A return to Colinton (Brisbane Valley, Australia)

The Queensland Rogaining Association put out a call for volunteers to collect checkpoints from last weekend’s 24 hour Queensland Rogaining Championship event. It seemed to me like a good excuse to get back out on the course to explore the beautiful landscape and also get in some extra navigation practice. So I put up my hand.

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The checkpoint collection was starting from the opposite side of the course from were the hash house had been located. So I had the pleasure of a beautiful motorbike ride down narrow country roads and gravel farm tracks. The more I ride my motorbike the more I miss motorbike touring. I think I will need to rectify that in 2016.

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There were about six of us volunteering to tidy up the checkpoints. We split into teams to tackle different areas. I teamed up with Ryan and together we set off on our adventure. It started with an almost two hour 4WD rumble along rattling farm tracks. While this might have been a breeze in a big 4WD, we only had a little AWD with relatively low clearance. It handled the task well though and I enjoyed being passenger as we bounced along crossing rocky creek beds, following gravel tracks and zipping across golden fields.

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After a scarily steep drive to the top of a hill we parked the car and set off on foot. We each had separate loops of about 12km (8 miles) to collect four checkpoints each. Armed with our respective topographic maps, compasses and two-way radios we parted ways. The bush was so peaceful. The only sound was the breeze through the leaves, the crunch of my feet on the ground, the swish of spear grass against my legs, the twitter of birds and the occasional moo of distant cattle.

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I felt a tad nervous to be heading off into untracked bushland on my own with no one to turn to for backup. What if I couldn’t find the checkpoints? What if my navigation during races was plain good luck? What if it was really my sister who is the navigation brains behind our team? I knew there was no risk of me getting lost because I knew exactly where I was on the map and would be able to get a good visual on the hill again. But what if I came all this way to help collect checkpoints but couldn’t find them? That would be embarrassing.

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I came across a slightly more pressing problem though as I descended the high point into the valley below. Ahead of me and to my right were two herds of cattle. The herd to my right were not too worrying but ahead of me was a big bull mounting a cow. They were directly in my path and he did not look terribly happy with my presence. He dropped down as the rest of his herd thundered away across the spear grass. Instead of following them, he who I had interrupted gave me the kind of death stare I would give someone who interrupted me in similar position. But I’m not a couple of hundred kilograms of meat and muscle. The bull was about 100m away from me and started walking in my general direction, sizing me up. I don’t know whether he would have become aggressive or was just posturing. But I was not going to wait around to see. There was a creek bed to my right with a steep entry. It would probably be too steep for the bull to run down so I ducked into it and moved along close to some trees that shielded me from Mr Bull. He kept an eye on me for a while, took a few more steps in my direction and then watched until I was well clear of his patch.

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Awake and alert now I continued on my mission to find my first checkpoint. I needn’t have feared incompetence because the checkpoint was exactly where the map said it would be. Sure, I took a wrong turn because I didn’t trust myself (this always seems to happen to me on the first checkpoint of any adventure race or rogain – you think I’ learn). But once I stopped, looked around and trusted myself I marched cross country directly to the checkpoint, which was over the next spur.

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Confidence restored I could settle into enjoying the landscape. My third checkpoint took me up a long steep spur to the top of a hill. The climb was calf busting but the views absolutely amazing. From the spur I could look back over the landscape through which my sister and I raced last weekend, and the places where I had just walked to collect the first and second checkpoints. The first checkpoint was behind the long spur in the middle of the picture and the second was in a saddle near the top of the incline that is just visible to the left of the picture. Last weekend, my sister and I crossed the mountains at the back of the photo and came back from our adventure in the dark across the creek further off in the distance.

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I am so glad I put up my hand to collect the checkpoints because it meant I could trek through this beautiful private property. The sky turned moody about half way through my adventure, accentuating the stunning structural beauty of the naked trees along the ridges.

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My final checkpoint took me through this stunning rocky creek bed with waterholes that must be amazing for cooling off in summer. I can just see generations of farmers’ children riding motorbikes and horses out here to chill out.

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They would have to navigate the many fences around the property but being locals they probably know where the gates are. Me, I was on foot so just crawled under these lovely rustic structures that scream “cattle property”.

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First four checkpoints collected I trekked back to the car. Ryan arrived within about 30 seconds of me and together we drove back down the track to do some ‘out-and-back’ checkpoint collection. A few hours later, as the sun started to sink low in the sky, we were done. All that was left was the long cold motorbike ride home, which again made me long for a good old motorbike tour. Or at the very least, an Australian road trip. Good thing Paul and I have a road trip planned for the first week of August 🙂

Queensland Rogaining Championships (Brisbane Valley, Australia)

It didn’t take much for my sister to convince me to join her as part of our two-person rogaining team Whoops Witch Way for the 24 hour Queensland Rogaining Championships. Sure, the event was being held from midday Saturday after I arrived home at 2am on Wednesday morning. But that wasn’t going to stop me going along to play. It just meant that we were going to take things a bit easier to allow for my lack of trek fitness and sleep.

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A short hour drive took us to Colinton at the edge of the Brisbane Valley where the event was held. The field of play would be a huge cattle property with steep rolling hills. It was a very Australiana location for my return home.

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After setting up our respective camps we collected the map and started route planning. We are getting much better at this critical element of the rogain. We no longer attempt to route ourselves around the full course. Rather, we accept our limitations and goal for each event. In this case it meant finding a route that would take us around about 1/3 of the course, skipping far-flung checkpoints.

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And then, at midday, we were off. We actually missed the start because my sister had issues with a water bladder bursting but when you are going out for 24 hours a few minutes doesn’t hurt. Actually, in some ways it is best for us to miss the start because it means that we can’t get stuck in follow mode. We always perform better when we trust our own navigation skills. We might not be fast, but our nav is usually spot on.

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The course was absolutely stunning! And the weather turned on a perfect winter’s day with blue skies and woolly clouds that rolled in to trap some warmth so that the night wasn’t too cold.

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Right from the word go the course took us through challenging terrain. It was steep and hilly with every checkpoint requiring us to hike up at least one, if not more hills. But this just mean the views were even more amazing. Though I have to admit to lacking trek fitness; I will need to do a lot more training on my feet. Cycle touring just doesn’t prepare a person for trekking over 30km cross-country.

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There was plenty of lantana en route too for us to crawl through. You have two choices with lantana: you can complain about its thick thorny branches or you can get down low and try to find a way to tunnel through it. We opted for the latter approach and ducked through some long lantana tunnels. The scratches are generally only shallow and heal in a day or two. Besides, as someone said on Facebook, rogaining is a rugged outdoor adventure sport not triathlon (no offence intended to triathletes).

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As you can see, I enjoyed the first day of the rogain. I didn’t realise how much I have been missing the Australian bush. I felt so happy being out there trekking cross country with nothing but a topographic map and a compass to find our way. Not that we used the compass much at all because we tend to navigate by sight. It’s not an orthodox or technical approach but it works for us. We navigate on the go without spending too much time standing still debating. I generally take care of the big picture navigation while my sister ferrets out the details and checkpoints. She has this amazing eye for detail so if there is even a glimpse of orange or white somewhere in the distance or the bush, her eye will pick it up. Meanwhile, I tend to focus on the macro-environment like rivers, mountains and plains.

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Darkness fell just before 5:30pm. Mountains became looming shadows, lantana became swathes of dark glossy green in our headlights and possums woke to scamper around the trees. The pitch black is no reason to go easy though. We chased down some challenging checkpoints in weed infested gullies and on steep spurs.

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The change of landscape also brought about a change of spirit. The commencement of night is always a time of jokes and laughter. Our only real failing was that we forgot to get out the glow sticks I was carrying. Usually we adorn ourselves in them for a laugh.

We wandered around the bush until 10:30pm when we returned to the hash house for a feed around the campfire. Paul joined us there for a social evening. Rogaining in Queensland is a social sport and many teams had come in to enjoy a yard around the campfire. We had seen the fire from at least a kilometer away out on a ridge. It looked welcoming and that’s exactly what it was.

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After a good sleep we set off again the next morning around 7am with the intention of trekking for four hours. However, the soles of my feet were covered in hot spots and fatigue won over. I am not as fit for trekking as for cycling and need to work on this. Two hours after we set off I couldn’t go any further and insisted we return to the hash house. After-all, we weren’t racing for sheep stations or even for a position. So that’s where our race ended. It was fantastic fun and reignited my desire to get out in the bush as often as possible.