Thanks to Richard, Alan and Julia for sharing their race reports, to Julia, Rob, Emily and Adrian for the photos, and to Jason for the maps and elevations that put the enormity of the challenge into perspective.
Conditions on the night (and day) were tough, thanks to a wet week – creating lots of slippery mud that offers no traction – with more mist and rain during the event to keep things damp and visibility poor. Oh, and did we mention the race started at midnight? So we had been awake for 18 hours already, and a full 36 by the time we finished.
Jason, Alan, Julia and Richard - on the start line and ready to race
Other challenges included a middle of the night wasp attack, the continuous hilly terrain (2,500 metres of climbing) and mud so deep and sticky that clung to the bikes so much that bikes that had to be carried because the wheels wouldn’t turn.
In the end, it was none of these challenges that broke us – though they did cause a few bumps and bruises - we were beaten by the clock and pulled the plug after 18 hours racing before completing the full course.
Despite this there were many positives. We saw magical places we would never get to see otherwise, and made it over every hill placed in front of us. Our team was amazing – effective and committed. 4 competitors, 4 support crew and another family looking after base camp, all doing their bit to get us to the start line and then to the finish line. If every team had this level of common purpose, we could do amazing things together. And not forgetting the reason we took on this challenge in the first place: to raise money for Cure Kids.
We completed three (of the five race) stages – here’s Alan and Julia’s stage-by-stage account (with maps from Jason to put it all into sharp and hilly perspective).
Stage one - 25km trek
Starting with a long and hilly trek, much of it off track we decided running would be pointless and soon found ourselves at the back of the race as other teams sprinted off the line. However, as the race progressed we often found ourselves amongst other teams whenever the navigation was challenging with teams appearing from the mist in all directions.
Some early straightforward tracks led onto the first tricky section following a bait line, then wading up a river to find control #2 and the near-vertical continuation of the bait line to over 400m. “Follow the pink tape to the mine entrance” was the simple instruction but with tape heading in multiple directions and multiple mines in the area, teams were heading in all directions.
Traversing the mine that took us under the ridgeline and out the other side was one of the more memorable moments of the race. As we worked our way through the tunnels at 3am there were weird sounds culminating in our meeting with the mountain mine gorilla. When you are feeling tired, an ape hiding in a dark tunnel certainly wakes you up (no, we weren’t hallucinating). But in Jason’s words: “I’ve seen enough horror movies to know this doesn’t end well.”
Around 5am on top of a ridge in the mist and rain, once more we found many teams heading in the wrong direction. We were all looking for a control point that did not seem to be there. Could we all be wrong in the same place? After a few back and forths on the track and unable to find either the control or the next baitline we decided to head straight down to transition. The near-vertical descent was a mudslide - testing the grip of our shoes and anything growing beside the track that we could hang onto. This was real flying by the seat of our pants stuff.
So, 7hrs down and one stage ticked off – that’s the usual length of a Cure Kids race! Pit stop was for breakfast, noodles, lots of drinks and fruit and a change into dry bike gear. Shout out to the support crew of Emily, Rob, Adrian and his daughter (Emily #2) – couldn’t have done it without them!
Stage Two - 55km Mountain Bike
An easy start on the road soon led to gravel and lots of hills (this is the Coromandel). The night had taken its toll with both Alan and Jason almost falling asleep while riding; great teamwork to get us through with Richard towing Alan on the hills before a nice cool shower came through to wash out the cobwebs and wake us all up.
Onto the offroad section, we pushed our bikes up wet clay and slippery hard rock for a couple of hours. At the highest point of 500m the clouds cleared, and we were rewarded by amazing views. Seconds later, we met a school team pushing their bikes up the hill; these teenagers are amazing, so young, but so tough and persistent.
The descent should have been fun, but due to some serious gradients and mud, we had to walk some sections. One section of mud was so deep and sticky we could not even push bikes through as mud lumps glued bike wheels to the frame. We ended up carrying our mud encrusted bikes now multiple times heavier than usual.
On the very last bit of the descent we had our worst setback. Julia reports
“I found the most un-ladylike manner to dismount and landed right on my head. It was a nice long grass landing, and I was wearing a helmut, but I fell below the track. I've done headstands before, but not with such force, I felt my legs land above my spine, and my spinal cord compact, and my neck bend. My teammate Richard behind me had just fallen of his bike too. So we uncrumpled slowly and walked a section before descending on the bikes again.”
Back in the road out of Fletcher Bay, Julia’s back was hurting when riding. Once again great teamwork with Jason giving Julia a tow on the hills. It was a very welcome sight to see our support crew as we rolled into transition at Fantail Bay. Two stages down, three to go, 3.30pm. Completing the race in the expected maximum time of 18hrs was looking very unlikely!
We took time to refuel well at the transition with our wonderful support crew looking after us. Julia made the wise decision to call it a halt and we would continue as a team of three, doing whatever parts of the course were still open.
Stage Three – 25km Mountain Bike and rifle shoot
Back out on the bikes (this time wearing lifejackets for the mid-stage rafting section) we had an uneventful but slow ride to the rafting stop. With no water in the harbour, the rafting was off the menu and being past 5pm we considered our options for the rest of the race. We quickly decided both the stage-4 10km trekking /coasteering and stage-5 30km mountain bike were not an option so decided finish at the rifle shoot at Whitestar Station. With the end now tangible we gritted teeth and quickly bashed out the 15km of road riding. The finale then was to each take 5 shots with a .22 rifle at 50m targets. Accurate firing by Alan, Jason and Richard saw us come out with a perfect score of 15/15.
Although a little disappointed not to complete the course, we are very pleased with how we went on that challenging course in in those conditions. The team worked brilliantly together and our support crew were superb. Our main aim for this race was to have a step-up from the Cure Kids race and do something challenging – big ticks to both of those.
And the most scary thing? Scarier than meeting a gorilla in a mine at 3am? We’re all already thinking about next year...
Richard, Alan and Jason looking pleased to be finished (and still surprisingly fresh!)