Whinge Alert!!! I did not enjoy today’s event. At all.
This is our 4th year doing the Sydney Turkey Trot. It’s covered a variety of different areas, from routes through suburbia finding every bit of parkland available to a full bush experience in the Blue Mountains, so we thought we had a good idea of what to expect. This year the start and finish were in Cherrybrook, a leafy suburb with lots of bush parks and edging onto national park and parts of the Great North Walk. We expected a combination of street and bush orienteering, nothing too complex and a fun couple of hours out.
We made our way to the event in good time, checked out how it was set to work and then tried to find some sunshine to stand in and keep warm. I forgot to have a bite of muesli bar on the way out, but otherwise we felt ok and watched as the long course participants headed off at 9am. Then it was our turn to check our names off and grab the list of control locations – hmmm, all of them sounded like full “bush” locations, should probably have worn the trail shoes. No biggie, as long as it wasn’t too wet on course we’d be ok.
In the lead up, we were warned of steep contours and multiple big climbs, silppery creek crossings, it was starting to sound a bit more daunting. An email two days prior had also warned of potential need for gaiters and compass, but we decided not to bother. Then we were off – the speedy people charged out, while we settled towards the back of the pack. First intersection and people split out in three different directions – good setting when there’s no clear “best way” at this point! We headed for one way and Nick sadi it looked a bit messy, so I suggested we take another path, but he was already halway down the slippy slope so I slid down behind him. Then it was a matter of following the path those in front of us had made until we hit the main trail and headed towards the first control.
I already felt like I was struggling. The Turkey Trot seems to attract some very speedy people, so each year the rest of the pack flies off and we’re at the back with usually only one or two other people in sight. I’d forgotten to take my asthma preventer that morning and didn’t have my ventolin on me (I’m still not used to carrying it). Breathing was tough on a chilly morning and it felt like we were pushing the pace more than I should be (we weren’t really pushing at all though). Nick was in front of me, mostly with someone else between us, I wasn’t getting a chance to give my map more than a cursory glance which barely let me find where I was, and I just did my best to put my head down, follow the leader and try to keep up – not my idea of fun.
From the second control we saw a few people decide to cut across through the bush to the number three. We chose to stay on the paths where we could move faster and reached the control only just before the bush bashers. At least this section had some downhill on trail which let us stretch out our legs for a short bit. Going by trail from here was a lot of extra distance (and elevation), so we followed the example of others and headed up the hill through the scrub to the trail above us. Quick and easy, and we were back following trails again to the 4th control. Looping around on some minor trails had us pick up controls 4 and 5, then heading out onto a large, bare rocky area to track down number 6.
It was here that we ended up surrounded by other people – no idea which event they were on, but with several controls close together it seemed like a good area for people to end up milling around a bit. The next few controls definitely would have been a little easier with a compass. We somehow grabbed 6 quickly, then ended up popping out of the rocks at the right trail to head up for the next control. From there we went across country to control 8, but without a compass we headed too low and found a control from another course before heading further up the gully to grab ours.
We took a guess that there had to be a gap in the cliff between 8 and 9, only to find a photographer waiting just below the cliff, capturing people as they made their way through the narrow gap in the rocks and just before finding control 9. Time to flip the map and over then make the steep, treachorous descent to the bottom of the valley, this is where trail shoes would have really come in handy! Again, Nick sped forwared while I tried to keep up and just followed, trying not to slip over on my way down the hill. We made a decent pace along to control 10, headed into the scrub a bit early for 11, which allowed us to be overtaken, and then head a good way along the trails to 12 – our farthest point from the start.
At this point we were nearly 7km in and 1hr 20m had passed. We still had the full length of the second map to travel before we would pick up the third and final map – who knew what it had in store, but at this rate it was going to be a very long morning! I was knackered, frustrated and everything just felt too hard today. There wasn’t even a quick way back if I wanted to quit! At least that meant it wasn’t an option. I felt that we were so far behind everyone else it was ridiculous. Nothing to be done though but keep on moving. We had no food with us, but luckily Nick had water on him.
From here we had a brief respite from the constant up and down of the trails and popped out onto the roads for a bit. It was very short lived though, one control and back down onto the trails again, almost dropping us right back to the same point we had been just over a kilometre earlier. It was a long hike along the trail to the map swap location with only one more control along the way, right on the track at a water crossing. Then a huge climb up out of the valley before making our way along a cliff line with what I’m sure was stunning views, but I just didn’t care at that point. We dropped off our first maps and picked up the next one and continued on.
Only 3 controls to go. I was getting slower and grumpier, the controls since 13 were all basically right on trail, so it felt like more of a hike than a treasure hunt. The hills were steep and nasty and as we headed back down into the valley it was getting cold again. I tried kicking up into a run again, but started getting twinges in my achilles on both legs – nooo! So walking it was. Another steep hill to head up and then back down again. Another creek to cross, our first real muddy, boggy patch of the day in which my shoe became half slimed. Then it was the home stretch. But not before a final, endless climb up to finish area.
It seemed almost deserted. There was no one hanging around the finish area, a couple dozen people around the front of the scout hall as we checked in and got our results – 18 out of 23 – so not quite last! Two apparently ended up with a “Did Not Finish”, which wasn’t too surprising. There seemed to be a couple in each category of the event which seemed higher than usual, I’m sure if I’d been doing it solo I would have been one of them as well. There were still people coming in from the other courses as well, it had been a tough day all round by the looks of it. One poor person on the long course had grabbed the wrong map at the map swap and picked up the final medium map instead. On getting to the end and finding out their error, they headed all the way back to the map swap, picked up the right map and proceeded to finish the long course – a very long route!
In the end we covered 12.5km (7.7km straight line course, minimum actual distance 12km) and almost 500m of elevation – no wonder my legs hurt!
So what went so wrong and why didn’t I enjoy it – it was a stunning cold winters day, with clear blue skies and no wind. It was a chance to get out and explore a new area of bush while trotting around tracking down controls. But nope, I just wasn’t getting into it yesterday. The first half hour I felt like i was just following Nick, trying to keep up and slowing him down. He was constantly well in front of me, and I had myself convinced he would be having a much better time on his own, able to go his own pace. This felt like my view for most of the event:
It wasn’t, of course, but that’s how I felt at the time. I always seem to feel a lot more pressure with line courses too, knowing you have to get every single control that’s set on your map. Not like a score course, where you set your route and if you can’t find one you don’t get the points but at least you’re not out of the running. Miss one on a line course and that’s it, event over. Not that we often find ourselves unable to track down a control. But, it makes me anxious. And it would be even worse if I was doing it solo – I’d be right at the back of the pack, if not last, and constantly worried that I wouldn’t be able to find the next control – it’s just not a fun way to do things.
Yesterday I had myself convinced that there would be no more orienteering for me outside of Summer Series. Stick to rogaines in winter. Today, I think I just need to take a different approach. This course was hard! I’m completely lacking in confidence for my navigation, so maybe I need to take a step back, start giving the easy courses a go solo and build up my confidence and ability at the shorter courses and work up to the moderate ones again – along with building up my fitness so my lungs and legs don’t give up on me mid-course. So yes, I’ll probably be back for the Turkey Trot next year in one form or another.