Sweeping Langfords to Hotham with Dan

07 January 2018

What a day!!
Woke up at 1.41 A.M., scared I missed the alarm… it was set to 2.45. Maybe slept 3 hrs??!!

Rolled out of the garage at 4 sharp and in spite of the road works on the freeway,  I was on the Hume Highway at 4.51. All went well until after Milawa, when I was driving against the strong sunlight and decided to wipe the windscreen.  Didn’t realise I was stepping on the acceleration a tad harder, doing 108 in the 100 zone, when I have noticed that bastard hiding under a tree in a white SUV.  Stepped on the break,  but probably too late… bitter taste…

Arrived in Mt Beauty at 8.17 with plenty of time to have some food, etc. I promised Brett I’ll be at the coach station before 9. Had my very dry sandwich,  then went looking for a toilet,  when I saw Dan’s smiling face in the bakery. Said hello and asked how is he getting to Langfords. He said he is getting a ride with Brett. Asked if I could,  too. Lucky day, there was another spot in Brett’s van. I went back, parked the car, grabbed my gear, then we got into the Trail+ van. I’ve met Sarah,  Brett’s daughter. The conversation was very interesting, so much so, that we didn’t notice all the curves to Langfords Gap. Except for Brett, of course – he was driving very carefully.

I thought we’d get going as soon as we arrive, but then I’ve learnt that we might only leave after 12. The checkpoint was just being set up, so we helped wherever we could. It was exciting being on this side of the fence, hearing when the first runner is about to arrive, helping the runners through the checkpoint, chatting with the 29 km competitors who were getting ready to start. I’ve met Skye [Meredith], I’ve only realised who she was when I saw her tending to Thierry. George [Mihalakellis] gave me a Lumix and said “Just take photos” – so I did. Grabbed every opportunity to nail a moment of the race.

Otto called to ask what’s happening because he didn’t get the tracking link. Told him we will only leave around 12 and he wasn’t happy, because that meant me getting home even later and we were on the 7 am flight to Sydney in the morning… I’ve met Steve Rennick’s Dad, a lovely, old fashioned gentleman – really rare nowadays. He was waiting for Steve to reach the checkpoint, then headed up to Mt Hotham to the finish. Dan went ahead with a camera to see how far the lead runners were. This guy is a machine!! A very nice one.

There were many youngsters running through Lanfords Gap. I’ve learnt it was a camp and they were all training; it’s usually like this at this time of the year here. All those boys and girls were really serious about their running, you could tell this is their main sport: six packs, lean thighs and calves… the whole package. What really shocked me was, that they weren’t carrying any water and frankly, it was getting hot. Some came up and asked for water, but the Checkpoint Boss (Olivia) turned them away “if we give one person water, we’ll need to give to everyone and we don’t have enough. We need to look after our runners, first”. Yes, it sounded harsh, but she was right. Their coach was responsible for their safety and should’ve made sure they all carry water on such a hot day. Besides, the aqueduct was right there.

As the time passed, I realised I wasn’t prepared for this wait in terms of nutrition. I had enough for the 6ish hours, but not for 8 or more. I ended up having some bits and pieces from the check point and a banana – that was really good.

The checkpoint got very busy with the 64 km runners arriving then leaving and some of the 35 km runners finishing. We helped the 64 km runners with their water and gear. I loved the young lady finishing in the 35 km. She didn’t know she was first. Then I saw Paul Todd finishing, realised Catherine is there – I was really happy to see them, haven’t run with them for a very long time. Matt Veenstra said hello. Then the 29 km runners lined up for a photo and for the start. We were starting soon…

I was meant to sweep with Celeste Botton, but she got injured just a couple of days before the event, so when I first learnt that my new sweeping partner in crime is Dan Beard, my first thought was “what an honour!!”, then I kinda panicked – “gee, I can’t possibly keep up with this guy over 29 kms!”.  As soon as we got going (at 12.07) he put me at ease – “We go at whatever pace you want. We are not in a hurry”. We started at an easy pace, but with full stomach and chatting I started to puff. It usually takes me about 2 kms to warm up and those 2 kms are pretty much harder than they should be. So I asked Dan to please walk a little. Then we did the 5 pole run – walk thing, chatting along and Dan counting the poles. This was really reassuring.

Cope Hut Checkpoint
Cope Hut Checkpoint

At the Wallaces Hut turnoff we noticed the AAWT orange marker and talked about people possibly missing the course because of the “continue on the AAWT” phrase in one of the course descriptions. Then we saw our first “casualty”. I think his name was John (he had an Italian surname). We reeled him in and learned he is cooked – he’s stopping at Cope Hut. Walked with him to the checkpoint where we were greeted by  Ali and Jamie [Moxham] who were running the checkpoint. Serge was lying on the ground on a sheet, with a dressing on his forehead. Dan asked him what happened. He had kidney problems, had to turn back to the checkpoint.

Ali gave us one of those colourful icy things – superdooper??!! – this was awesome as it started to get hotter (around 1?). Dan found out how far we are from the last runner, Ali took a few pics of us, then we headed off towards Pole 333.

Towards Pole 333
Towards Pole 333 with Sarah

We did a few “let’s do 5 poles” then ran into Sarah, who was sweeping ahead and now returning to Cope Hut. She is such a happy girl! We chatted a little, took a few shots, then headed off in opposite directions. Dan saw the last runner and estimated us to be about 20 minutes behind him. The last two times I have been on this track it was dark, wet and I was buggered. This time it was actually pleasant: the conversation and the company was awesome and made it all so much easier. The lack of the race pressure helped, too. We saw a blue something… couldn’t believe my eyes – it was the checkpoint!!

We stocked up with water, I wetted my triangle bandage to cover up and cool my neck and shoulder, Dan wetted his hat, then we headed off – Swindlers was still ahead. Picked up some markers, which Dan pegged to my pack. We did the 5 pole thing again, then when we arrived to pole 267 we agreed on stepping on it on the downhill. Loved this bit!!! Every time I got here at Razorback I was already cooked, so running it with relatively fresh legs was really enjoyable.

Dan and Marianne on AAWT
Dan and Marianne on AAWT

We bumped into a hiker, an older lady, big backpack. It wasn’t easy going up that track. She sat down a bit while she talked to us. We found out she is Marianne, one of the hikers in a group of ten – five went the opposite way and that she has left her poles on Swindlers on the left, just off the track. She asked if we found them, could we let her know and/or give them to her mates.

I’ve punched in her phone number into my phone, took a picture of her and Dan then continued on. Before we knew it we were at Cobungra Gap. Went straight on this occasion (I usually go around. Why?! I don’t know). We already agreed to get some more water and cool down a bit in the creek, at the little bridge. We saw Marianne’s two mates half sitting, half lying on the ground, having a rest (it was already hot). We had a little chat, then bumped into Doug(las), our checkpoint minder, who was waiting for us. Passed Blairs Hut, then started the hike up Swindlers Spur. I wasn’t looking forward to this part – it always happens in the hottest part of the day (except for the very last time, when Tay and I did it in the dark).

Dan found Marianne's poles
Dan found Marianne’s poles

As we started hiking, we were looking around for Marianne’s poles – they would’ve been really handy, as both Dan and I have left our poles at home. I didn’t talk much, as I tried to just keep going and breathing. Dan was the one who spotted the poles, on the left as Marianne described it. Took a picture of Dan holding them and tried to send it to Marianne, but since she wasn’t set up on my phone as a contact, I just didn’t know how to do it, so I just called her instead. She was very happy (they were Black Diamond – I wouldn’t want to lose those, either) and she asked if we could give them to her husband at Derricks Hut. We promised we will, Dan gave them to me and we kept on going – me in the front, Dan and Douglas.

Dan asked Douglas to find out how much water they have at the checkpoint and if there is too much, to just keep half of a canister and dispense of the rest – we needed to carry out the empty bottles, etc. When we reached the flatter part, Dan suggested we step on it a little so we won’t be too far from the last runner. He found out from Douglas about how much time difference is between us and him. We ran-walked this bit and soon arrived to Derricks Hut, where the guys were already packing up the checkpoint. Marianne’s husband was there, so I gave him the poles, he was very happy and thankful.

I had the last two slices of orange, we stocked up with water, stuffed the things in a cooler bag, Dan tied the water canisters together with a rope, grabbed the rubbish bag and got going, knowing that the last runner is close by and he is not doing well. Dan carried everything (wasn’t heavy, but still), I felt so bad about that. Kept asking him to give me at least one of the bags – he said “later”. We stepped on it a little, ran wherever we could, than sure enough, spotted the runner and his companion. The lady was carrying his pack, which was telling us he must be really bad. Dan ran up to him and asked how he was.

Walking with Justin
Walking with Justin

He was Justin, he said he is cooked. Dan told him that he still has time to make the cutoff, but … had already given up. We walked him to the road, where his mate was picking him up. We’ve asked them to take the checkpoint stuff, so we can move a bit faster.

It’s a bit of a slight downhill from the AAWT turnoff onto Machinery Spur – we’ve used this to make up some time, then walked up to Loch Car park. We didn’t have to go up to Mt Hotham, as that chekpoint was already taken down, Brett was heading our way. Just needed to get to Diamantina Hut. I’ve been looking for course markers all along and here I’ve spotted one, then another one… we’ve looked at each other and realised “Shit! There are more to collect!” – so we started going back and taking down the markers, then the signs cable tied to the poles. We gave them to Brett, who has just pulled into the car park and told us he had already picked up the ones further up and asked if we could take a car from the other car park into Mt Beauty.

There was a 4WD just leaving the car park. I recognised the man with the beard from the Cope Hut checkpoint. Dan asked him if he had two spots to take us to Mt Beauty. The car was full, but the man has moved a box into the back, freeing one spot (or two tight ones). Dan said he’s going to run, I can take the ride. Could tell he was waiting for a chance to really stretch his legs or push uphill. As we got closer, we stopped to ask him how far he is going. The next car park – there was the car parked that we were supposed to drive to Mt Beauty. The guys had to pick up another sign in between, giving Dan the chance to get to the car. By the time we got there, he had already opened the doors (it was hot) and was trying to start it up.

As we got going, we both agreed we don’t need aircon – fresh air, even if hot, it’s better. The ride down to Mt Beauty was long but the conversation was interesting, so we didn’t even notice. In Mt Beauty, we passed Katherine McMillan. Dan turned around and we stopped to pick her up, gave her a lift to the Motel. Dan wanted to make it to the presentations. We’ve seen Brett, stopped to ask him where we were supposed to drop the car off. He went to find out, then we drove to get my car from the main street, then to the address, gave the key to its owner, Dan had a quick chat with him, then we went back to the pizza place. We said good  bye and I headed home – long way to drive.

Called Otto and had the watermelon that was already warm – felt good anyway. I took the short route now, didn’t drive through Bright so I can get home as fast as possible. It was a beautiful sunset, balmy night – still close to 30 C. I nearly ran over a snake. I’ve been expecting to see at least one on the course – especially at around Cobungra Creek and Blairs Hut. Dan was even joking about it, telling Douglas that’s why he lets me run in front, so I can get he snakes. I am willing to take this risk any time.

I was feeling tired and had to concentrate hard to not fall asleep. Myrtleford was so silent – hardly anyone on the streets, only a few cars. I was contemplating on stopping at that modern toilet block to wipe the dust off and change, but then I thought I need to stop to fuel up and clean the windscreen anyway and put it off until Glenrowan.

Rolled into the BP station at Glenrowan, took a while until I managed to clean the windscreen – it was full of bugs. Fuelled up, whipped most of the dirt off myself, changed, bought a Coke (didn’t have Coke for years, thought now is a good time) and got back onto the freeway. Spoke to Otto a few times, he kept checking on me – I could tell he was so ready to fall asleep. The roadworks on the Monash have slowed me down, but it wasn’t that bad, rolled into the garage at 12.38. Otto poured me a beer and went to bed, I had unpacking and washing to do. I was wrong, we were on the 7 am flight, not the 7.30 – so 4 am wake up was on the cards. I realised I had only slept about 5 hours over two nights.

All up, I loved the experience. This was new to me – sweeping for Trails +, Langfords to Hotham, getting to know Dan and some of the runners; meeting Marianne and her mates… I have such a respect for the people volunteering at these events – it’s just amazing.

Gear

I was testing this Lululemon top for long[er] runs – not a winner. It’s a bit tight on the ribs, causing a weird sense of tight muscles. Good for 5 km, but nothing over. Lululemon Fast and Free crop and socks; Salomon Speedcross 4 size 6.5 (they were taped with gear fix tape, not electrical tape as I told Doug and Dan on the way up Swindlers. I only realised when I was washing them – might need glasses permanently). All the good weather gear as listed on the Trails+ website.

Nutrition

Packed quarter sandwiches, gels (a few VFuel and a few Endura Cool Mint), Cliff blok shots, rice sushis (I mean there was nothing else in them, but rice) and rice-jam-peanut butter slices. I ended up carrying back some of them – pretty much forgot to eat and only realised when it was nearly too late.  The stuff I picked up at the checkpoints felt good, though.