The GeoQuest adventure race probably represents one of the greatest tests of an AR team’s skills and ability on the regular Australian calendar. The location (on the NSW mid-coast), length (up to 50 hours) and incorporation of support crew (allowing a linear race format) give this race a real adventurous feel, and I look forward to it more than any other event each year. In 2012 GeoQuest returned to Forster, the site of the 2009 race where we had a very successful weekend (read the report here). Outwardly I was claiming that we wanted to improve on our 9th place overall from the previous two years, but secretly I was hoping we could crack a top 5 position. A look at the line up suggested any number of teams that were capable of a strong result, and therefore we would need a smooth race to do well.
As if the logistics of getting down to GeoQuest weren’t already bad enough (including support crew, double kayaks, transportation, accommodation, etc), we decided to double the load and enter two teams: Rogue-Samurai and Rogue-Spin City Cycles, both in the all male division. There had been a bit of pre-race banter between the teams as to who was the “sister team” which served to increase the rivalry a notch. It was great, however, to have such an enthusiastic bunch of guys to prepare and train with in the lead up to the race, and to hang out with down at Forster.
Race weekend rolled around soon enough, and map handout revealed a course characterised by what appeared on paper to be a number of tough bike legs split by various intermediate trekking and relatively short kayaking legs. With pre-marked maps and laminator at hand, map mark up was a leisurely affair and we were in bed some time after 9pm.
The 2012 GeoQuest course involved a clockwise loop starting and finishing in Forster, substituting the traditional first leg of ocean kayaking for an island-hoping tubing/running leg through Godwin and Big Islands and over Pipers Bay to Green Point. After our disastrous start to GeoQuest last year, I was keen for a clean start this year, but this didn’t really happen. A minute before the race started, Glenn decided to see if his flipper would fit over his shoes, busting the buckle in the process. By the time we had it fixed we were at the back of the starting pack, and the leaders were already over the water and disappearing around the corner. Then after we finished the first swim, Paul threw his tube onto an oyster where it promptly burst. The look on his face was priceless, but his tube certainly wasn’t the only victim of an oyster’s sharp edge that day. Meanwhile, the other Rogue-Spin City team were having a ripper of a start, finishing the leg in fourth place just behind the main leaders. Obviously their tubing practice prior to the race had paid off, although I’m still not sure if flippers or a paddle was the best option for this leg.
The second stage involved a 14km kayak south down Wallis Lake to Elizabeth Beach. After working our way back through the field and sharing a tube between Sloshy and myself, we hit the water within sight of the other Rogue team, about 8 minutes back. Obviously our paddle combinations weren’t ideal as Paul and I were busting ourselves to stay with the other boat, and we weren’t able to make any time on the other team. We rectified this in the later paddle legs, swapping Paul out for Glenn, and this seemed to work well.
Coming off the kayak leg we were in 7th place overall and 3rd in the mens. We hammered the transition and left in 5th place, passing the other Rogue team, and quickly caught and passed the leading mens team, the Instant Humans, who had over taken us on double skis during the kayak leg. The run took us through a section of forestry that the race passed through in the opposite direction in 2009. On that occasion we were left running around a golf course late on the second night of the race for a very frustrating hour looking for a track that was incorrectly drawn on the map. This section gave us no such trouble this year however. Indeed, the crux of the leg appeared to be a single CP at the highest point of the northern end of Myall Lakes National Park. Located in very thick costal scrub, we were surprised to find ourselves out on our own during this leg. We chanced a couple of unmarked tracks that appeared to be moving in roughly the right direction, and after initial inspection of a false knoll, we nailed the CP before bashing our way out. We were pleasantly surprised and pumped up to find that we had made up 41 minutes on team Mountain Designs on this leg, passing them somewhere in the scrub to move into third position. Meanwhile the other Rogue team was moving with a large pack of racers about 20 minutes back.
Excited by our position in the race despite such a sketchy start we headed out on what was a straight forward and flat ride through Myall National Park to the Bombah Point ferry terminal. At some point towards the end of the ride while I slowed down to flip the map over on the map board, Mountain Designs came steaming past on the Pikey Road Train (they would go on to have the fastest split for this leg). The ride finished at a ferry terminal, but catching a ferry would be too easy for a GeoQuest. Instead, two team members from each team had to swim the 100m, run 500m up the road to collect tubes to construct a raft, then return to the rest of the team to float the bikes over. Unfortunately, when Sloshy and I arrived at the transition area after the first swim we had beaten our support crew there. However, Team Macpac, who were just about to hit the next kayak leg, were kind enough to lend us their tube raft, and we were able to borrow the remaining mandatory equipment from another team. Two swims later, a quick hello to the Rogue-Spin City boys, a punctured tyre and we were all back over at the transition area, by which time our support crew had arrived. We did this leg just prior to night fall, and we spared a thought for the teams that would follow in the dark when the temperature would plummet.
The ride was followed by a short, uneventful paddle where we caught Mountain Designs in the next transition (the Rogue-Spin City boys also worked their way up into 5th place overall by the end of this leg). We spent the next 6 hours trekking a ridgeline over Nerong Mountain, swapping places and stories with Mountain Designs, running into the next TA (which was unsupported) together at around midnight. The following stage was one of the defining legs of the race – a long mountain bike ride through Myall Lakes and Ghin-Doo-Ee National Parks made tougher by the big climbs and dark hours of the morning. This leg is where we encountered the obligatory GeoQuest hike-a-bike. After almost 8 hours of riding, we made the decent off the mountain just as the sun was starting to rise and into the welcoming arms of our support crew who we hadn’t seen for almost 14 hours. The Rogue-Spin City boys were the last to make the full course cut off prior to this stage, ensuring them at least a top 10 position so long as they finished the race (a short course option was available on this leg which cut around 5 hours of riding).
From the bikes, it was back on foot again for a linear rogaine through Wang Wauk State Forest, collecting 4 out of 5 CPs. The absence of a number of trails, which had long since over-grown, made for some tough scrub bashing to get into the controls on this leg. On the third control, we again caught Mountain Designs, effectively closing a 38 minute gap after they had some navigational trouble on that control, but they quickly cleared off to put more time back into us. On the final control for this leg, we met up with the BMX Bandits who had worked their way up into 5th spot overall, but still had to get one more CP on the rogaine. They had obviously closed the gap on us a bit: enough to light a small fire under us and ensure that we pushed hard for the rest of the race.
The next bike leg allowed teams to split into pairs to get the next two CPs. Glenn and I took the easier check point and, unsurprisingly, beat Sloshy and Paul to the meet up point. After the other boys hadn’t turned up after half an hour however, we were starting to play through all the scenarios of what could have gone wrong: a broken bike, a broken body, or worse, they were lost! Turns out that they had navigated fine to the CP circle, but upon not being able to find the flag spent a bit of time relocating and double checking their position. After joining back up, we set off just on dark for what proved to be some of the most fun riding I’ve done in an AR – a ripping down hill followed by fast, graded 2WD country roads where we were able to work the pace line.
With fourth place (and first male team) virtually in the bag we were able to enjoy the final paddle and trek home without any pressure. Pulling into the bank to collect the sole CP from a graveyard on the kayak leg we again caught Mountain Designs just leaving on their boats, having experienced trouble locating the correct grave stone with the punch. The heavens started to
open up as we pulled into the final transition for the final trek, which was complete with a dodgy wooden log crossing over a creek (which Glenn and Paul did on their bums) and a soft sand run down the beach to Forster. Pulling in to the finish line banner under the pouring rain at 1am after just on 41 hours of racing, there was not a single other human being to be seen – these race finishes are always a bit of an anti-climax.
Despite having a great race, I would easily rate GeoQuest 2012 as the longest and hardest Geo of the five I’ve done. This is evidenced by the Team Macpac’s winning time of 35 hours (compared to the typical 28 – 30 hour average winning time for a Geo), as well as the fact that only 6 of the original 27 starting teams collected all the CPs from the full course. The Rogue-Spin City boys had a strong finish to cross the line in 7th place overall and second in the mens division in a time just over 46 hours, finishing in some pretty miserable weather.
Thanks must go to the support crew from both our teams: Mike, Jane, Deb and Woodsy. I’ve always said racers make the best support crew and these guys were awesome. Thanks also to our sponsors Samurai Sportswear and Spin City Cycles. Also a final thanks to Geocentric Outdoors for having such an epic race as a mainstay on the adventure racing calendar. I look forward to seeing what’s in store for next year.
A collection of photos from the race can be found here.
Race maps can be found here.
Results from the live website can be found here.