…as experienced from the lofty height of my trusty mountain bike
I was teamed up with Simon Tilley, a mate of mine from the Canberra Off Road Cycling club for a 6 hour cycle rogaine in Stromlo forest starting from the new Deeks Drive. It's been many years since I did my last rogaine and I'd never done one on the bike before so I was looking forward to the challenge. We were both pleasantly surprised to find out the event was to be held in Stromlo as we both had extensive knowledge of all the areas used, terrain etc. We decided to set a course that would allow us to get all 57 controls valued at 3250 points. The course set was to be used as a guide, with flexibility during the course of the event if other opportunities presented themselves, or in the case of us being too optimistic. We decided to tackle the Mt Stromlo section first as it looked the most difficult to ride and navigate. From there the most sensible place to go next was the Bluetts Forest section, then briefly back into the normal Stromlo forest around Deeks drive, through Pipe Flat and the forest leased by the farmers from hell, then onto Dairy Farmers over to the Cork Plantation followed by the final dash to the hash house picking up the last half dozen controls on the way. That was the plan.
With our course set we stocked up with various food bars, gels etc for the day ahead and got ready for the Le Mans start. We made sure we knew exactly where we had to go for the first few controls. The whistle went for the start and we were off. We had the first 4 controls virtually memorised and were first away from the hash house heading for Mt Stromlo. It's always good to get off to a good start and we had the first control (46) in about 3 minutes, the first 4 in 20 (controls 35, 53 and 62). I heard some horror stories before the start of past teams losing the control card after a long hard days rogaining so decided after the first control the best place for it was down the front of my cycling top.
We forged ahead at a pretty solid pace and were making really good time. While I was punching the control card Simon was setting us up for the next control with virtually no real stopping. The only real time for eating was done while retracing my steps after finding a control, power bar/clif bar in hand and camel back, so basically once we got back to the bikes we were off straight away. We also managed to save heaps of time by quite a lot of cross country riding heading directly to a control rather than taking a longer road route, and our combined knowledge of many of the lesser trails also helped. But what helped most is that we both knew the entire area extremely well so could look at the map and have a relatively accurate idea of where each control was and the best way to approach it.
Control 75 was next followed by a sweep of the back of Mt Stromlo collecting 64, 55, 56, 65, and 91. We then retraced our steps to get 57 but missed a fence marked on the map so lost about 10 minutes. This was quickly rectified and rather than worry about it, we used it to remind ourselves to take the extra few seconds to ensure we had our navigation worked out. Once over this minor mishap we continued on with 76, 66, 47, 54 and 101.
It was good to get the first of the 100 pointers and I can't recall exactly what time we got there but I remember a couple of teams taking it easy after the long climb enjoying the view. Lucky buggers. We simply charged in, I got verification from Simon were the control was, I had it in seconds and then we were out of there. Must have looked pretty serious for those enjoying the great weather and views.
Anyway the first couple of hours passed and we were going strong, no hint of tiredness and had nearly cleared the Mt Stromlo section. This was achieved at the 2hr 20 mark after we found 81, 36 and 79. We left control 34 to be collected on the return from Bluetts.
Next we headed into Bluetts and continued at the same constant pace. First we got the easy controls along Uriarra Road (37 and 82) then headed into the bush for 67, 58, 68, 49 and the second of the 100's 102. Simon's navigation was holding up to the test, and we were getting within 100m metres of all the controls pretty comfortably. It was about now that I realised it was getting hot and was feeling pretty fortunate that I managed to slop on a bit of sunny cream before the start. It was pretty obvious that many of the teams had opted for the Mt Stromlo/Bluetts areas first as it was here that we crossed paths with the most number of teams, but none appeared to be going as hard as we were,....or maybe they just had more sense.
The pace continued with controls 48, 92, 50, 78, 77, 59 and 69 all picked up with relative ease. With Bluetts cleared we headed back into the Mt Stromlo section and picked up the control 34 that we had left and then headed back into the main Stromlo area for 45. We had now been going for 3hr 40 and at this stage I still gave us a better than even chance of getting all the remaining controls. Unfortunately 45 was a bit of a doozy as we encountered a lady with a couple of semi uncontrollable dogs and rather than risk injury (dog bite) went the long way. Now that I look at the map it was really the long long way but at the time it didn't seem a problem.
Before the start we had discussed the possible option of crossing the river near 72 as there is a spot there that at times is passable but having headed straight for 72 this was not considered as we had to go back for 33. Next was 44, and at the 4 hour mark we had made it to control 90 at the top of a steep climb. It was pretty hot now and this was the first time I was starting to feel the pinch. Still we charged on but now I was starting to lag 30-40m behind Simon.
Next we nailed 42, 73 and 31 and Simon, realising I was starting to drop of the back, did most of the running around for the next few controls while I used the small amount of time to eat as much as possible and get fluid back into my system. At 73 I actually went in search of the 2 extra power gels I had put in my backpack before the start but to my horror failed to find them. Don't tell me I left them in the car, dummy! Next we headed for 51 and I had to do with a Clif bar instead. I hadn't paid much attention before the start to the location of the water points but now in a spot of bother consulted the map and much to my disbelief the closest was a mere 100m away. Talk about in luck, and it didn't even involve having to greatly change our course!
Next we headed for the Pipe Flat area which, for anyone who was involved in the National Mountain Bike Stage Race a couple of years ago, was where we were refused entry at gunpoint by the farmers who lease that area of forest from ACT Forests. There were also a couple of thoughts of caution as we crossed the fence, and if I remember correctly a sarcastic comment from Simon along the lines of "Where are the farmers now?"
We charged on, 30, down to 61, then 60 and 71. It was a long way out of our way for 70 points but we hadn't really conceded yet. This section was rather deceptive and took a lot longer than it looked from the map. We doubled back for 63 then rode the contours for 70.
This was the last of the Pipe Flat area controls, and much to my relief I was still able to push on although not as hard as I would have liked. My body was really stuffed, but there was no sign of cramping or the dreaded total body stop. With the last hour approaching we tackled what I feel was the toughest section of the whole event, the climb on foot to the top of Dairy Farmers from the south following the fence line. I swear some of this is at 45 degrees!
Well I made it to the top and to my disbelief the control was 40 metres down the other side. I suppose we can thank the honest public for David not being able to leave the controls in public sight. That made the last of the 100 pointers. Thankfully Simon had 2 power gels left so he offered one my way. Even if it only helps a little the mental knowledge that you've downed a gel on its own is enough to keep you going for another 20 minutes or so.
40 minutes to go and we still had a lot of ground to cover so we wasted no time in shooting down towards the Cork Plantation for the last of the 80 pointers. This sucker turned out to be a real pain to locate and probably cost us the time penalty at the end plus having to miss one or two others. The thickness of the young pines and my fatigue didn't help. Finally we found the control and the bottom row of our score card was completed and so with only 25 minutes before cutoff basically set a course for home aiming at picking up all the remaining controls of high value. At this stage I was really stuffed, but it's amazing just how hard you can push your body. Luckily my legs still hadn't packed it in. I could still ride hard, just couldn't push the big gears.
On the fast descent Simon narrowly missed being wiped out by a few fleeing wallabies but there was no time to waste pondering what may have been. Control 40 was right in front of us so it was a gimme at this stage. Unfortunately 41, although only a few hundred metres off, had to be left and we charged on for 74. The cutoff panic had cut in and I was riding flat out. We managed to ride right to 74 and then again had to leave 43 even though it was only a few hundred metres out of our way. We headed for 52, which was right on our path back. This sucker was worth 50 points but should have been worth more purely on blackberries alone. Out of all the controls, bush bashing and scratches from the whole day this was the one that left the most marks on me. We were both struggling to get into the forest here, let alone find the control. Fortunately Simon managed to get in far enough to locate it. Unfortunately I had the control card and knowing we were rapidly running out of time, had to also get in there. We both got stung! But given all the other scratches and scrapes for the day it was soon forgotten.
Back to the bikes with 8 minutes to go and about 4km to travel. No time to waste now. Simon set the quickest course to the hash house and I just followed his back wheel. The finish was cruel as the final km was uphill, not real steep but enough to really hurt. We got to about 50 metres from the finish and I could see all the other competitors standing around. Then the 3.30 cutoff went so we ended up losing 20 points. I blame the blackberries at 52 for that.
It was a little disappointing to get so close to getting all the controls when we both knew we lost 10-15 minutes in Mt Stromlo early on with a minor navigation mishap. But to our credit we regrouped from that really well and just kept thinking ahead and ensuring our navigation was on course. Since the event I have retraced our steps a number of times and talked to others about the courses they set. There were some areas we could have made easier but I'm sure this would have been caught up somewhere else if we’d tried to get all the controls in that area.
Simon's navigation was sensational and made my job of the final location of controls much easier. Also as a first time rogaine team we worked very well as a team unit of which added immensely to the enjoyment and satisfaction factor of the whole event, although for anyone who saw me afterwards looking half dead on the ground you wouldn't have believed it. Many people probably look on and say why, and I can't answer that. It's a challenge you set yourself and you have an inner drive that just keeps you going. I think the best way to sum up why we (I) push myself so far and hard is the following line from the Sri Chimnoy Triple Tri web site describing the Triple Tri:
"The event is as much an inner epic as it is an outer adventure, a day of human drama at its best - struggle, commitment, sacrifice, skill, close contests and personal triumph."
With all that in mind, and the fact that we slowed in the final 2 hours as I felt the pinch, leaves me confident that we were capable of getting all the controls.
I would like the personally thank Dave and his team of workers for putting on such a sensational event. Having not competed in one for many years I found it a very satisfying challenge. Thanks should also go to the providers of all the food at the finish. I hear the feast provided was awesome but thanks to me pushing my body to the max during the event, it got me back by not allowing me to eat for about a hour after the event so unfortunately I had to give a miss to most of it. I have managed to pull a copy of the results off the internet and am amazed that the majority of the teams stayed out for close to 6 hours. It must have been an awesome sight to see them all literally appearing out of the forest as the cutoff closed in.
Finally I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and look forward to next year’s event where hopefully we can have another attempt at clearing the course.