It’s blue skies, calm waters and just a couple of fluffy clouds that look drawn by a kindergarten kid here in the Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania. A more beautiful setting for an adventure race could surely not be found. We meet up with Rick and Ryan at the start and, while Ryan seems to be genetically incapable of being anything but calm, Rick is pretty nervou.Uncharted territory and all that!
“You go to breaky and there’s a team from France and a team from Italy and they’re staring at you over their coffee. Looks like it’s all going to be pretty serious,” says Rick. Ryan tells me that the boys were up pretty late laminating maps and organising food and nutrition packs but says he feels pretty fresh for the first day.
“We’ve got a little bit of strategy,” Ryan says. “We’re going to hold back a bit on the first day and not go for the running bonus time at the end. I feel that extra run will hurt just a little too much.”
Today there are a few optional check points on the map, with pretty significant time bonuses attached so I’d be surprised if any of the teams looking to win the thing would leave any bonus time on the table today. After five or six hours of effort it’s understandable however, that an inexperienced runner like Rick is going to have trouble with another 11km around a mountain.
OFF AND RACING
The first leg of the race is a half hour scramble round the Freycinet Lodge finding markers. For us observers, it’s rather amusing watching grey nomads graze at the breakfast buffet as lycra-covered men shout map co-ordinates to each other in French past them.
After hitting all the compulsory points at the hotel, the racers run to Richardson’s Beach just below the resort for the first kayak leg. Rick and Ryan push off just behind a couple of local teams, the French teams and Mark Webber and Guy Andrews.
This first kayak is 9km across Coles Bay with a compulsory check in on Picnic Island just off the coast. When Rick and Ryan land on the beach, Rick has developed a win-at-all-costs crazy-eyed stare. Ryan looks, as I suspect he will look for all five days, as though he’s walking his way to work.
They transition to the mountain bike stage, which is 35km as Rick and Ryan have chosen to pick up all the bonus time on offer. For a couple of guys who barely know each other, Rick and Ryan work in very tight synchronicity; Ryan’s amazing aerobic power helping drag Rick up the inclines and Rick’s speed-comfort and ability to find a fast line setting the pace down on the declines.
They boys come off the bikes in pretty good shape, behind only a handful of very experienced teams. Now they transition into their running gear for what surely will be one of the most spectacular stages of the whole Challenge.
On the map it says that it’s a 3km run/abseil after the mountain biking, but that’s not really doing the ascent justice. What the racers will be doing is climbing from sea level to the top of Mount Amos, in what will be a pretty trying climb for those without a lot of climbing experience.
The abseil point is as intrepid as it is beautiful. With Coles Bay on your left, Wineglass Bay on your right and the Freycinet National Park extending out almost as far as the eye can see, there can’t be too many more beautiful spots in the whole continent. The abseil itself is 50 metres, but when you step out it feels like the whole island is underfoot.
It takes quite a bit of effort to get here and many of the teams have lost a little bit of paint by the time they arrive. Plenty of band-aid work will be required at the end of this stage. The first team on the rope barely notices the vista, but that’s understandable as it’s local adventure race veterans Mark Padgett and Mark Hinder, who have seen the view many times. In fact they seem more enthused about the long, dark stick that they rode over on their mountain bikes, just to find the ‘stick’ leap up revealing venomous fangs. Rick and Ryan get to the top of the mountain half an hour behind the leaders and Rick is still a bundle of nervous energy.
“Let me go first,” Rick says to Ryan. “If I just stand here while you go down I’ll chicken out.”
Roped up, Rick launches himself down the mountain. On what feels like the top of the world I take the opportunity to have a chat to Ryan and he gives a very commendable report card- energy levels are good, no navigational issues and Rick charging forth like some sort of race-car driving William Wallace.
After traversing to the bottom I find Mark Webber preparing for the last kayak stage and he tells me that Rick is suffering an adrenaline dump after the excitement of the climb and abseil.
On a side note, Mark seems supremely happy and calm here. He’s always a pretty equitable guy, but he seems more relaxed in the wilds of Tasmania than on the track in Monaco or Silverstone. When Webber finishes his work in Formula One, I’d say it’s a fair bet that he will clear out a lot of space in his calendar for some more adventure races.
When Rick and Ryan reach the transition area, Rick looks…well, he looks like someone who’s been exercising for six hours.
The penultimate day one stage is an optional 11km run around the base of Mount Mayson and Rick and Ryan opt out. With all of the teams ahead of them off searching for the time bonuses, Rick and Ryan are the first out on the last Kayak stage.
After a couple of handfuls of mixed lollies, Rick powers through the final 6km paddle, which also requires the racers to make land five times and find check points on the shore.
Rick and Ryan cross the day one finish line first, but with time bonuses factored in, they’re actually about two hours behind the leaders. Both look as fresh as when they started, despite Rick saying the 150 metres with the kayak from the beach to where teams were allowed to drop their kayaks was the hardest 150 metres he’s ever had.
After the race, Rick says the longest training session he’s ever undertaken is two hours, so burning through seven plus hours today, coming across the line first and being ready to do it all again four more times is pretty impressive.
The next stage will see the boys racing through the Tasman National Park, Port Arthur and Remarkable Caves. With fine Tassie weather set to continue, it should be stunning. Make sure you catch us here again. Also Rick (@rickkelly), Ryan (@ryanandes) and myself (@benmckelvey) are tweeting when we can too, so catch us on Twitter for real time updates.
Check out footage from day 1 HERE
Find out how Ryan and Rick prepared for the event HERE