Team Privateer Adventure, aptly named since we do not have a ‘naming rights’ sponsor. Fortunately I have been invited into this team of legends for the 2019 China adventure racing season. Legends including Simone Maier, Sam Clark and Dougal Allan. All Coast to Coast Champions.
My goal for this race (and all races) with them was to bring value to the team. Definitely not to: ‘just hang on’. So a good training block was necessary to ensure I could be strong and prepared. If you know these humans then you’ll guess that I had been working on my cycling the most!
The catch here is that two team members must carry a basket with a 10kg bag of sand in it. As the gun went off Clarkey did too. We stay close on the tail of Team Raw Adventure (Jacky, Mimi, Alex Hunt and Hamish Elliot (fill-in for Dan Jones)), then Sam Clarke lays down the boost and moves in front of them. Sam and I are the ones carrying the baskets.
Dougal gives me a wee tow to help and Simone is there the whole time too. We averaged 3:25min kms.
15km Mountain bike
It had been raining for a few days and the roads were wet, little did we realise how slippery this meant. Obviously it hadn’t rained in a while as films of oil and household grime came prevalant. Us and Raw adventure were riding close together with a good gap on other teams.
Then, suddenly Simone went down on a corner, then Sam Clark. I thought: ‘lucky that wasn’t me…’ Then suddenly I was down. Bottles everywhere and skin removed. Dougal stayed up but half of Raw Adventure were down too.
This when we realised how careful we had to be on any corners. We needed to make it to the finish line!
Raw Adventure took a minor wrong turn so we ended up with a gap ahead of them as we started the next activity.
Down some steep slippery steps into a cave, We had a quick transition as we chose to wear running shoes on the first bike ride. There was a 40m abseil in the cave. Soon we were out and head back to the bikes.
15km Mountain bike
Now knowing the risks of the rain we rode the uphill hard and the downhill conservatively. Very conservatively. This stage was over quickly.
We are a paddle strong team and it was great to get into a boat! We had a map (satellite photo) to use to find the checkpoints.
Due to out and back navigation we were able to do some basic maths and figure out our gap to Raw Adventure. It was already around 6mins!
28km Mountain Bike
This was a bit harder than expected. It was still raining and everything was as wet as ever. There were a few sections where we were on a clay-like 4wd track. The orange clay mud had stones all through it. And it was sticky, very sticky. It clung to our tyres and soon built up in rear triangle and forks and everywhere else. Soon the wheels didn’t spin and the bike was three times heavier. It was often too steep to ride as well. Aim was to not have any mechanical issues from all the mud clogging all the drive train up.
Eventually we made it too the end with no sight of another team.
7km Road Run
The pace was hot out of the transition. Sam Clark towed Simone and Dougal soon joined in. I just hung on next to them hyperventilating. 1km from the end Sam had a bit of cramp so I helped him to the finish.
Raw Adventure came in 7.5mins later. An awesome buffer to have this early on.
I estimate at least 90% of the field crashed their bikes, and loads more than once. It was dangerous conditions and out conservative riding paid off.
Day 2 : (Birthday!!)
10km trail/road run
All teams were divided by 15second delays and in order of their current overall positions. We got to depart first. It was a undulating course and Raw Adventure were right on our heels. After some aggressive intensity on some of the uphills we soon had a good gap (more than 30 seconds) to them. Soon we arrived at the transition and quickly put our PFDs on before carrying the rest of you kayaking gear to our boats.
2km run with kayaks
Due to track conditions we now had to carry our kayaks to the edge of the lake. This obviously included the paddles and 5 litres of drink + food for the mammoth paddle stage ahead. It is fair to say this was awkward, painful, steep and slippery.
45km Kayak on lake (dam)
We had been handed a map. A satellite photo of the kayak stage to use to navigate our way for this stage. The green of the lake matched the green of the bush and was difficult to read as it sat between my legs as I paddled.
Dougal and Sam were in the boat at the front while Simone and I paddled in the other double behind them getting a ‘wash’ ride. Due to our quick run and kayak carry we already had a nice lead on the water.
This paddle was rather long and was only broken up by one checkpoint along the way (24km mark). Simone and I came to the front a few times to help with leading the group down the endless valley of water. Navigation certainly required some thought as there were a few major side channels/valleys (the lake is simply a dammed valley).
Once the skin had peeled off our fingers and our drinks were nearly dry we arrived at our first target. A bridge 140meters above us.
Only one team member need to complete this task and Dougal was the one. The rest of us chilled and ate and drank for 15mins while we waited for Dougal to fall from sky above us.
By the time we were off in the kayaks again with Dougal back, Raw Adventure (RA) had arrived and a few more teams in the distance. We already had nearly 15mins on RA.
We now paddled back in the opposite direction to a transition area ( a steep bank on the side of the lake). There we met a boat who carried all our transition gear for the final run of the day.
17km trail run
A very old and steep trail took us vertically out of the lake valley. We bashed our way through thick overgrown bush despite the thorough course marking. The thorns that tore our legs and arms open still sting as I write this. This run was mix of the thick bush with very slippery grimy rocks and the occasional piece of road to open the legs up.
It was an honest 17km and we gave it all to the end.
The total time for us just that day was around 7hours 45mins. A long day for a stage race.
Raw Adventure came in 11mins later
It was a cool experience to receive some Chinese cake at the finish line as it was my birthday. Something similar happened 3years ago. But unfortunately myself and Hamish Fleming got very sick from the cake. Meaning this time I decided it was best not to risk it. It was disappointing not to indulge in such a beautifully made food.
51km Mountain Bike
The last two days had been over cast, rainy and super humid, but around 23 degrees Celsius. Today’s forecast was sun and 28 degrees + high humidity.
At the start line it was pouring down with rain which created confusion and worry. It was a mass start with a lot of bikes and aggressive riders. The team plan was to go out fast and stay at the front to avoid the dangers of other riders.
Dougal led us out strong, and while a lot of teams hung on, I’m sure they would have been hurting. 4km in there was a road block for construction of a new road. We had to hit the brakes and quickly climb over it before continuing to ride. This happened again after a few kms and helped to spread the field a bit more. Soon we were in the hills and the uphills really show true colours. A Chinese team was staying close by but otherwise we had a visible gap to other teams. After a huge ascent we then had downhill where again we were forced to be conservative and ride the concrete roads slowly (later we find many crashed again where we didn’t). Some rugged rocky single track and then the bike carry part.
We reach a narrow rocky mountain track that goes straight up with a saddle way up in the distance. No way we can ride it. With the bikes over our backs we power walk up the track. It’s narrow and no teams can get past us without great difficulty. The Chinese team is still right behind us but I recognize the voices of Raw adventure not too far away either. Part way up Dougal just misses a turn off and Simone takes lead. Within 10mins we had a major gap from the Chinese and all other teams. She had really set the pace!
After an eternity and a very stiff neck we reached the road and rode off, quickly trying to rehydrate from all the water we’d lost on the carry section. About 10km later we reach another walking trail and find ourselves carrying out bikes up another mountain for another 30mins. It hadn’t rained since 10mins into the race and it was beginning bro get super warm.
Once over this saddle we descend back to a road and it is undulating to the end of the stage.
15km orienteering run
The sun was blazing and it was uncomfortably hot. The humidity was still apparent too. I tried to transition faster than the others because I wanted to examine and orientate the map so we could leave without a hold up. The map, as usual, is a satellite photo from a Google maps. I have a compass and there are no gps coordinates like previous years.
This evened the field because it is a huge advantage is you have a cellphone with a mobile data (Sim cards are hard to get). We had a lead and we were a little fatigued after 3 days but we knew we needed to push to finish it off. The first checkpoint is on the far end of the map so it is over 7km to get there and bit of a mind game knowing that there are 7 checkpoints to get.
We get it and then run around a small lake to the next one before taking a shortcut through an apartment complex.
Now we heading back through town and the next checkpoint is a ‘challenge’. The chip sensor is hanging above us in the street. About 2.5 meters high. We know what they expect of us and work together to lift each other up so that we all can activate our wrist chips on it (An Official is watching so you cannot do all at once!).
Suddenly we are heading back to the the northern edge of the map but now on the eastern side. The team find a hose on the street to spray themselves with water to cool off. However this next CP we are made to jump in a swamp about chest deep to get the chip sensor!
Back south over the hill again and two more CP’s we are at the finish line in the town square. Only a climbing wall to get over and at the top a Chinese Gong!
As the sounds rings we now know we have sealed it. We have won the race AND all three days.
It’s a moment of realisation and we are super happy to be finally resting from our efforts.
Straight to the shade and some cool watermelon and refreshments!