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TriHards Tiptoe Through the Thorns to Win Sydney AROC!*

29 October 2008

29 October 2008

TriHards Tiptoe Through the Thorns to Win Sydney AROC!*

On a beautiful Sydney Spring Day, the TriHards went down to the park for the first event in the AROC Paddy Pallin Adventure Race Series for 2008-9; emerging five hours later to declare themselves winners before returning victorious to Canberra. The race marked a series of firsts for the hard men of the Trihards: the first classic race they’d actually completed, the first race in their smart new team uniforms, and the first race for Cap’n Charles.

Trihards dressed and ready to go!
Trihards dressed and ready to go!

The day started well; looking slightly overcast and cool, which would present excellent conditions for the race, with the team arriving at the event hub on time, bellies full of Maccas, and ready to go. Bikes were pulled out of the adventure truck, with tyre pressures checked, and all of the gear checked and double-checked prior to placing them ready to go at the bike drop. Then the team handed in their pre-prepared indemnity forms, picked up their showbags, and the team returned to the adventure truck to plan their course.

The TriHards planning bench.
The TriHards planning bench.

Some teams bring card tables. Some have comfortable vans to work from, and a slew of highlighter and contact. The TriHards have a secret weapon for pre-race strategy meetings. The adventure truck, with it’s broad, warm bonnet and excellent sound system, not to mention the stretching bull bar, with all sorts of nooks and crannies to insert body parts whilst stretching.

The classic course did not look daunting whatsoever to the talented team; seasoned from rogaining and running throughout the year. Despite the dire warnings of longer paddle legs, and their failure to bring along their own specialised carbon-fibre, propeller blade super duper paddles (or waring any lycra) the team was confident about the race. They had uniforms. They had cool TriHards t-shirts. They had "Eye of the Tiger" playing on the stereo. They were serious.

The rogaine section of the course required us to gather 250 points prior to 12:15. Failure to reach 250 points prior to 12:15 would mean that any team wishing to leave would have to wait until 12:15 to leave, and finally teams, had to collect at least 150 points to not receive any time penalties prior to departing from the rogaining section. However, the experience of Mr GPS and the Cs over recent rogaining events had provided ample knowledge for plotting an achievable course through the rogaining leg to collect the requisite points.

Having planned the rogaine, their attention turned to the remainder of the race, at which time the s realised more coffee would be required, so the C’s headed over for coffee while Mr GPS remained the adventure truck to continue planning the race.

The Cs got the shits at the coffee van. No, that would be S.H.I.T.s (Super heroes in training), though the Cs did get quite upset at the fact that, not only were the SHITs’ uniforms better than the TriHards, but they also had capes. Capes! No doubt if the TriHards had’ve brought their own specially-made carbon fibre stealth paddles, those capes could’ve been draped before a few and turned into sails for the extra-long kayaking legs. (Not to mention how cool it would look, racing down a chunky bit of single track, with a cape flowing behind!)

[9.45 a.m] Start your engines

With the race start nigh, the team headed down to the starting point, taking note of the abundance of the carbon-fibre racing paddles being bandied about by serious lycra-clad racers. The TriHards were not intimidated. The fun and games began shortly thereafter, with the Cs picking out a kayak, regular paddles, and PFDs, while Mr GPS went to get the timing chip reset before the race. This proved to be the first true challenge of the day, with Tom initially telling everyone to come to the kayak trailer to reset the chip, then using his adventure racing expertise to elude everyone and duck through the scrub to the river bank.

The race briefing was quick and concise, and the team noted Alina’s use of the word "challenging" in association with the rogaine leg. Pffft, the TriHards laugh at challenges!

With 100 teams competing in the classic course, the area was very crowded, so the TriHards geared up and got on the water as soon as they could, knowing full well that this would be a challenging start. The first kayak leg would have everyone starting on the riverbank opposite a small T-intersection of the river and a tributary creek; which would act as a huge funnel on the paddlers, creating a huge, yellow logjam in the tributary. Wisely, the team crossed to the opposite bank and sat, ready and waiting for the start, trying not to be sunk by Kim and her bunch of breakaways. Oddly, none of the black carbon-fibre racing paddles in the pack could be seen; perhaps they were also stealth paddles.

The first paddle leg of the race.
The first paddle leg of the race.

And they were off! The whole field set off at blistering speed towards the small entry of the tributary. But it was not the start, it was only the opportunity to synchronise our watches to race time. C2’s watch was already set to ACT Rogaining Association time, which was 10s behind race time, so there was little point in synchronising (and no doubt, believing they were actually later throughout the race would spur them on!) The late start also caused the time limit on the rogaine leg to be updated to 12:37.

However, the false start provided the team with a valuable lesson; the field really was packed, and they didn’t want to start the race bruised and battered. So, C2 in the steerage section of the kayak, navigated to the back of the pack, waiting quietly, patiently on the bank for the race to start.

[10:12 a.m.] Rubber Ducky Dodgems

A crowded start to the padlde leg
A crowded start to the padlde leg.

Now all were off and racing. The pack closed in across the river, with kayaks bumping and grinding all the way; this is where the failings of the grand plan of starting at the rear and shoot forward became clear. With every stroke, the TriHards were pushing the kayaks in front ahead, and themselves behind. Nevertheless, the persistent TriHards began to manoeuvre through the pack and work their way forwards, dodging other bright yellow kayaks along the way (inspired by the speedboat with a water skier racing up the river towards us). It may have been faster to tie a rope to the kayak, and drag it running across the other team’s kayaks. Though, despite being hit by a thousand yellow blades, not a single black, carbon-fibre stealth propeller blade struck the team kayak or paddler.

Despite never having paddled together, let alone in a big yellow bathtub, the TriHards settled into an easy rhythm, overtaking teams with their constant, steady strokes. The kayak even tracked well up the river, with the only steering required to dodge the yellow mines, and occasional intruding foliage. Once the TriHards had moved through the bulk of the pack, by about the bridge at the halfway point of the paddle, there was time to admire the scenery; it truly was jungle right down to the riverbank, save for the occasional mansion.

The crowded boats heading to the creek.
The crowded boats heading to the creek.

The low cloud burnt off and the sky cleared to a deep blue, heating up the day and the weary paddlers as they pressed on and on; yet their rhythm did not falter. And within 45 minutes, the first Transition Area was reached. Diver Chris, in the heat, and with something on his back, suddenly thought he was diving again, rather than taking part in an adventure race, and rolled off the back of the kayak. It took a few moments to realise the contraption in his mouth was the drinking hose for his bladder pack, and not a regulator, and the visibility was really bad before he popped back up to the surface to help push the kayak in.

[TA1: 10:52 a.m.]

The first Transition, and Mr GPS went to mark the timing chip as the C’s stowed the kayak and paddles (noting that none of the stealth paddles could be seen). With the word "challenging" ringing in their ears, the confident TriHards set off into the lush, green scrub of Mitchell Park. Knowing the conditions of the start, and having full confidence in their abilities, the TriHards determined they would depart before the cutoff and avoid the rush.

[10:55 a.m.] “T” is for Terror

With a clear path to an easy 265 points marked out on the map during their planning session in the morning, the TriHards set about their task with gusto. Checkpoints fell in short order; A (5, 5) was easily found, as were B (20, 25), C (30, 55), G (5, 60), and J (25, 85). The team then crossed through a scrubby gully to collect M (30, 115) and taking some shortcuts through bush, and doing some bouldering to get R(5, 120) and S (25, 145).

Capt’n in the scrub
Capt’n in the scrub

Almost half the points in the bag, the Mighty TriHards were running confidently over the ridge, and into thicker scrub in search of checkpoint T. Mr GPS navigated the team to T’s location, but it was nowhere to be found. The team spread out, but could not find it. T.... T Oh the letter T, which starts such words as Terrible, and even worse, is used as the alliterative member in such horrible names as “The Three Tenors”.

Fortunately, the TriHards (whose name also begins with a T) kept their cool, and abandoned hope of finding checkpoint T after but a few minutes. Rather, they came up with an alternative plan, under Mr GPS’s guidance, of finding their bearings once more at the intersection of the creek and fence, at which point checkpoints P (for Points!) and L (for Lucky) would provide enough points to cover the missing Trial of Checkpoint T.

Navigation in Action.

Within moments, under Perfect navigation, the team reached checkpoint P (15, 160), then moved swiftly to Lovely L (10, 170) before backtracking to O (20, 190) for Original Course. But the scrub was getting thicker, and the word “challenge” began to ring in the team’s ears as they searched for checkpoint N (for Not to be Found), which was located around a cliffline. Fortunately, the Captain came up with the tremendous idea of spreading out (though remaining within sight and race guidelines! Honest!) with the Captain running high on the ridge, C2 running the middle and Mr GPS running low. This excellent strategy led to N (30, 220), H(20, 240) and finally checkpoint E (30, 270) falling in short order.

Enough points gathered, the team prepared to run back to the TA, though somewhat tired after the experience. The Captain asked after the time, at which point C2 told the team they had 15 minutes to get back to the checkpoint. Having experienced the timing of C2 before, the Captain asked if that was 15 minutes C2 time, or 15 minutes before the cutoff...

The team arrived at the TA by 12:15, on track with the original time and checked in with one of the attendants at the TA, taking enough time for Mr GPS to set the timing stick, and gearing up for the kayak leg. This included grabbing a kayak, PFD and paddles (though, none of the custom stealth paddles were anywhere to be seen - not that the TriHards would use such contrivances.

Finally, the TriHards took on the paddling secret weapon - Gu, the secret ingredient of paddling legs. Gu is the fuel that drives the engine of the yellow bathtubs.

[12:15 p.m.] Rubbery Ducky, you’re the One!

And the team was off and racing, paddling at the tail end of a short conga line of yellow logs running down the creek. Once more the mighty TriHards settled into their steady rhythm, and made quick work of the final 2km-ish paddle leg; though not having to dodge other boats certainly helped.

Paddling at the end of the line.
Paddling at the end of the line.

Not rushing, and concentrating on saving their energies for their goal of actually finishing the race, rather than being carried away in the excitement of trying to actually beat other teams, the TriHards took their time on the paddle. Steady, even strokes kept the kayak straight and true on the water, while the boys had time to look at their surroundings, marvelling at the tranquil bush, and large properties on the banks of the creek.

Twin challenges met the team at the next transition area; steep banks with soft, muddy water, and novice teams attempting to get into the river for their kayak leg. The steerage passenger ejected from the kayak to push it up to the bank, only to find that pushing on the kayak resulted in sinking in the mud at the bottom of the creek! Nevertheless, the TriHards were soon out and ready to progress to the next TA.

[12:45 p.m.] A sign of things to come....

As Mr GPS went to set the timing chip, the C’s took the kayak to the loading area, only to find that the novices were coming the other way at the same time, making for a very confusing area. A couple of nice young ladies from a novice team offered to take the tried and true TriHards yak, only to give up on the idea about 10metres up, which meant the dedicated C’s had to go back, retrieve it, and carry it even further to the stack, though they were richly rewarded in seeing a stack of the mysterious stealth paddles, stacked neatly away, and wet, to help with the impression that they had been used (no doubt they were just sprayed with the sweat of passing racers).

Gear stowed, the team set off once more under Mr GPS’s directions, to checkpoint 1; returning to scrub, and bumping into confused novices. They kept asking about checkpoint 19 which, as it turned out, was classic checkpoint 1, so the TriHards helped a few of them on the way as they scrambled up a scrubby hill in search of checkpoint 2. Then the team set off for checkpoint 3, which was cleverly hidden in dense scrub.

A nice stroll in the grass.
A nice stroll in the grass.

As they emerged from the bush, chasing after checkpoint 4 that first chilling omen of things to come came into view. A team travelled past on their bikes, already onto the final leg. All three team members were pedalling bikes on flat tyres. The roadside down to checkpoint 4 was littered with more advanced teams on the side of the road, their bike in the upturned position, desperately changing tyres; it was beginning to look reminiscent of the beach scene from Saving Private Ryan, with all the battered remains of bikes, hopes and dreams, scattered about the tracks.

The TriHards were, of course, unafraid. They had tubes. They had kits. They had warning, and ran with confidence down to the next transition area, on track to finish. With an easy hour and a half there was plenty of time for the 13.5km bike leg, which should prove no challenge for the boys after all their training efforts at Mt Majura on the cold Canberra winter mornings.

[1:35 p.m.] Always Carry a Rubber

After seeing the carnage on the roads, the valiant TriHards elected to carry their trusty steeds over the grass at the bike drop and down to the dirt path leading to checkpoint 5, passing bike repairing teams on the way with mixed feelings of sympathy and dread; on track to finally achieve their goal of completing a race, a classic course. The strategic-thinking TriHards would not be tempted by the small time saving of taking shortcuts over potentially thorny grass, or through lantana-ridden scrub; knowing full well that the few seconds saved would easily be lost in the minutes it takes to change a tyre...... So, when seeing teams taking the quick shortcuts to get checkpoints 6 and 7 a little faster, the wiser heads of the TriHards remained on the roads and tracks.

Mr GPS riding.
Mr GPS riding.
The Capt’n during the ride leg.
The Capt’n during the ride leg.

The bike leg was going very, very well, with checkpoint 8 falling easily. And then the team hit grass. Cricketers play on grass. Footballers play on grass. Tennis players play on grass. Golfers play on grass. Sports people with an intense fascination of little balls like to play on grass. But this was a riding leg. Riding is done on dirt, on tracks, dodging trees, flying down hills and through gullies, trying to protect not one, but two balls all the way. If the team were to fall off their bikes on the grass, there would be no battle scars, no proud war stories, just grass stains to be washed out of clothes!

Nevertheless, the TriHards rode on, through verdant grass fields. Mr GPS diligently led the team to all the checkpoints in short order, never failing the team (unless, of course, one was to ask him whether to go left or right; Mr GPS only works in North, South, East or West!).

The long day, and riding on grass was taking it’s toll on the team; at one stage they were considering picking up some thorns so they could put them in their tyres for extra traction on this unknown green material. The TriHards are Canberra-based, a place where grass (save for covering our national institutions) is little more than a vague memory.

C2 riding.

Finally, with checkpoint 15 collected, the grass leg was over, and the tired, but not beaten, TriHards began to head back towards the more familiar dirt tracks; their energy levels and enthusiasm lagging. They were on track; it was approaching 2:30, which meant there was half an hour left to collect checkpoints 16 and 17, though they were still far, far away.

There was only one possible remedy for these doldrums, one cure which may lift the team’s spirits and energy levels. They had to dig into their reserve Gu supplies. TriBerry Gu for the TriHards; the ultimate finisher.

And it did the trick; the boys rode on for checkpoint 16, and by 2:55 had reached checkpoint 17! All that was left was the return to HQ, and the race was done! (With no punctures!) The team headed up the road into the HQ, then along the dreaded grass to cross the finish line with a final time of 5:05:59 - they had done it, they had completed an AROC classic! All checkpoints were gathered, all TAs were visited, the race was done!

[3:05 p.m.] Victory!

The mighty, victorious TriHards crossed through the finish line in a blaze of glory, then filled their empty water bottles with some much-needed water before heading down to the adventure truck to stow the bikes. And, showing just how quickly pain and trouble is forgotten, C2 removed his soaked shoes to walk back to the HQ, only to discover there were indeed thorns in the ground, which quite happily punctured his soft, soggy feet which had been in wet shoes all day.

Trihards relaxing at the finish!

All that was left to do was fill the holes in their bellies with the rapidly dwindling supply of sausage sandwiches, pack up and head for home And, of course, such tremendous navigators as the TriHards, fresh from navigating all through Cattai National Park, wouldn’t possibly have a problem with finding their way out of Sydney...

* Win, of course, being a very relative term. After all, one man’s winning is another’s 50th place. However, being dedicated IT people, the TriHards comfortably defined the scope of their Sydney project prior to the event, and in light of such definitions achieved the goal of the race. That would be a win. Of course, if you consider winning a race to be coming first place, then we suffered a shocker of a defeat, however you should bear in mind that (a) we had no high-tech stealth paddles and (b) we had no lycra. And, in reality, you should thank us for that. The world is not ready for the TriHards in lycra.

Race Stats

Date: 25 October, 2008
Location: Cattai National Park, Sydney NSW
TriHards: Bas (Mr GPS), Charles (Capt’n Charles), Chris (C2)
Results First Paddle Rogaine 2nd Paddle Run Ride
Average: 0:39:47 1:20:16 0:28:53 0:55:58 1:25:39
TriHards: 0:40:41 1:28:12 0:29:16 0:51:03 1:51:20
Placement: 38/100 Overall, 21/38 male
Event website: AROC Sport site

Lessons Learned

We actually made very few mistakes on this outing, and I believe our results provide evidence for that, however there are a few pointers for next time:

Wear Sunscreen

Particularly on the front of the legs on longer paddles!

Always carry a repair kit

Thankfully, we didn’t get any flats, well not until Charles removed the thorns from his tyres a day later; but plenty of people did. It’s always good to be prepared with both a spare tube, and a puncture kit should there be more than one puncture. Further, it’s probably a good idea to kit the bikes out with thorn proof tyres.

Start from the Front!

It’s probably a better idea to get ahead early in the kayak leg when they’re as crowded as this one; it would be far better to cop the occasional push from behind than to push other boats forward as we tried to force our way through.

Quit while you’re ahead

We actually did this once during the rogaine leg; rather than waste more time hunting for checkpoint T, we gave up and came up with an alternative plan.

Planning is Everything!

While we did very well in the race, and the checkpoints have to be collected in order, the only route we actually planned was the rogaine leg. We’d probably benefit a bit more by having a good look at the map to start with and come up with routes for all of the legs.