“The Tortoise and the Contours”

This was the rogaine we definitely were not going to do, not because we didn’t want to, but because of finances, work commitments, lack of holidays, etc. etc. etc. Plus, only two months ago during the World Championships in Finland, we said that we would never do another ‘24 hour all-nighter’. But here we were at the airport, with heaps of luggage on our way to the Capertee National Park in NSW, because this was ‘superb rogaining country’, according to the pre-event hype.

Given that Evelyn had to work Friday morning, we flew out of Adelaide mid-afternoon to Sydney, hired a car, travelled to Capertee and spent the night at the Capertee Historical Hotel (historical it was with friendly owners, staff and great food).  Up early in the morning for a ‘help yourself’ breakfast along with several other rogainers, then a 70 minute drive to the Capertee National Park to quickly set up our tent and map planning equipment, register and collect our maps.  First view of the map showed a lot of contours, very close together, lots of controls (about 70), also seemingly close together, and lots of 90s and 100 pointers, especially in the bottom section of the map.

Given all the contours, we planned what we thought was a conservative route of about 60km with lots of alternative route choices towards the end, depending on how we were going.  Very quickly the planning time was gone and with heavy back packs loaded with food and water, we headed for our first control, which involved climbing 190m. By the time we got there we were shattered.

The next control, via the ridge line, only had one contour of climb but we could hardly put one foot in front of the other and teams seemed to be racing past us. We were definitely in tortoise mode.  Fortunately, the next couple of controls were downhill and along a lovely creek, which enabled us to get our breath back ready for more serious, hard uphill work, but teams were still overtaking us at rapid rate.

We had based our route on averaging about 3km/hr but at this stage we were struggling at under 2km/hr and this was early in the event when we were supposed to be fresh, and it was full daylight.  It felt like this was going to be a disaster event for us.  Evelyn was struggling with the heat, prickly scrub, biting insects, blisters forming and steep climbing.  My ankle was in agony climbing up the steep incline and my knees were suffering going down the steep inclines and I was definitely wondering how long I would last before giving it away.  The afternoon was a warm 25 degrees (though Evelyn’s gps watch recorded a maximum of 30 degrees with an average of 27 degrees up till 10pm), with thunderstorms forming.

Could it get any worse? Thunder sounding and lightening visible in the distance, this was a high risk bushfire area with lots of highly flammable scrub, and then it started to rain.  This was good as it cooled us down, but bad as everything got slippery.  One step uphill, one slide down.  About 6pm, after doing a 22 contour climb up to our first water station, we discovered the water all gone, but the support team were just turning up to refill the containers. That was a godsend as we were near empty.  Unfortunately, my back pack bladder broke and was useless leaving me with just a 500ml bottle, but as evening was approaching we hoped this was enough to get us to the All Night Café (ANC).

With all thoughts of being competitive completely gone, we slowly made our way along our pre-planned route to the ANC, where we had planned to be by around 5.30pm, but actually arrived just after 10pm.  The café was a godsend – hot soup, pancakes, cakes and toasties, with hot drinks and fruit, plus lots of chairs to rest in.  We ‘crashed’ here for about 45 minutes, debating on what or where to go (home was high on the list).  Everyone was saying how hard it was and how far behind schedule they were. Back packs, hiking sticks were lying around everywhere, with a few moaning bodies sprawled in chairs (actually that was probably us).

We managed to refill our water bottles, including the spare collapsible one I put in as a ‘just in case’ but had forgotten about, from the last remaining water supply at the ANC (fortunately they were resupplied a short time later).  As our bodies cooled down and we started to revive we re-planned and decided on a short 8 or 9km loop which would bring us back to  the ANC so we could re-fill with water, rest and plan our final stage back to the Hash House, depending on time available and if our bodies were willing.

Based on our current travelling speed, we expected the loop to take about 4 or 5 hours. While navigating in the dark moonless night has its own challenges, the cooler temperature more than made up for that and we were feeling in much better shape.  However, a 2 hour error looking for control 98 where we contoured around the side of a mountain, put us way behind our schedule again, but this seemed relatively un-important at the time. Eventually we decided to give up on the control and head for C60 as a relocation point and then come back for another go.  Luckily for us as we headed for number 60 we walked straight past the elusive C98 and feeling so tired and disheartened we just punched the control and moved on with virtually no comment made.  As dawn approached we stumbled down the side of a hill into the strangely quiet ANC.  Our short loop had taken about 7 hours to complete.  The ANC had run out of water and most of the food, but again, fortunately for us, the water re-supply crew arrived shortly after we did and a couple of cups of hot tea and some of our own food supplies put us back in shape to think about the next 6hr stint.

A very moderate route choice was planned, where we hoped to be at C95 (which was about 2km away from the HH) by 11am.  The morning was perfect rogaining conditions, being cool and clear (though there was fog in the low lying areas) and the area we were moving into was relatively clear of the nasty kangaroo thorn-like bushes.  We had now arrived in perfect rogaining country.  Although the bodies were tired and sore our pace was getting better, the controls were being found easily and we started to extend our route to get extra controls as the morning went, even to the point where we did almost, sort of run to our last control, C36, through the HH from C43, to get back with about 3 minutes to spare.  So the last 6 hours of the event were all positive and we finished on a high and started wondering how everyone else had faired.  We expected that Jenny and Zara were going to do well as they passed us three times in the first 6 hours or so as they had a similar route and were obviously getting extra controls which we had left out and they were still running when we last saw them just before dusk the night before.

After a quick clean-up, an even quicker HH meal (as there was virtually no food left, which was disappointing), we discussed the event with our fellow SA rogainers, hearing the highs and lows. We cheered on Jenny Cassanova and Zara Soden who took out the 2nd Women’s Veterans award, followed by Colin & Joy Corbett taking out the 2nd Mixed Ultra Veterans award.  Much to our surprise we won the Mixed Super Veterans class. Obviously we were not the only team moving like tortoises during this event.

We appreciated what the setters and vetting team had put in, which must have been an enormous amount of time and effort. We were glad we didn’t have to collect the controls! The map was high quality but printed on standard paper that unfortunately needed a protective cover (eg contact). A teslin-type waterproof paper would have been so much better.  The event area was stunning but the next time we come, it will be in a 4WD.   The All Night Café (though not manned all night) was excellent for us, but others who came in the early hours of the morning missed out.  There were only 4 water drops (including the ANC) probably due to the layout of the access tracks.  Given the number of teams and warm weather these water drops were always going to be in high demand and sadly the organisers didn’t allow for this with limited or no water available for long periods.  We only got to the Hash House at the end of the event and there was virtually no food left.

For those interested in such things we did:


1st 6hr – 13 controls – 1050pts – 1000m climb

2nd 6hrs – 7 controls – 500pts – 390m climb

3rd 6hrs – 5 controls – 360pts – 160m

4th 6hrs – 14 controls – 760pts – 675m

2670 points finishing 29th overall – 1st Mixed Super vets, 5th Mixed Veterans and 9th in the Mixed category.

Straight line distance as per Navlight was 38.2km.  Approximate actual distance around 55km.

We each carried a lot of food including energy protein bars, a pastie, cake slices, a box of iced coffee and fruit and fruit gels plus a bag of jelly beans which all got eaten.  Had hot soup, pancakes, fruit and cake at the ANC plus lots of cups of hot tea.

Craig Colwell