X-Marathon 2016 36hour Expedition Adventure Race
Coming to Adventure Junkie's top adventure race of the season has become for me a tradition as much as Xmas or Easter. This time it was a bit different: the race date has moved from December to March, location moved from the usual Eilden lakes to Gipssland Lakes Australia, the length has been extended from 24hr to 36hr and format of the race has been promoted to an expedition race. The menu looks so great. I've booked my tickets as soon as the dates were confirmed happy to get in a random team, organise my own or just help Serj and Maria run this event.
Eliot, Alex, Dave & Paul - Team #19 Tiger Adventure Kwassies
After failed attempts to come up with a team I got lucky and got a spot in one of the Tiger Adventure's team. Dave has managed to get 4 of us organised almost at the last minute: his friend Paul and acquaintance Eliot joined us for the adventure of the lifetime.
I arrived at the Melbourne airport and cleared the customs quite quickly. This was my first travel with kiwi passport and I noted the the quarantine officials were more loyal to me - didn’t ever bother to check how clean my bike was (it was freshly washed though!). Dave picked me up on we were on our 4 hour drive to rave headquarters, Lakes Entrances.
I caught up some sleep in the car. We arrived in time to get out stuff sorted: check-in in the motel, re-arrange the room for out team headquarters with all the packing essentials. It was a first expedition race for me and for this kind of races the preparation work is key!
The difference from usual adventure race is that there are multiple Transition Zones are they are spread out and each of them have different boxes: bike, kayak, box A or Box B so you need to plan in advance which equipment, nutrition you need to put where.
Race registration, dinner and briefing was scheduled for Friday from 6-8pm. We got the maps, got a carb-overloaded dinner and heard the race instruction from Serj&Maria. Like a drug dealer I'm sorting out my TailWind white powder - endurance isotonic to keep you going! It did the job quite well! We had a long evening ahead of us - preparing gear, nutrition and maps.
So much to do so we left the maps for morning and called it a night around 11pm - at the morning we had a bus schedule even before the race started. The competency check, swim and kayak re-entry practice and gear check in were from 7-9am. At the competency check we had to answer the questions what to do in case of a snake bite and how to take a compass bearing. Rest of pre-race time was spent contacting (light laminating) the maps.
Lakes Entrances is a beautiful place east of Melbourne with a long narrow shore line making a channel of lakes of curvy islands.
19 teams turns round for this wicked adventure race. The first stage is the 25km paddle in the lakes with a mass start. I
bet the quadrocopter got awesome footage of this. Check their FB page for all the footage https://www.facebook.com/adventurejunkie.com.au
We were in the back group of paddlers - some of out team members haven't paddled at all so we were taking it easy. I was in the boat with Paul and I believe he had a good free kayak training 1-1 during this race - impressive learning curve for him! Although we managed to capsize in the beginning (#amateurs) where our boat met the current from lakes entrance mouth. The morning pre-race for re-entering the kayak was totally worth it! Although Paul let go the paddle - a big no no when you are out of kayak luckily the rescue boat was not far to quickly assist us and we were on with the race.
It was nice to see so many familiar faces on the race - one of them is Darlene - my team mate from X-Marathon 2014 was running in a girls team this time. They've done really well!
The weather was perfect for race conditions - around 25 degrees, cloudy - not so hot. not so cold. Even a small drizzle was very nice.
We tried to be smart with navigation getting to CP3 and CP4, taking the southern route for CP3 and for attacking the CP4 from west, replacing 2km run instead of paddle. It was a questionable maneuver, but team was happy to switch from paddling for a jog.
Finally we arrive at TA1 in 3 hours - average of the time predicted by AJ! Now the bikes awaits.
Out team was really not hurrying up in the transitions - we were here for the fun and not racing although it did seem a bit weird to me. Next leg was 40km mountain biking. It started with 7 km ride on the road.
We had to cross a big highway so the there was a 10min out of the race IN/OUT CP - this time wasn't counted in the race so the teams can safely cross the traffic congested area. Very wise decision from AJ. Also it coincided with the next leg - MTB park where teams should split in 2x2person groups to get 7 checkpoints. The fact that the number of checkpoints was not even made even more interesting. Eliot and I joined up since we seemed to be fastest on the initial riding and we aimed for 4 checkpoints. It took us a while to get used to orienteering in park with a lot of small unmarked trails.
We missed the first turn but did enjoy some nice flowing single-track. I had a small problem with my map board so had to stop and re-attach it wth tape and cable-ties. There were a lot of log obstacles and sections where you have A&B route options : A for harder jumpstechnical stuff and B - simpler but longer workarounds. Once we got used to orienteering in the park Eliot and I were smashing it bypassing some of teams. The final leg was an awesome trail with a lot of jumps - I reckon I got the biggest air on one of them so far! Awesome! We arrive at the finish CP for a rendezvous with out team mates and they are waiting there for 5 minutes.
Considering the small repair with the board that seems like a good results. 3-4 of other teams were left waiting in this area. Next MTB continuous on a very beautiful wide track along the river Great River trail and Rail Road.
We managed to bypass couple of teams - the other Tiger Adventure race team which missed one checkpoint.
Final sprint on the rail road we were smashing it hard - riding as team me leading the way. MTB section complete with 50km behind and 4h 15 minutes. We arrive at TA2 getting ready for 4-8 hours of canyoning. It turned out to be this was my favourite part of the race.
We had to follow the canyon for 4km looking for 4 checkpoint which were not marked on the map. Also we got a bonus 5 minutes for each of the CP we draw correctly on the map. This was a combination on walkingjumping on wet rocks sizing range from gravel to 3meter tall boulders, swimming and bush-bashing through densesteep shorelines.
For each of section of the canyon there were different preferred ways to go through with no clear winning solution. I wonder how the fastest team got through this and what is the best way to practice this( PeakAdventure did this in 4h10m with 12.5km). Luckily we managed to get the first CP with daylight bu the rest 2-3 hours were in complete dark - really love the ay up lights! Also it was quite warm so there was no issues swimming in the water where we had to!
Eliot was leading the way - his previous mountaineeringrock climbing experience was crucial in that rock-hoping section. I thought that MTB shin pads can be quite useful on thee stages because when you walk waste deep in the water it's hard to see the rocks under water and you bump into some of them really badly.
The checkpoints were roughly 800m-1km away form each other and took us around an hour to get to the net one - so the average speed was really turtle like. Weird feeling for a race to be that slow but nothing you can do it about it really. We almost have missed the last canyon checkpoint with Eliot and myself finding a nice trail on the west side of the creek but not looking closely for a checkpoint.
Luckily for us Dave was following the water line and found the CP which was a bit to soon after CP3 as per out opinion. then we had to bush-bash our way out of the canyon around 200m east on a steep dense route. The last checkpoint was a 200m climb on the hill and back to TA2. This is where we realised that Eliot lost his control chip and we might be facing a penalty in the end.
On the way to TA2 We met 2 teams already riding their bikes. The next stage was the longesttoughest on the course with predicted time between 4:30 and 8:00 hours. It took PeakAdventure guys to do in 9h 20min - 80km overall with a elevation gain around 2000m - no wonder it took us much longer -14hours and this one where we run out of water and food.
We started this section around 1am - I love biking at night in the forest! It's hard to remember now all the details of this night stage, definitely it was a night to remember with an awesome foresome :) We had 10 minutes of nap which felt really good otherwise it is hard to stay focused through all night long. I reckon the total elevation gain should be around 2000m, terrain was very undulating!
When dawn kicked in it got much easier - it was a nice fog with a bit of a drizzle. I do remember a lot of climbs, the highlight being the climb to Tara mountain CP19(600m). It was a funny puzzle to find the Triangle on the top with some nice bushbashing.
We did leave our bikes on the main road which was a mistake, some sections on the top were quit flat. This is where we met Darlene and her team - she had strength to joke about wondering : "Where is Alex with his tow-line?"
Looks like we found out second wind - I felt quite good in the wild riding my bike. At checkpoint number 21 or 22 we run out of water and had to refill bottles from the fire lake and apply the purifying pills. This reminded me of racing back in Russia in Karelia with the only difference being we didn't have pills at those times!
We had to conserve water till that time and were luckily awarded a bottle of coke from passing 4WD car. When we finally arrive at TA3 at 3:30pm with sore asses after 14 of MTB'ing we new we would have missed the 2:30pm cut-off time for stage 5 with was a rogaine (Dave really wanted to do this one!).
Serj instructed us to directly form TA3 to TA4 for second paddling stage - that was 35km long and very challenging because the water levels were low and included a lot carrying the boat in the initial sections.
We lost some time looking for a creek bush bashing our way down through the forest finding the way to Snowy river. I felt much better jumping on the rocks of the creek than the other day in the canyon - was it the better runners (Asics vs Salomon's) or just drier rocks I don't know.
Managed to cross the river with the water level at waist height.
At TA4 we spent some time mocking around our kayak gear and getting ready for a long paddle. Even faster teams spent 5+ hours on the river instead of planned 3.5 hours ! We saw one team after 1hour of paddling paddling back to TA4 - they gave up the attempts to carry on the boat on those shallow sections. The Snowy river scene was quite beautiful (again check footage from AJ facebook page!) in the last lights of sun - even the part with shallow water sections was nice and challenging in a way - you had to keep watching where the darkdeep water was and zigzag your way through the river. Probably that makes the actual length of paddling closer to 40km rather than 35. When the night came down I started to loose concentration a bit. It felt like my conciseness felt asleep - I talked to guys in Russian couple of times and had some hallucinations with the lights of the second boat appearing to me like ghosts! This is one of the symptoms of sleep deprivation! Lucky for us there were only 2 CP on this stage and they relatively easy to find - Eliot and Dave were taking the lead in orienteering as a faster boat. The night was warm so it was fine in the jacket - just had to keep paddling and that kept the body warmth going.
We arrive at TA5 around 2am and we look like zombies. I try to assemble my mountain bike and it takes longer than expected. It was so cool to find sandwiches kindly left and prepared by Leigh (Eliot's wife!) - its' great to have a support crew!
We are ready to bike - Eliot asks to take it easy and not race - need to make sure nobody hits the wall and we all make it to the line. I enjoyed this MTB stage - fast fire roads with not much climbing - this terrain reminded me some Russian mountain bike adventure racing scene like Bike-OFF-ROAD race.
The best checkpoint of the race is 33 "FENCE END" this is where we had to follow a promising off-trail track for 1 km, find a bushy creek, make out way with bicycles on the other side. We spent some time find a way where to cross the creek with bikes - all lines seemed challenging enough. At that time searching for this CP this looked like a dodgy idea and I (not the only one in our team) was going to punch Serj in the face when I'm back. But now sitting in the warm place at home writing these lines it seems like a perfect adventure! Eliot did promise to scratch number 33 on Serj's car :)
Going up back to the road I saw a kangaroo jumping far ahead - this is true Australia I thought to myself. What a perfect way to explore the country!
This CP was the last one on mountain bike and we were off another 15km into our last TA7 for the last stage. The was a true orienteering challenge finding a trail following the lake swamp so not to walk on the bikes along the beach for 2 km.
The last TA7 was placed behind a long Beach shore line. It was a nice orienteering challenge to find a barely noticeable track on the swampy side of the sand dune to ride on. Otherwise you need to walk for 2km along the beach in the sand which is definitely very slow.
Thanks to Eliot we managed to find this route and got the the last transition in time. I got some awesome shots of team riding on the hard sand of the swamp side if beach.
We arrived at the last transition at 9:30am. The official race course closes at 10am butI knew Serj will let us race till the finish line. The ethical challenge that I faced was around the fact that if we are still racing then I miss my return flight to Wellington on the same day ( I should have bought the flexitime charge option for thus ticket but it never occurred to me that we might be racing for 48 hours the 36long course). The camaraderie and team spirit took the priority - not sure you can quantity that vs $240 fare for the ticket change. After the race Serj explained me the mistake - he was assuming that every stage will be run by a fresh group of people and he forgot to include the transition times, which can get quite long considering the assembling / dissembling the bikes on most of them.
Anyways here we are alone in the last transition zone and were met by Leigh( great support team once again, I was also happy I'm not the only one kiwi out there!). The AJ team has sent a volunteer just to pick-up our bike boxes from TA. Special service!
Last stage is 10km trek along the beach. I felt like running, my quads definitely didn't had enough exercise as they used to. But I was happy to fast walk with team chatting about everything with team-mates.
Eliot was sharing that his hallucinations included seeing a camel in the woods, he was happy one finally along the beach. He also promised to run for the last kilometre of the race!
When I saw a silhouette of a tent I thought it was finish and made my team run. Thus turned to be a tent for that camel so we had another 2 km till finish. It was nice finally meet Serj and cross the finish line with a deserved bottle of champagne. We turned to be only the 5th team making all the stages (except the expected rogaine stage 5) - really impressive performance for a random group of people of different level of experience.
We had a great last 48 hours together and become reacher in some sense. The fact that we made rot the finishing no matter what is a great feeling of accomplishment that you can not buy for $240.
Thanks Adventure Junkie for another awesome event, especially Serj&Maria, all the volunteers and other fellow racers (2 or 3 teams who have quit the race have shared their nutrition with us which absolutely amazing! ). Special thanks to Tiger Adventure for pulling out an awesome team - I'm happy to have met you all! Dave, you are a great organiser and coordinator; Paul - you were simply amazing on the kayak, from zero to hero, have made 60 km of tough paddling and no complaining at all, we will make sure you spend more time in the MTB Park with a lot of technical jumps next time ; Eliot - great navigation (managed to get some tricky CP quickly!) and humour!