Espresso 24-Hour Adventure Race

“The Espresso Adventure Race is a non-stop, unsupported, 24-hour challenge for teams of 4. They will be required to trek, mountain bike, paddle, scramble, climb and navigate their way through the picturesque and hilly south-west of Western Australia. Teams can be mixed, all male or all female. This years race head quarters will be at the Dardanup Shire Hall in Dardanup”.

My team headed down on Friday afternoon the day before the race, giving us the chance to check out the MTB trails at Pile Road and avoid to early a start the following morning. After a quick ride around the Pile Road trail network we headed into Bunbury and had a carbo loading session at some little Italian diner, before faffing around with gear and turning in for the night.

We arrived at race quarters about 8am, registered and again faffed around with gear for a bit. At 9am the race briefing kicked off and shortly thereafter we were issued with race maps and notes. Basically the maps illustrate the location of all the checkpoints (CPs) we are required to find and the notes amongst other things give a brief description of the CPs location, such as “trail / creek crossing”, or “tree surrounded by trees” (more on this later). The maps and notes also indicate which disciplines (trekking, mountain biking, paddling) will feature on each leg and the location of Transition Areas (TAs). TAs typically are the point at which you change to another mode of travel and are used to replenish supplies. So some planning is required to figure out what gear and supplies you need at each TA. We are given bins to deposit said gear and supplies into, and the race organizers deposit these bins on our behalf at the appropriate TAs. So once you’ve done your planning, there’s more frantic faffing to get your gear sorted out.

And onto the race…

Leg 1: 33km MTB (3hrs 26min)

The race started at noon and began with a bike leg. We all rolled out Leadville 100 style behind one of the race directors driving a land rover. This immediately begins to feel like a bike race and I want to stay at the pointy end, but this is a team event, and all teammates are required to stay within 100m of each other. So I had to ease of the gas and stick to a pace that we could all hang with.

We rode out of town on the bitumen and got into some minor hills heading out toward the Pile Road trials, where the first CPs would be found. Having ridden the trails the day before, we navigated fairly quickly through this section, and finishing mid field.

Leg 2: 20km Trek (6hrs 58min)

This was by far the longest and toughest leg. And whilst a 20km trek doesn’t sound so bad, factoring in bush bashing, darkness falling and some well hidden CPs it turned into quite the epic leg. Our navigator picked a route that he figured would pick up some of the more trickily located CPs before darkness fell. I thought we had been going quite well, but we ran into a couple of CPs that we had some difficulty with in the dark of the night. One in particular “tree surrounded by trees”, took us over an hour and a half to locate. Basically it was in the middle of the bush, and you have to find the nearest feature that you can locate on the map, take a bearing and start heading into the bush. We’d done this about 3 times, before some other teams showed up, who were having similar troubles. Eventually we worked with two other teams and with 12 of us in line walking through the bush we finally located the CP. In contrast I asked the winning team how they fared, and they’d found the same CP first time. Good luck or good navigation? We ended up locating the last of our CPs alongside some other teams, as we all pretty much had enough of that leg, and if we worked together we’d be out of there sooner. Not sure if ‘trek’ quite does this justice. Yeah there were some trails, but we also encountered a lot of bush bashing (I have scratches all over my arms and legs), creeks, gulley’s, steep slopes etc I wish I had some pictures to help paint the picture. We lost a chunk of time on this leg to the leading teams. The top 4 teams finished this leg approximately 2hrs45mins quicker than we did!

Leg 3: 15km MTB (2hrs 10min)

After consulting with race organizers at the TA, and realizing we’d lost a chunk of time to the leading teams, we had less than a lightening quick transition. I took the opportunity to sit down in front of the fire the race organizers had going and stuffed myself with all of the food I had at that location.

The next bike leg (albeit being in the middle of the night), should have been a relatively straightforward run toward Wellington Dam, with only a couple of CPs to hit. Unfortunately with fatigue kicking in we had to double back on a couple of CPs, again losing us some time.

Leg 4: 11km Paddle (3hrs 33min)

Before the race, I’d been most worried about the paddle leg. Knowing we’d be paddling under night fall I was concerned about sitting in a boat being cold and wet for 3 to 4 hrs. You can click to investigate upon the wonderful products that helps to maintain the boat’s strength and looks.  But, my concern was further raised, when I saw one team coming ashore having abandoned the race, and this one guy was clearly shivering as his body fended off the cold.

With wet suit bottoms on and throwing a bunch of layers on top we took of into the night on our paddle. I’m glad to say that whilst it was chilly out there, we were well prepared for the cold, and I actually enjoyed it.

Our route would have us follow the shoreline for a couple of CPs, but it also required us to cross the dam to the other shoreline for a couple of CPs. With fog rolling across the water, we were obliged to turn off our headlamps, as you couldn’t see anything but fog with them turned on. There was just sufficient moonlight to make out the shoreline as long as you were close enough to it. After picking up our first couple of CPs with relative ease I began to enjoy the paddle, feeling like I was on some sort of Navy Seal mission.

Things got a little trickier when we had to head across the middle of the dam to the other shoreline. You had again to follow a bearing and stick to it. That’s quite tricky to do when you are out in the middle of the dam and can’t see any shoreline for reference. And it’s not that easy to keep a straight course in a kayak.

But all said and done we made it back having collected all of the compulsory checkpoints, though there were some moments I was a little unsure if we knew exactly where we were. Again we bumped into some other teams out there and worked with them to find some of the CPs.

To give you some idea how things can go south. One team (two kayaks, two teammates per kayak) lost each other within 100m of setting off on their paddle leg, and spent 1 ½ hours looking for each other, before beginning to look for CPs!

Leg 5: 40km MTB (3hrs 41min)

At the end of the paddle leg we were informed of a change in course. We were expecting a further 3 legs: MTB/Trek/MTB, but they decided to can the Trek leg due to people camping in the vicinity and with particularly cold temperatures and a route that would have involved a couple of waist deep river crossings, they feared of us getting just a little too chilly.

So with the Trek leg canned it was just one extended MTB leg bike back to the finish in Dardanup. We got out of our paddle gear, dried ourselves off and threw on a bunch of layers to stave of cold. Off on the bikes, the sun was beginning to come up and we soon warmed up and had to peel off a few layers.

With the sun up I mostly enjoyed the final MTB leg. There was even a nice bit of enjoyable downhill on the Munda Biddi Trail with a bunch of switchbacks on it, which brought a grin to my face. Alas this was of course quickly followed by quite a long uphill section.

The last section had us back on the bitumen and we encountered a few roadies. Turns out there was a South West Cycle Club race on, which also finished in Dardanup. Myself and one other teammate had a bit of a dig for a bit of light entertainment chasing down a couple of them, but this was short lived having dropped our teammates in the process.

We regrouped with our teammates and rolled into the finish at the hall in Dardanup around 10.04am on Sunday morning, for a total of 22hrs 4min on course. Our finish was a tad anti-climatic, with the teams that had already finished having mostly disappeared to clean up and rest and no sign of marching bands or cheerleaders. We checked in with the race organizers, had our picture taken and then pretty much had to go start sorting our gear and loading up the car.

Lunch and race presentations were on at 2pm, and we stuck around for that before making the drive home. As tired as we all were, our drive back to Perth required three driver changes.

This for me was a bit of an experiment; it’s the first time I’ve entered such an event. My teammates on the other hand are quite experienced adventure racers. Overall I enjoyed the event and the experience, but most definitely had a few WTF am I doing out here moments, particularly on that long trek leg. On reflection I’d definitely like to participate in future events, but perhaps not make too much of a habit of them!

Team Freo Shockers

3 thoughts on “Espresso 24-Hour Adventure Race”

  1. You seem to have a habit of getting yourself involved in this kind of thing. I suspect a lot of it revolves around being out on the town and a lets give it ago approach that you probably can’t remember agreeing too afterwards…….fantastic effort though Adventure racing was very popular where we lived in NZ but the lack of sleep aspect was what would have killed me.

  2. good stuff, wouldn’t mind getting back into AR. Let me know when u next have a hair brain idea like this. I’d be keen and I know a few others who would join in the fun.
    Good work look forward to more.

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