cleared the course with 2 minutes to spare – he looked good when we crossed paths and course setting doesn’t get any finer than that outcome.

Looking at the results one has to ask do Rogainers do better on their own? Safety considerations aside if longer rogaines allowed solo entry would the lone wolves clean sweep the places as they did in Cronulla? When I started rogaining way back in Western Australia the thought was that three was the ideal team. One to map read, one to pace count at night and the other to help find the controls which tended to be a bit dodgy what with few contours, unreliable maps and no GPS for course setting in those days. On the other hand going solo means no distracting conversations, less chance of forgetting what you are supposed to be doing or partners pulling up with cramp. Left only with your inner voice you can focus on the navigation.

So which is best team or solo? Perhaps a teams versus solos challenge.

Meanwhile I’ve been hobbling around the city today with a sore heel. Is there a remedy or is it just rest is best? So long as it is healed by the Australian Champs on first weekend of May down south of Canberra so that I can keep up with partner Chris (victory or doom) Stevenson and guide him to good route choice.

By the way don’t be shy of the ‘championships’ moniker – all are welcome and it’s a regular rogaine which promises open bushland. On the Monday after to impress workmates and friends you can drop that what you were doing at the weekend was competing in the Australian championships.

Congrats to Trevor Gollan for his election as new President. We could not be in more experienced hands and no doubt the org will do well with the strong committee behind him.

Do you like it Soft or Hard ?

Judging by our attendance at 12 and 24 hour events I think most Rogainers like it soft. The NSW Organising Committee (of which I am a part) are wondering why relatively few people enter 12 or 24 hour events.

I have a number of theories I would like to share:

Sanity

Only a person with a tenuous hold on sanity would enjoy running around thick bush in the dark with a map and compass. “Normal” people simply do not feel the need to endure that much discomfort or have a competitive urge that will drive them for 24 hours. Yes, in case you were wondering, rogainers are not “normal” people.

Family

I lose a lot of “brownie” points when I disappear into the bush for a weekend with mates. My wife has done a 24 hour event with me, but now we have young kids we can’t both go. All married people with young children will understand that a weekend away leaving your significant other at home with the kids has a price that must be paid.

A suggestion from my fellow Committee Members is to take my family with me. Good idea, but unfortunately my family’s hold on sanity exceeds mine, and I cannot find the words to convince them that wandering around the bush in the dark is fun. To be honest, my son thinks going somewhere without wifi is an unnatural and completely avoidable act.

Work

I don’t know about the elite athletes, but my work on Monday suffers after a 24 hour event. No amount of coffee can replace the 20+ IQ points I sacrifice to fatigue. These days I take the Monday off after an event, but that also has a cost.

Pain

Most people do not like being in pain and it is almost impossible to do a 12 or 24 hour event without suffering some form of pain. I vividly remember ripping my big toe nail off 2 hours into the Garland Valley 24hr and also suffering heat stress around 3 hrs into the Gundy 24 hr. Let’s face it in today’s modern society you can avoid almost any form of pain, but it is very difficult to do a 12 or 24 hour event without suffering some level of pain, either during or after the event.

Risk

Getting home after a 12 or 24 hour event is tricky. If you have been going hard for 24 hours it is risky to drive a motor vehicle and given that often these events are held in remote locations this risk is amplified. Please, please please do not try and drive home straight after a 12 or 24 hour event.

But wait, I am on the Committee and I am supposed to be promoting 12 and 24 hour events on behalf of Organising Committee so here are some reasons why you absolutely must do a 12 or 24 hour Rogaine.

Memories

I am in my 50s now and having led a relatively full life I forget things. I forget people I have worked with, I forget parties, I forget trips away, I forget what possessions I have and I even forget who won My Kitchen Rules, but I remember every 12 and 24 hour rogaining event I have ever done. I remember where the event was, I remember who was with me and I remember which course we took and what navigational blunders we made. I even remember which of my team mates I pushed against the electric fence to see if it was live.

When I am too old to compete, these are the memories I want to re-live, not who won the 2016 My Kitchen Rules competition.

Achievement

I am an average rogainer, but I am proud of my ability to find an orange flag hanging on a tree in a valley which 99.9999% of the population will never visit. I am also proud of my ability to compete for 12 or 24 hours. I enjoy telling my work mates how I spent my weekend when the highlight of their weekend was seeing a movie none of us will remember in a year’s time.

Endorphins

I am not sure about others but there is something to be said about the chemicals that flows through your body for a few days or weeks after a 12 or 24 rogaine. Whatever the source; chemical, psychological or imagination I feel really good for a week or two following a rogaine and all I can think of is the next one.

Teamwork

I have worked in teams for many years both in my work life and also in my sporting life, having played many team sports such as indoor and outdoor cricket, yacht racing, volley ball, touch rugby and others. But you do not really know team work until you have done a 24 hour rogaine. Long rogaines take team work to the next level. You have a truly symbiotic relationship with your partner during the event. You might enter as strangers, but 24 hours later you will know that person well. My only real experience with team work comes from endurance events and not from an hour of sport or from a work conference get together.

Enjoying the Simple Things

A long Rogaine puts your life into perspective and helps you to enjoy the simple things. Simple things like stopping moving, eating something you didn’t carry and a toilet with a seat, all seem like luxury after a long rogaine. Possessions all seem like meaningless encumbrances when you are on a long rogaine.  Very few rogainers drive expensive cars and I think this is why. They value experience over possessions.

Sleep

Do you have trouble sleeping, well I know a sure fire cure, it’s called a 12 or 24 hour rogaine.

Pleasures

There are many pleasures of rogaining, such as finding a difficult control at night while others wander in circles around you or comparing scores with another team to find out you have soundly beaten them. The Australian bush can be hard but is also very beautiful and there is something special about rogaining through the last gasp of light in the evening or in morning’s first light.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my message is simple:

Enter a 12 and or a 24 hour rogaine.

You have not lived until you have added that to your life’s kitbag of experiences.

Funny Moments in Rogaining

Hi. It’s the off season for rogaining and it’s almost Christmas, so it is a time for reflection. Understanding this, I thought we could start a blog of funny moments in rogaining. If you want to contribute, simply comment on this post and once reviewed by the Webmaster (me) it will be made public (nothing libelous, please).
To start things off here is a couple of my funny recollections:

The first one is subtle, but I found it quite amusing and it involves Trevor Gollan one of the back bones of our sport. The occasion was the award ceremony for the 6 hour event at the Tarlo river Autumngaine and the overall winners Peter Preston, Ben Rattray were being summoned by Trev to come forward to collect their prize, when Trev warned them not to trip over the log, that was jutting out of the fire, situated between them and himself.

The irony of this resonated immediately with my team mate Danny and me. Can you imagine two people in the world less likely to fall over a log in the dark than two elite rogainers?

The second one is a bit more slap stick. I can’t remember which event it was, it might have been the “Gurnang Gallop” in 1997, and in any case it was a number of years ago. It was late at night my team mate and I were hurtling down a gully to cross a creek and climb out the other side on the way to a control.

I was a few metres ahead of my team mate when I came to the creek, which was quite deep. I quickly sized up that I could jump the creek, which I did and them started up the other side of the gully. Well I am almost 6’2″ tall (187.5 cms) and my team mate is probably 5-6 inches (13 -15 cms) shorter and has relatively short legs. Anyway I wondered, halfway up the hill, if my team mate could make that jump and a listened out for him in the silence of a late evening in the bush.

Sure enough, what I heard was a jump followed by the sound of hands sliding through sword grass followed by a splash. It seems my team mate had replicated my jump, but only just, and had grabbed the sword grass to steady himself, failed to do so, and fell back in the creek. Rogainers are a tough bunch and to his credit my partner didn’t mention the failed leap, but he was clearly wet and I could see some blood was dripping from his hands when we finally caught up to each other.

The Perfect Event

I am quite excited about the forthcoming NSW champs. I was wondering why I am excited and I reckon that the NSW Champs might be close to a perfect event. This led me to thinking what, for me, constitutes the perfect event. Here are my thoughts, feel free to add your own.

My perfect event includes the following features:

Location
The ideal location for me is somewhere in the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains is where my soul lives. I love the fact that it has 5 million people on the doorstep and yet you can walk for days without seeing anyone. The Blue Mountains has the advantage of being close to Sydney and relatively easy to get to, but also presenting some quite remote country with significant navigational challenges. I also like to explore, so I always enjoy rogaining in an area which is new to me.

Kowmung river
Kowmung river

Some people like mountain views, for me I love rarely visited open valleys with pristine creeks running down the middle. On many an event I will note a perfect secluded valley and promise myself that I will return one day, just to lie on the grass and take in the solitude, but I rarely do.

Duration
This will be controversial, but I think the best events are 12 hours. A 12 hour event takes in a significant portion of night navigation which separates the skilled navigators from the less skilled ones and also has the advantage of not occupying the entire weekend. For those with families, you can spend one day pursing your passion and the other day enjoying family time.

Map
I enjoy looking at a map that has a lot of route choice but no obvious high pointing route. I like a map whose secrets can only be unraveled after an hour of close study. I like a 1:25000 map because that is what I am used to and it requires less mental gymnastics to relate the map to the ground. I like a map that does not force a “do or die” loop. I like a map where good teams head in all different directions at the start. I enjoy maps with limited out of bounds areas. There is nothing worse than taking an inefficient route because of a set of red lines on a map.
It is sometimes difficult to achieve but I like a map where the Hash House is in the middle of the map since this usually offers better route choice. I also like a map with 10m contours. You can hide a lot in a 20m contour.

Contours
Contours

Terrain
The perfect terrain is a very personal thing. I am pretty good through thick scrub so I like a course that includes some thick scrub, but no more than 1 hour’s worth. I like navigating through pine plantations. I know it is a very artificial and sterile environment but there is something cosy about walking or running on the open, dark and slightly claustrophobic forest floor. I like creeks that you can actually walk along. Often walking along creeks can be a very slow and dangerous affair. I like creeks that you can actually walk down without being cut to shreds. I am not as fit as I should be so I like climbs that are no more than 150m. I like a course that is big enough that you can go a while without seeing competitors. I like a course that has fire trails but also forces some cross country navigation.

Chris on Mt Koorian
Chris on Mt Koorian

Partner
Partner selection is tricky. You want someone who is of a similar level of fitness, so you are not frustrated waiting or under pressure to keep up. You want a partner who will “take the piss” when you offer a bearing that is 180° wrong, but not make you feel bad when you can’t find a control. You want a partner who is happy to share the mental load and offer suggestions when things are getting uncertain. A partner who will take turns in pace counting and has a good feel for their stride length. Your partner also needs to know when to yield and when to “stick to their guns” over a questionable navigational choice. I like a partner who will take the initiative when I am tired, but let me lead when I am feeling strong.

My partner for the NSW Champs
My partner for the NSW Champs

The NSW Champs will be my 70th rogaining event. Having taken in all of these events I have to say that I have only competed in one event that I didn’t really enjoy. I remember crossing the finish line and being a bit underwhelmed by the experience. I can’t remember which event it was, but I am pretty sure it was a 3 or 6 hour one.