Sunday, September 17, 2006

Just a short walk in the bush ;)

Rogaining - a challenging sport with an odd name! So what is a rogaine? Firstly, it has nothing to do with hair restoration, though I'm sure it does wonders for keeping the rest of one young!

Rogaining is the sport of cross country navigation. Think of it as a cross between orienteering and long distance hiking. Like orienteering, rogaining involves navigation using a map and a compass. However, rogaining is a team sport and rogaines last from 6 hours to 24 hours.

This weekend (September 9 and 10 2006), I competed in my first 24 hour rogaine. We hiked 70km (45 miles) in fairly hilly terrain, stopping twice for 30 minute meal breaks and a few water refills. The event started at midday on Saturday in cool, sunny and windy conditions. Pretty much immediately, we commenced the first of many climbs. During the course of the event, we ascended from the Hash House (base camp) at 220 metres, passing 800 metres on 3 occasions, and dipping below 500 metres several times.

After 6 hours, we entered the night phase of the event. Night navigation presents a whole new series of challenges. Landmarks become difficult to spot, and traveling off trails requires a much higher degree of skill. Fortunately, we had the aid of a beautiful full moon, which aided visibility. The full moon also provided a psychological boost - a wonderful silvery light that permeated the forest, interrupted by the occasional beam from a torch and the firefly like light from head mounted lights. At 1:15AM, we commenced the biggest single ascent, some 470 metres in 2km, which we achieved in 45 minutes. After that ascent, the rest of the course was relatively flat, with the next 3 hours being downhill, except for the occasional climb to a checkpoint along the way.

6AM saw the sun make its grand return. Night faded to day, and the forest regained its features. As the first rays washed over the ground, we ate breakfast, elated by the fact we had made it through the night. That feeling hid the other reality - there were still 6 hours to go, and 25% of the rogaine left to complete!

The new day rapidly warmed up, and the wind abated. We had a fairly clear run, but at around 3 hours from base came, a tough checkpoint eluded us. After wasting almost 90 minutes searching for it, we had to abandon the checkpoint and make a dash for the finish. We arrived back at the Hash House 30 minutes early, tired but very satisfied.

After the presentations, we boarded the bus for the 4 hour trip back to Melbourne. As the bus took off, I nodded off for the first half of the journey. Recovery from the rogaine took a little while. It was 2 days before my sleep patterns were back to normal, and late in the week, before the stiffness went away.

The problem with rogaining is that it is addictive. When I first looked at the website, I thought "You have to be crazy!", but within a year (June 2004), I gave a 6 hour event a try and was instantly hooked. I had to wait for another year to compete in my second 6 hour rogaine, followed by an 8 hour event the next month. By early 2006, I had my first 12 hour event and my first night navigation experience. Since then, night time has been my favourite part of the sport.

Anyway, that's all for now. Who knows what's around the corner. :)