Monday 9 October 2017

Mountain Designs Wild Women take a walk on the Wildside!

The Wildside expedition length adventure race (Canberra) was the final event of the inaugural Adventure 1 Series. Mountain Designs Wild Women had previously contested and taken out the women’s category in 2 of the previous 3 events – Geoquest & Hells Bells, so a strong placing and finish in this event would secure us the series win. Our team had been training well and were certainly well prepared for this adventure, however with just two weeks to go we unfortunately lost Ali Wright to injury. We were then extremely fortunate to have our backup team-mate Alina McMaster right there in Canberra available to fill the spot……there was just one catch….she had not done any training since Geoquest…..but was happy to race and also offer her family home to the team.  So, this is how it panned out……
Mountain Designs Wild Women Wildside Team
Registration, Course Reveal & Preparation
Teams descended on the Australian Capital for this year’s event on Saturday 29th September for registration at HQ – The Ibis Eaglehawk (which was actually in NSW).  Richard Old – Race Director from Fully Rad Adventures had kindly released the course logistics schedule the week before, allowing us the spend most of this day packing and sorting gear boxes with food and equipment. This meant that we could spend more time on the maps when released. At registration, we were stoked to see a familiar face – Amy Potter who has been part of the backbone of countless Geoquest and XPD events, so it was hugs all-round! We had a very relaxed meal at the Pub with A1 Series leaders, and our good friends, Team Thunderbolt AR.
The complete Mountain Designs Wild Women Team for the A1 Series
Early Sunday morning 30th September the course was revealed.  400km from Lake Eucumbene in the Snowy Mountains past the Giant Trout in Adaminaby, across Yaouk and into the bottom of the ACT through the Namdgi National Park, Naas River Valley and Ororal Valley with an abseil off Booroomba Rocks. The course then was set to head to Tidbinbilla for a packrat down the Murrumbidgee River, then towards the City of Canberra for a final paddle on Lake Burleigh Griffin and a race around the CBD before heading for the finish line.
Lucky fir us Tom Landon Smith & Alina Mc Master had this big truck to transport our gear to HQ
The most important part of our kit - Mountain Designs Outrace Pack & Mountain Designs Superlight Dry Sac

Boxes clearly labelled, pack raft gear bundled up ready to go!
 Leg 1  - TREK – 55k Lake Eucumbene to Adaminaby
Teams had to be up early as the bus to the start left the Ibis at 3.30am for a 7.00am start. It was pitch black when we arrived, but minutes before the start time to sun started to peep through the fog on the lake. Water levels on the lake looked low and as a result navigation would not be as straight forward as it looked. Off went the siren and teams started sprinting for the waterline, as we were required to stay below the high water mark all the way to CP3.
The start of Wildside AR 2017 - Lake Eucumbene

Lake Eucumbene and the Snowy Mountains in the background
After an hour or so we had lost sight of the lead teams, but were just managing to keep up with the fast walking BMX Bandits…..we were mostly running though! The elevation of the lake was over 1200m so a bit of a lung buster! CP 1 was a little tricky to find as it ended up being up so much higher than it seemed on the map, however after some great spotting from Gina we were soon on our way again.
Mountain Designs Wild Women looking for CP 1

Girls looking cool in their Mountain Designs headwear - Gina MD Beanie; Kim MB Cap
After CP2 & 3 we travelled along a dirt road to CP4 at a cemetery, and then to ‘The Big Trout’ TA at Adaminaby. Here we saw Jan & Ali who were manning the TA, they were very excited to see us so soon, and said we were ‘smashing it’. 
The team treks into TA 1 at The Big Trout - Adaminiby

Gina - the control ferret for this race - locates the CP

Kim gets the TREK Superfly SL ready for action 
Leg 2 – MTB – 107km Adaminaby to Orroral
It was rather windy as we set off on the bikes and we were soon passed by a few mixed teams with three guys setting cracking paces on the sealed roads. We just took it at a steady pace and made sure we all looked after each other as we travelled north alongside the Murrumbidgee River. At CP 6 we crossed the river and connected with the Bicentennial National Trail which saw us now travelling east alongside Yaouk Creek then south east alongside Bradley Creek. Night fell as we approached CP 7 so we stopped had a bit to eat and put on our Mountain Designs Gore-Tex jackets, and turned on the AY Ups. This trail was very undulating in and out of small gully’s, so it was quite taxing as we kept having to get on and off the bike and push. I came to grief at some point before we reached CP8 by lining up a massive pothole that brought me to the ground, shaving off the top of my knee. Gina came to the rescue with antiseptic, gauze wipes and heaps of Fixomull, just to stop the blood pouring out!  Meanwhile Alina had a quick sleep on the side of the road…..micro sleeps are very important in expedition racing! Then off we went again for the long climb up the Boboyan Divide alongside Grassy Creek to CP9 and Naas Creek, picking up the Brandy Flat Walking Track towards CP 10. We took advantage of the Brandy Flat Hut and used the facilities there and had another quick bite to eat. We were soon heading to the TA, it was now after midnight and we had been on the bike for around 10 hours we were ready for a change of discipline. It was all tar to the TA so we enjoyed the descent down the Boboyan Road and climb up Orroral Road somewhat as we could warm up again. Cass was on fire on the bike at this point making it look so easy as she spun up the hill towing Alina!
LEG 3 – TREK & Abseil –  50k - Orraral to Tidbinbilla
The trek up to the abseil was around 15k so we did not opt to stay long in the TA before setting off as we knew we would have an opportunity for a short rest at then abseil. Unfortunately, it was not to long before we were all falling asleep. Cass was motoring at the front as Alina and I were in the middle tripping and almost falling over providing Gina a bit of entertainment. So we started singing out loud at the top of our voices….this worked for a while but we were still falling over, so we opted for a 5 minute rest. Gina kept time and in what seemed like seconds we were off again and singing along merrily. After about 10k more than 3hrs we located the Alps walking track which would take us to the abseil, however this track was steeper and more technical and we were again tripping and falling over our own feet and walking poles. At this point Alina called for a 10 minute sleep and no one hesitated. We arrived at the abseil at around 5.30am and took to the ropes just as the sun was rising….all we could see in the distance was the glow of the Canberra City lights, and directly below us the creek junction that we were navigating towards.
Micro sleeps are vital in Expedition Racing - Alina makes the most of minutes as Cass, Gina & Kim abseil off the cliff.

Sun has risen now.....Kim takes to the ropes.
Alina is the last one to abseil off Booroomba Rocks
The next section of the trek was completely off track and proved the most difficult part of the entire race. The 1km bush bash down into Blue Gum Creek was nasty, despite it being all downhill. I spent a lot of time sliding down rock scree on my backside and I tried to forge a path through the think scratchy bush. Alina was also trying to find ways through the thick scrub as I maintained a compass bearing of 12 degrees. Eventually we hit the creek and the junction – relief! This was short lived, as the creek was not easy travel! It turned out that teams were travelling at approximately 1k/hr, well that’s what the Stromlonauts told us when they caught up to us…. meaning we had another two hours at least in the creek. There was no relief as the sides of the creek were either very steep and rocky or just thick bush, Alina was forging ahead and setting an awesome pace, Gina wished she had opted for a different shoe choice. I had HOKA Challengers and I certainly could not complain about their performance one bit. Anyway we were hoping to hit the bend soon and get out of the creek, but when we arrived our planned route was a wall of some of the thickest bush we had encountered so far, so we opted to head SW and continue along the creek….sorry team that means another hour of this!  By now it was after midday and we had been on the trek for 10hours and only travelled 22k of the 50k. Eventually as we moved on up the creek the bush on the NE side of the creek seemed to open up just a bit, so I set a bearing to for the saddle we were heading for. I must admit I was pretty nervous at this point and just had to trust my ability and hoped that all the Rogaine practice would pay off.  It did, despite not really being able to see much more than 10m ahead we found the saddle, then the spur that would take us up towards a 1400m plateau near the Smokers Flat Trail. It was comforting to keep crossing paths with the Stromlonauts a few times as well. There we definitely screams of excitement when we finally hit the trail.

Can you see the creek junction in Blue Gum Creek in what looks  to be exactly 1km North of the abseil?

Blue Gum Creek proved the best travel as we headed towards the Smokers Flat Track 
We lay down and rested our weary legs and stuffed our faces as we had barely eaten a thing for the last 7 hours. We took turns at the front for the hike up to CP13 at Square Rock as we knew we still had a long way to go and that we really needed to get a move on. We all had a sneak peak of the view as Gina punched the CP and I convinced everyone to have another 5min sleep, once again no one complained. Now it was just a matter of heading back along towards the Smokers Trail towards the road at Smokers Gap and hitting the pine forest. Once again it was not as easy as it seemed as none of the tracks seemed to look anything like on the map, so again we just set a bearing and headed in a direction and tried to pick up a trail that would take us in the right direction.  We had to wing this section a bit and just follow the main trail. We were losing light fast and desperate to get to CP 14 before dark…..but this was not to be. Our planned route down a spur and along the creek, now seemed like a dodgy option, so we just stuck to the trails and luckily picked up an old unmarked trail beside the road which took us down into the carpark at Gibraltar Creek. We crossed the bridge and Alina showed us the way to CP 14, she had been on this little track before, with here young boys Archie and Jackson just months earlier.
Our route out of this CP was not easy as we either had to bush-bash through extremely thick bush or head down a rocky creek full of water and slippery rocks….it was now dark and getting cold, so we stayed out of the creek for as long as we could , but eventually had to simply get in there. We hit the exit track spot on target so now it was just 8 k to HQ. This seemed to be the longest 8k ever…as Cass navigated the team into the TA. It was pitch black and there was no TA in sight, but oh what a relief when about 50m away someone put on a light… seemed everyone there was sleeping including Tam the TA official. We opted to get transitioned for the next MTB leg, eat then sleep for an hour before leaving the TA. Tam offered hot boiling water from her Jetboil, so I could not resist. I sat in my bike box, in my sleeping bag enjoying a Back-Country Thai Chicken Curry before I lay down and closed my eyes. In what seemed like seconds I opened my eyes and looked at my watch 1.56am – in just 4 minutes we would be getting up to set off on bikes again!
LEG 4 – MTB – 50km – Tidbinbilla to Point Hut
Now Alina said she thought this leg would be hilly, but that was an understatement. We were also advised that we were going through a maze of pine forest, so we did not rush the start of this leg, making sure every turn we made once off the bitumen was perfect. There were some pretty steep climbs and descents on the way to CP 16 and 17, but nothing like what we were about to encounter. CP 17 was a Cave Lookout and easier to find than we had first thought as it had a sign and stairs leading straight to it. After crossing Paddy’s River we had a hike-a-bike which we thought would be the biggest……wrong…..we should have looked more closely at the elevation of all the high points on the route we had chosen along the Bullen Range….we simply just had to suck it up and keep rolling forward, onwards and upwards…..after around 11 high points and 5.5k we finally reached the locked gate at 778m!
The sun had risen and we were treated to some very spectacular views, I was ready for a huge descent, but had misread the contours and it now seemed the next 10k would be another series of high points climbing to around 900m. This was however much more rideable and soon we were at Brett crossroad 881m, and making our way down through farmland into CP 18 –  Saddle Barnes Hill. We got off the bikes and walked up towards the saddle seeing a few strange creatures (Sleep monsters) before being treated to some nice views and the CP just over the hill. It was a quick ride down onto TA4.
Leg 5 – Trek & Pack Raft – 33k – Point Hut to Urirria
Ready to set off on the TREK to the PACK RAFT ....Feelin' Groovy!
Jan and Ali who were manning TA 4 were very excited to see us and we were excited to see them too, however we were somewhat preoccupied with getting all our pack rafting gear organised and ready for a 13k TREK to ‘NUDISTS’ where we would now start the pack rafting. As this leg had been changed I did not pack the big Mountain Designs ENDURACE Pack, so had to bungee all the gear to the outside. Cass and I carried the rafts while Gina and Alina carried the paddles, we all carried PFD’s as well as all our mandatory gear. We did not hurry this transition and took the time to get in a good feed, so I put on the jetboil, made a coffee and warmed up some pumpkin and coconut soup. Jan took a few happy snaps of the team as we departed on the trek. Once again, a bit of local knowledge came in handy as Alina knew the trail we were now required to travel that was not marked on our maps. This trek cut out RED ROCKS and 4 of the big Rapids that we otherwise would have had to portage. I tried to keep an eye on the map and compass as we trekked as I thought it would help once we got on the river, however it was very obvious when we arrived at NUDISTS as, yes, there were nudists everywhere, some happy to help us continue in the right direction. We made up a song along the way to the tune of ‘Feeling Groovy’ which kept us awake and entertained.
We trekked on a trail to 'NUDISTS' as marked on the map! Skipping big rapids at RED ROCKS!
We stopped on a nice grassy flat patch and got ourselves organised, by inflating the pack rafts, before a 5-minute sleep. Then it was on with the wetsuit gear and FROGSKINS before we headed into the water – Alina and Cass were in one raft, and Gina and I in the other. I had the maps set up so I could try to work out speed and distance as we came across our first set of rapids. Alina and Cass went first, while Gina and I would hang back and watch them get through safely before proceeding. I must say this was the section of the race that I enjoyed the most, it was fun, not scary at all. Gina and I were a great team, she would call rock and I call out paddle….as easy as that!  We got out at the portage at the 14k mark, ate some food and I put on the FROGSKINS top. At this point we realised that BIG RIVER DRY BAGS are not that waterproof when you sit on them……my jacket which I had ready for quick access was soaked as the snap lock bag it was in had a hole in it, however everything in our packs in dry bags were fine!
We got back onto the water and headed for the weir just 3k around the corner, then it was full steam ahead as there were no further portages. The rapids started to get smaller as the sun went down, and the moon rose. We enjoyed our moonlight paddle but soon had to crack the glow sticks and get the AY UP’s out as we kept bottoming out. I had Gina’s lights on my head and when we went through a small rapid we hit a bump and they fell backwards of my head, we were 50m downstream and tried to paddle back up, but way too shallow. The lights were glowing and easy to spot under the water when I waded back. I jumped in and said just 1k to go now we are almost there. I was right. We jumped out of the rafts at the TA, and quickly put on dry clothes. I shovelled in a tin of Tuna and devoured almost a whole pack of Salt and Vinegar Chips that the TA officials provided teams as a bit of a surprise. Once dry and warm we packed up the rafts and paddle gear in preparation for the next leg.
Leg 6 – TREK – 10k Uriarra
This trek I am sure was put in here for the sole purpose of warming us up. I felt like I had wings enjoyed the brisk walk at the front of the group….I think the cold water of the Murrumbidgee was like a 5hr ICE BATH, so I just felt recovered and pain free. I don’t think the other girls felt the same, but this was my time to be strong yet supportive. This trek saw us following the Murrumbidgee walking track, to CP 21 in a gully, crossing the Mongolo River and hiking up to Shepard's lookout for CP22, following pretty much the same track back towards the TA, with CP23 up in a creek junction. We were relieved not to get wet feet and surprised that =travel along the side of the creek was good. So in around 2hrs we were back at the TA.
Leg 7 – MTB – 45km – Uriarra to Black Mountain Peninsula
We transitioned really quickly and were planning another 1hr sleep before heading off on the bikes, however there was a significant glitch…..we had no maps! Yes, no map for the entire next leg. Lucky Alina knew the guys from Team 22 – Results Racing – who showed us their maps. I remembered that Alina was all over this leg when we did the planning, so we just looked at the main features and memorised the CP’s……we had the descriptions so worth a try map-less!
Alina Mc Master somehow navigated us to these 3 CP's - 24; 25 and 28 with no map!
After our sleep, we set off up the Urriarra Road to the west side of Mt Stromlo. While we did not take the most straightforward way up to the top, we were relieved when we finally arrived at CP 23 – White Trig. Alina then treated us to a tour de Stromlo down Skyline and Luge before leaving the MTB park and heading into a newly developed satellite city and a dam. We weaved in and out of various tracks and trails and eventually ended up at the dam and CP – BINGO! Just one to go! The sun was now rising and Alina was on fire, as poor Cass began to suffer with a sore knee (due to an earlier fall). We just took it easy as we headed towards the back of Black Mountain Tower ……this was very obvious as even a runner, passed us at one point. We found CP 24 at the track junction Alina thought it would be at, and then headed for the CBD via a series of bike paths. We rolled into Black Mountain Peninsula but could not find the TA anywhere as we had no map…..we asked a security guard who was asleep in his car and he had no idea…..we headed back and so found it on the west side in the middle….phew!
Leg 8 – Paddle 14 Km - Lake Burleigh Griffin TA 6 - TA 7
We could not really work out if we would be warm or cold as it seemed cloudy, so I made use of seal socks and just kept on my thermal top, and beanie. Todd Vickery from Adventure 1  offered us some coke, which we skulled…..not your ideal breakfast food, but we needed a bit of a lift as paddling as the sun comes up always makes you just want to sleep. We were just ready to go and realised we still did not have maps…..Alina rushed over to team 7 who had just arrived in the TA and asked to look at the map, and we drew our own…..
Our hand drawn Paddle Map - created by Alina & Kim
We were so lucky once again to have Alina’s local knowledge as she navigated directly to every CP point, then we just had to find them. CP 28 was the hardest as we had to get out and run 400m into the middle of a park and find a bench. The most challenging part of the paddle was staying awake, so we continued to sing and make up some songs – after singing the 12days of Christmas we made up our own version ‘A CP in a Gum Tree’.  Cass got out at CP 30 and did a few star-jumps to wake up, while I stood up in the boat and did a bit of rock and roll dancing. It was tempting to stop at the Boat Harbour at CP31 as there were cafĂ©’s open everywhere, however we ignored them and headed for the TA. It was now just after 10.45am.
Leg 9 – Canberra Rogaine – TA 7 back to TA6
We were given a tourist map of Canberra’s CBD and a series of questions, and were required to find out where we might find the answers and mark these on the map, then run around and find the answers. Oh, and we now had our paddle map so very, very relieved, as it had all the OOB marked for the leg as well as the first section of the final bike.
Wild Women take to the city streets of Canberra
Gina had the questions and the pen and Alina just pointed us all in the right direction, it was a bit like playing a game of snakes and ladders or dungeons and dragons, as Alina knew all the shortcuts, underpasses etc making for very fast travel…..and the fact that we were now running too means that we were making extremely good time. Tom and the kids as well as Jan and Ali found us as we were headed towards the war memorial, so we stopped for a chat and a few photos. The last 3k back to the TA was really hard as it was actually really hot, and as we were running on concrete, our feet were all hurting and really hot. We stopped and offered Fixamol to team 22 along the way (just returning a good deed). We must have arrived at the TA around 2pm…..just one leg to go now we were very, very excited.
Mountain Designs Wild Women in great spirits, just one leg to go after this TREK!
Leg 10 – 25k - Black Mountain Peninsula to the Finish – Ibis Eaglehawk
This was no easy finish we had 2 CP’s to get and both on mountains – Mt Ainslie elevation 850 and Mt Majura – elevation 890. Once again Alina knew how to weave through the city paths to get to the start of the climb for Mt Ainslie and then I was back on the navigation. We posed for a few photos on Mt Ainslie and then all did a chin up at the trig point on Mt Majura, before tackling the very rewarding descent towards Majura Road and ultimately the finish line. As always, I was wondering if there was any sort of twist in the last leg, so was not surprised to see that the trail marked to take us straight to the finish line did not exist. So, we just rode along a paddock on a bearing and soon saw the Ibis right in front of our eyes.
Gils Hike a Bike to the top of  Mt Ainslie.....just one more to go!

We located the Wildside AR finish line nearby the pool in the resort and teamed up to cross the line together….little did we know that we were being chased down by team 22. We crossed the line just before 5pm Thursday just in time for happy hour……which was beer….so we attempted to skull the amber liquid and had some success. It was such a fabulous feeling to be greeted by friends who had been watching our dots, as well as volunteering (Jan & Ali, Tom & kids) or competing themselves – in fact the winning team of the race and the series, Thunderbolt AR were there at the finish as well….a truly special moment. Watching on an listening to the banter were Richard Old (Race Director) Amy Potter who then brought out toasted ham and cheese sandwiches for us to devour…. sometimes it’s just the simple things in life that are so, so good after spending 4 days out in the wilderness!
Mountain Designs Wild Women Finish Wildside AR 2017

Cheers Girls - what an awesome effort - 3 days and 10hours - with less than 2hrs 30 sleep - we made it!
Now let the celebrations begin.... Champagne!
Mountain Designs Wild Women finished 6th overall at Wildside against other 4 person mixed teams, so despite the fact that we were the only all-female team entered we finished the full course on the same day as the winning team and ahead of the only male team to enter the event. This also meant that were crowned winners of the Female Category in the inaugural Adventure 1 Series – which also included X Marathon (we did not field a team), Geoquest and Hells Bells, as we were the only female team to finish ranked in all events in which we competed. This proves that Adventure Racing is a extremely tough sport, but nothing that a bunch of fit, strong, skilled and experienced female adventure racers can’t handle!
Mountain Designs Wild Women - A1 Series Winners Women's Category 2017
Thanks Girls for being a part of this dream team:-
Cass Kimlin, Gina Dunsdon, Alina Mc Master and Ali Wright
Thanks to our sponsors and supporters:-
Mountain Designs
Ay Up Lights
Tri Adventure,
Trek Bikes Australia – Venture Cycles
Kayak Noosa
Finally, I need to acknowledge our major sponsors ‘Mountain Designs’ who have put their brand behind an all-female team in a sport that has been traditionally very male dominated. Without the backing of such great sponsors to provide us with most of the gear we needed to keep us safe dry and warm ‘out there in places you’d rather be’, we would not have had such confidence and fun out there. Mountain Designs are also proudly sponsoring the Wild Women Adventure Race that Jan Leverton and I as Tri Adventure are conducting on 15th October. I will have on the Race Directors hat; however Gina and Cass will be lining up again to defend their Wild Women AR title.

Mountain Designs Wild Women 2018 onwards....
Kim has the girls lined up for XPD (March) and GEOQUEST (June), however before that Kim and Cass are pairing up for the RED BULL DEFIANCE in WANAKA (January) and then Kim is having a crack at New Zealand’s iconic COAST TO COAST (February). We plan to field a team in the 2018 Adventure 1 Series, however hope that our participation and achievements in the 2017 series have helped to raise the profile of Women in this sport of adventure racing and in time lead to greater sponsorship and prizes for women who have the confidence, skills, ability and experience to tackle some of Australia’s most physically and navigationally challenging adventure races.

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