Geoquest 2019 was one of those events that attracted a really good field. As by far the longest running 24+hr race in the country (this was the 18th) it has grown to be the race that everyone wants to win. Liam’s pre-race form guide summarised the situation well and we headed up there thinking a top 5 result would not be that easy. The weather forecast was not great and that always throws in a few more random factors with gear breakages a potential factor, particularly on muddy MTB legs. It was great to have the logistics planner sent a week before, a simple registration process quickly followed by the map handout mid Friday afternoon. The course was an mix of interesting legs with route choice options, something for the navigators to think about and some long legs on foot and in the boats. There was a lot of paddling, including a 20+ km ocean paddle into the prevailing swell and wind. It certainly was a return to the classic geo formats.
Leg 1 – 21km Ocean Paddle
Strong winds and big swells the week before had us convinced the first leg ocean paddle would be canned and on the Friday evening we were happy to hear that Chris was going to let us paddle (much better than another beach run!). After a good start we settled in but so did sea sickness for 3 of the 4 of us and we were beginning to wonder if the run would have been better. Seeing the Geo Half teams trotting along the beach it was pretty clear that it would have been faster too. We got there in the end but were 6th or 7th with lots of work to do.
Leg 2 – 24km MTB
The rain had started coming down quite heavily as we finished the paddle so the ride started off pretty wet and muddy. Hugh quickly concluded he was doing the race with only a front brake as the rear refused to work right from leaving transition. We had a river crossing mid leg where we had to use two kayaks to ferry us and the bikes across (or wait in the queue and pay the ferry $20 for the crossing). The catch was that we had to leave the kayaks on the other bank so the boys were all very happy that Bern took on the swimming job very efficiently. From there it was a track along the coast to the next paddle. Here we were thankful for the rain as it made what would have been a pretty much un-ridable sandy track relatively easy and we finished the leg much faster than the expected time – only to discover our boxes were not yet at the TA. This was the first of four times this would happen to us this race. With time credits it was not a huge deal and is part of the adventure (this was nothing compared to Expedition India’s challenges), but it did detract a little from the race with no one really sure where they were placed.
Leg 3 – 19 km Coastal Trek
We had passed Thoughtsports on the MTB and got out of TA just in front of them, but they quickly steamed past us on the run. We did not have the pace to match them on foot so were looking forward to getting on the MTB again! The rest of the leg was pretty uneventful and we were a bit surprised to find all the teams ahead waiting at the TA – no paddle bags or boats …. This brought the field back together.
Leg 4 – 14km River Kayak
After the gear arrived everyone set off together and we were just off the wash so battled to hold on to the faster paddling teams whilst dodging the shallow spots, but held the gap to just a few minutes (thanks to Thoughtsports for a wash ride for the last few km). It was here that we and two other teams were caught without TA boxes and endured a long wait with limited warm clothing and food as darkness fell (we were at the TA for well over 1.5 hours).
Leg 5 – 29km MTB
We were all pretty close to retiring from the sport by the time our box got there (via a special gear run by Chris) but it did not take too long to get our focus back on the race once we had warmed up after a few km on the bike. This leg went well for us with good route choices. We lost a bit of time looking for the elusive CP7 but soon found it once we figured out the tracks were a bit different to what was on the map. We were still 7th or 8th into the next TA, but with time adjustments we were not sure what our real placing was.
Leg 6 – 22km Rogaine
From the map this rogaine did not have an obvious route choice and we thought that conditions in the bush would influence what we did. We found CPA quite quickly and thought that the extra distance around the road for a lower risk approach would not be worth it and tried the direct option. We should have paid more attention as we were a little off (due to leaving the road in a slightly different spot to what we intended) and ended up heading up the incorrect ridge for a while. We found our friends in Alpine Avengers going around in circles at this point and concluded we were in the wrong spot. Fortunately we figured it out quite quickly and headed off with a new plan – hoping we were right as there was no easy way to relocate ourselves in without spending 30mins or so bush bashing out to the road and back. We came across the BMX Bandits and Rogue shortly before the CP and that gave us a bit more confidence that we were close. From there we got to all the CPs pretty smoothly but the going off track was very slow so our time was almost double the fastest time estimate from Chris and the night was almost over. The good thing was we finished the rogaine 3rd on the ground, 2hrs behind Thoughtsports, but only 45 mins behind WildEarth. We do quite like a long tough rogaine we were now happy to be racing!
Leg 7 – 19km MTB
This was a quick mainly downhill transition leg, made a little interesting for Hugh battling the slippery downhill with no rear brake. This slowed us a bit but fortunately we got through it without incident.
Leg 8 – 27km Kayak.
The sun was rising and the day was clear, but we were pretty sleepy so, after being passed by Alpine Avengers whilst dodging trees in the first part of the river, the biggest challenge was staying awake. We took it in turns to lead then wash ride and were quite happy to keep our time loss to the Avengers to around 10mins and that with a bit of tide on our side we got the whole thing done in 3.5hrs.
Leg 9 – 30km MTB
Again this was a straight forward connecting leg and we were happy to do it mistake free and reasonably fast – we were all feeling pretty good.
Leg 10 – 22km Trek
There was only one CP on this leg which was essentially a long uninteresting beach trek with a road bash at the end. We had the Avengers in sight in front of us and Bern and Leo got us fired up to catch them and we put in a big effort to stay as close to them and Wildearth, hoping that the time adjustments would go our way. After completing the run in 2.5hrs we arrived at the TA to again find our paddle gear was not there. Whilst this was frustrating we were super happy that Avengers had only been 5mins ahead of us (we almost caught them at one point) and WildEarth only 4 mins in front of them.
Leg 11 – 6km Kayak
We were pretty confident that if we could stay close in the paddle our time adjustments would get us to second. The Avengers got out of TA a bit faster than us so we missed their wash (they would likely have been too fast in any case) but were happy to sit with WildEarth for the 45mins or so to the finish buoyed by a delightful sunset and the company of a couple of dolphins.
Our second place was quickly confirmed and we finished pretty happy with our race. Unfortunately the gap between 3rdand 4thwas in the minutes so the time adjustments were super critical and controversial with TA records and the tracker not really providing an accurate and conclusive way of calculating them. This was an unfortunate end to what had been a great course to race on. Giving them equal third was really the only way to get any satisfactory outcome. Thoughtsports were the deserving winner, more than an hour in front of us thanks to a faultless race and good pace on foot (particularly in the rogaine).
This leaves the A1 series very close for the top 3. We have not really been focusing on the series this year but it will add some interest to Hells Bells. Perhaps we may need to give it a bit more focus, but for Bern and Leo it will just be a warm up for Eco Challenge.
Here is our race video.