At 13:50 on Friday I was rushing to make the coach from Sydney to the event. Life was somewhat out of control so I’d only had 3 hours sleep last night, my appetite had vanished (uh-oh) and my to-do list was asking me how I could justify heading off already. Oh well – everything’s now next week’s problem! Apart from the lack of sleep and appetite … that was def an issue to address … the comp was noon Sat to noon Sun and I’d promised Alex I wouldn’t sleep!
The organised transport hadn’t been so popular, so we were 9 people on a 50-seater coach with some hours to go to get to Kanangra. The traffic out of Sydney was slow. So too was the traffic through the Blue Mountains until the turn off to Jenolan Caves/Oberon. We ate at the RSL in Oberon and finally arrived just past the Kanangra-Boyd campground. The evening sky around sunset was stunning to see from the bus.
Off we wandered towards the hash house (HH). I hadn’t dug my head torch out and saw the road had some water on it, so I tried to walk around it and got 2 wet feet in return. Argh now I wasn’t even going to start the comp with dry feet !?! Oh well!
We found a nice, isolated camping spot up near the trees. The owls were calling all around. I popped over to the communal fire to say hello to everyone then went back to the tent and passed out. Bliss.
At some point during the night I woke up in a ball with my head in the bottom corner of the tent. Turns out I’d pitched my tent on a bit of a slope AND I was sleeping with my head at the lower end. Anyone would think that I’d never pitched a tent before – clearly I’d been tired. My legs and feet were freezing to boot so I sorted out my sleeping mat and position, took off some top layers, arranged them around my legs and went straight back to sleep.
I woke up at dawn but couldn’t convince myself to peak outside. To start with I’d thought someone was playing a computer game near my head – the whip sounds of the birds sounding like laser guns. The sun was on my tent not long after 6:30 so I opened the tent up and bathed in it’s warmth and took in the beaut surrounds.
There’d been a proper frost overnight and Alex was glad he’d opted to camp among the trees (he doesn’t use a shelter unless it’s dire). I sat happily and watched the steam forming low on the ground as the frost burnt off. Watched the ground spider webs glisten. Watched the droplets run off my tent. Slowly there was movement all around and I convinced myself it was time to get up and make breakfast. The maps would be released soon!
We received the maps at 08:30, which gave us about 3 hours to plan our route, prepare our maps and be ready. Alex introduced me to some new ways to route plan – cork board, pins and string required!
Somehow time seemed to evaporate. We both ended up suggesting very different routes. So, with not enough time left to prepare the maps properly, we agreed to each add up our route (45km as the crow flies apiece) and whomever had the better point score would have their route followed. The result was a dead heat!! What are the chances of that??
In the end we went with my route, in part because it was flatter and more adaptable but mostly because Alex was so gracious. With 20 minutes until the compulsory briefing we were still highlighting our intended route! So we had to stop and desperately contact the maps and rush over to the starting area with only about 3/4 of the route sorted. I was still faffing around filling bottles etc when the start siren went off. Ooops!
And we were off! Strategic move number one (would it pay off?) was to leave everything around the HH for the end, time permitting. So we headed out to Kanangra Walls Rd and then north. Our plan was to do an anti-clockwise loop, with the focus on hitting the northern most controls. I looked at my map properly for the first time since contacting it in a hurry … My apologies to the bugs I captured in the process!
A perfect execution to #53 after carefully checking our position on the road before departing. High five.
We contoured around to the next control #92, and again no issues. We commented on how open the gully was. The route we’d mapped out for our adventure had tried to keep us out of gullies as much as possible, since these typically can be full of scrub. If the gullies remained open, we discussed where we’d change up our plan. Hitting #71 was easy since we just needed to head north. High five.
On the way to #58 we joked about using a code word to indicate if we’d seen a flag. This resulted in us chatting about Simon’s upcoming wedding. (What was our code word I wonder?) We had small bets about when we’d see another team.
It was a really good execution of 61-98-76-88-47, with bonus snake viewing after #98. I think Alex saw baby wombats with their mum somewhere along this leg too.
All up, Alex and I were working really well with one another (our first rogaine together). We were both navigating and talking about our navigation as we went. I was having fun and it looked like he was too. This was also the closest I had ever been in contact with my map – my friend having lent me a spectra compass for the event and finally I was *getting* how to use it. Blue and 3 dots is a thing!
The wheels fell off a little when we went for #82, as we ended up in the next gully over and then over once more; but thankfully we picked up on this and were able to salvage the situation without losing too much time. The terrain was still remarkably open, yay. (I think my legs still have scars from the Lake Macq event!!)
We found ourselves at the very northern part of the course and it was only just getting towards 5 PM. We were gunning it, woohoo. We also hadn’t seen anyone since before turning off to grab our first control hours before. Why were we bothering to use our code word ?! This was great and it felt simply like a bush walk and not like a competition. Further, I was enjoying the proper navigational challenge of the event – the course setters had done an amazing job so far. I’ve found other rogaines to be navigationally boring since you often see a team walking away from a flag as you’re approaching it … but today, today was a true challenge and we seemed to be up to it. Let’s hope that would continue in the dark …
Hah, and then came the next hiccup after #91. We executed nicely down to 91 with Alex very carefully ensuring that we came down exactly the right gully, having expertly picked up a subtle wiggle in the contour line. High five. We discussed how to approach #102. Straight back up where we just came down and then down the main spur and then branch off. Agreed. Walk. For some reason, maybe I let my food levels dwindle too much, I started contouring my way across to the side gully instead of straight up. Alex called over, and I must have sounded convincing because he followed me! We were now staring down a big down up (well … not *that* big) but we made a call to contour around. We now thought we were on the next spur in the flat area where we needed to head off on the SW spur break. We started out and found ourselves being pulled SE. Hmmm! Now thinking we must have been further down than we intended we made the call to ascend the spur back up to the top (Argh – why had I gotten us into this mess) before a perfect execution from the top to #102. I injected more food on the way. Did I mention the yummies I’d made beforehand?
I was now out of water, which we’d already calculated would happen around this point. I wasn’t too worried as we were confident that the creek we passed on the way to #51 would be flowing, and Alex still had a spare litre of water in his bag. When we arrived at the creek we decided to have a quick break because the area was absolutely gorgeous. Why have we never bushwalked here before?!?
Straight to #51 with no issues and then we happily climbed up onto the spur to see the sunset. What a day we’d been having :)
We decided we were well ahead of schedule so had been talking a lot about which other controls to pick up on our way back south. Under the light of twilight we picked up the gem of #57 and then walked the creek around to a ridiculously steep hill, after passing a dead cow, and started ascending.
We planned to use the appearance of the cliffs as our attack point to contour off and approach #97. Did I mention that the hill was steep? By this stage I was saying in my head twilight – dark – head torch – pizza – twilight – dark – head torch – pizza. I think I wanted to eat a slice of pizza! When I suggested a pizza stop when we grabbed out our head torches Alex tried to convince me to wait until the water drop … no way was I going another step without devouring some pizza! But I did share :)
We ended up grabbing #97 the long way, in hindsight this should have been approached from below not above, but we got there in the end. Ok, first night flag bagged! Now to see how the rest of the night progressed. We decided that our original route selection to #69 would probably involve some unmarked cliffs, so adjusted to night-nav mode and used the saddle as an attack point to the junction of the creek and fire trail. We arrived on a bearing within 10m of this junction. What a great start to the night.
I regaled stories to Alex of the only other time I’d rogained through the night (July this year) – I think it’d taken me 4 hours to bag my first flag !!!!!
We almost ended up walking along the wrong fork after the creek split (how’d we do that?), and we started doubting our navigation when #69 wasn’t appearing before our eyes; before we realised we were still thinking with day legs and not night legs (i.e. we’re only moving half as fast, so all climbs will take twice as long, etc). High five.
It was an easy amble over to the water drop where we registered our next intention, topped up water, ate more pizza and stuffed ourselves on the lollies and fruit there. Bananas that weren’t bruised …. yippee! It was 9pm and two teams arrived while we were sitting there. The first people we’d seen since 12:15pm.
Off to #93 we saw another team around the corner. We have no idea where they popped out from, nor where they were going because they didn’t seem to be headed for the water drop or #93, even though they were on the fire trail heading that way …
We went down the wrong gully (and parallel), but that was easily solved by contouring over the spur and as we ascended back up again (this was an out and back) we realised that the gully we descended was the least scrubby of the two, so it had been a useful mistake.
Now it was time to hit #85, at a creek junction. No issues there apart from the fact the navlight wasn’t working. My plan had been to head to the knoll on our SW, however the climb up did not look enticing one bit (!) so we headed to the knoll on our N instead and approached 103 a different way. I did the compass work and Alex stayed on top of pacings. This combo seemed to be our best way to stay on track in the dark.
Another hiccup on the way to #75 followed; because we had the grand idea to head up the spur most, but not all the way, then contour over and wander down the western spur to the knoll that would be our final attach point. Trying to contour over stuff in the dark, what were we thinking !?! We have since worked out that we went over the spur and down the wrong gully … alas. Again, we fixed the issue without losing too too much time. Gee was I happy when we got to #75.
The trek to #78 felt like it took forever (I wonder if Alex feels the same?). I reckon this is the point where I was starting to get pretty tired (~1:30 AM). I assisted with the nav getting down to the creek, but the next part was totally all Alex. I was simply tottering behind wondering which delicacy in my pocket would give me an energy boost. Hindsight is one of those laughable virtues. If we’d known how slow going the creek here would be, we would have climbed up from #78 and come down almost on top of the flag. Instead we continued down to the creek, which involved lots of water hopping (I got wet feet again) and scrub dancing. Alas, Alex found it and we had a lovely sit down at said rocky knoll. Inject suuuuuugar.
We crossed to the other side and hauled ourselves up the first section before we could walk once more. It was a long climb up the spur and we made sure we were at the top where the spur split before heading down to #101 (no mistakes this time!) I reckon this was my favourite night time control. It was perched up on a knoll, you could hear the water flowing (uh oh, do we have to cross that?) and we could see a group coming down what we next planned to go up. It was 3:44AM. Now, how do we get off this thing safely ?!?!
We met the other group just as we were about to start ascending up another stuuuupidly steep hill (can I call it a mountain yet Alex?). This was a memorable moment: three blokes, all in matching shirts, each regaling news of the same event … but none of their stories corroborating. Sleep deprivation mayhap?
This was one hell of a steep ascent. I put my map and compass away so I could have full use of all fours. Then we were on the main spur and for the first time I noticed that I was really lagging behind Alex. My eyes were heavy. Lots of polite stops from Alex, and I was trying really hard to watch the compass. I didn’t feel like eating any of the food in my pouch … or any food at all really. At some point Alex stopped and commented that my pace had really dropped off. He opened his pack and then passed me a massive ziplock bag full of lollies and told me to start eating. Now, I’m not a big fan of having silly amounts of sugar on events like this as you need to manage the sugar crash. I usually combine a bit of sugar with more endurance foods. It was stupid o’clock in the morning and my stomach was not interested in endurance foods. I picked out all the choc coated soft licorice and gobbled away. Up the hill I went.
We aimed off and intersected the side creek that would lead us to #95. Hiiiigh five. And hello mojo back in my legs :) Stuff endurance bar in mouth.
It was now 5am and there was just one more control between us and the next water stop, which Alex had promised me we’d reach before sunrise. Up some more contour lines we went. This was most likely the best ascent of the evening; because at some point the moon was right in front of us as we covered the final vertical metres to the ridge. Absolutely stunning. We popped down, grabbed #59 and then rushed (even ran a bit!) to make the water stop before the sun rose. A promise is a promise after all. It’s now 6:09AM.
The exciting thing about this rogaine was the boxes of fruit and lollies at the water stops. I was soooo excited to peer inside and see fantales. And soooo disappointed to discover the packet was full of empty wrappers :(
Ok team T-I-double-guh-ERs, time to up the anty again because we could see. We hit #43 no issues. #86 however … goodness knows what went on there – we’d overshot the gully completely. Took a bit, but we righted ourselves once more.
We were now out of pre-race highlight so we chatted about our nav approach before heading off for each flag, and also which ones to go for. We’d discussed earlier about doing an out and back to #70, but with so much precious time now burnt we headed for #84 without issue.
This next bit of nav I can only describe as beautiful. #84 to #104 over Emperor Spur and bang on the flag, nicely understanding the subtleties of gullies and spurs. #48 followed easily enough and then we decided to cut mostly north to hit the fire trail since the scrub had settled in. I was a bubble of energy again – it’s amazing what a good dollop of sunshine can do.
#89, #79. Gosh we reckon we must be doing a bit of all right. Certainly not going to come last in our category :) We saw a team before turning off to #89. Time to hit #80. We knew it wouldn’t be easy following a bearing that long but we tried anyway. I think we traversed a little too far before heading down the (but not our) gully and I was now starting to worry about how far we still were from the finish line. We had only 2 hours to go (Gosh, how were we 22 hours down already?) We were expecting to see a side creek coming in, but the gully we saw wasn’t very definied. Could we really be where we thought we were? Turns out we were but we didn’t know it just yet. We looked around but it wasn’t as open as other areas of the course. I was now thinking we should abandoned ship, but Alex kept his cool and suggested we give ourselves 10 minutes. We needed only 2. HIGH FIVE.
We aimed for the firetrail, hit it, double checked our position on the road, then took off on a bearing to number #41. Suddenly there seemed to be teams everywhere! Now it felt more like a traditional rogaine. We tagged in and then had some *fun* trying to get around the bloody swamp with dry feet (I failed again). You’d think after 23 hours the other participants would have made a nice path for us … it was part of my route tactic!
One hour to go and suddenly I was really, really tired. I took a bearing to hit #33 but failed at following it properly. Thankfully Alex picked up on this and I got him to take over. We should have ducked down and grabbed #49 since it was so close, but who knew if that’d be a good idea? We hit #33, then #32. They were really quick so we threw in #30 for good measure before heading “home”. My feet by this stage were complete agony and I wondered how many blisters I’d accumulated. Alex’s feet were just as sore.
Unsure exactly how long the last stretch would take us, we jogged a little, which our feet really didn’t like. Then, with indescribable bliss, we saw the finishing line and tagged off. What a ripper of an adventure !! We wondered how we’d done but were too sore to care that much about anything except taking our shoes off. With relief I found no blisters … I had pressure sores everywhere though. Really should sort out new shoes, huh.
Having showered (with baby wipes), changed and swapped into sandles I hit the food tent to see what my stomach felt like. Hmmm nothing. So I made a wrap anyway and after taking a bite I discovered I was excited about celery .. so opened my wrap back up and poured as much celery in as would fit. Go figure !?! Love a good, wacky post adventure craving.
The award ceremony started and we were gobsmacked by the score of the winning team. Well done ladies! We were then further surprised to discover that we’d secured the NSW Mixed (gender) Championship. Hah!
Thanks Alex for partnering up with me – it was a ripper of an adventure with you. Also a huge thanks to the course setters (you did a sterling job) and all the volunteers involved in hanging flags, collecting flags, driving gear down, setting up, feeding us, etc, etc, etc.