What is the Tri Challenge?
The founders preferred to call it the “triathlon with a difference”
It’s a triathlon that has landowners taking down fences, moving their cattle and slashing their paddocks to allow access through their properties.
It’s a triathlon that’s almost completely off-road. It’s challenging! It attracts ironmen, kayak champions, mountain-bike experts as well as individuals and teams who love to ride, canoe and run!
Last weekend in Gloucester the 20th Gloucester Mountain Man Tri challenge took place.
Gloucester loves the Challenge! The whole town gets behind it to make it happen
The Caravan Park overflows with families camping even along the river and B&B’s are well booked as 200 plus competitors, their support crews and gear start arriving on Friday evening.
By 4pm Saturday all Registrations are in and Scrutineering is complete. 5:30 is briefing time then with race requirements dealt with for the day, competitors have the chance to size up the competition at the energy-loading Carbo Dinner at the Recreation Centre before settling down for the night.
We’ve had some very patchy weather lately but last Sunday morning dawned a perfect Spring day The Bike leg got under way at 8am for individuals and 8:30 for teams.
Riding the first 7k on tar along Buckets Road is no different from any other triathlon, one might argue, but that’s only till you reach Stanton’s Dairy. It’s then the rider must head across the paddocks (cows out for the day) and onto the track leading up over The Saddle to tackle the roughest section of the 20.4 ride.
This track was accidentally discovered by property owners, Ted Stanton and Warren Landers (it runs down through Lander’s on the other side of the Saddle) 20 years ago. Mark Rotunno, former Australian mountain Bike champion and competitor, reckons it’s the best mountain bike track he’s ever ridden on.
Once off the tar this unique leg takes the rider along mountain and 4WD roads, creek beds, cattle tracks, rainforest and open country leading to Rocky Crossing where the Barrington River crosses Barrington West road. Competitors don’t get to practice on it before the day. On the Monday after the challenge the place is restored to a working property and all signs of the track are gone…till next year.
I talked to Cassie, an adventurous 13 year old from Port Macquarie, back for her 2nd Mountain Man Tri Challenge.( you must be 12 yrs old to compete). She’s fearless and tough! Dismissed the long grass on the hill, gullies, ruts, rough climbs and dirt downhills as “a few technicals”. Even Stewie, the winner , declared the section a “a rough comp” .But to Cassie it was just an appetiser for another course next year. We’ll be watching out for her!
Having pumped their legs on the ride competitors must then transition to their kayaks, which have been securely stored at Rocky Crossing overnight, and then head 10.7 km downstream to Barrington Bridge
On Sunday the river was in a good mood and the rapids along the course were fairly friendly.
However, as with all tri challenges, competitors have their favourite legs and for some the kayak isn’t the one.
“Legs won’t work”
“Boat’s broken…pushed the fin right up through the bottom!’
“Boat’s full of water!”
….could be heard as RFS volunteers hauled craft after craft out of the water and up the bank to where they could be safely stored while waiting to be collected later. Energy bar wrappers ,banana skins, drink bottles and lolly bags sloshing around in the kayaks were signs of refuelling punished bodies as they challenged the river’s twisting 10 plus kilometres.
For some the kayak leg is a dream run. It attracts ironmen straight from Coolangatta gold!
They think “the paddle is fantastic!”
But it’s not over yet! It’s out of the kayak, find their land legs, wade back through the river, scramble up the bank and head to the transition area for the 8.8 cross country run to the finish at District Park back in town.
Farmers had slashed a path through the paddocks, marshals were at stations along the way and the track was marked out with red tape. Compared to the previous run on Thunderbolt’s way it must be much kinder to the feet and legs especially for those who still had their ‘kayak legs” on!
By the time I got back to the finish , local hero Stewie had already run first through the tape and was looking like he could go again.
He’d had ‘a good run” on the bike leg and done some” record times” even though for him it had been rough. He reckoned “the long grass on the hill had slowed some guys”.
He praised all the volunteers around the course, for their enthusiasm and encouragement .
He was also having a hard time dealing with the fact he was so far ahead of the rest of the field.. 4 mins at the kayak/run transition!
And he told us he does no specific tri training. Just goes in a variety of events leading up to the Tri Challenge . What a Mountain Man!
And so they came home. Individual entrants, teams, tandem teams, school teams, mixed teams, juniors, junior teams, uni teams….
They came from all over…Coolangatta, Coogee, Bondi, Bar Beach, Medowie, Mona Vale, Mosman, Muswellbrook, W.A., Whitebridge, Paddington, Port Macquarie, Queenscliff, Fairy Bower, Taree, Gloucester……
They crossed the line in all manner of moods. Some were aiming for a personal best, some more relaxed even managing a jaunty high-step to celebrate their finish. Dads and mums were joined by excited kids from the sidelines and they all joined hands to run the last few metres. Others were patched up having ‘lost a bit of bark along the way”. (to quote Stewie).
John and Mardi ,a husband and wife tandem team who’ve been coming for the past 6 years, have a tradition of tying their shoe laces together for the oval run. It’s just a final expression of togetherness after sharing the same bike and kayak for the last 2 legs of the race.
I asked one competitor at the finish what single word he’d use to sum up the Mountain Man Tri Challenge. He thought for a bit then definitively declared,
And there’ll be lots more of it next year,2nd week of September in Gloucester.
See you there!