Its 2am Monday morning, with about 40 hours of adventuring behind them, team JAKL are into their second night of their 48hour adventure, and 11 hours into the final Rogaine, Kieran gasps out loud “look!”, “…to the left of the track, someone has left some new white shoes behind”, Joe Cartwright our head navigator turns to the “shoes” and picks up two jagged rocks and remarks “are these your shoes Kieran”, Liz and Adrian burst into laughter whilst Kieran takes a second, confused, shakes his head and sees that yes, they are rocks, and yes Kieran for the second time and not the last, he has been introduced to the famous sleep monsters.
Geoquest, one of Australia’s premiere adventure races includes all the challenges you desire and some you don’t, and yet you push on, through that untouched Aussie bush with full trust in a small plastic clock-like navigation device we call the compass…as you begin to wonder whether walking off track an hour ago was a good idea, a log springs out of no-where and smashes you in the eye, you struggle to shove it out the way, tripping backwards as a vine wraps around your neck, you gasp for air and try to twist out of it, your shin smashes into rock hidden by the darkness, drawing blood, for the next 30minutes that’s all you hear from yourself and your team mates, the odd yelp amongst the rustle of the bush around you as you aim for that creek bed that will lead you to the next checkpoint, trusting that bearing. Wondering to yourself how you will explain the bruises and cuts at work come Monday morning, you smile and look forward to sitting at your desk and reminiscing about the adventure had and the great memories you will leave behind in that bush but will always be present in the minds of you and your team mates. Maybe you will wear a long sleeze shirt to avoid that awkward need to explain at the water cooler.
Team JAKL’s story began the night before the big race, all meeting in person for the first time. Consisting of a strong lady that choose the wrong profession as an accountant, Liz Woodgate, more suited to a drill sergeant that stops at nothing, a never say die attitude with one of the toughest mindsets out there and also a pain in the arse. “Joe, Kieran, you have two f*cken minutes to get your pack on your back and moving”, Adrian her favourite student and long-time trail running friend, racing Geo for the first time, always ready, always quick witted and ready to keep the conversation going even if it is winding Joe up close to tipping point. Joe our navigator later proving himself to be dam useful in his role, a guy with a genuine love for this adventure game and a bloody good bloke, and myself, fresh of the boat from Kiwiland and ready to push the limits. This would make for an interesting race.
1st Leg: KAYAK + MEGA SPLIT (12-14km) start 9.30am-10:58am
Waking up to a beautiful day, race day was upon us. We were the last team to arrive rolling into the start line with the fuel light on, sneaking our boats in, just within the markers, not a minute to catch our breath before the horn goes off, seconds later we were splashing through the waves on the kayak and underway. The first leg was very enjoyable as the team split up, some on kayaks some on land running for each checkpoint, surrounded by the amazing and scenic setting of the Camden head inlet, just south of Port Maquarie. Everything went to plan, other than Liz tipping Joe out of the kayak as they ventured across the weir and a couple troublesome sand bars due to low tide, we were on schedule and ahead of time as we arrived back at the first TA with all checkpoints under our belts.
Leg 2: 8km hike/run coasteering & bush. (Total time/distance: 10:58 -11:52am / 22km)
One of the scenic highlights was the following 8km hiking leg around the coast, the first checkpoint came in early, it sat just behind a monument along the path as it started to head inland, passing by some confused fishermen along the way, we were all in high spirits as we greeted them with high fives and banter. The first test for team JAKL was when the track turned to bush, we missed our mark, (likely due to the banter) Joe’s first test, deep down we were thinking “who is this acclaimed navigator”, yes he had failed at the first hurdle, but not an indication of the rest of the trip luckily, after heading through some swamp lands and getting our shoes wet and out of the way nice and early we were back on track. The Quattro D’s made a similar mistake early on, strolling past us pretty swiftly soon after, not without some shared jokes. Bumping into various teams including the Munch Express lead by NSW compatriot Paul Grundy who we would hang out with often throughout the race, was always a nice moment. Always hearing a few stories and helping each other out, like no other competition there is a high respect and help given, maybe due to the common sacrifice each team experience. We ran most of the leg and were ahead of time
Leg 3: Bike 35km / Rogaine 8km / bike 10km. (+4km).
(Total distance/time: 78km/11:52am Saturday-01:11am Sunday)
After passing the lovely scent of cungiboy around the coast we arrived at the next TA, as we transitioned into the bike leg with 34km ahead of us we took the time to pack everything including our lights as it was a double leg . After taking a few snaps and Adrian practising on the playground slide from great height in advance of the abseil, we were ready to go. I began this leg with about 13kg on the back, something to learn from, I just couldn’t understand the lack of food these guys had on them. Anyway naively like Samwise from Lord Of The Rings, I packed enough food to last much longer than needed. This proved difficult with the steep climb up to CP 4, I was then happy to part with my Big Eat which became a totem monument for the oncoming teams, pack weight now at 12kg.
This is where the real fun started, both myself and Joe are avid mountain bikers and began to shoot down and around the single tracks leaving Adrian and his bike he rented off a 12 year old girl slightly behind (99metres) with Liz pottering just behind him in support, just in case his trainer wheels snapped off. Despite this and the fact this was his 5th time on a mountain bike we were making good time with no back tracking Joe was nailing the checkpoints , we had a lot of fun along the way jumping over some logs at speed and weaving around the bends of the track, through the mud, and at one point almost coming off as I attempted to jump a much larger tree that lay across the path much to the disappointment of the team.
Coming out of the bush section, we had a medium distance ride to the historical town which held the clues to our questionnaire we needed filled out. Along the way mud was flying off our thick tires as we put the peddle to the medal. After completing this section, spirits were high, but not for too long. Before us, was a long and steep bike up to checkpoint 13, taking advantage of all my food I began to eat, sucking in some gels, probably at the wrong time as we climbed up to the highpoint, I began to feel a bit dodge, once we reached the top and had to force myself to manually extract what went in (for lack of better word) a lovely scene that was enjoyed by all. After a minute we were back into it and finally got to CP 16 at 5.20pm just before the sun went down, pack weight 11kg.
It was great to see the other teams, we passed the BMX bandits as they were coming back from the Rogaine and shortly later the Shackleton team, including Trevor with his head down marching past us at a good pace. We continued into the bush picking up checkpoint J, realising that “Ford” wasn’t just the name of an average car brand! Our first real test was finding checkpoint P, taking a bearing from the track we headed through thick and dense bush, receiving many bush tattoos to the face , arms and thighs along the way, I received a good strangle and cut to the knee for my effort and finally a nice branch flicking back into my eye. Bush tattoos, tick. Here along the creek we bumped into our old friends from the Scouts team and various other teams including Rubicon coming from another direction, we all searched for CP P, coming from different directions we thought we were covered but there appeared to be more creek junctions and routes than what the map contained. The teams all headed up back toward where we came from, we decided to stop and review the situation, we decided to trust in the position we were and head for the direction we thought the creek junction was in and finally we found the creek running in the right direction, finding the checkpoint. We were happy but had lost a lot of time later missing the entry to get CP M but finding it after re-hashing our footsteps, we picked up CP L shortly after that and trekked along a beautiful creek to get to CP K, before we hit the mark we had to ascend a very steep vertical rock face on the edge of the creek, we bumped into team Rubicon here, one of the girls was just in front of Joe at this point and slipped, Joe, luckily catching her saving her from falling around 6 metres back into the creek below, understandably she emerged very white faced, likely as a result of the thought of the potential consequence if Joe wasn’t there. Finding K finally meant we could finally head back to the transition and complete the rogaine leg.
After having a good chat to the Volunteers, and being envious of the leading teams another leg in front of us, we were off again. We were held up a lot due to being deceived by some un-illustrated tracks that lead us astray, losing about 2 hours overall, we decided to take the long route, on the way Joe emptied his stomach as a thank you to our final checkpoint, at this point Joe’s health took a turn for the worse with constant headacs, stomach issues and cramping. He pushed on however and before long we were at the next checkpoint, being greeted by the man the legend Rhett who had hot food waiting for us at our next location: the Bago Winery.
Leg 4: BROKEN BAGO HIKE + ROPING/Abseiling – 15km
(Total distance/time: 93km/01:11am-07:27am Sunday)
Our next leg was the long trek towards checkpoint 19. Shortly into the trek, Joe had to hand over the maps due to his sickness. At this point we had underestimated where we were on the track in relation to the next checkpoint, we reviewed our position due to the distance travelled and realised we were turning early. We pressed on and eventually got to where we needed to be with the right road intersecting the junction. We were excited at this point as we weren’t too far away from the abseil (secretly all packing it as ¾ of us are afraid of heights), once there, Adrian had to do it right away as he needed it over and done with. What a thrill it was! Bouncing down the rockwall, many hours into our race in the middle of the night was a great feeling. Thanks to all that made this happen! Joe nailed the next checkpoint by following some little tracks heading away from the rockwall and before we knew it, we were at the next transition as the sun came up (trying to lose a certain team that for a lot of the race counted on our decisions, cough* cough*)!
Leg 5: BALYNGARA CREEK PADDLE 17km
(Total distance/time: 110km/07:27am-10:30am Sunday)
We were excited to hit the kayak, as it was a lovely sunny morning. We made good time at the transition and jumped straight into the 17km paddle. Team 10 were not too far behind us and actually would have missed the turn had we not yelled out at them, some great spirit there! At this creek junction, I had to carry Joe’s kayak with him across due to its weight, for a moment we had switched paddling partners! Paddling with no leg room (set to Liz) was interesting, paddling without the feeling in my legs didn’t really bother me too much as it gave them a good chance to rest independently of me. After not too long we were meet by Rhett again who had his eye on our GPS, waiting above the exit point of the river we lifted our kayaks up over the rivers edge to finish. It was a 500metre portage to our transition, a nice difficult last push.
Leg 6: BELLANGRY ROAD RIDE 35km / PUNCHBOWL ROGAINE – 15km / ROLLANDS PLAINS RIDE 35km
(Total distance/time: 195km/10:30am Sunday-05:49am Monday)
Upon changing out of our wet gear post kayak, one of the troops mentioned that there may be a pie on route. We were in very high spirits after this call, all I could imagine was a hot warm pie in my hand as I devoured it down. Knowing the next leg would be the most difficult section to come due to s second night of adventuring with no sleep, three hard sections all without seeing our food or equipment boxes, it was time to make the most of what we had. No one was stopping me from getting that pie, not even Adrian who had a silly thought of bypassing the pie shop. Our transition was interestingly quicker here, maybe knowing we didn’t have to eat too much in anticipation of the potential pie. We ended up catching and passing the Munch express who were having bike troubles, a few KM’s later at the turn off we stopped for our pie, all of us getting a bacon an cheese meat pie, Joe a few extra ice blocks and me going back for a second pie (of course) which I thought would be revealed at a time in need. Unfortunately, this only lasted an hour as the road and gravel climbs were long, steep and energy sucking.
Joe fell behind at this stage with his issues, so we paced it out and focused on just getting to the next point. At the top of one of the larger climbs on route, I saw my first sleep monster, a guy waving to us like he was receiving us into the transition point, I yelled to the guys “look, that must be the checkpoint, that guys waving us in” the others looking confused “Kieran there is no one there”, the guy disappeared as we got to the top of the climb, so we continued…the sleep monsters were coming.
We got to the next transition with a good amount of light left, being greeted by the amazing volunteers some of which had placed the checkpoints to come, later we will be cursing them! This Rogaine was referred to as the hardest leg Geoquest had featured to date, we were lucky to be ignorant to that fact. We believed we could pick up two checkpoints before we lost the light. Unfortunately the area did not reflect clear tracks that the maps suggested, making it much harder to navigate, causing us to use a lot of natural features as our reference points. We got to checkpoint R along the creek before the light went dark. We then headed towards checkpoint T which was a long march through the bush, this was the real test as we put our lights on for a second time that weekend, it began to rain, Joe was overheating and low on energy, Kieran was starting to be taken by the sleep monsters and Liz and Adrian fell quite silent for a while. Working together we decided that we were really going to push hard and try get all of our checkpoints before we left the bush that night. Hearing that the fastest teams had struggled here and taken a long time did not help our thoughts but we stuck together and helped each other out, each leading the navigation at some point (except our head of moral Adrian – who tasked himself with trying to cure Kieran’s sleep monster onslaught) I took 3x the recommended serving of no doz, some cold and flues, and despite that the monsters continued to creep on me, this is when I was starting to hear voices. I kept my head down and stuck to the pack but conserved my energy. The guys kept me on the inside of the track so I didn’t walk over the cliffs, at one point a dog jumped out at me as I bounced backwards whilst simultaneously throwing a left hook, the dog disappeared, a medium sized plant replaced it along with the cackles of the team. It was hilarious! Then came the new pair of shoes emerging to the side of the track, unfortunately they were rocks, so my feet had to deal with continued wet shoes. The guys asked me questions about my family, enough to keep a smile on my face and keep me talking.
A true team dynamic as we all helped each other as we all separately reached these moments, whether it was Liz as we climbed out of the punchbowl and over a never ending old and slippery waterfall on the slightest wrong bearing, a bit of doubt creeping into her mind. On top of this we were losing compass and glasses, tripping over, being cut by thick and sharp Australian bush, truely hitting our battle stations, we stayed strong and found the high point, then the track, we were all exhausted but very happy! Adrian’s sleep monsters came on soon after as we tried to reset our bearings, as we scoped the area out, he had a nap and woke up with no one around. A scary moment for him but we were not too far away. We decided were we were, and were correct as shortly after that the checkpoint was found. A great skill that should be taken into the next one is actually figuring out where everyone is at mentally, asking questions, understanding sanity levels is key to success. In 48 hours of racing it isn’t a question of “if” it will happen it is “when”, you just need to be weary of your team when this is happening. When it happens to you, you do not know it, it takes your team to point this out and make the required contingencies. I think we left Joe our navigator to deal with his own sleep monsters at points as there were clear moments were we lost our way due to this. Picking this up eventually, Liz and I began to step up and help us to get to CP X, for some reason when you get through the hardest part of sleep deprivation, with no sleep, your body finds a way to switch back on and before long Joe was back in action, finding an almost invisible track off the main path, which then disappeared, we then took a bearing that would led us out on a long bearing toward the road – we had our navigator back! Adrian’s sleep monstars had gotten hold of him well and good, at this point he thought we were going round in circles commenting “why the f*ck are we going round in circles, all I am seeing is the same bloody Christmas tree after Christmas tree”, luckily Adrian wasn’t our navigator and we finally hit the main road that would take us back to transition. This one took 12 hours, we were all so happy that we cleared that rogaine course when many others had failed, our greatest achievement of the whole trip, deciding to stick with it and battle the hills and the sleep monsters, we came out on top. Our team captain Liz showing some fantastic resilience. One team spent 8 hours without finding a checkpoint, that would have been a tough one, everyone really understood that day why it will go down as the hardest leg yet.
Liz had approved a quick 15 minute sleep for Joe as he needed his rest, I myself jumped at the chance and was asleep before I sat down in my seat. Waking up to the various demands of Liz I was brought back to reality very quickly. Before long we were cycling back down the steep path and onto the track, a nice long ride back to HQ without many hickups, other than myself coming off the bike and bruising my ribs, unable to speak for the following 15 minutes. Adrian faced troubles shortly after he was bragging about how his spin classes gave him super hero-like leg power up the climbs, then falling asleep on the bike and disappearing off track. He woke up with blackness around him and no-one in sight, after us realising, Captain Liz was back to retrieve him. Looking out for each other at this point meant that we made it to the final leg. The final kayak.
Leg 7: MARIA / HASTINGS RIVERS PADDLE 22km (minus the 6km shortcut)
(Total distance/time: 217km/05:49am-09:58am- Monday – 49 hours of racing before finishing)
Rhett our solo support crew had dealt with a fair share of shit all weekend, and for the last time placed the TA boxes in position and helped with our kayaks and kit, going through a similar line of sleep deprivation it would not have been easy especially alone, his help again allowed us to transition faster than expected. We were off again, the morning was freezing, and most of us had gone through our warm clothes, I put on the wet clothes again hoping a quick paddle will warm me up. It started to rain again as we pushed off from the ramp, after 10 metres of paddling there was a problem. Our rudder was jammed due to a knot on the line that lead from the rudder to the peddles. Adrian wanted us to go to back to shore, but I asked the other guys to try undo it from the water. This was where Adrian got his infamous nickname “Splashy” after a short paddy in the water, with kayak paddles going left right and centre, we were back at shore undoing the knot. Nice work Adrian. We were off on our final journey. Joe again had hit a wall and had many micro sleeps on route, watching this happen was quite funny, it happened in a sequence, he would nod off, then lose power in his paddle at this point Liz would shout at him, of crack him with her paddle to wake up, he would wake up and forget where he was, gather himself, then begin paddling again. This happened for most of the way back until we got to the final checkpoints. We took the shortcut through the weir, very tempted to pick up some oysters on the way, but with the finish line so close we pressed on.
Finishing together on that beach day was a great feeling, coming into a huge crowd as the sun popped out of the clouds, Rhett there again to receive us in along with Trev and the tiger team, just before prize giving was a spine tingling experience, walking arm and arm through the finish line a sense of relief and accomplishment ran over us. We finished in 49 hours, we had cleared the course. We battled the sleep monsters, and we won.
Geoquest, an adventure with friends, where you learn, you push yourself, you fail, but keep moving, you hallucinate, you laugh, and you keep going, your mate hits the wall and you pick him/her back up again, you hit the wall and they pick you back up again, you work as a team and you finally do it, you finally achieve something that seems at times impossible. It’s about adventure, determination and team work. You experience a lifetime of challenges packed into 48 hours of sleep deprived adventure. Thanks for the inspiration Liz (after three attempts she finally has done it), Joe, Adrian and Rhett, always a pleasure.