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TriHards Survive the Zombie Holocaust!

19 May 2010

19 May 2010

TriHards Survive the Zombie Holocaust!

Residents of Wentworth Falls were alarmed to discover zombies roaming their streets on morning of 2 May, 2010; fortunately they weren’t the dangerous, fast moving, angry zombies of movies such as 28 Days Later; not, these were the classic, slow-shuffling zombies in the Romero style. They were, however, slightly different; rather than shuffling along with their standard plea for “brains”, these white-clad zombies were shuffling through the streets moaning “bacon.... bacon....” We sent our bravest, most intrepid investigative reporter to the scene, where some disturbing secrets were revealed.

The Wilderness Society, frustrated by lobbying ineffectual governments recently began a new program to save the wilderness; an experiment to create a wilderness army; needing little care and attention, and readily accepting dubious orders. They were going to make zombies. And not just any sort of zombie - adventure racing zombies. Small crews of highly agile, self-sufficient people, capable of covering all sorts of terrain in a very short time, and generally able to follow vague directions for even vaguer purposes - seeking only the rewards of a punched card or a “Well done” upon arrival at a check point.

The TriHards Wild Endurance Team
The TriHards Wild Endurance team: McFly, Cowboy, Doc Runaway and the Cyborg

So they partnered the master crew at AROC sport to create the Wild Endurance. A long distance, single-discipline event specifically designed to take willing adventure racers to their physical and mental limits through hours of mind-numbing trudging over tremendous distances; wearing down their spirit, until they reach such a point that even the astonishing views that may be found in the Blue Mountains do not inspire them. Until they no longer care about life, death, or another set of stairs. Until they became a mindless, shambling, shuffling mass of the undead...

Doc Runaway with the Koala
Its almost the same photo as last year!

And the TriHards volunteered for this duty. They signed on, of their own free will, for the zombification process. Nobody called it that, of course. They called it a “challenge”. They even raised money for the Wilderness Society to assist in covering the costs of the experiment! The crack international TriHards team lined up at the start, along with 105 other teams on 1 May, 2010, for what they thought was a long-distance endurance event, little suspecting the process they were truly being subjected to.

There was McFly-the New Zealand entrant, frequent bush bolter and only TriHard to complete the event in 2009; fortunately this year he had foregone the latex. In addition, he had elected to wear Vibrams. Doc Runaway joined him, after making it most of the way through the 2009 event; looking splendid in her Salomon Xt-wings; she had elected to leave her Vibrams at home for this event and was running in “real” shoes. The Cyborg had also returned to tempt his fate and face his demons of 2009, his feet more strapping than flesh as he squeezed them into his own pair of Vibrams. The new import for the team was the Cowboy-fresh from completing a high-altitude marathon in America, and eager to see what challenges the Blue Mountains had in store for them.

Leg 1: Dunphy’s Campground to Katoomba Oval

At 8 o’clock they were off, pausing briefly so that the Doc, in what is fast becoming a tradition, could get another picture with the giant koala, before setting about the first climb of the day. On the way they meet the hard boys of team Nitro, who had recognised the TriHards from their training blogs and website. The TriHads momentarily considered that team Nitro may be fans, but Facebook begs to differ.

Spirits were high as team Nitro sped off, and the TriHards continued joking their way along the firetrails, maintaining a strong, steady pace and continuing the pavlovian conditioning that the Doc had set up, ensuring the TriHards drink every 20 minutes, and eat every 40.

Team Nitro
Team Nitro!

As they approached Narrow Neck, the wide, flowing firetrails gave way to goat track that wound up to the ridge; towards the Tarros Ladder. This year there was an option, the zombie candidates could either queue to climb the ladders, or sneak around the back of the rocks. With a 10 minute wait at the ladders (and after having done them last year anyway) the TriHards elected to explore the new path behind the boulders, and queue at the top of the ladders for some rock scrambling. McFly and the Cyborg were particularly enjoying this scrambling over rocks in their grippy Vibrams!

TriHards taking the back way
TriHards sneaking around the back.

Then the rocks and goat track gave way to rocky path, which wasn’t so much fun in the Vibrams. But the Cowboy and Doc were happy, and they all made swift progress at a steady pace-and McFly wasn’t running off every 10 minutes. Rather, he was slowing down to join other teams and espouse to them on the benefits of the Vibrams! If only he’d had a suitcase, he would’ve made a great travelling salesman! Fortunately, they tired of his sales spiel before too long, and the TriHards made excellent time to the Golden Staircase. As they reached the bottom, and navigated their way through the landslide, the team actually started speeding up.

Faster and faster they moved, now up to the speed of a brisk walk, along the shady, rock and root-strewn path towards their goal of Katoomba Oval; until the Cyborg went down. After striking his barely-protected toes a few times on the way down, he’d finally paid the price for not paying attention to where he was going and put a decent kick into a rock; a little light went off in his head, and he knew exactly what had happened. His toe was broken. He didn’t need to look at it to know. But it was still in the shoe, and so long as they all kept moving, it wouldn’t get too bad! So they moved off again at a furious pace, up the path and into Scenic World, whizzing past tourists and up the stairs.

Three Sisters from leg one
The view of the Three Sisters nearing the end of the first leg.

Then up more stairs.

And even more stairs.

Until they reached the final staircase, then crossed the road.

Officials watched as the TriHards made their way to the checkpoint, somewhat concerned at the Cyborg’s shuffling-had the zombification taken a hold too early? That would give the process away and cause concern for others! But their fears were allayed as he reported his misfortune at stubbing his toe. The TriHards headed down to the Immoral Support Crew, to find that Mr GPS (remembering the previous year and not being as foolish as the others) had elected to join them as support crew, then quickly raced off to fetch coffees for all!

Doc seeing to Cyborgs toe
Nice to have a doctor in the team!

During the break, Doc Runaway examined the Cyborg’s toe, she had that same telling look on her face from the year before when she saw his blistered feet. Not this time. Not this year. This year, they were going to complete it. Neither mentioned quitting. The Doc buddy-strapped the Cyborg’s toe, which was then checked by the Cowboy (another doctor-two doctors on one team!) And so the Cyborg abandoned his vibrams, added even more strapping, two pairs of socks, then wrapped it all up in a pair of trail shoes. No blisters were going to stop him this year!

Leg 2: Katoomba to Queen Victoria Hospital

Refreshed, and raring to go, the TriHards set out once more onto their path where new challenges awaited: this leg was shorter, but the elevation diagram for this leg looked like a “V” that had been smashed into the ground; with a steep descent down behind the Three Sisters by way of the Giant Staircase, followed by descending through use of fire trails. The ground is level for a moment, where Jamieson Creek washes through the bottom of the valley, the resumes a steep climb back up to Queen Victoria Hospital; a climb of approximately 600m over 8km (or, if you like, 8km of climbing... )

But the TriHards were happy. They were confident. They felt much better than they did last year, and were eager to press on. They were even considering abandoning their initial plans of getting some sleep between this leg and the longest third leg!

The first challenge was to dodge through the myriad of tourists milling towards and around Echo Point. Given the work rate of the team, and the amount of time they’d been going without a shower, you would have thought that the crowds would have parted as they passed-but no such luck! They had to dodge and weave, before finally making it onto the staircase.

The huge, steep, staircase. The TriHards would have slid down the handrails, Bart style, save that it would send them flying off into the abyss!

Cowboy came to the rescue on the staircase, showing the TriHards a new dance step-no, this wasn’t any Achey-Brakey line dancing business-it was the Cowboy Shuffle! The TriHards all turned around and took the stairs backwards - which had tremendous benefits on the knees, and saved any of them staring down to see how far they had to go. Unfortunately, it had the side effect that should any of them look up they would be greeted with most unpleasant sights!

The Cowboy Shuffle down the stairs
Do not look up!

In but a few moments they had passed from the bottom of the sisters and into darkness under the canopy of Leura Forest and the TriHards once again set off at a blistering pace, well, without the blisters.

You know, it’s a well known, and well worn plot device to increase drama in a chase or chase scene in a movie by having a young lady sprain her ankle; it’s been used effectively in Dr Who, an unmentionable number of horror movies, and the Goodies in the episode “The Lost Tribe” (Series 2, Episode 11, 1971), where the following exchange took place:

Tim Brooke-Taylor: I don’t know why we have a woman on an expedition like this, anyway.

Bill Oddie: I’ll think of something!

Tim Brooke-Taylor: She’ll sprain her ankle.

Graeme Garden: Now look! Hazel is as fit and healthy as any of us! Just think of her as one of the boys.

So it came as no surprise to the men, and McFly, when Doc Runaway fell down, clutching her ankle. However, Doc Runaway is more Ripley than hapless heroine, and in a few moments was strapped up and back on her feet, leading the TriHards along the garden path!

Now, if you don’t get any of those references: shame on you! The Goodies is a classic bit of BBC Comedy gold from the late 1960s-early 1970s, having the same origins as Monty Python. And everyone should know Ripley-you know, Sigourney in the huge robot thingy saying, “Leave her alone you BITCH!”? No, really? Okay, that’s your homework for tonight. Go home and watch all the Alien movies. Well, maybe just the first two...

Truth be told, the Doc led the way right up to Jamieson River, where the group stopped for some food, drink and to don their vests and headlamps as the sun began to sink behind the mountains. This marked the end of the downhill section of the leg. The rest was uphill. Eight kilometres uphill.

This was the leg that killed half the TriHards in the last year. That very creek is where Mr GPS’s legs locked up, and the Cyborg began to really struggle going uphill, his popped blisters rubbing against the back of his boots. But not so this year. This year they were strong. This year they were prepared; they pushed up. Every single step drained their strength and will to continue. This was part of the spirit-breaking zombification process. But the spirit of the TriHards would prove to stronger.

About four kilometres out from the checkpoint, the wise heads of the TriHards prevailed, and they made the call to the Immoral Support Crew to let her know they were an hour out; and they told her not to bother unpacking-they were taking the unprecedented move to head off course and back to the cabin. About two minutes after hanging up the phone, Doc Runaway lamented not asking the Immoral Support Crew to turn on the electric blankets.

Cowboy and Doc still full of beans
Still plenty in the tank!

Previously, the plan for this stage of the event was to set up tents and get a few hours sleep at the checkpoint. But the Cyborg reasoned that they had paid for an excellent, luxurious house in Katoomba, complete with comfortable, soft pillows and mattresses (not to mention the central heating), which was only 20 minutes drive from the checkpoint. It would take them at least 20 minutes to set up the tents. Wouldn’t such time be better spent in the car?

Just as the TriHards began to relax into their stride once more, there was a new hurdle in their course. No, seriously, it was a hurdle. A gate, standing at least 10 feet tall (okay, maybe four) blocked their path. But the still-strong TriHards made little work of this obstacle and were soon happily checking in at the hospital, before checking out and greeting the Immoral Support crew at the Adventure Truck.

...One of the first things the Immoral Support Crew told the team was, “I switched on all of your electric blankets, so the beds should be nice and warm when we get there.”

Leg 3: Queen Victoria Hospital to the Wentworth Falls Picnic Area

The TriHards embarked relaxed, refreshed, happy and confident on the longest leg of the event at 2am on the Sunday morning; in line with McFly’s plan to get some sleep halfway through the race, rather than fighting off the sleep monsters in the morning. Their spirits were so bright, they had no difficulty with the dim light of their headlamps as they began to trudge down the track. After all, they’d done this section just a few weeks ago as a training walk and get to know you session.

This leg of the course was also intended as the soul-destroyer by the organisers; this leg was that which would finally turn people into zombies. Already tired from doing in the order of 50kms, entrants were more susceptible to mental attack. And such an attack it was. The constant “trudge, trudge” of feet was more regular than the tick-tock of a clock, playing havoc in the sleep-deprived minds of the TriHards as they wandered into the darkness. The initial, relatively level section of firetrails began to feel longer and longer, much longer than during the training walk.

Even having their way lit from behind by a set of Ay Up headlamps on another team didn’t help the situation as the TriHards trudged through the darkest hours of the night; their minds slowly succumbing to the repetitive sound of trudge, trudge, trudge in their darkened surrounds. And their idling minds began to turn to strange fantasies in the darkness. Cravings for forbidden food.

Bacon.

Fatty, streaky, smoky bacon.

Served with eggs. Served on a roll with cheese. Hmm. Bacon.

Conversation stopped. Only that odd, Pavlovian response remained; every 20 minutes when Doc’s alarm sounded, all the TrIHards would place their drinking tubes in their mouth; followed by the trudge, trudge, trudging of their feet over the gravelly road.

The sun began to rise, and yet that craving was there, unfulfilled. The TriHards were shuffling like the living dead, all thinking, “Bacon.... bacon”. Each discussing their own variation as to the best method of preparation. Dawn saw the steep descent to Bedford Creek, where the TrIHards paused and attempted to sate their appetites with fruit and other munchies, but in their advanced state of Adventure-Racing zombification, nothing else would do.

A relay team was startled when they watched the TriHards heading out, the Cyborg trailing behind, his legs having cooled down over break, hunched over and hobbling, calling “Wait Masters, masters, I’m coming!”...

As the sun rose in the clear, blue sky, so too the TrIHards began their long, slow ascent up the Ingar Firetrail. Poor McFly began to heat up, and had to remove his thermals, doing away with that familiar feeling of soft, sinfully pure New Zealand Merino wool pressed tight against his flesh. The others removed their warmer outer layers with far less baying, and continued up the hill.

TriHards still fresh at 70km
Still fresh at 70km!

Getting some rest definitely paid off, and the TriHards seemed to be fresher than other teams who had pushed through, and even finally managed to catch up with, and overtake, team Nitro-who didn’t say anything at all about bacon. Hmm. Bacon.

Conversation began to return with the sunlight, and the team’s attention focused once more on their rapacious appetite for bacon and eggs; they asked the yank amongst them, Cowboy, just what all those Americanisms for cooking eggs mean-you know the ones, “over easy,” “Sunny side up” and so on. By the time the Cowboy had finished explaining these terms to the TriHards, they had arrived at Doc’s Campground-a rocky outcrop on the Ingar fire trail where the TriHards had recently come very close to losing their tents due to the wind-tunnel nature of the environment.

It was here that the Cyborg called ahead on the TriPhone to ensure bacon would be waiting at Wentworth Falls.

Here the Cowboy found his exit wound when he examined his feet. The Cowboy is famous for his motto: “Pain is just weakness exiting the body”. And if the Wild Endurance had taught him nothing else (such as don’t go bush with Kiwis), at least it showed him where the weakness exits his body, leaving a sensitive wound in his foot where a blister used to be.

Doc at the 80km mark
Another pic from last year!

Hearing the sounds of cars, they knew they were close to civilisation, and shortly after the TriHards burst from the bush to roam the streets of Wentworth falls; four dirty, shuffling, bodies, their eyes sunken into their heads, muttering, “Bacon.... bacon..... baaaacon” as they shuffled up the road. Children ran screaming, or they would have if they had have been up and about. In fact, nobody was about. Perhaps they were all hiding in their zombie survivial shelters.

But this brush with civilisation was to be short-lived, and the TriHards turned a corner and descended back into the bush once more, for the final leg of their journey to the Wentworth Falls Picnic area, following the Undercliff Walk.

Unfortunately, in their zombie-like state, the TriHards hardly noticed the fantastic views to be had along the cliff walk, including the breathtaking Wentworth Falls. At about 10:30, after eight hours of trudging, they finally arrived to the smell of bacon cooking at the picnic area. And, just to cap everything off there was an ice-cream man in the carpark!

Wentworth Falls
It probably was a very good view!

Leg 4: Wentworth Falls to Katoomba Oval

So, the TriHards were revived from their zombie state, and set off in relatively high spirits upon the final, and shortest, leg of the Wild Endurance. Just 17km along scenic trails: a cake walk after the efforts of the past hours. Once they managed to tear the ever-jovial McFly, with his irritating constant cheer, away from chatting to others people they headed down the garden path on their way to Katoomba.

Someone once said that Golf is a sport which spoils a perfectly good walk. So there was some irony when TriHards shambled past a golf course, with it’s lush, green ground, eyeing off the golf carts, pondering the difficulty of hotwiring one.

Then it was onto the mean streets of Leura. By mean, we mean of course easy. Leura seemed to have withstood the invasion of McMansions, and had settled for just plain old mansions. Large, regal looking houses lined the street, held securely within their big blocks by tall fences. The disheveled TriHards could only look on in amazement and pray they would not be considered riff raff and quickly kicked out of the gated community around them! Fortunately, they passed from the streets back down to track without incident.

Their hopes were high, they were onto the last walking track of the event! They ploughed on through the cliff top walks, which were providing panoramic views of the spectacular beauty of the Blue Mountains. It is somewhat unfortunate that such views should be on the last leg of the race; for they were truly lost on the TrIHards. Indeed, as they dropped down to walk past the Leura Cascades, rather than looking on at the marvelous natural water feature, the Cyborg was heard to say, “Oh look, more stairs!” Somehow the remaining TriHards managed to resist the urge to throw him over the railing.

Just under five hours from leaving the third checkpoint, the TriHards found themselves back at the Katoomba oval, coming down the finish tunnel. Seeing the Immoral Support Crew heading down to take a photo spurred McFly into a run to avoid the fatal shot. Having a Kiwi leading the pack stirred the rest of the TriHards into action; those famous words of Denton ringing in their ears: “As long as we beat New Zealand” and they were sprinting towards the line (which may well have looked more like the Cliff Young shuffle to observers), completing the event as an entire team of four, shoulder to shoulder, as they had set out to do.

TriHards finishing
TriHards finishing shoulder to shoulder!

So it was that the valiant TriHards overcame many obstacles, and endured 33 hours and two minutes of pain to finally complete the Wild Endurance as a team. Another fantastic achievement to check off their list.

And now we shall never speak of it again.

Many thanks go out to the Wilderness Society and AROC for organising yet another fantastic event and course! It was a great challenge all around!

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