“Do you really think sexism still exists Tess? Or are you just finding drama where there is none?”
I was asked this (or something to this effect) by a well-meaning friend a few years back.
I was taken aback by the question, and I didn’t really know how to respond. Having been brought up in a very equality-minded home, where my parents drilled into me at a young age that men and women should be equal, and having surrounded myself in my adult years by friends of both genders who took part in stereotypical male activities in the outdoors, I flailed trying to find a response.
The part of me that has had the “equality is key to progress” mantra stamped into my brain automatically fired off with “of course sexism still exists and is important to fight against!”.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maybe you have had those thoughts before? On the odd occasion when you make that desperate move well above your last piece of gear. Or that time when you are in a whirlwind of white-water and not sure if you’ll make it down in one piece.
We probably all had those thoughts. But what if those thoughts start to appear every single time you go outdoors? What if they define your whole experience? They make you clench your teeth and swallow hard? When you are driving out on a Friday night and instead of looking forward to your adventure you just wonder if you will fall, if you will swim and if you end up crying? Out of disappointment in yourself. In your own skills and abilities and in your lack of believing in yourself?
The above is the start to an article I wrote about four weeks ago. When my confidence in skills was basically non-existent. When I was desperate to understand why I turned from absolutely loving going outdoors and challenging myself to almost being afraid to go. I had very high expectations of myself.
Let me explain a bit more. Two years ago I was a confident lead-climber. Nudging on 20s on sport lead outdoors, competing in bouldering and generally being strong and fit. Then I injured my wrist and it’s been average ever since. Climbing was completely off limits, bike riding was gone too and I couldn’t even open a door knob without being in pain. Stand still.
Kayaking: somehow I could still do, so I threw myself into it. I went to NZ Kayak School in that year and again early this year. After returning from NZ in February I had an awesome day at the whitewater stadium in Penrith. I was stoked. I took so many rolls and did so much “cool” stuff. I taught others.
After that, no more kayaking really. A trip to Peru where I rafted the Marañon and beat myself up on the inside for not being a good enough kayaker for this trip of a lifetime.
Upon return to Australia in August I tried to go surf kayaking. It was small surf. I didn’t even get out to the waves, just got stuck in the whitewash. I tumbled. I got dragged around and I swam. And then walked along the beach crying. I had taught others how to roll a kayak – successfully. I went to kayak school – twice! What the hell was going on? I was so disappointed in myself.
On a trip to Penrith (the only other whitewater running this part of town this time of year) I tried to roll in the outwash of the last rapid before heading up to the top of the course. I swam again. And I beat myself up so much – mentally not physically. Tears coming down my cheeks and I paddled over to the lake to grimly practise my roll.
At the same time, I started to go back to climbing. On a trip to the Blue Mountains, I worked up the courage to say yes to an ‘easy’ lead climb. I made it to the last clip and then bailed before the anchor. And instead of being totally happy to have pushed for the last clip so much when I felt so awfully terrified, I felt like I had failed. I mean – it wouldn’t have been a ‘hard’ climb for two-years-ago-climber-me, a grade 16. But now I felt shattered. The things I used to be so proud of all seemed to have gone.
So, self-analysis here we go. Sitting down to ask ‘why’ and to get the fun back into the outdoors. Because instead of properly enjoying the beautiful afternoon on the rock with my friends, my brain and emotions just swirled out of control.
There was a rational reason for all the things that were going on. Namely, I haven’t climbed in two years – which means no physical strength training, no exposure to leading and particularly no training for my head game. And all climbers know that if you lose your head game you should probably call it a day and just go to the pub for a beer and come back another day. We all have those days when we are just not up for it. And that’s ok!
And kayaking is very similar. It’s mighty helpful to be confident. Daan from kayak school used to say “either you own your kayak or it owns you”. You need to actively drive your boat to get where you want. Confidently. The crux in kayaking, in my opinion, is a bomber roll. If you can roll up anytime then your kayaking improves by roughly a gazillion percent.
Surrounding yourself with super awesomely talented friends who make everything look easy and are more ballsy than you can be great. But it can also trigger feelings of inadequacy and make you feel like you are the one that holds others back. Or you head out with people who have started at the same time as you but they are further ‘ahead’ (hint: there’s no ‘ahead’ in having a good time or fun) because they kept at the sport or maybe didn’t get injured. The truth is though that these friends are actually just super stoked you go out with them after a time away and give it a go. And half the time they might just fake their braveness anyway.
And despite it all, you see, somehow, last weekend, I competed, well participated, in a whitewater kayaking race. On a grade III section of icy icy icy cold river. Happily. And I swam. And I had a fantastic time. Like – super-duper-awesome-making-me-smile-right-now time. And the weekend before the race I climbed in the Blue Mountains and lead two pitches on a climb called Sweet Dreams – a 10 and a 13. And it was great.
So why all this rambling? Injury, parenthood, change of interest or moving city / town and travelling can all be factors that get you away from your training routine. Maybe for quite a while. When you get lucky and re-discover your love for your sport again and go back, and you are on the competitive spectrum of personalities, something like this might happen. And hopefully you don’t beat yourself up on it.
So how did I get back to actually being a noob at things, ‘failing’ and having fun while doing so?
One – an article I read that said asking ‘what’ instead of ‘why’ is a way more positive way to look at things. “Why am I bad at kayaking?” Because I lack confidence and I haven’t paddled etc. You end up feeling like a failure. Rather ask: “What do I not like about my kayaking?” That I can’t roll. So fix that!
Two – back to basics. Step back and start easy. Do a multi-pitch but maybe let your partner lead the harder pitches. You still get to do the whole thing and can relax seconding the hard moves. And do ‘pretend-lead’ and/or lead in the gym. In kayaking, go back to video analysis of rolling in flat water. Get those chicken-wings sorted. Get your friends to push you over. Hold your breath for 5, 10, 15, 20 seconds before you roll. Take your goggles with you and your nose plug. You know, pretend you’re back at kayak school. And allow yourself to fail.
Three – choose things you are good at. For me this meant to go on a multi pitch climb in which I swapped the ‘hard’ pitches with someone else. And we took out someone who was completely new to outdoor climbing. I know how to setup systems safely and I got to explain a whole lot of (basic) outdoor climbing knowledge. It made me feel really confident and competent about an important aspect of climbing.
Four – take those friends on outings that are emotionally on the same wavelength. We all know people that are awesome at the sport they do but they might not be quite emotionally tuned in with you or just not a good teacher. Maybe go with them next time and choose someone that you can just ease in with and don’t feel like you need to proof anything. If you are a woman, an all-girls trip can be a good idea too. Sorry lads.
Five – all you need is 20 seconds courage. I read about a female adventurer who uses this method and I really like it. When you are at the crux, at the rapid or whatever it is – ask yourself – “Can I be brave for the next 20 seconds?” And be! 20 seconds is long enough to get you through whatever scares you. No need to be tough all the time. Just 20 seconds a time.
Six – line up those bootie beers. I mean it! When Anna and me had to join the line up at the Snowy River Extreme Race to please the river gods after our swim during the race, I was laughing seeing how many people had to get up there. All those good and not so good paddlers seemed to have been pummelled out of their boats throughout the day. We might have been ten or 15 people. It’s always nice to know we are all between swims (or falls).
And seriously, if the day just isn’t going well take your friends and have a beer. And come back next time. We all have those days, weeks or sometimes months. But hopefully you will be able to come back to whatever you want to do and have fun! See you out there!
You can find more of Anja’s writing and photography here.
A trip report from PJ’s 4 day solo hike in Yuraygir National Park
When: 1-4 November 2017
Where: Yuraygir National Park
What: Yamba to Red Rock Coastal Hike
Why: Needed a challenge to focus on
Day 1 – Marra Creek to Red Cliffs campsite
The National Parks guide recommends doing this walk North to South and I can understand why. The first day is pretty easy, the third day is hard.
This first day is mostly a dirt/sand track. Very peaceful, easy to navigate and well sign-posted. It’s obvious where the track goes.
There is fresh water at the end of the day, but it’s an extra 2-3 km round trip. I just asked someone’s Nan and Pop in a camper if they could spare some, which they were happy to do.
Great spot for a swim and lots of kangaroos! You can have a fire there, but its BYO fire wood. I scavenged around the fireplaces for peoples left over bits and had some Firestarters with me.
Day 2 – Red Cliffs to Illaroo
25 kms/6 hours
Mostly beach walking. Fairly compact, though it’s worth working with the tides, rather than against them.
I used an app ‘Map my ride’, which provided speed and distance at 5km intervals. On the beach I did about 3.5kms/hr in soft sand, and about 5kms/hr on hard packed sand. Knowing this helped me plan my water and food consumption.
I made sure I was up early, packed and walking by 6.15am. This made the most of the mild temperatures and meant my water lasted me the day.
When I did find opportunities to fill up my water, I made sure I took 10mins to drink as much as possible, often a litre, sometimes more.
The first water crossing is via a National Parks canoe, which was on the other side when I came through, but I asked around and a father gave me a lift in his two person kayak. You can’t walk across it as it’s too deep and fast.
Illaroo campsite is lovely and has a good beach. There is also a great general store at Minnie Waters, which is about 1km south of the campsite and does hot food, wet/dry goods, coffee and alcohol.
You can have a fire at this campsite and there is water 3 kms away, but you can also get it from the general store if you ask nicely.
Day 3 – Illaroo to Pebbly beach campsite
28 kms/8.5 hours
Beach walking- a lot of it. Especially Wolli beach, which I struck at high tide. It wasn’t fun but I found a rhythm and just kept going. I didn’t stop much on the beaches, because I found it hard to get started and sand gets everywhere when you put your pack down!
You need to book the water crossing at the end of Wooli beach. Information for this is on the websites provided below. The water crossing costs $10 per person and it’s the only way to get across, unless you happen to find someone with a private boat.
Then there is a 5 kilometre long ‘Rock Platform Crossing’. It is pretty challenging. The rocks are sharp and on awkward angles, which makes it strenuous. Look for the ‘goat track’ people have made up above the rocks. I used sections of this to make it easy, but it wasn’t a proper trail and you would want to carefully assess the risks. In a group, the rock platform would have been easier and less brutal I think.
There is a lovely beach at Station Creek. Nice for a swim and you can have a fire. No water there though, so make sure you take this into account or try to get some from another camping group. Plenty of people, families mostly when I was there and they were great. You MUST cross Station Creek at low tide. There are no formal arrangements for crossing it. But I got a lift by one of the fathers with a 4WD.
Day 4 – Pebbly Beach to Red Rock
As I did far more kilometres on day three, this day was just a stroll and a final water crossing. Again, you need to book the guy with the boat, but he was easy to deal with. At very low tide you could probably put your pack on your head and try to walk across, but there is a general store on the other side with great burgers… so you may not want to wait for low tide!
I got a mate to pick me up at Red Rock, but there is a bus service too. Check the timetable though because the buses aren’t that frequent. Alternatively you can camp at the Red Rock campground and have a hot shower.
The beaches in Red Rock are amazing and worth the effort.
All the hard work for this trip was done in the preparation phase. You could do it without planning (meals, training, getting other peeps advice) but it would make things harder than necessary.
The trip restored my faith in people. There were several times when I needed some help, with water crossings or just extra water. I just approached people and they happily helped me. Maybe it was because I was a single female, but I think it was also that I was doing it solo and they appreciated the difficulty of it.
I looked up some blogs on solo hiking and there were a few gems.
Firstly when you encounter an unexpected challenge or something goes wrong-> STOP- Stop, Think, Observe, Plan. I used this several times to make decisions, when there was no one else to consult.
Also – one blog made a valid point, that you are not alone when doing a solo. You have your thoughts, memories and own company. This was a valuable piece of advice when I was doing hard sections on the soft sand or the rock platform crossing. I had some very funny moments and laughed out loud literally!
60 Litre pack
2L Water (plus 1.5L emergency water)
cereal, long life milk, chocolate, high calorie CLIF bars, dehydrated meals, fruit, snacks
First aid kit
Klymit sleeping mat, summer weight sleeping bag +thermal liner