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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
(*) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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)
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”!)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
While the rest of Australia was focussed on a football final
of one code or another last weekend, I was hosing off the Abercrombie dust from
our vehicle (a rainy day in Katoomba helped) and mentally composing my wrap-up
of our NSW champs experience. I very
much enjoy reading other teams’ reports but so often they are the top teams and
it occurs to me that some people may relate more to the experience of a
middle-of-the-pack team. On the
off-chance, and at the risk of exposing the enormity of our rogaining
ineptitude, here goes.
Having missed so many good rogaines this year for reasons
beyond my control, I was determined to make the NSW champs despite the known intimidating
topographic relief. As to course
planning, we were completely non-plussed to be unable to construct an efficient
route comprising 2 loops with a break of up to 6 hours at HH in between, and without
long track hikes in and out. (Yes, I see
from the results that some teams managed it).
Limited easy pickings around HH and/or just off the tracks. What to do?!
The SE looked like it could easily swallow us in an unfriendly watercourse
system so we eventually settled on a single anti-clockwise loop of 24 controls across
the N half of the map that avoided the ‘problematic’ river crossing around 27
and 28, made the most of the cluster NE of HH, finishing…? whenever…? The big unknown was vegetation density, which
proved mercifully light!
We decided to save 65 to the end, so started off with the
crowd to 16 and 63, but while they mostly headed N from there we cunningly doubled
back to 48 (delightful shallow spur), 76 (the first of many killer climbs) and
38 (making good use of the track).
More trackwork to the pleasant spur to 47, no navigational
problems to 56 and the non-flashing 15.
Decision time – whether to take the straight-up-the-spur route to 72, or
include 35 and face a steeper climb to 72.
I favoured the latter and we duly set off but I drifted too close to the
river and as usual it was Colin who saved us by realising that we were one
watercourse junction too far down. Easy
river crossing and a zig-zag climb up to the spur line saw us safely to 72,
where we faced a particularly daunting descent to the track and across to 23.
Could not have managed this descent in one piece without my
trusty trekking pole, as we angled down hoping to locate ourselves on the track
for an accurate attack to the potentially tricky 23. Colin correctly identified which saddle we
were on on the track and we took great care following a spur/watercourse
sequence to the right gully. We were
acutely aware of the climb penalty for errors. I was later astonished to see in the control
visits that we were one of only 2 teams overall who visited 23, the other team
being in the 8-hour event.
On with the story. 5:30 pm now, time to be aware of fading
daylight. We were on schedule to get
across the vast interior to 61 before dark, and had a satisfactory average of 2
controls per hour. The plan was to
follow the high ridge SE then NE to 37, but we were too optimistic about how
far we had come across the ridge and I insisted that we were at the right
attack spur when in fact we hadn’t even made the SE/NE turn! So it was that we descended on a parallel
spur several hundred metres too soon and hit a major watercourse in a huge
washed-out sweeping bend that didn’t fit expectations, to say the least. Dark now, headlights out, look around, try to
relocate. By matching watercourse bends
with the map, we theorised as to our position, and tested the theory by following
the watercourse SE. Fortunately the
watercourse was broad and easy to walk along and – dare I say – a pleasant, if
unintentional, route choice. Our
confidence grew as we ticked off each matching tributary and bend. By the time we had made the NE turn and come
to a flattish spur we had no doubt we would find 37 there, as indeed we did!
But a greater, inexcusable mistake was yet to come, as in
our elation over 37 we overshot 29 by staying too high on the spur and looking
in parallel watercourses too far to the E.
In fact, so far to the E that in re-climbing the spur to relocate we
stumbled across the track! The decision
not to go back for 29 proved most regrettable because our final score fell just
10 points under the magic 1,000.
61 was a rare gift, followed by a long track climb to 10 –
nice to meet a few teams on this stretch – and then around to 74 just after
midnight. We had options for 69, 68, 53,
26 or 36 (most of which weren’t on our original plan though), but were deterred
from attempting any of them because we feared becoming drained by the
energy-sapping climbs. 54 was doable
though, then a lovely moonlit track trek around to 67, by which time we had
formulated the plan to rest up till daybreak, to be sure of not erring on the subtle-looking
Spent 10 minutes teasing apart our space blankets to wrap
around us for a chilly and uncomfortable hour and a half ‘rest’ – oh for an all-night café – before
welcoming the lightening sky at 5:30 am and bagging 45 with sunlight-boosted energy
The closing sequence 73-44-58-13-64-14 was navigationally
straightforward (despite some confusion over the track position N of 73), and
we had plenty of time in hand. I was
dreading the descent from 58 and the climb to 64 and both seemed never-ending;
I was certainly struggling to get to 14.
Made it at last, on easy street to HH, and with enough time
to race down to 65, but absolutely no energy to even
Overall, a worthy area and a worthy course for a championship. Much as the climbs were strenuous, the openness of the vegetation was a huge bonus.
The “Abercrombie River Silent Retreat” NSW 24 Rogaining Championships 2018 … by Tristan White
Team 50 – Tristan White & Mike Hotchkis, “Remote Control”
After plodding through cold paddocks and climbing over and under barbed wire fences in the pouring rain just a mere four weeks ago at the so-called “Sun SEQer Rogaine” Australasian Championships, I nonetheless once again decided to put my life on the line and take part in another 24 hours of pain and fatigue, this time being in the more local Abercrombie River National Park. I once again teamed up with Mike Hotchkis, who has been my teammate for about five events in the past couple of years. Although he is a super-veteran (I’d place the emphasis on the word “super” rather than “veteran”) Mike is an outstanding rogainer who rarely is far from the top in any general classification, and seeing his name plastered in several places on the trophy for the overall win, I knew that we were not going to be out there for a casual stroll!
I got the train to interconnect with the organised bus at Lithgow station where I caught it with about a dozen other rogainers, a trip that was not without its fair share of excitement – the driver had to constantly slow down to avoid hitting kangaroos and we even chased one 500m down the road! We didn’t arrive till almost 10pm, meaning that all we could do was set up tents and sleep given that the latter wasn’t something I expected to do much of the following day!
We received the A2 maps at 9am and took a brief survey of the land to observe lots (even for 24h rogaine standards) of contours and very few roads so concluded that most of our movement would be off course. As per the typical strategy, we measured the total course distance to determine what portion of CPs we would be likely to collect. Including a 10% buffer margin in straight line distance, I estimated 80km, making us ignorantly optimistic that we could clear the course, and quickly started working out which few CPs we could knock off if we weren’t doing well for time.
In principle I have found 10 pointers in a 24 hour rogaine rarer than a 1930 Australian penny, but this course was littered with seven of them, and I could not get over how difficult many of them looked to get to. But as we both had learned from first-hand experience, 10 points can be the difference between first and second (or first and fourth!), so these had to all be in our planned itinerary for the moment! We planned a loop that went anti-clockwise, on the basis that there were more obscure low scoring CPs that we could knock off at the end, and lined up at the start line.
[It helps to read the rest of this saga with the course map nearby. If you don’t have a copy you can download it here.]
We started off with the run down the watercourse to 65, before the serious climbing began across to 48, 76 and 38 where we saw several competitive faces including John and Mardi Barnes, David Williams and Ronnie Taib, and Gill Fowler and Steven Hanley, but by the time we headed along the western road towards 46 we were alone, followed by the campground at 28. 55 was collected after a minor glitch of running up the wrong watercourse, but was rectified quickly. 27 required a massive effort of descending for such a low score, but nor could we really miss it given it was en route to 57. Finding a Retreat River crossing took some work – despite me reaching the bottom first, Mike seemed to have much better luck with an easy place to cross. After heading downstream and jumping my way across some precarious stones, I heard Mike’s cheerful voice at the flag itself, with about 200m thick scrub to fight my way through beforehand!
57 was yet another major climb up one spur and down the other (given the terrain we had just crossed we opted to Retreat from following the river). 49 was found uneventfully, and we managed to get to 50 after having a surprisingly easy time following the watercourse and up the spur. I felt that we had been moving reasonably comfortably, but it was 4pm by this time and we were aware that we weren’t nearly far enough in to clear the course. We reached 39 before an unexpected bash through scrub much of the way down to the watercourse near 31. Climbing up a very narrow spur to the CP we ran into our key opponents, David and Ronnie! With a treacherous scramble down to 60 (there had to be a catch to two CPs so close together) we climbed our way back to the road and up the hill to 12 and the water refill point for a much needed resupply, just as Dave and Ronnie were leaving.
Now it was just past 6pm and dusk, we were aware of two obvious things – now was the time to get out the torches, and being theoretically a quarter (20km) the total distance, expecting to clear the course at this point would be like leaving on a porch light for Harold Holt so it was time to think about what CPs could be deleted, in addition to the obvious 23 and 24 which were always big question marks. We made a decision to skip the low scoring 21 and subsequently 40, and instead follow the ridge around from 51 to 62, and get 75 in favour of 32. From the water point, we headed down the spur and curled around to 42, 52, and after a rather gnarly clamber up and down the river’s sides, to 34, where once again David and Ronnie showed their pretty faces (or more correctly, torches.)
D&R silently departed along Silent Creek, whilst we started clambering up the road to 20. As it turned out, they had collected 20 before 42, perhaps cleverly avoiding a massive climb upwards. Looking back that was a good idea, but in the planning stage neither of us blames ourselves for taking the road given the many unfavourable experiences we’ve had in waterlines!
The trip to 30 was surprisingly difficult going up the lower part of the gully, with a huge amount of scrub making us wonder if we were actually on the right track at all, but after several cuts, bruises and yelps we saw the flag, and made our way to 70, which turned out to also be more effort than expected – there was a 10m drop down to “Chain O’Ponds Creek” meaning we had to follow around the spur to the south to find a safe way down. 43 and 51 were found without incident, which was followed by a largely uneventful traverse of the ridge 62. Aside from D&R we had seen nobody since about 13:30 so was a pleasant surprise to run into recent Australasian Ultra Veteran champions Andy Macqueen and Greg King. However this seemed to throw us off, as once we dropped into the watercourse for 62 we saw no sign of it, forcing us to backtrack and realise we’d dropped down too late, a needless waste of 10 minutes, but a reminder to be more careful, particularly as time ticked into the early hours of the morning.
75 was a long way, but found without incident by carefully following a bearing, the same method used to find 33. As it was now after midnight we contemplated going straight to 59, the theoretical halfway point, but as it’d be easiest to head there via the watercourse to the west, decided to jump across to 22, which in turn led us to venture to 41 with minimal additional climbing, something we had become very accustomed to. We made a bold, possibly heart-wrenching decision to skip 71, but there was also a feeling of relief given how far and difficult it looked, and headed up the simple, albeit steep spur to 10, only to descend another 200m down to 68 and back up. This followed with 53, 74 along a welcome stretch of road, 26 and 54 where we could see the welcoming glow preceding sunrise over the horizon.
It’s worth mentioning the moon, which at this point had just disappeared. It was bright for most of the night, and did an excellent job of making out a silhouette of the landscape and meant that we could walk along the roads without torches. Notwithstanding the craziness of bashing around the bush when we should be asleep, this is one of the magical things about 24hr rogaines that 99.9% of other people would never experience.
We passed through 54 and got 61 just after dawn, about 06:15, and it was once again time to make some decisions. It was obvious that attempting 23 would be crazy, but we had to decide if we would ditch 25 to head to 36 and 67, or miss the latter two and make a run for 45. As painful as missing a 60 pointer was, we opted for the latter, given that there would inevitably be something else we would need to omit later on. 45, 73 and 44 were picked up and 58 was just before 9am, followed by handrailing around the heads of umpteen watercourses to get to the long ridge to the small knoll of 72. Needless to say we resisted the temptation to go 2km out to 13.
It was just past 09:30 so we had just under 2½ hours to get in. This is the point by which many rogainers are physically and mentally spent and want to get home ASAP. Fortunately Mike is not one of those people. He had the ambitious plan to do 35, 15, 56, 47, 16, 63, 64, 14, HH – that’s 9 legs, so we had to average 15mins per leg. To make a long story short, we made it, but not without a significant push on my part. After making 63 just past 11, the hardest bit of the course was yet to come. The final part of the course included going up 100m over the spur, then back down the same elevation to the foot of the 64 spur, another steep and narrow climb, before another clamber back to 14, where Mike almost left me for dead as I limped up feeling on the verge of collapse (be proud of yourself Mike – you’re someone who could break me!).
Words cannot describe the feeling of relief of seeing tents and cars in a delirious state as we stumbled back to the Hash House. Although it was “only” 11:52, we were the final team in and all eyes were on us, wondering if we indeed did clear the course as we had marked on our intention sheet. Oh yeah, did I mention that it was my birthday? It’s because I forgot as well. But fortunately Michael Watts and everyone else reminded me as they sung a slightly out-of-tune version of Happy Birthday to me at the finish line.
The verdict? Our score was 2300, 60 points short of David and Ronnie’s 2360, but we pipped Gill and Steve by 20 points, which was the source of immense satisfaction. As Mike’s GPS stopped we couldn’t measure our distance though I suspect it was around 70km or a bit more; not shabby at all in this terrain.
Of course, the million dollar question is, aside from moving faster, is there anything we could have done to get 60 more points AND arrive in earlier than D&R (11:45)? I don’t think so. Had we gone for 67, there is no way we could have made it back in time, certainly not if we got 36 as well. 71 could not have been bagged without biting significant time. Most of the other 10s, 20s and 30s that were a long way to go were basically en route to higher scores so there would have been no gain missing them either. Perhaps getting 20 en route to 42 would have saved time and energy overall but not enough to allow time for an additional CP. Anyhow, a second place overall in a State Championship is none too shabby and we were in no place to complain, particularly after receiving “champion” glasses anyway.
FOOD & HYDRATION. Knowing what to eat in a 24-hour rogaine is always a balancing act, as is drinking enough, and I went through phases of having too little, then too much, of each. Unlike a 6hr, it is impossible to get away with gels alone, but it is crucial to have food that is easy to digest. Aside from 3 amazing granny smith apples, I had a packet of grape tomatoes, fruit puree squeezes, seed bars, nuts, dried fruit and some chocolate for the end. The relatively mild weather meant we could get away with minimal water refills but I suspect I drank about 8 litres nonetheless.
ARC vs NSW Champs. The Australasian Champs and the NSW Champs this year were both 24hrs in length, but that was where the similarities ended. With the ARC summed up by huge distances between CPs, open paddocks and more barbed wire fences than Australia has had PMs in the past dozen years. The NSWRC was full of hills (mostly open) forest and hence very well defined features. For two people who are inherent climbers (remember Mike missed the minigaine as he was doing the national mountain running champs up Mt Wellington) this suited us just fine, as it meant we could walk the whole thing, unlike the ARC where jogging was mandated to any team wanting to place highly. The weather was quite a contrast – after plodding through the final 10 hours in sopping rain in Qld, it was a relief to have no clouds and very mild weather, both during the day and night.
COURSE REVIEW. Every rogaine is different, but I did like the course area with some great views over the horizon from the high points, and fairly minimal scrub (though it popped up unexpectedly quite a few times). And there was no clear route either – whatever route you chose you’d be forced to do some long-winded traverses for very low courses to score highly. But that’s part of the challenge – otherwise it’d just be an ultra-marathon, and there’s plenty of those! The fact that there is a range of scores means there is strategic thinking in planning a course, and that is what a rogaine is about. Another thing about the steep terrain is it makes the features more defined, and is a possible reason for our lack of blunders. That said, having subtle features (i.e. “A knoll,” “The middle watercourse” of about five or “The shallow gully”) rewards careful pace counting and bearing following and therefore has merit as well.
A SOLO ENTRY 24? There has been talk in recent weeks on the Forum about opening rogaining up to solo entries. As someone who competes in the minigaine solo I definitely see the attraction to it. But even without the safety considerations, could I imagine doing a 24h rogaine alone? I couldn’t. Working as a team around the clock is much more interesting than plodding along alone. Even a 12h event would be hard to imagine alone. Would a 6h work with solo entries? Perhaps, but it would completely change the dynamic of the event and whilst I would possibly score more points, I’d find it a lot more physically painful and less enjoyable to have to go out alone. But this is a discussion for the next committee meeting!
Overall, as always, despite wondering what I was doing at 02:00 in the morning, I am very glad I did the event and really appreciate the work Michael, Trev and all the other volunteers have put into setting, hanging and collecting all the flags, as well as all Michael’s coordination. 24-hour rogaines are where the real challenge is at, and for that reason, if you were not at this event you should flag the 2019 NSW rogaining championships into your diary!
Why You Should Do 24-hour Rogaines … by Tristan White
Rogaining in its most so-called “traditional” form exists as a 24hr event, stretching from midday Saturday to midday Sunday. Yet statistically from the past few years, our annual 24h event has significantly lower attendance than all of our other shorter events, and of these attendees, a large portion will compete in the 8hr event held in conjunction with it. It seems that rogaining in its “pure” form has been won out by several other factors:
Time: Unlike a 6hr event that can normally be crammed into a day trip (depending on location), a 24h rogaine at the very least requires the entirety of the weekend, and often part of the Friday and/or the Monday. For those with family commitments and inflexible jobs, this can become a major challenge.
Cost: The entry cost of a 24hr rogaine in comparison to a 6 or a 12 is often not significantly greater, however unlike a 6hr event which one can put on some lightweight clothes and a take a bit of food and water, a 24hr rogaine requires more specialist gear such as camping equipment, a decent headtorch, a big enough backpack, gaiters, shoes and socks and lightweight warm/waterproof clothing. If one doesn’t have any of the gear, it is a big investment for your first event. The cost of fuel to the event can also be significant.
Inexperience: Whilst a complete novice will generally get away with locating flags on or near a track, at least some of the time, being an inexperienced navigator in the dark in the middle of the bush is unforgiving and hence requires some level of inherent skill to have a chance of success.
The Sanity Factor: Why would anyone want to wander around the bush for 24 hours in the absolute middle of nowhere anyway? (It’s a question that I’ll invariably ask myself at some point during the night of a 24hr event.)
But as significant as these factors are, I am the NSWRA publicity officer and it is my job to convince you that you must try a 24hr rogaine. With the Abercrombie NSW Champs coming up, 24hr rogaines are on our minds and we want you to join us at the latter! So here’s a list of reasons why you couldn’t possibly miss out on doing a 24hr rogaine.
Although I’m (coincidentally) only 24, it is safe to say that I’ve had a huge variety of experiences in my life so far, and hope that many more will follow, but inevitably I forget things. I forget assignments I’ve done at school and university; I forget what people look like; I forget projects I’ve been involved with at work, and I forget who was the most recent political leader to be dragged out by their own party. I even forget which girls I’ve crushed on and how I’ve failed to win them (no, it’s not by taking them on a rogaine!), but I remember every 24 hour rogaine I’ve done in my life. I remember which event it was, which poor sod(s) I was with, I remember the route we took and the blunders we made, and I remember what our result was. I even remember how long it was before said poor sod would talk to me after the event.
When I look back at my life in 50 years time, these are things I want to remember doing.
Irrespective of how a team ultimately places in the general classification at the end of the event, a 24hr rogaine will force participants to push themselves to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Whether it be to stay up long after they otherwise would (and should) have gone to sleep, to keep moving until the hours blend into each other, or to maintain concentration following a bearing or a subtle spur for 2km in the dark, a 24hr rogaine tests the limits of all competitors. Every time I have just completed a 24hr rogaine, the thought of getting through an 8hr day at work or study seems that much easier.
Saying that you spend your spare time walking around in the bush at 2am looking for little flags is a pretty cool (albeit somewhat weird) thing to drop into a first date, an ice breaker activity or a job interview.*
(*) Really. At a recent interview, the manager saw the sport listed on my resume.
I’m interested in your comments – other arguments for or against the longer rogaines…
On Saturday Renae Martin (M &D – Team 61) had the misfortune to break her leg near Control 73. This is the bad news.
The good news is that Renae is alive, well and recuperating. The other good news is that Renae broke here leg near control 73, shortly after the event started, where help was reasonably easily and quickly obtained.
Aside from the photos (below) Renae shared the following with us
“I was briefly in the rogaine on Saturday but broke my ankle at control 73. I just wanted to pass on my thanks to the teams that stopped and helped. I didn’t get any names or numbers, but they were amazing. I ended up breaking my ankle in three places and dislocated it. (Trimalleolar fracture) I had surgery on Sunday to put in plates and pins.
Thanks also to Ian and others of SES getting me back to camp and calling the ambulance.
I am so grateful for the help and humour on the day so would appreciate it if you could pass on my thanks. “
I am sure the whole rogaining family wishes Renae a speedy and painless recovery and we look forward to seeing her on another rogaine very soon.
I really enjoyed the 2018 Paddy Pallin event at Kitchener. I had not rogained in the area before, but I look forward to competing there again if the opportunity arises.
The course was interesting because it was large and very well mapped. The map included detail from three Newcastle Orienteering Clubs’ maps and it showed. There was a lot of detail built into the 1:25000 scale. In many respects it was a orienteerer’s course because you needed to constantly check the fine detail on the map to score well.
My team mates and I had a pretty good rogaine. We really only made two errors that cost us more than a minute or so. The first mistake was mine and it was a bit embarrassing. We were looking for control 76 “The Bridge – East side of tunnel”. Because we were looking for a bridge I switched off mentally, because how could anyone walk over a bridge and not notice. Team mate Julian suggested we had just crossed “the bridge” and I ignored him, but I had to eat humble pie about a minute later when I saw a side trail which told me that Julian was right (again). In fairness it wasn’t much of a bridge, it was just a pipe with dirt over it, but this was one of those courses where you just cannot afford to switch off.
The landscape was interesting. There had been mining in the area up until the 60’s and there were many remnants of mining works. There were also many tracks, most of them seemed to be kept open by trail bikes. The course also resembled a bit of a used car cemetery as there were many very old abandoned cars on the course. There were also a lot of controls on the course and they were not so far apart which kept us constantly scanning the map.
The vegetation was almost perfect for rogaining. Much of it was open forest and the thick stuff was marked with the accuracy of an orienteering map. The ground was easy underfoot and notably neither my team mates or I fell over during the event, which is a bit unusual. The weather was also perfect for rogaining it was a cool 15C which is perfect going hard and avoiding heat stress.
Team mate Julian camped at the Kitchener public school on Saturday night while John Clancy and I spent a very civilised night in a motel in Aberdare. I do not mind camping, but with 4C forecasted and lots of motels near by, it was an easy decision. We also got to watch France down Australia in the World Cup in our motel room. We even let Julian watch since his 30+ year old tent did not include a television. In fact the arrangement was perfect, Julian picked up the maps first thing in the morning, and then drove to our motel room to pick us up. We then spent a pleasant hour course planning in McDonalds at Cessnock. My theory is that Julian likes camping just so he can show off his very old tent with dual chimneys. To be fair it is the only tent I know that has dual chimneys, it is also Australian made (Wilderness Equipment), but takes about two days to erect and it’s time he bought himself a new one, without the bloody chimneys.
The day was also notable because the event included many competitors who are legends of our sport. At the end of the event, Peter Tuft, one of the founders of rogaining in NSW spoke about the 2019 Australian Champs which he is organising in Tasmania (book your holiday now). Another one of the founders of our sport, Bert van Netten, competed and he and his partner, Ted Woodley, beat my team. Not only did they score 190 points more than we did, they also walked about 2 kms less. We will get them next time. Another founder of our sport, Ian Dempsey, vetted the course.
Historically rogaine maps were off the shelf maps (the Navshield event still is) with red circles drawn on freehand. The 2018 PP rogaine has set a new standard in terms of mapping detail and accuracy for a 1:25000 map. Is this the natural evolution of our sport or are we in danger of going overboard? Certainly this event set a mapping standard that can only be maintained with the aid of orienteering base maps. Having said that, the fine detail was appreciated when trying to find controls in a complex jigsaw of eroded gulleys.
Overall, we had a really enjoyable event and we hope everyone else did as well. Sam Howe did a great job with the course. There was a heap of route choice and teams spread out nicely across the course. Bob Gilbert did a great job coordinating the event and acting as MC at the presentation. Bob and the Newcastle team are very active supporters of rogaining and their work is greatly appreciated. Also a big thank you to the Paddy Pallin organisation for their ongoing support of our sport.
The only thing that could have made the day better would have been beating Ted and Bert, but we will have to wait to the next event to do that.
The navigation workshop was just great fun. Many newbies and some experienced rogainers learned how to improve their skill of bush navigation from some of our sport’s pros. For my part I was one of the coaches and despite 24 years of rogaining I also learned a few things from the sport’s real pros.
My wife, Dianne, and good friend John Clancy volunteered to do the catering and we arrived late on Friday night and started unloading food from the car into the kitchen at the Rydal Showground. As soon as the kitchen door was opened, in popped Gertrude, the campground’s pet sheep. Apparently no one told Gertrude that we had hired the Campground for the weekend, because according to Gertrude if the kitchen door is open it was her right to be in there. We must have ejected Gertrude from the kitchen about a dozen times. Gertrude was also trying to make friends with our dog Maple. Maple is a cavoodle and about 1/20th the size of Gertrude and was quite wary of this huge woolly thing that was trying to make friends.
We eventually unloaded all of our food and ejected Gertrude one more time and went to bed. The next exciting thing that happened was that a huge wind followed by a brief rain storm thundered across the campground. Thankfully, Di, Sophie, my 11 year old daughter, and I had decided to camp inside the hall and were not out in the wind storm in a tent. I am sure those who stayed in a tent on Friday night were very concerned about being blown to Mudgee while still in their tent. The wind raged all night and I am sure those in a tent probably got little sleep.
Saturday morning broke and the 50+ participants and 15 coaches arrived at the Campground and coaches and teams were matched up. The first exercise was held east of the showground in a mix of natural bush and pine forest. After a brief chat about compasses and navigation basics we set off hunting for controls. The path to the first control we selected was made unusually difficult by a mess of fallen pine trees in the gully. I have been rogaining at Rydal several times and it is lovely open forest which is almost perfect for rogaining but navigating this mess of fallen pine trees was not what I had planned for the day. It seems I should not have worried since once we had bagged the first control we moved away from pine tree hell and into some lovely open forest.
My team of coachees were very fast learners and after the first couple of controls they were taking compass bearings and heading off into the wilderness like seasoned pros. After a couple of hours of this we returned to the hash house to be lectured by a couple of our sport’s elite athletes. Gill Fowler spoke on the theory and practice of navigation and Joel Mackay spoke about what food and equipment to take on a rogaine.
I am sure everyone found these talks fascinating. I was reminded by Gill about “aiming off”. This is something I plan to put in practice in future rogaines. I was also fascinated by Joel’s talk and on what to eat and what to carry. Until Joel’s talk I was a keen advocate of carrying sports drink in my hydration bladder. Having learned that it probably makes no difference, I will, in future, be content just carrying water.
After Joel’s talk the participants were all invited to measure their stride length in preparation for a night navigation exercise and after dinner we set off. Navigating at night time can be quite daunting for newbies, so I was keen to make the experience a good one.
We found the first control with relative ease and heading towards control number “9”. When arrived at where I thought control 9 should have been, we found other teams but no control. My team had navigated straight for the control so we had to eliminate the possibility of it being further up or down the gully. Once we had eliminated both of these possibilities, I doubted my own navigation skills and we headed to the next gully to check if we had pulled up short. I was thinking “Great coach I am, I cannot find a control only 300 metres from the last one in a reasonably well defined gully”.
We still didn’t find the control and at this stage, I knew it was my mistake and we headed for a known feature, a fire trail and track junction, to try again. This time I was making sure that our bearing and pace counting was perfect and a few minutes later we arrived at the exact same spot with no control in sight. By this stage I had to face up to the fact that I was rubbish at night navigation or the flag was not where it should be. There were other teams about, so I left my team standing in the dark while I sought out the other coaches to ask them if they had found the control. Having spoken to Ted Woodley and Joel Mackay both of whom could also not find the control we determined that the control was indeed not where it should be and we headed off to try a different control.
In hindsight, this was probably a really good lesson in what to do when you cannot find a control and it even occurred to me that perhaps this was some sort of sadistic test Gill had set for us. The reality was a little more mundane because the control has simply been hung in the wrong gully. I was very pleased by my team’s quick learning and after the fiasco with control number 9 they quickly found a couple of difficult controls in the pitch black and everyone’s confidence, including mine, was restored.
My Scary Experience
I am not often scared rogaining at night, but this night proved to be an exception. When we got near one of the controls I thought I could see movement behind one of the trees. Normally, I would just pass this off as an animal, but the movement was human height and seemed to be staying behind the tree. I am over 6 foot tall, male and almost 100kg, so I am not usually the timid type, but having someone watching you from behind a tree late at night, in the middle of the bush, has got to ring some alarm bells. I was wondering whether Ivan Milat had been let out early, when all of a sudden Mike Hotchkis popped out from behind the tree and scared several precious years from my remaining life.
It seems that Mike had set his team the task of finding this particular control unaided and was going to surprise them when they eventually found the control. Mike is a fine athlete and an outstanding rogainer. In real life Mike is lovely and not a very scary person at all, but what would you think when someone is clearly hiding and watching you from behind a tree, in the forest, in the pitch black?
The next morning we headed out for another practice session in Falnash Forest near Wallerawang. I hadn’t been walking in Falnash Forest before and it was a really lovely experience. It is a gently undulating, open forest, perfect for rogaining.
My team were now behaving like rogaining pros and we bagged control after control with no navigational missteps. I was quite proud of my coachees when they found a control on a poorly defined broad ridge about 400m away from the nearest well defined point.
After Falnash Forest we headed back for lunch and a three hour minigaine starting from the hash house. We were all tired by this stage and we were more interested in navigation than point scoring for this event. Our navigation for this event was good but we were let down by our route choice and ended up getting only 60 points and then lost 30 of these by being 3 minutes late back. At the end of the day the point of the weekend was learning navigation and I sensed that my team were now pretty confident of their abilities.
Rogainers, as a general rule, are capable and intelligent people and I am continually impressed by their willingness to help and to solve problems. A lot of people put a lot of time and effort into a weekend like this to make it a success and we come to expect this but I am still continually surprised by how people just pitch in and get the job done. Some examples were:
• Andrew Duerden, who had also volunteered as coach, listened to me ranting about how much I hate barbequing at close to midnight and volunteered to get up a 5:30am to take the task off my hands. Andrew cooked bacon and eggs for 70 people with a great deal of skill and good humour.
• Ronnie Taib, also there as a coach, spent every spare moment he had washing up and otherwise helping in the kitchen.
• I also must acknowledge the efforts of my wife, Di, and good friend John Clancy who spent the whole weekend doing nothing but feeding 70 hungry rogainers. The food was fabulous and more closely resembled a restaurant than a rogaine.
• Mike Hotchkis, Toni, Smiffy and Phil Titterton who, after a long and tiring weekend of walking, happily disappeared into the bush, once more, to pick up controls by themselves for a few hours.
• Thanks also to Richard Sage for bringing the catering trailer to the event. Not only did he have to drive across the mountains towing a heavy trailer, which is an unpleasant task, but towing the trailer means that he has to be one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave.
• I don’t know all the names of the people that helped. Some women I had didn’t recognise cut veggies for 70 with the speed and skill of a Michelin chef. Gary Roberts was also a regular presence in the kitchen doing what he could, including the unpleasant task of taking home bags of rubbish for disposal.
• I also need to acknowledge the 15 coaches who willingly gave up their weekend to share their skills with others.
• The final thanks must go to Gill. Without Gill’s efforts the event simply would not have taken place
I am continually impressed by the generosity and capability of the rogaining community.
We were most pleased with the number of people who participated in our survey over the summer. Thanks again to all who took the time and effort. Further comments are always welcome – that’s what this Forum is for…
Tristan White, our Publicity Officer, collated the results and produced the following summary.
NSWRA 2017 Strategic & Planning Survey
We have received 75 responses from our 9-question survey which showed some trends though a lot of variation, which reflects the vast array of people who have competed in the sport.
1. Favourite Events
The noted favourite events varied across the board so won’t go into detail describing them. Several noted the ARC as a great event (I concur), and most that flag the 24h events note them to be very memorable, the defining feature of a traditional rogaine in my opinion. Many also flagged the “Karst Irony” event as great in light of the numerous views that rarely exist in our off-track events.
This only considered events from the past calendar year, and was limited to the events that respondents entered (which averaged at 2), so doesn’t give a great judgment deciding which events were best. (btw SC=State Champs)
2. Bad Experiences
Of 76 respondents, only 12 claimed to have had some form of negative experiences (dismissing two complaints about ACT events) so I don’t think that’s too bad a record. But it’s worth noting down what these were, and my thoughts to them:
“As it was our first event, very little connection with the organisers, (ie welcome new participants). Also, so many people (teams) got multiple awards… why? Enter one event and spread the love. We finished in the top 3 in the novice section, but our award was not announced, so we had to follow-up and about 3 months later we had to go and collect our “mugs”, no attempt to get them to us. A poor experience for newbies.”
This is disappointing to read that a newcomer feels that way. It’s a pity they did not specify which event. Obviously it’s a reminder that we need to continue to ensure to provide instruction, welcome and inclusion to all newcomers to the sport. This should be reminded to long timers such as ourselves to greet visitors rather than stick in our “rogaine bubbles.” That said, I think it’s usually done well.
Insufficient food. Three people mentioned this and from looking at the events they entered they were all referring to the Cronulla minigaine where I remember the watermelon disappearing as abruptly as Harold Holt. People do notice food quality/quantity and we need to ensure it remains high.
“Some rogaines are too long.”
#suckitupprincess That’s the nature of the sport.
All rogaines were good although some were a bit far away – it would be good to take that into consideration when planning timing for event. Events that are 1hr + drive from the city would be better on Saturdays with a camping option that night.
It is New South Wales Rogaining Association, not Newcastle, Sydney & Wollongong Rogaining association and the open areas that can be freely accessed are often a while away. I’m assuming that they were referring to PP and something of that distance should have a camping option (though personally think that Saturday arrival/campout works fine.
Good camping spots are always a challenge – but I know you guys are limited as to what can be arranged.
The Lake Macquarie Rogaine encouraged kids to come along but I found that the easier course was still a bit too hard and checkpoints where a long distance between each other. Good for adults but a bit too hard for younger kids that are too big to carry.
Important to be realistic about what events can have young children. The fact that the Metrogaine, Minigaine, Paddy Pallin and Socialgaine usually are should be an asset, even if others can’t.
No bad experiences!! But some rogaines I do wish there was another water drop or two (on the long events). I do understand that’s part of route strategy/choice though.
Usually this is done well IMO though I have similar observations. In principle, a refill every 4-5hrs would be good (longer apart at night), meaning we’d want 2 in a 12h and at least 4 in a 24
Nothing that I particularly recall, although I don’t believe that rogaines where it is necessary to regularly/constantly fight the vegetation adds anything to the experience. If anything, my guess is that those types of experiences put people off doing bush / off-track rogaines.
That’s true and it can be an issue in the LM. We’ve tried to avoid this and we need to continue to ensure that a navigational challenge doesn’t become a fight against lawyer vine and the like
Rogaine near Goulburn-Marulan on University Station was good but didn’t like the checkpoints being out in the open. Getting accommodation nearby the night before wasn’t easy. Don’t like the checkpoints being in open paddocks where everyone can see so there is no map reading skill needed
Not having done the event I can’t judge but it’s a fair criticism.
There was no camping at the Paddy Pallin Rogaine
This seems to be a sore spot – 4 of our 12 criticisms mentioned it.
The heat on the socialgaine was a struggle – much more exposed than last years more bush focussed event. But calling it a “bad” experience is a bit of a stretch.
As someone who has a personal animus against the heat I wholeheartedly agree. With these events (SG and the MG) taking in the heat of the day from 9-3 on the fringes of summer is not a good idea.
No, the rogaining itself is always good between all 3 associations. The entry fees between each association varies significantly though and this year became a contributing factor for me in terms of which events I went to or whether I even did them at all, eg: NSWRA charged the same price for the 6 hr as the 12hr and same again with the 8hr being charged the same as the 24hr. $100 for an 8 hr event was a massive turnoff. VRA charged $45 for their 24hr event compared to $100 by NSWRA.
We generally aim to minimize the cost, but it does seem to vary from event to event. Perhaps we should standardize these across the year? $100 for an 8h event is excessive, but I also recognize that providing for a 6/12h entrant is usually the same wrt catering, equipment use, HH access etc.
I really don’t like when setters set with loops in mind, or use roads and tracks to ease their job. As a setter I know it’s tempting but as a competitor I think it kills the sport. Unmarked thick scrub near controls (Mt Werong NE corner) or too much elevation just for the sake of difficulty doesn’t appeal to me. Same with too many tracks. In that sense, the ACT champs was a bit of nightmare since it had both (walking along the beach at night was magical, though).
A matter of preference IMO. But for sanctioned bush events, focus should be made to ensure competitors access the CPs through good navigation rather than speed, whether it be following spurs and gullies, or pacing along a track to an attack point for the CP 100m away (out of sight), particularly where the scrub is thicker. Some people (myself included) like climbing. Not sure what they mean by “loops” – whether they mean one big course route or small obvious loops within a bigger course.
The LM course could have been designed better – having the winners clear the course with an hour to spare indicates it should be longer. And the fact that top two teams did exactly the same route (albeit in the opposite direction) indicates that there should have been greater effort to remove obvious route choices. I found the SG too hot and dull – the warm conditions were exacerbated by the sun shining off the bitumen (which 75% of the course was on). It too closely resembled an orienteering event, where I believe a SG should be 75% bush with a few streets to link it up.
Only takes the concerns from a sample of the competitors (who actually completed the survey). Presumably, those with extremely negative experiences would be unlikely to be in the FB group, to read the website or newsletters.
3. Reasons for absence
The single most cited answer was that our events clashed with other activities, with only a few noting that they are too expensive (and none that said they didn’t enjoy it at all!) and that they only enjoy certain types of events. Clashes will be a reality, and there isn’t any way around it, but we can make an effort not to put them the same time as other notable events (C2S, adventure races and other ARA events), as well as days such as Mother’s/Father’s Day.
It’s hard to read the graph; here’s the categories:
I did them all
Clash with other activities
Events too far away
Don’t enjoy other types (of rogaines)
Too much toll on my body
Can’t find team mates
Let me be frank, …
Those who are more frequently unable to make the events are less likely to have done the survey (and more likely to not enjoy the sport at all, or find it too expensive for what they get out of it)
4. Preferred Type of Event
As expected there’s a wide variety of preferences for type of event, though an obvious number flagged 6-8h off track events, and more people than not preferenced off-track events – rogaining in its most traditional form!
It’s hard to read the graph; here’s the categories:
6-8hr bush (on track)
6-8hr bush (off track)
12hr bush (on track)
12hr bush (off track)
24hr bush (off track)
“Other” preferences or notes included:
Events between 12 & 24h, including 15 in 24
3-4hr bush events
Urban event must have a significant bushland component.
Night only event
Options to do on or off track depending on whether kids have had enough bush bashing
5. Additional events
Over three quarters of respondents would try to attend additional events (which doesn’t mean they will in reality).
6. Event Variants
Three quarters of respondents would be happy to see a variant of some form enter the calendar, with the primary suggestions being more novelty events, and a cyclegaine, the way ACTRA and VRA have. Over a third of respondents would also be keen to see an adventuregaine.
It’s hard to read the graph; here’s the categories:
Other suggestions/comments included:
I like all these ideas. Although I would ensure the core nav discipline is retained.
Cyclegaine would need to be on road or track (not bush tracks that are single track)
Would like to see nav skills workshops. Good news for you!
Other companies offer these things. Stick to high quality bush rogaines (this is true in some cases and we should check this each time a variant is held.)
They all sound good BUT, NOT at the expense of the usual program of events
Climbgaines! (How would that work?)
Teams event? Something like the 16hr in 24hr, but with 2 teams. Say a max/min split on team time of 10hr/6hr etc. I like the idea of including puzzles/problem solving to “flatten” the fitness advantage – test run at an urban event? (Don’t really understand this.)
Family or kid friendly events… I plan on doing many (but not all) of my future rogaines with my kids and they love it. It would be great to make the events more kid friendly… or even just add awards for kids who reach certain milestones.
“I don’t have time” is the most common response, or “I don’t compete in enough to justify,” and with the average respondent entering 2/year that’s understandable.
It’s hard to read the graph; here’s the categories:
I already volunteer
I don’t compete in enough rogaines
I don’t have time
I can’t find a role that suits
I volunteer to other sports
A selection of the comments includes:
Not sure how if it’s possible, but if I could volunteer for a couple of hours only I would be more available for volunteering. I do so few events, because of clashes with family commitments. However, the commitments often just make me unavailable from the entire Rogaine. I could still help out for a few hours. The only other problem is the long distance to travel.
Provide more information about specific jobs and their expected time frame especially jobs with the least amount of time commitment. I’d really like to help more and have collected CPs after races but when travelling significant distances to get to events and with family commitments it helps to understand what you may be signing up for as a volunteer. Jobs that are able to be done by participants in the event would be great.
Offer a more formalised or written guide to volunteers. Past volunteer experience felt like left on our own to sort out what and how to do it, and cop any flack if it’s not what was expected.
If I was aware of small ways I could volunteer then I think I would. (There’s a good chance this is written someone where and I just haven’t seen it!)
Describe some of the roles that are needed and whether they conflict with competing in that Rogaine
Maybe a discount on other events (Yes, well this is done, but perhaps we could consider a discounted entry if they don’t qualify for a free entry.)
Volunteer social nights to get to know the other people we’ll be working with (Volunteer weekend away?)
8. Other Suggestions
The “other suggestions” section, predictably, had a whole range of ideas, including the following. It was encouraging to see many suggestions that we are already doing, such as nav workshop, and planning to do.
Better promotion, both online & in print – seems to be a hotspot, 10 people said this.
Consider a way to respond to the increased spate of extreme heat which could be present in November/February.
The photos of people having fun at the events are great. Especially including people of all ages and abilities to show how inclusive it is
Wish you would offer solo entries for 6-hr events.
Perhaps offer a 2 hour beginners course, where an experienced rogainer could take a group out for a couple hours and teach the skills of rogaining (Nav Workshop)
Cross-pollinate with adventure racing / trail running people and maybe consider a ‘multisport’ weekend with some of these groups
It would be great to have more details earlier – including the cost
Love the improvements you are making. Continue to promote bring your own cups, plates etc to be environmentally aware – don’t provide plastic plates!
Consider changing the sports name. Most people think it is a hair growth product. (Sorry guys, we didn’t name it, maybe have a word with the founders)
About 3 hours, solo entry, in a natural environment, would be perfect for me personally…. (Bring on the Scheyville Minigaine!)
Do more intro to newbies, and support. I find the experienced people chat and give each other advice on ways to select routes, and things like that, where newbies get ignored, and have to fend for themselves. (Same in Orienteering circles too). Tips for becoming better, (route choices, distance expectations, etc). 1 x 3 hr Minigaine every 6-8 weeks would be great. As mentioned. Why should a team be 2nd in 1 division and 1st in other… maybe too many divisions. Why not a handicap system, as well, so fairer to all competitors, like golf. Scratch and net scores if you know what I mean. More refreshments at the end for those who return late. I probably have more, but can only think of these now. Good luck and thanks for letting us provide feedback.
I think you focus too much on serious competitors. Outsiders and people in it for fun can find it hard to work out what the events might be like.
It would be nice to have a saved profile for a team or for individuals. We always enter the same team and it is pretty tedious having to type in all the details every time.
What’s wrong with Rogaining? I reckon there is nothing wrong with rogaining. I love the sport and I have been happily competing for 23 years now and I am looking forward to giving the Super Veterans a run for their money when I qualify next year. So I am probably the wrong person to answer this question.
Consider the following graph:
This graph tells us that about half of all rogainers only ever attend 1 event and few rogainers ever compete in more than 4 events.
Why do few rogainers ever attend more than 4 events? I do not know.
What I do know is that while rogaining participation rates have been growing gradually, participation in other adventure sports have been growing exponentially.
What I also know is that most rogainers prefer the shorter events.
This year’s NSW Champs was a fabulous event but only 81 people took the field for the 24 hour Championship event and numbers for the NSW Champs have historically been well less than half the number that attend the Paddy Pallin event each year.
I am on the NSW Rogaining Committee and contributed to the Strategic Plan, so I think this Strategic Plan embraces a series of strategies that we need to put into place to improve the participation rates in our sport, but I would love to hear from those with other ideas. I would also love to hear from those who think these are the right set of strategies to improve participation rates in our sport.