Wildside Southern Highlands – Team 22

This race report is brought to you by Gen Nawrot, from the “Not Wandering, Just Lost” team, who tackled the 36 hour course at the 2019 Wildside Adventure Race, Southern Highlands Edition.

We definitely got an adventure and so much more this weekend.

After a leisurely drive down on Thursday to beat the public holiday traffic, Amy Robinson and I had a whole day of nervous waiting before the briefing and map giving for Wildside Adventure Southern Highlands Edition.

Why nervous?

A year and a half ago, we went in our first ever adventure race. In a team of four, we carried our large hiking bags and loads of unnecessary equipment all day and all night, finishing our 12 hour race in 19 hours and 45 minutes. Back then, I couldn’t run the 800m to my nearest Aldi let alone a marathon. We seem to be well known as the girls that wore glow stick glasses and accessories on our night kayak, karaoked all the way up the river, ate iced finger buns at 6 am and never stopped smiling despite being so far behind absolutely everybody.

So now, this time as a team of 2, we were looking at our first ever 36 hour event. There’s been hours and hours of training to turn me from the kinda fit woman I was 1.5 years ago to the hopefully much fitter person I am now – Aldi isn’t far away at all anymore! With a second 12 hour and a 24 hour event finished successfully we hoped for the best.

Getting the maps and logistic plan did make the butterflies in the stomach start flying around a bit faster. It looked tough! Even trying to get everything sorted as quick as possible meant we still got to bed only at 11pm. Unfortunately, cars aren’t the best things to sleep in prior to a long adventure race. But with the choice of a 90 minute round trip to be back at the start at 5am, it seemed like the best option. So finally, at 1am with my undies over my face to block out the showground lights, I made it to sleep. And at 4:30, the alarm went off – time to go!

At 5 the bus took us out to the start of our first paddle at Tallowa Dam starting at 6. I’d hoped, just once, to have a rain free adventure race. Nope! It poured down while in the kayaks and kept drizzling into the start of the trek. As we walked up Bundanoon creek and Nyes Creek, this kept the rocks nice and slippery. The first part of the walk was not too bad, then things got a little tougher after the first fork. It definitely was boulder country and trying to snake around or through was pretty interesting. Going up Nyes Creek though was a different level again, going on sketchy inclines to miss huge boulders and a 20m vertical drop at one point. It took us 3 hours to cover a distance of 2km as the crow flies at one point. But we made it out…

…just in time for a very shortened mountain bike orienteering session before heading back into Tallowa gorge. We made the decision to cut short the MTBO to try to reenter the gorge before dark. We knew the reentry to the gorge would be steep, sketchy as all hell and for me, slightly terrifying. There were many thoughts swirling in my head at this point. Oh Fuck was prominent. The trackers don’t show us well in the gorge, if something happens, how long before someone will look for us? We are the lucky last, there’s no one behind us. And we are only 2, if someone hurts themselves, one person may have to hike out on their own while the other is left behind.

With these super reassuring thoughts, I had a few little cries and then we headed back into the gorge. And darn it, in the dark. It was just as scary as I thought, sliding down steep rocks, minor rock climbing and now knowing that there was no way to get back up, the only possible way is down. We had a few little hints in dodgy spots where we could see the routes the other teams had taken. When we finally heard the creek at the bottom, we were thrilled! It was just a matter of a 7 hour trek back to the boats at this stage, finally getting there at almost 2am. On the way, we met up with the Tiger Lizards. Unfortunately one of them had fallen and hurt her back right at the start of the descent . I definitely admire how well she did to manage the rest of this leg. At the boats, she and another team mate decided to kayak back to Tallowa to get picked up, also incredibly painful for her, while their other 2 team mates, Oren and Volker decided to continue with us as they would not be allowed to continue without a tracker and mobile phone.

So back in the boats and a 24km paddle back to Bendeela. The fellas weren’t too keen on paddling at our pace so they hooked us together and gave us a tow, to increase our paddling speed considerably. Very helpful considering the rhythmic paddling motion put me to sleep several times before dawn and Amy got in some micro sleeps after the sun came up. I never thought I could sleep anywhere. But not matter how hard I tried, I would be paddling and then suddenly jerk awake and noticed we’d steered off to the side as I slept. Oops. We left at 3am and got into TA2 at just after 8.

With Amy’s feet absolutely covered in blisters and me mentally exhausted, the thought of another million kilometres on a bike filled us with dread. By this stage we had only had just over 3 hours sleep in the last 50 hours and it was a real killer. Even food and brownies (yum!) didn’t help. We decided to short course ourselves and not do the huge MTB loop to the north, we’d just pick up the southern end and head home. Even this was hard. At one point my vision went grey so I got off the bike before I fell off. We rode into the end after 30 hours out in the bush.

While we technically finished (with a huge time penalty for missed checkpoints) for me it doesn’t feel like a huge success. I am proud of not backing out of the 2nd leg of the trek even though I wanted to with everything I had. Despite our name, we actually never got lost. But lurking in the back of my mind is the feeling that I should’ve done more, pressed on just a little harder. Judging by the other teams, we may have finished the full course early Monday morning, likely after 40+ hours. At the end of the day, this race was just a little bit more than what we could chew. The distance increase was hard yes, but more difficult was the terrain they pick only for the real pros and the real sleep deprivation of the 5am start of a huge race after only 3 hours sleep. And I while the sensible part of me says we still did very well for our experience level, the rest of me isn’t very sensible! But oh well! It was all part of my huge learning curve over the last 2 years.

They haven’t scared me off yet! I’ll be back, but in the 24 hour category. Once I can improve my times there, maybe then its time for another go at a 36 hour.

But only if there’s some type of cake!

The great photos are courtesy of the talented Wildside photographer

The map shows the blue where we did go, red is the route we didn’t do.

Geoquest Adventure Race 2019

Race report from Gen Nawrot

I made it!

It took almost 37 hours with no sleep and went for 162 kilometres but I finished!

More for myself than anything, I’ve written a race report for the 2019 Geoquest Adventure Race. If you are keen, read on!

It was very difficult to know how many clothes we would need, how much food we would use and which box we would need to put everything in to access at different parts of the race. Most teams in our section had support crews at most Transition Areas (TAs), people to make them food, transport their bikes and keep their spirits up. We were unsupported so had to wrangle lots of gear into 2 boxes and had to figure out where to buy/how to make waterproof bike boxes a few weeks out from the event.

It was a nice drive up north, leaving at 5:30 from Newcastle to get to the registration at about 1pm. The briefing was held at 3 where we got the rundown of the course, course notes and maps. Then it was full speed ahead for the rest of the night, sorting gear and planning our course and navigation choices. The weather report held rain for Saturday with skies clearing on Sunday. The coastal report told of 1.8m swells and advised coastal activities would be hazardous.

While initially allowing the Geohalf teams the opportunity to participate in Leg 1, a 20km ocean paddle, the race organisers decided to only allow the Full course teams the option. They realised that if all of us are crazy enough to participate in such an event, we would do everything it entails, even if that meant ocean kayaking in dangerous water with little sea kayaking experience. They realised that the life savers didn’t want to spend the entire time fishing teams out of the water so made Leg 1 a mandatory trek leg instead. We all breathed a sigh of relief and slept a little easier the night before the event.

At 5:30am we were up again to hand our bikes and gear boxes in and get ready for the 8am start. The we were off! Doing a mixture of running/ walking (mostly walking :P) we headed down the coast to TA1. The rain started down on us a little but generally we were in good spirits. The coastal tracks around the area are beautiful, with interesting rock formations and coastal vegetation. Unfortunately during this leg Amy started to feel pain in her hip which didn’t see to improve as we went along. We were never caring about which position in the race we were, so it didn’t bother us to enter TA1 as one of the last teams.

After assembling our bikes and refuelling we were off again, heading further down the coast first of all on wet, slushy dirt road. With everyone looking like they’d just had a mud bath we reached the river crossing where a small ferry awaited to take us across the river. Soon after that, a slide down a muddy embankment and we found our first check point! The we were off again on our bikes down a 4WD sand track, heading to Minnie Waters. Unfortunately for Amy, her hip was getting worse and it was painful to continue on the difficult to ride sandy roads. After a lot of painful deliberation she decided at TA2 that she would hitch a ride and meet us further down the line for the paddle, to avoid doing another long trek leg.

After slight difficulties at TA2 due to a missing bike box, Laura, Melody and I left TA2 after dark on Leg 3, another trek leg. It was starting to seem like endless walking as most was on beach, stretching out forever into the distance. We found CP3 and 4 with not much difficulty but really had to push ourselves on the walk down Wooli Beach. It was starting to take its toll on our mental stamina but we pushed through. The amazing feeling of turning the lights off and being all alone on the vast stretches of sand and the bioluminescence in the sand kept us on our feet and moving till we limped into TA3 at about 11:30pm.

Amy was brilliant, she’d set up our kayaks and had hot water on the go, just what we needed! After a dinner break we managed to get our kayaks down a very steep embankment and start Leg 4, a river paddle. This was a beautiful paddle in the dark, relatively uneventful save the fish jumping into our boat. CP5 was easy to find and we found the exit point on the river without much difficulty. Then it was an absolutely awful 400m portage of heavy plastic kayaks up to TA4.

We reached TA4 at about 3am and it took till 4:20 before we were restocked and the bikes were set up ready to go. Then we were off again, just Melody, Laura and I. The first section of Leg 5 was fine, muddy, sloshy and puddly but mostly rideable. The first really low point of the night was us struggling to locate CP6, at 5am and 21 hours into racing nothing seemed like it was in the right place. We struggled to figure it out for about half an hour, until I was ready to give up on it and just try to make it to somewhere where I could figure out where we were. Just when I was really worried, we practically fell on top of it and I was so relieved we weren’t lost I cried.

After feeling heaps better about CP6, we headed north to CP7. Little did we know that we were entering over 2kms of washed out, slippery clay, deeply rutted 4WD tracks that were impossible to ride and incredibly difficult to push the bikes up and down. For me, this was the real low point of the race, the inevitable thoughts of “why did I sign up for this” invading my mind. But there was no option but continue and continue we did, making it off that track just as daylight was approaching. We were all very much in struggle street at this time, it had been a very long night and we had hoped to be much closer to TA5 by now.

Still, there was nothing to do but plod along. And plodding it was, the coastal range road was constant gruelling ups, at least with many fun downs. We didn’t manage to find CP7 to our disappointment but at this time we were not the happiest of campers so we left it. The road continued up and down, up and down. At about 8am something amazing clicked in my brain. I suddenly felt fresh and awake, like I’d had a full nights rest and hadn’t already been racing for 24 hours. Nothing hurt and everything seemed great. I had been forcing myself to smile for the past 2 hours to try and get past the difficult patch, it must have just started my adrenaline off.

Laura and Melody were real troopers, they were hurting but continued on with grim determination. I was forever saying “just one more hill” and they didn’t grumble much when one hill turned into many.

It was well into the daylight hours when we were looking for CP8. After starting to look in the wrong place, I figured out my error and managed to find it fairly quickly. I also found a diamond python, thankfully asleep. I took a good look at him then took the long way round his sleeping spot.

To get us off the many ups and downs and get onto a very nice road, we dropped off the range and took the main forest road most of the way to TA5. It was so nice to ride and actually feel like we were going somewhere for a change. Unfortunately, the course organisers are sadists and TA5 was on top of the range road on top of the largest hill in the area. The ladies were going pretty strong but this last gigantic, steep, slippery hill was the last straw.

We made it to TA5 at about noon. We had been racing for 28 hours by this stage and it had been very tough going. Laura and Melody made the decision at this point that they would pull out of the race. Melody called the race organiser but to their dismay, due to the poor conditions of the road, they would have to proceed to TA6 as they had no way of getting them out from TA5.

Leg 6 was out of the question, the girls had no desire to go down the massive hill we had just climbed, only to have to come back up again later. It wasn’t a long leg, our route would have been about a 8-9km trek. So resigned, we skipped Leg 6 and headed out on Leg 7 to get to TA6.

Several kilometres out of TA5 we ran into another group, group 44, the “Blister Sisters”. They had been wandering around for several hours, getting geographically embarrassed while looking for CP9. This seemed to have taken the wind out of their sails, they were out of food and low on water. I led the way to CP9 and it was at this point they decided they would be calling it a day. They had a support crew who would come and give them a lift back to the start. Laura and Melody had been resigned to the bike back to TA6 but they made the hard decision to pull out at this point. They were wanting to finish but knew the going would be slow and I feel they made the decision more for me than anything. I felt guilty but I was not sure if I would be able to continue being so strong if the race kept going into the early hours of the next morning. There was one lady, Allie, from the Blister Sisters who was keen to continue so she and I paired up for the rest of the race.

Now we were team 42/44, not sure if we were the “Wonder Sisters”, “Wonder Blisters” or the “Blister Women”! We rode quickly out to the main road and made good time along the dirt and tar roads. We turned off on trail towards CP10, generally the going was good with a few hills that Allie powered up and I hiked the bike. CP 10 was easy to find and we headed off to CP 11. The organiser had warned at the start of the race that the last 5kms was shit, and sure he was right! We turned off onto a dune trail, deep rutted sand, overgrown vegetation, slipping and sliding around everywhere. Allie tackled it with confidence, I tackled it with fear and just mentally crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t stack it. CP 11 was not a hard find, then we were on the last few kms of the biking leg. We got to TA6 just before dark, changed and was on the water as quick as we could before we lost too much daylight.

We started off well but soon realised we were in low tide – there were sand banks everywhere! After navigating through and around them to get to the mouth of the river we thought we were going well – we should have looked at the compass more because we managed to get ourselves temporarily lost. We were 35 hours into the race by this time and both of us got into a dark place at this point. We struggled through though and managed to point ourselves in the right direction to get to CP12. We found the area just fine and knew we were in the exact right place however, someone had nicked the check point flag. After 30 minutes of fruitless searching we gave up and got back in the boat for the final leg. With only a few mishaps, slightly losing ourselves and needing to pull the kayak off the sandbanks, we were on the final stretch!

The big glowing finish arch was lit up on the beach and we made it to the end, just on 8:45pm Sunday night. While we were excited and proud, we were also very tired and cold, having just raced for almost 37 hours. After many quick hugs and congratulations my wonderful team mates bundled me into the car and took me home for a hot shower and dinner. I barely made it through my delicious laksa without falling asleep with my face in the bowl.

It was finished! I couldn’t have asked more from my team who kept going through loads of pain and sleep deprivation. They all did an amazing effort and despite not finishing, it is definitely something to be proud of. And thanks to Allie, her speed and confidence made me finish a lot faster than I could’ve without her. I was and still am quite amazed I could finish it! The total statistics recorded on my GPS watch was 162.01kms total distance, 1736m elevation gain and 1683 elevation loss. I am very glad I could finish it as I am already signed up for and paid for the next AR, Wildside AR Southern Highlands Edition. Only this time, we are signed up for the 36 hour event.
BRING IT ON!!!

Photo credits:
Some are mine, some are courtesy of the Geoquest photographers and the rest are from Amy Robinson.

More info about the race:
http://geoquest.com.au/
http://geoquest.com.au/race-results-and-reports

Way Off Track

A story from Morgan Laudine about a Search and Rescue Exercise in the Barringtons.

14th to the 16th of September 2018.

In 2017 my life changed for the better when I joined the State Emergency Services, City of Newcastle Unit. In 2018 I joined the Bush Search & Rescue Unit as well. BSAR specialises in locating missing persons and forensic evidence in remote areas statewide. Later that same year I also joined Fire & Rescue NSW. Warning emergency services can take over your life!

In September last year I signed myself up for a search and rescue training weekend with Bush Search & Rescue and off I went in the Barrington Tops National Park for three days of searching in steep and heavily forested terrain a long way from the nearest track.  

Our search area was off the side of the Gloucester Tops plateau, above the Chichester River. The exercise was designed to test our remote area skills and equipment and also to continue the search for missing aircraft VH-MDX that disappeared in the area in 1981.

On the first day our search team of four was driven down a bumpy seldom-used fire trail and dropped at our starting point. We immediately left the trail and made our way into the world heritage listed Antarctic Beech forest a silent, dark and ancient place full of plants dating back to the time of the dinosaurs.

Our day was spent clambering over logs and brushing past tree fern after tree fern. We went further and further into the forest listing to the calls of lyrebirds and yellow tailed black cockatoos along the way. When the light started to fade we set up camp and fell asleep under a canopy of mighty Antarctic Beech trees.

On day two, things got more challenging. The terrain got steeper and the vegetation got thicker. We found ourselves neck deep in vines, negotiating scree slopes, crossing multiple gullies and hitting sheer cliffs. At one point it was taking an hour just to move 1km and I was introduced to a hiking technique known as ‘wombatting’.

Progress was slow and we were running out of daylight, so we camped on the flattest bit of ground we had seen for hours… a 45-degree slope. The map said it was flat!

I dug a bed and tied my pack to a nearby tree for the night. A couple of runaway packs had already tried to escape down the slope once. I can’t say it was the best night’s sleep I have ever had. I woke up many times as my feet started to slide away from my head . The large lump of dirt that fell into my mouth at 3am was a rather unpleasant. It was certainly an interesting place to spend to spend a night.

On the third day the going started to get easier again after a few hours we started heading up. Once we got back on to the plateau, we left the Antarctic Beech forest behind and made our way through sub-alpine woodlands full of snow gums and wombat holes. Then we crossed the Gloucester River and join the land of the path once again. We made our way along the path (a strange thing not covered in vines that could be walked along with great ease) and popped out just in time to meet our ride out and head for home. 

Despite the many search efforts conducted over the years in this remote and rugged part of NSW the aircraft VH-MDX and the five people on board remain unaccounted for.

The search continues.