Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne 2012

It is nearly upon us – the wonderful Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne.  I first found out about this race in 2009, when a group of trainers at my gym came in wearing race t-shirts.  I’d only lived in Melbourne for a little while at that stage, and I was missing my adventure races in Hong Kong.  Seeing their shirts, seeing the words “Adventure Race” – my pulse lifted.  I babbled some questions at the trainers, learning something that brought me great dismay.

A Hong Kong Sprint Adventure Race

“Adventure Race” in Australia didn’t mean the same thing as it did in Hong Kong.  In Hong Kong, the Action Sprint Series Adventure Races were flat-out trail running, interspersed with coastal rocks, climbing up waterfalls, swimming in reservoirs, jumping into the sea fully clothed and swimming ashore.  In Australia, more disciplines were added – mountain biking, kayaking, ocean swimming – and these were not my thing.  I was (am) a runner with a thirst for adventure.

Still, I gave it a go.  I took a kayaking lesson.  I bought a mountain bike.  I signed up for races that included orienteering and all the other disciplines.  But the Anaconda was elusive; I wasn’t strong enough to do all the disciplines myself (without dying), and I didn’t know enough athletes to field a team.  I watched the event go by, year after year, trying to find a way in.

Last year, the way in found me.  A friend I’d run with was chatted up by a team looking for a runner.  She hated trails but knew I loved them, and suggested me.  Oh the joy!  Though we left at 4 am, though we had never met before, though our kayaker was knocked out and we had a DNF though we really did finish, it was amazing (in 2011, the waves were huge, and most kayakers had trouble).  I drove home with my team, having just spend ten hours with them, elated, thrilled that I’d finally got to do this great adventure.

Our 2011 Anaconda Adventure Race Team – thanks for a great time guys!

Then 2012 came.  We formed Team Inspiration for the Surfcoast Century Ultramarathon.  I was finally getting contacts, forming friendships.  Way back in May, I harassed a swimmer dad from my son’s soccer team until I got him to commit to the race.  I talked up kayakers, mentioned the race on Facebook, and everywhere else.  Ben from Team Inspiration finally gave in (thanks Ben!) and agreed to do the mountain bike; Martin (also Team Inspiration) would kayak.  All was in place, way back in September.

Then our swimmer got sick.  Martin decided to put in a pool, so wouldn’t have time to train.  He put Warren from Team Inspiration forward (thanks Warren!).  We were back to almost a full team.  I spent the next months chatting up all the swimmers I met, emailing swimming groups, doing all I could to get back out there.  Finally, at the eleventh hour, Mick, a friend of our original swimmer, put his hand up and said he’d swim for us (thanks Mick!).

So we are finally set.  I’ve got my gels and my Camelbak, my first aid kit.  My race gear is on the drying rack, and my Garmin is charging.

But wow, it has been a long, long journey to get here.   So now, I’m going to sit back and enjoy the fact that we’re in, we’re ready (relatively), and I’ve been really training for a 28km race in January, so hopefully 15km of trail running won’t feel too bad at all.  I can picture the course from last year, the coastal rocks, the river crossing, the gorgeous uphill trail.  I do believe there was a rope to climb up too, which will add a little adventure to my adventure race.

So joy…the Anaconda Adventure Race in Lorne, 2012, is nearly upon us.  I can’t wait to get back to that glorious beach.  Thanks Team Inspiration, and Mick, for making it happen!

No Higher Peaks: Hong Kong (2007)

Be still, I said to myself.

But my self would not agree.

Instead, I stuck my feet into my worn trail runners, and raced out the door. It wasn’t far to freedom; the trail was just five minutes uphill. The humidity of the day didn’t bother me. I enjoyed the feel of sweat dripping down.

I was running. Running away. From work, family, life. Like our cat did, who, one day walked out the door, and just didn’t come back. I had no intention of not coming back, but to stay I needed to go away for a while. To go deep into the woods where wildness resided, where, if I wanted to, I could climb a tree, drink from a stream, scramble up a rock face.

Today, it would be High West. I’d never been there before, just read about it in Hong Kong Trail Guides. The path upwards I knew. It was rocky, dusty, steep. I skirted small stones, leapt upon large ones. It was a Tuesday, mid-morning, and the rest of the world was at work. Green surrounded me: bamboo, tree ferns, wild ginger, camellias. The sight was soothing after the concrete of mid-levels. Small waterfalls became streams that crossed over or under the path. Though alone, I was unfrightened, knowing my speed would protect me from most would-be predators. And I was an adventure racer – I would simply dart up a river bed if necessary. Or so I told myself, to push away fear. In the distance, Lamma Island was half-hidden in the haze. I coughed involuntarily, and ran faster, as if I could out-distance air pollution.

My eyes returned to the track. It was three feet wide, with a steep drop-off to the right. Stumbling was not an option. The final section was harder on my shins, the steep grade taking my breath away. Then I was at the bottom of High West.

The signage confused me, but I followed the most obvious track, traversing a deserted playground and picnic area. I passed some old buildings, long-abandoned to the elements. About them was the feel of ghosts. Nervous, I coached myself onwards, around the base of the small hill, to the bottom of a set of steep stone steps. One foot after another, I plodded upwards, sweat coming in earnest now, streaming off my arms and legs, dripping into my eyes. It didn’t matter. I had a goal: I wanted to be the highest thing on the landscape.

After fifteen minutes of steep stone stairs, I came to the exposed spine of the hill, and stopped. The wind was strong here, strong enough to make me pause. I fought the urge to crawl on hands and knees, stood upright and moved slowly.

It took me a long time to cross those twenty metres of exposed ridge, so scared was I of falling. To the left was Pok Fu Lam, to the right views of city skyscrapers. I felt I could reach out and touch their rooftops.

Beyond the ridge, the path wound through small trees and camellias laden with white blossoms. I rounded a final corner to see the summit, and the lookout. I sprinted the last few steps.

Standing there alone, I gazed at the distant islands, the fishing boats, the ferries carrying tourists on holiday. I was indeed on the highest peak visible. On top of my world. Alone.

A small smile played across my face. I had made it. Another trail, found and travelled alone.

I am always scared.

To me, each hill, each trail is a sort of Everest. It takes all of the courage I have to go out alone, to follow the maps, to face down the fear that wants to stall me.

High West that day, was my Everest.

After drinking my fill of the view, tucking it away to remind myself later that I do have courage, I danced down the steps, and found my way home.