The rain was closer to horizontal than vertical when Bekket and I locked the front door of our sharehouse behind us.
We exchanged cheeky grins and a quick thumbs up, then sprinted down the street to the spot where Bekket’s car was parked.
The back of the car was full. Full in a way that can only be achieved by someone who spent their childhood playing Tetris and their adulthood squeezing far too many outdoor activities into their weekends.
Mowgli was our housemate, fellow adventurer and partner in mischief. She was part way through her placement at a General Practice. She was keen to climb the spectacular rock features in the nearby Warrumbungle National Park.
Plans are hatched
Climbing in the Bungles is a daunting proposition. You have to trek a long way…
“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.