It was Josh’s turn to write the report for this race, and here is what we got ….
(Josh loves an emoji of those that don’t know)
As usual it was over to Bern to get us organised ….
For the fourth and final race of the A1 series Thunderbolt AR was to be without its leader and captain Hugh due to work and family commitments. And whilst Hugh was forced to dot watch on nervously, we were aptly joined by Dave ‘Sloshy’ Schloss to take over the mantle as chief navigator. No pressure mate, but we’ve so far won 3 from 3.
Meeting up in Canberra on the Saturday and having the luxury of receiving the logistics planner the week prior, we had time to go over gear and pack boxes and repack boxes and move piles of gear around all Saturday (whilst watching the Tigers win the Grand Final – whoohoo). Sunday morning was race briefing, map handout, competencies and gear checks, marking up the maps and debating routes and more moving piles of gear around before final box hand in at 6pm.
The race proper was to start with a 330am bus trip out to Buckenderra. There was little chatting on the 2hour journey most opting for catching the last few ZZs for some time. Amongst nervous anticipation and just on sunrise it was 7am go time.
Leg 1 Trek 55km Buckenderra to Adaminaby
Lake Eucumbene certainly looked like a great lake to paddle on and as the leg wore on we certainly wished we had boats with us. It was a bit of a drag race on foot following the shoreline around the lake but the pace and teams at the front slowly dropped off throughout the leg as the kilometres clicked by and the day warmed up. It was great chatting with and sledging many adventure racing friends, new and old, as we snaked around the lake collecting 4 of the 34 CPs of the race. There was some slightly different interpretations of staying below the high water mark but we made it into the first TA at The Big Trout in Adaminaby in third place just 5min behind Peak Adventure and Tiger Adventure/Wild Earth. Much to our surprise, we came in under the anticipated 6hour time estimate for the 55km leg due largely to the low water levels reducing the distance as opposed to our breakneck pace.
Leg 2 MTB 107km Adaminaby to Orroral Valley
Good to be on the bike, except perhaps for Leo who to prove how much of a hardass he really is, thought he would do the longest bike leg in running shorts. Cycle knicks for softies. Whoops. We shuffled packs and gear early on to stay together, Bern struggling slightly early onto hold the pace on this long undulating ride across Yaouk and into the bottom of ACT through the Namadgi National Park, then along the Nass River Valley finally climbing along the Boboyan Divide and passing Brandy Hut as we linked up with the Brandy Flat walking track as night fell. Leo and I were convinced we had seen 3 lights of another team off in the opposite direction as we hit the bitumen road however after a few chuckles we saw the 3 house lights on the hill we had mistaken for a lost team. Jackets on for the bitumen descent into TA2.
Leg 3 Trek 50km & Abseil Orroral Valley to Tidbinbilla
Peak Adventure had just left transition when we arrived and Tiger Adventure were just about to but had forgotten maps for this leg. Regrettably we didn’t want to lend them our second map for what was to become the crux leg of the race, so they received maps from the organisers and coped a 2hour penalty in doing so. The estimated leg time of 10hours (fast) to 17hours (slow) was somewhat misleading given the amount of scrub and distance to be covered in the dark. We were lucky our food supplies and final chocolate bullet held out just to the end of this leg taking just under 18hours to complete (the fastest time of all teams).
We headed off from TA crossing what we had hoped was a dry creek bed but necessitating a small swim/wade through thick reeds to connect up to a fire road track to take us all the way to the abseil with a final steep climb to reach it.
We were slightly surprised to learn we were only 10min behind second and 10min again from Peak in the lead when we reached the guys manning the abseil point. As tends to be the case with abseiling in adventure racing we hit it at night so could not appreciate the views, which on looking back at photos did look impressive. We tried to spot lights of teams ahead and glean as much info from the locals as possible as to route choice from the bottom of the abseil as there was a lot of thick scrub to bush bash through. We decided to stick with our plan of following bearing and crossing an arm of the infamous Blue Gum Creek that so many teams decided to travel along and head up the spur to the high point and then connect to the top of the creek to locate the track. And now while that is a short sentence and sounds like a nice plan, it actually involved roughly 6-8hours of thick scrub bashing at night, being able to see only meters in front and moving at a painfully slow pace.
We stopped for 20min or so at the high point just as daylight came to check and re-orientate ourselves as we thought we had moved slightly off course. Once the sun rose we were treated to a fabulous view from above the clouds with some brief respite from heavy scrub to slightly lighter scrub to clamber through to cross the small beginnings of Blue Gum Creek and then eventually onto Smoker Flat Track. To say we were glad to see the track was an understatement, celebrating with a foot care stop, however a reality check having covered less than half the distance of the leg in over 10hours. We ran/walked to CP13 at a short out and back track to Square Rock Lookout (impressive) then made our way into a confusing maze of pine forest tracks perhaps taking the scenic route through and then down a spur and along Gilbratar Creek to CP14. There was further bush bashing and some travel along a rocky creek before hitting the final 8km section of track to the TA. Now in the heat of the day Sloshy and Josh were regretting not bringing their hats on this leg (having anticipated an early morning finish based on time estimates). Sloshy fashioned a sheik style headdress from his race bib as we hit the final few climbs on the trek.
Just before TA3 we ran into Jan and Ali – race volunteers and supporters who let us know we were in first, much to our disbelief but with renewed appreciation and confidence in the navigational effort of Sloshy and Leo. We had thought we might have lost a couple of hours on the lead teams in the thick bush but in actual fact we had gained a couple of hours – very uplifting for sure.
TA3 at the Visitor Centre was a welcome relief as was the coke provided in transition not to mention the info centre shop in which we availed ourselves of a few pies and cold drinks.
Leg 4 MTB 50km Tidbinbilla to Point Hut
Well this leg was certainly the hike-a-bike leg from hell. Some lovely rolling downhill on bitumen to get us started and lull us into a false sense of security before entering a maze of pine forest tracks. On the first of 1000 hike-a-bike hills with Bern and Leo out front they heard a cow moo. On the third moo they turned around to see what the drama was as it was beginning to sound like it was giving birth. No cow but Josh on all fours throwing up. The heat at the end of the long trek, no hat and perhaps the hurriedly consumed coke and pies at TA had not agreed with him and he was not in a good way heat stroke coming out of him at both ends. Action stations with pack redistribution and a brief cool off in the shade. We worked our way through the maze of pine forest to CP16 and 17 which was a cave lookout just near Paddy River then onto the rollercoaster ridgeline that was the Bullen Range. The leg was to continue as such; roll down the hill and as far up the next one as possible; Josh get off his bike; Bern, Leo or Sloshy push Josh’s bike as he zombie walks up the hill with encouragement to sip water and try some food. Wait for Josh at top of hill, put him on bike and roll down next hill. Repeat times 1000. This was only interrupted every 20-30min with Josh needing to empty the contents of his stomach.
As night fell we collected CP18 near the end of the leg in farmland on a saddle leaving our bikes near a gate and hiking up to it. We were very grateful to make it to TA4 and see friendly faces in Jan and Ali as we tried to transition quickly to have a planned 90min sleep on the floor of the disabled toilet (luxury), to be our only sleep of the race.
Leg 5 Pack Raft 33km Point Hut to Uriarra Crossing
Whilst we had tried to be subtle about the team’s (Josh’s) health, on waking up from our 90minute sleep in the toilet block, Josh left little doubt with the TA staff that something was going on (or a cow was giving birth in the toilets). Thankfully no other teams had arrived yet so were none the wiser and we trudged on.
There was an on course change to the pack raft leg – the first section of the river having been scouted the day before and deemed too dangerous for teams to attempt especially at night given there was no dark zone in play. So we loaded our bags up with rafts, PFDs, paddles and paddling clothes and hiked 13km to the put in point at Kamba Pools. We picked up a track beside the river and continued 300m further on, to just after the first mandatory portage and then set ourselves up to paddle.
Getting on the water it was 5am and pitch black with a lovely mist/fog on the water preventing us from seeing more than a meter in front of us. Less than 1 minute after getting on the water, we had managed to come out of both rafts on the first rapid. A little sobering but thankfully not as freezing as we were anticipating. We continued with a few more capsizes until it was light enough to see the rocks and pick a better line rather than relying unsuccessfully on our sonar senses. It was a pretty spectacular and fun pack raft leg with a couple of portages, a riverside esky of goodies left by a friendly farmer for Wildside participants (amazing brownie and apples). The rapids reduced in size and number after the weir with more solid paddling as we approached TA5
Leg 6 Trek 10km Uriarra Loop
The 1hour estimate for roughly a 10km trek always seemed optimistic but nevertheless is was quite a nice trek up to a lookout and back. It was mid afternoon and certainly getting hot which did slow our pace, Josh still suffering with heatstroke.
About 10min from returning to the TA5/6 Team Tiger Adventure came past us as they were heading out. Whilst we calculated we had just under 2hours lead on them at that stage it certainly refocused our intentions and need to keep moving as efficiently as possible.
Leg 7 MTB 45km Uriarra to Black Mountain Peninsula
Some generally more rideable hills on this leg compared to the last bike leg. We took a direct track climb up to the top of Mt Stromlo involving some more hike-a-bike however just one rise from the CP and summit Leo managed to puncture right in front of race photographer and Peter “Prong” Preston out spectating. It was nearly disastrous and possibly race ending as we were unable to get the tubeless valve out due to a corroded nut but thanks to some Macguyvering by Josh and his trusty mini multi-tool nail file we were on our way after about 20min. There were some nice tracks to descend from Stromlo (if only we had more time to explore the single tracks) and through a new residential area to the CP on the Dam. Bern disappointed she was not allowed to stop to say hello to all the tradies there. Then a series of bike paths connecting to Black Mountain Tower for the final CP of the leg and then back via the paths to the TA on Lake Burley Griffin.
Leg 8 Paddle 14km Black Mountain Peninsula to Lake Burley Griffin Canoe Club
Kayaking around Lake Burley Griffin was pretty cool. We had a head wind out to CP28 then a relative tail wind back towards the CBD. Pretty good views of the city and parliament house – little did we know many of these attractions we were about to visit on foot the next leg. Bern nearly stopped at the CP31 in the Boat Harbour as the wonderful food smells coming from the cafés near the jetty whilst punching the control were almost irresistible. But we continued onto the canoe club almost joining them in their Time Trial Wednesday paddle.
Leg 9 Trek (Urban Rogaine) 10km+ Burley Griffin Canoe Club to Black Mountain Peninsula
We were met by Richard the race director at this leg and he handed out a tourist map and a list of questions relating to various Canberra attractions. We had to locate the attractions using the map and then answer a question about them when we got there such as who laid the foundation stone at the library, what is the range of the HMAS gun at the war memorial, how many flagpoles outside the Old Parliament building etc.
Approaching the Carrillon on foot we saw the second place team Tiger Adventure collecting the CP on the bench seat next to it from the kayak leg. We estimated we still had a couple of hours lead on them but you can never relax – its adventure racing after all and anything can and does happen.
The bogong moth statues almost proved elusive to find outside of the national museum. After doing a full circumnavigation of the building and then trying to make some building shapes look like moths Bern finally stumbled upon them as we widened our search area.
Am sure we got some interesting looks as we ran (okay shuffled) our way around the tourist spots of Canberra. Josh had continued to vomit on and off and was most disappointed we didn’t come across any food shops for some chips or similar along the way. Again this leg felt a lot longer than the stated 10km and took us the best part of 4hours before returning back to our bikes and TA7 also doubling as TA9 where we were again welcomed by Amy and Todd at their now disco’ish TA (or was that sleep monsters) and Bern’s friend Gavin who had been tracking and come to laugh at us under the guise of spectating.
Leg 10 MTB 26km Back Mountain Peninsula to Ibis Eaglehawk
So close to the finish now we could almost smell the toasties, just two big mountains in our way. Negotiating large sections of hike-a-bike up Mt Ainsley and Mt Majura we slowly but surely found our way to the finish and Adventure Racing 2am finish fanfare and much anticipated beer and toasties. (The first solid food Josh had managed to keep down in 1½ days.)
So after months of worrying about how cold we were going to be in Canberra and frequently checking the weather forecast and overnight minus temperatures and debating how many layers of clothes it was possible to wear whilst still riding/running/paddling it was a pleasant surprise to have relatively mild weather conditions
Certainly a challenging race and course but we enjoyed it (perhaps Josh the second half not so much) and managed to have a lot of fun out there whilst working hard. We are very proud to have managed a win (Sloshy finally breathes a sigh of relief and Hugh stops chewing his fingernails) and a clean sweep of the A1 series in its inaugural year. Go Thunderbolt AR! and bring on 2018.