I know, two posts in one night (and this one’s a long one – sorry), but I’ve had internet troubles over the past few weeks so have a bit of a backlog to get through. I’ve just spent an exciting evening reading other people’s blogs and doing online research (other things I’d been missing out on with limited internet). In other exciting news, I’m expecting new gear to arrive in a week or so. Can’t wait until it gets here so I can tell you about it! So, now onto this blog post . . . .
Last year, in August, a friend of a friend was looking for a partner for the WA Winter 24hr Rogaine (also known as the State Championships) and I was dobbed in with the promise that “you’ll have a good chance of winning”. I had strained my back the weekend before so was in pretty bad shape and struggling to walk at the start, exacerbated by rolling my ankle in the first half hour and having my rather uncomfortable North Face gortex shoes. Still, we struggled through for the entire 24hrs, found every checkpoint on our planned route and even added another 3 checkpoints at the end (I’d taken some painkillers and found my second wind by this point!) to walk in with about half an hour to spare and enough points to get us 1st placed Women and 8th overall. We probably covered 70-80km and didn’t make a single major navigational error. I was also massively assisted by the rogaining gods who continued to make checkpoints obvious to me just as we were about to give up or walk the other way. The number of times I was glancing around casually and said “oh, there it is”, or caught the faintest glimmer of reflection in my headlamp at the perfect angle through a tiny gap in the trees and said “is that it?” . . . . . pretty sure we would’ve missed 5+ checkpoints if not for this luck.
This year the State Champs were in June and I had asked the same partner to join me again to defend our title. Actually, I didn’t put it that way as she has been busy at work so unable to keep fit. I didn’t want to scare her off so played down my grand ambitions! We set a worthy, but not overly ambitious, course of about 60km, with the plan to do 35km from midday to midnight, sleep for 4 hours then get up and do the remaining 25km. It still gave us a chance at winning but was achievable with no training or conditioning (clearly still an element of craziness with a statement like that).
We set off, feeling pretty good, and found our first point quickly, even leapfrogging head of a couple of faster teams with some superior navigation through the bush. Unfortunately this went to our heads and we forgot some of the basics of rogaining:
1. Don’t blindly follow the tracks
2. Always check the direction (bearing) you’re walking along, and that you’ve gone far enough
3. Always stick to the basic rules for the first hour or so of rogaining!!
We followed a road which was so clearly and obviously a road that we just assumed it was the one from the map, even though it was going slightly the wrong direction. We did follow rule 4 of rogaining (“Don’t blindly follow another team”), when one team simply crossed the track and kept walking and another stopped and looked at their map in great confusion before also walking away from the track. Ahhhh, if only we’d followed 1, 2 and 3 instead of rule 4!!
Clearly this was not the right track. Actually it wasn’t even marked on the map. We didn’t realise this, then spent about an hour wandering aimlessly around the bush with no idea of where we actually were. Actually, we spent about 20 minutes wandering aimlessly, then set off in an approximate direction of where some pine plantations where, assuming that if we hit them, we could just follow them to a point we could recognise. Luckily this happened, and we got to our 4th planned checkpoint (having missed 2 and 3) with only a small loss of time and an annoying loss in points. We didn’t stress about it, having decided by this point that we’d blown the rogaine and we’d just have to do a “social”.
We were much more careful with our navigations and took quite conservative routes so were very consistent with finding the checkpoints. Even aside from conservative routes our navigation was pretty spot on – at one point we walked straight across a river crossing before realising it because there was only one narrow crossing point and the rest was blackberry and scrub. We assumed we’d get to the river then have to walk along it to the crossing point. Our bearing was so good we walked straight into the crossing point!
We had one other major navigational error later that night, again from following the wrong track!! This was immediately after a water fill-up point and it was straight along a major road so we were a bit too relaxed about it. Again, the track was just a bit off bearing from the correct one. After following it for a while, ignoring all the warning signs (like the plantation being on the wrong side!!) we finally realised we were going the wrong way. At least this time it was very easy to see where we were so, after a short cross-country jaunt through a pine forest, were back on track. Again, some brilliant walking along a bearing got us right to the next point – not easy to do, walking along the side of a hill through a pine forest when the trees don’t line up with the direction you’re walking.
We got back to camp just before midnight having found everything except the 2 missed points at the start and one other one right near the end. We didn’t “miss” it, we simply decided we couldn’t be bothered walking the extra kilometre through the bush for 60 points when we were so close to home. We were doing this socially, remember!
The Hash House has a huge bonfire and hot food all night. I had been eating the entire walk but was still hungry so quickly cleaned up an organic beef burger, sausages (both supplied by the farmer whose land we were using) and soup. I’ve never come in during the night before so have never experienced this “social” side of rogaining. I must say, it was very nice. Then, off to bed for a sleep.
The alarm went off at 4:15am . . . at which point I suggested another 2 hours sleep and my partner was quick to concur! It was a brilliant idea as many of the aches and pains had begun to subside by 6:15am. Plus, the clouds had come over so it was much warmer and the sun was starting to come up.
We set off again at about 7am, full of 2 pancakes and 2 cheese toasties from the hash house (yes, even after all that food and dinner at midnight, I woke up hungry!). Sadly, we again made a stupid navigational error before we even hit our first point. Luckily this only led to lost time rather than extra distance and lost points as we just spent a lot of time looking around and discussing the map. Again, once we got back on track our navigation was excellent. Given our reduced time available, we had set a new course of only 15km for the morning. It all went well and we got in at about 11am, with a whole hour to spare. With a total of about 8 hours off the course it was definitely looking like a “social” effort. My partner didn’t even think we’d be getting into the top 20. Still, when they read the results out they got to 21st overall (2nd women’s) and still hadn’t announced our names. What a shock! 1st Women’s and 13th overall. Not bad for a “social” effort.
It turns out we actually worked harder than we thought though. I had the GPS logger on for the first half of the walk and our planned 35km course actually ended up being 46km! No wonder we were struggling so much to maintain 3km/hr!! This was partly due to following roads, fences or rivers rather than straight lines but I think I’d better check my measuring string before I plan any more walks!! We also didn’t have any help from the rogaining gods this time. At least I didn’t – I think my partner spotted 80% of the checkpoints and I had more false spots than real ones!
As a bit of a gear wrap up:
Wet Weather Gear: It was perfect rogaining weather – sunny to start, clear night for good moonlight, cloudcover from early morning to keep the temperature up at night and down during the day, with not a single drop of rain so I didn’t get to test this. I’ve been testing my jacket around home (after washing, spraying and dryering it) and while it is keeping a lot of water out, it’s definitely not fully waterproof still so am investigating new jackets and planning to take this one back as “faulty”.
Shoes: I took my Scarpas which were useful for keeping dry through some shallow creek crossings and in the dew in the mornings. I taped my heels but otherwise didn’t tape anywhere else (normally I tape up the entire sides of my feet during a 24hr rogaine). They were a bit squishy on my little toes (on the sides) and I did need to tape one little toe within the first hour (rubbing against the next toe) but there was no blisters or other lasting damage and they were fine to put on the next morning and walk again. Reasonably happy with this I guess, although I’d like to fix the squishy toe issue. A friend has suggested wearing super thick socks in them now to stretch them a bit so I’m trying that out at the moment.
Gaiters: I’m not planning on taking these on my trip but oh, they were soooo good!! Definitely recommend these for anyone planning on tromping through the Australian bush! Protected my pants from rips, my legs from gouges, my shoes from sticks/prickles and rocks falling in and I didn’t pick up any ticks.
Clothes: Took a new pair of pants out (thanks Mum for taking the hems up the night before!!) and they were comfy so it looks like they’ll be coming with me. Also tried out the new Ex-Officio travel underwear (super quick dry, easy wash, low-odour) and they were very comfy too. Good!
GPS Logger: This was great, as you can see from the picture of our track, . . . .when it was working. It wouldn’t start up properly in the morning, probably because of a low battery. It was fully charged before I went out and had only been used for 12 hours. The battery is supposed to last 30hrs and I won’t have enough power supply to charge it if it will only last for 12. I left it in the car while sleeping so maybe it got too cold? I’ve tested it again at home (lots of small trips) and again it’s gone low battery, this time in ~20hrs. It also doesn’t seem to be auto turning on/off like it’s supposed to. I’ve contacted the company so we’ll see what they say. Maybe I just have a dud? At least this testing is forcing me to memorise what the little flashing lights mean!!
Sleeping Pad: I used my new ThermaRest for the first time. Excitingly, there were all sorts of instructions and repair kits in the box (I really should’ve unwrapped it when I got it!). It was easy enough to blow up and certainly comfortable. There is heaps of padding and I didn’t have a problem with the short length at all. Also, great insulation. Mum’s sleeping bag was not doing a great job of keeping the cold out but I was plenty warm where I was laying on the ThermaRest. Only problem is it is so slippery I think I’d slide straight off if I was on a slope!!
Food: The amount I ate during this rogaine was concerning. There is no way I can carry that much food for several days! Hopefully it was just an abnormal day. I’ll do some more test hikes to check on this.
Long distance multi day walking: I was pretty concerned when I thought we’d only done 35km and I was that sore. However, knowing we almost did 50 (way beyond my maximum day for my trip) I’m much more comfortable. Also, this was much harder walking (through the bush) than my hike will be and still reasonably hilly. The other important thing for me was that I was able to do a really long, hard walk one day and get up the following day and keep going. It was really important for me to find out how I’d handle this. I did struggle to walk for the rest of the afternoon at home, but was back to normal by the following day. I have decided that some more conditioning would make my life easier so I’m going to try to incorporate some 3-4 hour walks over the next few months (possibly to, then around, Kings Park so I can get some hill practice too).
Navigation: Despite the couple of silly errors, I’m pretty happy with my navigational skills and I’m so happy that I was introduced to rogaining so I could learn and develop this skill. I can read a compass and walk a bearing reasonably well, but my real strength is in recognising topographical features and knowing where I am based on what the ground is doing under my feet. This was pretty challenging navigation at times – dark, dense bush, some indistinct features – and we coped brilliantly. I’m pretty sure open moorland during daylight will not be any more difficult.