Australia XPD, 5th Edition
19-28 May 2010

The Dancing Pandas Before the Race Start

6:20AM: On To the Buses We loaded into the 4 buses at 6:20AM and headed to Mission Beach about 100km south of Cairns. Masha and I (on bus 3) got into a little ferry/launch in the surf and were ferried over to Dunk Island for the race start. We tried not to get sea sick waiting in the surf on the bouncing boat.

Pete/Ricky took a different bus, got our inflatable kayaks (Sevylors) and took a larger ferry to the island. Ricky was in the rear of the boat near the exhaust and it was too much for him. He threw up a few times. Not a great way to start the race.

The original plan to get us all to Dunk Island was changed due to a broken boat, so we had to be ferried over in shifts. It took a few extra hours to get things going, so we all lay on the beach on Dunk Island chatting about the coming events and what a relaxed start this was. Some fruity drinks would have made it just like a real tropical vacation!

11:20AM: Race start
The race started with a 10km run around the trails of Dunk Island, a small island southeast of Cairns. We collected CPs A, B, and C. It’s funny how most of the teams ran at pretty fast paces (including us) all knowing that we were starting a 10 day expedition race and running now was a bit silly. Still, we all did it.
Getting Ready At Dunk Isle

After the run came more silliness. All four of us piled into the Sevylor kayak (made for two people) and attempted to paddle the veritable sinking barge a few kilometers upwind to two buoys to do some snorkeling. Ricky threw up again after we snorkeled and once during the second snorkel. I saw a small ray while we were snorkeling, but otherwise, it was all relatively uneventful. Paddling the Sevy was horrific. It was very weighed down with the four of us and all our snorkeling gear and it was mostly full of water. All the teams zig-zagged across the water as the boats refuse to track a straight line even a little bit.

After the two snorkels (about 700m each), we paddled back to the beach to CP1, collected it and all of our gear - paddling bags, food, everything we brought to Dunk Isle, loaded it into the already overfull Sevy and got in and paddled it 10 kilometers across the channel back to the mainland. It helped that the wind was at our backs, but paddling the now sinking boat was quite frustrating. In addition to being in each other’s way due to the length of the boat, we all had gear bags in our laps as well, so we couldn’t even take full paddle strokes. I think it was Craig’s (the race director's) idea of injecting some comedic relief into the race. We pushed hard and arrived at the end of the 10km paddle just as the sun was going down.
Getting Ready To Snorkel The Great Barrier Reef

5:03PM: CP2: Mission Beach, Paddling to Bike transition
We arrived in the middle of the pack - soggy but happy that the sea paddling was over. Ricky probably threw up again. We stowed all the paddling gear, built our bikes and headed out for the easiest bike ride of the race - a 100km ride through sugar cane country along the Cassowary Coast and then inland up to the bottom of Tully Gorge. We collected CP3 and CP4 along the way. CP4 was at the “Golden Gumboot” in the little town of Tully. The boot stands 7.9 meters tall - a monument to the amount of rain Tully received in a single season. 7.9 meters is over 25 feet! Tully is the wettest town is all of Australia. We cycled up the road in the gorge and arrived at TA2/CP3 completing leg 2 of the race in great spirits around 11PM.

10:43PM: CP 5/TA 2A: Tully Gorge Campground, Bike to Trek/Raft transition
We disassembled our bikes, packed them away and had 4 hours before we had to get up to trek to our rafting briefing. The next leg was the rafting section and we couldn’t start until morning, so all the teams had a nice forced rest. The “race” still had a nice leisurely feeling to it. That would change after the rafting.
Packing Up Our Bicycles

We finished leg two in 23rd place which put us at the end of the second rafting group. Teams were divided into four groups of 12 for the rafting with each team getting its own raft and guide. The first group of boats had a 6:00AM briefing and then pairs of boats left at 5 minute intervals. So, our briefing was at 7:00AM and we would launch at 8:55AM - about 1 hour 25 minutes behind the leaders.

We cooked a couple ready-to-eat meals with the Jet Boil stove that we were carrying in the bike boxes and then slept at the campground toilets on the porch (a wooden floor so we were up off the cold ground). It was a bit smelly, but worked well enough. We awoke and put everything we needed for the trek into bin A (and only what we needed for the trek as after the rafting leg, we wouldn’t see bin A again) as the bike boxes would be leaving before we returned.

We had packed 5 bins before the race (A - E) that would would see at various points along the course. We had to decide what gear to put where - a bit of a logistical puzzle. We also had 4 bike boxes that we used to get gear from one place to another as well. As we saw the bike boxes fairly often, we put our cooking and sleeping gear in them.
Our Gear Bins
Pre-packed Bags of Food for Carrying During The Race

4:15AM, Day 2: Trek/Paddle in Tully Gorge
We awoke at 4:15AM, packed up Bin A and trekked up the road for 10km to the rafting put-in. We arrived a bit early so we broke out the insulation mats, and made ourselves comfortable watching the 12 teams in rafting group 1 getting ready to go.

The rafts went off in pairs and we were the last pair in group 2. I forget the team we rafted with, but we started and finished together.

At the boat put-in, the rafting company manager was wishing everyone well as they launched. He discovered we were a mixed team (3 US and a Western Australia), so he amused us with a few jokes: For Ricky, he told:
How do you keep two crocs from having sex? - “Give ‘em a yank.”
and for us Americans:
How can you spot a well-balanced Australian? - “He’ll have a chip on each shoulder.”

We were laughing as we put the boat into the rushing water.
Rafting The Tully River

The other raft managed to knock their guide out of the boat in one of the bigger rapids - something that would cost him a few cases of beer. Our guide was Tim - a jovial fellow that bantered with us all the way down the river. It was quite a technical river with a bunch of technical rock gardens and pour overs. At one point going over a 3m drop, we tried to flip the boat, but failed. In the last pool before the salties, Masha “accidentally” fell in. :-)

9:46AM, Day 2: CP6/TA 2B : Tully River Campground
Back at the campground we had left earlier that morning, we were once again greeted with bin A. This was the last time we would see it. We put on all our trekking gear (dry shoes/socks, hats sunscreen, etc), threw the few unneeded items into the bin, and headed out for leg 4 - the Misty Mountains trek. Our transition was only 21 minutes - the best one we would have! We passed several teams in the TA.

10:07AM, Day 2: Leg 4 - The Misty Mountains Trek
The Misty Mountains include over 130km of walking tracks around Tully Gorge and Wooroonooran National Park. It is the heart of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
The Queensland Rain Forest

We had to trek 47km along two tracks (Cannabullen Creek Track, Caldwell Range Track) up out of the rain forest onto the Asherton Tablelands.
Trekking In The Rain Forest

This trek turned out to be quite a bit harder than Craig, the race director expected. The tracks were there, but very overgrown - full of the famous stinging tree, wait-a-while vines, and various other nasties. Many teams arrived with multiple sites of inflammation from encounters with stinging trees. The front teams bore the worst of it writhing in pain by the time the finished the trek. 90% of the races received the painful hydrochloric acid wax treatment to remove the persistent stingers from their skin. Several passed out from the treatment.
The Wait-a-While Vine

We all had brief encounters, but only Ricky risked the treatment. The acid was too much for him and he passed out waking up prone on the ground with the medics looking over him. Perhaps the cure is worse than than the disease...
A Stinging Tree Leaf

Our trek was uneventful. We started out strong from 23rd place and passed all but one of the teams in the second paddling wave, so we ended the trek in 14th right behind team SOAR. We tended to see the same teams over and over throughout the race - the teams racing right around us: Team 20 - Aberdeen, Team 33 - It’s All Good, Team 34 - Nga Rakau, Team 6 - Easy Implant, Team 13 - Mawson, and Team 52 - SCAR. We would all help each other out as the race progressed. The camaraderie within the competition is simply amazing.
Crossing A Rain Forest Creek

The trek ended in the little “town” of Ravenshoe at the pony club. We collected CP7 during the trek at the junction of the two trails. They called it a campground but it was just a grassy spot in the middle of the rainforest. The CP was a sole race volunteer in a little tent out in the middle of the rain forest. Sometimes, I think the volunteers and race staff have it a bit harder than the racers. We finished up around 6PM - 29 hours after we started. We anticipated a 20 hour trek, so we were at the end of our food by the time we finished up.

10:59PM, Day 4: CP 8/TA 3 : Ravenshoe Pony Club, Trek to Bike transition
We were once again greeted by our bike boxes and bin B this time. We slept for 3 hours with ear plugs right in the middle of everything and had a grand sleep on the bike-packing foam. We once again cooked up some good meals with the jet boil.

There was blood everywhere around the medical tent from the leeches being pulled off racers and used wax strips littered the medical area. I’m sure the pony club people wondered what sort of carnage happened when they showed up the next day.

2:30AM, Day 4: Leg 5a: 130 km Bike to Mid Camp
We hopped on our cycles and had a nice 23 km slight downhill on a paved road. Then we turned north and followed dirt roads all the way to Irvinebank and CP 9. The last stretch down into Irvinebank was a sweet downhill dirt road dropping 500 meters. We reached Irvinebank right at dawn. After that, we had a quick 10km or so to the orienteering course.
Biking In The Outback

8:11AM, Day 4: Leg 5b: 10 km Rogaine at Stannery Hills (CP 10)
The rogaine was set by Geoff Hunt. It was in the hot and dry old mining area of Stannery Hills. We had to find 5 of 6 points in the outback. It went uneventfully except that we couldn’t find point B so we had to go far east to get point A. Many teams were all looking together but none of us encountered the mysterious hut somewhere near one of the old abandoned mines. I hate not finding controls. Besides being frustrating and making one feel stupid, it just wastes a ton of time. We spent a good hour looking before we gave up and moved on.
Mark In The Outback

12:48PM, Day 4: Leg 5c: Bike to Dimbulah and Mid-Camp
We left the orienteering course around 2pm and cycled the last 40km into Dimbulah. It’s the highest town in Queensland. There were two obvious routes from CP10 to mid-camp. Most teams took the shorter northern route over a large mountain. We opted for the slightly longer southern route that had a bit of tricky navigation at the start but then was a nice gentle downhill for 20km or so. Only 3 or 4 teams went our way. It was a great ride along a river all the way to Dimbulah. The northern route climbed so much (teams pushed their bikes up the hill) and then the downhill was steep and rocky. Quite a few teams had wrecks in the dark. In the end, the routes were about the same, but we saved our feet because we could ride most of the way.
Biking In The Outback

4:32PM, Day 4: Leg 5c: Mid-Camp (CP12) at Dimbulah
Mid Camp is a mandatory 6 hour stop for all teams that included a hot meal and a 5 man tent to sleep in. We immediately had our hot breakfast and then Masha went to clean up in the bathroom sink. As she put it, she washed herself as far down as possible, then as far up as possible, and then possible.

We all packed up our bikes and slept for about 4 hours. We awoke, loaded up the wheelbarrow, strapped in all the gear and headed up the Wheelbarrow Way.

10:57PM, Day 4: Leg 6: Wheelbarrow push - 20km
The Wheelbarrow Way is a paved track going up the river. In 1873, gold was discovered up the valley and the only way there was to load up a wheel barrow and walk. So that’s what the miners did. They went about 100km. To get a taste, we pushed our wheelbarrows full of our paddling gear (including the two inflatable Sevys) about 20km up the track.
On The Wheelbarrow Way

After a bit of a rocky start, we got our wheelbarrow all loaded and on the right track. We all took turns pushing the wheelbarrow - 5 minutes on, 15 minute off. We continued this way for about 3 hours reaching the put-in on the remote Walsh River. This leg and the next trek were in a remote quadrant a huge Australian station and a piece that the owner called “Tiger country”. He hadn’t been there much in the last 25 years. We passed two teams along the way - SOAR and Mawson. Once, I tried running with the wheelbarrow. That didn’t work...

2:45AM, Day 5: Leg 7: 60km Kayak
We anticipated a longish kayak since water levels can be unpredictable and the wet was over, so the river was doing nothing but getting shallower. So, we packed 24 hours worth of food. It took us 29 hours of paddling, dragging and pushing the boats through a spectacular rock-filled white water river. There were 2 CPs along the way - CP13 was about 400m off the river. We found it with a bearing and some pace counting. When we returned to the boats, we pointed team 20 (Aberdeen) in the right direction. They’d been looking for the control for over an hour. Later on, they would return the favor in spades. CP14 was a bit harder due to our mis-plot but we found it after about an hour of searching. About 4 other teams were there with us.
Paddling The Remote Walsh River

We paddled all night, and all the next day (shooting the large class IV rapid in the dark!), and finally pitched a small camp when we got lost on one of the flooded lake-like areas. We built a small indian fire and slept about an hour. With the light, we easily found our way and finished up in about two more hours.
Australia Residents

8:58AM, Day 6: CP 15 / TA 5: Nine Mile, Paddle to Trek Transition
We got out of the river at a remote site on the Walsh river (Nine Mile Run) for our longest non-sleep TA. At least it was sunny! We dried clothing and got set up for the big trek across the outback. We had bin D which contained our trekking poles and shoes for the big outback trek. While we were there, we hung all of our wet gear and clothing on the surrounding trees. It’s All Good and SCAR were there. SOAR was just heading out. The place looked like a bit of a laundry with gear hanging from every available branch. Two and a half hours later, we had the boats and paddling gear all packed up and we were on our way. Of course, the first thing we needed to do was cross the river, so we started out in bare feet. We crossed the river and then tended to our feet on the far side which took another 30 minutes. Then we were really on our way.
Anthills In The Outback

11:21PM, Day 6: Leg 8: Trek - 60km
It was a long trek with only one CP in the middle. Our goal was to get to it before dark. We opted to hit some intermediate landmarks along the way to keep ourselves oriented better, rather than take a bearing and attempt to hit CP16 directly (it was over 15km away). The checkpoint was just over the big ridge on a small knoll.
Taking A Break
We passed SCAR along the way and caught up to Nga Rakau (four Kiwis) near the CP. They had been looking for it for over an hour. Nga Rakau followed us to the point. We stopped for a rest and dinner as the sun went down over the outback.
Sunset Over The Outback

As darkness set in, we broke out the headlamps and trekked onwards - another 40+ km to Mount Mulligan and the transition. Our plan was to follow the rivers and cross the ridges at the low passes. We caught up to Mawson hiking southeast on creek. Chatting we them, we all went too far south. When we finally turned east, we missed the low pass and had to hike up and over an extra 100 meters. Somewhere in there, we got in an hour of sleep. We crossed the highest ridge in the morning as the sun came up. It was great seeing the outback in the morning light. After crossing the high ridge, our plan was to follow rivers down to the large river where a road was supposed to be. Right. I learned about 40 year old maps and outback roads during my last XPD. When we arrived to the spot, of course, the road wasn’t there.
Mark In The Outback

So, we continued along the river for a few more kilometers eventually reaching the road. Apparently, the western end had long been washed away due to neglect.
Still Smiling As We Trekked Along

The road lifted our spirits. We hooked up to the Masha train (I think she’s the fastest walker I’ve ever encountered), turned on her small portable MP3 player and she pulled us the last 10km to checkpoint 12 as we jammed out to 1980s tunes on her small portable iPod.

8:47PM, Day 7: CP 17 / TA 6: Mount Mulligan, Trek to Bike Transition
We arrived at Mount Mulligan and slept for 3 hours on a tarp underneath some trees. All was going really well. We were all thrilled with how the race was going so far. I think we had moved up to 10th place at this point.
Masha Working On Her Hair At A TA

We awoke to very sore blistered feet. I could hardly stand up by myself. The balls of my feet were bruised and sore and I had blisters both at the bases of my toes and on the sides of my heels. The portaging in the river and then the long trek in the outback had certainly taken its toll. Masha’s feet were even worse. Pete and Ricky had some foot issues but were looking far better than the two of us. There was to be a lot of Advil and Aleve in our future.

After much coaxing, I managed to get my biking shoes on. I was thankful that I’d be off my feet for the next two legs. We built our bikes and pedaled out to the Mount Mulligan cemetery about 30 minutes behind Nga Rakau.

2:55AM, Day 7: Leg 9: Bike 130km
This bike leg had plenty of choices and plenty of tricky navigation. We were one of the few teams that found the Bicentennial Trail which made it a sweet ride and a 12 hour leg instead of 20-24 hours. We hit CPs 18-21without much ado and arrived in the small town of Tolga around 2PM. We stopped for an awesome lunch of burgers and soda served to us by a very bitchy drunk waitress. While we ate, in comes SCAR (they had been hours ahead of us). Apparently, teams not finding the Bicentennial Trail had the fun of a maze of cow paths and roads to nowhere. SCAR and Nga Rakau took over 20 hours to complete the ride.
Cycling Across The Outback

The TA was on the lake but the UTM coordinates were wrong, so it took a bit to find it - 3 different roads. We did get there and, to our amazement, found ourselves in 7th place! We passed two teams on the ride and Orion (way head) had dropped out due to injuries.

4:32PM, Day 7: CP 22 / TA 8:Lake Tinaroo Ski Club, Bike to Paddle Transition
We packed up our bikes one last time, blew up boats one last time, prayed that we had left what we needed to trek in bin B, and and headed out on to Lake Tinaroo at sunset. Nga Rakau showed up to the TA as we were putting into the lake.

6:06PM, Day 7: Leg 10: Paddle Across Lake Tinaroo - 15km
We paddled well for 2:48 excited to be in 7th place. It was a nice calm lake and an uneventful paddle where we could actually paddle - something that we’d barely been able to do so far in the race. We were too cramped during the ocean paddle, and the river paddle required a lot of getting in and out of the boats. It was nice to be able to paddle full steam ahead.
Paddling Lake Tinaroo

8:54PM, Day 7: CP 23 / TA 9:Danbulla/Dinden Nat’l Park, Paddle to Trek Transition
We arrived at the last transition and slept for 75 minutes by the fire. I burned up my favorite pair of socks trying to dry them next to the fire. We packed all the food we had left, threw the gear we no longer needed into bin B and headed out for the last rain forest trek. We had already heard that it was a killer and that many teams were baffled and beaten by the rain forest. We hoped not to be one of them...

1:10AM, Day 8: Leg 11: Trek 60km
We began the trek on dirt roads and trekked with Fleetwood Mac blaring. All was going well until we got a walking track that we thought was the old road (it wasn’t). Then it ended abruptly in the forest - blazes gone. 11 hours later, we had gone through plans A, B, C,..., P, Q, and still couldn’t make any progress.
Rain Forests Are Really Humid!
And to make matters worse, every time we stopped to look at maps or discuss a new plan, the leeches descended upon us like locust. Every 30 or 40 minutes, we’d all pull three or four leeches off from around our ankles. Sometimes, one would slip past our vigil and get pretty full. We wondered if we weren’t going to die from lack of blood before we got out of the forest.
A Big Spider!
A Real Dragon! (Monitor Lizard)
Insect-eating Pitcher Plant

Nga Rakau caught up to us, spent a jolly four hours in the forest with us and eventually bushwhacked due north - a tack we didn’t want to try for fear of it taking several weeks to actually get somewhere in the deep rain forest. We learned later that Orion was also lost in the same place.
In The Rain Forest With Nga Rakau

Finally, as we were resigning ourselves to having to break out the GPS, Aberdeen saved us. They couldn’t believe we were still there as they started the trek over 10 hours behind us. We had tried everything - shooting a bearing to a distant peak, hiking east to get more data about the surrounding terrain, hiking a kilometer or two down a few side trails. We even hiked back (way down) to the original dirt road. Nothing was going our way. In the end, we had always assumed that the road we wanted was east of us when in fact, it was to our west. We never even thought that could be the case. It meant we had to have crossed to old road at some point on our hike up the hill.
Bushwhacking In The Rain Forest

Danielle (on Aberdeen) showed us where we were on the map and viola!, it all made sense. We stayed with them for a while flip-flopping each other all the way to Kahlpahlim Rocks and CP24. We all met at lookout 3 where we immediately pitched camp and slept for 5 blissful hours. They looked for lookout 4 and the checkpoint for 2.5 hours in the dark and then headed off to be miserable in the rainforest until dawn.

11:30PM, Day 8: CP 24: Kahlpahlim Rocks - Lookout 4
We camped out at lookout 3 until sunrise. We had a grand view of Cairns and the coast. We didn’t even look for the CP until after we’d slept and the sun had risen. After punching the CP, we started the long 5km bushwhack through the rainforest to Bridle Cradle road. After dropping off the ridge early a few times, we eventually found the right ridge and popped out about where we wanted on the road. We started off at a fast pace for the last 20km and the finish.
Happy To Be Almost Done (Relatively)

Then, to our surprise, we came upon Aberdeen. They were like zombies having spent all night in the forest with minimal sleep and one of them was limping quite a bit. We gave them the trekking pole that I had found in the rain forest and continued on at our 6-7km an hour. Our sleep decision was paying off.

2:00PM, Day 9: CP 25 Crystal Cascades
Now it was a long walk into Cairns. We changed our route but didn’t study the map too closely, so we walked an extra 3km north when we could have cut through the cane fields and a city park using the tram line. Oh well. We were getting our money's worth.
Walking Into Cairns

7:30PM, Day 9: CP 26 Northern End Of Esplanade
At the end of the Esplanade, we faced our final challenge. The course book said the CP would be at a phone box. It also said it’d be tied to a tree. We couldn’t find the phone box and after running around like goofballs, we finally found the control tied up in a tree right at the end of the Esplanade (where the book said it would be).

7:45PM, Day 9: Finish At Rydges Hotel
We marched the last 10 minutes to the hotel finish line and hot pizza and champagne! We were all exhausted. Nga Rakau had finished about 2pm - 5 hours ahead of us. Aberdeen came in around 11:30pm about 3 hours after us.
All Done!

Despite 11 hours of spinning our wheels in the rain forest, we had only dropped one place in the standings. We finished 8th overall and we were the 7th co-ed team across the line.

We all slept soundly and in the morning, formed a team for the 2011 Patagonia race in February.

Here are some statistics of the race:
Some race statistics
Notice that for about half of the 211 hours, we were trekking. No wonder our feet hurt!

The Dancing Pandas