Monday, 12 February 2018

GNW 2017

Not able to enter the GNW100 run this year due to injury, there was a little 100km hole in my life.  I already had the time off work, so what to do.

I put together several tentative plans, but decided heading up to the Watagan State Forest would allow me to be around the race, see some familiar faces, and get in a nice solid couple of days of walking.  

Being a supremely organised kinda guy, of course I didn't pack until the night before, when I realised that I didn't have the right bleach.  The right bleach ? Yes, you can use household bleach ( how to purify water ), but it has to be plain bleach.  The lovely lemon scented variety we had in our cupboard wouldn't do.  The lovely Cait apologised for her domestic fail, but seriously, how many wives have husbands requiring "drinking bleach".  A quick visit to my parents en route and requesting plain bleach had them confused, and they offered me a plethora of cleaning products.  Lemon scented bleach, Domestos, Pine-o-Cleen, cloudy ammonia...all those delicious cleaning products and not a drop to drink.  Thankfully Wollombi General Store had 2L of the good stuff, so I was set.

I set out from Congewai East Track Head at about 1.30pm, a bit later than planned, but it was a simple section of track and no chance of getting lost (I hoped).  If I had to walk in the dark, so be it.  It was nice and toasty hot as I climbed the stile and set out.

Of course the paddock had to be filled with cows.  Those familiar with my ramblings know they freak me out - because as everyone knows, those animals you like the least, love you the most.  A large black bovine immediately began moving towards me.  I tried ignoring him and keep on moving.  A nervous glance behind suddenly revealed five large black bovines walking abreast right towards me (with a menacing look...).  I began eyeing off the fence and planning a leap as I heard hoof steps and "hrumph hrumph" noises behind me get closer and louder.  I clapped on the speed, wondering if I was about to suffer death by cow. Eventually I left them behind.

First reconnoitre stop was Crawford's Tank - and it had plenty of water. I filled my bottles, added some delicious drops of bleach, then headed out for Barraba Rest Area.  I was fascinated to realise that I had almost completely forgotten all this stretch running the GNW last year.  Possibly after a 4am wake up and running 45km on adrenaline I had been a little distracted.  I didn't remember it being so pretty.  Or so steep.  A lot of it was gentle incline, then a sudden climb to get the legs and lungs burning.  Lots of lovely views that I had no memory of.  It was nice to walk and take in the sights instead of slogging it out in the heat like last year. 

Reaching Barraba Rest Area, a lovely tank full of water awaited me.  I topped up some more, then headed out along the 13km stretch to Watagan HQ.  It was uneventful.  I walked a stretch that I recalled as being incredibly steep and a painful descent - nah.  A few moderate slope at best.  The sun was setting, the day was cooling, and it was lovely to plod along, stopping to look out at views.
Barraba Rest Area
After an afternoon of uneventful walking, the sun began to set and the temperature began to plummet, and I cranked the pace to reach the camp area before full dark.  I eventually reached the Watagan HQ campsite with  the last glimmerings of light and warmth.  The place was empty except for one lonely campervan.  I quickly threw my tent up, popped on my head torch, and sat in the dark mixing up MILO and powdered milk.  Clouds of mist swirled past, and it became decidely chilly.  I soon realised that I was freezing.  I was also completely knackered and not at all interested in cooking dinner.  I had planned on a twilight stroll to collect water from Hunter Lookout, but decided to do it in the morning. By 7pm I had brushed my teeth and was tucked up in my sleeping bag.  After a few pages of "1984" it was lights out.  My pillow was a pile of extra warm clothes I didn't need.

I would love to say I slept like a baby, but a constant flow of 4x4's playing spotlight kept me company.  No worries.  I just nodded back off each time (and hoped they didn't come and do burn outs around the camp area).  The main hassle was waking up cold and having to add extra layers from my pillow whilst writhing inside my sleeping bag to retain warmth.  About 3am I ran out of extra layers to add, and huddled, foetal and cold, with no pillow, until morning.
With sun rise I peered out of my cocoon (I was not a beautiful butterfly).  Miraculously a race checkpoint had appeared at the camp area.  I wandered around hoping someone would offer me water (insert pathetic face here), but no.  Eventually I wandered along to Hunter Lookout (not that far) and the water tank.  A nice moment to sit and relax.  Then I wandered back to make the first of many coffees. 
Hunter Lookout
By now the checkpoint was in full swing and all abuzz with family, friends and support crews.  For those not familiar with ultra events, check points are addictively good fun.  As a runner it can be super hard to drag yourself away.  This morning it was great to wander around with coffee and take it all in (part of why I chose to come a wandering and camping).  I met a bunch of familiar faces and chatted with total strangers.  The runners began coming through and the place went crazy.  

Andrew arrived and Team Layson swung into gear.  Panic ensued when they couldn't find the right hat.  In the world of runners "crew" stands for "cranky runner endless waiting".  So true. Special running hat located, Andrew was ready to set out.  Told Bek I was waiting for Gav to come into the checkpoint before I set out.  Found out I had blinked and missed him.
Hi Bek
Team Layson - special running hat located
After many a coffee, it was eventually time to break camp and head home.  Runner after runner passed me by.  Some very intent and focussed, some happy for a chat, some just grinding it out.  The lovely Steph stopped for a hug, then serenely glided on.
Steph making it look easy
slogging it out
It was interesting to discover just how little memory I had of the event last year.  I was looking out at views, admiring the enormous grass trees and hidden rock orchids, and enjoying stretches of trail I just did not recall.  As jealous as I was of runners going past, I was definitely enjoying endless stopping and snapping photos.

so many grass trees

Eventually I reached Barraba rest area to top up my water.  As I did, a runner arrived.  It was race legend Andy Hewat. I remembered him from last year with the last few sleep deprived brain cells that I had possessed after 132km.  I had been hallucinating about snakes and about to drop out.  We exchanged a few memories, then he set off to complete yet another 100 mile journey.

From here it was downhill wandering.  I repeatedly stepped off track to let runners past.  As the day heated up I was becoming less jealous of them, and beginning to look forward to reaching the car.  Congewai Road came into view, looking all hot and dry.  This exposed stretch was hell last year because I had run out of water and was slogging it out to the check point at Congewai School.   
lovely gentle walking
Getting hot now.  Have fun guys

hot, dry, dusty Congewai Road
As I reached the fence line I began to cast my eyes about for the dreaded cows.  I eventually spied them high above, staring down on me.  Waiting to pounce.  Evil creatures.  Like a Stephen King book ("The Mooing" ?)  I powered up and pushed for the safety of my car, climbing the fence stile before the bovine menace could perform an encircling maneuver.
I know they are up there somewhere...lurking...waiting...
"Hey guys.  Here comes Rob ! MOOOOO.  Let's perform the circling maneuvre. MOOOOO

After this brush with the bovine death, I noticed a runner cheerily climbing the stile.  It was Paul, who is always cheery.   Pound for pound he is the happiest rally driving ultra runner in existence.  I offered him some water, then he calmly trotted off.  I wandered back to my car and fired up the air con.  I did feel a little guilty driving past him, so I tried to make amends by waiting for him at the Congewai School checkpoint to offer aid and assistance.  Not that he needed it.  He was in total control.  And cheery.

Paul being cheery
still cheery

Once Paul had left the check point, it was time to head home.  I had survived cold, I had survived cow.  Another adventure finished.

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