Once again Thunderbolt’s year was going to be wrapped up doing the Wildside race, this year a 50hr race based in the Myall Lakes region. We had been looking forward to a longer race somewhere new, but were hoping the Wildside crew could come up with something fresh in an area we had raced in a number of times over the years. We needed to finish ahead of Rogue this race to secure second place in the A1 series so there was a bit of motivation to race well, even after a long year of racing. It was great to have Leo back in the team after he missed the last two races with work commitments. Bern’s race video is here for those that want the 4min visual version.
AR is all about adapting to changing circumstances and this was needed early on this time. Hugh was driving into Newcastle airport to collect the team and got the message from Bern “We have landed – in Sydney!”. A broken plane had seen Bern and Josh diverted to Sydney, not ideal given we had a tight schedule already. With a new plane they did manage to get to Newcastle three hours later which was a pretty good outcome in the end. We made it to Tea Gardens just in time for rego and map handouts, but did not have time to sort our gear. This plus the 7pm map handout and competency checks meant we were a bit low on sleep when our alarms woke us at 5am on race morning.
The race started with a ‘treasure hunt’ trekking leg where we had to answer clues based on local landmarks. We struggle with these legs as they are as much about luck as good management but fortunately everyone feels the same so with a bit of information sharing it is pretty much a neutral leg. Makes you wonder what the point is though. From the town it was up and over Yacaaba Head at the entrance to Nelson Bay with a bit of off track climbing to shorten the route. This was a pretty good way to get into the race with nice views and a little bit of navigating to do, but let down a bit by the placing of one CP bearing little resemblance to the map or the clue (more good luck required).
From there it was into the boats all together with Rogue and Wild&Co TA. This paddle was pretty but long (almost 6hrs) and with a strong side wind for much of it. We struggled a bit with one boat taking on water and over shooting a CP when we did not see the picnic shelter from the shore on our first pass – rushing too much trying to keep close to Rogue.
We kept the gap about the same on the next trek along trails roughly following the Myall River to Broadwater for 18km or so. Our route selection on the one bit of off trail selection seemed average with us hitting swampy and smelly bush just as darkness fell.
From there it was onto the bikes and the first CP proved a bit tricky as the track was overgrown to the point of being hard to find in the dark. We found it on our 4th passing and then bike bashed the 2km in and out to the CP with Rogue passing us on their way out. The middle section of the ride was pretty straight forward, but then we made a pivotal decision to head up what ended up being the wrong “track”. The track on the map (both the original and the one added by the organisers) did not quite match what was on the ground and we were faced with an overgrown track heading roughly in the right direction and a better one heading way further east than expected. We tried the overgrown one for 30mins before concluding it was not the right one! We got back on track reasonably quickly but had some catching up to do (1.5hrs now)!
We had a rogaine loop next and unfortunately there was little route choice or hard navigation so there was not much opportunity to catch up and we ended up with a small gain on Rogue but not really enough to catch them just on speed. We would have to rely on them making mistakes.
The next ride was pretty straight forward despite some odd CP placings/clues and we jumped into the canoes about 50mins behind Rogue with a vague hope that we might get near them. The canoe leg was a pleasant change (we felt like we should have our picnic gear with us) for the first half but a wind squall on the return leg left us wondering if we were ever going to make it back. Fortunately the wind did not last too long but we felt like the extra time that cost us put Rogue out of reach again.
The Josh lead paceline made short work of the road ride to the last trek and we headed into the dunes only 40mins behind. The ordering of the CPs did not make much sense to us, but the CP in the dunes was a bit of a test. We took longer than we should have to figure out that the track was not where it was marked and the CP was a few hundred metres further south than we initially looked.
From there it was a pretty tedious soft sand slog along a 4WD plagued beach for 18km to the finish. It is fair to say this was a bit of a low point as the leg was not at all interesting and we had no chance of catching Rogue. Our concentration lapsed and we made some small errors on the last CPs, but it was great to trot into Tea Gardens Hotel for the finish.
Well done to Rogue on winning the race and securing second place in the A1 series. Rogue are a relatively new team with (mostly) fresh faces who are racing better with each outing. They were very solid through all the races and deserved the result. We need more teams like this coming into the sport.
For Thunderbolt this ended a frustrating year. We were second “over the line” in every A1 race but were affected by penalties (some fair, some less so in our opinion). We have been mistake prone at times so at the end of the day we need to step up again if we want to be more competitive. We still finish every race thankful for the opportunity our families and supporters give us to go and race with our mates.
Thanks again to Aussie Grit Apparel for letting us try out your gear. Their gear is good to the point where we look forward to the times we get to use it and are excited about new stuff that is coming down the line.