Following a great performance at XPD Team Mountain Designs wanted to finish off an unbelievable year of racing with a win at the ARA Darkside Championships. It was an opportunity for our XPD team to race together again and for Team Mountain Designs to take out this event for the third consecutive year.
Preparation was not all that great, as Sloshy had not been on his MTB or paddled since XPD as he just had the wind-trainer set for triathlon training. Leo was not well after XPD and took over a month to recover just enough to do any sort of training, but had at least been paddling. Gary had been absolutely hammered at work catching up on business following XPD so had done virtually no training and had also come down with a pretty bad cold/flu leading into the race. At one point Gary was not going to race, but it would just not have been the same without our fearless leader! I had just spent three days rough camping on a school outdoor adventure camp involving trekking, mountain biking and paddling, so was sleep deprived and certainly not rested, so mentally I was just thinking of it as a 4 day race, and the ARA Darkside was the final leg!
After a bit of a frantic effort get organised I managed to meet the team at the bike & paddle drop, I just had to hope I had everything as my packing was quite rushed, the boys seemed pretty excited to all be racing together again. We were handed the maps, and Sloshy and I certainly had some local knowledge of the areas we would be travelling through, but the maps were 1:50 000 and had barely any features, so not much advantage gained. We finished the maps, attended the briefing and then tried to get a little sleep…..within seconds Gary was asleep under Leo’s car in the Twin Waters car park.We had to wake Gary up….which proved difficult….as clearly he was not really well, and would have preferred at that point, that we had left him there! We were a little disorganised and on our way to the start did not realise our box had to be dropped off at the lagoon, so Gary & I sent Leo & Sloshy on this mission as they were the young ones!
Race commenced with a candle lit ceremony at the lagoon, where we launched our candle into the water – our motto ‘race hard take chances’……before piling onto a bus which took us out to Mapleton State Forest. When we hopped off the bus we were given another map, one which we could actually see the contours (but still not creeklines)…..so at least Gary did not need the Vapros!We did not go out at 100% and just hung back a bit at the start, went the wrong way and then had to backtrack, making that usual mistake right at the beginning of the race……so we got to catch up the most of the field and have a chat along the way! We came across many teams (Isodopes, Tiger, Tri Adventure Girls, Bike On, Rogue and Cyclezone and many more) bamboozled looking for CP B - Track Gully Junction’ - we eventually worked out there were two gully’s on the track and neither actually marked at the map….so eventually we moved on and located the CP in the next gully. We were quite a way behind Team Infinit as we were approaching CP C, Gary was on tow and Sloshy was now on map duties! Gary suggested I get the bike map from his pack, as it had CP 1-3 on it so we had a second set of eyes on the maps…..great move as this map for some reason had the creeks marked and contour lines that you could actually see. I rolled my ankle twice within a space of about 10 minutes and had to just grin and bear it, as we tried to nudge ahead of the teams around us. We managed to get in and out of CP 3 ahead of all teams and thus had about a 1 minute lead at the bike TA.
Onto the bike Gary was feeling a bit better, I had to remind my legs to ride hard now after spending three days on bikes with kids being the tail end Charlie……it took me a while to warm up but I got there. Leo was on ‘ferret’ duties and was strong, we were just managing to stay ahead of teams as we approached CP 5 but as we approached the Old Vehicle at CP6 we were nearly all together again. The trails were fantastic, a great mix of flat, hills and descents……well for a while…..as we headed for CP 7 the trail became indistinct, but we were on something so we pursued it…..during the planning phase I was a bit dubious as to whether it would be there having spent many hours in this area riding dead end tracks….anyway we took a chance…..and it was a disaster!We were soon in thick fog, on the edge of a farm full of cattle and the track had disappeared, we had travelled 2k and had to turn back…..one other team which had been behind us looked like they were going through the paddock up the hill . We decided to backtrack and struggled to even find the track we had been travelling on…..so think we were just in a grassy paddock too……we eventually got back to where we had started and took the long way around the road. We knew we had lost our lead and that many teams would now be ahead……sometimes fining a track does not always prove to be the best thing……we learned that on GEO this year…..but took a chance! Eventually we completed the climb up Buckby Road to CP 7, then up, up and up out to CP 8 at Point Glorious, crossing paths with Team Tiger on the way.
We were told Cyclezone was probably 30 mins ahead, so a tough challenge ahead of us, unlikely that we would catch up, but hey….we would give it a shot…..as we knew they were in Mirages and we had ocean ski’s…..and anything is possible! We managed to get on the water before Tiger and it did not take too long to get to CP 19 at the bridge, Sloshy and I were not comfortable, our foot settings were too short, we had no padding on our seats , and Sloshy had his pack on. I started to feel sleepy and tired, Sloshy was feeling the lack of paddling since XPD, but we tried to hang onto Gary and Leo in front!
We were now racing……and it was the ‘Mystery Leg’, we left ahead of Cyclezone, but soon both teams were baffled as we had not descriptions for the CP’s……both of us had no idea of what we were looking for….just as we were about to head back to the TA we saw Simon in a car. Gary chased down Cyclezone and got them to come back to Simon, and he gave us both the descriptions (they should have been given to us at the TA)…..we hit the Laser Skirmish at the same time, and it was game on again! The instructor spoke at a million miles an hour and I had trouble understanding what to do, Garry was onto it, and snuck up through the bush and got them from behind, while I was trying to get just one hit……I could have sworn I was spot on target…..I got the instructor to check my gun….it was not working…..I got a new one and before long we all had our 3 kills and were off….leaving Cyclezone behind. We set off through the bush to collect the next CP at the track junction, and to the beach access at Marcoola with Cyclezone hot on our heels…….they were giving 100% and trying to stick with us, at this point we ran the path and they ran the beach, when we came onto the beach at access 118 they were 300m back, so we really dug deep. Leo handed me the dibber, and he had the descriptions…..we had to go all the way to access 130……a very long way…..we set a solid pace and did not look back…..when we turned for the run home, we had opened up a big lead……we continued to run strongly back along the beach to Mudjimba and into the Resort for the finish…..we were presented our candle again, and crossed the line in 1st Place……a tough day out for the team, but a truly rewarding end to a huge year of racing!
Finally we would like to acknowledge all the teams who challenged us at various stages of the Darkside and other events throughout Team Mountain Designs most successful year ever, as it is all healthy competition that makes us all better at our sport. Our team philosophy is not only about challenging ourselves and taking chances, but giving back to the sport, we are about inspiring and developing adventure racers of the future. With the introduction of Gary’s Ridgeline series, Sloshy’ s involvement in Dare You Adventure events and the skills and experiences I am able to share through Tri Adventure, we hope that we are making a difference in the sport, and hope we see you all challenging yourselves again in 2014.
Enormous thanks to our Team Sponsors:- Mountain Designs, Salomon Footwear, Hammer Nutrition, Ay Up Lights, Tri Adventure.
Thanks also to friends, members and supporters of Ridgeline Adventures, Dare You Adventure and Tri Adventure.
Photography produced by Elements Photo & Video
Please have a look at some of the great photos from the event http://gallery.elementphotovideo.com.au.