Australian Geographic Adventure survives the Oxfam Trailwalker

By Carolyn Barry November 8, 2013
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Team Australian Geographic Adventure survived the 2011 Sydney Oxfam Trailwalker, with the whole team making it to the finish.

Video by Scott Browning

IT WAS WITH A little trepidation that Team Australian Geographic Adventure stepped into the lineup at the start of the 2011 Sydney Oxfam Trailwalker.

We were all Trailwalker virgins so none of us quite knew what to expect – though there was quite a bit of advice handed out from people who done the event before – mostly in the form of “wear the right shoes”, “wear the shoes in”, and “it’s #$&@ing hard”.

Given our newbie status, we decided not to attempt to run it since we didn’t know what the walking would entail. We had done quite a bit of training, but nothing over 35km, so now it was down to the big one.

We started the event in the fourth group, with about 560 other people. The crowds were merry, as Oxfam volunteers provided a carnival atmosphere as they cheered and clapped each team through registration and blared music across the field.

In some ways it was a little anti-climactic when the gun went off, as everyone casually walked along, rather than sprinting off to a good start (which the team that came in at 12 h 09 min would surely have done).

Just off the start was a giant hill that tended to sort the crowds a bit, but as was the flavour of the day (and the night), whenever the trail narrowed down to singletrack, the crowds banked back like 8am on Monday morning peak hour.

The team were all feeling pretty good through the first checkpoint at dusk and the next checkpoint about 10pm. We’d done about a third of the course at that stage and the night walking was just beginning. Dozens of other teams walking about the same pace and slower teams from the groups before made for a congo line along the singletrack that took us through most of the night. It was slow going, as it was impossible to pass anyone with the narrow track with so many people.

Halfway on the Oxfam Trailwalker

We reached the halfway point at 1am, stopped in for a quick bite to eat and back out again in 10 minutes. It was a great psychological checkpoint, but it was still 50km to go. The following checkpoint – a 4km backtrack through muddy trail was starting to push the mental boundaries. Fortunately the weather was superb it was only the cold (and fatigue) in the wee hours that we had to deal with.

Trying to buoy the team, I pointed out “We did that section really fast”. Joanna replied, “Oh, that’s why I feel like shit”.

The hardest part for most of the group was the 3am-dawn time. It’s when the body is naturally at its low point and at this stage we’d been up most of the night and eating and exercising when the body normally wouldn’t be. It was wall-hitting time. The walking poles were more like lifelines in helping one foot move in front of the other.

We had realised that somehow the Oxfam team had stationed just about every checkpoint up a big hill. And the last kilometre seems to take, well, forever. And the hills up to the dawn checkpoint were wicked. After a good break, we headed off back down the hill, pepping up other upcoming walkers like those did for us. A few people looking quite worse for wear reminded us that there’s always someone doing it tougher than you!

The sunlight of the new day hit and it breathed a bit of energy back into us. But fatigue and sore feet were starting to rear their nasty heads. Overall though, we were walking faster in the last third of the course than the first because of the thinning out of the crowds.

The last 10km were tough. So close but yet so far. This is where the trail headed into suburbia, down to the spit bridge and over to Mosman. The asphalt surface underfoot seemed unbelievably hard. We passed one limping soul who had a dicky ankle who told us “the status quo is a state of pain.” That just about sums up the Oxfam Trailwalker.

Crossing the finish line 31hr 22min after we started was a relief to say the least. We were pretty happy with ourselves that we’d made it with no blisters (well, all but one of us) and none of us dropping gout. Only 55 per cent of all teams made it to the finish as a complete team of four, so pat on the back to us.

A big thank you to our support crew and all the donors. Team Australian Geographic Adventure raised $5898 for Oxfam.

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