Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sleep monsters of Ballyhoura

Two days later I was back in Ireland, heading towards the small town of Castletownroche in County Cork for the start of an epic adventure race called 'The Beast of Ballyhoura'.

The Beast is a 30 hour non stop adventure race in which teams of four competitors traverse the lush green and rugged landscapes of counties Tipperary, Cork and Limerick in Southern Ireland. The race involves mountain run, bike, kayak, abseil, shooting, orienteering and navigating the best route to win. The Beast started on Friday night August 1st and finish on Sunday August 3rd.

After a late night briefing on the Friday night, myself and my team mates - Melanie (UK), Greg (Ireland) and Andreas (Germany) - stole a couple of hours sleep before jumping in a bus at 3am and travelling to a 'mystery location', where the race would begin. As you can imagine, climbing out of the warm bus at 3.30 am into the brisk night air was not the ideal situation, especially knowing what lay ahead! 'How do i get myself involved in this sht' came to mind.
After seven hours of hill running and bike riding, several wrong turns and a stint of orienteering, we found our way to...

The Galty mountains - 11am on Saturday 2 August

This photo was taken at the base of a valley that lead up to the first peak of our Galty traverse, approximately 600 m above the pictured position. Unfortunately there was no smooth path to follow up to the peak. Instead we would follow the path of the stream, and clamber up boggy sheep trails up to the summit. The climb wasn't so bad in itself, what was more difficult was trying not to blow up your legs with 25 hours still to go in the race! It's not normal to have to think that far ahead.

This photo is a picture of the same peak as is pictured above, but looking down from a neighbouring peak.
Spirits were still high on the team as we made our way across the roof of Cork. It was amazing to look out across the ground that we'd covered, and the ground that we were yet to cover. After a couple of hours traversing the undulating ridge of the Galtys, Andreas began to feel the pinch of a past injury. Indeed, the rough and uneven terrain was hard going on the legs.

2pm: As we approached the western end of the Galty range, we dropped down off the ridge into a deep valley and followed a stream bed through the valley to a waterfall. From this point, we abseiled down the waterfall into the valley below.

Abseiling down a waterfall is just as precarious and unnerving as you might imagine. After easing into the initial section, it seemed that the only option from then on was to go straight down the middle, which involved going straight under the falling water into the over-hang and getting drenched. The rocks were slippery and hazardous, which made the experience even more dodgy. I was LOVING IT!

In the picture above you can see a gortex clad team peering over the edge, awaiting their turn to drop over the edge and get soaked.

Once at the bottom of the abseil, we bush bashed our way through thorns and thick forest down to the road and ran 5km to the transition. Time for the next bike section.

Clay Pigeon Shooting 7pm (15 hours into the race)

After riding around for what must have been several hours on trails and country roads, we arrived at a clay pigeon shooting range and were handed shotguns. Cool. After nailing our fair share of pigeons, we couldn't help but take the opportunity to put on our meanest faces and pose for a photo. Clearly Mel and Andreas need to work on their mean faces.

At this point Andreas was suffering from too much pain in his knee, and was forced to withdraw from the race. The rest of the team decided to continue anyway.

A long night in Ballyhoura 10pm (18 hours into the race)

As darkness descended upon us, we arrived at the Ballyhoura range of hills in County Cork. In particular, to the Ballyhoura multiple transition point at the Information office (teams would return to this transition twice during the night between stages). Throughout the night we trekked, ran, and mountain biked our way around 60km of trails and open countryside (read: scrub and bog). As we made our way along the trails and bashed our way across scrubby hill tops, we could see tiny lights blinking on the surrounding hills - the headlamps of our competitors. Next thing we were flying through the forest on mountain bikes looking for 'glow in the dark' numbers attached to trees. The narrow forest trails were magic in the still of night. Occasionally the trails would turn into perilous board walks, requiring more skill and coordination to negotiate than i probably had at this point in the race. Still, i couldn't help but give it a shot, and i was lucky on the night.
At this point in the race i was feeling better than i had done throughout the first day, i think because i felt the end drawing closer (it was now only 14 hours away!). It was interesting to see the way people struggle at different parts of the race. For me the hardest part was the first 3 hours of the race. For others, the real struggle came later.
Good morning Vietnam 4.30 am (24 hours into the race)

When we arrived back at the Ballyhoura transition for the third time, the place looked like a makeshift military hospital out of a Vietnam action picture. THere were pale and exhausted looking people crashed out on the floor all around. Some were wrapped in survival blankets, waiting for the support vehicles to take them back to the camp site. Indeed, the long night had taken many victims, and a number of teams had pulled out of the contest (We had already forfitted from rankings since the entire team must finish in order to rank).
After more than 24 hours on the go, and a long dark night in the forest, Mel uncharacteristically succumbed to fatigue. The epic mountain bike section had taken its toll on many. Mel decided to leave Greg and myself to finish off the course, and opted for the relative comfort and warmth of a friend (Rachel's) car.
Sleep monsters 8am (28 hours into the race)

Finally there was light, which revealed a glimpse of the surrounding Ballyhoura mountains as we sped away on our now filthy bikes. After flying down a lengthy fire break at ridiculous speeds, brakes squeeking and gears refusing to shift, Greg and I found our way to the next orienteering section. Anyone who has spent 15 hours on a mountain bike probably appreciates how sore my arse was by this stage. I have never been happier to get off my bike.
The orienteering section should have been relatively straight forward, except that things were starting to get a little... well... wierd at this stage. One minute i'm walking through the forest looking for a bright orange orienteering control. The next minute i'm walking around a strange forest aimlessly, wondering what i'm doing here and 'is this a dream?' I'm not sure how Greg was doing, but neither of us seemed to be finding the controls very easily, and they were supposed to be fairly obvious. After i declared with a wild grin that i was totally tripping out, Greg suggested that we head back to the transition and miss the last few controls, instead moving on to the 20km kayak section. I didn't really know what he was on about, but i figured that kayaking sounded like fun, so I enthusiastically agreed.

On the way to the kayaks i saw a small statue of an elephant lying in the forest. It was amazingly detailed, i figured that it was a gift from a visiting Buddhist monk or something. 'Check it out!' I wailed at greg excitedly, like a drunk teenager whom had spotted an open kebab shop on the walk home at 2am. Greg didn't agree though, he thought it was just a log.
The boat ride home 9 am (29 hours into the race)

The last leg of the race involved a 20km kayak down a swollen river, followed by a 4km run to the finish line. The boat ride proved to be quite exciting. The river was strewn with plantation and blocked with massive fallen trees all over the place. THe water was fast flowing, and negotiating a path through the maze of plant life was difficult.
Fortunately, Greg is an accomplished kayaker, and showed great skill in steering us through the wreckage. My job at this point was merely to provide man power, following Greg's orders to 'PADDLE' or 'BACKPADDLE' etc. I was more than happy to assume this role, given that i my kayak control skills are poor at the best of times.
After 2.5 hours on the kayak, and a 20 minute jog, we crossed the finish line at lunch time Sunday. Just in time for a a late pub lunch and a pint of Guinness at the local before bed.

1 comment:

Mum and Dad said...

Hi J it's Mum. You are mad. How does the body keep going. I wonder how the legs carried you the last 4 kms. good reading. It kinda makes me feel envious.