A Weekend of Many Firsts – Part 2 – Spurs, sandwiches and hallucinations.

After not initially knowing anything about rogaining, I had consulted the oracle (google) and learnt that rogaining was done in teams of 2-5 and involved navigating your way through a mapped area, cross-country and bushland to collect as many ‘controls’ as possible. I was soon to also learn that these controls would be worth different point values (ranging from 40-110) and so the total team score in points would be what determines you’re placing at the end of the event.

I thought this was the same as orienteering, however after asking Bernadette she explained that orienteering is where you have to collect controls in a certain order, whereas rogaining is more strategic in that you have to plan your own course to collect whatever controls you choose depending on your abilities.

This tends to add much more variation from team to team, and often the difference between finishing 1st or 2nd is only tens of points. This also means that every minute and every control mattered. Punching your control card (team scorecard that keeps track of the controls you have visited) correctly also mattered, because a mispunch means you do not get that number of points and could mean the time you’ve spent travelling (often up to an hour or more)  has been completely wasted. It seems trivial, but after 1o hours of trampling, when fatigue has set in and the brain cells have retired, even punching a piece of cardboard in the correct spot can be difficult!

Breakfast was underway at our campsite, and it was porridge, and muesli all round. I topped mine with banana and had a cup of the best peppermint tea in the world (English Tea Shop Hand Picked Peppermint Tea) to get me going. Soon after that I dragged every piece of trail running kit I had accumulated over the last 6 months out to do a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ game with Mark about what I will need to wear and take in my pack.  With a total 12 hours we were likely to experience both sun, shade, water, wind, darkness and mud. So it was important I had suitable clothing to accommodate all of these. Bernadette rightfully insisted that layering was the easy way, because that way you don’t have to stop for too long to change, plus this means you’ve got a few different options for warmth/cooling as well.

So I filled my pack with the lightest long pants (for the evening), a water-resistant wind proof jacket, arm warmers, and extra pair of socks. I also included a borrowed head lamp from Mark, a spotting torch to look for controls in the dark, sunscreen, and an extra bandana for wetting or blowing my nose, a first aid kit and space blanket for emergencies and extra bandaids and tape for blister care as well.

The essential food then went in next. Bernadette suggested about 250 calories an hour or two, plus a bit extra in case. So this equated to about 4 peanut butter and mashed banana sandwiches, (I put honey on two to surprise myself) 4 hammer nutrition bars that were fairly calorie dense, also a tube of Hammer Perpetuem Solids for on the run and a few homemade date and almond rolls for extras. Combined with my 2 Litre hydration pack I was now ready to go.

We then had a 2 hour grace period to collect our maps and plan our route. So Bernadette and Mark just like teachers, brought out the highlighters, pin boards, pins and string to help plot a suitable course for us to aim for. They also explained to me how to use a compass and find bearings to ensure I would be able to follow where we were going to on the map. Lucky for me the rogaining association were holding a Novice’s workshop that morning that I also attended. During this I got to see a real control, (a yellow and white box thing that hangs from a tree) and also learn some useful rogaining terms and how to relate the land to the map. The host of the workshop explained what a ‘spur, knoll, gully and watercourse’ look like so by reading the contour lines on the map I was able to spot landmarks to recognise where I was.

Sounded good in theory but I wondered how difficult it would be once it’s dark and difficult to see the land. Lucky again that I was on a good team. Next I made my way back to camp to see that Bernadette and Mark had plotted our course for the day with room to make a few changes along the way depending on how we travelled for time. I copied their course onto my map and also wrote down the approx times they had calculated we would reach each control and started plotting some bearings using my new compass skills. But before long Bernadette was saying we had briefing in 10 minutes. Just enough time for a last-minute toilet break and a chance to wet my neck ties.

The heat felt like it was sitting at about 30 degrees by the time we set off and directly toward the southward fenceline we were heading compasses and maps in hand. We crossed a few farm fences and a major road before squishing through some mud and an ankle-deep river. Not even 5 minutes in and I was already wet. Great. Can’t wait for the blisters. We were going to keep to the left of the river originally but instead chose to follow a few other teams across before having to cross back again onto our original plotted track to find the control.

Lesson One Mark explained: Stick to your own mapped route, and try not to get in the habit of just following other teams, because quite often your mapped route will be faster or more accurate… as we just experienced.

Nevertheless crossing back over the major road we headed to collect a few controls close by in low lying paddocks. I was surprised how oblivious some cows were to the disturbance we made while others tended to form a cattle stampede instead. The team was in high spirits negotiating our way over farm fences (some electric, thanks Mark for holding them down!) and through gates to collect a few more controls before heading onto a nearby trail.

This is the exact moment I found myself faced with a big wake up call. Trails were all fine and dandy because I was relatively used to running them but I never imagined I would be forging my own track through thick bush like I was on some kind of exotic animal expedition. But that’s exactly what I found myself doing. I deliberately positioned myself behind Mark so I would have some of the bushes pre-flattened but otherwise it had to be ‘in like sin and no two ways about it’ pushing stray twigs, bushes, leaves and branches out the way so we could get to the controls the quickest way possible.

At one point I’m sure I felt the sting of every branch on my legs, and so I pulled up my compression socks above my gaiters to protect my calves a little bit. It was still too hot for pants but I quickly agreed with myself to find time to stop and put them on once my legs got too scratched up especially once it got a bit cooler.

In and out the bush we kept moving, half on trails, half trudging through nature at it’s best and surprisingly the first few hours flew by, and we’d found a convenient section of trail to jog and consume our first sandwiches and never has a peanut butter and banana sandwich tasted so good!

It wasn’t long after my first sandwich that I also had my first hallucination. I did a double take when I spotted a big burnt out sideways tree trunk in the distance flanked by four smaller trees sticking down toward the ground from it. At first I thought it was a horse, but when I looked a third time I giggled at myself to find it really just was a funny formation of trees. ‘It’s a bit early for hallucinations’ Bernadette laughed when I told her. And onward we went sticking as much to the shade as we could.

After lunch time we continued to make quick progress of picking up controls in the bush and by about 1pm I was quickly growing tired of all this bush trudging. People often comment to me about how they could never do endurance activities simply because you have to spend so much time in your own head. But for me that’s great because my head is actually a pretty fun place to be. It makes it easier that I am both a really convincing liar, and also very gullible so I can trick myself into the right state of mind.

I passed the time by using hypotheticals to fool myself into thinking I was really doing something else. I used some monotone David Attenborough dialogue in my head to convince myself I was on the hunt for some rare exciting species of wildlife, and at one point even played ‘Fortunate Son’ by creedence clearwater in my head to make myself feel like I was re-enacting a Vietnam war scenario. Nevertheless there was still no immediate end to the bush and it was starting to get frustrating.

Without realising it, I had started to develop a heavy bush stomp, throwing my foot down with total disregard for the bushes. It was working well and B commented on my newfound technique and how it looked like I was really getting angry and it made us both laugh which seemed to all of a sudden lighten the situation. Mark also reassured us that it wouldn’t be too long and we would be finished in the bush and into the fields where it would be easier terrain. All of a sudden I felt much better about the bush whacking stuff and appreciated the idea of being on a team.

With the encouragement of my team mates I kept going and even managed to spot a control ahead of us in the distance. You beauty!!!

We were in and out like a flash, because we knew and could hear many teams nearby searching for the same control.

To be continued………………….