Written by Jonathan Schubert, one half of the winning team at Witchitie 15-hour
‘The more I practice… the luckier I get.’ Popularised by golfer, Gary Player
There were many things that went right over the course of this event. I think that some of those were the result of practice and learnings put into place over the last few years. Some of them were pure luck. And possibly some of it was that by doing enough things right we put ourselves in a position to get lucky.
I have been reflecting on this event over the last couple of weeks and I have no idea which of these options is more true about this wonderful weekend.
To get things started here are two things about me.
The Process Refiner
My brain is happy when there is a process to refine and optimise. I enjoy learning the hows and whys of things. I love a well refined process that can lead to a consistently good outcome. I tend not to mind ‘mistakes’ too much as long as there is something that can be learnt from and a process can be refined. This is true in a general sense as well as applicable to fairly small things.
After a discussion in the car on the drive up to the event the mindset that we took into this event as a team was: to be in the moment, to enjoy the process and see what we can learn.
‘Tribalism implies the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates one member of a group from the members of another group’. Wikipedia: Tribalism
One element of my personality is that I enjoy a bit of playful banter. To help with this banter it is always helpful to identify a tribe to stick with and in doing so also identify this opposing tribe to act as a pantomime villain. A good solid bit of rivalry. The Adelaide Crows vs Port Adelaide Power. Tribalism can have its issues but it can also be a part of some playful fun.
I haven’t been around rogaining a great deal but in the period that I have been involved it has seemed that there is some playful tribalism in the rogaining world … the Rogainers vs the Trail Runners.
The trail running tribe has their identifying uniform: running shorts, light weight shoes and a running pack. They also seem to move a bit faster but are prone to poor planning and navigation errors.
The rogaining tribe has their uniform: pants, gaiters, shoes with leather uppers and a daypack style pack. They move at a consistent ‘march’ regardless of terrain along with solid planning and exceptional navigation.
In the past I have always identified as a part of the trail running tribe. I have made jokes to my teammates about the silliness of cork boards, pins and string.
In the lead up to this event these elements of my personality sat in conflict with each other. I can see that there is value in the processes of the rogaining tribe, but I have been reluctant to betray my tribe and move to the dark side. In the end the process refiner won the battle. I got my hands on some gaiters and tried them a couple times to get used to them. My teammate (Barry McBride) and I discussed tactics and planning, and that ended with him buying a cork board and pins and sourcing some string.
I hoped to find a place to exist in between the two tribes.
The Witchitie Event
Some good execution and some luck
One of the few portions of the weekend where execution and luck didn’t go my way was in my first night’s sleep. A poor mattress choice and poor temperature management meant for a poor night’s sleep.
So, after a night of tossing, turning and regular waking, event day rolled around (Saturday, 3 June). We had a lovely, relaxed breakfast, including making ourselves a coffee or two. When maps were available from 9am we were ready to get into the route planning. For the first time ever, we got out a cork board, placed our pins and set about considering our options. A few different possibilities were discussed, including a completely unobtainable ‘collect everything on the map’ plan. However, we refined down and set our string in place for an option that still knowingly bit off more than we could chew.
This is what we submitted on our flight plan.
The plan was a 10 hour/5 hour split for our roving 15. The first 10 hours took us to the flatter portions of the map in the north first and then east. We planned to collect as many of the high value controls in the east as we could before heading back towards the hash-house in the west while gathering from the middle of the map. The next day the plan was to head to the south for our final 5 hour stint.
We also spent the time to figure out some contingency options. We measured out different parts of the route and converted this to a ‘points per km’ value. We looked for the parts of the plan that presented the least value and planned to omit these if and when we fell behind. We also identified the middle section of the map to be quite high scoring and set this as a priority for when adjustments were made on the move.
I started out carrying 2 x 500ml bottles each with Endura energy/electrolyte mix and a full 2L bladder. We made it to W2 (control 32) at 1:50pm, I had drunk a full 500ml bottle and some of my bladder at this point and we stopped just long enough for me to refill my 500ml bottle.
Our planned route had us doing a long stretch on the eastern side of the map before later making it to W1 (control 42). What followed was an odd combination of errors, good luck (on multiple fronts) and some good decision making. The first error was a failure to account for how warm the afternoon ended up being and how that affected my expected water usage. The second error was a navigation / planning error. Our flight plan had us leaving control 63 and heading south-west to do a 3-leg, high value loop and collecting 76, 92 then 75. However, what ended up happening was we both got the plan wrong and instead headed to the south-east and went straight to 75. This meant we covered less distance but also meant we missed controls 76 and 92.
It was not long after this that two things happened around the same time. One was that I realised I was going to run out of water and we would have to alter our plans to get to the water drop earlier than planned. The other was that we realised our navigation error.
On reflection it would seem that this sequence played out beautifully – due to some combination of luck and quality execution, assisted by our prior route planning contingencies. Missing 76 and 92 by accident, and the deliberate rerouting that followed, resulted in two brilliant things; the first was that it got us back to camp at pretty well exactly the time we had hoped – 10pm.
The second brilliant result was that we arrived at W1 at the same time the safety loop team arrived and were refilling the water. At this point I had been lacking water for about an hour and a half, and had eased our pace back a bit so as not to get significantly dehydrated. While we were filling our bottles we were talking to another team who were also there. It turns out that they had been to both water drop points and both had been out of water. They then decided to stay at the drop point to wait for the safety loop team and had been waiting an hour.
In talking to others about their experiences it turned out that many teams had ended up having water issues. That reinforced how lucky we were to arrive at the water drop point at the same time as the safety loop team.
Our route for Sunday had us doing a solid five hours without visiting any water points. I took an extra litre of water. However, it turned out that in the cooler conditions I didn’t need this extra litre but did get through my ‘normal’ three litres.
There’s not really too much to say here. I relied fully on ‘sports nutrition’. A combination of gels (about one every half hour) and the Endura mixed with my water bottles formed the bulk of my energy intake while on the move for the entire event. There were a couple of apples in the mix but these only contributed a small portion.
The one element where I think I did well was during the period where I was out of water. My normal habit is to take on a gel and wash it down with water as I don’t really like the lingering experience of a gel without the water. There was a moment when I considered not continuing to take on energy while out of water but I decided the energy was more important. So, while I was out of water I remained on my normal schedule of gel intake and just put up with the unpleasantness.
I would also like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the organisers for the food provided at the Hash House. The Saturday dinner and the Sunday lunch were amazing and really hit the spot.
This is another area where things went almost entirely to plan. I spent the event in Altra shoes, Injinji socks, Underarmour compression shorts, running shorts, merino t-shirt (short sleeved) and the hot parts of Saturday in some cap I picked up somewhere. There was also the short pair of gaiters that I had been previously gifted that don’t quite fit properly.
The main thing that deserves a mention in this area is the prickles. My shoe, sock, gaiter combination didn’t do a great job. The prickles were consistent in making their way into the top of my shoe and gradually scratching up my legs. In general, I didn’t actually find this experience to be too bad. I mostly found that a quick reach down could flick a prickle out of the top of my shoe and I’d keep moving. There was one occasion that a prickle managed to work into my shoe and lodge in the arch of my foot. This one needed a proper stop and shoe removal to dislodge the prickle before getting moving again.
I am still considering options for future events should the vegetation be similar, but I haven’t really decided on any particular course of action yet.
This is probably the area that is mostly responsible for my lack of clarity on what the dominant factors were… good execution or pure (good) luck or good enough execution leading to opportunities for good luck.
In previous events we have made errors of different sizes. Being quite new to navigation sports I have found the experience of misplacing myself to be a very interesting one. It is interesting how easy it is to make the features I’ve seen around me fit to where I think I am on the map. Then at some point things don’t match anymore and fairly quickly I’ve gone (incorrectly) ‘knowing’ where I am to (correctly) realising that I don’t know where I am. Sometimes this has led to long periods without finding controls before eventually finding them, and on other occasions it has been not finding a control and having to navigate to some sort of catching feature.
There have been a few lessons we have taken away from these previous errors. The main skills gaps that we identified were: pace counting (to know how far we’ve travelled) and
improved bearing following. In light of this, we have invested some effort since our last rogaine to improve these skills.
To assist with pace counting, and remembering where we were up to, we practiced using pace counting beads. I made up a couple sets from things I had lying around the house.
I am pleased to say that at this event, by and large, navigation went very, very well.
On this occasion we hit all of the controls we set ourselves and the longest delays we had were likely only 10-15 mins. This probably only happened a couple of times and each time we were very close to where we were aiming.
We started the event with our primary mode of navigation between controls following this process:
1: Take a bearing and measure the distance on the map.
2: Travel in that direction for that distance (number of paces).
3: Pay some loose attention to contours and features along the way.
4: Hope that when we get towards the end of the pace count we can see the control or the features make sense.
For a significant portion of the Saturday this process was enough for us to navigate really well with no real issues. There were quite a few occasions when we would crest a rise and our control was right there, on our bearing. There were also multiple occasions where we would get close and the control wasn’t exactly on bearing, but was within eyesight.
I don’t know how many of these successful legs can rightly be attributed to good execution of a skill and how many were luck.
The minor issues that occurred were mainly during the night-time navigation. It was at night that we ended up missing a few controls and having to solve some issues. It was from this experience that we came to adapt the process to try to improve it.
The process that evolved by Sunday was as follows:
1: Take a bearing and measure distances from the map.
2: Travel in the direction of the bearing.
3A: While travelling look for distinct features with which we can measure our process – i.e. at 600m we should be crossing a distinct waterway.
3B: While travelling study the contour lines in the area of the control and form as clear a picture as possible on what to expect when we are close – i.e. at 800m we should be coming over a minor spur line. At the top of this spur I should be able to see another spur with a waterway coming off it at a south-west heading and the control will be in the gully on the far side of the spur.
4: As we come up to the final few hundred metres make sure that the expected features match the features in front of us.
This refined process worked well with the Sunday portion of navigation going according to plan.
Both the initial process and the refined process meant that we straight-lined every leg between controls. There were minor adaptations if terrain was really steep or to follow a watercourse, but generally everything was an attempt at a straight line. The terrain of the region allowed us to apply this system as there wasn’t much steep ground and the countryside was minimally vegetated.
Having said this, the location was absolutely beautiful and there were a number of times that we paused for a moment to enjoy the moment and take in the surroundings.
I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the landowners for giving permission for the use of their property and to the organisers for putting on such a wonderful event.
Here is the route we completed, after rerouting while on the move.
The string measurement of the route comes out to 61 km. My teammate and I each had our GPS watch sealed in a tamper proof bag in our packs for the duration of the event. Our watches measured 65-66 km. I guess this demonstrates how successful we were at keeping to our straight lines between controls.
Reflecting back on the goals that we set ourselves for the event:
- Be in the moment: I feel like we achieved this
- Enjoy the process: check
- Learn something: check
So, the event was a huge success and something I thoroughly enjoyed.
It was a deliberate decision for us not to attribute success or align our enjoyment of the event with our team placing. Also, having never competed in the long event of a bush rogaine before we had no expectation for where we might end up in the placings. It was a complete surprise when we found out that we had won the 15-hour event and were awarded a trophy.
Thanks again to the organisers, volunteers, and other competitors for such a wonderful event and I look forward to the next time we manage to make it out for another bush event.