Hells Bells '04
There was much speculation leading up to this race, as the clues contained in the competitor notes as to the secret course were very intriguing. The bikes had to be deposited at The Gap, in the west of Brisbane, a strange location compared to the start at Dayboro, about 50k to the north west. How were we to get to the bikes? What was the money for? Why were we required to be ready to start over an hour before time? We were soon to find out.
We were given the latter stages of the race, but not the first three stages. As many of us guessed, at 10:50 we were loaded onto busses and driven to Pitrie railway station, where we were given the course to get us to the bikes.
Stage 1 required a train ride into Brisbane city where an "Urbaneering" stage took place. The sun beat down and the high humidity took it's toll on the field. We ran around the city on both sides of the river and up through the centre, drawing inquisitive looks from the Saturday shoppers as we sweated our way past in tight Lycra bike pants, not so many odd looks from those in the 'Valley (a known 'alternative' area of Brisbane)! Many teams including ourselves took the opportunity for a quick swim at South Bank lagoon on the way past, after picking out the check-point marshal in the sea of public heads. With the rule of no crossing roads against the lights being enforced, we often stood in the air-conditioning of corner shops while waiting for the 'walk' signal.
Of the ten checkpoints in the urban area, two were away from the city itself, one out at the University at St Lucia, another between my wife's vet surgery and my daughter's school at Indooroopilly. We were required to get eight of the ten, so my team elected to drop the Uni and one a bit removed from the city at West End. We took the train again from Roma St with most of the field bunched back up again (three teams were fast enough to make the earlier train, team Landrover elected to RUN to the Uni), out to Indooroopilly.
After picking up the last CP we hit the Kayaks for Stage 2 at the Brisbane river and paddled back toward the city. The inflatable with three people in them handled as you would expect, poorly, but we were able to make reasonable time, especially as the current was heading our way. A quick transition and we were on foot again at Toowong for Stage 3, heading out of the city, up over Mt Coot-tha towards the bikes at The Gap. One enterprising team took a taxi from Toowong to the top of Mt Coot-tha,unfortunately for them there was a marshal watching.
We had some immediate mechanical trouble as we jumped on the bikes at The Gap, with Marks chain jamming requiring about 20 minutes of careful levering to free it without causing any damage to the wheel, chain, or cluster. I then continued my great mechanical form by having two punctures over the 22k MTB leg. Brand new, never-ridden-on-before tyres too. We moved along steadily as night fell, providing relief from the sun but not really from the heat or humidity, climbing from The Gap up to Mt Nebo, with one nasty section in the last few kilometres from transition that entailed a descent into, and a climb out of, a creek that was so steep that we were lucky it was dark, as if we'd been able to see properly we'd never have built the courage to go down. We walked our bikes down as it was (or tried to slow our fall!), and then going up the other side we'd take ten steps then have to stop and rest. After a while of this painfully slow progress we got Mark pushing my bike that was hitched to Annalisa's by the tow line, I slung Mark's bike over my shoulder and pushed/steered Annalisa's, and Annalisa concentrated on getting herself up the hill. The 500m gentle downhill into transition was a great relief after that.
Onto foot again for a 5k orienteering leg, with only three CP's to visit, all on top of hills (of course) with big descents and climbs in between. The last CP proved a problem for a lot of teams, as the road had been moved and remade since the map was produced, and the old road had been left to be completely swallowed by the bush. Unfortunately there was an unmarked knoll identical to the CP location only a few hundred metres to the north which fooled us (with a 1:30 000 map with 25m contours a lot of features were unmarked). We lost a lot of time looking here. We even resorted to ringing Craig Bycroft to check that the CP was still in position. After being told that AROC had found it (but Landrover and Club Crank had not), thus confirming that we were in the wrong spot, we soon determined where it probably was. Unfortunately for us just as we started to ascend the ridge to the hill-top a cluster of teams arrived at the location and soon followed and overtook us, instantly gaining two hours on us by reaching the CP first. We then lost a bit more time covering the last kilometre back to the bikes through another dreadful descent/ascent through the lantana and across a creek that was dangerously bluffed (we have some spectacular bruises to show for this effort). It was every man for him/herself here as you'd be too busy hanging onto the hillside yourself to help anyone else.Our team lost 7 places in this leg, dropping from 7th to 14th.
Onto the last 42k MTB leg with a luxurious 16 k of bitumen rolling hills along Mt Nebo - Mt Glorious road, then a bit more dirt, we started to pick up the places we'd lost. It was light again now so we set our spinnaker for home before the heat started up again. Easily gaining the last few CP's on the way home, with only a slight pause with another team who'd convinced themselves they'd gone the wrong way, we left them behind down a wonderful wonderful descent to Lacey's Creek and followed the blue metal road all theway home to Dayboro.
We finished a very credible 5th, (7th team home, but one was all-male and another unranked), just after 9 am Sunday morning. Full credit to Annalisa for that as she worked hard the whole race. Mark and I helped where we could but it was up to Anni to push herself most (all) of the time, which she did. There were no easy rides even when she was on tow (bike and foot!). We weren't very easy on her. Mark seems happy with his first 24hr finish, and I was very happy with my race despite the nav being relatively simple. A few less mechanical problems would've been nice (we would've jumped a place), but that's all part of AR.
The race was a bit surreal for Mark and I, as so much ground we covered was over routes we often train on or live around. Local knowledge helped us a fair bit, but it was disconcerting for Annalisa when Mark and I ran along with the map stowed in our backpacks. A lot of the time I'd just be able to say "the next CP is at such-and-such" and away we'd go. Anni had to get used to us saying, "Trust us, we know where we are, and where we are going".
All in all it was a very interesting and well executed race. Enjoyable to compete over. Thanks to the GAR team, we'll be back for another go next time.