Watching the Adventure Racing World Champs in Reunion island this year I was feeling a little bit left out and then when plans of getting our 2019 Godzone team to the Southern Lakes Multisport Club 24 hour race fell through, the World Champs gang from 2017 decided to have our own reunion there instead. As per standard, Stru, Isla and Myself along with Nat travelled down to Bendigo ready to confront the less than ideal weather forecast. We had a quick trip down to Cromwell for some dinner, then met up with Mitch ready to start packing and sort ourselves out at the briefing. Packing as always took longer than usual, and it was a little difficult in the coming and going drizzly rain that was falling. When it was all done we had all of about 20 minutes to try and lie down to sleep before the 11pm start.
There was no sleep, I think maybe the lie down was good to some de-stressing but that was about it! As time wore on the rain started to fall harder and we all knew the next few hours was going to be a bit wet and cold. This year the start was again on bikes, but neutralised until the bottom of the steep hill from where we started. As we rolled down the hill we Jockeyed for position and filed ourselves up near the front. As we reached the bottom of the hill and the pace car pulled off there was a route choice split, we went left out to the sealed road asap and a few went right along the gravel.
Now Mitch and Stru swear that they are “retired” do no training and were just there for fun…but that remained to be seen as they put the heat on in the bunch that had formed behind us. As the two roads joined again we seemed to have a gained about 10-20 seconds, but it wasn’t long until it all consolidated into one big bunch again. There wasn’t much work sharing going on and when we hit the next section of Gravel road, the Highland Events team went flying past and put in a bit of an attack. We left them too it, and soon enough, by the next checkpoint we were all back together again!
After we had the checkpoint sorted, another attack was launched, again they opened up a gap on the rest of us. We did a little bit of organisation this time, then it was my turn to throw down some matches! I had just enough im my legs to get us back on, then we started to go uphill, so Mitch and Stru put the burn on, and the big bunch of riders was thinned down to three teams. After all that silly business us three teams settled down a little bit and we all arrived in transition together.
We were quickest, and also first to miss the first turn off! Whoops, back on track we followed in an orderly fashion until the Highland Events team diverged off into the bushes. We followed a 4WD track a little further up which took us to the wrong side of the gulley, confused we headed back, then doubled back before finally working it all out. In the process of heading the correct way we crossed paths with about 3 or 4 other teams going the opposite direction… a little bit concerned, but confident of our direction I managed to find the start of the elusive trail and we moved as quickly as we could through it. Track finding and following game trails has been one skill this year I have improved heaps, having got plenty of practise in Godzone and Ecuador!
We reached the head of the valley and began the long climb, out in front. As we made our way up the hill we were able to spot the lights of two teams just behind us that had worked out the puzzle down in the valley. Climbing was hard work, and it was starting to get pretty misty, not too much rain though which was a relief. By the time we had got to the top we were losing ground to Highland Events, and about midway along the next ridge travel we slipped up and were caught. For the remained of the trek we stayed within touch.
The trek came to the end as the morning became light, due to our consistent hydration throughout the night, we never caught completely back up as for the 15min jog along the flat to transition, each of us needed to stop a pee at least once! Transition was a whirlwind. The TA staff had spent a quiet night waiting for people to roll in and we were there for a maximum of 5 minutes, and in full on race mode.
Highland Events got away first as expected, and we followed not long after. It took us almost all of the ride back to the base for the next transition to catch them, then we climbed with them steeply up the hill and back to base. The map and the instructions were a bit confusing here, there was a track leading almost from the last control on the stage directly to the base, but the instructions said stay out of the vineyards. Closer inspection of the map shows that on one map this track was out of bounds but the map we had it was not. To add to the confusion the trail on the map was also no longer there and we found ourselves stuck in the vineyard. We managed to find the old trail and work our way out, while the others found a different way out instead.
Transition was another quick one, however Highland Events took off first, which was good for us as the trek down to the kayak and back gave us some options to avoid being followed, as it was some good navigation that was going to get us ahead. We opted to climb to the furthest checkpoint and work our way down to the kayaks first. We assumed that the others would have done the opposite but we couldn’t be 100% sure. Stru was really onto it on this section, after a cold and wet night I was starting to warm up, but going through a bit of a rough patch, So it was good to be able to rely on him taking the lead. He nailed it, as we climbed through the cloud and into a bit of a sunrise in amongst some pretty cool rock formations. From the checkpoint we figured there must be a way down even though it didn’t look like it on the map. The scrub we had wandered through on the way up was pretty tight looking casting some doubts, but we followed the fence down anyway, and as luck would have it there was a track that lead us right to the trail on the map. Feeling pretty happy with ourselves we made good progress down the hill and as we popped out of the bushes below and behold we stumbled across our friends again! They hesitated while we knew where we were and where we wanted to go, so we arrived at the kayaks first.
Again a tactical call was to change our plan and head straight to the abseil first to avoid any congestion. The Highland Events team, took the opposite order and the battle was once again on with a 300m advantage to us! It was a really nice morning on the lake, no wind to be seen and not too cold either, just perfect to be off the feet for a little while. We reached the abseil in what seemed like no time at all and make the trek up the hill to the rock where we were met by the abseil staff including Jo Williams! Nice to see a familiar face! The abseil was quite interesting and a good distance down too. I think we had all forgotten to bring gloves, so we were not exactly breaking and descending speed records, but we all got the job done anyway.
Back down to the boats, and near the bottom we crossed paths with Highland Events, a little closer than I would have liked but they still had a hill to climb and all we had to do now was paddle. The wind had come up a little by the time we were working our way back up the lake as well as battling a bit of current coming out of the Clutha river. A lack of long paddles began to take its toll a bit but we managed to get up to the top control and back to the transition with about a 300m gap on our rivals!
We suspected that they now had quite a good climb to get back up to the top checkpoint, while we had three to collect in a relatively straight line back to base. They took the lead back and transitioned well, gaping up pretty quickly in the process. As we climbed behind them we saw them turn to go up the hill and we knew we had the advantage. The weasels got a jog on, and quickly raced through the next few controls. There was a little bit of weirdness in the map, but we made some good assumptions based on the contours surrounding what should have been there and were home and hosed.
Our next tactic for transition was to get in and out fast, so we did gear flaffing around before we checked in/out. just to give us that much more of a time advantage. We were not sure though, until we left, on where the Highland Events team might be. As we were now in the lead, we had to keep the pressure on, every moment we were biking while they were still trekking we were gaining a distance advantage. So we went hard on the road, then started the brutal climb back up the Bendigo range, a real Weasel special. The climb went on for quite a while, down and then right back up again. We followed along a ridge occasionally glimpsing back hoping not to see anyone else, but just ahead of us we could see some of the 12 hour competitors. It took us an age to catch them, the ridge that looked easy on the map was full of pinchy little climbs up and down, Isla was putting us all to shame too, beating it up most of the hills!
Finally we reached the checkpoint and from there we had to make a route choice call. Either take a track around 6km with 200m more climb or go for a hike-a-bike, 100m climb and around 2km straight line. Given the terrain we had crossed and the current state of play we hoped for the best and opted for the hike-a-bike. It was a steep downhill full of spaniard bushes so we had to carry the bikes down, then back up again… and just as the previous ridge travel it wasn’t just a straightforward flat back to the track junction either, there was several little ups and downs. It appeared that we had made a slight gain by taking this route as another team came rolling down the hill from above just as we arrived back a the track.
The track wasn’t much of a track to start with either, it was pretty overgrown and by the looks of things we had made the right call. I thought that we might be caught by the guys coming down the track, but clearly we were travelling faster, and all of a sudden I was leading us down and across unflattened grass! We must have passed the first 12 hour team in the process of our hike-a-bike. This was pretty exhilarating as it wasnt far for us to go now to get into the finish, just a couple of short checkpoints right near the end and we would be done. Onto Thompsons Gorge road we met Nat, Anna and Allie briefly as we cut back through Bendigo station and climbed back up the hill. We were operating now as a slick unit, almost like we knew what we were doing.
As per usual for adventure races, the last checkpoints near the end, always look easy but there is always a little bit of a trick to them. I was on high alert, and this boiled over to a little bit of panic… which my poor teammates had to put up with. The tracks on the map didn’t quite match up with what was on the ground so we had to do a bit of cross country to get back on track, I sorted out the control, and then it was a joint effort to get us back onto the main road. And that was it, we rolled into the finish in first place to take out the win in about 18.5 hours, just 10mins in front of the first placed 12 hour team. In the end it was just under an hour back to 2nd place, the end of a hard fought battle! A good race all around, I think we played it smart and showed our experience in working together and racing hard. So easy to race well in a team like that and heaps of fun too!
Thanks to the SLMC and Malcolm for setting a great course and thanks to Jo for the photos!