Team Mountain Designs Wild Women entered XPD 2018, which was held over a 540km course in the north-east of Tasmania, around the Bay of Fires. Sports included mountain biking, paddling and hiking - over mountains, scree fields, beaches and through forest, often with complex navigation. The winning team of the field of 21, Tri-Adventure Antelopes, took 3 days 12hrs 45 mins to complete the course, winning by an impressive 15 hours.
Mountain Designs Wild Women placed 8th and top all-female team, finishing in 4 days, 13 hours and 20 mins, during which they slept approximately six and half hours. They are an experienced adventure racing team, with many races, including several at expedition length, behind them. Kim Beckinsale, the lead navigator, gives her impression of the course and how the race went for the team.
What was XPD Tasmania 2018 like?
XPD Tasmania stands out because of the spectacular places we travelled through – Stacks Bluff, Ben Lomond, the Blue Tier MTB trails, Rattler Hill, Bay of Fires. None of the legs was too epic, but this meant that teams could really enjoy the scenery without being in too much pain or just wanting it to be finished and onto the next leg! Even the linking legs that took the course from one iconic spot to the next were good, by providing either challenging terrain or navigation or both.
The weather wasn’t easy - on the first day it was raining and really windy, so the planned ocean paddle had to be cancelled, and on Day 2 on our bikes we were blown from one side of the road to the other. Then the paddle down the South Esk was challenging - both through a lack of water in places and because of wind gusts that blew us sideways. You had to hang on to your paddle for dear life or it would have been blown away… I lost my map, but luckily there were no more CPs to find on that leg and the backup map was secure with Cass.
What makes XPD special?
XPD is special as it is more like an expedition than a race. It is about being with a great bunch of like-minded people travelling to places that others rarely experience, while trying to find all the checkpoints along the way, in order to remain ranked. XPD has been such an iconic event on the Australian AR calendar and it’s definitely on the bucket list of most adventure racers. Part of the atmosphere at the event is created by the amazing volunteers that interact with the teams at each of the TAs. Many have been volunteering for years and choose to come along to support the events as a part of their holidays, so there is always that family/community feeling about it.
The navigation is always a challenging feature of the race, certainly compared to other long multi-day events. Without the ability to navigate well with map and compass, and using problem solving skills as a team, you could not get through the course. This year - and as per the World AR Champs in 2017 - the map handout was only 2hrs before the start, which allows very limited time for route planning. And this in turn meant that many options were left to be decided out on the course. I was worried how this would turn out, however it all seemed to work out well. We just studied the next leg’s maps in the TA before we set off!
Was the course a success?
The course was definitely a success, as most of the teams either completed the full course or the short course, and not too many teams in the field DNF. In my opinion this is always a sign of a good race.
A logistics planner was sent out before the race start, so we had some idea of what we would be doing, just no idea where. Once we got the maps and saw some of the places we would be travelling to, we were pretty excited, and in the race we definitely went to some stunning locations. We did not see snow, but some teams did. Part of the purpose of each leg is to find all the CPs along the way and we were pretty happy that we found them all without any major hiccups.
Did you get your training and planning right?
When you’re planning, you never really know what you are going to get in terms of course, terrain or weather, so part of the training is always to be prepared for anything… and I think as a team, the Mountain Designs Wild Women did that well. We all had previous experience of XPD-length races, and so our training was about being skilled and confident in all disciplines and being prepared to help out team mates if they are struggling. To finish the race in the top 10 and as 1st female team means we definitely did something right in our training.
How long did you sleep? Did you get the food right?
We didn’t really get too much sleep at all. On the first night we had a 20 minute cat nap at around 3am before heading out onto a trek to start the long paddle. It wasn’t that great as we were in a hall and it was way too noisy. All of the other sleeps we took were actually out on the course. Night 2 was 2hrs at around 1am, in the middle of the Ben Lomond Trek; Night 3, again 2hrs at around 2am on the mountain bike leg near Mathinna Falls, and Night 4 was 2 more hours at around 2am, on the front porch of a small country pub, just before we hit the dirt trails. We probably could have slept for longer, but the two hours seemed to work. If someone was tiring or needed to stop we would do a 5 or 10 minute break which meant stop, rest, sleep, eat or do whatever you can in the time before we set off again.
Food is a hard one to get right. When you pack, you have some idea of when you might be eating, so you take the relevant food for the morning, noon and night meals, but by the end you really just eat whatever you have and can stomach. We definitely liked the hot water available at the TAs so we could eat Back Country Cuisine, make cuppa soup or coffee. That was a real bonus. We also shared our food around, as someone else’s food can be a nice change…and eating keeps you awake!
What was the most challenging moment for the team?
I think the most challenging moment was on the trekking leg from Avoca to the high ground on Ben Lomond going into the second night, as we had some tricky navigation and I made a mistake. It was pitch black and we were not in the right place, so we had to backtrack and try to find the last point where we definitely knew our location - and this can be hard when it feels like you have been walking in circles. If we had not worked it out and corrected our route at that time, things could have gone very pear shaped.
Was there a particularly special moment?
There were many special moments really, however a stand out one was the fun we had in the TA at the Weldborough Pub. All we wanted in the world was for the pub to be open and serving bacon & eggs, but at 8 in the morning secretly we knew that it wouldn’t and of course it wasn’t. However, we were on such a high after riding the Blue Tier Mountain Bike Track awake and in the light that nothing seemed to matter. So hot water and some good wishes from friends and volunteers lifted the spirits to no end and it seemed to stay with us right through the next hiking leg!
Was there any kit that turned out to be particularly useful or you realised you needed?
Our most important piece of kit was definitely our Mountain Designs wind proof and water proof gore-tex jackets, our sleeping bags, bivy bags and the bothy bag. A bothy bag is like a big bivy bag that the entire team can get into… It’s much lighter than carrying a tent, so when we had our two hour sleeps we were down in seconds and back on the road again quickly afterwards.
What did you learn?
We probably just consolidated what we already know – that it’s best going at our own pace and not deciding to go too fast and follow other teams. It means you focus on the navigation and make fewer mistakes, or at least you make your own mistakes and then you can work them out yourself too!
Women are really good at supporting each other and recognising how others are feeling, without them even having to say anything… we just seem to know! We are more competitive against other teams with women than men, for some reason it just worked out that way. It’s definitely as much about racing as it is about completing the course. Also, don’t forget to enjoy the celebrations at the end.