by David Baldwin
After the disruptions of recent years due to border closures and lockdowns, this year’s champs looked good. While the weekend of the event turned on perfect conditions, torrential rains in the days prior created major problems for the organisers, nearly causing cancellation and created challenging navigation to the HH pre-event with flooded roads requiring impromptu detours. By Friday evening the rain had stopped and the campsites were not too damp, with only a few cars getting bogged. The HH site had been relocated from a farmer’s paddock to open bushland in state forest. There were wildflowers everywhere as we set up tents in the fading light and cooked our dinner, then had an early night after a long day on the road.
Victoria and the Australian Rogaining Champs has a special connection for both Julie and I. We each won our first Aus Champs in Victoria, for me in 1999 at Shelley and Julie in 2006 at Barkly only 15km away. This was my 23rd Aus Champs as a competitor, 23 years since 1999 when none of the under 23 teams would have been born!
On Saturday morning maps were quickly distributed and Julie and I set up in a large marquee on provided tables and chairs. There were lots of familiar faces with NZ and all states except WA represented. The route planning was challenging. The map was all bush with a high ridge running E-W across it and ridges radiating S. Very little flat terrain and no easy points. It was also an enormous course with 84 controls and average of around 1.5km between controls. Very few controls under 50 points even got a look in for us – if the 80-100 pointers were to take 30-40 mins, then less then 20 minutes could be spared for anything under 50 points and that looked unlikely. We settled on a core route plan of around 75km with options to add various extras later if time allowed. The hills were going to be unrelenting, and the plan allowed for a flatter finish in the NW corner on Sunday morning, with careful judgement required to time the run in to the finish. As noon approached, all the teams assembled in the corral for the briefing, then a final countdown and we were away.
Most teams seemed to have 44 as their first control but the crowd thinned quickly after that. A few teams reappeared regularly for a few hours. We were collecting all the controls along the N face of the range and the steep traversing, mostly in the same direction became very tiring, so it was a relief to drop down onto the flatter terrain for a couple of legs before climbing back into the steep terrain. We wanted to get this section done early because it was all off track, physical and navigationally demanding. Route choice was varied and control features required precise navigation with bearings, contouring and pace counting. By late afternoon we’d finally made it to 72 on the N-S ridge along the E edge of the course for a couple of hour’s relief, but we were feeling our lack of training and it felt like it was going to be a long night. The hills started again at 92 and some light rain around dusk made everything slippery requiring even more care with fallen logs and mossy rocks. We kept seeing other teams quite regularly all through the night which is always reassuring. Apart from a minor parallel error the controls kept coming regularly but precise navigation was required.
As midnight approached, we were short of our 40km mark so we dropped a couple of outlying controls that would require more physical effort. Remarkably we still had dry feet at the water drop 37, but a wade through a creek and some soggy paddocks put an end to that. It was slow work around the SW corner and a couple more demanding controls were dropped to save our energy. We were averaging only 1-2 controls per hour. Dawn saw us dropping in on 97 before descending our last big hill past 105 into the flatter NW corner. We tried picking up the pace with some success, but there were still plenty of logs and scrubby patches in places slowing us down. There were lots of orchids and other wildflowers to distract us. After scoring 95, the last high pointer, we decided to avoid the climb by heading S to the track over the low saddle to grab 55 then we were into the final mopping up of a few low point controls with less than two hours to go. A bit of confusion around 45 climbing onto the spur too early cost a few minutes, then we were on our way to the finish with a comfortable 20 minutes to spare. We’d visited only 48 controls, so were pleased to have scored 3200 points thanks to a plan with mostly high point controls.
The HH food was great and lots of stories were swapped with old friends. Everyone had found the hills punishing and a lot had found the navigation hard and the travel slow. The presentations started and as the various categories were announced, we were very surprised to realize we had the highest score and had won overall.