Revisiting the Darkside

The 2011 Darkside Champs headed back to the Tweed Valley Region with an extended 18 hour course that promised to push leading teams to the full time limit. Team Rogue”s Liam and Craig teamed up with Shaun and Russ from Spin City Cycles to take out a podium position. The race report from our night out is below.

Having raced the inaugural Darkside Champs in 2010, I instantly knew that this race would jump to the very top of my to-do list in 2011. We finished the then 12 hour race in a time of 11:59, with the course proving to be a challenging mix of trails, off track navigation, beautiful paddling and awesome scenery. The chance to paddle our own boats, a great prize pool, a unique midnight start format, electronic timing and the presence of all the top local teams meant that this was a race not to miss.

The 2011 Darkside champs saw the full course extended from 12 hrs to 18 hrs, and we came prepared to be out for the full race time. In the week before the race, Craig and I lost a team member due to illness. Fortunately for us (perhaps not so fortunately for Kirk), Russ and Shaun had also lost a team mate, so we decided to join forces and form a team of four. Last time I raced with Russ I had the worst race of my life, resulting to a trip to the hospital for two bags of IV fluid and a tough lesson in hydration. Needless to say, I was keen for this race to go a little better.

After battling the Friday afternoon traffic down the coast for the boat drop, map mark up and gear preparation was a leisurely affair. I spent the final hours before the race just chatting, while some people managed to sneak in a quick nap. This year’s race had attracted a number of top teams from QLD and around the country, with many of them looking to get a solid team session together in preparation for the world champs in November. A torch lighting ceremony preceded a Le Mans style start, with a run of a couple of hundred meters in bike shoes and helmets to the bikes. We decided to carry our maps with us from the start line in case Robyn and Simon threw in any last second surprises, which meant we missed the jump on the bikes with the lead teams as we fitted the maps to the map board.

Rounding the first corner of the ride, we passed Sloshy from team SCAR who was sitting in a heap next his bike after dropping it on the bridge less than 50m into the race. From there we proceeded to climb out of the HQ area and into the surrounding Mebbin State Forest, collecting 3 CPs on the way to the first trekking loop. During this 2 hour bike leg, there were shouts from the back of the line where Russ had pulled up suddenly to find he had lost one of his trekking shoes from the back of his pack. When the shoe couldn’t be found after a quick check back up the track, it was apparent he was facing a long trek in his bike shoes. A small nav error on route to CP 1 (we missed the main trail in the dark, temporarily diverting down an unmarked minor trail) and difficulty finding the actual punch for CP 2 which didn’t have a flag, had us about 15 min down on the lead teams and in fourth place coming into the first transition area.

The first trekking loop involved a rogaine of 6 check points that could be collected in any order. Russ was lucky enough to talk the TA volunteer into loaning his pair of running shoes, and also lucky enough to have them fit. Fortunately, a team behind us had spotted Russ’s shoe and dropped it off at the TA for our return. Looking back over the results, our route choice was different to most other teams on this leg. Despite losing a lot of time hunting around for CP C which was located on a very vague feature, we made good time on this leg and climbed up into third position.

The wheels fell off at the start of the next bike leg, however, which was to be the longest leg of the race. Just prior to dawn, we rode past CP 5, forgetting to punch it, and when we turned back, we over shot it, adding a significant climb and losing about 20 min total in the process. After CP 5, we took a turn too early and next thing we knew we were riding over an open paddock and crossing streams with our bikes just as the sun was rising. It was definitely our most geographically challenged moment for the race, however a quick check of the map indicated that if we kept moving north, we’d eventually hit the main road we were aiming for. It was while riding out this main road that I copped a bit of karmic punishment for sitting on the back of the pace line when a magpie swooped down to take a couple of good shots at me, even managing to get up under my helmet. Even an attempt to ride to the front of the pack couldn’t dislodge the bird onto another team mate.

Towards the end of the second bike leg we had to tackle a significant hike-a-bike to collect CP 9 in Mt Jerusalum National Park. For some sad reason, I actually enjoyed this climb. Perhaps I went into it expecting the worst after last year’s Darkside hike-a-bike, however I enjoyed the challenge of something unique to adventure racing: taking your bike to places you would have no other sane reason to visit it with. The descent afterwards was fast and fun, bringing us into the transition to the kayaks.

The only kayak leg of the race involved collecting 3 CPs in order, with the last up a beautiful rocky creek line. We opted for a mix of a double mirage and a double ski, which worked will with the mirage able to pass through the reeds to shore to collect the punch without getting anything caught in its trailing rudder. The other highlight of this leg was watching Shaun and Russ tip the ski and go for a swim in the gentlest of cross breezes on a flat lake. As it was an out and back paddle, we caught sight of the two leading teams, and were also able to get an estimate on the gap to the teams behind us.

The paddle leg was followed by slots a 20min run to collect 2 CPs on foot (simple on paper, but I still managed to take us for a bit of an unnecessary bush bash), followed by a straight forward 11km ride on the sealed road back to HQ. At this point we had been racing for almost 11 hours and had finished the full course given to us at the start of the race. At HQ, we were told we would be sent out for another bonus bike leg, followed by a bonus run leg. When I asked Simon how long he expected it to take for both legs, he said it should take our team about 2 to 3 hours. I’m not sure if he was having a bit of fun at my expense, but we ended up racing for another 5.5 hours.

Russ nailed the navigation on the first bonus ride leg, hitting all 3 CPs and brining us back into transition just after team SCAR. We transitioned quickly and made it back out onto the course in second place overall ahead of SCAR. The final trek leg required us to get 6 out of a possible 8 CPs, with some of them compulsory options. At our second CP we were caught by SCAR and ran the next kilometre or so with them. At a track junction, they went left and we went right on two completely different route choices. It was evident that the race was still on, and only time would tell which team had made the wiser decision.

Again, we navigated and moved well on our route option. We had a little difficult getting out of the “Gold” checkpoint, following the creek line for some horrendous lantana bashing, when in hindsight we should have just climbed back the spur we had descended down originally. One of the “Silver” CPs also cost us time when we attacked it from an unmarked track, and not the marked track we thought we were on. However, in compensation, we risked an unmarked track that short cut us back towards the finish nicely. I thought we moved pretty well on this leg, still running the flats and down hills and powering up the climbs, finishing the race in a total time of 16:30. So, it was quite a surprise to roll in to the finish line to see SCAR had finished some 25 minutes earlier and were already showered and packing up! By all accounts Sloshy had nailed the navigation and route choice on the last leg, taking SCAR home to a well deserved second place. Congratulations go to team Mountain Designs who blew the field away in a time of 15:15 for the overall win, never looking in trouble.

Ultimately, again only 4 of the 18 Darkside teams made it through the full course, collecting all the CPs on the way to finishing the bonus course legs. The race is certainly a challenge for the lead teams, whilst still being achievable by most by dropping the bonus legs (which just go over the same area already covered earlier in the race). Interestingly, the top 3 teams were also teams of 4 competitors, and not teams of 3. At the time, it felt like the course was very heavily tipped towards biking, but a look at the split times revealed that we spent a total of 6:45 biking, 6:15 running and 1:30 paddling.

From all accounts the 12 hour Dawn Attack race was also a very popular option. Hopefully a number of these teams will make the step up into the Darkside next year, and the race will continue to grow and visit more new and beautiful locations.

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