NSW Rogaining Association

"Your Guide to Rogaining in NSW"

Not the HH

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Things are different up in Queensland - or so we often think down here in NSW. But then, why wouldn't you? I was recently thinking about running an ultra north of the border and was browsing the net for events. I spied a 140-km race up in the far north that looked promising. Event was set in the Atherton Tablelands (attractive), previous record was ~16 h (tough) and field was relatively small (good chance of winning). However, once I realized that all the competitors pushed a wheelbarrow for the entire course [race web site], I reconsidered...

With such thoughts in the back of my mind, I did think twice before asking Gill Fowler if she wanted to join forces to make an assault on the National Rogaining Championships this year, which were set up in the same region - the Atherton Tablelands. The thought of pushing a wheelbarrow around between checkpoints didn't appeal (although it would mean that Gill could push me if I got tired during the night), but Gill was looking for a partner too, so we decided to take the risk.

We had never teamed up before, so as a warm-up we entered the NSW Paddy Pallin 6-h event a couple of weeks before. Despite what was perhaps not the optimum route selection, we came away as the mixed category winners, so that seemed like a good sign. My navigational skills are reasonable but not up there with the real map gurus like Mike Hotchkis, Dave Baldwin and Phil Whitten, so it was great having someone to pull me up when I was heading off boldly in the wrong direction.

So, off to Cairns we flew, and after an evening in the big smoke, cadged a lift with Dave Baldwin and Julie Quinn in the morning to the event site near Kuranda in the tablelands. Among the 100+ teams, here were a number of the usual familiar faces from events, including Sue Clark and Walter Kelemen, Richard Robinson and Richard Mountstephens (who was competing with Jono O'Loughlin - fifth placegetter in the recent TNF100 race and on his first rogaine).

We collected our maps and got down to planning. It was a big course - ~180 square km - and it was clear that we were going to have to omit probably about a third of the controls. Fortunately, the SE section looked steeper and so that was quickly abandoned (by most teams, as far as I can make out). There was a bit western section that was relatively flat and further from the HH, so we decided to head out there first, then tackle the section NE of the HH at the end, chopping and changing as required (as usual). It turned out that a number of other teams had settled on a similar plan (or the reverse), although as usual we saw very very few people during the course of the event (I think people might hide when they see me coming).

Midday came and we were off. The weather forecast for the event was nigh on perfect - a touch hot during the day, but pleasant temperatures overnight and no rain on the horizon. We had a very productive afternoon, hitting controls reasonably directly and moving fairly quickly on the flat terrain (at least Gill was moving quickly - I was languishing behind, but she *did* wait for me, so that was a good sign!). We reached the All night cafe in the far west just as they were setting up at 5 pm and continued on into the part of the event that makes and breaks everyone - the NIGHT TIME....

On the scale of things, it didn't start well. We were completely unable to find our second night-time CP - #96. There seemed to be a couple of other teams scratching their heads in much the same was as us though, so after about 15 min, we decided to make the call that it wasn't there (or that, if it was, we weren't going to find it) and forge on - a tough call, given that it was a 90-pointer. We hit another couple of CPs, running into Dave+Julie and Richard Robinson on the way (and, needless to say, cunningly not telling them anything about #96).

Then, it all went horribly wrong (karma?). We must have both lapsed in concentration at the same time and we ended up wandering around in a small series of shallow spurs looking for a crummy 20-pointer. After far too long fiddling around (too embarassed to say how long), we instigated Plan E and headed for higher ground and the next CP on our route - risky when you don't actually know where you are! Miraculously, we got on track again - you can't imagine my sense of relief - and by the time sun-up came, we were going well again.

The last 6 h are always a bit of a mad panic, with constant route recalculations to optimize the point gathering in the lead-up to the finish. We seemed to have plenty of juice left though and were hitting the controls pretty well, so we gambled on taking the longest option back to gather a few more points, and managed to get back OK with ~15 min to spare.

After a short wait at the end, it became clear that we had managed to score better than all of the other mixed teams and so earned the Mixed Team national title. I don't think anyone was more surprised than we were - but we were stoked! Only one other team had scored more - a couple of Kiwis who took out the title of "Australasian champions" - and an overall second place finish was very satisfactory for us too!

The funny thing was that - even though I was saying that things are different up here in Qld - the course was very reminiscent indeed of a typical NSW course, as you can see from the photos below. It was dry and rocky eucalypt and not at all the jungle or rainforest that you picture when you think of Far North Qld. Still - we weren't complaining - we'll take a National Champs trophy any day!

Gill was again a great partner for the event - picking up all (but one) of my navigational blues, pushing hard on the trails and remaining cheerful for the entire event. What more could you ask from a partner (except perhaps that she could have carried my pack)? I'll be signing up for another event with her, for sure...


Gill Fowler

Gill tackles one of the eponymous hills