Barkley's big adventure

2014 ACT Champs 8 and 24 hr events 12-13 April 2014, 12th Apr 2014
Keith Conley, posted on 28th Apr 2014

Team 22 is not a novice team. Susie Sprague and Keith Conley have rogained for many seasons locally and both served on the ACTRA committee. We know our way round a hash house. However for differing reasons neither had competed at our favourite sport for a couple of years. This was the big come back event and we both doubted our abilities and fitness for a 24 hour championship level challenge, especially one set by the Baldwin/Quinn firm. Fair to say Susie probably had more doubts than me. I was in it to test joints that had been damaged through age and injury. If I lasted two hours I would have been a happy rogainer. Back to base if it all went pear shaped and help out with organisation. ACTRA can always use extra hands at events (big hint there).

Julie tasked us with taking the ACTRA bear [Ed: he’s a koala Keith!], Barkley, out for a stroll in the woods, as bears do. No worries we thought. We're taking it easy. The ambitious goal was to stay on our feet for 24 hours. Barkley would be welcome company and keep us true to our aims.
Prior to the start, Susie had been making all sorts of comment about how we were mad to be even thinking we could do this and, in the same breath, how she would shut down at midnight and I'd better be ready to take over map and compass work when it was pumpkin time. Straight away I knew that her familiar competitive spirit had not dimmed. And so it proved to be. She pretty much led me round the course, as I straggled at the back watching bearings and keeping an eye on progress.
We had set a flight plan that saw us gain altitude slowly in the gentle western part of the course, as night closed in we entered some of the higher turbulence of the northern section and the scrappy gullies in the east. In one of those creek lines battling across sphagnum moss and through thick scrub above our heads, we had the excellent experience of having a brumby bray loudly and, I thought, with intent, right next to us, sight unseen. That gets the adrenalin going when you need it, believe me. Eventually emerging from our scrub fight down into Currango homestead CP 103 we had it in our heads there was going to be a party. We'd seen a brochure at the start and were looking forward to busting a few moves on the dance floor. Sadly, it was t'other homestead across the reservoir where all the action was. We'd brought the dance shoes in vain. Regardless it was only another five CPs to the ANC and some coffee and toasties would have us dancing a jig into the second half of our set course.
Can I say we worked pretty good as a team? We wobbled on a few controls, but nothing too serious. Loads of broad vague gullies seemed to be a theme. Man, I hate those things. Give me a good, honest, hard-working saddle any day of the week. I can respect a saddle. You know where you stand with them. Broad gullies are sneaks. They lie and cheat. Never trust a broad gully is my advice to any newbies out there. You gotta get yourself to a big unmistakeable feature near your 'broad' gully and then bear at it direct and hope to the heavens you see that little orange and white beacon of civilisation in the gloom. I swear, some of the gullies on this course... even the brumbies wouldn't go near them. Gully rant over.
On the positive side, a good ANC is always welcome. Lucky for us, two old mates were in the bar for refreshments at the time we arrived out of a bitterly cold windy rainy night - Dave Barlow and Douglas Peres. I know both from adventure racing and it is usually the case that Dave is letting his teammate know what needs to happen next. Douggie was pretty happy tucking into his fourth cheese toastie and chugging down a Brazilian strength coffee as Dave geed him up for a return to Mordor. We had a Formula 1 standard transition ourselves, and full of happy food, caffeine and neurofen, it was back out into the elements for round 2. Tootling down the track eastwards we looked to clear an obvious circuit of seven controls to the SE of the ANC. Sated, we were buzzing and the chat was back. Nailed our first control, we over-ran the second because of the jibber jabber. That brought us back sharply to refocus on CPs 96 and 72 who were taunting us with their broad gulliness. We tamed the beasts, but they put up a fight for sure. Returning to ANC to reload after a longer than expected 4 hour turn around the room we realised we needed to adjust course. It was 4 am and had eight hours of rogaine joy left. Time to amputate legs and arms off our beautifully constructed course. Susie was also feeling some acute knee pain so our next goal of climbing Mt Nattung looked unlikely. We ditched the climb for a quick exit to the open frost plains of the west where we hoped the terrain would be kinder on swollen joints. Doing so though came at a cost. Few target rich CPs to collect on the way and those we did get were at the end of wet longish creek lines off the Port Phillip fire trail. It was all slow poor value stuff for two hours.
Knowing Susie though, I thought the pain would be temp and so it proved. Sun came up and she shot off like a bullet train again. The next six hours were pretty much a blur for me as I tried to stay on the trail of the Sprague Express. I pushed the friendship a bit by squeezing in as many last controls as we could. We still finished with an hour to spare, leaving us with a few classic what-ifs to ponder.... Nevertheless, we were both ecstatic and proud of ourselves to have completed a 24 hour. To finish fifth was beyond all expectations. And to do so on a Baldwin/Quinn course was especially pleasing. We feel like doing more now. Much more. Bring on the NSW Champs. Thanks to ACTRA for a smashingly good and satisfying event. Nobody does them better. Barkley was a little bashed about for his run but happy to have seen the high country and met more than his share of horses. Vale Geoff Mercer. Old-school ANU, he was always a wealth of knowledge and stories to listen to on the rogaine bus. His passing is a great loss for our sport.