Graham “Tweet” Bird’s report:
I am always amazed when looking out of airplane windows when I fly across the country and the world. You get to see the best and worst of what the world has to offer. You see the massive areas of urbanization, industrialization and commercialization that have sprung up to support the world’s huge population. From the different housing structures, suburb layouts, green areas, rubbish, you see the massive differences between the have and the have not’s. We are all part of it, no matter how we all try to stay away from it or limit our part in it. We are sucked in. All necessary to support the world, as we know it.
You also get to see the vast areas of open land and wilderness below you. Green lush areas, dry arid areas, flat areas, mountainous areas, water areas. Majority of it explored, but some of it still wild and unexplored. It is these sights and the ability to GET OUTSIDE and explore this wilderness, becoming part of it, that keeps me going. It’s raw. It’s simple. Just me verse the wild outdoors. It is these experiences that allow me to recharge after being part of the world, as we know it.
In May 2010 we attended the Australian XPD staged in Cairns. The 780km Expedition Adventure Race was one of the most brutal and hardest adventure races I have ever done. It took us six and a half days to complete. It broke me; physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It made me stronger. It recharged me. It re-ignited my passion for the outdoors. The sense of achievement was overwhelming. This is why I do this fantastic sport.
After our experiences at XPD 2010, our team set a top 5 finish at XPD Tasmania, the Adventure Racing World Champs for 2011. We hoped for a race that was as extreme as the 2010 addition and we longed to be pushed to our limits. As a team we have been racing together for many years. We enjoy racing together. We have fun racing together. We have the same goals, objectives and get the same things out of the sport. We wanted to be part of the race for the win. We knew we could race the top teams and set about working on our weaknesses throughout the year.
Arriving in Tasmania, we were all quietly confident and knew our preparations had gone well. The atmosphere, hype and anticipation in the small town of Burnie was infectious. After a few days of gear and food preparations, we finally received the course information a day before the start. We spent a frantic 6 hours doing the final preparations before handing in all our race boxes to the officials whom would be moving them around the course.
The course was broken down into 15 legs, 37 maps, 120km paddling, 180km trekking, 430km mountain biking. From the outset it looked a very fair, but tough course. The big expedition style legs were in the second half of the race with the shorter faster legs in the first half. We as a team felt this suited us. Traditionally we are stronger in the later part of races. We knew we needed to have a good first half and be in touch with the top teams at mid camp in order to use our strength.
We raced well in the first half, arriving at Mid Camp in 9th position on the afternoon of the third day, approximately 4-5 hours off the top 4. Our race speed was good and we had only made one error that had cost us a few hours on the second morning when we searched for a CP in the wrong area. We were content with our position, knowing that the race effectively started once we left Mid Camp. Upon leaving mid camp, we had three big legs (65km trek, 150km mtb, 87km paddle) to complete before the final few shorter legs to the finish. We made up good time on the 65km trek, completing it in 5th place. It was then onto the mtb. We spent hours in the dunes looking for a track, doing something like 20km in 5 hours. The fourth night of the race was probably our lowest point. I battled with sleep monsters like never before. We stopped to sleep 4 times, with none of them really helping, the highlight being when I came off the bike on a tar downhill after falling asleep. Nothing like waking up with a jolt. When you are having a bad leg, your mind just goes negative and we saw the race slipping away from us. To our surprise we finished the leg in 6th place only a few hours behind 4th. It appeared that everyone had had a bad leg. The fifth night was spent on the banks of the Arthur River with the 11-hour dark zone, sharing a campsite with four other teams, getting 8 hours sleep!
After a successful paddle leg, we were in tied 5th place, only 40min behind the 4th placed team and the 7th team being 20mins behind us. We realized the final three legs were going to be fast. We thought we had had a good 70km mtb, but lost two hours to the 4th and 5th place teams. Seems our route choice was not as good as there’s. We did however manage to open the gap on the 7th place team. A 25km beach and coasteering trek followed. The race staff told us the leaders had done this leg in 4 hours. We were on the home stretch, or so we thought. With the tiredness and the urgency to chase the 4th and 5th and stay ahead of 7th, I completely failed to see a path marked on the map. We ended up trekking along the rocky shoreline while the other teams took the path. We lost hours to the teams around us, with one team passing us and our fellow SA team catching up to us.
We crossed the finish line after 6 days and 2 hours in 7th position. The 4th and 5th teams, separated by 1 second, were about 2 hours in front of us, the 6th team 10 mins ahead of us and with the 8th placed team only 15mins behind us. A close race in the end.
As always, crossing the finishing line of an expedition race is special and indescribable to someone whom has never done it and this was no different. Physically, you pus h yourself to the extreme going through days with minimal sleep and food. Mentally, you go to deep dark places as you drag yourself through the many bad patches. Emotionally, you have to deal with all the ups and downs that go with all the physical and mental exertions. Spiritually, dealing with all the questions that you ask yourself about life throughout the course of the race.
The race lived up to all that I had hoped it would. It was a great course that was well worthy of the status of World Championships. A tough race that pushed us to our limits. Having now spent sometime reflecting about our race, I am content with our position and understand it is a great result, something to be proud of. I do however have a feeling of disappointment not having achieved our goal of a top 5 finish. We raced hard and showed we had the speed and ability to mixed it up with the top teams in the world. I don’t think we could have moved quicker and I feel the error on the second morning, the terrible fourth night and missing the path on the last trekking leg, cost us dearly. But this is adventure racing and you need to get through the good and the bad. To my teammates, Tatum, Hanno and Don, again another special journey and it was a great honour to have raced alongside you guys! This is why I do this fantastic sport.
A huge thanks go to Craig and Louise from Geocentric Outdoors for a brilliantly organized race.
Tatum “Hobbit” Prins report:
This year the ARWC was going to be our race, the race we had built up to, the race we had focused on, the race we had sacrificed a lot for. The time had come. It held huge importance to all of us, it was going to be a defining race for us and we were excited and nervous of what lay ahead. There were 80 teams taking part, a huge field in ARWC and it was said the top 15 teams were all going for and possibly all could claim a podium finish. We were part of this top 15 but our aim and goal was a top 5. We knew we could do it and we wanted it.
After sorting kit, packing, repacking, shopping and a few days of anticipation in Burnie we were off. From the start the race was exciting and fast paced. There were just so many teams wanting what we wanted and no matter what we did we could not seem to pull away from anyone. Quite early in the race the top 3 teams got away but from 4th place to 10th place it was a constant ding dong battle. No sooner had you passed one team you were been passed by another. This continued the whole race. At times it felt like if you stopped to pee you would be passed and that is crazy in a race of this length for the top teams to be just minutes apart.
The course itself was amazing, well thought out and wonderfully diverse. We really experienced Tasmania and its true beauty. From the rugged mountains, untouched rivers, pristine beaches, lush forests, incredible caves, beautiful kloofing sections, we could not have raced in a more beautiful country. I would even go as far as to say the “the dirt was clean.” That is how it felt. It felt like no one had been there before or seen what we had seen. One particularly scenic moment that really stands out for me was the most perfectly placed checkpoint in a mine on Mount Cumberland. It felt like we had a 360% view of Tasmania. Truly breathtaking. Just a pity we couldn’t stop to enjoy it.
I have so many highlights of the race, or maybe I should rather say moments that stand out for me. Some not because of the beauty but because of other challenges, like the cold, navigational errors, sleepmonsters – just a few of the challenges that occur in AR.
If I close my eyes I can see and feel one of my coldest moments – the four of us stripping down for freezing cold river crossings in the middle of the night. The swims literally took our breath away it was so cold. However it was also one of the more “funny” moments as it was here we caught up with a few teams and there seemed to be naked racers everywhere with boobs and butts for all too see! The most frustrating and emotional leg for me was probably the 8km muddy mountain biking section on the 150km bike leg. I was so frustrated, tired, sore and definitely left my sense of humour in that section. We pushed our bikes through mud for 8km! No one see’s the light side of that after a couple days racing. Another highlight or rather a strange experience was our little camping excursion on the Arthur River. Because of the dark zone we were forced to camp alongside the river with 3 other teams. It was a weird feeling. One I had not experienced before. There we were racing our guts out for 4 days to suddenly come to a grinding halt, sit around a campfire (thanks Smelly) and enjoy each other’s war stories. It was as if we were suddenly granted a holiday in the middle of a grueling race. With that goes the truly wonderful experience (NOT) of sharing a 2 man tent with 3 overgrown men who happen to smell particularly bad. As you can imagine the sleep was not exactly the best one I have had. However the rest of the 65km paddle was truly spectacular. I can also picture our very own Tweet falling asleep on his bike, then the realization when we stopped that he wasn’t with us. The panic that we felt as we realized he had crashed his bike while falling asleep… Then last but not least I see the four of us coasteering in the true style. Making our way over endless rocky outcrops. We could not have been moving any slower and unbeknown to us there was a path that took you to the ame place but 4 hours quicker. The joys of adventure racing but unfortunately this cost us a position. Even though I can smile about it now it was a hard pill to chew at the time.
So even though we didn’t accomplish what we set out for we can honestly say we did our best. Yes, I am very disappointed. I won’t deny it and it is always hard to deal with disappointment. When you give your utmost for so long and everything hinges on this one race, the race I had chosen as the pinnacle of my racing. In the same breath we left nothing out on the course and even though we did not get our top 5 we raced hard and you know what….. now we have even more reason to go back for more…
Again thank you to “my boys – Tweet, Smelly, Tiny.” Some of you may see this as claiming the boys as mine…. well quite frankly I do! In those 6 days when we are out there racing, in the elements, sleep deprived, frustrated, happy and sad, they are the ones by my side. They are the ones lifting me up when the going gets tough, they are the ones checking I have eaten enough, making sure I am warm, encouraging me when I am tired. Without these boys I would not be racing, doing the one thing I hold dearest and closest to my heart. Without them I would not be following my dream. A dream that I have been chasing for 8 years. Without them I would not hold the light that fuels my passion. It is these boys who make up such an important part of my life. You will often hear me say I love my boys dearly… well I do, with all my heart.
Thank you to our ever-faithful supportive sponsors. Again they are the reason we are OUTSIDE doing what we do best, letting us live the life we cannot live without.
Then lastly a very special thank you to my husband Lofty. He has stood by my side for 8 years, supported and loved me as I have made racing as a priority in my life. He has supported and allowed me to follow my dream, he has never asked anything of me, never voiced his frustration as I have missed out on social engagements, have been away for so many weekends or weeks at a time. It takes a very special man to let his wife love 3 other men and support it. Thank you Lofts for being you!!
Until the next time…Over and out. Hobs
Hanno “Smelly” Smit’s report:
XPD 2011 was also the World AR champs and the location was the beautiful and untouched North Western part of Tasmania. The latitude is around 40 degrees south and that means that the wind consistently blows hard, fuelled by the many cold fronts that pass by and regularly pours rain over this first land obstacle after Cape Horn. The temperatures are low compared to what we were used to and would typically not exceed the mid teens in centigrade. The terrain is mainly forested wilderness where the gigantic Eucalypts tower majestically over the pristine rainforests with many rivers and streams allowing for the regular rains to drain.
As we competed in XPD 2010 in tropical Northern Queensland and experienced the harsh terrain, vegetation and weather conditions, we were well aware of the potential adversity which lay ahead of us for this year’s race. The field of competitors was the strongest ever for a World Champs and of the 80 teams, about 10 teams were realistically standing a chance of winning the race.
After a very professionally organized race briefing, the race start was a very comfortable 9am start at race HQ. An ocean paddle leg kicked off the 6-day odyssey for us. Immediately we had problems on this paddle leg in that the blow up boat would not track properly in the side wind conditions and allowed many teams to overtake us en route to the next hiking TA. This set the tone for the rest of the race; we consistently had little setbacks or problems, but fought back every time without these getting the better of us.
The race route structure was basically the same as XPD 2010. The first half of the race dissected Tasmania from the town of Burnie to the harbour town of Strahan, halfway down the West Coast. This is where mid camp was situated and spend a compulsory 6 hour stopover. The legs were relatively short and undaunting and the going easy. The race from here onwards would take on a different form in three epic expeditionary legs through the Arkine region and then another 3 short legs essentially completing the course from the Arkine to the Northern coast and finally into what was the starting for us 6 days prior, the coastal town of Burnie.
The first of the big three legs was a trekking leg. This hike started off with a long beach drag, including 2 big river crossings, which we negotiated in the chilly nighttime. Next curved ball was a dense bundu bashing mission towards an orienteering type CP. The trek then became a jungle walk up into the mining mountains and from there onwards we were left with route choice aplenty. The terrain was dense veld and it made for energy sapping traversing. This hike eventually descended down to the coast again for the start of the next epic bike leg.
The push bikes were immediately steered onto the soft beach and intermittent beach tracks. Soon we were carrying our bikes up big sand dunes and hiking along long stretches of unrideable terrain. It was already epic and we were 5km into this 150km leg! With darkness setting in we covered mainly forestry roads and secondary roads. As daylight appeared we were moving into rough forest areas again and were dealing with hour-long sections of mud riding and pushing. The final push towards the transition just before sunset was an inspired effort as we were chasing the 19h30 dark zone on the river and needed to use the available 90 minutes to our best advantage.
The 3rd epic paddling leg was 75 odd km long, but the going was easy and fast and it came to the rescue of many of the lesser paddlers! We spent our compulsory dark zone (19:30 until 6:30) on the river bank inside our tent, snoring a melody in pain. The paddling came to an end in the late afternoon and from here we mounted our pushies again for a 70km fast leg towards our last coasteering leg and then onto the pushies again for a brisk pedal into Burnie.
For me this race had all the essentials of a great race: the competition was fierce, the terrain was beautiful, wild and demanding, the route was challenging, but enjoyable and the conditions were testing with the race being consistently wet and cold. We finished a slightly disappointing 7th, but I felt content with an honest effort and knowing that a slightly different bounce of the dice it could have been very different.
I salute my teammates for an unforgettable 2011!
Donovan “Tiny” Sims report:
It was the 26th October and we were finally off, on our way to the land down under for the Tasmanian ARWC 2011. This was the race that our whole years preparation had been all about. After 2 days in Sydney, we finally arrived in Burnie, Tasmania. This was where it was all happening from, race head quarters.
After 2 days of packing and other admin we were finally ready to get started. We started off with a 17km paddle, which saw Smelly and I leading the race, all be it for really short while. Half way into the paddle Hobbit and I had to make a quick change over, which saw Tweet and I and Smelly and Hobbit finishing the paddle together.
After a quick chilly transition we where onto the first of our hiking legs, not long into this leg one of each team had to shoot clay pigeons, missing them would result in a time penalty, luckily this was not the case for us. This leg went well for us and had us at the first of our bike legs.
This was a quick ride at first with it all tar road, we then got to the caving section where we were given an hour to collect CP’s inside a spectacular cave. We managed that in enough time to allow us to eat and rest up before getting back onto our bike for a MONSTER climb heading toward our next hiking leg.
This was definitely one of my favourite sections of the race, it’s all a bit fuzzy, but I think this was where we thought we would try a “short cut”. That took us through a kloof or two too many. None the less, this hike was breath taking as we made our way to the top of the abseil, which made been cancelled due to it being way too wet. A quick downhill scramble had us in one of the coldest, wet kloofing sections I`ve done in long time. We then criss-crossed the river a few times making our way to start of the next paddling leg, where we caught up with Cyanosis, whom had passed us when we searched in the wrong place for a CP.
Another quick transition (no slow ones with Hobbit around) and all 4 of us were of in one blow up boat, which was pretty cool as long as you were not at the back of the boat. Tweet had the back spot and he was absolutely frozen at the next transition, where we received a second boat. At the end of this paddle we had to portage our boats (NO DRAGGING) to the next river put in which finally got us to the end of the paddle.
Back onto the bikes and we sped into the half way stop and compulsory 6-hour stop.
From here on in, the race took on a real expedition type style. The next 3 legs were epic slogs. First was a hike that took us around 19 hrs. Then a bike leg that lasted 23 hrs. with major sleep monster hassles along the way and then we were onto the much anticipated loooong paddle. Of these 3 legs I really enjoyed the paddle. We had a dark zone in it, which had Smelly making a camp fire and for a while we almost forgot we were racing until the next morning and the race face was on again.
We were back onto the shorter legs of the race again with a 70 km bike, a 20 km coasteering leg and then a 35 km bike to the end. We missed a path on the map and turned the coasteering into a bit of a monster but we got through it albeit losing a place to a Swedish team.
We had a 7th place finish at the end of it all. We were all hoping for top 5 which I really do believe was well within our reach.
We had a great race and I know I say this every time but hats off to my teammates. Tweet for all the organising before the race and for the determination shown during the race even when the sleep monster was getting the better of you. To Smelly for once again just being the pillar of strength the team relies on so often. To the Hobbit for always driving the team even when you are tired and for the huge leadership role you so quietly carry out. It is that role and your raw passion for the sport that puts you a step above the rest of the girls in the sport.
A big thank you must go out to our GREAT sponsors for allowing us to be able to take part in this great sport…..THANK YOU !!
And last but NOT least to our families and loved ones back home, who show patience and support when most would get grumpy send us packing, a huge thank you to all of you for allowing us to follow our dreams.
The Merrell Adventure Addicts wish to thank the following team sponsors who support our adventurous lifestyles:
Merrell – For supporting our active lifestyles and allowing us to GET OUTSIDE
PVM – For providing us with nutritional products to keep us going.
Black Diamond – For Icon and Cosmo head torches that lit our way brilliantly
Giant Bicycles – For providing the team with exceptional Anthem MTB’s
Island Tribe – For protecting us from the harsh African sun.
Squirt – For keeping our Bikes lubed and operating smoothly!
Glider – For Polarized eyewear