Sometimes it is hard to define what the word hard really means. This is especially so when it is applied to describing an Expedition Adventure Race.
And so it was with XPD 2015. Was it hard when our boat sank on the first leg and we had to be rescued? Maybe it got harder when our legs were burning, full of lactic and our skin scrapped off from the endless hours of coarse granite and the biting green tree ants of the Magnetic Island Coasteer. Maybe the Stand Up Paddle on Leg 2 qualifies as hard when it is pitch black and your board has a hole in it and we sink once again – no actually – that was just plain miserable.
Was it the long, cold paddle of Leg 3 – finishing 2 hours into darkness on the verge of hypothermia with legs and arms that simply wouldn’t function after 9 straight hours of paddling? Yeah that was getting into the hard category – no actually, towards the end that was just plain bloody miserable. And what about the never-ending Rainforest Trek of Leg 4? Now, that started to qualify as hard with a 1000m climb to escape the coastline, especially when the «little» finish section took 8 hours of going up and down and up and down. You could say that finding a mountaintop CP in the dark on the arid Canyon Trek Leg 6 was hard, as it was both physically and mentally challenging and it did sort a few teams out!
Maybe they were all cumulative «hards» and in a Karmic way they were preparing us for the truly «hard» to come!
It sounded like a good idea and probably was when Craig and the Course Designers decided to put the Burdekin River into the race. Presentiment was in the air at the race briefing – the words «adventure paddle” and “low water» really aren’t what you ever want to hear in the one sentence! So with a measure of trepidation we arrived at Leg 8, the Burdekin TA – it had been a long hot day of trekking and riding and the late afternoon sun was warm! So the thought of getting wet in the river was enticing! Hold that thought and I’ll tell you how it worked out!
We were on the water by 5.30pm and managing to paddle a mere 300m before the first portage, this actually turned out to be a longish section of paddling; 70km of river was not looking too enticing now!
So on it went, hour after hour of paddle, get out, push, get in, paddle, get out, drag, get in, paddle, get out, fall over, get soaked, drag, get in, paddle, get out and swear! And that was just the first 5 hours until we got so bloody cold that the thought of stopping and lighting a fire sounded like the only thing a sane person would now do. Admittedly we weren’t that sane so we debated the idea of stopping so early into the night – it was only 11pm. Shivering and teeth chattering ended the debate. Now the next problem was to find a way to get out – the banks were steep and flood cut.
The quickest fire in the history of fires was made in a few seconds – super dry wood and grass meant we were standing around a bonfire minutes after getting out of the cold water! What a pleasure it was to actually stop for a whole 5 hours, the first time in almost 5 days! And to add to the luxury – it was party time when the Argentineans joined us for the night. They were very grateful to share our fire and the camaraderie.
It was the essence of XPD, two teams sharing a brief respite under the stars. Some things can’t be explained, they can only be experienced.
Paddling before first light meant we had at least 12 hours of daylight to get off this accursed river. As dawn broke the night sky, the beauty of the place was clear – abundant wild life, beautiful trees, golden light and the heightened awareness that comes from knowing you are on an isolated outback river and despite the tedious, body destroying slog of boat dragging – it does feel a very special place!
And there it is, the Ying and the Yang of it, while you curse the never ending paddle – drag – paddle, there is a realisation that this is what you paid your money for – the experience, the suffering and the reward that can only come from persistence, and ultimately the overcoming, of the adversity in front of you.
So did it become hard? Yep, bloody hard. The sun rose high in the sky and now being cold would have been a pleasure. It was hot and the sun was a level of brightness that is so quintessentially the Australian Outback, the sort of brightness that sets a permanent squint in your eyes.
And slowly the day progressed – do the limbo under branches, paddle, drag, wet yourself down, cool off, stumble, legs stuck in quicksand, drag, get stuck in trees, curse, look for the deep water channel, don’t find it, drag, stumble, get in, paddle 100m, get out, become progressively weak, legs now start to cramp, stumble, get stuck again, drag, paddle, work on being stoic and so it went on until the sun started to set.
Counting down the grid squares on the map was a task that seemed interminable and with all things that are testing – they do come to an end! Well, not a good end. The best was reserved to last – just when the TA was in site, a mere 3 km to go – the river ran out of water! So for the last hour – we took out boats for a walk.
If you were there – you know! If you weren’t, then you missed out on a real mission. The Burdekin delivered in XPD spades.
Leg 8 – 70 km of river had taken us 25 hours. It wasn’t a good paddle but you could say it was a good trek leg because it had a lot of water on it. The Leg Crusher Leg seemed an apt name for our little jaunt down the Burdekin and in my mind it did qualify as being titled XPD hard.
And what of the last trek, the mighty leg 10 – 50 km through the heat and aridity of the Maze, was that hard? Now that’s entirely another story!