I’m really good at crashing my mountain bike. I didn’t use to be as good, I improved mostly because I switched to clipless pedals. A deceptive name that’s always confused me since the mechanical function of the damn things is an actual clip. My biggest problem in these pedals is that on technical terrain when I try to bail, I forget my feet are attached, panic and end up in a mangled mess on the floor. My most recent dalliance with the ground came on a recent training day on the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail. A long – if slightly tedious – dirt track running the length of an old rail line. The otherwise flat track is interspersed with several huge dips and rises where the old and decrepit rail bridges have been removed. On the first of these dips, not being in the mindset for attacking technical descents, I took a massive spill. While I’m told it was impressive to watch, involving a rear wheel slide that temporarily had me going backwards, and pioneering a new extreme move called a ‘head grind’ (wear your helmets for this one), it was less than impressive to experience. The net result of this debacle has been a left knee with severely limited function. And an awkward week of commuting to work on the train.
The weekend after this mess, I was due to run in the season’s first rogaine. For the uninitiated this can be defined as a long distance cross country navigation event. Whereby the team who collects the most points wins. The first event of the year in Queensland is always fun and is given the moniker ‘upside down’ as it occurs at night.
So it was I found myself at 11pm, map in hand, team mate at my side, ready to attack this 8 hour night course with a bung leg. The race started fairly well, our planned route taking advantage of our strength in endurance, avoiding sections of overly technical navigation in favour of running a few out and back sections to some of the high value check points (CP). A quick push out the gate had us at our first CP relatively quickly, a smart decision to take a minute evaluating the terrain put us on the correct, almost hidden, trail direct to CP81. Shooting back down the hill we quickly knocked off CP34 then promptly began second guessing our approach to CP63. I realised we should have approached it from literally any other angle, but some quick thinking from the team mate put us down an obvious spur, and a few too many minutes of lantana bashing later, right on top of CP63. Following the much better spur out to the south we were back on track with a small climb before a great run down the hill to CP54.
From CP54 we elected to follow the fence line due south, which turned out to have been swallowed in a sea of lantana, luckily some other poor souls had bashed a rudimentary path through the worst of it. And we spat out on the road eventually, hopefully having stayed in bounds. On the road we were unable to locate CP24 which marked mere metres from the road and well back from the quarry (we found out later it was set back slightly further up the trail) and made a quick decision to abandon the small value points in favour of keeping on.
Following this we made our first key error, having hit the road we went into cruise control breezing right past CP24, only twigging to our error when headlights caught our attention. We’d over-run the thing by so much that we decided to hit the bottom part of the course in the reverse order to originally planned, breezing right through to CP42 and making good time to CP100. Some poor souls had overshot it by a mile, and it was a good decision we made to ignore the alluring lights in the distance in favour of our own nav, which had us bang in the right spot before too long. CP31 followed with ease before a quick blast to the water station at CP20 for a much appreciated can of coke and some rogainer’s favourite fruitcake.
Out of the water stop it was back down the road and into the woods for a quick CP33. Leaving that behind we began shuffling down the trail to CP71 to be met with several sets of glowing eyes in the distance. Into the small world of headlamp light we’d been living in came two enormous pit bulls, complete with full armour for pig hunting. At this junction we both collectively felt the contents of our stomach drop, not wanting to be mistaken for bacon. We didn’t want to mess with these trained killing dogs nor did we want to encounter the pig they were hunting. I briefly wondered how much faster than my team mate I could run. In the end they shadowed us for a while and disappeared off into the bushes. We later bumped into the owners, cruising round with guns, dogs and 4WDs reminding us we weren’t the only lunatics running round the bush at 3am.
CP71 was found easy and the track to CP43 was a breeze. After plunging into the thick of the lantana in search of the CP we noticed another team on the ridgeline apparently watching for where we were going to come out and hoping to avoid trekking through too many of the thorns. Not wanting to make anyone’s life easier and looking for ways to keep alert, we quietly tagged the CP before backtracking down the creek a hundred meters or so before making our exit. CP53 and CP90 followed without incident before we encountered our worst nav effort of the evening. After admiring the multitude of boulders around this forest I had been previously unaware of (there’s this posts tenuous climbing reference – I’ll have to revisit them some time) we eventually located CP51 and opted to follow the trail up and around to get oriented and on course. Well that was a massive failure, the trail we were on ended up taking us south west, the complete opposite direction then intended, and not marked on the map. After a while we decided to turn back to the CP and head due east to rejoin the main trail back to CP72. That didn’t work either. Despite following a perfect bearing we were unable to find the very obvious 4WD track that should have only been 250m away. Getting frustrated and about to run out of patience, we once again headed back to the CP, and got back onto the track we came in on. This finally had us in the right course and we tagged CP72 without further incident.
CP62 was ticked after a gentle run with the sun slowly coming up and a quick route and time evaluation told us we needed to be considering the way back. Forfeiting plans we had for CP50,70,32 and 22 we charged down the hill onto the road. Knocking off CP52 and up the hill to CP91 we were getting a little gassed. We hit CP23 without incident and made the silly error to backtrack down the trail instead of continuing south down the hill, adding an extra few hundred metres to our route at the worst possible time.
We charged down the road, and spurred on by some fellow competitors/friends elected to try the 3k out and back run to CP55 for the extra points. Long story short we couldn’t find the damn thing. Ourselves and two other teams all thinking we were in the right spot eventually had to turn around empty handed for a very frustrating haul back into camp. We were later credited with the extra 50 points, validating our run and nav as well as bringing our total score to a respectable 1080 and putting us 9th overall and 4th in our category.
In the end we covered about 35km and made two crucial errors. To improve next time round we will have to start taking some nav risks to cut corners but we were pretty thrilled with how we went. It was a great event.