Wildside Geoquest Special Edition: How the race was won and lost

I first heard about Geoquest in 2004 when I was on an orienteering camp in New Zealand on their Queens Birthday long weekend, which is the weekend preceding Australia's. I'd just a month earlier raced my first AROC Sprint AR at Lake Narrabeen and a friend told me about Geoquest and that it was on next weekend. 48hrs sounded like a very long time for someone with a background in orienteering races lasting up to 2hrs. But I came home and looked on sleepmonsters and found a team needed a replacement and that started my AR addiction. I still remember that course in Eden quite vividly, and how scared I was of the course. And I ended up with a knee injury because I only knew how to run, and walking was a whole different sport.

Our Team Thought Sports for this race consisted of myself, Rob Preston, Kathryn Preston, 5 time Geoquest winner Damon Goerke, and Dave Schloss. Damon and Dave had shown their recent form with a dominant performance at XPD in Tassie a few months ago. And Rob and Kathryn had been fighting child-borne diseases for the last two months and were just hoping to hang on.

Team Thought Sports pre Geoquest
Team Thought Sports from left: Damon, Kathryn, Rob, Dave

The logistics of the race was made a little easier this year with the new supported format, and I'm sure my parents enjoyed not having to move 2 double surfskis, 4 bikes and occasionally 4 smelly and hungry racers through day and night. With only the first 3 legs of maps to mark up, and the gear mostly sorted ahead of time due to the logistics planner, we got to bed at a reasonable hour ready for the 6am start.

I'm never a fan of an early start time, but I now have new respect for starting in the dark as this added some difficulty to what looked to be a straight forward beach trek from Diamond Beach to Forster. The lead teams made a few mistakes, overrunning CP1 by not seeing the flag, and then attempting to climb a cliff out of CP2 before getting back on course. Wild Earth Tiger Adventure (from now on WETA), had a few minutes lead but Damon put down the hammer on the 8 km beach section to CP3. Thunderbolt dropped off the pace, perhaps saving their energy for a final beach sprint tomorrow. Running across the bridge to Forster we relived our team victory here in 2013, and it felt like a long time between wins.

Geoquest Leg 2
CP2- a nice cave on Black Head- lucky it was low tide.

Geoquest Leg 3
WETA picked a better route out of CP2 to get a small lead before being run down along the beach

Leg 4 to TA1- WETA and Thought Sports arrive together but we get a small gap in TA

Leg 2 was a 27km paddle, all against the tide and up river. There were a few small navigational challenges mostly involving missing the oyster leases and making sure you found the correct river junction to head up to Wauk Wauk. WETA pushed hard for the first hour and made up the 2 min gap they lost in transition. Then we shared the lead, with Thunderbolt still not far behind.

Geoquest Leg 7
Rogue Adventure have a good transition and push hard at the start of the leg to post the fastest time to CP7 and make up a 3 minutes on TS and TAR.

We had a small lead out of TA2 but know its probably going to be short lived before the Uber bikers WETA and Thunderbolt come past. WETA make the pass at CP8 and while I would have loved to stick to their back wheels for the long leg to CP9 there was no chance of this happening.

Geoquest Leg 8
WETA continue to make up time on TS and catch us at CP8.

Geoquest Thought Sports Rob riding
Descending the water bar that took down Russell

After the fast roads to CP9, the course headed uphill and into the forests. After the first major climb we met Wild Earth as the bottom of a hill with Russell on the ground. He'd taken a superman flight over a waterbar and unfortunately had broken his collarbone. On the plus side he had a doctor as a team mate and a race photographer with 4WD car was already on site. This definitely dulled the mood and also the speed of the next few descents.

Geoquest CP10
Rogue is the only team to take the route choice to the left and lose 5 mins on Thunderbolt.

Thunderbolt catch up we push our bikes in and out of the wet creeks heading to CP10. We decided to take an alternative route choice to the left to the remainder of the wet gullies. Thunderbolt pull alongside on a climb and there is a bit of banter before we reach a junction and we continue on at speed down a hill and wonder why Thunderbolt have stopped. A few mins later Dave calls out that we have missed CP11! 3 mins downhill and 7mins back up hill all the way to the fire tower at the summit. We have a look around the tower but it is obvious the CP (or even a punch) is not there. And we did have a lot around the back of the nearby antenna but didn't see the punch minus flag. But in our experience it was obvious the control was not there and continued on- and thus causing considerable controversy.

Geoquest CP11
Thought Sports lose 10mins to Thunderbolt

On the way to TA3 we pass a lot of local mountain bikers and get sight of the large network of singletrack trails we were about to tackle. We collected our remaining maps for the rest of the course but decided to look at them in depth later. Leg 4 was a mountain bike orienteering section where we had to collect 5/7 CP's. Our route avoided most of the single track and before long we were back at TA and heading off to the boats at the Manning River.

Geoquest TA3
Thought Spots make up 2mins on Thunderbolt but reach TA4 7mins behind

At the TA were found Pete and Hugh perched on a picnic table marking up their maps and Josh and Bern sorting gear. A coffee and some warm noodles were much appreciated and before long we were on the water. The first thing I thought when I looked at the leg was I wished I had Wild Earth's portage wheels. I asked race director Chris if it was ok to portage from CP17-18 through the town of Taree. The look of disbelief on his face was quite humurous as he asked whey we would want to do that. Well because it would be quicker of course. Thankfully he made the decision we had to paddle but I wondered if that would get passed to all the following teams.

CP18 was a tricky one, being placed in the middle of a long skinny island. We decided to pull up a little early and walk along looking for the control. But the trail marked on the map was very faint and we walked straight over it to the other side of the island. When we got back to the trail, Dave decided he was going to leave his map case on the track marking where are boats were for our return. Really Dave, didn't you think we might need that map?! Anyway we eventually found the CP and came back, and couldn't find the mapcase, or our boats. We did find Peter from Thunderbolt running down the island with his team paddling nearby. Finally we found the boats and were back paddling with Thunderbolt just behind. Did anyone find Dave's mapcase? Luckily we had two maps...

As darkness descended finding the route got a bit harder, but nav wasn't particularly difficult on this leg until finding the finish TA. There were a couple of distracting river junctions just near the end and we wasted a bit of time here. Thunderbolt came into TA while we were still there and the race was still close.

Not having looked at the trek before we started I was hoping there was going to be some tough off track navigation challenge, especially as the first and last treks were along the coast. But disappointingly the course didn't make good use of the surprisingly open bushland and we were mostly jogging on trails. Near the start there were quite a few new or missing tracks that were distracting, and we had a large group of 12/24hr course teams tailing us as we made a few wrong turns. We had to modify the route a few times when we couldn't find tracks on the map but it still was quite easy. The importance was to keep mistakes to 2 mins or less and be wary of letting them get any bigger.