Monday, December 10, 2012

Swisse Mark Webber Challenge 2012

Start of Day 1 - With Susie our Team Host

Our adventure started at The Country Club in Launceston….Our first 2 nights were spent here…this is what happened day to day....
Tuesday 27th Nov: Arrived in Launceston and met by our Team Host, Susie, then driven by Susie in the Renault Koleos to the Country Club.  Check in and put our bikes together.  Race briefing and map hand-out was about 5.00pm.  We met up with many of our AR friends and had an enjoyable night at the Welcoming Dinner.
Wednesday 28th Nov: Day 1. Race start on the lawns of the Country Club…. Leg 1 was a rogaine (of sorts) where we had to find CPs on foot around the grounds of the resort.  We also had to complete some interesting ‘challenges’ including playing tennis (serving one ball in), putting on the golf green (putting one ball in the hole….harder than you think!), swimming underwater in the resort pool (impossible for me when I was exhausted from running all over the golf course!) and doing a set of 5 push-ups and 5 chin-ups….(a bit of a struggle, but easier than swimming underwater!).  When we completed these 16 CP’s we had to make our way on foot to Cataract Gorge in downtown Launceston for some white-water rafting….. Some difficult street nav was required to get there and we nailed it and arrived before Gary & elite triathlete, Courtney Atkinson (bit of a surprise!). 
Upon arrival at the Gorge we were sorted into our rafts.  We were lucky enough to get in a raft with Gary, Courtney and Ken Wallace (Olympic gold medalist in kayaking….). We were a little disadvantaged, however, as Courtney had his arm in plaster, so he could not paddle….. After about a 10 minute briefing, we were let loose down the rapids…. They had let out some more water for the event, so it was very wild going…..many boats lost some people overboard…..but we all stayed in the boat …..and having those strong paddlers up the front was fantastic…. We got wedged on a rock at one point…..but got ourselves off it and had the ride of our life!  Courtney was very brave sitting in the back just holding on…..and our guide was quite excited when he found out who he actually had in his raft….
We finished the rafting right in the middle of Launceston…..and from here we had a mtb ride through the suburbs out to a mtb park nearby.  This was challenging navigation as well…..but we found our way there and had an amazing time on all the great single tracks.  We decided to go for all the optional CPs here… the riding was so much fun…..and when checking them all we headed for the next leg which was an 11km kayak down the South Esk River…. Next was another run/rogaine leg where we also picked up some optional CPs…and then another mtb leg that was roughly about 12km but very hilly…. We then found ourselves back at Cataract Gorge where we made our way on foot down to the finish line in the centre of Launceston at Boags Brewery!
It was a very long day…..about 9 ½ hours….and Susie picked us up and took us back to the Country Club for dinner, drinks and a big rest before day two.
Eat, sleep, recover….
Thursday 29th Nov: Day 2. Start was at the Blessington Hall.  Basically, we rode up to the ski village at Ben Lomond. It was a 21km climb….up to 1500m!  Kim towed me the whole way…. We paced ourselves and reached the top in front of many teams who had failed to realise that all those lines on the map were contour lines….and when you cross them you are going up or down in elevation…. This one was ‘up’ all the way.  At the top we had a trek which took us to some peaks around the village….amazing views from the top!  We descended on foot via Summit Pass….grabbed the check-point there and headed down to the TA where our bikes were waiting…. Next leg was an exciting mtb ride…. Unfortunately for us, navigation was not required on this section… we followed the pink tape and found ourselves on some very sweet single track!  When we punched CP 11 a huge tiger snake slithered over Kim’s foot…. We kept very still (ie: froze…) and it went on its way…. I haven’t seen a tiger snake for many years…..but I remember what they look like!  This little incident won us the 2XU award for the day…..which was a nice bonus, I guess, considering if we had moved and received a bite from the thing, our race would definitely have been over!  Rolling into the bike TA, we had another interesting leg ahead of us…….and 11km paddle down rapids in a very shallow river – The North Esk River, in fact.  We got away just after the other all-girls team (The younger, more photogenic ones…)  Kim was experienced in this sort of paddling after doing 75kms of it in the Arthur River last year in XPD, so we quickly caught up to them……and squeezed (barged…) our way past them….and were on our way….. It was slow going sometimes….and every now and then we had to get out and move our kayak off the rocks…. I was using the brand new Flow paddle, just given to us by the lovely Richard Ussher…..and I was a little hesitant to bash it about on the rocks, which is what we had to do…..but it held up really nicely with the reinforced tip…..and now looks like it’s done a stint down the Waimak!  After what seemed like forever in the meandering river, we slid into shore…..and were off on foot in super quick time.  We had two compulsory CPs before the finish of Day 2 which were up high on the side of a spur….. We finished the day happy with our efforts….. But we were not finished yet…. The organisers, in their wisdom, had given us a ‘rally’ drive for our travel to our camp for the night….a great way for us to stay alert and see the beautiful mountain pass we went through…..and Susie our Team Host could snooze away in the back….. We drove like grandma on the slippery dirt roads….but found our way and answered all the questions….and made up the ones we didn’t know.  We were really excited to learn that our friends Robb & Luke won this stage…..and were rewarded with a beautiful basket of French goodies (including some champers…lucky them!!)
Our next two nights would be spent camping on the east coast of Tassie at Ironhorse Point….. This was a resort and we had use of all the facilities…, not really rough camping as we know it, a bit like glamour camping….the tents supplied even had stretchers in them!
Friday 30th Nov: Day 3…..and we were faced with huge surf for our ocean paddle….but before that we had a 6.5km coasteer and sand run to the Falmouth river-mouth and our waiting kayaks.  I will not say I wasn’t terrified about this next leg.  The waves were whipped up by the howling wind…..and not breaking cleanly over the bar….they were coming in all over the place…. We took the advice of someone at the TA and stayed right as we made our way out the treacherous river mouth. It was a bit daunting to be paddling past upturned boats with team members in the water hanging on for dear life.  There was no point us stopping – we could not rescue them!  On we went……paddling hard to beat the breaking waves……then pausing when a huge one would break in front of us…..then paddling like mad to get over the mass of white water….. Kim was in the front screaming directions over the din of the low-hovering helicopter….I was in the back obeying them…..but it was just instinct really…. We didn’t relax until we were half way to New Zealand….and couldn’t believe we had made it!  Susie was on the shore screaming with delight… we were now on our way north (decided to give NZ a miss…) and heading for Scamander where we would have to enter the Scamander river to complete this 19km paddle leg on flat water…..Phew…. We watched the boats as we neared the bar.  It was hard to tell which was the best spot to go in….so we just found ourselves heading for the south side of the river-mouth…..and all of a sudden catching a huge wave…. I was in the back as the 40kg sea kayak picked up the wave…..and by the time I was nearly vertical, looking down at Kim in the front, I knew we were heading for disaster!  Having a trailing rudder, these boats have no steering once on a wave like this… luckily the boat skewed sideways before it nose-dived completely…..and we were thrown out… the side as the great big juggernaut of a kayak went bobbing into the beach having a very nice ride!  We were not out of the woods yet, however, as a few more waves pounded us (and we had our paddles attached to our PFD’s which was a bit scary)....and we were finally dumped on the sand by the unrelenting surf.  We stumbled onto our feet….both of us had lost our head gear…..but amazingly, my orienteering specs were still hanging around my neck…..and in one piece!  I couldn’t believe it!  Our boat was full of water and it took every ounce of the strength we had left to tip it up and drain it out…..
Then we had to drag it a 100m or so along the sand…..this strength came from an unknown source….and finally get back in for the long river paddle ahead…. We had a little issue with our rudder at first, but were off and paddling ok…..and grabbed the only CP at the bridge on the way! 
After, seemingly, a very long time we slid into the TA at Upper Scamander.  Susie was there and she was so excited to see us as she had watched us start the paddle, but had missed our spectacular landing coming in from the surf.  We didn’t phaff around here, and were out on the bikes fairly quickly.  As with a lot of times in this race, so far, we were travelling with the lovely Luke and Robb, and having their company today would play a big part in us finishing this race.
We had a 36km mtb ahead of us….with some optional CPs that we would try for.  After picking up the first compulsory one under the bridge, we turned right onto the road to CP 4 which would give us a 30min time bonus…. This was the start of another disaster….. Following the winding forest roads on a 1:50,000 map was quite difficult….and the CP was a lot further out than we thought.  We tried 2 ‘knolls’ before we hit the CP….and just as we did, Kim’s back tyre went dead flat.  Oh dear….out with the spare…..but then we couldn’t get her pump to work….. It had gummed up inside of the tube and we struggled severely to get any air in.  We took turns….and finally got it to a respectable level of inflation, when we realised the valve stem was going inside the rim….. So…..out with all that hard-earned air….and start again.  Our spirits were dropping fast….and it wasn’t until Robb & Luke came by with another pump that we got it up and going again.  The boys sped off ahead of us….and we went back to the main road and decided that no more optional CPs were in order…..we just had to get to the end of this bike leg now…… About 2kms along the road, Kim then punctured in her front tyre!  She didn’t have another spare.  We had no choice but to keep moving forward and she rode on the rim for about 5km.  When the tyre was leaving the rim, she decided that riding was impossible…. We were about 15km from the TA…..and didn’t know if there was anyone behind us.  The best way for us to move ahead was to have me riding…..and Kim running behind (in bike shoes) pushing her bike.  This was the only time I did any towing in the whole week….but it got us along a bit quicker than just walking our bikes.  We were making our way up this huge hill, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, when Luke & Robb came up behind us.  Oh…..we were sooooo glad they had gone out to another optional CP…..and Luke had a spare 29inch tube which he very generously gave to Kim….and continued on, risking his chances in the event himself….  We stayed with the guys all the way to the TA…..and were very grateful for their generosity! 
We were still in the race!
St Patrick’s Head reserve was where we left the bikes….and you guessed it….we climbed the damned thing…..It was the most amazing rocky hill-top and we enjoyed every step of the way!  Back to the TA and onto the bikes for the last leg of Day 3.  Course designer, John Jacoby, was there and wished us good luck for the final leg….and told us to ‘enjoy the hike-a-bike’…..we didn’t realise there was one, but off we went in search of it.  Happily……it was a down-hill hike-a-bike….but we rode most of it – this amazing overgrown track off the side of the hill…..and we shrieked with delight when we hit the CP at the bottom.  Now it was only a short ride back to Ironhorse Point and the end of Day 3.
We were pretty happy to have ‘broken the back’ of the event…..with 2 flat tyres and some incredibly hairy paddling sections…..
Friday 1st Dec: First day of summer, but we had no idea of the date at the time!  We were on Day 4 of this adventure race…..our own little world away from reality….
Nice part of the world - The Bay of Fires

We were driven by Susie to a place called The Gardens, north of St Helens and the Bay of Fires.  Here we embarked on a 2.5km coasteer…..and then an amazing paddle leg down towards Binalong Bay.  As we paddled south the wind was getting stronger… times we were sheltered in the picturesque bays, but when were in the more open sections it was treacherous and freezing.  To make matter worse, when we finished this paddle we went straight onto a ‘snorkelling’ section…..into that freezing water….. I think the anticipation of the snorkeling was worse than the actual activity….yes, we were freezing…..but in the water wasn’t as bad as being wet and in the wind.  Thankfully, the organisers shortened this leg to 3 CPs and not 5… we hurried back to the TA and were off and running very quickly to warm up. 
The next leg was a stunning coastal run around the spectacular headland that was the Humbug Nature Reserve.  We were loving this one so much that we collected all of the optional CPs here, just so we could go on the scenic route! 
We found the TA and our waiting bikes at the Dora Point boat ramp.  Our next leg was a rather beautiful ride around the southern half of the Humbug Nature Reserve. Once again, we were enjoying it so much that we went out to some more optional CP’s here…..and we knew we only had a paddle leg before the end of the day.
On arrival back at the TA we were informed that the gusty winds had increased to the point where the organisers didn't think it safe to paddle the full 8km to the finish line near St Helens…, they cut it short and we finished at Lords Point which was about 5km short of our original finish. 
Susie met us with the car and dry clothing…. We went from here, straight to the Fish & Chip shop in town….got ourselves a nice feed and snoozed in the car on the 3 ½ hour drive back to Hobart.  Here our accommodation was at Wrest Point…..strange and luxurious, but a great view over Hobart and the Derwent River….if only our window would open so we could get some fresh air up on the 14th floor!
Sunday 2nd Dec:  My younger brother’s 50th birthday…..but, unfortunately, that thought didn’t enter my head as we prepared for our last day of racing…..and we were feeling pretty good…..until we found out the temperature at the top of Mt Wellington was 2 degrees with a wind chill factor of minus 10!  This was not good for our 7km road descent which was the first leg of the day!  We all arrived at the top of the mountain……and didn't get out of the cars……it was absolutely freezing and felt like it was going to snow….. The only bonus was that the high winds had blown away all the cloud…..and the views were spectacular!  We could see the finish line where we would end up later in the day…..and were excited about the great journey ahead of us to get there.
We set off at 0800, ran a lap of the car park, before getting on our bikes for the chilly descent.  We actually did quite well…..passing lots of teams on the way down…..It didn't seem as cold once we got going!  Rolling into the TA, we were quick to get out on the run leg…..and had really only planned to get the 7 compulsory CPs…..but stretched ourselves to get one extra bonus before we got back to our waiting bikes….
The next Leg – a 13km mtb ride – would have to be some of the best single track riding we have ever done.  It was a predominantly downhill track… Mt Wellington….following the North-South trail….and we were having a fantastic time…..until Aunty Kim got a flat tyre!  Oh no…….not again!  We stopped and had the back wheel off in no time….got out the spare….and put it in…..and as Kim was trying to pump it up she tripped over and broke the end of the valve off… Our luck seemed to be getting worse!  We tried to get air in the tyre with a broken valve, but it didn't work…..Next thing along came Guy Andrews & his partner Rob Pommie….. Rob, very generously gave us his only tube… We are grateful, once again, that adventure racers are such nice people…..and have the tube in and pumped up super quick…..We are so good at this now!  Off we go again on the North-South trail…. Our plan had changed now, however, and we now would only go for the compulsory CPs (and miss out on lots of great single track)….as we didn’t want to risk anything else happening with the wheels on Kim’s bike…..and lucky we did, as she got another flat just as we were riding out!  Didn't matter now, as that was the last bike leg of the event….
On foot next and this leg was basically a way to get us down to the water’s edge for the final paddle.  We found our way to 3 CP’s via streets…..and an ingenious idea to go down the powerline track…(not) where we were faced with a ‘brick-wall’ of barbed wire and blackberries surrounding the creek at the bottom…..Oh, we only had to get 3 metres to that creek and do you think we could do it…..No….!!!! We had to go the long way around…..wasting a bit of time…..and, as we found out, lost about 15 minutes by going this way….. It didn't matter in the whole scheme of things…..and we certainly didn’t take the boring route!!
We arrived at the kayaks which were waiting for us at Cornelian Bay, on the majestic Derwent River.  All we had to do now was paddle to the finish line….. Wow, it had been a huge event…..and we decided to make it stretch out just a little bit more by going for an optional CP in the other direction, before the paddle home….. We enjoyed the last paddle in the company of some of our fellow adventure racers……hit the jetty and ran to the finish line….very pleased with the fact the we were ranked 1st female team overall……Even though the younger girls did really well…..having no adventure racing experience at all, we were glad that our experience in the sport had counted for something in the long run…. 
Time for some champers!

In conclusion: We enjoyed every day of this amazing event and feel very lucky that we were able to race together and experience these beautiful places in Tasmania….. We especially enjoyed racing alongside our lovely friends from Noosa, Robb & Luke…..and all our other AR friends from Australia, NZ & France…. And……we hope to come back again next year…..Kim with a much faster partner…..hopefully Gary… she can really enjoy those downhill and rocky runs…..and not have to wait for me to catch up all the time…. Me….well, I’d be happy to do this again with my regular partner, and good friend, Susie, if she would like to join me….
I think everyone who was involved with the Mark Webber Challenge this year was inspired to have a go themselves….. It’s an awesome event and it is run to help two great charities – The While Lion Foundation…..and Save the Tasmanian Devil….and we were very happy to donate to these 2 worthy causes…..
See you out there!
Jan & Kim