general hiking trail running

The Australia Trip – The Rogaine

It’d been a long, long time since Alex and I had been rogaining. Actually, I just had a look back, and the last time we did one properly on foot was back in May 2002. That was the rogaine that ruined my knees, leaving me barely able to walk for weeks, and in chronic pain for over a year – back in the bad old days before I found a physio who was actually helpful. After that we did a few cycleogaines, paddleogaines and snowgaines together, as well as adventure races. But we never got in another old-style rogaine before we moved to Canada in 2007. Over here there are a lot of orienteering clubs that like to mention rogaining, but precious few events are actually held. (NB. Rogaining is like orienteering – but you have a fixed time limit, from 6 – 24 hours usually, to collect as many checkpoints as possible. Checkpoints are worth different amounts, and so route planning and navigation plays a big role in your success)

Our first rogaine together (and my first rogaine at all) was the first time we had a chance to catch up after we had initially met. In North American terms, it was almost like a first date. But in this case we were on a team of three doing a six hour rogaine, one of a few different teams cobbled together by our university outdoor club (go La Trobe University Mountaineering Club, go!). We bonded over a desire to run up and down hills, and to try and find checkpoints in muddy and inconvenient locations – while the girl we had been grouped with must have bemoaned the companions she’d ended up with, as I think she’d been hoping for more of a gentle hike. We set a trend on that rogaine, and arrived back late, losing 90 points – our companion was unimpressed with our foolhardiness, but we didn’t care, we had cheese toasties to eat at the hash house, and we’d had a ball!

So, once we had our plane flights booked for the Australia trip, one of the first things I did was start looking to see if there might be a rogaine on while we were there. For the first time in over ten years, we might be able to do a rogaine together while we were both in reasonable shape for running long distances. It looked promising, and sounded fun. I kept checking back to the rogaining page, and finally a few details cropped up. Something in Wombat State Forest – a six hour, and a twelve hour perhaps? Unsure about our options for Moosling-sitting, we opted to sign up for the six hour rogaine, and eagerly pored over old maps, trying to remind ourselves how it all worked.

All of this said, I was quite determined to go ahead and do the rogaine, despite the fact that when the day came I was feeling miserably sick. And couldn’t really talk. I could kind of manage a rough whisper, but it was painful. My legs seemed like they might work, I just wasn’t sure if they would continue working for six hours. But not going would have been akin to having made reservations at a wonderful and hard to book restaurant, reservations that you had made months and months ago, and eagerly anticipated. You’d read the menus, and dreamed of what you might eat. It was the restaurant where you had your first date, and where you might not have a chance to eat at again for years – and then just not going. It would have been outrageous.

So, with me dosed up on flu medication, we got ourselves ready early on Saturday morning and hit the road. On our way we found a fantastic little bakery in Bacchus Marsh for breakfast, and for once we arrived early for registration – we had over an hour to plan a route! It was unheard of!

After agreeing on a rough plan of attack, with lots of options for adding or dropping sections (depending on how we were going for time), we nervously eyed off the competition and debated what to wear. Then eventually we herded ourselves into the starting arena, and waited.

The first couple of minutes went quite well. We ran towards the first checkpoint we wanted to find, and struck out confidently through the bush. But it wasn’t there! Had we not gone far enough? We were in the wrong place! We had assumed we were following road X on the map, but in fact we were following a road that wasn’t on the map at all, and were horribly lost (well, perhaps not horribly, but certainly nowhere near our checkpoint). We struck on the plan of walking north – oh look, there are people there who seem to be walking purposefully in the trees…. aha! It’s the checkpoint! Wait, what’s that? It’s a completely different checkpoint? Oh. Well. We’ve wasted the first half hour of a six hour race, but we now know where we are, lets not waste any more time.

From then on things started to go a little more smoothly. The navigation came back to us, and we made a series of suspiciously good decisions. There was less arguing than I was accustomed to, largely because I didn’t have enough of a voice to disagree with anything.

I was running along, simultaneously feeling awful and having a wonderful time. The distraction of constant navigation and decision-making made the hours fly by – and we happily avoided most of the heavy undergrowth and scratchy acacia-type bushes, barring that one awful checkpoint that seemed to be surrounded by the hideous stuff.

After convincing Alex to go south for one more 80 point checkpoint (such a good idea!), we started to head back north, cutting off a chunk of points we’d been hoping to collect on the eastern section. As we zig-zagged from checkpoint to checkpoint, we calculated we should arrive back in the vicinity of the hash house with plenty of time to pick up the two extra checkpoints that were just nearby. Our old age must have rendered us more sensible when it came to calculating time, as we collected both the 70 point (steeply up the hill directly above the hash house, across a small stream that Alex made me jump into), and a 30 point (a few hundred metres downstream from the hash house, along a nicely graded trail), and still arrived back with about five minutes to spare.

Apparently I ran so hard my shoe exploded though! The Saucony Peregrines are great trail shoes, but the upper tends to get a little weak, and seems to get small rips in the fabric. The weakness that already existed in the upper couldn’t withstand a rogaine apparently, and as I was wearing toe socks, I spent half the race running along with my little toe hanging out. The other poor gear choice was wearing my old gaiters, which I had forgotten had failing velcro. I spent most of the race leaning over to try and re-attach them, and prevent them from falling off altogether. If there was any more undergrowth to struggle through, I really couldn’t have gotten away with bare knees either – as it was they were feeling a bit scratched up and awful.

All in all though, it was fantastic fun, and we were wishing we were doing the 12 hour. And we think most of the more competitive people must have been in the 12 hour, as despite my illness, and our early incompetence, we still managed to come second overall in the 6 hour, pretty closely behind first place (covering around 34km in the process). Now we’ve been scouring the Canadian internet for rogaines to do, but sadly cannot find any to feed our rogaining fever. Perhaps we’ll have to kick-start our own rogaining association over here, they don’t know what they’re missing out on.

general trip reports

adventure racing (aka. mud mud, glorious mud)

An early morning drive out to Wombat State Forest. There, we find Alicia (third team member), and Katya (who is competing with her Mountain Designs team, and who is back in Australia after two years in Canada/USA), and set Shaggy free to go and be event photographer. Bikes are reassembled, and we head to the start area, all systems go. We tie ourselves together for a four legged race, and go collect a plastic donkey from a bin. A slight incident with some slippery mud has as all crashing to the ground, and breaking our ankle ties, but we recover, find the other team with a plastic donkey, and make our way to the official to get checked before grabbing our bikes, and setting off on the rest of the course.

squeamish ossifrages

The obstacles are the most amusing part of the race, although mountain biking through the mud is ridiculously fun. Even when you do hit a mud bank in a deep puddle and fall over (drenching yourself completely, except for you left arm). We carry buckets of water through obstacle courses, get a blindfolded team member to worship a monkey god, completele crosswords on pop trivia, and collect a checkpoint hung over the middle of a dam (it’s alright, it was a small dam).

alicia bowing to the monkey god

Covered with mud, we cycle through the finish line. We came 22nd of 52. No prizes, not even a lucky door prize. But lots of fun. And mud (did I mention the mud?)

team squeamish ossifrage, over the finish line