GeoQuest 2016

Saturday morning started very early at 4:30am. We packed the car while Matto made us bacon and egg rolls.  These mostly just got held and nibbled at with us all too nervous to eat. Our support team Lani, Pete and Tyla drove us to the start and helped us get Kayaks ready and ran through final gear checks.

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Team Scouts met us at the start line to cheer us on our way as we begun the GeoQuest Half course. The countdown dropped, everyone entered the water and we clumsily climbed aboard our kayaks and away we went, starting our 10km paddle against the tide. Support and Team Scouts walked along the headlands and cheered us on, with Myall shouting out his last pearls of Wisdom “Heather, flip your paddle up the right way”. Oh man this is going to be an interesting race…

Leg 1 10km Kayak 7:30am departure

Being our first time in double kayaks we almost immediately fell to the back of the pack, and after an hour and half of paddling it came time for team to split up to locate multiple check points (CP) for the first leg.

Alex and Evan took the extra paddle CP while Matto and I took separate CP’s on land. We grounded at the wrong shore 500m off our goal destination but walked the headland, splitting up and covering about 2-3km on foot.

It was here where Team Scouts passed us, with Myall running ahead at the second CP, and crossing paths with Angus who cheered us on to keep going.

Conveniently Alex & Evan also grounded at the wrong spot meaning we all met up and paddled back to the Transition Area (TA) together. So far, this adventure racing experience hasn’t been too bad!

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Leg 2 8km Trek 10:30am departure 

Still fresh with excitement from our first transition (TA) we head off on our 8km trek along the coast. We kept a good pace taking Myalls advice shared before the race “walk like it’s night time and you think your being followed”.

Rock hoping along the shoreline slowed us down a bit with my knees starting to feel the pressure. But spirits were still high with the view of dolphins in the water.

Three of us started getting chaffing from salty wet clothes, but luckily only minor and it was all sorted in the next TA.

Leg 3 35m Ride 12:20pm departure

This is where we started to fall behind. The ride started on sealed road but soon turned to fire trail. Hills impossible to ride very quickly wore us out as we pushed bikes up steep tracks. Thankfully all teams had to do this, as it was the mother of all hills which took you to the top, to only turn the corner and have you keep climbing. My calves were burning, brakes were on so my bike didn’t roll backwards and my chest was going to explode. Matto kindly helped pushing both our bikes up through the last section…still beating me to the top.

Amongst a few others we kept coming across Team 11, Goldfish, who impressively rode the whole thing on tandem bikes. Such an awesome spirited team, they were so refreshing to be around.

CP 7 took us some time to get our bearings, we keep assuming we’d come further on the map than we had actually traveled which tripped us up, resulting in us doubling back thinking we’d missed landmarks rather than not passing them yet.

Further into the ride there were some enjoyable single tracks and got some great footage of both myself and Matto coming off our bikes within the space of just a few minutes. Luckily no injuries, just a chance to laugh at each other.

We rode well into the night getting to the rogain at 9:30pm. I wasn’t having fun any more. I so badly wanted to be off my stupid bike. It had been 9hrs riding, my knees were getting sore and we probably hadn’t eaten enough. It was cold and I stayed very, very quiet for a while.

Leg 4 8km Trek (Rogain) 9:30pm departure (scheduled 5:20pm) 

The rogain marks the start of the GeoQuest mental challenge.

Because it would normally be bedtime Evan I struggled to keep our eyes open for an hour until we managed the shake it.

Check Points were spread out, deep in the bush and hard to find. Most of them had a worn down track were 50 other teams had been through, but this means there are also 20 little tracks where other teams had explored or gotten lost, so you really can’t trust any of it. Passing teams often hinted we were almost there, with advice consistently being “Walk until you think you’ve gone to far, then keep going and you’ll find it”.

By now my right knee was starting to seize, there were vines covering the ground but it hurt so much to be lifting my feet off the ground high enough to clear them. Alex says I looked like a zombie dragging my leg behind me instead of stepping it forward like a normal person.

The last CP had us follow a river, rock hoping and scrambling in the dark for almost 2 hours. This is where everyone really stepped up, Matto helped me hobble my way through holding my hand during the whole section, dragging me up the final climb up at the end.

The rogain finally finished at 3am and all of a sudden I was glad to be getting back on my bike. Nothing like a bit of perspective to change your mind…

Leg 5 10km Ride 3:00am departure (scheduled 9:20pm)

This whole leg was shit. NOTHING good happens after 3am.

After many hills and navigational glitches we ended up going down what we now call the Valley of Disappointment.

The single track was so steep downhill we had to walk our bikes down…and down…and down. Once we got to the river at the bottom we were only 200m off the desired trail, but our hearts sank when we noticed there was no path. The shrub was so thick we couldn’t walk it, let alone get our bikes through.

By now it was 5am, moral was extremely low and the very sobering thought came to mind. We may not finish this race. I contemplated ditching the bikes to come back another time, but then remembered we had another bike leg later on. Alex refused to believe the path we’d just taken goes nowhere so kept looking, but eventually came back empty handed. After sitting in silence for a while I made the call, we’re pushing our bikes back up the hill and out of the Valley.

Truly exhausted I was still convinced we wouldn’t finish, but I at least wanted to make it to the abseil.

The quiet trip commenced, with Alex noticing 10minutes in that he’d left his bike gloves behind. Sorry mate, no chance we’re going back.

Regular breaks were necessary, Evan napped, I had an energy gel and Alex I’m sure had cold hands. I acknowledged to the team that this moment, as shit as it was, is exactly what I expected from GeoQuest. To be totally worn down and broken and having to push through to do everything my body didn’t want to. It was totally shattering.

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We finally got out at 6am, and watched it slowly get lighter again on our hour ride to the TA. We skipped CP 18 (which got us lost in the first place) and headed straight home. To be safe we went the long way sticking to main tracks and fire trails, we’d had enough of single track paths for the night.

On the home stretch I couldn’t help but notice Alex struggle to keep his eyes open, he couldn’t hold a conversation with me and was battling. I lied up every hill, promising that it was the last one, with him finally noticing the fourth and final time. As we came around the corner and spotted the check in tent our support team cheered us on, happy to see us coming in 7hours overdue.

Leg 6 15km Trek 8am departure (scheduled 11:40pm)

Support let us stay in transition for almost an hour due to the sheer exhaustion of the night. They passed on messages of support from home as we had hot soup and sandwiches, and used the chance to change out of thermals in anticipation for the trek ahead.

Feeling confident that with the sun up we’ll be able to push on through fatigue we started up the hill to get to the abseil on the summit. The longer we walked for, the heavier my eyelids felt, until I’d suddenly snap awake realising I’d just walked meters with my eyes closed. Then the sleep monsters started. I kept ducking for branches that didn’t exist and thinking I was walking on pavement leaving me confused when I’d look down and see fire trail.

This is when we took our famous spaghetti track, over an hour of wandering around back and forth trying to pick up the next turn, our map just wasn’t making sense. Too tired to hold a conversation I eventually looked at the map and noticed topographic lines indicating a decent before we had to turn off, which got us moving again. Even now I swear it was only 10minutes, but live tracking doesn’t lie, and neither does Lani when she posts on Facebook.

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After this the team voted on a nap, we stepped off the path and curled up with our bags while Evan examined the map further. Even just half an hour of sleep made the biggest difference in our state of awareness. We woke up freezing so got moving and found the summit with no problem afterwards. Unfortunately we’d gotten there too late to do the abseil, but it saved us time and it wasn’t necessary to access the next trail. We’ve all done plenty of abseils in the past so weren’t too disappointed.

Despite taking regular Voltaren my knees were aching and we had a long steep decent ahead. The boys found me a stick (fondly named “sticky”) and Matto again patiently helped me down the rocky track.

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CP23 was just located at a river junction, but at the speed (or lack of) we were travelling down slopes and along rocky creeks we decided to skip it due to my knees, taking a 2hr time penalty instead.

Leg 7 10km Ride 2:50pm departure (scheduled 5:40am)

Benefiting from our nap in the last leg, and stoked that we were still in the race our spirits were up again. The sun was out, we had a final 10km ride ahead on sealed roads (yay) and then we’d be in kayaks for our glorious finish.

Like planned we stayed in racing formation trying to reduce wind resistance. It felt so great to be on a smooth surface making back some time and travelling quickly, really quickly. So quickly we surprised support who had only just turned up to the TA themselves and were still unpacking our tubs. 10km in 40mins was a personal best for all of us.

The excitement now builds – we have made it to our final leg! We are going to finish GeoQuest!!

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Leg 8 19km Kayak 3:30pm departure (scheduled 6:55am)

Kayaking home I thought I felt fine, excited to be finishing and on my favourite discipline. Video footage however shows me struggling to keep my eyes open, and occasionally creepily smiling to myself.

The boys too were clearly wrecked, Evan looked over and said “Wow Heather, you’ve got huge bags under your eyes” I replied “Well if you haven’t noticed Evan we’ve been awake for over 30hours now…”

Thankfully we got lucky with the tide making our 19kms take only 4hrs, but it did rain for a lot of that. Once the sun set the temperature plummeted again (dam it why didn’t I listen to Lani and put on my wetsuit) and water dripped down my sleeve soaking my thermals underneath my rain jacket.

Cows on the banks kept me way too entertained, making paddle strokes inconsistent as I shrieked “Looook river cows!” Ah I love farm animals, it was the same with the goats as we were riding.

Head torches turned on as we stuck to the shoreline watching out for our final CP. It turns out fish latterly jump out of water for the head torch lights, the first one scaring the life out me, I screamed and jumped, which made Matto yell and freak out as we laughed in our rocking kayak. “Dam it Heather you better not do that every time you see a fish!”

With little to no night navigational experience on water we decided to go the long way around the islands to get to the finish. We were randomly hit from the side by unexpected waves only 500m from the end. Our Kayak lost its rudder (which played up the whole way) so we steered the final sprint paddling hard on certain sides.

At 1930, 36hours after starting the race we clambered out of our kayaks and jogged across the finish line. Stiff from the cold and being still for so long walking seemed the most unnatural thing to be doing, but we made it, exhausted, ecstatic and in disbelief.

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Our support team and race organisers cheered us on and welcomed us into the hall to dry off and of course hand us beers. We were wrecked, the buz was there but I was so tired, sore and cold the moment was so different to how it’s always been in my head.

We went and got KFC (as voted before we started) and didn’t stay up long before bed. 10hrs later we got up, sore as hell but happy to hear that Team Scouts finished at 7:30am Monday morning. What a mammoth effort!

The achievement finally sunk in, we finished the GeoQuest Half Course. We’re so proud we did it, and sad that it’s all over.

I can’t thank my teammates enough for making this happen. It’s been one hell of a journey for me, surrounded by amazing, strong, patient people. When the going got tough, you kept going. It takes a huge amount of team work to finish a GeoQuest, and that is exactly what we did.

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To my support team Lani, Peter and Tyla – this would not be possible without you. You were extremely reliable and your confidence in our ability to finish certainly gave us the confidence we lacked in ourselves. Your preparation of our gear, food, sun cream and water made the journey safe and transitions seamless. You kept us pumped despite getting next to no sleep yourselves, and made us smile again after our darkest hour. Thank you for being so selfless and believing in us!

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It’s been a wonderful experience, and I sincerely hope you all enjoyed it as much I have. See you all back for more in 2017! Xx

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