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Travails in Tuggeranong

3 August 2008

3 August 2008

Travails in Tuggeranong

Early in 2008, the hard men of the TriHards took the view that it would be appropriate to get some more navigation experience under their belts prior to the 2008-9 AROC season. Consequently, we joined the ACT Rogaining Association with the view to participating in some regaining events, thinking they would make excellent practice. The August event was scheduled to be a short (five hour) rogaine, which the team foolishly thought would be well within their limited abilities, totally undeterred by the fact that we had not completed a five hour AROC race, where we have the luxury of changing disciplines throughout.

So, by 8:30 on the 3rd, Mr GPS and the Cyborg arrived at Tuggeranong Homestead near Calwell shops, bellies full of Maccas brekky and coffee, with the secret stash of Gu, eager and ready to get underway in their first ever rogaine. The generous volunteers provided us with our maps, course description and course setters notes, as well as letting us know that we could ask anyone in a flouro orange vest for hints and tips.

While the other teams were busy setting up their card tables and fold-up chairs we, the hard men of the TriHards, plotted our course on the bonnet of the adventure truck. It may not have been as flat or comfortable as a card table and chair, but we still had some warmth from the engine seeping through. This led to the all-important discussion as to whether or not we should wear our jumpers and beanies into the race, or take them off prior to the start. Fortunately, as it turns out, we decided to take them off at the start, for it turned out to be a grand day, and such luxuries would merely have slowed down our cracking pace.

We were not, of course, put off by the sheer scale of the map, with checkpoints dotted from the northern side of Wanniassa, down to the mountains behind Theodore, and everywhere in-between.

We decided on a leisurely route, winding through Richardson, Chisholm, Gilmore then onto Macarthur and Fadden, before turning into Gowrie, up to Monash, then a quick duck over the walking bridge to Erindale for lunch and coffee. In the comfort of a café we could consider the remaining route for the race, most likely through Wanniassa and out to Lake Tuggeranong to gather a few checkpoints on our way back to the Hash House, five suburbs away.

Bold (or should we say, brainy) Bas thought it might be a good idea to ask one of the volunteers to have a look at our planned route, as no doubt they would have a much better idea of what we were in for than we did. This proved to be a wise move, as we discovered that the checkpoints were in fact weighted, the first digit in the checkpoint’s number was one-tenth of the checkpoint’s value. So, checkpoint 22 was worth 20 points, 32 was worth 30 points and so on. This made sent us back to the drawing board to replan our route, though it did not change a whole lot.

Planned route
Our planned route in blue, and our actual route in black (well, the black starts the deviation from our plan).

With our planned route set out, we packed our gear and prepared to race. We had remembered most things, except the sunscreen. Fortunately, camped next to us was a seasoned veteran rogainer from NSW, who had entered this year’s event with this son, who happily shared some sunscreen. We forgave the fact that he drove a Subaru, not only for his generosity, but also the bumper stickers which we considered negated the Volvo driver factor (Sponsor a lion during World Youth Week in Sydney).

At approximately 9:50 we made our way down to the race briefing to hear any last minute instructions and tips which may be provided, and collect our control card, hanging from a line. Included in the briefing was the opportunity to synchronise our watches to “Rogaine Time”.

Notice how we actually look happy at the start...

And so the race was on, some teams set out with a bold, fast pace, others with a measured jog, and the TriHards walking (warming is up good for you!) Our first destination was checkpoint 21, which was north through the paddock, climbing an electric fence which, fortunately for all, seemed to be disconnected, over a drain and into Richardson. By the time we were in Richardson, we’d begun a well-paced jog (because we’d look silly just walking through the suburb carrying maps and bladder backpacks).

Checkpoint 21 was relatively simple to find from following bike paths; and within moments we had our first letter marked on our control card, and our first 20 points! From there, we backtracked up the bikepaths, and streets to checkpoint 40; at this stage we saw a number of other teams running around, so knew we were on the right track. We were still jogging at a reasonable pace at this stage (remember the TriHards Motto#2: “It doesn’t matter where we finish, so long as we finish!”)

Mr GPS’s excellent navigation came into play in the quest for checkpoint 20; which was situated in a nature strip between rows of houses in Richardson. The clue was the number of an electricity pole in the strip, which Bas found in short order, so we could (foolishly) head straight to checkpoint 34.

I used to live up the road from Simpson’s Hill in Chisholm. I used to get up and walk my burley dogs up and down that hill at 6.00 a.m. every morning; until I grew tired of all the dogs in the neighbourhood barking as we roamed past. So, really, I should have known better. It’s not that big a hill to go up, and certainly wasn’t the biggest rise in the race, it sapped us early in the race - which not only chewed through our vital Maccas brekky, but burnt into the hidden reserves of the previous night’s pasta.

After burning so much energy collecting the mere 30 points from Simpson’s Hill, we wound up walking most of the way down the hill and out to checkpoint 79, which was located on a track which ran parallel to the Monaro Highway, behind Chisholm; here again we were on familiar ground, as this was the way that Mighty Jack and Blistering Ben led me up once they were sick of the racket of the Simpson’s Hill walks in the morning.

More confident on the familiar path, and with the pasta coming online, Mr GPS and I began to jog our way up to checkpoint 59, which was easily found by following the dirt trail up a slow rise towards Chisholm ridge. The path led to an underpass and moved out to a gated entry to a reserve; where Jack and Ben used to play in the ferns, so this area was all easy and familiar ground for me.

Another 50 points beckoned, with checkpoint 50 in at Chisholm Primary school, and I was able to relate to Mr GPS yet another story from my past as we jogged down the bike path towards the school (neglecting to permit the thought enter our minds that we were actually jogging downhill, so sooner or later, we’d have to run back up). I had previously been down this bike path with my ever faithful dog Ben, whilst on a mission to find Jack who had been scared of fireworks one Queen’s Birthday long weekend. I foolishly thought Ben may be able to lead me to Jack, but in fact he was just leading me on a nice, long walk for him in the drizzling rain. I was considering the similarity between following my dog around nowhere, and entering in a regaining event, where organisers effectively have us chasing little red balls all over a map.

Checkpoint 50 was easy to find, as was the school; we had collected it and said hello to another team as we raced away (at a nice, steady jogging pace) to checkpoint 92 situated back out on the track we left (though further north); up another hill... This section took us fairly close to Jeff’s place; though he was scheduled to be moving out that weekend, so calling in for a coffee was out of the question.

Checkpoint 92 was hanging from a tree, near a relatively dry “water course”, and was the first checkpoint we had come across thus far during the race which had a hole punch; so we punched the card, and gazed to the distant checkpoint 62, which would be our last checkpoint on the south side of Isabella Drive and moving from the teenaged suburbs of Chisholm, Gilmore and Richardson to the more-middle aged suburbs of Fadden and Macarthur.

Rather than follow the road around to checkpoint 62, Mr GPS and I decided to go cross-country; this saved a lot of time and distance; and within moments we had another letter on our control card, and were ready to head across the busy Isabella Drive (we were in no way tempted to cut slices of the cactus). Knowing this was a busy road, and that now our pasta from the previous night had run out (along with the cardboard Macca’s brekky of the morning), we decided to dip into the Gu reserves; Mr GPS taking a choc-mint hit, and I went for the orange burst (just like a jaffa, only gu-ey!)

Gu’d up and re-energised, we jogged across Isabella Drive into Macarthur where we were met with yet another rise atop a dirt track. This checkpoint was a yellow concrete marker on the hill, the type they put on the top of “small” hills rather than trig posts; so we climbed a fence, and scaled a hill to get that checkpoint, and noted the time, around 11.00; we thought we were doing quite well, only one hour into the race and onto our second section.

Checkpoint 42 was yet another power pole number, so we traversed a dirt track in the hill area behind Fadden, admiring the houses in the nicer neighbourhood (and nothing one house in particular, which was large enough to cater for a rugby league team, as well as all their groupies!) The clue for this checkpoint was the power pole at the south junction of the fence; we saw a close number, and continued along the track rather than taking the obvious choice (obvious, knowing the course setters of these rogaines) of going further uphill to the power poles. Realising our mistake, we backtracked and located the power pole up the hill near a water tower. But one always has to work hard to discover the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

It was about this time that we started to discuss the merits of wearing lightweight hiking boots on rogaines, as we began another jog through the scrub on our way to checkpoint 54, running downhill once more. As we gathered this checkpoint (a park near a school), we began talking to a local; somehow we’d lost some time and it was creeping up to 11:30 and we were realizing that four hours was a long time to go without a coffee by anybody’s standards. Unfortunately, the lady we bumped into confirmed our fears, that the Fadden shops do not in fact have a café which serves coffee. Disappointed, we trekked uphill in search of checkpoint 80.

Travelling up the hill, and along the roads at a leisurely, coffee-withdrawn walk, we marveled at the spectacular houses with handbrake-testing driveways. Bas assured me that there were houses on Sydney’s north shore with much more challenging driveways; which just means to me that people spend a lot of money for a really hard carpark!

Coming over a small rise, we ran into John and his partner, Emily. John is a seasoned rogainer, so it boosted my confidence knowing we were still in the same region as he. We swapped hellos, and they set off at a jog down a street, while we walked down the remainder of the nature strip on our way to checkpoint 22 near the Fadden Pines. It is a little-known rule of regaining that should you see another team, you should immediately break into a brisk jog, and pretend you’re not absolutely exhausted.

We actually managed to get a bit of a jog up as we crossed through Fadden Pines for checkpoint 22; and seeing Gowrie shops near (with the potential of coffee beckoning), we decided that Erindale was far too long to wait for coffee, and in fact that we probably wouldn’t make it to Erindale and back at any rate. So, from the Pines, we made a B-Line for the shops (fortunately, in this instance, I could navigate as I knew exactly where they were).

I grew quite despondent after crossing the oval, and making a detour from our race route, only to see there is no café at the Gowrie shops! Fortunately, Bold Bas was undeterred by the lack of an actual café and headed into the local IGA to discover they had a relatively decent automatic coffee machine, which required $2.80 in exact change. Bas had just the right amount on him (which made me question his dedication to the race; sure it was good that he had the exact change on him, however, how serious can he be about the race if he’s carrying the extra weight of loose change?) Not having change, I decided to grab a Solo and break a $5 to get change for the machine. I had drunk the Solo (because I had a big man’s thirst!) by the time Bas’s coffee was done, and put my money in for a coffee (all too late I realized there was an extra shot button on the machine). We then sat in the gutter in front of the shop, having a quick break, comparing notes on where we hurt, and drank our coffee.

It was at this point that we were coming to the realisation that there was no way we could make it to Erindale, and that we didn’t have much fuel left in the tank. The coffees were helping, but the Gu was wearing out and there was a long way to go. Mr GPS brought the map to bear, and we began to plot our alternative route. The new plan was to gather checkpoint 68 atop Gowrie Hill (sure, it was a climb, but it was on our way to Monash, and worth 60 points), from where we would head into Monash and gather as many checkpoints as we could prior to returning along the drains running behind Monash to the Hash House.

So, coffees finished, and somewhat refreshed for the task ahead, we set off at a mighty walk up to the top of Gowrie Hill for checkpoint 68 again in the middle of a park. From there, we followed streets down to the intersection of Sternberg Crescent and Ashley Drive, where we moved onto bikepaths to wind up crossing beneath Ashley Drive via an underpass; then it was back up a hill to the top of Monash to retrieve checkpoint 70 from another park where a young family were making the most of a beautiful day.

Although he was tired, and sore, Mr GPS’s navigation was certainly not faulty, as he plotted a course for us down to checkpoint 45, another street light number. By this time the race had certainly taken it’s toll on us, it was getting close to 1:00, and we were progressing at a relatively healthy walk sometimes, though much more rarely, breaking into jogging.

Checkpoint 65 had us coming out of the south side of Monash, and onto the drain which runs right down from behind Richardson to Lake Tuggeranong. We were looking for a ladder in the drain, near a bike bridge crossing; it was here that we ran into the NSW Rogainer and his son, who still looked fresh, energetic and as though they were having a great time of it. I was so tired, I had to actually get on the ladder and walk up it to count the steps!

We had another quick break at the bridge to gather our senses once more, and headed off for checkpoint 35, which was at a school in Bonython; which the father and son team had beaten us to; though we didn’t mind (Motto #2!) With plenty of time left (it was now a little after two) we decided we could make it to checkpoint 52 for an extra 50 points - we were eager to get over 1,000 points on our first rogaine.

Checkpoint 52 had us crossing paddock, and walking up a dirt road towards the Tuggeranong Weather Station, which was a fairly simple task after all else we had done. The good news was that we were now consistently travelling along flat ground, so the going was much easier, though we were having some problems, particularly as Bas had worn half his foot out on the race.

For a brief moment, we considered going after checkpoint 69; we had enough time, but neither of us had the energy for the detour, so we headed down the road, and back into the drains on our way to checkpoint 33 and the Hash House. We could see many other teams beginning to converge; it was somewhat uplifting to see the other teams were having as much trouble moving at this stage as we were!

After climbing another few fences (here’s a hint when doing cross country races with bladder backpacks on-duck lower!) we made it to checkpoint 33 which was attached to a stump in a paddock. From there were were only a few fences away from the Hash House and free bbq!

Along the way I tallied our checkpoints on the control card four times, coming up with different answers twice, so I stuck to the figure that came up most often, 1020. We thought this sounded like a reasonable score as we returned at 2:45p.m. - with 15 minutes to spare before the close of the race.

As we neared the finish line, Mr GPS found some reserve energy, and we both broke into a slow jog, managing to finish with a semblance of style!

The organisers of the race had put on a bbq as part of the race. Exhausted as we were, we managed to walk around to the bbq and help ourselves to a few sausage and chop sandwiches whilst we waited the return of all of the teams and the final results.

It turns out a veterans team had managed to whip everyone, obtaining a score up over 2,400. The TriHards came 35th in a field of 66, which would put us around median (my counting was still incorrect, and we achieved 1,120 points!) We were very happy with that effort for our first rogaine. We covered 23km in the race, with Bas wearing out a foot on the way, though all in all, it was a very good experience.

Race Stats

Date: 3 August 2008
Times: Registration: 8:30 a.m., Race start: 10:00 a.m., finish: 3:00 p.m.
TriHards: Bas (Mr GPS), Chris (Cyborg)
Organiser: ACT Rogaining Association
Location: (Hash House) Tuggeranong Homestead

Lessons Learned

Take Breaks

All in all, we would probably have been a lot better off if we had’ve actually stopped for a break or two. This would not only have given us the opportunity to refuel, but rest as well. Once you go past that fatigue point, there’s no going back. Towards the end of the race we were dead men walking.

Take Care of Pain Immediately

Bas’s foot was hurting for a while, and it was only when we stopped at the end that he noticed he’d actually bled through his sock. It would have been a much better idea to have a look, and perhaps put a dressing on it as soon as possible.

Take Time on Route Planning

All in all, our route was pretty good, and comparing it to the winning route, it was very similar (save that they covered much more distance). However, in retrospect, going up Simpson’s Hill in Chisholm was a bit too much effort for the 30 points resulting from getting up there.

Bring Boots

Running shoes were great for the road sections, however a lot of this event went through nature reserve and scrub. Boots would have been much better, and in the end more comfortable footwear for this event. Note here, however, that I’m talking about light hiking boots, not heavy duty boots!

Bring Camera

It really was a very nice day, and we climbed a lot of hills, a camera would have been great to take some pics of the places we went.