When a race has been going over 20 years it has its own traditions and atmosphere, built on the history of racers and races past.
The annual Mountain Designs Geoquest has taken place every year since 2002, challenging teams to explore and enjoy the best of the NSW coast and hinterland. (It has always been sponsored by Mountain Designs too, which must be one of the longest sponsorships in Australian sport.)
This year the race was based at South West Rocks Surf Club and teams were returning to keep their race tradition going, or starting out on a new adventure. One newbie team, Southern Lights, even travelled all the way from Tasmania, and a 26 strong party from the Kaiarahi Cultural Collective drove 14 hours from Melbourne, and back again after their 36 hour non-stop race.
The race has a 48 hour time limit, two distances (full and half course), which are on some of the same trails and rivers much of the time, and is open to pairs and fours, supported and unsupported.
This year the courses were linear, so teams were driven form South West Rocks to a start point in the Mcleay River Valley, and set off at intervals in kayaks. They put straight into the grade 1 rapids which enlivened much of the paddle, and what a memorable paddle it was!
Under clear blue skies and in pleasant 20 degree temperatures the teams set off down a beautiful stretch of water which few, if any, had paddled before, though they will surely now come back to do it again. The 28km paddle was an undiscovered gem and coming off the water several teams described it as the best they’d ever done!
Richard Barnes of Team Goldfish said it was the best, and he’s the first person to paddle from Australia to NZ unsupported and without stops! (This team were riding two tandems to make the race more of a challenge!)
He had a rival in Team Bridie and the Bad Boys for the most epic endurance feat amongst the competitors. They had teamed up with fellow Queenslander Allan Jefferson, who won the 5000km non-stop Race Across America bike ride!
Not all racers had such endurance pedigree of course, some were completing their first long distance race.
After the paddle the two courses split with the full course taking a gravel ride up the Balls Road and stopping on the way for an 8km trek where teams were asked to get 5 out of the 6 checkpoints on their map, in any order they chose.
The Full course was 212km and the Half 137km, so the half course teams now rode through the Collombatti State Forest, South and East taking a more direct route back toward the finish at South West Rocks. Later on the routes would converge again and the teams would mix and see each other on the trail.
Stages alternated between trek and bike, some with navigational challenges, like the Briggs Lookout trek, where teams could split up to find the checkpoints, if their map and compass work was good enough.
The Full Course had a second 30km paddle on the Mcleay River and for some teams this was a night paddle. Team Holy Guacamole said, “It was a very exciting new experience - night white water paddling in the fog. The beautiful parts were the soft mist swirls like little twisters rising up beside us. The sketchy parts were not being able to properly see the rapids and pick the right line before going down them. Luckily they were only little.
“Except for that tree sieve that Silas and Kaela ended up in, which tipped them and the maps out. The boys from Tassie were behind us though and checked we were OK and after agreeing to us sticking with them till we got to TA, they actually found our maps in the water, and then we waved them off. Kaela and Silas were then treated to a platypus sighting, whereas Kylie and I both got hit in the head by a low flying duck trying to take off! 2am saw us shiver off the river to an awesome fire at the transition.”
No other sport can offer such experiences!
The transition areas between stages were a chance to warm up, rest and eat, and chat to the marshals who gave all the teams a friendly and warm welcome.
Both courses had the same finish with a memorable trek up Mount Yarrahapinni, which Holy Guacamole described as “the steepest trek possible” and where Race Director Chris Dixon said some competitors “were on their hands and knees on a tiny, barely walkable track.”
Then came a final paddle on the tidal Mcleay Arm where Laura Newton of the all female team Missifts described “navigating sandbanks at night”. The team were the first unsupported women’s team to finish (behind the supported Mountain Designs Wild Women team) and she said her team “had the best time together, sharing the love and the load throughout the entire course.”
The final stage was a Geoquest staple, a coastal trek taking in dunes, beaches and headlands, which some teams were lucky enough to do at sunrise. This brought the teams back to the finish of another Mountain Designs Geoquest, which many said was the best course yet.
The most emotional finish came from the four teams from the Kaiarahi Cultural Collective, which supports the health and well being of those in need in the Maori community. Last year Jeremy Nikora led 3 teams and the team building and racing experience was so positive and life affirming he came back with 4 teams this year, plus a support crew of 10. They trained together for months, completed the course together and were welcomed on the finish line by a Haka from their supporters.
Nikora said afterwards, “I’m so proud of our crew, both the teams who completed the course and our amazing supporters who stayed up through the long 36 hours it took us to reach the finish line. There were so many inspiring moments and achievements which will take time to reflect on and the Kaiarahi Cultural Collective will be back next year!
“Thanks again to Chris Dixon at “Wild & Co” for doing so much to help us get to GeoQuest and for taking care of us along the way.”
Teams were lucky with the weather this year and experienced a classic Geoquest course, and already many have said they will be back again in 2024.
That’s why the tradition lives on and the Mountain Designs Geoquest is a fixture on the Australian Adventure Racing calendar.
You can see the race tracking and full results at https://live.trackmelive.com.au/geoquest23/ and find out more about the race (and the new Geoquest New Zealand race) at www.geoquest.com.au
The race is organised by sports event management company Wild&Co who have a full programme of races throughout the year. For a full calendar of events see - https://www.wldnco.com/