Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Darkside 18 hour Adventure Race (25k run / 9k paddle / 54k MTB / 20k run / 20k MTB / 2k run)

After two DNFs in my first adventure race forays, there was one goal at the Darkside 18 hour – finish or die. The team events are the most difficult as they rely on all four people getting to the start-line in good shape with the same mindset. By a stroke of luck I had randomly met a guy called Trevor Mullens (yes MTB fans, uncle Trev of the famous Peta) while riding in Daisy forest. His enterprise, Tiger Adventure, is basically Tinder for AR team mates. He’ll match you with people of similar ability to do these crazy events. Why do they make you do it in teams? From what I've ascertained it’s an insurance requirement banking on at least a quarter of the participants to still have the mental faculties to call for help if things go pear-shaped.  So I’m teamed up with Liam St Pierre of Rogue Adventure, David ‘Sloshy’ Schloss and Ray Deetlefs. All guys with serious pedigrees in AR – no pressure then…

On Friday evening pizza was consumed, maps were issued at HQ and the guys set about marking the route we would take to each checkpoint. I watched intently and nodded every now and again as if I had any freaking clue about map-reading. There were several ‘mystery stages’ where we wouldn’t receive the maps and flag locations until we got to certain points on the course. This included the actual start line location and the first four checkpoints.

After a nap in the back of the Jazz, we were on a bus at 11.30pm to be dropped off in the middle of nowhere for a midnight start. I was feeling pretty extreme – “whoa, look at me, up past my bedtime” until I listened to the guy in front of me. He casually mentioned his next trip would be in the first group to traverse a Patagonian iceshelf while towing a 60kg sled and dodging crevasses. Tough crowd.

The start of these races is a bit frustrating. You want to tell your team mate with the tag that you’ve found a flag without alerting all the other teams to its location. After 2.5 hours of running the crowd had thinned and we sat in second spot. I should mention my longest run until this point had been the 12km at X Adventure from which I was still crippled by groin pain. Jogging was OK but anything that required me to lift my legs caused daggers in my adductors. Logs and high grass became my nemesis.

At 9km the paddle leg was token, but it was peaceful with only the doof-doof music from local amphetamine toting miscreants to keep us company. The gentle glow of the occasional burning vehicle had been one of the many highlights thus far, but now we were shelled by bait fish joyfully jumping our boats like dolphins. A few glances off the hands and face until Sloshy ended up with a whiting swimming in the foot-well of his ski. Ahh, the great outdoors.

Finally on the mountain bike, it was great to be chewing up the miles and collecting checkpoints in rapid succession. It was hard to tell from the map whether our selected roads would be fast fire-road or slow overgrown bush track. After making some good route choices we were in the lead despite stopping for a broken chain. Once the sun came up, I expected that dirty ‘after-night-club’ feeling but I felt great, with a bit of help from Red Bull. As someone who turns into a screaming banshee on less than 8 hours of sleep, apparently running around the forest in polyester negates this effect.

Mid-race lube from Ride Mechanic. Yes I shared with my team mates! #lubeenvy

At the next mystery checkpoint we dumped the bikes and were back on foot. As dad of a newborn Liam had been short of sleep and time to train and opted for a brisk walk. As he is also a 6 foot 5 inch giant I still had to jog to keep up with him so this worked out well. It was really impressive seeing master navigators at work. The guys would come to a point, glance at the compass, disappear into impenetrable scrub and return with the checkpoint ticked. Meanwhile, I get lost in shopping centre carparks.

It was brutal terrain and the hours passed slowly. The other team had put 45 minutes on us by the end of that stage and we contented ourselves with holding second place. Surprisingly, we came across them again later as they’d made a couple of big navigation errors. It was very funny experiencing the mind-games at the pointy end of the race. At this particularly hard-to-find flag the rival team had regathered. They claimed to still not have found the marker and said they were going back up the road to ‘check their maps’. Liam started yelling out to the rest of our team as we also needed to ‘check our maps’. In truth everyone was completely bullshitting as both teams had spotted the marker hanging from a tree. It’s all part of the game though and everyone’s friends at the end.

Riding back to HQ with our rivals we got the map for the final two markers. After over 13 hours it would be a 2km sprint around the lake – first one back takes the prize. Everyone gritted their teeth and dug deep but in the end we missed it by about 20 seconds. I honestly didn’t care I just knew the pain was over (until the next day when it ramped up several more levels).

Almost-winners are also grinners. Just looking forward to the free steak and egg burgers.

What blows me away is all the ‘normal’ people doing such an incredibly tough event. The fact that you find enough other insane people to form teams just defies logic. Thanks to In2Adventure for a true challenge, to my team mates for pushing on to the end and my usual sponsors: For The Riders and NS Dynamics – my Liv Lust was A1 as usual, even in the crazy red mud; Ride Mechanic – the travel bottle of lube came in very handy for a mid-race team application; Shotz – gels and tabs kept me going during the dark hours.

I'm pretty motivated for redemption at Geoquest in June after last year's less than stellar effort. Check it out at www.geoquest.com.au