At last, the final rogaine of 2020, where the months of preparation and training could be put to use and pitted against an expected massive entry. Not even the dread of a pandemic could dampen our enthusiasm for this, the most important event of the South Australian sporting calendar where we would be under the spotlight of well over 400 other determined competitors and spectators.

The big question obviously was what was going to be our dress theme to earn those much, desired BONUS points.

Pre-event meetings were scheduled, office staff quizzed and forensic analysis of the pre-event blurb, which detailed general location and the event name “Three Hours of Freedom”, gave us some clues to what the organisers were expecting as a dress-up theme.

Given that the Yatala Prison complex was on the fringe of the Dry Creek Gorge, our thoughts obviously veered to a convict escapee dress theme, but how far to go?  Ball and chain? Perhaps leave that for a pre-wedding bucks’ night, however, hand cuffs should create some interest and would be easier to carry around and prevent team splitting.

On the day of the event, perfect weather, big crowd, well organised volunteer group and a great map showing all the required navigational details and 39 checkpoints to decide on.  Route planning was based on expected distance we would be able to travel in the allotted three hours, accessibility of the checkpoint sites, especially along the Dry Creek Gorge area and total point value of various routes.

Given that I had undertaken a total knee replacement 4 months prior to this event and was still under surgeon and physio guidance, we decided on a maximum route distance of up to 15kms, avoid what we thought would be a difficult and wet, crossing of the Dry creek gorge to the southern bank (therefore missing out on controls 90 & 60) and discounting the two most northern controls (71 & 91).  Our pre-event training (Heysen Trail walks and daily dog walks) had built up a certain amount of post operation fitness, but three hours of racing on hard bitumen and concrete surfaces was likely to take its toll.  As such, we planned on various “short cut” options back to the Hash House should the expected aches and pains prove too much.

Surprise, surprise, we found ourselves being carried along amongst a cheerful crowd of participants, most decked out in some form of fancy dress, at a speed of around 6km/hour. This was well above what we expected to be able to do and I was seemingly going from strength to strength with Evelyn having to occasionally jog to keep up. On our Heysen Trail walks, it was Evelyn who was always out in front or racing up the next hill.  Oh, what a difference a rogaine makes.

Taking an anti-clockwise route from the HH we arrived at control 73 at the northern bank of Dry Creek, well ahead of our pre-planned schedule.  It appeared that other teams had managed to cross the creek at this point, so we scrambled down the embankment, crossed the bubbling brook and zig zagged our way up to control 90 which was the head of a waterfall in Stockwell Park. The track network in this area was a little bit confusing but with so many teams moving towards and away from the control we had no trouble finding it. Being on the southern side of the creek we were now committed to getting control 60, and by this stage we had noted various teams who were doing a similar route to us and were going to be serious contenders to our final placing.  After competing in five world championships, I was starting to wonder why it was so important to beat a family of five (with three young children) in this social three-hour Minigaine. But after leap-frogging controls with this team through the last 20 controls, serious discussion was made on route choices between each control. We lost well over 100m between 44 and 52 where we used the street option, caught this back up when they needed to stop and get some water out their back packs at control 55, but they were just ahead of us half way to C81 when we chose a better option through one of the many parks.

The final 45 minutes was nerve racking with decisions to be made on distance to the Hash House and control options.  We had lost the family team, but were they ahead of us or behind, had they planned a better route? Could we get to 31, 62, 47, 22, 21 and 20 in the remaining time with C37 as an outside chance? Younger, faster teams were passing us, which control were they heading to and could we fit in 62 which was becoming an out of the way dog leg?

Jo Powell (Evelyn’s team-mate for the 2019 Australian Rogaine Championship) was in one of the teams immediately behind us and we didn’t want to make a wrong decision under her critical gaze. As we approached C62, we sighted the fast, moving team of Anne Oke and Guy Schubert who, like us, are a Mixed Super Veteran team, racing away from the Control.  Were they ahead of us or behind us on points, we had no idea.

With the finish time rapidly approaching, numerous teams were flowing quickly past the last few controls.  We decide if we can pick up the pace a bit, we can just manage to add C37 into our route.  Evelyn finds that a slow jog is less painful than the fast walk we have been doing.  I try for a Cliff Young type shuffle (physio said no running until after Xmas) and this seems to be manageable. Finally, we are on the oval with the finish in sight and cross with less than four minutes remaining. This turns out to be very important as we finish 9th overall and first in our category on equal points with Anne and Guy (who finished 2 minutes after us).

The name “Dry Creek” does not sound very inspirational or picturesque, so it was a very pleasant surprise to traverse the map area around Walkley Heights and Para Hills where there were numerous parks, wide tree lined streets, access tracks and the highlight of the Dry Creek wetlands area.  Well done to Bruce Greenhalgh, Steve Sullivan, Craig Bettison and Christopher Graves and the volunteer team for a very enjoyable event.

Craig and Evelyn Colwell – Team 94