Thunderbolt has had a few variations over the years. For this race had the core of the original team (Bern, Josh and Hugh) joined by Myall Quint, a young bloke with lots of experience and practical skills. We were also returning to the well trodden country around Port Stephens.
We have not raced together as a team for quite some time so were all looking forward to another adventure together, but there had been quite a few changes …
- Bern was now a mum, she was now pretty fit again but might not be towing us quite so much.
- Hugh had foot surgery last year and has not really been running since Geoquest last year. He also came out of his COVID isolation only two weeks before the race – he was going to miss having Bern towing him.
- Josh and Myall had no excuses so were expecting to carry everything for Bern and Hugh!
Given this we were not expecting to race for the win, but as always would try to move as quickly as we could and make no mistakes. This was always the Thunderbolt strategy and it has served us well.
Getting there was a long but straight forward journey for the Melbournites in the team. Aside from Hugh being caught up at work on Friday morning and only getting to Shoal bay at 3.30pm we arrived rested and mostly organised. Myall and Bern left little Zoe with Grandparents on Sydney so were treating the race like a very long date night!
We have been doing this a while now and with a relatively straight forward logistics schedule and course we were packed and ready by about 8pm – even after quite a bit of random faffing about.
From the maps the course looked pretty straight forward with little in the way of route choice, or so we thought! We were not given the locations of CPs for two rogaines so we had that to work out during the race.
There was lots of paddling early with a bit of time on foot to break it up, including an obvious 1km portage to skip a few KM of paddling. What we missed was the idea to drag the kayaks up the beach to the first CP instead of paddling up the meandering river against the tide. We thought our portage strategy was good but the hour that Chatterquest put into us on this leg showed we were not quite lateral enough with our thinking. It is not often that Thunderbolt misses a good portage opportunity!
The other unknown was the condition of the trails. It had been relatively dry in the few weeks leading up to the event but the East coast was still recovering from the floods earlier in the year so tracks could be expected to be wet and muddy in places. As it turned out the trails required regular puddle dodging but were generally good, except for one section we chose a minor trail that ended up including a 500m swamp march on the final MTB leg. As always longer routes on better trails tend to be lower risk options – we probably should have known better.
As it turned out the race this year was long. We do not often run out of food or finish in the dark on the 2nd night and we had both this race. Every leg had a little something to slow us down, headwinds in slower than expected boats mainly and the swampy trails on the MTB. The last leg had big waves and high tides making the beaches inaccessible. We spent a lot of time on dunes and in coastal shrub to get around headlands so it was SLOW.
Short days and cold weather are part and parcel of Geoquest, but this year stepped it up a level with strong westerly winds that felt like they came straight from the snow fields. Once again experience counts and we knew cold would be an issue for us and geared up appropriately. The paddles were the main risks for getting cold and by dressing well before getting cold and getting change out of wet gear quickly at the end of the legs we avoided any issues. Since it was dry the treks and MTB legs were relatively pleasant.
The clear nights made for beautiful sun sets and sun rises plus lots of stars, so that made it kind of nice.
As most people know by now our race went pretty well. The first 24hrs was kind of weird as the racing was really close with us, Alpine Quest and 3 points of contact always within a few minutes of each other, but was still very relaxed. We were all just racing our own race and waiting for someone to make a mistake. Thunderbolt were not fast but transitioned and navigated well to stay in touch.
Fortunately we made the least in the way of mistakes. It was a shortish rogaine on the 3rd last leg that finally separated the teams. We actually thought we had a pretty average leg with a small mistake early and not running much, but when we arrived in the transition area first it was time to defend the lead and put ourselves into the hurt box (well for Hugh at least). The disadvantage of leading is you don’t know how close the followers are so you go as fast as you can and hope. We knew it was at least 20mins at the last transition as we did not see any other teams, but we also knew on foot we were super slow. Hugh decided to run and his foot was coping OK so we moved along well when not in scrub or soft sand.
We are incredibly lucky in team Thunderbolt as there is lots of positive thinking and everyone is always looking for ways to help the team progress faster or more efficiently. We all suffered on the kayak legs but got it done and the bike and trek legs were good fun (even the hike a bike bits). Winning always helps but I was great to be out there creating more memories doing silly things without much sleep. Who knows when we will get to do it again!
Winning is a major bonus!!!
Thanks as always to our extended families and friends who support us to train and do these events – we are all very fortunate be able to choose to suffer for fun.