By Olivier Fahy and Annika Danielsson
The rogaining weekend was shaping up to be very special. For the first time, we had decided to take the Friday off to avoid the usual 4am start on the Saturday to arrive on time for the event start. Rather, we wanted a relaxing drive up north on Friday and enjoy a weekend of camping in the bush. With plenty of time to set up, get organised, and a long night of cosy sleep in the tent.
It all started well. Nice drive, beautiful outback setting upon arrival, sunny with just the right temperature. Tent up, extra thick mattresses and pillows for comfort…and then…the realisation that we had forgotten our sleeping bags! Seriously?! After 30+ years of hiking, competing and camping, this was a first-timer. Particularly ironic since we usually only have a short sleep in the swag for the longer events. This weekend, we needed proper bedding.
Luckily, our rogaining friends were better prepared and came to the rescue. Thanks to Kate and Doug and a few army blankets later, we were set to survive the cold nights. Doug also kindly shared his valuable Moccona (how can you also forget coffee?!) – the deliciousness of such basic instant coffee when camping always amazes us! Clearly, age is getting to us already as veterans, and we secretly wonder what this will mean when we (soon) hit super veterans. After a weekend start like this, we did not feel reassured collecting our maps.
Planning was done very conservatively. We have tended to do this for some time realising that we often do better if we plan shorter rather than the other way around – positive reinforcement when adding controls rather than not getting to the ones planned. Conservative planning may also be a result of the scars that remain from participating in the World Championships in Spain 2019. The contours of the Flinders Ranges don’t quite compare to the ski slopes of La Molina in the Pyrenees!
We should also confess; planning is not one of our strengths. Problem 1: we always have to get to the highest point of the map for the views. This is often not the best strategic move. Problem 2: we are wary of the dark. Always want to be close to a road/fall-back solution since we have shaky night navigation. After long debating, we loosely decide on our loop 1 and loop 2 – with add-ons if needed.
12 noon Saturday arrives, we are out on course with beautiful sunshine, fellow rogainers, heading south east to start our loop which would take us up the eastern part of the map. First couple of controls with many others (34, 83, 50, 55) and then fewer people as we tackle the higher grounds. Staying on the ridges as much as possible, we methodically clear the entire eastern side of the course with no major problem. Initially, we had planned to turn around at 68 or 74 but we were going well, and vegetation was not an issue. We realise we can make it to 92 before turning around. This one turned out to be a ‘friendly control’, easily visible on the spur, boosting our confidence. At this stage, we caught up with Des, Meredith and Erica steadily progressing north to 85. Tempting, but reason prevailed. We wanted to keep enough time for the morning loop, so we turned towards 52 and 61 to then take us to the water drop 23.
Annika had been salivating in anticipation of mandarins since early afternoon due to hot weather, but – too late. Only bananas and apples left at W1. Disappointed.
At W1, key decision to make. Do we safely go back along the road, or do we attempt more challenging night navigation towards 51, 40 and 71. Dreaded nightfall is upon us soon, zero moonlight expected. Track record of finding controls with little features at night = very poor. Still, we decide to try, which turns out to be the right decision. We nail all of them without any problem. The feeling between 71 and 30 was quite thrilling. No features, no nothing – just complete pitch-black darkness with stars watching us from above.
On our way to 65 we realise we have time for a quick back-forth to 81. Feeling on top of our game after good night navigation to this point, should be easy, right? The water course and a big one, what can go wrong? Of course, with complete darkness, we missed a creek branch, underestimated distances and overshot 81 by far! You know the feeling ‘ah, it is probably just a bit further…let’s keep going’.
But after a (long) while, we had to admit, we messed up, and back-track. We regain our senses, find 81, keep going to 65. What started off being a night walk up a beautiful creek bed with magnificent gum trees lighted by our torches finished up with cursing over pebbles and lost time, with confidence back to normal night-time low. Navlight printout later informed us that 81 took us 59 minutes from control 30. Darn.
65 was easy, 64 tricked us again. The creek just kept going unmarked on the map, and us overshooting the climb to the control. Again, we realise that it is not ‘just probably a bit further’, we had simply missed the turn off. More like side tracking, we find the control by some miracle and head toward 44 and Hash House. Even with our messy finish of loop 1, we had added controls and should have enough time for loop 2 in the morning.
Hot food, fabulous ambiance around the Hash House fire, army blankets. Off to bed for a real night sleep with plenty of km’s clocked up.
Rise at 6:00am to have a proper sit-down breakfast (roving rogaine – what bliss!), and we set off for our second loop at about 7:00am. Magnificent morning light, greeted by two beautiful flowering acacias coming down from 47 towards the rocky gully of 66. What a start of the day! Again, we travel much faster than planned and clear the south western loop up to 21. With time up our sleeves, we decide to continue north rather than return to HH. At 53, we are already at plan C (or possibly D!) going towards 43. Halfway there, Annika realises that there is something just on the edge of the folded map. Duh! When checking, we realise we are closely bypassing 72 and 25! That makes it a 90, we can’t leave it behind! Lucky for us, the terrain has flatted out by the time we realise, so yes, we backtrack but the additional distance along the creek is fast travel. Mental note to selves – we really do need to investigate the map more thoroughly when planning!
Slightly nervous about time, we grab 43, 34, and then decide we have time for 45 and 33 to finish off. Not entirely sure of our 15 hours estimate, we are pleased to be back with plenty of margin. Greeted with delicious fresh food, results were out before we knew it and with the extra bonus surprise of finishing on the podium!
Overall, it was a great weekend of rogaining – a massive THANK YOU to course setters and all the helpers for a top-notch event.