Posted on 27/09/2019 by Tristan White
Recent committee meetings have included discussion about ways to reward repeat offenders at rogaines, perhaps a token such as a headband after they go to their 5th rogaine.
But what about those that just keep coming back until they reach their 200th event? This is something we have also had to consider as long-time enthusiast Mike Hotchkis has done just that with the completion of the Step-Up Rogaine. Not only is he a regular attendee but, despite turning 60 in a couple of months, he is still regularly in the top few teams at most of our events, and is renowned for his love of steep hills which has also seen him excel at “Mountain Running” and, more recently, the Sydney Tower stair challenge (which he ran up 8 times in a day!)
Failing to think of something better to mark this occasion, I decided to ask him a few questions about his experiences over the years, and what has kept bringing him back.
Tristan White: Where do you come from originally, Mike, and what do you do for a career?
Mike Hotchkis: I grew up in St Andrews in Scotland, a place well known as the home of golf. Golf is like orienteering in that you visit ‘checkpoints’ in a set order. My aim was never good enough for golf. I’m a physicist. Why is it that 95% of rogainers are scientists or engineers?
TW: What got you into doing rogaines in the first place?
MH: I suppose it started originally with my father’s love of the Scottish hills, something that I definitely inherited. Visibility isn’t always so good in those hills so it helps to be handy with map and compass! Then orienteering & mountaineering clubs at Edinburgh University, a memorable 1979 Fellsman Hike (60 miles – it took me 25-hours) in North Yorkshire, and Inward Bound at ANU in the early 80s.
When I started work at ANSTO in Sydney in 1990 I joined their running group – a group that included several rogainers at that time – Ron Hutchings, George Collins and Maurice Ripley; and soon I met former ANSTO workers Trevor Gollan and Peter Watterson. It took just one event and I was hooked!
TW: Tell us about the first rogaine you did.
MH: For my first rogaine, in 1991, George lined me up with Ron, who had lost his partner due to the re-scheduling of the event (it was postponed due to snow!) It was a 24-hour at Jaunter, near Oberon, organised by Trev. By 10pm we’d reached the furthest extremity of the course and suddenly Ron said he didn’t feel too good… probably we’d gone out too hard! We spent the rest of the night trudging back to the Hash House. After a brief sleep, and in true rogaining tradition, Ron woke me up, said he felt fine and let’s get out again!
TW: In how many countries have you rogained?
MH: I went to the first few World Rogaining Champs: 1992 (Vic), 1996 (WA), then overseas… to Canada (1998), NZ (2000), Czech Republic (2002), NZ again (2010). More recently I attended WRCs in USA (South Dakota, 2014), Finland (2015) and Spain (2019). All of them made great holiday destinations!
TW: How many different teammates do you think you’ve had over the years? What have you learned from having entered with so many different people and what difference have you seen in having a suitable teammate?
MH: Over 60 teammates. This means either (i) I’m very popular, (ii) I’m very unpopular (people don’t want to repeat their mistake), (iii) I ditch any partner who can’t climb a 100m hill in less than 5 minutes, or (iv) I’ll rogaine with anyone, I just don’t want to miss an event! I’ll let others judge which is correct…
I have learned that rogaining is really a very sociable sport, however, if you chat too much, you’ll get lost!
Mike and me at the end of the 2018 NSW Champs in which we placed 2nd. Our respective expressions sum up perfectly who had driven the pace for the final three delirious hours, climbing almost more vertical than horizontal metres!
TW: Your count of 200 not only includes rogaines in which you’ve been a competitor, but also ones at which you’ve volunteered. In which ways have you volunteered in rogaining, including on the committee? How has volunteering in the sport helped improve the value you get when you compete?
MH: I joined the committee in the late 1990s, was president for four years in mid-2000s, and have been treasurer for about ten years. I’ve set and/or organised quite a few events, mostly in the Southern Highlands like Tarlo River, Wingello, Belanglo and Bungonia. And of course the Warrumbungles for the WRC in 2006.
Volunteering is much more than about putting back into the sport – it is rewarding in itself. It’s very satisfying to be part of a team that puts a rogaining event together, and rogainers always seem to be a very appreciative bunch. Volunteering provides the opportunity to get to know other rogainers better. I’ve made a lot of friends through rogaining, and learnt a lot from them about the sport, about running rogaines, and about life generally. And I say to anyone willing to listen, if you want to sharpen your nav skills, set a rogaine!
TW: What are some of the biggest triumphs and blunders you’ve had in your time rogaining?
MH: David Rowlands and I won the 2005 Australian Champs, the “Over the Border” rogaine near Warwick in Queensland. He and I are the same age and I’m convinced 45 is the age for peak performance in rogaining. Tristan, you’ve got a way to go, and you’re on the way up!
After 200 rogaines, that makes for a lot of forgettable mistakes. Not forgotten is three hours spent in my second rogaine (Wuuluman, 1992), looking for a 20-pointer in the middle of the night. Pointless… literally. Know when to give up. Actually we went back in daylight to find it, we were that stubborn.
TW: Do you have a particular favourite type of rogaine – terrain, duration, course setting?
MH: The next event on the calendar; the ACT 12-hour at Inverary/Bungonia. Open bush, few tracks, hills, plenty of contour detail. Wouldn’t miss it!
TW: What changes have you seen come about during your many years in the sport?
MH: What I think is really remarkable is how things haven’t changed: great courses, interesting locations, great food, friendly atmosphere, mix of people. Once you’re out there in the bush, you and your teammate(s), with your map and compass in hand, it makes no difference if it’s 1991 or 2019!
TW: What has made you keep coming back?
MH: I have no choice. This sport was made for me, or vice versa. The hunter-gatherer instinct; couple that with physical endurance, which is the natural advantage humans have over all other animals. This sport is written into our genes.
TW: Thanks Mike! All the best with your next 200!