I’ve decided to give my new life a new theme and branding. I have gone with Looking For 42 as a reference to the ongoing search for the meaning of life. To celebrate this fresh start, I have gone for a whole new social media identity:
Blog – http://looking442.wordpress.com
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/lookingfor42
Twitter – @AndrewGills (LookingFor42)
Instagram – @LookingFor42
Feel free to follow me on my new and improved social media outlets. This blog will remain active and linked to the new one but I will no longer be updating it.
In celebration and anticipation of my fresh start in life, I am considering a change in blog title: Looking For 42.
No, I have not yet read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy but I have a copy because I do quite like the title. What do you all think?
After a week off the bike, it was fantastic to load up the Vivente World Randonneur and hit the road. The time on the mainland after my return from Crescent Head was fantastic because it gave me a chance to better organise myself. I had too much gear and quite a lot of the wrong gear with me, especially in the way of clothes. So I spent some money at a couple of outdoor stores that had fantastic sales and now have a much more streamlined, lightweight and practical wardrobe. Hopefully it is also one that will keep me warm and dry as I explore the southern states of Australia in winter.
I changed the way I loaded the bike too. My food, kitchen gear and soft shell are now in the front panniers. My tent, fishing rod, paddles, suncream and hat are all packed in or on the front bar roll. My sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow, clothes, laptop, reading book, lights and charger are in the rear panniers. My PFD and running pack are on the rear rack under a big dry bag containing packraft, tools, running shoes, flip flops, picnic blanket and spare dry bags. I have a weighing hook for fishing that I am using to balance the bike – it is absolutely invaluable.
Once back on the island I settled into a relaxed rhythm, stopping at Myora Springs for some lunch. It’s a beautiful place where a freshwater creek flows out towards the bay. I felt so settled there looking down at water that was so clear you almost couldn’t perceive it with your eyes.
An ancient Moreton Bay fig grows here near the springs. Moreton Bay figs grow when a bird drops a seed among the branches of an existing tree. The seed sprouts and the fig slowly grows air roots down to the ground, strangling the original tree in the process. There is almost nothing left of the original tree around which this fig grew.
I arrived back at Amity Point shortly after 1pm. It feels good to be back in a place where the pace of life is slow. I set up my tent and settled in to work for a few hours overlooking the bay. It’s qiuet in the campground, which is just the way I like it.
It’s been a long time since I went trail running. It’s been so long that I almost forgot how to do it. A combination of factors have kept me away from my running shoes but the biggest has been a recurring Achilles injury. But I’ve decided to put all that behind me and get back out there.
Last night I entered the Surf Coast Century 100km trail run. The event will be held on 13 September, so I have 13 weeks until race day. Not that I will be racing. I will be walking and jogging the course in the hope of making the 24:30 cutoff. If I do, it will be my fastest 100km after I completed Oxfam Trailwalker Sydney in 2004 in 36:29 and Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane in 2011 in 32:58. I did both of those on little or no training so hope that the cycle touring and some training will get me across the line at Surf Coast Century those few precious hours faster.
I have marked the start of this Surf Coast Century adventure by buying a new pair of trail running shoes. I went with a pair of Innovates with a 3mm drop. They have more padding than my Merrel Trail Gloves, which feels good on my feet. I can’t run in traditional shoes because my ITB and shin splints always play up when I do. But the 3mm drop went well today so this might be a good move. The shoes are a full size too big, which allows me to wear socks without my feet cramping. I think this will be a good thing when I train through winter.
So that’s where I’m at today. I have decided to embark on an adventure within my adventure. I kind of like the idea of returning to trail running. But this time I want to do it on my terms: as a slow back of the pack walker/jogger who is content to be out on the course until cut-off.
Today’s session was just a 50 minute walk/jog in the bush near my parent’s place. I walked all the inclines, and jogged all the downhills and flats. I didn’t run fast. My only goal is to stay injury-free and enjoy the event. If I conserve energy and take quick transitions, I am sure I can beat the cut-off. My best time for 50km (without training) is 6:59 and I slept 4-5 hours in each of my Trailwalker efforts.
While I have stopped entering adventure races, my sister is still actively involved in the sport so I was excited to travel the 600km (370 miles) to Crescent Head to support her team in the Geoquest (Half) 48 hour adventure race. While I was there, I added my name to the volunteer register to help with the pre-race registration, map handout and children’s race. It turned out to be an epic weekend of hard work, amazing scenery and inspiring racing.
My sister and I started Friday morning with an easy walk and geocaching outing around Crescent Head. I was desperate to get out for a walk after doing relatively little in the way of descent exercise in recent times. It wasn’t a long walk but it felt so good to feel the cold earth beneath my bare feet as we explored the rabbit trails along the headland.
The morning views and sunlight were stunning, making me hungry for more.
It was fantastic to spend quality time with my sister before the craziness of the event hit us. After this walk, we wouldn’t get a chance to just chill together until we returned home tired and emotionally drained on Monday afternoon.
From 9am Friday morning, I spent about seven hours wearing a high visibility vest with “Event Official” stamped on the back. It’s a familiar experience volunteering at events and I slipped into my various roles easily. I handed out the mysterious large black paddle bags that teams would later use to transport, well, paddle gear; updated the map sets with newly printed maps; acted as a checkpoint in the children’s race; and handed out maps at the race briefing. And then, as day turned to night, I returned to the holiday house our team had rented to cook dinner as my team poured over their maps and prepared their race plan. Our support crew consisted of three members and on Friday night two of us packed the support vehicles. The team packed a lot of gear: much of which we didn’t use but at least it made them feel better to have it available.
On Saturday morning we were in the cars before dawn to drive to Hat Head where the Geohalf was to begin. The water was glassy and clear, and the air cool. I didn’t envy the racers who were starting with a cold winter’s morning swim leg.
My sister and her team mates had one last opportunity to fiddle with gear and breath before …
GPS trackers were issued to teams, a final briefing held and they were off on their ways to navigate their way around the 120km course. From here on, no one would have much rest and the rollercoaster of emotions would begin.
The course itself took in some amazing scenery including coastal headlands where mountains dropped into the sea and secluded beaches became exposed at low tide.
Long sandy beaches challenged teams who were left to run or cycle through soft sand as salt blew in on the ocean air.
Crystal clear water formed an amazing backdrop to the coasteering legs, particularly up at South West Rocks where spectators and support crews could get up close to watch teams arrive at the transition area. The team in the photo above was one of just two all-female teams who took on the challenge: one in the full-course and one in the half-course.
But it wasn’t all beaches and sea. The course’s return leg cleverly wound it’s way south through the Macleay Valley, where any teams experienced the sun and fog rising as they paddled in the cold morning air. The reflections made of a magical visual experience for me as I drove between transition areas.
A small troupe of volunteers checked teams into transition areas, monitored course safety and cooked food that was offered for sale at various places around the course. Without them the race wouldn’t be possible and their cheerful smiles created a wonderful atmosphere.
Support crews worked tirelessly to keep their teams moving forward. Their number included injured racers supporting friends, partners and parents encouraging their loved ones, and random friends roped in believing they would have a relaxed weekend at the beach.
Far from a relaxed weekend, support crews drove hundreds of kilometers between transition areas, carted heavy boxes filled with gear and food, cooked tens of meals for their four hungry athletes, and did their best to provide emotional support as teams became fatigued or fractures arose.
Being support crew is a balance of endurance, strength, coordination and patience. Your job is to reach the next transition before your team, have their gear set up, wait around until they arrive (often in cold and uncomfortable conditions), then spring to action anticipating what is needed without your team needing to ask.
It’s a true team effort. And everyone has the same goal: to get their team of four athletes around the course in the fastest possible time with the fewest possible issues.
Adventure racing is a tough sport for teams too. They can’t just be fit and fast in one discipline.
They have to be able to combine running with mountain biking (often in the dark).
As well as paddling and any other random activity that the race director decides to include in the event.
While also being able to navigate their own way around an unmarked course that can include off-track legs. Unlike multisport events, there are no marshals directing teams in the right direction. In fact, the course is not even released until hours before race start. All teams know is the headquarters location, anticipated course completion time and mandatory equipment. As fatigue sets in, it becomes more difficult for teams to remain on course and it is not unheard of for teams to get lost or travel many kilometres in the wrong direction.
And if that’s not enough, the unexpected does sometimes happen because the course is rarely closed. During a mid-race car shuffle (part of the race – not cheating), our team came across two horses that were loose on the Pacific Highway creating a serious accident risk. The horses had bolted out of a driveway, almost causing a serious accident, and then took off down the highway for about 3km (2 miles). We managed to catch the horses and spent an hour trying to organise somewhere safe for them to be held until police could attend to find their owner (we didn’t know exactly where the horses came from because we were too focused on not hitting them).
But, ultimately, the weekend belonged to the racers who were out on the course. Our team made it to the finish. They had to skip a rogaining leg due to some issues arising out on the course. It was an epic and inspiring effort.
And then, after all is said and done, the support crews load bikes and gear back into vehicles so everyone can travel home safely.
As for me: I have been inspired by the weekend so have now entered the Surf Coast Century 100km trail run in September. I’ll be in the area where the race is being held so might as well give it a go. I haven’t run in a year so my goal is simply to run/walk the course and get through it within the 24:30 cut off. I don’t intend to “race” the event – I merely want to achieve a long-held dream to participate in a 100km trail run. I’ve walked Oxfam Trailwalker twice but this will be different: I’ll be on my own and have a tighter cut off.
I hear the birds outside my tent. They’ve just started to chat so it must be dawn. I snuggle down into my sleeping bag and just listen to them. If feelings can be delicious, then this is it. The new tent has proved a great success as I am waking feeling more refreshed and human than I was in my old one. It feels like home rather than a temporary hut. I stretch out and take my time getting up. The camp kitchen feels a little empty now that A has left. He had been here a few weeks before I arrived and we fell into an easy rhythm of chatting over the divider between the two halves we occupied. I almost miss his Triple J music (something I never thought I’d say about Triple J) as I set about cooking my apple and cinnamon pancakes for breakfast. It’s funny – I like to travel alone but am a social creature who enjoys the company of strangers at meal times. No doubt this will become a rhythm for me: meeting people, sharing meals then parting ways.
It’s time to get some work done. I start by setting up on my picnic blanket in the shade on my tent site. I enjoy working laying down no matter what the occupational health and safety rules might say. It encourages my creativity, which is important as I work as an eLearning course author. Yes, I still have to work. I might have said goodbye to the office but not to my job; that is how I am funding this adventure. As morning turns to noon I walk to the shop (this is a one-shop town) to buy a few things before setting up my office at a picnic table near the water’s edge. The table is shaded now so I can enjoy an amazing view over the bay where fishermen and paddlers launch their boats, tourists swim in the shark enclosure (designed to keep sharks out) and anglers cast their lines off the jetty.
By about 3:30pm I am done so I turn off my laptop and “shut up shop” for the day. I’ll still have to work a little tonight but for now, it’s time to go explore the tidal flats.
I admire the reflections of the unseasonally cloudy sky in the puddles that have been left by the receding tide.
And marvel at the silhouettes of the old dead trees that line the water’s edge.
The jetty is the place to be during the golden hour. Families fish, caravaners set up their camp chairs to sip beer and wine, boaties change guard as the daytime fishermen return and the night fishermen head out to sea, and everyone watches the dolphins that visit at the same time every night.
My day doesn’t just end when the sun goes down. Sure, I am not a party animal checking out the pubs and bars (not only because there are none here). But I do like to cook and eat well. In fact, one of my favourite things about this lifestyle is that it gives me time and mental space to enjoy my food, rather than eating being an inconvenience to be suffered through at the end of a busy day at work. I am enjoying the Thai-style Penang curry sauce and coconut milk. It feels a little luxurious so I light my candle and treat myself to a romantic dinner for one before cracking on for a few more hours of work (because every hour I do at night is an hour of freedom during the day).
Main Beach is on the ocean-side of Minjerribah, some 15km (9.5 miles) from where I am camped. From the Point Lookout Surf Club, the beach stretches out before me as far as my eyes can sea. Stand up paddle boarders are surfing just off the point behind the breakers. I enjoy watching them gently move over the waves, occasionally catching one until it dumps. It doesn’t look as fast or agile as surfing but I can’t believe the skill the riders show in staying upright. A few 4WDs are parked down the beach, mere specs on the horizon. I guess perhaps the fish are biting in some gutter down there or maybe they are catching bait on the low tide.
I take off my cycling shoes and carry my bike across the rock shelf that leads to the beach. After a tentative start I realise that the only way I will stay upright is if I keep up my momentum and avoid turning. Without shoes my seat is slightly too high but I don’t want to waste precious pippi-hunting time with fiddling to fix it. Besides, I’m sure my calves can do with a good stretch. Over the next two hours I will perfect my technique for running and jumping onto the bike, rather than climbing aboard and trying to pedal my way out through the sand.
The bike looks pretty cool parked in the sand with nothing by beach around her. I’m not sure this is what her designer or builder had in mind. Though I think they did want us to take the bike on adventures.
It doesn’t take me long to find my first pippi of the day. It’s probably been close to twenty years since I found my last one so I am slightly surprised to remember what the little mounds look like. I have a few false alerts before I find a rhythm. I find about a dozen pippies on my 8km ride down the beach and another ten on my way back to the point. There were more but I decided that twenty-two pippies was plenty to feed me tonight.
I don’t have a bucket with me on my trip so I had to improvise a way to carry my stash. Two bidons and my chaff bag did the trick nicely. I used the chaff bag to shade the first pippies I caught while the sun was still blazing and then put the later ones in a bidon on my bike frame.
I’ve never eaten pippies before. They are usually considered fish bait, not dinner. But a mate recommended I give it a go and I have not been disappointed. They have a fantastic flavour thought I did overcook some of them out of an abundance of caution (next time I will listen to YouTube when it says to take them off the BBQ as soon as they open). Pippies do contain a lot of sand so you need to purge them. I found the three hours between catching and cooking them to be just about perfect. Another hour and the later ones I caught would have been a bit cleaner. I changed the sea water in the bidons about five times during my trip and again on my return to camp. This seems to have encouraged the pippies to spit their sand out so I’m not feeling grit between my teeth (the odd one is a bit sandy but must have been the ones I caught later on my return leg).