The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rogainer: the Search for the Perfect Partner

by Brett Davis

Rogaining is a team sport, and most people seem to rogaine with the same partner or partners in every event they enter – like Quinn and Baldwin, Taib and Williams, Field and Dearnley …

Ideally, you want your partner to be EXACTLY the same standard as yourself. If one partner is faster than the other, both partners are unhappy, with one being frustrated and the other apologetic.

As un-partnered rogainers like myself get older, it becomes harder for us to find partners. A common complaint is that “all the good ones are already taken”. Another problem is that injury and ill-health eventually catches up to all aging athletes, no matter how good their genes or how well they look after themselves, so there are less of them in the pool. And old people tend to die, so the number of potential partners is constantly dwindling!

All of the above situations have happened to me.

I began rogaining in 2001 at the ripe old age of 48. My first partner was my wife Karen, who is a really good navigator. Initially we were evenly matched, but unfortunately Karen inherited her mother’s arthritic knees and walking is becoming more and more painful for her.

In 2004 I teamed up with a fellow member of the Shoalhaven Bushwalkers – Colin – for a couple of years. We had some good results – 2nd in the 1 day event at the 2004 Nav Shield and finishing 1st in the 15 in 24 Men’s Vets at the 2005 NSW championships at Dunns Swamp – but shortly afterwards Colin got married and retired from rogaining.

In 2008 I entered the NSW Championships at Bendalong with Richard, a younger friend who competed in cross-country running events. We finished a respectable 18th out of 70 in the Open, and 4th out of 15 in the Men’s Vets, even though I was a Super Vet at the time and did all the navigating. After that first event with me, Richard decided that rogaining was not for him, and he retired from rogaining too.

I then teamed up with various other Shoalhaven Bushwalkers from 2006 to 2009, but found nobody who was quite as enthusiastic about rogaining as I was. For a few years I rogained with Karen again, and we had some success – 4th in the Nav Shield 1 day event in 2013, and 2nd in the same event a year later when we finished with the same score as the winners. Karen got through the events with painkillers, but suffered afterwards.

In 2014 I finally found a perfect partner. Cliff Harris had just turned 55 and had entered my Super Veteran ranks. His usual partners were younger, so although I was six years older than Cliff, we teamed up for the 24 hour 2014 ACT Championships at Long Plain.

Not only was Cliff younger than me, he was fitter than me, and although I kept up okay for the first 12 hours, I wasn’t accustomed to being pushed and didn’t eat enough early in the event. I hit the wall in the middle of the night and really struggled for four or five hours. Just before dawn I was totally knackered and told Cliff that getting back to the hash house would probably be all I could manage.

As the sun was coming up, I sat down (!) and ate half a block of chocolate, but as Cliff and I began the long trudge back to the Hash House I started feeling a bit better. I suggested that we could try to pick up some controls along the way. A short time later the calories kicked in, and pretty soon I was back to normal!

Despite my terrible performance during the night, Cliff and I managed a respectable 11th out of the 39 teams in the Open, and 2nd in the Mens Super Vets, just behind Australian champions Merv Trease and Vic Sedunary! Maybe Merv and Vic had a shocker as well!

Cliff was prepared to overlook my under-performance, mainly because of my miraculous morning recovery, and we agreed to continue as team-mates into the future. After 13 years of searching, I had finally found my perfect rogaining partner – but 3 months later, Cliff died. The world lost a really nice guy and an extremely good rogainer – and I had lost my perfect partner. Would I ever find another?

By 2017 I had managed to talk my friend Bill – one of my regular golfing partners – into entering a rogaine. Bill competes in triathlons – including Iron Man events – and would qualify for the Hawaiian Iron Man a short time later, so he was certainly fit enough. We entered the 2017 NSW Autumngaine at Bungonia, and managed to finish 12th out of 37 in the Open. We finished 1st in the Men’s Super Vets – but I have to admit that there were only two teams in our age group!

We competed in the 2018 NSW Championships at Abercrombie – finishing 10th out of 37 in the Open and 2nd out of 7 in the Men’s Super Vets. Bill then retired from rogaining, preferring Iron Man Triathlons because they were easier (!) – and my search for that perfect team-mate started all over again!

I teamed up with another friend – Michael, a bushwalker, navigator and long distance cyclist – in the 2018 NSW Autumngaine at Wingello. He is 10 years younger than me, so although I was almost an Ultra Vet by this time, I had to compete as a Veteran against guys almost 25 years younger than myself. We finished 7th out of 31 in the Open, and 3rd out of 10 in the Men’s Vets.

Although we’d managed to finish in front of some pretty good rogainers¬† – like Andrew Duerden, Chris Stevenson, Julian Ledger, Martin Dearnley and Graham Field – Michael would not prove to be the best partner for me. Not only is he 10 years younger – forcing me into lower age groups – he also has a great fondness for sleeping, so 24 hour rogaines would be completely out of the question.

A year later in the 2019 ACT Spring 12 hour, I convinced yet another friend to come rogaining with me. Although Vic was older and a relatively novice bushwalker, he was a good navigator, and a much better, fitter cyclist than me. Vic went really well for the first 9 hours, but he was really, really hurting for the last three, not used to being on his feet for that long. We were the only team in the Ultra Vets – so we won that – and we were only 40 points behind the much younger winning Men’s Super Vets team of Trevor Gollan and Chris Stevenson.

In what was now becoming a very obvious pattern, Vic retired from rogaining immediately after competing with me as well.

I first met my next team-mate on the morning of the 2019 NSW Championships at Yengo. We had teamed up via the NSWRA Partner Finder service. Mike Ward was a similar age to me, and as I soon found out, he could not only navigate, he could also walk for 24 hours with minimal breaks, albeit a little more slowly than me through scrub, despite being in remission from cancer! Mike and I won the Mens Ultra Vets in front of the only other team of Bert Van Netten and Ted Woodley, and were second in the Super Vets behind Graham Field and Martin Dearnley.

Would Mike turn out to be my perfect partner? Unfortunately, Covid hit and rogaining was put on hold for a couple of years. During that time, Mike’s cancer returned and his health has declined significantly, and he too has been forced to retire from rogaining. Ever the optimist, Mike recently pointed out to me that because of Covid, he and I have actually been the NSW Men’s Ultra Vet champions for the past three years!

So again I was on the lookout for a new team-mate.

I teamed up with two Ultra Vet “Hipsters” in the 2021 NSW Autumngaine at Belanglo – Dale Thompson and Peter Morris – but only for the 6 hour event as Dale and Peter both had hip replacements – hence the team name – with Dale’s operation having been a very short time prior to the event. Dale moved well on the trails, but was understandably slow through thick scrub where there was danger of tripping and falling. Peter struggled with his fitness for the last couple of hours, and we were 10 minutes late – but at least that was something I had never experienced before! Despite our age, infirmity, and late penalty – we still finished in front of more than half of all the teams! But Dale and Peter were not my perfect partners, so my search continued.

I teamed up with Andrew and Karen Duerden in the 2021 ACT Paddy Pallin on the Newnes Plateau, but that was just a temporary, last-minute arrangement, and I reverted back to walking with my wife in last year’s ACT Paddy Pallin at South Durras (23rd out of 86 in the Open, 2nd out of 6 in the Mixed Super Vets) and the 8 hour event at the ACT Championships at Abercrombie (mid-field in all categories because of an ultra-conservative route choice because of Karen’s knees).

The 2022 Paddy Pallin 6 hour at Bargo is coming up this weekend, and despite my best begging efforts, I couldn’t get anyone to agree to be my partner, but Karen has come to the rescue yet again. Our team name is the Hare and the Tortoise.

The NSW Championships will finally be held again for the first time since 2019 – at Gundabooka which is between Cobar and Bourke! I wish myself luck trying to find a partner for that one!

During my search for the perfect partner, I realized that I could get around the problem if I could convince the NSW, ACT and Australian Rogaining Associations to change the rules to allow solo rogaining. Hey presto – there would be no partner needed!

Solo rogaining is allowed under the rules, even though Rule 1 states “A team shall consist of two, three, four or five members” and the preamble to the rules states that Rule 1 is fundamental to the continued survival of the sport! Most rogaining associations allow solo rogaining in short events, but not for any events longer than 6 hours.

I set up a website at www.solorogaining.org which is devoted to explaining the benefits of solo rogaining, but there has been no nationwide groundswell of support for the concept. I have written to all state and territory associations requesting that they allow solo rogaining in longer events, with no luck.

I have even worked out a way for a person to compete solo in long rogaines without that person’s safety being the responsibility of the organising rogaining association. The method is legal and doesn’t violate any rogaining rules, but I haven’t had to resort to it – yet.

Until that day comes, I will continue my search for the perfect partner.

To this end, I have contacted the ACT Rogaining Association requesting that they set up a Partner Finder service on their website. I have also asked the NSWRA to do the same, instead of their current system where a partner finder service only appears on their website when an event is opened for entry, and which disappears afterwards.

Ideally, the NSWRA and ACTRA should get together and produce one Partner Finder for both associations, as many of us compete in events run by both of them. I haven’t heard back from either association about that particular idea!

I have even suggested alternative, more modern means of setting up a Partner Finding Service – such as a closed Facebook group where members could discuss their requirements with many like-minded individuals in a private setting, rather than with one person at a time. A WhatsApp group for people needing rogaining partners would be another potential alternative.

And I could even set up a website completely devoted to rogainers seeking partners so that people in my position would not be forced out of the sport they love. If anyone from ACTRA or the NSWRA thinks this is a good idea, let me know!

I’m 68 now and I probably don’t have too many more rogaines left in me, but I’m still hoping to find that perfect partner – because it’s not much fun not being able to compete in the sport I love …

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