words by Angus Rodwell images from the amazing Margarete Oti and Murilo Mattos
It was nearly 3 years ago to the last XPD – Bay of Fires, NW Tasmania. A great expedition race in a beautiful part of Tasmania and where Team Antelopes stamped their authority on the race from start to finish. Their dominant performance had left an indelible mark on my mind.
Fast Forward to July 2021 and the world was a different place. COVID 19 had spread like wildfire across the globe, extensive and unpredictable lockdowns had made holding the event a massive challenge. Some NSW and WA competitors dreams of racing had been ruined and the old adage of “the hardest part of XPD is getting a 4 person team to the start line” had never been so true.
Meanwhile in one of Victoria’s several Lockdowns Team Resicon- Thought Sports had been very secretly assembled via zoom conference calls and under a large cloak of COVID darkness. Our aim was to assemble a competitive team on the start line that could take on the best teams and challenges that XPD always presents.
Our team line up was Angus Rodwell, Tim Boote, Kathryn and Rob Preston.
FIRST THINGS FIRST- THE RUSH TO GET AWAY
After bringing flights forward at the last minute to beat state border lockdowns and the excitement of escaping a Melbourne winter, Team Resicon-Thought Sports arrived in Cairns. It was the first time we had all raced together and it was a nice relaxed few days for strolling the beach, enjoying the cafes followed by mandatory gear checks and last minute food packing for this 500k expedition race.
Any thoughts of relaxing and swimming at the beach with other teams was finally cast aside on race eve and the last few beers in the fridge were savored on the beach as the sun set.
Before we knew it race day arrived and by 730am on Sunday 17th July the race route and maps were handed out. Our first impressions were of a Race that had many stages with lots of transitions but without any super long daunting legs. There were also a couple of levelling stages where teams had the chance to catch back up to the front teams. More about this later….
LEG 1- COASTEERING 16Km /PADDLE 22Km 2hrs45mins
The first leg of the race required the Teams of 4 to split into 2 pairs. Kathryn and Rob opted to run the 17K coasteering leg North from Palm Cove under the hot midday sun while Tim and Angus paddled out around Haycock and Double Island past a large very surprised sea turtle and North along the coast collecting 3 checkpoints and surfing the sea breeze swell into the beach. Arriving back on the beach narrowly in front of Chipesti, The Avengers and several other teams it felt great to see Rob and Kathryn and get the team back together. We quickly set up our bikes and packed our boxes onto the truck before heading out on an 8k trek loop.
LEG 2- TREK 8Km 1hr20mins
An 8K loop through the lower portions of the rainforest and alongside a stunning rainforest river. The leg headed from the beach towards the hills where our jaws dropped after seeing a 2m Saltwater croc swim in a creek below the road. We didn’t want to come too close to these notorious prehistoric animals at any stage during our race but it was still great to see one from a distance. We ran a steady but easy pace crossing path with many teams on the very scenic loop. The waterfalls and refreshing rock pools deserved way more time than we could give away as we returned to the TA to collect our bikes. The day was still very warm and humid, and we made a conscious effort to keep hydrated as there are always so many that blow up and overcook with all the excitement of the first day.
LEG 3 – MTB 42Km - 3hrs
Leaving TA in first position we knew it was a race within a race to make the first bus transfer leaving Mt Molloy at 630pm (If we missed the first bus the next one was 8:00pm and every 90 minutes thereafter). This was the first levelling stage in the race which we felt would inevitably bring all the top teams back together. The big question was which teams would cook themselves with too high a pace to make the bus and consequently suffer in the later stages. The MTB course took us on a long steady hot hilly climb where any shade cast on the side of the road was a welcome sight. We kept the pace steady but could certainly feel the constant hill climb strain the legs and push out the sweat. Robs experience was already showing as we eased up the pace due to being well ahead of the bus transfer schedule and wanting to conserve our energy. Some welcome flowing 4WD roads through the shady rainforest helped keep us a little cooler and we then made our way onto more open farmland roads before arriving in the town of Mt Molloy after about 3 hrs.
Arriving in the very small town of Mt Molloy we realized we had a 1 hour window to the bus departure. Even though we had ridden without seeing anyone else we were surprisingly quickly joined by Team Chipesti and then the Avengers. Taking advantage of possibly the last real food for days we went way back in time and ordered a hamburger and milkshake from possibly the oldest shopkeeper in Australia. Rob totally confused him with a last-minute burger selection and a can of cold beer instead of a Coke which created a total docket rewrite and some valuable time!! BUT when those burgers arrived, we realized why this old legend was still working the take-away counter and Mt Molloy was nearly World Famous.
A relaxing TA on a nice grassy footy oval and a chat to a few other teams as they came streaming in with a smaller and smaller window of opportunity to grab a small break. Team Thunderbolt arrived with just minutes to spare and some great stories of bike repairs, massive cramps and head shaking before 9 teams boarded the transfer bus for a 30min trip to avoid a very dangerous section of Highway.
Our team was very conscious about what was coming up next. As soon as we got off the bus we were going straight into a very critical leg on the race. The middle of this XPD was where the race would really take shape.
LEG 4 – TREK AROUND MT ELEPHANT /ROPING LOOP 35Km + ROPING - 9hrs30mins
The Bus pulled up and we quickly got our bearings. Several of the top 9 teams got off the bus but needed to go and retrieve water bladders from the TA and we saw this as a great opportunity to make a break on them.
It was a warm QLD night, and this leg had very little reliable water. The trek was often through waist high grass with underlying easy tripping rocks, dry farm tracks or dry creek/ riverbeds. Our pace was steady and we jogged wherever possible to try and gain some distance on the chasing teams. Rob's navigation kept us on track although once again we bumped into a very consistently fast Chipesti for several kms before we moved away on a slightly different bearing and deep into the night. Arriving at the second last checkpoint before any other teams on the track we harnessed up to a static line and onto an abseil that finished in a large refreshing very dark river pool. We enjoyed the short swim in the water and made sure we filled up our drink bottles while sifting out the pond life. After arriving back at our packs, we headed back out to finish the last few kms of the trek just as the next team arrived to start the roping. We had a lead but knew the rest of the pack were out to hunt us down.
LEG 5 PADDLE – MITCHELL RIVER 53 km - 11hrs including 2.5hr mistake
Setting off on the Mitchell River in the early hours of the morning was a welcome relief. Off our feet and onto a nice flowing river was a pleasure and enabled us to catch back up on our fluids and getting in some food. To our surprise the river often split into 2 or 3 braids separated by islands, large logs across the river, tea strainers and even sections where the braid simply dried up completely and we had to carry our boats. We hadn’t been on the river for long when we realized the map we had packed was the paper one and not the waterproof one. Our map was turning to paper mâché faster than a freshwater croc can launch off a riverbank. Whilst we only had 1 checkpoint to get midway along the river, we started to believe we’d gone past it already. We agreed that it was quite likely we had gone past the checkpoint so we made the tough (And not very exciting) decision to paddle back upstream in another braid of the river to see if we could find it OR come across another team and beg for a look at their map. After at least an hour of paddling upstream through small rapids we came across the friendly Team Avengers and started our begging. After a very kind quick glance at the map we soon realized we hadn’t passed the Checkpoint yet and so continued to paddle downstream once again. We found the checkpoint and proceeded to head into TA in second place with Chipesti already checking out of TA and onto the MTB leg. (Chipesti had passed us in another braid of the river while we headed back upstream) The Avengers were now hot on our tail (And not that impressed that we had paddled away from them😉)