GODZone - AR World Series

GODZone - AR World Series
7 days of Adventure in the Kaikoura - South Island, NZ - March 2014

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lake Frome - the WHY of Expedition Adventure Racing - XPD 2013

How do you begin to describe an experience that is beyond description?  Words are a start but words can only paint a picture that at best conveys a pictorial sense to the reader.  Words are sterile until they are fertilised by the imagination of the person who reads.  On their own, words are one-dimensional; they lack the visceral nature of the experience, the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the touch and ultimately the mental turmoil that engulfs the few in the reality of their chosen adventure. 

Can one experience have the power and the position to define an entire event?  Indeed, can it define an entire genre?  Leg Three of XPD 2013 did that for me and I believe many of my fellow adventurers would feel the same.  The monster that was Lake Frome would become a defining moment in our lives.

It is prosaic to say we were adrift on a sea of white.  Where multiple footsteps meant nothing - where the march of time was measured not by any visual references but by the track of the sun; where any anchoring to reality dissolved into a mirage.  Where your only point of sanity was a compass bearing that pointed to nothing.  This was the reality of the Lake - a surreal place that became for me an outer world experience.

Most of us live sanitised lives.  Some of us have a job, kids and a family - some of us don’t.  Either way, for most of our daily lives we live in a regime - we work, we train, we socialise and we do stuff!  Our lives are generally co-ordinated and measured by rationality - and some of us - a privileged few, choose to be Expedition Adventure Racers.

Perhaps we were born a hundred years too late.  What we seek would have been the norm, a sensible day’s work when the world was traversed by square-riggers and there were spots on the map marked "there be dragons".  In another time, would we have been those adventurous souls that tackled that great unknown?  For many of us - I think he answer would be yes.

And so the question is often asked, why do we do it?  And I struggle to find an answer that can summarise the complexities of emotion, fear, elation, exhaustion, pain, challenge, pleasure and the suffering that all of us experience when engaging in an endeavour that takes us to a place that few have been.  So the answer is ultimately paradoxical; if you have to ask the why then you will never be able to understand the how.  Because it is only the souls that have been, done and endured that can truly understand the why.  And so it was - with the journey that was Lake Frome.

A monster by any description, a journey so simple and yet so diabolical: walk across a dry salt lake and on the way find a checkpoint on an island. When you start, the horizon is flat and so is the sky, it melds into one giant focal plane of white and hazy azure.  The common point, a wavering mirage where sky meets salt somewhere out on a vastness so great, that finding a comparable life experience is impossible.  I look at the map with a scale of 1:150000 and a slow thought leaks like a dripping tap into my mind.  What we are about to do is a step well beyond my navigational experience.  At zero metres above sea level, the big flat of Lake Frome appears to stretch to the mythical edge of the world. At two metres above the salt, the horizon line is five kilometres away; there is absolutely nothing between me and the curve of the earth.  Whichever way I look, it is white.  It will take four hours of walking and twenty kilometres of nothing before the target will literally rise from a mirage.  

The island is a long way over the horizon.  With a deep breath and a leap of faith the metaphor "to cast off" takes on a dramatic meaning for us all.  Heat, flies, sun, wind and the crunch of salt under our feet become the rhythms of our life.  Left right left right left right; it seemed we walked on the spot, marching up and down for hours.  Logic said we were moving but without visual cues the mind became it's own source of delusions.  Is that the island over there?  No, it must be that one, wait - what are all these other islands?  No, that can't be right, the compass points that way.  And so it went.  With no reference points for scale, little islands looked big and big islands looked small - those far away seemed close and the one close appeared distant.  It was as though we were in a giant fun park - where mirrors distorted reality.

When you are tired, sleep deprived and exhausted you seek to bend your current existence and make something that is not right fit your picture of what "should be".  And so it was, many teams were to explore the smaller islands before they found "the one".  Eventually logic, sanity and rational thought prevailed and the checkpoint was found.  

With water low and severe blisters forming, the unrelenting flatness and sharp salt crystals of the Lake began to take a toll on many.  One more compass bearing to land, old hands now, we cast off from our island and headed to the shore - a mere 25 kilometres away.  The sun had worn us down; our faces plastered in sunscreen appeared more haggard than our ages deserved.  It was day two and the race was becoming a mission to endure.  Somewhere out on the emptiness of the Lake our experience had shifted from the physical to the mental.  As all Expedition Racers know - the journey and the fight was now within and so it would be for the remainder of the race.

After relentless hours of staring at nothing, water emerged.  At first it was a mirage - something not to be taken seriously.  Then as time progressed it became very real and the cursing started.  As did the anxiety - was it deep, would we have to swim, could we navigate around it and would we lose our bearing if we did so?  The answer was simple - hold the bearing and hold your nerve. 

So we waded for five kilometres; a surreal experience within a surreal experience.  Then the light left us, the day had gone in a blink and so had our strength.  With darkness came a new challenge, how to find a checkpoint in a world of black amongst sand dunes and clay pans?  A kindly placed red light, guided us into the Transition - a true beacon in a vast sea of nothing.

Encapsulated in one leg of one race was a lifetime of experience.  After 14 hours, Lake Frome had delivered: vastness, hardship, pleasure, amazement, suffering, wonderment, pain, perseverance, great beauty, anxiety, elation, relentlessness, frustration, strangeness, respect, challenge, rawness, tranquillity and mesmerising intensity.  It is what Expedition Racing is all about.  And that is why we do it.

The end of the Lake.

Monday, July 29, 2013

XPD - Climb a Rope Day

Rumour has it that we will have a 100m prussik to complete during this years XPD.

Prussiking involves climbing up a rope using clamping devices to prevent you from sliding back down.  According to Race Director, Craig Bycroft - all teams are strongly advised to practise.  When Craig uses the words strongly advised - followed shortly after by - 


Only people with a desire to endure extreme pain or who suffer from some form of brain damage would ignore it!

So with that in mind and the simple fact that we don't like to suffer.  Carey and I organised a Team training day to teach Tim, Joe and Kolya how to prussik.  The photos below tell the story.

A great day out with the Team - dialled in and ready to go.

Bring it on Craig!

Carey demonstrating technique to the Team

WHAT!!  "There's a problem with the rope???"

David looking concerned about Joe's rope concern.

Carey practising her XPD photo techniques
Kolya figuring out foot technique

Joe perfecting the Hump technique

Tim clearly having too much fun!

Kolya looking too calm and cool.

Apparently it works better when you stick your tongue out.

David demonstrating more empathy than normal.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Rock to River

As part of our XPD training, we had signed up for a multi sport race.  The Rock to River was to be run from the main street of Katoomba finishing on the Nepean River at Penrith.  For a number of reasons it was cancelled.
6.59 am and raring to go - the cold might have had something to do with the "let's get out of here looks"

This was good for us - as I had concerns that we would find the tight cutoffs a little too tight for our capabilities.  So we decided to do the course as planned - regardless.

Carey was co-opted to be our support crew.  

Three legs: 20km trekking across the Jamison valley, 50 km of MTBing down to Glenbrook and 24 km of paddling up the Nepean Gorge.

Sunday morning - 6.30 am in Katoomba - on the coldest day of the year was a pleasurable start!  The forecast was for snow - but it had dawned - cold, clear and a blue sky - things were looking up!

Cold and Blue - crossing the Jamison
A rather brisk walk took us into the Jamison Valley and warmer temperatures 600m lower than the start!

Jamison Creek
After 4 hrs we had climbed the infamous Kedumba Pass - back up into 1 - 2 degree celsius temperatures and a COLD driving wind that took the wind chill well below zero.

Nearing the top of Kedumba - a brisk 700m ascent
Time to ride - rugged up we headed down to lower climates.  By 3.30 pm we rolled into Glenbrook and a quick transition to paddling.

Done walking - time to ride
Up and Up
Last light saw us on the river - clear skies with an amazing moon made for super bright paddling up the Nepean Gorge.  COLD was now pressing - numb fingers and tiredness found us back at the car after 24km of brilliant night paddling.

100km in total - 14 hrs - 2200m of climbing.  A good day out.

A cold night on the river....

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Breakfast Creek and Humble Pie

The Team prior to Humble Pie night
It started as a Gung Ho training trip - XPD style - it quickly unravelled into a hard night out.  It was to be a circuit - 6 Foot track to Dunphys - down Breakfast Creek to the Coxs River - then up Coxs until we hit the 6 Foot and back to the cars.

Hell Hole - a good name

Next, we were to ride up to Blackheath, Katoomba, Narrowneck and Taros Ladders back to the car.

Kolya scrubbing it out

What we actually did - was to spend a long time traversing the rocky terrain of Breakfast Ck - blackness, poor tracks, scrub, slippery rocks and multiple creek crossings meant very slow movement.  

Emma negotiating one of multiple crossings

The Coxs junction was reached at 2am and our plan was aborted - it was apparent, that at the rate we were travelling it would take another 6 - 10 hrs to walk up the Coxs.

Tim enjoying his stroll down Breakfast Creek

A steep ridge - affectionately known as Iron Mongrel was our new exit point - 600m of sharp climbing later, we were on top of Iron Pot Ridge - a piece of terrain well known to all North Face 100 runners!

Happy to be on top of Iron Pot Ridge - 3.30 am

So with our tails between our legs we made it back to the cars an hour before daylight.  We decided to have a quick kip in the car - by doing this we wouldn't need to put lights on our bikes.  And a little rest seemed a good idea - we had been moving constantly for almost 10 hrs.

After an hour of dozing a throbbing knee woke Tim up.  At this point it was obvious that further heroics were out - so we headed up to Blackheath for breakfast and 
a BIG slice of Humble Pie.

We had been thoroughly Breakfast Creeked!

Rubicon at its best - still laffing!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Solo on Solitary

Looking west to Mt Solitary and Narrowneck across the Jamison
Training in the Upper Blue Mountains has got to be one of the most spectacular places in NSW where you could spend a day suffering. A circuit of Mt Solitary and the Jamison Valley via Kedumba Pass is no exception. The day started cold - the rain of the week before had gone - the sky was blue and the air temperature a balmy 2 degrees. The westerly wind meant that the windchill was well below zero. A cracking start to a big day out. 
The walls of Kedumba Pass
A 700m descent off the couch got the knees a bit wobbly - then came the East Summit of Mt Solitary - a thigh burning ascent of 700m - straight up from the Jamison River. A crossing of Solitary is always stunning - cliffs and mountain views abound. 

On top of Mt Solitary
The North Walls of Solitary
The Ruined Castle track takes you below the majesty of the Landslide then onto tourist land below the Three Sisters. After this you are on your own to cross the Jamison. 
Below Ruined Castle
Crossing the Landslide
The Northern Walls of Mt Solitary - last light
About here, the light disappeared and the cold intensified. Steeply down to Leura creek - steeply up and over into Jamison River and then the lovely leg snapping 700m climb up Kedumba to finish. 10 hrs - a coupla 1000m metres of climbing and 40km of stunning terrain - a great day out training.

Rubicon Territory

Monday, July 1, 2013

Wet and Wetter - Training for the Desert

Pouring rain, heavy fog, flooded rivers, cold, dripping temperate rain forests and steep climbs - perfect training conditions for Western Tasmania and the 2011 XPD!  

But it's 2013 and in 8 weeks time we'll be in the desert of South Australia. The chances of this sort of rain and tempestuous weather will be low!

BUT you train when you can and you do what you can - whenever you can - that is the nature of preparing for an expedition length race!  The Adventure Racing World Series often uses the phrase "no second chances and no turning back" to describe their races.  

XPD is one of them!

So with that in the forefront of our minds - off we went into a VERY soggy Saturday in the upper Blue Mountains. Katoomba to the top of Mt Solitary and back via several ascents of the cliff line. Solid pace walking in difficult conditions - 29 km, 1500m of up and the last three hrs in swirling fog, pitch blackness and heavy rain.

A cracking day out.  The pictures tell the story......
Katoomba Falls on the rise

Down Furber Steps into the Jamison Valley

Ruined Castle Track to Mt Solitary

Perfect terrain for Rubiconners

Climbing Mt Solitary
Half way up Solitary looking back to Katoomba

No helmets here!

Golden Stairs up onto Narrowneck

More Golden Stairs - now a river - mist and rain swirling

Road back into Katoomba - lost in the fog and rain

Down Furber Steps - now in flood - air filled with water

Top of Giant Steps - 30 minutes to a pint of Guinness