By Bryn Soden
What a gorgeous time of year. What a perfect day for a cheery jaunt around the Sturt Gorge. Not even the occasional brown snake sighting could spoil the effect of the blue skies, green earth, roaring river, and energised rogainers scurrying around the nooks and crannies of this beautiful little corner of the earth.
It has been a long time since I last was involved in one of these events. I got dragged out on a few in my teens and early twenties, but a fierce competitive streak combined with pretty poor physical fitness did not make for particularly good rogainer material – though I do still have fond memories of stumbling into the hash house after being lost all night on a 24 hour event, and consuming my body weight in cheese toasties, bacon, and french toast. Over the lockdown, however, I discovered a newfound passion for running, spurred on largely by the discovery that harnessing our two energetic kelpies to a belt around my waist would allow me to essentially just hop in place while they did the bulk of the work. Dear old mum saw an opportunity to capitalise on this rare occurrence of a shared passion (she’s never been particularly keen on Nintendo games and depressing folk music) and invited me along. I agreed, in spite of hesitations revolving around the loss of my twin canine outboard motors, and prickly memories of another gorge-based rogaine where an icy swim across a river and a stretch of vertical commando crawling through weapons-grade brambles couldn’t save us from a disqualification for late return. Having now experienced this glorious day out, I am glad that I agreed to participate in this one.
I have lived for most of my life in the suburbs around these parts, growing up in two different houses in Hawthorndene, attending university at Flinders, and spending time at friends’ houses all around Bellevue Heights, Craigburn Farm, and Flagstaff Hill, so perhaps the most interesting part of this event was connecting the dots and discovering how closely these suburbs actually sit, relative to one another. I remember boring my poor old mum with multiple exclamations of “That’s Will’s house just down there!”, “Bryce used to live on this street!”, “Oh wow, this control is right by Harry’s place!”, and the like. On reflection, I am realising that whatever goodwill I may have gained by agreeing to join her for this event may have been totally undermined by the revelation that the expensive schooling she paid to put me through left me without even the slightest understanding of basic local geography. Nevertheless, it was still a treat to finally put these puzzle pieces together, and to realise how much time I could have saved in my life if “as the crow flies” was an actual method of travel, rather than just a wishful idiom.
I suppose an event report should probably contain some commentary on route choice. Given how long it had been since I last headed out on one of these, and also how little I used to participate in planning in the past, I largely deferred to mum’s better judgement on this one. Why change a tried and true strategy? Mum picked a nice loop around the perimeter of the map, one that picked up all of the 90 pointers, and dipped back towards the centre of the map for a few more of the high earners. We had an abysmal start, getting swept up in the excitement and attempting a totally misguided shortcut to the very accessible trail behind the hash house via some particularly scratchy bush-bashing (I have to forgive Mum’s faulty route-choice). Estimations of times through our early control choices also didn’t take into account all the families who had opted for a similar route, and were now queuing politely while their very cute kids struggled with the Navlight wrist tags. It was nice to see so many young families out and about, even if it did cost us some precious seconds. With all this taken into account, we didn’t really get into our stride until after the first hour had elapsed.
After a brief foray into the backstreets of Flagstaff hill, we followed the Sturt River down to the Western-most point of the map, treading lightly after one particularly snakey river crossing (mum jumped a foot into the air after catching sight of a grass skink, only to nearly land upon a fleeing brown snake). We then ascended up into Bellevue Heights, praying that the street running and minimal elevation would make up for the extra distance required to nab the 90-pointer located in that particularly scenic playground in the top left-hand corner of the map. After some much-appreciated time spent jogging on the open streets, we headed back into the precipitous perils of the gorge. A mid-course route change was required as we were falling short of mum’s estimates of the distance we should have covered by that point. Slightly dejectedly, we scrapped a climb back up towards the reserve near Shepherds Hill Road in favour of cutting through the centre of the map to clean up some of the controls around Blackwood Park. Side note, I have previously whinged to anyone who would listen about this cookie-cutter, Stepford Wives-esque housing development, but I was pleasantly surprised on this rare foray into its dark depths by how many of the houses have festooned their roofs with solar panels!
After grabbing whatever points we could from these treacherous parts, we made our escape by heading south and linking back up to the Sturt River, picking up another 90-pointer from a particularly verdant bend in the river near the Coromandel Parade crossing. From here, we spent some more time following this gorgeous riverline, lush and verdant and beautifully illuminated in the late afternoon sun. We got our runners wet wading across the racing waters to pick up an 80 pointer on the far bank, and mum made an executive decision to run a last minute out-and-back to a 60 pointer that ended up securing our place on the ladder. Climbing back out from the gorge, we cleared up the controls through the suburbs in the south-eastern corner of the map and headed back to the Hash House. We arrived back with five minutes to spare, and opted to clean up one last convenient 20-pointer, just to show off. 24 kilometres, 750 metres of elevation, and 1890 points later, we were done.
Before finishing up, I would be remiss not to mention the efforts of Jo Powell and team in setting this excellent event. It was a gorgeous afternoon, and I am so excited to have discovered this local gem. I will be revisiting the trails around these parts for many years to come, it is a beautiful part of our quiet corner of the world, and this was the perfect time of year to be basking in its glory. I am very excited to wander these parts again soon, and am looking forward to taking it slow and soaking up its beauty without the pressure of trying to prove to mum that I’m good at rogaining now. Told you so, ma.