Well, I suppose one of us should write up some sort of almost race report :-)
Since it was such a short race for us I'll try and stretch it out...
Despite not having originally planned to do this race (due primarily to bad knees) I was very excited about it. I love racing in Aus. I think XPD puts on awesome events and I was most excited about my team. A terrific mix of skills and fitness and great attitudes. We were a bit lacking in individual expedition race experience compared to much of the field.. but on average we probably have more combined races than 80% of the field! :-)
That just makes me feel oldER..... :-(
We had decided before the race that Chris would handle the bike nav and I would handle the trek and paddle. I was happy about this because it would give me a chance to rest my brain and as my eyes age I have a particularly tough time naving on the bike at night without stopping repeatedly to refocus on the maps.
We had a couple hours of map time before getting on the buses and I was able to plot the trek and paddle and Chris did the bike. I had a quick glance at his route choices and they seemed reasonable to me. We decided to take a longer route from CP7 to 8 that looked like it would be on more substantial roads and easier Nav at night than a more direct route. Other than that there didn't seem to be a lot of opportunities for alternate route choices (as most other race reports have indicated).
I was now even more excited about the race. I knew the trek would be my slowest discipline and that I could help the team on the paddle (which was extensive) and hold my own at least on the bike. It was as though the course had been designed with my ailments in mind!!
The race started with a short run to the boats. Shannon hung back with me on the run as I was being VERY tentative. I'd been on a steady diet of anti-inflams/pain killers for a couple of weeks and was feeling pretty stable, but this is a long race and no need to $%@! it up in the first 5 mins.
We decided to go with Will and Chris in the big tub and Shannon and I in the (comparatively) speedy Surf Ski. Turns out Shannon and I could have walked, stopped for a sandwich and beer and a game of monopoly and still been faster to the first paddle CP (A). :-)
After about an hour we were near the back of the pack and decided to make a change. After a little bit of discussion and fiddling we ended up with Shannon in the front of the tub and I was solo in the Ski. Will differs with me on this, but by the time we got the boats re-arranged I am certain we were in last place as I did not see a single team behind us on the water. The good news is this was a much better set-up and we immediately started passing teams. I fought to stay in their draft but I was finally working hard and happy for it. We stayed with this set-up from A - B - C - D at which point I tapped out and Will took the solo form D - E. Then Chris jumped in from E - finish (felt sorry for him scrunched in that boat - the rudder pedals were WAY to close for his long legs). Despite Shannon being the only one not to paddle solo, I would say she worked the hardest on this paddle, start to finish. She never stopped paddling once even when her boat was too fast and had to slow down (accomplished by others taking a break) for the other boat to catch up.... I can't say the same, I hardly paddled in the first hour and took some breaks when I was in the tub to let the solo catch up.
We actually came of the water about 30 mins ahead of my plan, so I was happy about that... especially after giving up likely 15 mins in the first hour. Our transition was not great, but it was passable and we set of in good spirits for a short beach and road 'run' to the next paddle.
I had a slight bobble on the trek nav. As we came upon CP 3 we were losing light. I indicated it should be right where we were but my description written on the map said Channel at the end of fence. No Channel, but there were some washrooms?! Chris ran up to the washrooms, saw no flag and so we quickly ran another few hundred meters.. here's a Channel and a fence and a parking lot but no CP/punch?!?!
"what is written on the map?" .... "well, when not running and reading it upside down it says 'Chained at the end of fence'... no Channel" Doah!! A few minutes later we had the punch right next to the washrooms we had been at.. My Bad!! :-(
We hit the TA about 30 mins ahead of plan again and had a reasonable TA. We outfit the boats such that I would be solo with the packs in front of me to. This really helped minimize some of the wave bounce I experienced on the first paddle and the boats were pretty evenly matched for what turned out to be an uneventful paddle. The odd 'rogue' wave but decent progress and we came out of the TA to bike warm and basically on schedule if not a few minutes ahead.
Then things went bad! :-( :-)
Chris was meticulous about his Nav. We knew where we were all the time. The problem was the route choice. In our haste we assumed that a solid black line was a road (like back home) when in fact it was something else (gas line?). By the time we realized our error (along with several other teams) we had unknowingly bagged CP 44 a little prematurely. Being at the edge of our map we had to retreat. If we had the next map to the West we could most likely have salvaged this error, but everyone knows you never leave your map... even for a short distance!??! :-)
It was pretty disheartening and Chris was being hard on himself, but it was not a matter of being lost, we had made a poor route choice. We sorted it out having lost probably an hour. We picked our way back onto the correct maze of roads and then, wanting to atone for our first bad decision, made our next one. At least this bad decision was made with team Powerbar Swiss. We were both at a junction and contemplating the same bad move. Shorter distance and go slightly off of our map to the West and then head South and quickly come back onto the next map ... or longer route entirely on the map. The Swiss quickly opted for the shorter route. We debated for a while and then followed them. This lead to some horrendous hike a bike and another 2.5 hours wasted. :-(
Again we were never lost (not even when we were off the map), but it was a bad decision.
O.k we were now several hours behind schedule, but this was a long race and I figured at the outset we'd be about 120-130 hours on course. So aside from the wasted energy and a few hours extra on a beautiful course, this was not a complete tragedy.
We got back on track and were soon seeing other teams regularly and moving up the rankings. We did have over 2 hrs wasted at the planned bike-whack due to teams that were just not competent at bike-whacking (we were pro's at this point!!) and taking well over 2 hrs to do what should be about 15 minutes in the daylight?!?!? I should note that I inadvertently threw Team Goldfish "under the bus" (having been told it was their Tandem Bike causing the issues) when in fact they were not to blame!
About 2 hrs after the bikewhack our race came to a crushing end. We were a little past CP 9 and continuing to pass teams steadily. We were on a steep down hill with rainflow diversion ditches cut out at regular intervals (we had seen many of these during the race). One particular ditch was maybe a little deeper and steeper and Will hit it much too fast and did not absorb any of the depression with his legs/arms. He launched out of the 'half-pipe' into the air and I could see immediately he was effed. Before he even started to over-rotate I was screaming at him. As he landed on his face I was already breaking hard and as he came to rest about 40 feet from where he launched I was running towards him... mad as hell and twice as scared. When I saw the blood and swelling on his face I was just scared.
Even though we were afraid to move him it was very hard to think of this as the end of our race. We originally called it in as a 'mid level' accident, possibly needing assistance. A few minutes later having done some more assessment and seeing that his right AC joint was messed up, we upgraded to a priority alert needing assistance (apparently we were the second team needing med-assist at the exact same location).
So that was it. The XPD folks had a Doc there within about 40 mins and he was in the ambulance (along with me) about 30 mins after that. Chris and Shannon carried on to the next TA but withdrew after that...
It was a bizarre feeling being out of a race and especially sooo early. There were so many parts of the course I was looking forward to tackling with this team. I'm still not sure how to reconcile it all in my head. So much fun that will never take place... and of course a lot of suffering that would now not be endured together.
I remember telling the team that this was only the second time in about 25 expeditions races that I had DNF'd, but I was wrong. It was the third. RTNE #1 in 1998. Multiple bike failures on the last leg and we failed to make it. Southern Traverse (2000?), smashed up my ankle and suffered for days before finally pulling the chute, unable to walk... and just in time for me as many teams (including Spirit) were forced off the course on the next leg due to a crazy snowstorm. I was crushed by both of those 'failures'. This one was different somehow. I was not crushed so much as ... I was just 'lost?'. We've been lucky I suppose, to avoid race ending injuries. We've limped or carried each other across finish lines but it just wasn't an option here. :-(
Fortunately Will had no neck or serious head injuries, but he did have a separation of the AC joint. Chris and I were able to go and experience a little trekking and pack rafting after the caving section and that was an awesome day.
Thanks to my team for a great trip to Aus even though the race didn't work out.
Final Note: before we left I had an MRI scheduled for Dec 6 (I didn't want to have it before the race... that blissful ignorance M.O.). Turns out the meds were doing a pretty good job masking my symptoms/issues. I need another knee OP. I got a floater and the 'donar site' this time is the weight bearing surface of my femur... can't say it's a surprise as it locks up regularly... time will tell what that means for future training/racing.... I'm sure it's nothing I can't sort out over a few beers with a few friends and a list of races that 'should be doable!?'