After I had really enjoyed the 12 hour with Zara last month, I started to get keen on the idea of the 24 hour at Whyalla, because it sounded like the sort of terrain with no nasty surprises and where a careful navigator could do well. I found a willing accomplice in Steve Cooper, although he warned me that he wouldn’t be able to run much because of a bruised heel sustained orienteering in the Flinders a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been wanting to do a 24 hour with Steve for ages and he didn’t disappoint.
We made it to Whyalla by about 10pm Friday and managed to have our rogaine packs sorted the next morning in time to take advantage of the continental buffet breakfast at the motel (rogaine preparation is all about carbo-loading, for me) and then get to the event site on a sheep station near the Middleback Ranges with enough time to put up the tent I didn’t intend to sleep in, before map handout.
There were lots of controls – 70 to be exact – and 3/4 of the map was flat vague country with the biggest hills only 20m above the surrounding landscape while in the west were the Middleback Ranges; ironstone hills with active iron ore mining in some areas and ore trains travelling up & down the line to Whyalla, even at night. We calculated that it would require approx. 105km in a straight line to get all of the controls. I said to Steve “We’re not as young as we used to be” and so we settled on an 80km loop with plenty of possible options for extending/shortening the route towards the end depending on how well we navigated in the night.
Started off in the same direction as Steven & Wes Dose for the first couple of hours but they were running, and gaining almost an extra control/hour on us. Headed west, picked up a couple of controls in the hills (on the Casuarina Ridge orienteering map) then back out onto the plains at about 5.5km/hr, got water at about 23km then up into the hills, slightly overshooting the saddle on 63 because I should have remembered that the sun sets somewhat north of west at this time of year. It had been a perfect afternoon weather wise and the views west from the ridgeline just on dusk were impressive, out over the endless miles of flat mallee scrub towards Secret Rocks with the sun glinting off little salt pans. The climb up the face of Mt Middleback was a slog; 100m elevation in 200m, and afterwards we got our torches out to follow the narrow ironstone ridgeline, glad that it wasn’t raining otherwise the rocks could have been really slippery.
Came down off the ridge and headed into the flat stuff about 8pm, confident that we had done all the climb that the course was going to throw at us. Put on a thermal then, and another about 10pm, plus my gloves. Knew it was getting colder as the bubble in my compass expanded, making it a wee bit unreliable – but Steve was super-reliable. Not only are his bearings incredibly dependable, but he pace counts religiously, which is something I hate doing although I’m quite happy to estimate distance by time. And since there was no moon, we had to be very careful with our distances, especially as many of the controls were described as ‘a watercourse’ but no channel was obvious when we got there.
Anyway, by midnight we had covered about 50km…
I had a bit of a flat patch about 1am where I just couldn’t seem to follow the same bearing as Steve, but once I’d worked out that my headlamp slips sideways slightly and so I was following its beam not my compass, and had consumed a couple of coffee lollies and some Nurofen for my feet, plus convinced Steve to do the same, we trotted along quite nicely for the next few hours, although a little underdressed for the conditions – I hadn’t expected a clear night and so it was more like 4 degrees than the forecast 9. It was pretty quiet with Steve focusing on pace counting and not talking much; I hear that Zara and Lauren sang together as they trotted around on their way to winning the women’s.
The moon came up about 2am, a huge blood-red crescent hanging over the lights of Whyalla. Eerie, but not of any use to us navigationally, and we had managed quite well without it so far – there was enough starlight to see the outline of small hills but we had to intuit the existence of valleys. About 5:30am, though, we didn’t correctly intuit that we had hit a creek below the control, because the blue line was marked as existing only above the control – and so we turned downstream without first checking just a little bit to the left as we had usually done in each control circle. It was freezing in the creek bottom, and we hurried down the creek without thinking much about the distance until we hit a fence nearly 600m from the control. Swore a little, headed back upstream for 750m, punched the control, headed downstream shivering for 750m, crossed the fence and I suggested to Steve that we follow it to where it bent, on the way to the next control. He said we should be all right with a straight bearing because the control would be on a track.
Well, we never saw the track, and Steve & I got sort of separated… we regrouped properly about 500m past where the track should have been and admitted to each other that the only option was to head to the fence and go in from the bend. The track should have gone off from the bend, but it truly didn’t exist there anymore, and even at the control it was pretty indistinct. Still, it was daylight by now, so we could work this out. Also we were at nearly the 75km mark and needed to find a few more controls than originally planned, over the next few hours, tempting as it would have been to take our aching feet back to the hash house about 4km away. There were some high pointers in the NE corner but they averaged 2-3km apart and Steve was the one feeling vague at this point, but I knew we could do it if I could just remain focused. It really was beautiful country with red sandy soil and casuarinas, myall trees and flowering eremophila bushes, and there was nowhere else I would rather be just then, not even the HH.
We were one of only 3 teams to go to control 94, ‘the spider’ which was a network of channels draining into a dam about 5km north of the hash house. Lost a bit of time here because we crossed the track about 400m NE of the dam but thought we were a bit closer to it than that. Still, relocated quickly and then slogged south on the track, with the sandiness really grating at Steve’s underfoot blisters. Starting to wonder why we hadn’t seen the Doses at all; Steve said that in the night they hadn’t yet been through any of the controls we were at, but surely they must come through us soon. And indeed we saw them going the opposite way to us between the next couple of controls; they looked like they were running, but clearly they must have lost a lot of time somewhere, and we started to think that maybe they hadn’t cleaned up after all, and that we might be in with a chance of beating them. So I pushed poor Steve to a final 20 points, with him warning me that we had to find it spot on, because he wouldn’t be able to run into the finish if we were going to be late!
In the end, we won by over 400 points, and Steve turned to me and said “We didn’t need to go to 21 after all!” Well, if you put it that way, I guess we could have come in at breakfast time…but on the other hand, if we hadn’t lost nearly an hour pre-dawn, we could have gone to 31 and 44 as well. As it was, we got all but 6 controls and only left out 170 of the 3940 points on offer. Not bad for a team who walked the whole thing?
This is our control sequence:
23, 32, 41, 87, 51, 74, 86, 63, 55, 52, 71, 42, 50, 84, 68, 80, 70, 60, 82, 75, 88 (sunset before we climbed Mt Middleback), 64, 92, 76, 65, 85, 91, 69, 78, 67, 59, 43, 34, 61, 35, 46, 56, 40 (midnight and 50km at W4), 58, 83, 77, 66, 57, 90, 25, 89, 93, 53, 38, 30, 96, 95, 72(with detour down the creek and back up again), 45 (by which time it was dawn), 54, 62, 20 (our 80km planned loop originally had us heading back in from here, but it wasn’t even 8am yet), 97, 81, 94, 73, 22, 36, 21, HH.
92 km straight line so I reckon we walked close on 100km. Almost no running, but I don’t think I even sat down for 24 hours!
For the record, and because when I was planning food for this rogaine I really wished I’d written down what I ate during the Aust champs in the Flinders 2 years ago, my food consumption was:
- 5 potatoes with Vegemite & cheese (unfortunately they go really manky because the salt in the Vegemite draws the fluid out of the potatoes, so they have to be quarantined from everything else)
- 4 English fruit muffins – 2 with cheese & 2 with Nutella
- 3 muesli bars
- 3 gingernut biscuits
- a handful of BBQ shapes
- a handful of coffee lollies (Kopiko; I am definitely going to remember these)
- from the water drops: an apple, a banana and 2 mandarins
- a couple of snakes from the controls which had lollies at them
And then for the excellent BBQ lunch post-rogaine I ate 2 sausages in bread, a steak sandwich and a bowl of fruit salad! I’d be a lot cheaper to feed if I didn’t do any exercise.
It was a really good rogaine, one of my favourites in terms of terrain and conditions, I’d say – and I’ve been rogaining since 1989. Thanks so much to Geoff Mills for setting and to Craig Colwell for organising, as well as to the admin and hash house teams.
The best bit was that I had convinced my husband George to fly to Whyalla – there was a flight which got in at 3:30pm – and drive us home, because Steve & I were pretty wrecked and could hardly walk once the endorphins wore off. And of course, this gave George the right to laugh at us every time we staggered/hobbled in and out of the car when we stopped (for junk food).