Thursday 16 December 2021

Coastal Classic 2021

Well well well. It’s been a while between posts. Obviously some kind of Covid thing has been a problem, but there has also been so much more on top of a puny pandemic. Add in family dramas and work stress and we have a winning combo. Not to mention excess alcohol consumption, depression, and complete lack of time, energy, and motivation to exercise. All too good.

Early March 2020 saw me massively dissatisfied with work. It was affecting all areas of my life. There was also a growing awareness that my Mum’s dementia was worsening, as well as my Fathers lessening ability to accept, comprehend, and deal with it. I had discussed the matter with The Lovely Cait many times, and we both agreed that it was a train wreck, but nothing could be done until the train crashed.

March 5, 2020, the train crashed.

Coming home from work I was greeted by The Lovely Cait saying “sit down here” as she patted the couch, as #1 son opened a beer.

“You know how you’ve always said it was going to fall apart at some point...”

Non driving Mother with dementia had found the car keys and driven away. Eventually located by neighbour who (thankfully) worked in dementia respite care and was aware of the situation. She arranged short term emergency care. Most importantly she knew enough about the deteriorating situation enough not to simply take her back home.

The next two weeks were a blur as I arranged dementia specific residential care. Whilst also dragging Mum off to visit lawyers to transfer Guardianship and Power of Attorney from my Father to me. And repeatedly dragging Mum to Centrelink to restore her Pension which in her dementia she had lost. She was now identifying as both Aboriginal and New Zealand. Which she isn’t. She has dementia. So much fun. Dragging her to her bank to sort out internet banking. More fun. Service NSW to organise an identity card (because she had no license) and Disability Sticker (because she couldn’t get walk more than 25 metres without collapsing). I couldn’t leave her because she kept trying to get on buses. It was two weeks of pure happiness as I also rang every care facility in existence, getting no joy.

Finally an offer of a room at a lovely lovely place with loving caring staff to whom I will be forever grateful.

I must say that during this period I met with mostly nothing but love as people speaking to my Mum quickly twigged, gave me a look, tore up the rule book, and got down to simply being human and helpful. It was heart warming. 

Although there was the long drawn out saga of restoring her pension. Centrelink loves to request you upload documents. Endlessly. Needlessly. Finally I uploaded a letter clearly stating that we are in the middle of a pandemic, and their endless requests for my Mother with dementia to keep fronting up was both cruel, and was going to get her infected and killed. I also added a few other bits I won’t publish here. 

A lovely boy called Michael called me. He waffled. I was brutally honest. She got her pension. Backdated. 

In 2 weeks I performed miracles. My Mother was finally safe. I had control of her wishes and finances.

Let the games begin.

At this point insert 6 months of abusive phone calls from my Father accusing me of destroying the family and calling me all the names under the sun. Endless phone messages at all hours. The angry do not sleep. Especially when they try to invoke Guardianship to bring wife home and discover son has changed legal arrangements. Sound of shit hitting fan.

Eventually we arranged home visits which sucked the life out of me.  Taking Mum back to residential care became an exercise in managing an angry Father who poured guilt all over me. My Father has only two emotional states - anger and self pity. Work became a crushing chore. The Lovely Cait took on board a whole pile of stuff above and beyond. Literally a life saver.

Father’s macular degeneration was a new surprise. Apparently he can hardly see. Still wants to drive and pick up Mum. As her legal Guardian, I  refused to let him. Sound of more shit hitting the fan. However he actually managed to drive and “kidnap” her one day. Lovely end to a Hunter holiday away as distraught staff called apologising because Dad had picked her up and taken her home. Not a surprise for me. This is what he does. Mum had a meltdown and wanted to go back to her residential care. Dad called in a panic. She was sobbing and hysterical.  I had to come and get her - except I couldn’t come get her immediately and he was stuck until I could pick her up. I was actually glad when the second lockdown arrived and he couldn’t get in to cause problems.

No time to run, no time to relax. Never ending phone calls filled with anger and self pity. One minute a Counsellor the next a whipping boy. Plenty of time to drink. Too much.

I am a tiny fellow. My once 60kg slowly went to 66. I felt it every day in every part of my body. Even my face hurt. I just ached. Physically and emotionally. 

Family tradition is my making pizza every Sunday. I remember looking at a 1kg bag of flour and thinking “I have six of those on me”.

Let us talk about Ted.

Dad loves to talk about Ted. As a boy, we went to many BBQ with Dad and all his mates. Ted would turn up in his 1970’s Adidas shorts, all long lanky legs and blond hair. He would run to these parties from somewhere far far away. I remember the fat beer bellied blokes giving him grief.  To this day Dad talks about him being an idiot, he died early because he ran too much. 

I loved Ted. I wanted to be like Ted.

Before the second lockdown ended in about October? (lost track) we had some big changes at work. I also had some time off in September. I began walking with The Lovely Cait, then some running. Which hurt. So much. Those bags of flour  were heavy.

Regular 10km Wifey walks were wonderful. Lots of deep conversations with the greatest listener ever. Then I added 10km slogs to the mix. 20km days make a huge difference to fitness (and weight).When I returned to work I managed to sneak in morning walks and 5km runs to the train. It all added up. Then clocked up 10/20km days on the weekend. Then I got a bunch of late shifts which made consecutive 10km morning runs possible. On a roll.

By mid October work was not such a soul crusher, I had reduced my drinking (a bit), I was running regularly. I began to lose some flour. Shout out to my running club and friends who kept me inspired and sane on social media. You all made a difference more than you can ever know.

Parents were still a huge time commitment and emotional drain, but at least some things were improving. 10km runs were no longer smashing me. “The Feeling” was back. Suddenly the idea of entering “an event” seemed an option.

An “event”. In the world of normal people, this is probably something you might do a few times. Or once. Or never.

For nut jobs like me, it is some sort of validation. It may be a solitary personal challenge (like run 45km from home to Bondi Beach) or something you pay good money to do with many others. It is a lifestyle. Until my life fell apart I was constantly looking for a physical challenge that would somehow give my life deeper meaning. Without running, without exertion, putting on weight, losing fitness, it made all the other stresses worse.

An “event” is also the chance to do something that means nothing to anyone else. It is totally your choice. If things go wrong, you don’t have to care, you don’t have to apologise or justify. You can quit anytime, or just battle on through whatever error riddled mangled mess you have created. If you do well, no one cares. If you screw up and crawl to the finish, or maybe not even finish, no one cares. Very liberating. I love this feeling that no one cares but me. I give up - no one cares. I suffer immeasurably- no one cares. 

An option to go on a wait list for The Coastal Classic popped up. It is the Coastal Track in The Royal National Park. About 30km. In years gone by I ran it by myself for fun, or with other crazies. To do it now though... Should I shouldn’t I...

Eventually the voice of reason (The Lovely Cait) prevailed.

“Just fucking do it stop talking about it”

So wise

Was a bit scaredy pants as put my name on the wait list 

*ping* entry available. Scaredy pee pants now.

*tap* *tap* *tap* pay money.

Event entered. Off to wee.

But getting to Otford start line at the crack of dawn? No problemo. The last two years have made me a master of problem solving.

The Lovely Cait had a Girls Night cruise on Friday the night before. Took RDO, booked hotel in North Sydney to have relaxing day off, swim in the rooftop pool, pick her up after cruise, early night, early morning, run 30km.


I arrived at hotel to find weather changing from hot and sunny to cool and windy. Don’t care. Paid good money. In for a swim.

Relaxing afternoon reading. Bought some $5 closing restaurant meals.  One for dinner, one for post race. Sat in park munching happily. Life is good.

Wobbly wife called to say she was staying longer. Calling an uber. Pissy wife (her words!) arrived and we sat talking for hours. True love *sigh*

Plan A. 4am alarm. Up, make coffee, shower, gel for breakfast, lube up, out the door. 7am start. So streamlined.

Roadworks everywhere, get hopelessly misplaced, miss train to 7am start.

Plan B. Arrive for 8am start. 

I had looked over old stats (that’s what running nerds do), and guesstimated 4 1/2 to 5 hours. Start at 7, finish at 11.30/12 o’clock. Suddenly reassessing for a possible 1pm or later finish. Wanted to throw my toys out of the cot with my dummy *waaaaah*. I will be running all by myself *waaaah*

Stop being a baby time.

Standing in the gloom of Sutherland Station car park at 6.30am applying Vaseline. Running is so glamorous. At the station tall skinny runner is looking at timetables. Like many others, he has missed the 5.50 train. He looks like he will finish in under 3 hours.

Later train arrived Sutherland, we put on our masks, got to Otford by 7.30. Put on my Big Boy Pants, showed my double vaxxed passport,  registered, collected my race bib, nervous wee, and lined up at the (later) start. Actually quite a large group. I won’t be alone.

Before the start I met Mark the race organiser. I have met him several times before, and done quite a few volunteer stints.

As I walked towards him he smiled. “Mark” I said. “Rob Sharpe” he said. “Wow, good memory I said”. “It’s on your bib” he said.

But he did remember me. Then he hurled my finish bag with $5 post race rice and veggies into his truck with a mighty plastic takeaway container smashing crash. 

Of course once I started just after 8am, it was fun time. How good to be out running again and all nervous about the outcome.

The Coastal Classic is indeed a classic. Rocky rainforest sections, rough trail, rocks and tree roots, exposed  cliff edges with endless views, long sandy beaches and sand slogging. Big winds creating reverse waterfalls along the way, lovely water courses. Once upon a time this track was an eroded mess, now it is lovely boardwalks and carefully masoned sandstone. And lots of hills and climbing. I heard so many saying “I didn’t know there would be so many hills”. Lots of climbing.

A runner in front asked “have you done this before. Is it all like this? When do we get to the beach?”

The Coastal Classic sells itself with all it’s inspirational photos of running along golden beaches. There are lots of beaches. It doesn’t take long to learn that it is actually hard to run on loose sand. You can adopt a weird looking forward lean that lets you drop your foot down than almost fall forward. Then repeat. A thousand million times. Most just give up and walk/slog as they dream of rainforests and rocks. Then you climb another hill.

Before the event my GPS watch died. To avoid complications (like being late for work) I kept to the same 10km route. With no hills. I was a bit worried about A) the extra 20km and B) the hills.

No worries. My plan had 2 parts. Reach Wattamolla (halfway), assess how I felt, then plan how to proceed. I expected to reach there at about 11ish and slog away. It was 10.30 when I arrived there. Yes, I  was pushing a tad, but not too hard.  I was letting experience take over from lack of km’s in training. When to walk, when to run. Keep the fluids and calories trickling in. It sounds so knowledgeable, but experience also told me that riding this fine line between cruising and collapsing was a payment I was going to pay later. Big time. Which I did. Sunday/ Monday were agony. The lovely cool weather helped though. At times a huge southerly wind was blowing us along and up the hills. What a gift.

As I run I hear my phone pinging. Guess who.

The last aid station. About 5km. I usually hate this bit, the sand is leg suckingly horrible, but today the sand was not so bad. At some point, the realisation that I was going to finish hit me, and the last two years overwhelmed me. Got a bit emotional.

The last beach section, the last km, tall skinny missed the train guy is with me. I let him run ahead. I am not in race mode today, and I am stoked I finished in his postcode.

I cross the line. 4:12. Only 12.15pm. I lie down. Tall skinny guy comes to shake my hand. I am done. Kind lady asks if I’m OK. I look that good.

Open my finish bag. Rice and veggies intact. Nommy nommy. So hungry, but the thought of eating made me sick. Had some water instead. Running is so glamorous. Eventually ate my meal in dark car park at Sutherland station where only hours ago I had been applying lube.

Running is so glamorous 

Check my phone. Messages from Dad.

Life goes on.

Saturday 27 June 2020

Fernleigh Track - GNW 2020

It has been a while since I've typed things up.  For a few reasons.  Family matters, bushfires, months of overpowering smoke, torrential rain and floods which made travelling impossible and destroyed any infrastructure not already decimated by the fires, and of course COVID-19.  All in all, not conducive to adventuring.  I did the Gong Ride last year and when the Bondi to Manly Walk opened I did North Sydney to Bondi, but they went to plan which is kind of boring to write about.

However, the itch was building.  I had holidays.  But what to do.  Still, so many travel restrictions.  Each plan I made had an element that made it collapse.  Accommodation not available, transport problems, parks closed, endless little finicky things.

Time to let the universe go to work.  I was hoping not to use the car, I like trains, I wanted to go overnight, but not carry too much gear.  I let my mind drift and the slow beginnings of a plan began to form.  I wonder if...

The Lovely Cait and I ran the Fernleigh Track (a 15km disused rail line) in Newcastle in October 2016.  I was recovering from my September attempt at GNW100 miler.  I had made 130km, and they were all still in my legs in October.  I remember loving the Fernleigh Track, but my legs were dead and it wasn't conducive to enjoying the views.  In 2018, for my birthday, we walked the GNW from Warner's Bay to Newcastle, a walk where nothing went as planned.  Maybe I could combine these two and enjoy them a little more second time around?  Maybe even stay in a nice hotel instead of a tent for a change!

Thursday morning I jumped on a train to the Fernleigh Trackhead at Adamstown.  Adamstown is a short (SP4) platform, and I discovered that possibly I was in car 5 when the doors wouldn't open and the train set off for Broadmeadow.  Oh well, what's a few more km.  This year I have been trying to practice kindness, mindfulness, and acceptance.  I kindly set out for Adamstown grinding my teeth and practicing my mindfulness and acceptance.

After a lovely warm up stroll back to Adamstown, I set off along the Fernleigh Track.  Much nicer without thousands of noisy runners. The sound of birds and quiet breezes.  Lots of walkers, parents with prams, runners, and cyclists.  Cyclists varied between the quiet tingle of a bell and a slow passing by, and those screaming "on your right" as their lycra clad buttocks whizzed by centimetres from disaster.
The Track begins
The Fernleigh Trackhead at Adamstown
One of the magical parts of the Ferneigh is going through the tunnel.  In 2016 we were through in seconds, this time I stopped and enjoyed it.

Along the way I passed the crossover point at Kahibah where the GNW meets the Fernleigh Track.  Tomorrow, according to plan A, I would be back here as I headed to Newcastle.

Along the way there are lots of bits of old infrastructure.  Some are highlighted, some are just lying around.  All added to the feeling of nostalgia.  Lots of birds singing.  In a word, peaceful.

After 15km of delightful and peaceful walking, the end arrived at Belmont.

Now for the walk to Warner's Bay I had whipped up a wonderful mud map from Google maps.  What could go wrong?
After several hours of pushing through weeds beside guard rails where no footpath existed, wandering lost through suburbia, hugging safety rails as cars whizzed by, wandering along dead end streets, I arrived at Warner's Bay. A quick supply stop at Coles then onto Speer's Point and my accomodation Pippi's at the Point which was several km past where I thought it was. But 30km and 6 hours later I was there.  A quick call to the Lovely Cait to say I was safe, but not that sound.  I had already run 25km this week, and today's 30 made 55km on my feet. Ouch. Possibly I would bail out early tomorrow with a 6km walk to the nearest station.  The feet were decidedly ordinary.  Nothing to do but drink endless tea, hot shower, eat myself stupid, then sleep.  And watch my Bunnies lose.  At least my room had a great view.

The next day I woke feeling much better than yesterday.  Drank 4 cups of sweet tea and a cup of concrete as I watched a pair of enormous nesting sea birds in the trees opposite. Legs a bit stiff, but not sore, and the blisters had calmed.  Plan A is GO! 20km to Newcastle (unless I get lost ?!?!).  Let's do this!

Alright. So 22km to Newcastle.  Let's do this!

It was a beautiful sunny start to the day, and I was glad I hadn't taken the easy option.  I had done the first stretch of the GNW Woolwich to Lane Cove on Monday, and was looking forward to redoing the last bit.  I love the way both bits lie hidden as they snake their way through hidden suburbia. 

At some point yesterday I realised that I had left today's map behind.  Not a worry, as I had done this bit before and remembered every step of the way... 

Last time through involved a lot of guess work, and blazing 35 degree heat.  This time it was 15 degrees and I had a pretty good idea.  A few misremembered bits that were easily sorted.  For once all was going well.  I reached the heights of Newcastle and the big GNW sign without a hitch.  Clear sailing from here.

I crossed the highway and promptly got lost.  This was the same place as last time where construction work had removed the sign, and I confidently misremembered the wrong way to go.  If only I had a map.  However, I eventually spied the little man on his GNW pole a way off in the distance and was back on track.

It wasn't long before I hit the Fernleigh Track at Kahibah and headed off to Glenrock Lagoon, the ocean, and some beach walking.  9km to go.
I heard the ocean long before I saw it.  The surf was pumping and thumping, and there were hundreds of boards in the water as set after set rolled in.  If I could surf, today was the dream day for a sickie. 

Last time I ended up at a sewerage works.  This time I looked down and saw the path clear as could be. How did I miss it last time? I was on the sand in no time, trudging my way to Merewether Beach.  The surf was washing up high and eventually I got soaked and gave up on dry feet.  But I was lucky.  Not long ago during the storms it looked like this (see link below) and I would not have got through.

Finally came the big climb up to the Memorial Walk.  Last time I was tired and cranky and in completionist mode.  I wanted to walk the GNW as outlined and defined by the track notes and nothing would convince me otherwise.  We could see the Memorial Walk and The Lovely Cait suggested we go that way, but I was being a tool and wanted to slog up the dirty big boring hill via footpath as per my outdated notes.

Today I went that way, and may I say, it was fabulous.  Can not recommend it highly enough.  No doubt future iterations will make this the official way as it is waaaayy betterer.  Endless ocean to the east, views to the south over the beaches, to the west views over Greater Newcastle, and to the north views over the harbour and on to Stockton.  A pod of dolphins swam below.  A cool breeze blowing.  If only Cait was there (probably to push me over the rail).

Of the course the Memorial Walk ended right on top of a GNW marker.  What a great place to finish! We should have gone this way last time! Maybe later. I have another birthday coming up.

Then it was the last leg.  A few missing GNW signs due to construction work, but I remembered the way.  Even the GNW post and turn off on Hunter Street which I totally missed last time (but The Lovely Cait found).  Then it was down to Queen Street Wharf, the official end to the GNW, which is now clearly marked, saving me a lot of angry stomping, unlike like last time when there was no sign.  I sat and enjoyed how much more enjoyable this trip was compared to last time.  An enormous tanker was being towed in which added to the moment.
Last time The Lovely Cait and I slogged for another hour to the train past scaffolding and detours.  This time the way was straight and clear and...

Woo Hoo. Light Rail
I was in a walking mode, but that tram was tempting.  The end was possibly only minutes away. Next time perhaps.

I arrived at the station with time to do my impersonation of a homeless person as I took off my sodden shoes and socks, aired my feet and inspected my blisters, took off my shirt to put a clean one on. The train was some express thing that had me home in no time.  Although the announcement "those alighting at Asquith leave via the last 2 carriages" had me furiously scuttling to the back of the train in just my socks to end the trip in a bit of a jumble, tumbling out onto the platform where The Lovely Cait awaited.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

GNW100 2018


I press the small pair of scissors to the end of my toe, press, cut, and a rush of ooze floods out.  Three weeks since the GNW100, and there goes the last reminder.  Time to write.

2013 - paced 75km at GNW
2014 - paced 75km at GNW
2015 - paced 75km at GNW
2016 - attempted GNW100 miler.  Sleep and inexperience stopped me at Somersby (130km down, 40km to go).
2017 - injured (went for a nice walk on GNW instead)

All these years hanging around the GNW100s, and never finished an event.

2018 - entered GNW100km

I delayed entering for a bunch of reasons.  Changing banks and other financial matters meant keeping a lid on expenses for a while.  Definitely wasn't sure whether I had trained enough, or whether I would have the chance to train enough.

In the end, I raised the subject with the lovely Cait who told me in no uncertain terms "Just enter.  You are driving me nuts.  It will be good for you".  It still took me another month of procrastinating/ deliberating/ worrying before I clicked the magic button though.  I think I think too much.

Leading into the event, I was still worried about my training.  Running was mostly confined to 20/30km runs on the weekends, some bike riding, some walking.  However, I felt fit as a fiddle and injury free, and was confident.  

I never really stop training and exercising.  The only thing missing was long long runs.  However, as time goes by, I am less convinced that they add anything really to my fitness.  They just seem to add to my level of tiredness and soreness.  Over recent years, for a variety of reasons, I have been prioritising sleep, rest, recovery.  I was about to put this line of thinking to the test. 

Unable to get a Friday off work, I compromised by swapping to an early shift.  This was to come back and haunt me, but at least it got me on the road to Teralba with enough time to drop off the Toyota ECHO at the finish line, then off for dinner and wine with the lovely Cait.  Back at the airBnB, I laid out my gear, mixed my Tailwind, then had a glass of champagne and watched as the Melbourne Storm beat my Rabbitohs by a point.  Then I slept like a baby and woke up just before my 4.45am alarm. 

Attempting the 100 miler in 2016, I had written out a lovely race plan which I had dug out of my files for this run.  Did I mention I think too much ? For my 2018 plan I kept the times, but removed all those energy bars and gels that I had barely looked at two years ago and had just been dead weight or remained in drop bags.  Last time I had either finished a leg carrying too much water, or not enough.  This time I started with 1L Tailwind, and two small empty plastic bottles with Tailwind powder.  My drop bags were simply taped shut plastic shopping bags with a few GU's and Clif bars along the way, and old Coke bottles of premixed Tailwind that went into the bin at the check points.  I refilled my small water bottles at the check points.  Simples. 

My race plan was basically 30km - 20km - 30km - 20km. 5 hrs - 3 hrs - 5 hrs - 3 hrs.  The purists will dispute these times and distances, but I was keeping this as simple as possible.  A sketch plan as opposed to a complex work of art.  I have learned that (for me) a detailed plan only leads to confusion.  The times added up to 16 hours, but I knew this wasn't happening.  Realistically 16.5 - 17.5 hours.  In the end though, I didn't really care.  Just finish.   

The big day dawned.  Actually I was up before dawn applying lubricant to “those areas” and taping my nipples.  The big day didn't really dawn until we were parking at Teralba.  After a no fuss check in, weigh in, and distributing of drop bags, it was time for a quiet chat with a few folk, and then we were off.  

6am - START

The 30km to Check Point 1 was fairly uneventful.  Last night’s enormous storms had turned the rainforest section to mud and slush, but not too bad.  The track trail dips in and out of gullies and creeks and crosses fire trails.  A few tricky points.  Just as I was congratulating myself on being so trail savvy, I fell for the trick of following another runner as they headed off course.  A voice yelled "to the right" just as I was heading left into nowhere. Oops.  I acted nonchalant and put on my best "of course we go right" face and carried on.  

Check Point 1 - 30km - 10.35am - 4.35 hours

In and out in 11 minutes.  As I was leaving I saw a handful of chips on a plate which I chomped down.  The memory of those chips stayed with me the whole next leg.  I was delirious with the desire for more.

I know it sounds weird to most, but I was so enjoying myself.  I find running these events so relaxing.  I spend so much of my life having every decision questioned, needing to justify every choice, every decision by committee.  Out here, if I screw up, it is my problem and mine only, with no recriminations.  Just the way I like it.  I am such an introvert.  The sun was shining, the weather was cool, I was in heaven.  

I reached the point where I had bumped into Steph last year when I was injured and just out walking.  I had given her a big hug.  That moment came back to me and I remembered how much I wished I was running - and now here I was !  I had a big mental lift and trotted along happily.  This section is just a lovely long run past grass trees, orchids, views across the Hunter Valley, gum trees, fascinating rock formations, then a nice single trail descent down to the Congewai Valley.  Two years ago it had been hot and I had run out of water.  This year it was cool and I had plenty of water.  I felt pretty good, but along the way caught up with friend Jeff trudging along at an angle from muscle issues.  Last week I had been bandaging his head after he ran into a branch and sliced himself open; this week I was offering commiserations.  Several years ago he had come across a large red bellied black snake and walked into a tree as we walked together. He must hate the sight of me sometimes.  I eventually trotted on towards CP 2 at Congewai School.

Check Point 2 -  24.0km (53.9 total) - 2.01pm - 3.26 hours

WHERE ARE MY CHIPS ! I WANT CHIPS ! No chips.  Sad face emoji.  Next year I'm putting chips in my drop bag.  Another lesson learned.  All on offer was sweet and sticky and not what I wanted.

In and out in 14 minutes.  Chatted with Gav who had DNF'ed.  Chatted with Kevin who had finished his 50km event and was looking disgustingly relaxed and fresh.  Listened to chatter about heading off to the pub for a beer and chips.  It was a real effort not to say "#metoo".  Instead I ate a few chunks of banana and went off for a gear check prior to departure.

The first mission was the climb to the Communications Tower.  Every time I do this I forget how long it is.  At the top another runner was collapsed.  He remarked "I always forget how big that climb is".  I replied "because if we remembered we would never leave the check point".  A few were sitting actually.  I have long ago resolved not to sit.  It wastes too much time.  Better to walk along slowly and address most needs.  At this point I discovered that the salted caramel GU that I have become quite fond of has extra salt and caffeine.  A nice thing to discover as I sucked one back.

A few other thoughts began going through my mind at this point.  I have recently read a book called "ENDURE" by Alex Hutchison.  Tests with endurance runners show we may only lose about 25% of muscle function in our legs - maybe as low as 10%.  Yep, so much is in our heads.  I trotted on with this thought in mind.  Yes, it was beginning to hurt, but suck it up buttercup.

The other thought was how slow people walk.  I was definitely taking walking breaks, but as briskly as possible. I passed so many just meandering.  Maybe they were that tired, but they just didn't look it.  To each their own I guess.

Before long I was dropping down into the Watagan Valley, which meant it was then time to climb out of the Watagan Valley.  On a training run a few weeks back I discovered a new trail section had been added to avoid an older, extremely eroded section.  I wasn't sure which way the "official" course went.  For variety I went the new way up a set of switchbacks that seemed to add a bit of distance, before rejoining the trail, very eroded and very steep.

There are some things that burn into your brain.  Brain research uses the expression "what fires together, wires together".  In 2016 I had run this section just as the sun was setting, and it has remained a most vivid memory.  In contemplating this run, this section most haunted me.  I would sit on the train coming home from work, watching the sun set, thinking this is just how the sun will be setting as I run past Mt Warrawolong along the Bar Trail - and it all happened exactly as I had envisaged.  It was like being in the middle of some amazing wide awake dream.  I stopped for a while to enjoy the moment and dig out my head torch in readiness for darkness to descend. A couple of super fit guys ran past and I tagged on behind them.  Eventually they stopped to rest and eat, but I carried on in the last of the available light, delaying using my head torch until the last possible moment.

The sun disappeared just as I left the single trail and reached the intersection of Walker's Ridge and Kangaroo Point trails.  In previous years I had variously been somewhat lost, or following behind others in a mix of hopefulness (that they knew where they were going) and confusion (because I had no idea).  Several weeks previously I had spent a few hours along this section knowing I would be travelling in darkness, so this time I knew exactly where I was and where I was going.    

Night running is mostly a blast.  It can be extremely calming in its own surreal way.  It is definitely far more enjoyable when you know the trail, because perception of time and distance can go completely out the window.  During the day you see the sun, clouds, trees, the sky.  In the dark it can be one long tunnel, sometimes with little eyes looking back, the thumping of marsupial feet off into the night.  However, it is not a good place to flashback to a nightmare from several nights previous that you had forgotten about until this moment alone in the dark.  Pushing it to the back of my mind, I kept on going.

Last time I remember a huge lift as I entered the rainforest stretch to The Basin (Check Point 3). This year not so much, but I was looking forward to only 20km to go, hot soup, popping on the thermal top in my drop bag (I am crap in the cold), and maybe a few salty chips.  These thoughts kept me ticking along nicely.  Passed the turn off heading up the hill that I would return to after visiting CP3.

Check Point 3 - 30.4km (84.3km total) - 7.37pm - 5.36hrs

CP3 was fairly quiet.  A plethora of kindly folk offered assistance, but I just wanted to sit a while.  I did accept the kind offer of soup though, but as I sat and sipped I became massively dizzy and light headed as my blood pressure dropped.  Whew !  It seemed to pass, but as I stood it returned.  Nothing to do but sit and wait.  Eventually all came good and I began asking about chips.  "Would you like potatoes and salt ?" uurgh. No thanks.  Cake, slice, chocolate, lollies ? Puke no!  Alright then, more soup.  I was kindly offered salt, but declined.  Idiot.  One sip and my body screamed "SALT SALT SALT".  I added salt, finished my soup, then headed off for more.  Body gets what the body wants.  I was in CP3 for 20 minutes, but what a wonderful 20 minutes.

Salty soup cravings satisfied, warm top on, dizzy head cleared, good to go.

The return to the turn off point took forever, but the climb out was much quicker than I remembered.  If my brain was beginning to play tricks on me, at least it was making the hills smaller.  As I climbed I met up with a 100 mile runner. He looked good, but after a few minutes conversation I suspected he was calling it quits at Yarramalong (100km finish line).  As we climbed and chatted we saw a head torch coming down towards us.  Suspecting injury I asked "are you OK. Do you need help ?"  The poor bugger asked if the turn off to The Basin was far.  He had gone up the hill at the turn off instead of passing straight through.  Who knows how far he had climbed before realising his mistake.  We gave him instructions, and he continued down the hill.  My heart broke a little for him.

At the top of the climb I left my 100 miler buddy who was happy to walk.  It was about here that my two days of early mornings and busy lifestyle began to catch up with me.  Sleepy brain = slow legs.  I was not overly concerned though.  I was feeling good and could smell the barn.  

The last 11km road section arrived.  The local area was having a scarecrow competition.  Large figures with pumpkin heads began appearing in the darkness scaring the life out of me.  I was getting a bit loopy and this didn't help.  I was beginning to hallucinate, and see creepy masses of shiny spider in patterns in the bitumen road. Hallucinations are just part and parcel of extreme endurance events.  I even bent down to have a closer look.  They disappeared upon closer inspection, but returned when I stood up again.  I noticed a head torch approaching behind me.  Just as it drew alongside and I was about to say "hi", a blast of music so loud that it had a physical impact exploded from the house beside us.  We both jumped several metres and piss bolted away at top speed not knowing whether to laugh, cry, or hide silently under a bush from machete wielding locals.  WTF !  Eventually we slowed and calmed and agreed that it was more than a bit creepy.  He pushed on and I was alone once more.  I was reminded of the saying "you don't need to be faster than the lion, only faster than the slowest gazelle".  I kept my pace up a bit longer and postponed a walking break.

Check Point 4 - Yarramalong - 20km (104.3 total) - 11.50pm - 4.14hrs

About 3km to go I checked the time.  Whilst I had no real time goals, I realised that I was likely to finish after 18 hours.  A little voice in my head said "no way".  Who knows what will happen to all those pumpkin heads after midnight!  I did my ultra running best to fire up the after burners, and began shuffling as fast as my skinny little pegs would go.  The last bend and hill appeared and I hit that finish line in 17:50.  Not bad for an under trained runner.  I had wanted to explore whether a good fitness base as opposed to endless training runs would work.  It did ! If I was after a killer time or a podium finish, perhaps not, but that wasn't my goal.  I finished tired, but injury free (blisters don't count and pain don't hurt – and I actually managed 3rd in my age group – hilarious).   

Checked into the finish area, collected my medal, then wandered down to the food area.  No one to meet me, no fanfare, just a bunch of old mates singing along to John Denver songs and manning the aid station. The glamorous life of a mid pack ultra runner. I jumped into warmer clothes from my drop bag before hypothermia set in (I could feel the shivers starting). I brewed up a super strong coffee to wake me up for the drive home.  As I sipped, a huge blast shattered the calm and we all looked around.  An old mate said "bloke across the road.  Got a shot gun.  Doesn't like John Denver". Really ?. No shit. I was awake now, and it was time to go before someone died.  

Until 2019



Sunday 3 February 2019

Rob and Cait...finish the GNW

Firstly a dedication...

This blog post marks the end of a certain chapter in my life.  It needs a Thank You.  Firstly to The Lovely Cait for suffering through all my just being Rob.  I suspect her patience will need to stretch out a while longer.  Also to the other Rob who put the idea in my head in the first place.  It's all his fault really.

But also to a dear departed friend Anne who one day unexpectedly gave me a set of GNW maps that I have carried with me all up and down the GNW.  I have cursed the little black dots that have repeatedly obscured unnecessary data just when I needed it most, but mostly they have got me through.  She always chastised me for walking alone in the heat of summer, but she always asked had I been walking (before chastising me some more).  I have thought of her constantly in my adventures along the dotted line. 

Let us begin...

Those flicking through my blog will know that I have been painstakingly knocking off the 250km Great North Walk over many years.  Technically I began whilst a young' un running around Brooklyn as the grown ups drank at the pub, before hitching us kids onto the back of the boat and water skiiing back down the Hawkesbury to Wiseman's Ferry in the dark. Good times.  Then later as a teenager wandering around Cowan/ Jerusalem Bay, and walking and camping between Woy Woy and Patonga.  For the past 15 years the idea of completing the GNW has slowly become something with purpose.  Finally the time had come to knock off the last bit between Teralba and Newcastle, the Yuelarbah Track.

I decided that I wanted to do it for my birthday, and somehow sweet talked The Lovely Cait into joining me.  An easy 6km day one, a birthday dinner at one of our favourite restaurants at Warner's Bay, then about 20km the next day.

Complications ? Who, me ?

We parked the car at Teralba, and I wandered up to the railway station to take a photo.  Two old ladies at a bus shelter looked at me wonderingly as I stood before them snapping away in a slightly creepy way.  Was I a weird pervert, or a confused terrorist taking photos of the local infrastructure.  No ladies, just a slightly crazy middle aged man on a mission.
As we set off, it was only slightly cooler than the surface of the sun.  A young couple at a bus stop were arguing.

I'm gunna f@#$%! hit ya
Dont you f@#$%! hit me !  I'll f@#$%! hit you first.
Nah, I'll f@#$%! hit you first
Go on then, f@#$%! hit me

He had children's names tattooed above his eye brows.  You can't make this shit up.

We wandered past the Teralba Lakeside Caravan Park.  From the outside it looked a bleak place where caravans and trailers came to die.  I later found an online review describing it as "Difficult place to find and when you get there you’ll wish you hadn’t".  Thanking my lucky stars I hadn't booked accommodation there for the evening, we walked on.

As we strolled along I passed on some of my experience of walking the GNW to The Lovely Cait, primarily that we needed to keep our eyes open for the infamously tricky to find GNW sign.
Image result for great north walk sign

The Lovely Cait immediately began picking them out from a distance, pointing them out in mocking tones.  I simply bid my time. We walked on.

The walk around the bay was lovely, but incredibly hot.  It was to become a feature of this last section that there are many treeless spots in the full sun.  Anyone who doubts the cooling effects of trees needs to walk this stretch in summer.  At least this part of the world still believes in taps and drinking fountains for the public, so not too much a problem.  Lots of great walking and cycleways.  A nice part of the world.  Just very hot.
Birthday Boy
At Warner's Bay I couldnt locate the GNW signboard with distances and directions.  Eventually it was found in the middle of a construction zone.  I also wanted to check where we needed to go the next day, but again found it difficult to spot the sign post.  Eventually I located it behind a sandwich board (of course !).  Both harbingers of what was to come.

We stocked up at ALDI then headed off to our evenings accomodation - the lovely Esplanade Motel.  The pool was freezing, but I didn't care a bit.  It was my birthday and I was 20km away from the realisation of a (slightly weird) dream.  For dinner I donned my finest clean shirt.  The Lovely Cait had decided make up was more important than a fresh change of clothes so she rocked the crumpled look.  After a great birthday meal at Sephardim's (highly recommended) it was time to hit the sack.

The next day was supposed to be cooler, seemed just as hot.  With trusty map in hand, we set off.  The local suburbia was neat and tidy and treeless, the sky was cloudless, and the sun was blazing.  A local old mate was shirtless and mowing his lawn in his shortest short shorts.  A browner brown you could not wish to see.  Obviously "sunscreen" is not a word or product he uses often, and melanoma is some crazy fad the young kids talk about.  I walked past in my long sleeved sunshirt, neckerchief, collar up, big hat, lathered in 30+ block out and gave him a friendly nod.  

Being a week day, the streets were nearly empty.  We passed a bunch of Council workers  mowing lawns.  Along the way a car pulled up with two distressed ladies.  "Have you seen a dog ?  A daschund ?".  Sorry, we hadn't, and they drove off.

We arrived at the end of a cul-de-sac.  Bugger.  We had missed a turn.  The map suggested we could reconnect with the GNW by walking along the back of the houses.  A sort of trail wandered through the  scrub.  We walked along it until we could see what looked like a park and paths and...a daschund.  Using my neckerchief as a lead, we secured "Dexter" and called the number on his collar.  A very confused man answered.  Yes he did have a dog called Dexter, but he was being minded at his Mum's?  We gave him a location, and he called his Mum to meet us at the nearest intersection which was where the Council boys had been mowing and had their trucks parked in front of the GNW sign.  That folks, is how the Universe works.  
Our Good samritan work done, we resumed the trail.

Parts of this section are not overly pretty, but still interesting.  Crossing under major roadways, walking through the bush then being alongside manicured greens and Ladies Golf Day, lots of small waterways with birds and frogs, in and out of streets and houses - all the while playing spotto with the elusive GNW signs.  Less cocky now, the Lovely Cait was more in the spirit of spying out the little buggers.  In a few places road works and development had resulted in some markers being removed then placed back in new and interesting and at times confusing positions.  We muddled through though successfully, but it did add time.  
Eventually we arrived at the intersection with the Fernleigh Track *sigh*.  If only more of NSW made such good use of unused rail infrastructure *sigh*.  We stopped for lunch and assessed our water situation.  Not great, but enough.  A sexy super model appeared out of nowhere in a skimpy yellow bikini.  I wouldn't have even noticed had not the Lovely Cait pointed out to me.  Apparently there is a popular local swimming spot nearby.

About this time my lovely walking companion expressed an urge to pee, but was unwilling to avail herself of the generous facilities provided by nature.  As we wandered on to the lovely Glenrock Lagoon, with a fierce sun beating down, and the walk proving way longer and harder than anticipated, the irony of having too much liquid on the inside, and not enough on the outside did occur to me.  I chose not to share this thought at the time, so I have lived to tell this tale.  
Glenrock Lagoon
Glenrock Lagoon
Walking around Glenrock Lagoon, the day did really begin to drag on, and I did begin apologising to the Lovely Cait, who admitted that yes, it was dragging on, but she was fine except for the blisters, dehydration, heat stroke and an impending bladder explosion - so all good.  I will admit somehow unexpectedly arriving at the gates of the local waste facility (sewerage treatment plant) had me down, but the Lovely Cait took it all in her stride.  She admits that she thought I was going to totally crack it at this point, and thought it was hilarious.  I agree that I desperately wanted to lose my shit, but disagree that it was at all amusing.  Once we managed to cross the dunes and coastal scrub and reached the beach and were back on track, it was plain sailing (sort of...).

A good old beach slog ensued. Walking on sand can be the pits, but it was beautiful, and it was cooler.  On another day, it would have been sublime, but this day was more challenging than I had expected.  Merewether Beach, though, was like an oasis.  What a fantastic spot and worth a visit at a later date.  Cait did a beach sprint to the facilities worthy of Grant Kenny in his prime (only with thighs tightly clenched).  A pod of dolphins swam amongst the swimmers, hang gliders soared in the sky, and the shop sold ice creams.  A slice of heaven.  
From the beaches, we rentered the urban environment.  We soon discovered that the planners of the GNW had in their wisdom decided that every local landmark must be visited along the way.  We wandered up, down, around, beside, through all kinds of places.  I eventually gave up and died at The Obelisk.  Cait lived on and gave a GNW marker the finger.  
Take that you little f@#$%&

The Lovely Cait returned me from the dead, and we soldiered on.  To the end, our little GNW friend was playing silly buggers, and we nearly missed the final right turn down to the ferry (the Crafty Cait spotted him hiding).  However, upon arriving at the wharf, nothing proclaimed that it was either the Queens Wharf, or the end/ beginning of the GNW.  Of course it was, but I had to be SURE.  What if it wasn't and I had to return another day ! Cait patiently trudged behind as I tried to find a clue - which I eventually did at the Public Toilets !  I excitedly posed as the endlessly Patient Cait wearily took the celebratory snap.  Our 20km walk that was actually easily over 25km was done.
Then we trooped out to the end of the Wharf for a last pic.  I fiddled about with the timer as Cait suggested we ask someone just to take it for us.  I don't ask for directions, and I take my own photos (eventually).  After a few false starts, I got the job done.
Portrait of a patient wife as her husband tries (yet again) to set the timer (unsuccessfully)
SUCCESS !  Journey done. Time to go home.

To finish so abruptly would be a let down.  So let us assume that when State Rail trip planner suggests a short walk to the rail interchange, it is wrong, and the planned 20km birthday stroll eventually becomes nearer to 30km, but two extremely tired but happy travellers finally collapsed onto railway bench to await a magical carriage to whisk us through the outer edges of Newcastle and deliver us to Teralba where our luxurious air conditioned vehicle waiting to whisk us home.

A poem to finish

The opening lines have been in my head and walked with me for a very long time.  The rest arrived just in time, as these things usually do.

There was a woman who gave me maps
She knew that I would use them

They came in a little plastic case
so I would not lose them

Over months and years and nights and days
I have travelled up and down

Following a line upon a map
on a line along the ground

Through hot and cold and sun and rain
on days that would not end

I have walked and and run and thought of life
and of a now departed friend

We all need maps to go through life, something that can guide us
Like directions from a friend who will quietly beside us

There was a woman who gave me maps
She knew that I would use them

They came in a little plastic case
So I would not lose them

For Anne