Back-to-Back Wins at Wildside

As one of only a couple of teams to race every event in the Mountain Designs Adventure1 series this year, it had already been a big season for team Rogue.  However, with how the points system was shaping up, there was still plenty to race for at the Wildside 36 hour race: while the Alpine Avengers seemingly had the series all sewn up, we were a real chance to moving up one place in the national standings and onto the podium with team Thunderbolt and Thought Sports absent after the recent Eco Challenge.  Not to mention we had a title to defend after winning the 50 hour edition in 2018!

The team back from Alpine Quest: Dan, Norm, Ali and Liam (Photo: Ben Cirulis).

I was pretty excited to be returning to the Shoalhaven area with a race HQ based out of Kangaroo Valley.  Sleep-deprived memories of passing down the Shoalhaven River from Bungonia Caves in an epic haul of paddling at XPD in 2016 had me keen to come back and explore the area in a shorter course format event (yes, I know calling 36 hours a short course is perverse).  After casting the net wide for a fourth team mate, we eventually managed to rope Norm back in to the team meaning we would be racing with the same line up that DNF’d Alpine Quest at the start of the year. With this in mind, the plan was to just go out and enjoy the racing and see what happened from there, with the primary goal of seeing the finish line as a full team.

Teams set of on a Wildside adventure (Photo: Ben Cirulis).

The 7pm map hand out along with the absence of a full logistics matrix made for a long night of preparation.  Coupled with the joys of sharing a room with young children meant a pretty poor night of sleep before the race, which would come back to bite me hard during the event.  Come race morning, all the gear was loaded up, we were bused off and standing on the start line with kayaks in hand ready for what looked like on paper to be a monster course.  We had a great start and were leading the charge when a bit of bad luck saw Norm’s PFD catch my foot pedal and pull its pin out of place.  This meant that the boat took a hard left veer, nearly taking out one of the Alpine Avenger’s kayaks. Fortunately it did send us straight in to shore where I was able to quickly set the pedal back in place while Norm tightened up his PFD.  Unfortunately though, I set the pedal back in the wrong spot, so for the remainder of the paddle we had to maintain a hard right just to keep the boat straight – not very efficient for paddling, but at least it was only a short trip and the lake mostly wrapped around to left to the TA!  The net result had us coming off the water just as the Avengers were leaving the TA.

Rugged gorge trekking (Photo: Ben Cirulis).

Next up was what promised to be a tough creek hike up a gorge, picking up a CP in Nyes Creek before climbing onto the plateau – a total distance of 16.5km.  Having to turn back after around 100m of hiking to collect a forgotten race bib, we were bunched up with Tiger Adventure and an all-male team, Shakelton. CP2 had been removed from the race which actually made for a much more interesting leg – it meant that you had to stay in touch with the map the whole time to make sure you didn’t miss the turn off up Nyes Creek without the CP there as a catching feature.  In these big river gorges, it’s always tricky to spot the surrounding features, in particularly the water courses running in as they tend to flatten out into thick vegetation at their entry points.  Ultimately, you are often relying on the general trends in the change in direction of the compass along with time giving an estimate of distance, along with spotting where the side valleys open up where possible. During the scramble up, we never saw any footprints ahead of us and were taking bets that somehow we had managed to slip into the lead.  A look back over the tracker suggests that the Alpine Avengers managed to overshoot the turn off up Nyes Creek by a significant margin and were playing catch up.  The Mont Adventure Racing team did manage a sneaky short cut up over a spur in the final approach to CP3 which saved them about 12 minutes – not surprising given how slow progress was in the upper section of the creek.

Always time to stop for a chat with our favourite race photographer (Photo: Ben Cirulis).

Scrambling up and out of the creek we had approximately 50 minutes to cover 5km of mostly trails with a short diversion off trail for CP4 if we still wanted to make the first short course cutoff.  We decided to drop the hammer and leave it all out there in the effort to make it in by the cutoff, nailing CP4 before checking in to TA with 14 minutes to spare.  Given that our bikes hadn’t arrived at the transition area yet, the wait was to see if any other team made the cutoff – as 11am rolled by we had a mini-celebration safe in the knowledge that all we needed to do was finish the race and we would effectively win.  It should be noted that Mont finished just another 6 minutes after the cutoff (and were able to roll directly out as their bikes were ready), which was an unfortunate miss for them.  I’m sure as a race director, Richard would have been disappointed to have the race decided so early by an arbitrary cut-off.  It did seem odd to me to have such an early cut-off time (and so many short course cutoffs in the race).  I would have thought the more logical place to short course teams would have been at the end of the second kayak leg where teams were close to HQ back down in the valley and you could just send the slower teams off on an abbreviated bike loop back to the finish line at the HQ.

Midway through the bike rogaine (Photo: Ben Cirulis).

After 47 very cold minutes in the drizzling rain waiting for our bikes, we set off on the Stage 3 mountain bike rogaine with a slightly different attitude.  We were still keen to complete the full course in the cut-off time allowed.  The area apparently hosts a fantastic single track mountain bike park, but the eight CPs were placed on the fire network trail – I’d be keen to get back there some time and explore the bike trails a bit more again in the future.  The full ride took 3.5 hours, with exactly half the time and distance (and about three quarters of the total leg elevation), dedicated to getting the three extra check points.  These additional check points were placed right on the edge of the escarpment, and not feeling like we were in any time pressure meant we could actually stop for a while and enjoy the views back down the valley we had climbed out of previously that morning.

Legging it out of TA at the start of the Stage 4 Trek (Photo: Ben Cirulis).

Back through transition and we now found ourselves running in around sixth position.  We were pretty keen to knock off as much of the stage 4 trek down the Tallowa Gorge with as much daylight as possible, in particularly at least scoring CP6 before it got dark.  We nailed CP6 directly taking a bearing off a gate on what we assumed was the marked gazetted boundary line on the map before making the steep descent into the larger Tallowa Gorge.  Looking back over the tracking, you can really see how our pace slowed once it got dark, not being able to pick effective lines through the boulders and undergrowth, or even selecting which was the flatter, easier side of the creek to hike down.  Along this leg we managed to move back into third position with the Avengers and Mont ahead of us, picking up Tiger Adventure on the way.  Back to the kayaks and we stopped for a bit of a chat with Doug who was volunteering to look after the kayaks.  We felt pretty bad for him as he was expecting to be finished pretty shortly after it got dark and hadn’t come prepared for a night out in the bush, which was shaping up to be the case given how slowly teams were moving through the first part of the course.  I did get to hear his quick run down on the two bucket list expedition races he had recently competed at in Norway and Croatia though.  I assume you made it out of there safe and sound Dougie!

Having CP2 removed from the course made the navigation on Stage 2 more challenging.

Back onto the kayaks for the final 23km paddle and we spent a bit of time making sure the pedals for the rudder were set up correctly again and secured in place with a cable tie so they wouldn’t pop out.  The difference was like chalk and cheese, but we soon ran into a separate issue.  Between Norm, myself and the mandatory gear, we were hedging 200kg on the double CTR and steadily shipping on water. After a couple of kilometers, we were basically paddling under water and losing ground to the other guys.  The only solution was to pause and empty out where convenient and redistribute the weight a bit, but it meant we played leap frog the whole paddle. There is something special about paddling on the open water at night. These moments are often my favourite memories from a race. After over three hours of paddling, we slid into TA some time just before midnight. Again, taking time through the transition to get warm and refuel, we set off on what I had pegged as potentially the hardest leg of the race – the stage 6 mountain bike ride with a ton of vertical meters in it.

A team makes the final ascent to CP15 in daylight (Photo: Ben Cirulis).

In the end, the elevation and track conditions weren’t as bad as I had initially feared – the 10m contour interval on the map possibly more intimidating than necessary after racing on a few 20m contour interval maps early in the year. That’s not to say, however, that I didn’t suffer immensely on this leg.  I can’t ever recall being this sleepy in an overnight race.  As soon as we got into the rhythm of the ride, my head was nodding and my front wheel was wobbling all over the place.  All I wanted to do was just lie down and sleep, and I had no power on any of the climbs. Sleep was obviously not an option in a 36 hour race, so I just dragged the chain at the back, only surviving on the support of a great set of team mates.  I’ve always been of the belief that the biggest determinant of your physical performance at a race is the quality of training done in preparation, followed in a very close second by the quality of sleep in the immediate lead up. I’d been burning the candle at both ends for a while in the lead up to Wildside and certainly paid for it that night.

Marking up the trek rogaine map – how did I miss that box of chocolates?!

Ultimately, the sun did rise again and we were treated to a spectacular sunrise on the final ascent back onto the plateau. This sunrise was one of the true highlights from the race to come out of this stage along with a couple of wombat sightings.  A bit of time lost hunting for the missing CP15 with Tiger Adventure again for company and we rolled in to the TA for the final trek leg of the race.  This rogaine was advertised as being 15km-20km long, but when we got there it was evident from the sign in sheet that both the Avengers and Mont had been out for 3 hours and weren’t back yet.  Indeed, Mont rolled through the TA to restock and suggested that they still had a long way to go.  Ultimately, the rogaine proved pretty straight forward navigationally with most of the CPs located just off track and we nailed it in what I thought was the shortest route possible (apart from CP C which was misplaced by about 400m relative to its location drawn on the map).  Still, looking back over the tracking data, the leg took us close to 6 hours and 27.5km to cover every check point.

In transition to the bikes for one final ride.

Finally back onto the bikes and into the heat of the day, we had over 5 hours to complete the final 38km ride back down into the valley and into the finish line. The only real hurdle was a 4km section where we had to hike our bikes along a walking track. The boys spotted a couple of brown snakes on this track, one of which Ali managed to even step on.  Again, this is another location I’d love to come back to and revisit at a more leisurely pace.  After a long bombing descent back into the valley and picking up a final couple of CPs in town, we crossed the finish line as the only full coursed team to collect every check point in a time a little under 35 hours – well over the advertised winning time of 24 hours! We certainly got our moneys worth.

Rolling into the finish (Photo: Ben Cirulis).

It was great to make it back-to-back wins at Wildside, and also to gain some redemption after failing to finish way back at the start of the year with the same team at Alpine Quest. I was a big fan of the course and the area that we raced through with a bunch of variety in terrain covered. It would have been fun to hit some of the white water rivers in the area and to expand on the navigational challenge for the rogaine legs, but the linear elements of the course were fantastic. With the way the race played out making the short course cut off, it was certainly a unique experience for the team – it was fun “racing” for the most part with the pressure completely off and being able to take our time and enjoy the journey and the transitions more. I imagine it is how many teams would experience a race that are less results orientated and more there for the adventure.  Looking back over the results it certainly reflected in our stage timings – we spent more than double the time in transition areas than second and third place teams Mont AR and Alpine Avengers.

Check out the race video here:

35 hours of racing and done! (Photo: Ben Cirulis).

With the win came the exciting news that that we managed to creep our way up into second place overall for the 2019 Mountain Designs A1 Series.  This is the second time in the two years that team Rogue has been racing the series that we’ve managed this.  I feel like this is a reflection on our consistency in racing and the fact that we are managing to string more and more races together as a unit.  At any given race, it feels like the Thought Sports, Alpine Avengers, Thunderbolt and Wild Earth Tiger have the edge on us, but it’s great to feel like we can mix it with these teams and even beat them out on occasion when we’re having a good day. A big congratulations needs to go to the Alpine Avengers who are our new Australian national champions for 2019 – it will be great to see what they can do over at GODZone next year. A real revelation from the race was the performance of the Mont Adventure Racing team. These guys have been racing in Australia for a while now and I believe they could really mix it up at the front of the A1 series if they put their mind to it. I’d love to see them up to race the Rogue Raid as I think the strategic rogaine format would really suit them.

So, we’re only in mid-October but that brings a wrap to the team’s racing for the year.  Despite having raced a little less than I have in the past, I’ve found it to be a big year and I’m well and truly ready for a bit of a break. I’ll be pulling together a yearly wrap up article to reflect back on the 2019 racing soon. Still to come is the Urban Rogue on Friday 6 December – make sure to get your entry in for what is typically the biggest rogaine on the QLD calendar with a Friday night romp under the city lights. And plans are already under way for the 2020 calendar: I suspect it’s going to be another big year.

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