September 13, 2007

#3: Day Two (45km Paddle, 105km Mtn Bike)

The alarm started buzzing at 6am, but it didn't matter. The temp had dipped significantly overnight and no one really slept that great under our $0.99 space blankets. We arose to notice that but three teams were ready to go for the 6am re-start, which was a relief to all of us.

We had intended to be on the water for 7am and at 7.20am we finally launched our kayaks amongst a group of teams. It was another beautiful day and we lathered ourselves in our KINeSYS sunblock as we left 'Dingo Beach' for the long paddle ahead.

In similar fashion to the first days paddle, this 43km would be broken up with island CP's and snorkeling sections. The first day of kayaking didn't go too bad for us, in terms of keeping our boats straight, but on this day there was more of a cross wind and a bit of a current moving. It did not take long to get frustrated with the fact that I was only paddling with one arm for minutes at a time to keep the boat tracking properly. I know we were all counting down to each island checkpoint to get a break from our purgatory in the boats!

After a few departures from the kayaks to collect lengthy beach trekking CP's we were off on three successive long paddle sections, broken up with but a quick beach run and a short snorkel. As we rounded a point on an island we couldn't help but notice boats out in the distance...way out in the distance, I mean all we could see were silhouettes and they looked like they were 1/2 way to China. We pretty much stopped paddling in succession and stopped to rethink our strategy for the day. This was not a 'rogaine' stage and there would be significant penalties for missed CP's, but the water was ocean was now starting to pick up a bit and the kayaks were getting slower and more frustrating by the minute. After Mark looked over the maps he determined that the boats we were viewing were but 1km away from us, at worst! It didn't make any sense, the illuminated figures looked hours in front of us but somehow they were pretty much just around the corner from us. We confirmed this by finding our next CP to be closer than we thought it would be. The ocean was playing tricks with our tired minds and like anything if your mind has trouble accepting it your body will surely start to falter on you.

After getting our heads straightened out and grabbing the beach CP we were off on our biggest open crossing of the entire race. I believe it was 6km, which is really nothing, but we were in a direct cross wind, neither of the inflatables would track anywhere near straight, and the current was working against us. I believe the only conversation had during the 2hr crossing was,

"How's the right side of your body doing!!?" We were paddling twice as hard and twice as much with our right to keep the boats in line.

"If I had a gun I'd shoot myself right in the eye!!"

We were all relieved to pull into the downwind side of an island for another snorkeling stage...until Mark pointed out the sharks fin in the water!

"Don't worry, it's just a black tip reef shark."

"Does he know that he's supposed to be harmless!!"

Shortly thereafter the four of us were swimming just a few hundred meters from where was had seen the shark. Once again 'fishboy' Nick was our man with the passport and we were back out of the water and into our boats in no time...a bit too quick for my liking!

It was getting late in the day and once again the water was playing tricks with our minds. There was one CP with a snorkel section remaining before the end of the water stage for the day. As we stared off in the distance to the island this was located on we all agreed that there did not appear to be enough daylight remaining for us to grab it, complete the snorkel and get off of the water before nightfall. We made the tough decision to skip out on it and deal with the time penalty once it was assessed to us later in the race. As we aimed our inflatables for the town of 'Bowen' Mark and I spotted a dolphin swimming between our boats...damn dolphins making movement in the water look so damn easy!!

Once again we were off the water at 4:30pm and yet again we realized that we had plenty of time to grab our skipped CP. No one really cared at that point though, we were just glad to be done with those freakin inflatables for another day!

As we checked in with the transition staff we were told that our 90 minute penalty from the previous day would be served here, starting now. This could not have been better, they were having all teams serve out their time penalties while they transitioned...this was lost time anyways, and going from breaking down the inflatables to assembling the bikes was going to take us at least that long anyways!

We hit up the yacht club for some fish, chips n Coke while we took the time to officially plot our course on our maps for the upcoming bikes legs and orienteering section. We only had time to glance over them the night before. The fish n chips cost us almost 50.00 but it was worth every cent!!

After a few hours we reluctantly hit the bikes again...I know I was damn close to getting a beer at that yacht club!

With a fully loaded backpack for the upcoming 105km bike leg through the night our packs weighed upwards of 25 pounds. Just sitting on the bike seat was torture...and we still had almost 500km of biking to go!

We started off into the night and I was having trouble staying on the left side of the road! My biggest fear was that I was going to start to fall asleep and get confused as to what side of the road I should be on and which way the traffic was actually travelling. Thankfully we were off of well travelled roads within an hour. About 45 minutes out we came across another team, and then another, and another, and another, and there were lights off in every direction. We were at an intersection that didn't quite match up to our maps and team after team were coming back from what had appeared to be our natural direction of travel. I know throughout the event the maps were a bit inconsistent with the actual features. Most of the maps were dated and numerous features, such as major intersections, were simply not on there. I remember on at least one bike leg we even had to switch between maps with different scales on them, 1/50,000 to 1/20,000 and back again while you are struggling to stay awake after a few days of racing can be a challenge all by itself!

After a few minutes Mark (who was our primary navigator) decided that we had to continue further along before finding our desired intersection. About 200 meters down the road, that all too familiar sound,



Thankfully we had packed a spare pump in our bike boxes and made sure to grab it after our debacle the previous day. I had the thing changed and was back on in under two minutes!

Eventually we located what looked to be our necessary turn and as a few teams discussed their options we rode right past. The CP description said that we were to look for it just off the banks of a river, and the maps showed a huge river of about three hundred meters in width. We hammered along while looking for a bridge crossing and a raging river to notify us of our hidden CP. (The checkpoints are one foot square boxes that are half orange and half white, generally hanging from trees. Basically you're looking for a shoe box in the forest!) We popped back out onto a paved road and once again had to orientate ourselves. Numerous teams were no peddling past but Mark insisted that it did not make sense. About a 1/2km back we all commented on how the landscape had gone from forested to a wide open track of sand. It was like a big beach in the middle of nowhere...kinda like what a completely dried up river bank might look like! Even with two locals on the team we failed to pick up on the fact that Australia has been in a drought for years, the lack of bridge didn't make it any easier to identify either. We quickly doubled back as four teams passed us...I'm pretty sure I could hear them laughing at the Canadians!

From here we were able to get a good pace line going again and we managed to track down all those teams that had taken advantage of our mistakes in the riverbed. We knocked down about 60-65km of the bike leg before deciding to call it a night at about midnight. There were numerous teams that had decided to do the same and the sleep strategies of an expedition race were now starting to kick in...which teams could bank the most sleep early and finish up strong, which teams would go sleepless the longest and eventually crumble, who would ignore their alarms and sleep in? We found a small depression that would shelter us from the slight winds that were blowing, threw a branch between two trees to hang wet cycling gear, put on every additional layer of clothing in our packs, crawled under our space blankets and set the timer for 3hr's. We were all asleep within seconds.

I don't think anyone managed a full three hours anyways. After a few hours the temps had dipped so much that condensation had formed on our space blankets. This combined with a drop in body temp while sleeping meant that we all spent the last thirty minutes shivering and hoping we could get back to sleep before the alarm soun "BEEP BEEP BEEP"

"CRAP! Time to get up guys."

"Yup. Yeah. Fine."

Taking layers back off before hoping on the bike is next to impossible after waking up at 3am, so we all packed up our gear, biked for about thirty minutes and then began to strip down the layers again. It took awhile to get the blood flowing again, especially to the brain, but eventually we started to up our pace and knock down the km's.

The hour before sunrise is always the coldest time of the entire night and it was damn near freezing from 5-6am. We were happy to see the sunrise, for although our Princeton Tec headlamps had lit the way nicely for us overnight, we had drained a few batteries in the 12hr of darkness and it was nice to have natural light to show us the entire lay of the land. We caught up to an American team and exchanged pleasantries before opening it up on a downhill section...


"Are you serious!"

Again a quick change. Quick enough to have not been passed by the team we had just caught, then two minutes later Megan snapped her chain! I got the chain break tool out and was able to remove a link and get it back together just as the other team caught up to us. So far we had taken all of our bike issues in stride, we'd been in much worse situations throughout the 07 race season, but I was silently starting to wonder if the A.R. God's were out to get me and my team. All I wanted was to eventually get across that finish line as a fully ranked team and it just seemed like we could not catch a break or get any consistency into our race at all. Either way we were still racing strong and as we plateaued on our descent we were confronted with no fewer than a half a dozen other teams. Everyone was looking quite confused, people pointing off in random directions, some teams talking with other teams, some teams not talking at all, and everyone just looking more and more frustrated with each additional biker that caught up to them.

That's day two, beddy by time for this blogger



Anonymous said...

You write very well.

garobbins said...

Thanks Morela, I'm surprised you've made it this far back into the 'archives'!!