On Saturday, yes the day before the race, I finally got access to the Kayak that I was going to be paddling on the day. I needed to make sure that Josh was going to be comfortable on something similar, as that is what Stuart had hired and what Josh was going to have to paddle. We met down at the Barwon River and Josh jumped on the ‘yak’ and preceded to wobble, paddle, tip, wobble, padl…. splash, he was in the river. I was on the bank in tears of laughter, then suddenly realised that he was going to have to paddle one of these for 16k. A little bit of panic set in, and at this late stage we didn’t have too many options to make a ‘yak’ change. Then, on the way up to Marysville on Saturday afternoon my car decided to give up on us. Fully packed with everything we needed for the journey ahead, we were stuck on the side of the road 3km out of Marysville. Luckily Wally had come up in his own car and we were able to transfer everything across to his car and organise for my car to be towed back to Healesville. Josh’s best mate, Ash, then helped us out on Sunday after the bike transition. The car is still in Healesville and I am still waiting to hear what the damage is! If the weekend was starting like this, what did race day hold?
Marysville to Melbourne is one of the races that I had on my list of adventures to attempt. An event of this magnitude (19k run, 50k ride, 40k ride, 14k run, 14k paddle & 16k paddle), requires lots and lots of training. Lot and lots of training takes lots and lots of time, something that is not all that easy to come by with a family and especially difficult when daylight savings stops (that’s just a week excuse and something I need to overcome). I had mentioned the race to a few people and when Drakey (Greg Drake – from Altona Hockey Club) mentioned to me after I finished 3 Peaks that he was keen to have a crack at the 90k ride. From there I asked my brother Josh if he would join me on the paddle. Sarah was also really keen to get involved and I was really looking forward to running the 14k with her. Wally was keen to have a go at the 19k run and all of a sudden we had a Relay team taking part, as well as me taking on the full distance. On the day that Sarah was registering the team, Drakey asked if his brother in law, Stuart could join in and split the paddle with Josh. This late inclusion certainly turned out to be heaven sent as you will find out later!
We (Sarah, Josh, Wally & I) stayed in Marysville the night before the race at Camp Marysville. Very basic, but very comfortable accommodation and we enjoyed a Pre race carb loading dinner and sportsman’s breakfast. The food was spectacular. Josh even ate the vegetable lasagne (mum faints).
Leg 1 – 19k Trail Run – Marysville to Dom Dom Saddle
We woke to a reasonably mild and calm morning. I was so excited! I was really looking forward to the first few sections of this race. The race kicked off at 6.30am in the main st of Marysville where Wally and I set off into the great unknown. This was to be our very first Trail run, 19k of mixed tracks, from 4WD tracks through to logging roads and single track. Leg 1 did not disappoint, it was breathtaking in more ways than one. Hills, so many hills! The first 3k was up a gradual climb, then some undulations, with the ups and downs being reasonably steep. Some required walking and I used this time to make sure I took on water and gels to try and fend of ‘The Wall’ for as long as possible. From about the 3k mark we were in pretty deep bush with no sound other than the feet hitting the ground and breathing. It was as if reality had completely disappeared. It was quite surreal. The contrasts in the bush here were just phenomenal. The lush green new growth against the bare, burnt tree’s from the fires a few years back. It was great to see Nature taking its course and coming back so beautifully. This is possibly the best run I have had from a ‘how I felt’ perspective.
Our time was not all that great, but I had a plan and we stuck to it and it was all going so well, until….. my GPS watch ticked over 19k and we had not yet hit the final hill climb to the finish. I knew that there was a nasty climb right at the end of the 19k, but we just passed 19k! 200m down the track we see a marshal, maybe there is no hill. Me – “How far to the finish mate?” Marshal – “About 500m, but it’s all up hill”. We turn a bend and there it is. What the …. Hill???? This was not a hill, this was a wall. All the advice we had received was that even the pro’s walked this hill, but how bad could it be? BAD! We were moving at about 2-3kph, it was almost a crawl. It was still awesome, just another challenge. We laughed and joked our way up and before we knew it, it levelled off and we ran into the Transition. Wally was a great support to me on this run. He is much fitter than me, but in the spirit of the day we stuck together, he walked when I walked and ran when I ran. Thanks mate!
Leg 2 – 50k Ride – Dom Dom Saddle to Kinglake
Wally Transitioned onto Drakey and I slowly got myself organised to get on the bike. My wonderful Support crew (without a support crew this race is not even possible, Thank you so much guys)had set up everything for me, so it was just a matter of having a few ANZAC biscuits (Thanks Sarah) and re-stocking my pockets with energy Gels. The first 7k or so of the ride were a fast descent down towards Healesville. This was exactly what I needed, a great 10 minute rest for the legs after the run. My weight advantage on the downhill was certainly an advantage and I soon found myself a bit further down the road from Drakey. I stopped to make some small adjustments to my bike and Drakey and I got to work on the main part of this ride, Climbing! Over 1200 vertical meters of climbing laid before us over the remainder of the ride. Drakey set a great pace up a short climb and it was great to have someone helping with the pacing.
We were soon in Healesville and after heading through the back streets (did not hit one set of lights on the 50k ride) we were on our way to Chum Creek and the start of the longest climb of the day. Riding uphill is a tough thing to do with others, so Drakey and I climbed at our own speed. It turned out to be a beautiful climb, the scenery in this part of the world really is breathtaking. I do enjoy the challenge of climbing, and I was feeling surprisingly good. I caught up with a fellow competitor a few k into the climb and we had a really good chat on the way up. At the time I didn’t get his name, but he looked really familiar. Turns out it was Adam Evans, The Banzai Adventurer! I have been following Adam’s exploits for some time now and his blog has been an inspiration for many of the challenges I have on my ‘to do’ list. It was certainly not a steep climb, but it made up for it by its length. We managed to get up towards Toolangi in reasonable time and only had about 15k to go to Kinglake. The 15k was up and down, but some of the ups were really getting steep. We worked our way through this last 15k and soon enough we were at the Transition in Kinglake.
Leg 3 – 40k Ride – Kinglake to Templestowe
It was a quick water fill at the Transition and making sure we were comfortable on our bikes before heading down a screaming descent from Kinglake to St Andrews. It was a very technical descent and it was somewhat hard to concentrate as this side of Kinglake was seriously scarred from the bushfires. I haven’t been to these areas before and they are just so beautiful, devastated, but still so beautiful. It did not take long at all to reach St Andrews and riding through the town past the CFA Shed I got quite emotional. I just felt so lucky that I was able to participate in such a great event, and although I have suffered loss in my life, nothing can compare to what the people of these areas had to face a few years back. It really was sobering!
As we headed out of St Andrews we had another 25 odd kilometres to go and we thought it was basically downhill from here on in. We were wrong! There were certainly no long climbs like the previous leg, but wow, it really made up for it by being brutally steep in parts. We were taken through a back road of Research and the hills were short, but they were just so steep. Drakey did a great job getting up these hills in much bigger gears than what I had. I had ‘Granny Gears’ on my bike and it made getting up the hills that little bit easier on my legs. After getting through these little climbs we came upon the next Transition. This was the most climbing that Drakey had ever taken on in a single ride. He did such a great job and I hope that he will be back again next year. Great stuff buddy!
Leg 4 – 12.5k Run – Templestowe to Eaglemont Tennis Club
I was so hungry when I got off the bike and thankfully Sarah had gotten me the best chicken wrap I have ever had in my life and washed it down with a can of coke. After 7 hours of activity I was desperate for something other than water or energy gels. This turned out to be a BIG mistake! I started off on this run expecting it to be the most difficult leg of the day, but it was also the one I was looking forward to the most. I finally had the opportunity to share this experience with Sarah. We headed out of the transition and after about 1500 meters I had to walk. My heart rate was out of control and my chest was a little tight. We walked for a little and then set off again, but again, not far along the track I was struggling with my Heart Rate. I just had to slow everything down. Sarah was perfect. She just talked me through it. I felt a little disappointed that we couldn’t run the whole way together, but at least we were still in it together. After about 45 mins my heart rate started to sort itself out, but my legs were shot. When I was walking though, I was walking as fast as I could, which wasn’t all that much slower than I could run. We caught up with another competitor, Scott. He was also doing the race solo, and he was struggling too! Sarah was great for us, she kept us moving forward. Although we were doing a Run/Walk/Run type of deal, we still did an OK job. Thanks so much Sarah. Your support and positivity really helped. You are the best and I love you so much.
Leg 5 – 14k (and some) Paddle – Eaglemont Tennis Club to Dights Falls
I was so happy to be in this Transition, or should I say my legs were! They had very little to do with the rest of the day. With some help from the Support Crew, the boat was taken down to the river and we were off. Stuart (Drakey’s Brother in Law) was with me for the next 14k and it was to be his first real crack at paddling also. There’s nothing quite like being prepared! I had been out and had one paddle lesson and Stuart, although a keen kayak fisherman, had not done too much paddling either. We were in the same boat, so to speak.
We settled into a steady tempo and after about 1.5k we hit our first bit of rapids. Not the type of white water rapids you’re imagining, but some water moving over a section of river that is a bit shallower with a few snags. Anyway, it’s simplicity did not stop either of us from getting into a little bit of trouble. I got caught on a log, turned sideways and was almost in. Then I had to give my best wiggle, jump, wiggle to get myself off. I called back to Stuart to let him know there was a log there and before too long he was suspended in the exact same position. With some smooth moves, he too got off and we continued. Another few k down we came to the next rapid, again, very loose use of the term rapid! This time I managed to get through unscathed. Not so for Stuart! Luckily i turned back in time to see it all unfold. He took the same line as me but got caught a little wider, his kayak hit a snag and splash!!! He was in. Best thing is he had his GoPro running, so it’s all on camera. Gave us both a good laugh and once he got back on and settled we were into again.
With about 6k to go we came across another competitor who asked how far to go. I told him we had 6k and the look on his face said it all. He was so deflated. He was a solo competitor and he said he had already fallen in 6 times and was over it. He had been hired the wrong type of boat for his ability and was now going to paddle the remaining 6 k and pull out. I tried to talk him around, he had come so far, he was only 20k from the finish, 135k behind him. I got him to the side of the river and swapped boats with him. I think it is against the rules, but I thought if I could get him to the next transition a bit quicker than he was going now he might continue. He was much steadier in my boat, me on the other hand, I was struggling in his. I must have nearly come out 3-4 times, but managed to just keep it upright. Anyway, we got him to about 1k from the transition and swapped back as I did not want to be DQ’d. He was thankful for the help, but I am still not sure if he continued on or not.
Stuart was starting to struggle a bit, but was still pushing on. I kept calling out the distance to go and the last I called out to him was 300m, he was pretty excited. However, the 300m turned out to be about 800m and we could still not see the Transition. “This is the longest 300m of my life” said Stuart, but as we rounded the next bend, it was there, all our support crew on the river bank cheering us into transition. All except Josh! He was up next and I am pretty sure he was trying to find the plug to let all the water out of the river. Stuart did a great job, was a great sport and brilliant company. He completed his first ever leg of an adventure race. He’ll be back, he’s got the bug, and I reckon he will be doing the full 30k paddle next year. GO STU!!
Leg 6 – 16k Paddle – Dights Falls to Docklands (FINISH)
It was a very long walk from the Transition to where we put the boats back into the River. We had to Portage around Dights falls and my legs were none to impressed! They were sore and I was starting to dread how they would feel over the coming days. I was still so happy though. It had been such a wonderful day, shared with some great people who are really special to me and it was slowly coming to an end and I was going to be able to cross the finish with my brother Josh. We were going to smash this leg. Josh had been training so hard. He would have done 2 – 3 Push ups and had sat on a Kayak for a total of about 10 mins. How could this not go swimmingly!?!
Josh put his boat in first and before I could even get into my boat, he was in…. Somehow, mid river, he managed to climb back on and get himself settled. I said my goodbyes to the Support Crew and was off also. 50m down the river he was in again. I couldn’t contain myself, I was holding back tears of laughter. Josh on the other hand was not all that impressed with the situation. Again, he clambered on and got settled. I think we must have repeated the process another 3-4 times over the first kilometre, and to my amazement, it was still just as funny every time it happened. Maybe I was delirious, or maybe the fact that we had passed the last cut off meant that the pressure was off and no matter how long it took, we were going to finish.
The last time Josh came out was the funniest. He had been going reasonably well for a few hundred meters and as we rounded a bend he went in again. He came up and was feeling for his head torch, he thought it had come off and lost it. As he put his hand to his head he felt his torch was still there, and then the screaming started! AAAHHHHHHHH! What the F#&K is that??? I turn around to see a Water Hen trying to nest on his head. Absolute gold!!! I was again in fits of laughter while Josh tried to fend off what turned out to be quite a persistent bird. He must have fallen too close to it’s nest or something. Whatever the reason, it turned out to be just what Josh needed. He didn’t fall in again after that! It took us about 40mins to cover just under 2k and Josh was getting pretty frustrated. At this rate it was going to take over 5 hours! “Just leave me here!” I am not sure how many times I was told this, but Josh was certainly struggling and as night began to fall he was suffering. To keep himself upright he had to have his legs mostly outside of the boat, using his toes to claw onto the edge, so not to just drag his legs along. It must have been really hurting. We talked through it and as we got toward the 10k to go mark, he was starting to enjoy himself a little, not too much, but enough to keep going. “How the hell are you still smiling?” “How can you do this after everything you have already done?” I was still enjoying myself, enjoying the company, the day/night and most of all the Journey.
Josh’s goal was to get to the section of river that went under and alongside citylink. He would then know where he was and only have about 6 or so k to go. We were also now making reasonable time. The next couple of k were kind of surreal as we could see the city and we were right alongside a major highway, yet we were in another world. It was really dark and really quiet. We were navigating by our tiny headlamps and the river edge. Soon enough though, we were within striking distance of the city’s beating heart. We past the new Soccer Stadium, we could hear the crowd at the MCG and were passing the Tennis Centre. The river was starting to light up and I was now coming to the realisation that I was about to finish another massive challenge. We were ticking off Melbourne landmarks with every paddle Federation Square, Southbank, Flinders St Station and Crown Casino. Coming up to the Poly Woodside, I knew it was only a matter of a few hundred meters to go and it would be over. I was going to be able to share this journey with my Support team. We rounded the last of the huge boats in the marina and made our way to the dock where we were unceremoniously wrenched out of our boats onto the dock. A few awkward steps and we were there, across the finish line.
Josh that was the biggest effort of the day! Underdone, wrong boat, too heavy; all your own doing, but you did it. My hat goes off to you! Please come back and do it again.
This was a GREAT Journey! I would encourage anyone with an average level of fitness to at least consider entering a relay team.
A few Thank You’s:
Ash – Thanks so much for spending your afternoon getting ASC and all of my gear around the course. We would have been in some trouble if you had not come to the rescue. Thanks so much!
Mum – Thanks for coming to the finish line. It was great to have you see us come across the line
Tracey – Thanks for your support all day. It was great to see you at all of the Transitions and along the route. It’s always uplifting to see a face you know along the way!
And last but not least, ASC (Anstis Support Crew)
Wally, Drakey, Sarah, Stuart & Josh – I feel so privileged that you all committed to joining me on this journey. These races don’t work for solo competitors without a support crew and I appreciate all the work you did to help get me to the finish line. Your attitude, encouragement and support were everything I could have asked for, and more!