Sunday, 27 November 2016

XPD 2016 World Champs Race Report - Shoalhaven

Team No 36 - Dynamite Adventure/Belgravia Leisure 

Mixed team of 4 that included - Tim BOOTE, Angus RODWELL, Liam ST PIERRE and Karina VITIRITTI

After months of training and a final few days of sorting gear (and most importantly food) we were sitting at race HQ in Ulladulla waiting for our maps. I was getting a bit nervous knowing the race was only hours away, but also very excited about getting our maps to see what we were getting ourselves into. The atmosphere was great with nearly 400 other competitors in the same boat, ranging from the best in the world, to people just out for a hell of an adventure. Most people would agree it was the best start list for an Adventure race ever!

At 7.30am on the dot we are given our 2 sets of maps (39 maps in each set) and Liam is into it, marking the route we would be travelling over the next however many days with Angus and Karina filling in the extra details we would need to ensure we stayed on track. Before we knew it we were told map marking time was up and to board the buses that would take us to the start line in Huskisson on the edge of Jervis Bay, an hour away. There was plenty of nervous conversation and poor attempts at grabbing some last minute naps on the bus ride.

After arriving at the start line we sorted our two different boats (we didn’t realise how different they would be at this point) and double checked our gear, I may have triple checked mine just to keep myself busy! After some last minute encouragement from our family’s that had made the trip we were standing on the start line in the very warm sun shoulder to shoulder with the other 94 teams ready to go. It’s been a long time since I have been that nervous before a race. I kept telling myself just focus on one leg at a time, the first would be a 35k paddle in Jervis Bay!


LEG 1 – 35K Paddle in Jervis Bay

When the gun went off we tried not to lose each other during the short run down to the boats and before we knew it we were fighting for a piece of water amongst nearly 200 boats. Half an hour into the paddle things spread out a bit and we were able to find our own rhythm. At this point it appeared our initial setup of the ever consistent Angus and Karina pair in the smaller boat was keeping Liam and I on our toes as we tried to keep up. After 2 hours we hit our first CP in a small bay near the entrance of Jervis Bay, after grabbing the 2nd CP we got as close to the rocks as we were game with some decent swell crashing in them. By this stage we had modified our paddle combinations and were cruising along at a steady pace. When we hit CP 4 we were given a quick reminder of the country we were racing in with a kangaroo hoping right by the CP as we arrived (Much to the delight of the James Pitman who was behind his camera at the CP).
From there on we set a steady pace and collected the final two CP on the paddle and made our way to the first TA, which was back where we started. After just over 5 solid hours of paddling we hit the TA and were all very happy to get out to stretch our legs. Unfortunately our arms still had a bit of work to do, carrying our heavy boats up the short but steep hill before we could give them a rest. 


LEG 2 – 14K Coastal Trek (Coasteering Huskisson to Erolwal Bay)

Happy to begin this leg in the daylight we were in good spirits which were increased by some local supports on the beaches that were cheering us by name thanks to technology. The beginning of the trek consisted of nice firm beaches, but gradually turned into some rocky outcrops which included a couple of waist deep wades to stay on course. Again we were setting a solid pace, but ensuring we were not pushing too hard. As it was early in the race we were still surrounded by a number of other teams. Just as the light began to fade we headed inland up over a small hill (the first of many) along some roads into Erowal Bay hitting the TA just after dark. On went our headlights and some warmer clothes as we were about to get back on the boats for another paddle.


LEG 3 – 13K Paddle (Erowal Bay to Sussex Inlet)

Just after 8.30pm we paddled away from the boat ramp and turned our lights off, navigating by some channel markers where we could. After the first paddle we had settled on a paddle combination of 3 of us in the 3 person boat and 1 person plus our gear in the smaller 2 person boat. Liam was one up in the smaller boat and in charge of navigation while Angus, Karina and I focused on keeping our 3 person barge moving along. Except for a little bit of thick seaweed to paddle through this paddle was pretty straight forward with flashing channel markers guiding our way. I’m sure the anticipation of getting on our MTB for the next leg spurred us on, which was good because we hadn’t forgotten about our 5 hours in these same boats a few hours ago. The bright lights of TA were a welcome sight after over 2 hours of paddling towards small flashing lights.


LEG 4 – 95K MTB (Sussex Inlet to Kioloa, via Florence Head)

Online Tracking - Seagate leading the way!
The combination of being cold after stopping paddling and excitement of getting to ride our MTB ensured we had a quick transition. After a few K’s on some bitumen roads to warm up we were onto some gravel and moving along well. Our first challenge was getting under the HWY which required a bit of hike a bike to get through the underpass and then we were onto some undulating roads with some short and steep creek crossings. By now it was the early hours of the morning and we were kept awake by having a battle for position with another Aussie team, the “Stromlonauts”. We then hit the major climb on this leg up to CP8; it was a welcome surprise to turn onto a freshly sealed road that continued to climb. Although we were on bitumen the climb didn’t become any easier and just seemed to get steeper. We kept climbing at a steady pace and managed to get a gap on the “Stromlonauts” by the time we hit the CP at Pointer Gap Lookout. Unfortunately being dark all we could see was street lights of Ulladulla in the distance. It was a short ride through the fog until we hit the short hike a bike section to start our decent. From my perspective hike a bike is usually a bit tough, but this was something else, pretty much dropping off the side of some rocky boulder cliffs and then traversing along a rocky cliff trusting that the pink tape on some trees would lead the way. It was such slow going that there was a back log of teams (including Stromlonauts, BMX Bandits & many more) so we just had to wait our turn and use it as a short rest. After some good team work we managed to get both ourselves and our bikes through unscathed. Next was a sketchy muddy steep rutted out descent, then a mixture of fire roads and bitumen until the sun appeared, as the sun rose we were treated with a beautiful view from the ridgeline we were riding along. Not long after this we descended into Kioloa in good spirts after setting a good pace throughout the ride and not having any navigational problems to this point. We were happy to check in and see we were nearly in the top 30, especially knowing we had not pushed too hard yet.


LEG 5 – 35K Coastal Trek (Coasteering Murramarang National Park)

With a number of teams still close by and some sunshine we were not lacking any motivation as we began  
the trek at around 9.00am. Our first CP on this leg was on a head land close by the TA, as we neared the CP the Japanese team “East Wind” came jogging by with their personal camera man in tow. We let them pass knowing the camera man had no doubt given them some motivation to keep moving quickly. From there on it was back on the beach heading south picking up CP’s as we went, the sun was out, the water was bright blue and the sand super white. We didn’t waste much time getting CP16 as a couple of male sunbakers on the beach were trying to make the most of a quite secluded beach (so they thought) to ensure a very even and all over tan! A bit after the 20k mark we turned off the beach and headed inland to Batemans Bay through the Bush, after spending most of our time trekking along flat beaches some hills got the legs going! It was at this point we realised that we were running out of time to get some tidal assistance for our paddle leg that was up next. Because of this we put the hammer down (as much as you do in these races) for the last hour or so and made it into the Batemans Bay TA in time to complete our transition in daylight. This was the most southern point of the race and we had maintained our position with a consistent leg with no navigational errors. It was great to see Teagan who had driven down to give us some encouragement.


LEG 6 – 37K Paddle (Clyde River, paddling from Batemans Bay to Shallow Crossing upstream)

After a quick transition we managed to catch the last hour and a half of incoming tide and daylight, which helped us navigate our way out of Batemans Bay through the oyster fields but once it got dark the tide turned. By the time it got dark we had made it into the narrower section of the river, but the outgoing tide wasn’t making things easier. At the 12k mark we hit CP21 which was the only one on this paddle, after changing into some warmer cloths we pressed on into the night. We had settled on the same paddle combinations as before with Liam navigating and paddling solo in the smaller boat while Angus, Karina and I chugged away in the bigger boat, we were moving and even managed to pass a couple of teams. As it neared midnight the fact that we hadn’t slept since the start of the race (36 hours ago) began to hit us. The old sleep monsters began to pop up, but a few no doze tablets and the cold kept us awake enough to press on. The last hour seemed to go forever with the combination of no sleep, cold, tired arms, sore backs, outgoing tide and low water levels taking their toll on all of us. Poor Liam in the boat by himself was really struggling to stay awake. With a couple of k’s left we hit some shallow patches of water that we had to drag the boats across, if that wasn’t hard enough paddling against the tide, the rocks on the bottom of the river were so slippery we were barely able to keep our feet. Although it was hard work staying upright watching each other slip and slide did provide us with a few laughs and kept us awake. I don’t think I have ever been happier to see a TA when the lights appeared from around the last corner. After dragging the boats up another short hill we quickly got out of our wet paddling gear (it’s amazing how quick you get even colder when you stop paddling) and managed to find an empty tent in the TA to help warm up and settle down for a well-earned sleep.


LEG 7 – 58K MTB (Very hilly through Southern Forests to Yadboro Flat)

At around 4am, after an amazing 2hrs sleep our alarms went off and we woke up to some heavy rain outside. Luckily, we had positioned our bike boxes under a spare marquee so we had a semi dry area to put them together and get ready. By the time we took off it was nearly daylight, the rain had turned to drizzle and again we were alongside our Japanese competitors “East Wind” and there personal media guy (These guys almost go as hard as the teams). For some reason I had woken up feeling terrible and was really struggling on the bike, I tried to eat some food, but could barely keep anything down. Angus and Liam took some gear from my pack to help me out and I kept moving forward as best I could. This was made even harder by the fact that this MTB seemed to be either up or down which is usually how I like it. After three hours of riding slowly thanks to my lack of energy (which included a lot of pushing our bikes up steep and muddy hills) the sun began to appear and for some reason this and a few “pizza shapes” seemed to get me going again and I began to improve. Unfortunately the terrain didn’t and the steep hills just kept coming, I’m not sure if we spent more time on or off our bikes but after about 40k and around 2000m of climbing  the hills flatted out a bit. By this stage I was feeling a million bucks compared to when I had started the ride, which amazed me having thought that I may not make it to the end of the ride at one point.
Unfortunately Karina had hit a bit of a wall during the long hike a bike and then struggled up the next section of climbs, this is where a couple of the younger NZ gun teams went past us (Bivouac Inov8 and Cloud Base 9). Angus stepped up and towed Karina along to help her out while still carrying my extra gear, the “East Wind” media man had already labelled Gus as the “Strong Man”, this name was very appropriate especially on the Mountain Bike legs. The last 12k or so was mainly descending into the TA which was nice as the sun was well and truly out by now and warming things up. When we hit TA at 12.45pm (2 days into our race) we knew we were half way through the number of legs we had to complete but were under no illusions, we had more than half the race ahead of us with a major part of that being the next trekking leg. Although Karina and I (mainly me) had rough patches on this leg good navigation and the fact that we kept moving along had ensured we were still in a good position on the leader board.


LEG 8 – 45K Trek (Budawangs Wilderness from Yadboro Flat to Nerriga)

After an amazing avocado wrap we loaded up with water and food knowing we would be on this trek through the Budawang Range for a while. As we took off it was continuing to warm up and we could see we were in for a big climb to CP28. Angus was wearing some innovative trekking pants (blue and red striped briefs) to assist with some chaffing issues; I’ll admit I was a bit jealous as he wasn’t on his own in this regard. His attire made quite an impression on one of the female spectators as she drove past.

We set a steady pace as we climbed along the ………. Track passing day walkers and photographers who were on their way down.  As we neared the top of the first section of the climb we made our first major navigational error by following the older trail that seemed to match the map. This soon turned into a traverse along a steep hill below a cliff and created our first and only (surprisingly) encounter with a slithery friend. After a while the decision was made to investigate higher up the cliff to see if we could locate the main trail, this was a good move as after a short scramble/climb we located the main trail. We were glad that we only lost 30min or so with this choice as further along we came across two NZ teams (Cloud Base Nine and Bivouac Inov8) who had made the same initial route choice, but persisted with it and lost nearly 2hrs. Again we kept a steady pace along the rough trail that continued to climb right through to CP28, once we hit this CP things flattened out, so we picked up the pace to make the most of the daylight we had left, which meant we didn’t really get a chance to take in the amazing scenery of massive rock features. As the light faded we did our best to stay on the trail and came across some other teams as we went, the trail consisted of a narrow boardwalk track amongst knee high grass and rocky sections that were marked with things called “rock cairns” (which is a pile of rocks stacked on each other, google it!). Angus went through a bit of a low patch, but just kept pushing on and didn’t slow us down. We managed to keep on the trail which required paying attention while getting tired. As we neared CP29 we passed a few teams having a sleep and after punching CP29 we did the same and grabbed an hour and half sleep.  We regretted the decision to sleep on top and not in our tent as the mozzies buzzing around were quite annoying. We woke a bit before day break and took a bearing back to the trail, but discovered that the trail wasn’t marked 100% correct again (we had been warned) so after bush bashing around for a hour through some very spikey vines (thank goodness for my moxie gaiters) we doubled back onto the trail and pressed on. A short time later the walking trail turned into an old 4x4 track which helped us move quicker and pass an Aussie Tiger team who had a few injury issues. We were lucky on this trek that there were numerous places to get fresh water that didn’t require treating. As the sun came up again and we could see we were getting through this trek our spirts lifted which was good as we still had a fair way to go. At around 11.00am we hit the TA which was at the Nerriga Hotel which was open and busy, unfortunately there was no beers for us, but they did have some bacon and egg rolls (they were amazing) being freshly made. These nearly made up for the no beer. We were stoked to finish this leg as it had been noted as a tough one for our team and we had even moved into 30th place!


LEG 9 – 70K MTB (Mainly on bitumen road from Nerriga to Bungonia National Park)

On paper this ride looked pretty straight forward and after the fresh bacon and egg roll we were ready to go. On most days I’m sure we would have been right and cruised along, except this day we had a bit of wind to contend with. When I say a bit, it was blowing us all over the road and was some of the worst wind I have ridden in. Unfortunately it was a cross/head wind, but we just kept battling on trying to keep Karina in our draft and avoid the traffic. We set a good pace in the circumstances and in the second half of the ride our direction changed and the wind turned into a cross/tail wind which was nice. At this point we were very happy as we had planned to hit the caving section around 5.00pm and we were right on track. Just after 4.30pm we rolled into TA and were keen to get into the caves to hide from the wind.


LEG 10 – 5K Caving at Bungonia

After a quick transition as we had to pack our bikes after the caving we were given our map from the 1800’s (a bit an exaggeration, but it was pretty old school) that showed us the location of the cave entrances and after our briefing we set off. We had a mandatory 5 hours to find 5 out of 6 CP’s that were located in 6 different caves that were all of different sizes. Our first cave we found easily and after a little bit of a squeeze (mainly for Angus and Liam) we had our first CP. From then on the challenge was locating the cave entrances using the old school map, we were lucky we had the last of the daylight for the first part. After crossing paths with a few teams and hearing stories of Nathan Fa’avae getting stuck in the cave called the “Flattener” I couldn’t convince Angus or Liam to try that cave so that made our choice of caves pretty easy. We did have some fun (if you call it that) in another cave that was pretty tight, but we all got through unscathed. When we returned to the TA in the dark we were happy to arrive with 10 minutes of our 5 hours to spare, it turned out that a number of teams lost a bit of time in this section. After a warm meal we decided not to sleep at TA and start the next leg so we packed our bikes and loaded up our packs with our pack rafting gear.


LEG 11 – 44K Pack Raft (Upper Shoalhaven River from Bungonia to Tallowa Dam - Including Trek to the river in Shoalhaven Gorge)

You may be wondering why we loaded our packs with our pack rafting gear, which included everything from the 2 rafts, paddles, life jackets and paddling cloths. According to our map we had to grab a couple of quick CP on our way down to the river so at around 11.00pm we headed off with our packs as heavy as they had been all race. The first CP was at a lookout, but the second was at the bottom of the canyon below the lookout, a long way down. The decent into the canyon was tough, having to contend with heavy packs, super steep loose rocky trails, fatigued legs and drowsiness. We made our way down as fast and safely as we could, despite this Karina accidently dislodged a large fist sized rock that missed my head by 2 foot as it crashed into a tree next to me and stopped at my feet. It was one of those moments where you remember what you’re doing can be very dangerous. A lot more awake after this close call we made it to the bottom of the canyon to the CP. We then made the decision to have a sleep before continuing along the bottom of the canyon to start paddling at 5.00am when the dark zone on the river finished. We each found a patch of sand to sleep on amongst the rocks and enjoyed an hour and half sleep. When we woke up we headed off quickly to warm up a bit, with only about 2.5k we were confident of hitting the river at 5am, but not long after we headed off we hit some massive boulders the size of a car followed by a section of boulders that were bigger than elephants and saw us assisting each other to get over and down each one. There was no direct way through so we had to go up, over and around as best we could. The fact that our packs were loaded up added to the challenge. Luckily we made it through the worst part before the shower of rain that added a slip factor to the rocks.

By the time we made it to the river it was nearly 6.00am, which was a bit later than planned but thanks to our electric pump that Angus had carried our rafts were inflated in no time and we set off. Again “Team East Wind” were putting their rafts on the water near us and there media man was most impressed at our electric pump. Unfortunately that was the last we saw of them until the finish. It was a beautiful morning on the water and we made good progress in our rafts through the small rapids even though they are not the most comfortable things to paddle. By mid-morning the sunscreen was out and things had warmed up which brought out many water dragons sunbaking on the rocks.

Due to the low water level, the rafts got a workout on some rocks, but they were impressively tough and up to the job. The Kiwi team Bivouac Inov8 came past us like we were standing still which made us lift our work rate.  Just after midday we hit the pack raft CP, our legs and backs enjoyed a bit of a stretch when we stopped to punch the CP. We were informed that we had a flat 12.5k to paddle to the next TA, making the last part of the pack raft drag on. 15 minutes from TA Mother Nature unleashed a rain storm on us, but in hindsight we were lucky when it hit us as we were able to get warm and dry when we hit the TA. Thanks to an awesome official who supplied us with a thermos of hot water we were able to have a coffee that along with a Nutella and banana wrap hit the spot. Team 23 Ecuador Movistar headed off down river during this rainstorm however we prepared ourselves for the long night ahead.


LEG 12 – 56K Paddle down Lower Shoalhaven River from Tallowa Dam to Nowra)

We made the decision to press on with the next leg and got back into the kayaks for the last time just before nightfall. With some reasonable rapids in the first section of the paddle we changed our boat setup to Angus and Liam in the big boat while Karina and I paddled the smaller one. `We were glad to have a couple of hours of daylight to begin with, this helped us to get through the initial rapids and enabled us to see all the amazing carvings in the cliffs along the edges of the river (May have been some more sleep monsters, but there was no way you could convince us otherwise at the time). We still had a few rapids to contend when the light disappeared which we managed to negotiate all be it in an unorthodox fashion at times, these were made more difficult as the fog made our head torches useless at times. A special mention goes to Angus and Liam for getting that big boat through relatively unscathed. After navigating well through a tricky section of channels we hit the main river at around 11.00pm which was wide and flat. Now that we had settled back into rhythm paddling and we began to get tired and cold, so we reverted to our original paddle setup except I remained in the smaller boat by myself and the other three in the big boat. The moon light was a great help, even though it was overcast it was bright enough to assist us. We kept chugging away until we hit CP39 just after midnight. It was at this point that I think the combination of being tired, cold and the last few days of racing caught up with us and things went a bit pear shaped with tensions fraying. After a few words were exchanged things calmed down and we changed paddle combinations before pressing on. After probably the lowest point of our race things didn’t get much better, with nearly 15k to go we all began to struggle to stay awake with Angus suffering the worst. He was struggling to stay awake and when he was awake he thought he was on some River artists trail with sculptures and rock paintings adorning the river banks and cliffs. Karina was also struggling with the cold and a really sore back. I inadvertently put my police hat on and took charge trying to keep Angus awake and Karina from freezing. I would say that the high point of our race was us pushing through this stage of the paddle which lasted for the next 3hrs as the river twisted back and forward until we saw a bright light flashing at the TA in Nowra. The bright light turned out to be Teagan who had woken up at around 2am to be waiting for us at the TA. We were all cold, but Karina was sent straight to a warm shower in the rowing club building at TA (what a luxury in an adventure race!) while we sorted our boats. It was then straight to the last spare tent and into our sleeping bags. Also at TA were Merrell, Ecuador Movistar and Terra Adventura Blue.


LEG 13 – 99K MTB (Morton & Conjola National Park from Nowra to Bendalong)

After our final sleep (another hour and half) we woke up and setup our bikes in first light before heading off through town. We had received a tip off as to where to get the best coffee in Nowra (thanks to Angus’s cousin Ange who had also been dot watching us all night made the effort to visit us when we arrived at TA) so we made a small detour and after one of the best coffee’s I have ever had we set off on our final ride. The ride undulated with some solid hills until Danjera Dam where we had a solid climb up onto a plateau. We were in good spirts and moving along well knowing that we were nearly on the home stretch, this didn’t stop our legs feeling the last few days. Teamwork came into play on the hike a bike climb and across the ridgeline with both Gus and myself helping out Karina on tow and pushing her over the top of some of the climbs.  We hit the highest point on this MTB about half way through and then had some good descents which were welcomed by our tired legs. CP44 was at a lookout and we took the chance to have a look at the view of where we had been racing over the past few days and also of where were heading on our way to the finish line. As we continued on the afternoon began to warm up and our fatigue began to show in the way of a couple of small navigational errors. It was nice to hit the small section of beach before our last TA and even nicer to roll into the TA knowing we were now on the home stretch. At TA we were greeted by Liam’s wife Sally, his two girls, Liam’s father John and Teagan.


LEG 14 – 18K Coastal Trek along Conjola Beach to finish line at Ulladulla, Woo Hoo)

It was nice that we didn’t have to pack our bikes and this ensured a quick transition. This last trek was pretty straight forward as we headed south down the coast to Ulladulla and the finish line. With Sneaky Weasel Gang in front, and the highly rated South African team Merrell not far behind us we kept up a good pace with our other incentive to get to the finish before dark. We had two inlets to cross with the first not being long after we started. The outgoing tide from Lake Conjola was ripping out to sea and we back tracked to the designated spot to cross. Luckily the tide was low so the water wasn’t too deep however Merrell decided they would take the risk and swim across the narrowest and fastest moving channel which provided some entertainment as they were swept 200m towards the ocean before scrambling out onto a sand bank. Sure enough Merrell started to jog along the beach looking keen to get to the finish (they had had a long race with a number of mechanical issues on the bike) we knew we couldn’t keep up so we let them go and decided to keep moving, but try and enjoy this last leg also. As we hit Mollymook there were a lot of people cheering us along which was really nice, we even bumped into some of the other Aussies that had already finished and were heading out for dinner! I really enjoyed and tried to savour the last few K’s trying to take in what we had accomplished. The sun was setting as we approached the finish line and it was amazing to grab our Aussie flag and jog the last 50m through the arch to the applause of friends, family and other supporters. We had done it and finished at 7.18pm after 5 days and 7 hours of racing with only 6 and half hours sleep; to top it off we were in 28th place.
Final Trek walking alongside Merrell from South Africa


A few days after the race I have to say I really enjoyed the experience (maybe not every single bit but most of it) and am keen to go round 2 at some stage in the future. I was amazed at what we were able to achieve in relation to how far we travelled and were able to function, especially on very little sleep. I think it’s a great lesson in this day and age where everything seems to be focused on making things easier in life, it shows what people are capable of achieving with a bit of hard work and effort. That said I hope this will inspire somebody to get out there and challenge themselves.


The team would like to thank our sponsors Belgravia- Leisure, Verge Sport Australia, Active Feet, XTM Performance, Moxie Gear and Kwik Kopy Braeside. Teagan and Sally for the food and race support, our families who support us going on and training for these crazy adventures , Paul Gruber (adventure face booker, race analyst & teammate), Craig & Louise from Geocentric who put this awesome course together, all of the event volunteers and of course all of our very supportive Dot watchers, we hope you managed more sleep than we did.

By Tim Boote