Featured

What’s this blog about?

Currently, I have no idea what this blog is going to be about, so it’s going to be an adventure. Looking at doing a fair amount on Tasmania’s wilderness, my up-coming first ultra marathon and what life throws at me. The first few will focus on some walking trips with some wonderful companions and my upcoming ultra.

 

Gone Nuts My first 50.

Ray Yaxley March 2018

: “Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.”

Vincent van Gogh

The alarm finally, mercifully signalled the end of a truly pitiful night’s sleep at 3.30 am. Breakfast and gear were quickly organised, before undertaking the short drive to Wynyard to catch the bus to Rocky Cape. Driving over I reflected on the fact it was a very close call, whether I would start or not. Training had gone well, injury free and feeling strong but in the last week, I had developed a rather chunky chest infection that left me seriously questioning if I should go. After some concrete tablets of reassurance and encouragement delivered by the wife, the decision to try was made. Once that bridge had been crossed, there was no longer any apprehension, no nerves no little voices saying no. For me there was a sense of calmness, yes there was going to be pain, yes it is a long way, there will be some bad patches, but there will be also good patches (hopefully).

 

The bus trip was relatively uneventful, quiet conversations about what lies ahead for us, top Tassie trails and Ben Hirst’s (run for mental health) recently completed 48 hours treadmill challenge passed the time. Before long we had arrived under the full moon’s light waiting for the start. Other runners slowly trickled in as the start time drew closer and the toilet line grew ever longer. Then we were off into the unknown. A conga line of head torches or glow in the dark lemmings twisted and gyrated in front of me as we took the road to the National Park. To our left, the reflections of the setting moon amidst a cloudy sky led the eye to the bulk of the Nut. The 101 runners would be climbing it at the moment and for the briefest of moments, I wondered how cousin Garry and several others I know was going to fare this year in the 100 and the 25. To the right, the steeply rising Rocky Cape hills were waiting for us.

 

Soon it was light enough to discard the head torches and start the climb up onto Rocky Cape. Despite going slow I was pleasantly surprised by how good I felt- everything was feeling easy and controlled. Apart from the odd runner’s hanky chief incident (need to work on the technique but thankfully no innocent bystanders were hurt) and a momentary pang when I saw how far Table Cape was in the distance.  My very steady pace continued, as the sun broke through the clouds – eerily similar to the eye of Sauron from Lord of The Rings. The Fiery red intensity bursting through the clouds lit up the coastal scenery looked like the end of days. The interstate contingent I was moving with was taken aback by the views and impressed that such magnificent view this is just a 30-minute drive from my home.

 

The kilometres continued to pass easily, tho some would say slower than government donation policy reforms. Passing through the Sisters beach aid station my thoughts turned to the family holidays we had in these locations, the shack we stayed at were me and my dad used to surf fish.  The climb over into Boat Harbour was an increasingly humid affair, amongst the gum trees with no cooling breeze, which meant the 25km checkpoint was a rather welcome sight. Still, I was feeling well, the chesty thing was there but not that problematic, feet and legs were good.  All was good. (Famous last words I know, nearly as famous as the leader has the support of their fellow members)

 

The white sands of Boat Harbour beach and its aqua coloured waters were behind me as I started the numerous ascents and descents along the next section. Talking to one the race organisers he pronounced this section as “undulating”. I soon heard other more colourful descriptors used to refer to the relentless up, then dropping back to the coast from my fellow runners. This is the challenge I wanted, but a little less humidity (or more of a sea breeze) would have being nice. The views were specular of a sun-parched farmland, dropping steeply into the clear waters of a calm Bass Strait. But what was truly impressive was the impromptu aid stations left by two of the local landowners. Not only they allowed 550 odd sweaty runners to traverse their land, but they offered us some much-needed ice cold sustenance. Somewhere along this section, the Garmin failed about the 32km mark – ruefully the thought entered my head if it’s not recorded do I have to do it again? And those now walking with me started to fail. One local lass was haunted by last year’s failure and worried that it was all starting to go south again. Cramp had started to affect others but for me the tiring legs kept me moving forward. This was the point I expected it to get tough- which actually helped a lot- already travelled so far, but still had a long way to go. As I neared the lighthouse footsteps and heavy breathing was heard behind me. There is something about being smashed by your high school PE teacher (who at that stage I thought had run the full 100). I reminded myself that your first one will be a learning experience- it’s my race over the distance, my challenge. Time doesn’t really matter for me it was embracing the experience. Having the wife and kids waiting for me at the lighthouse was a special family moment, a welcome smile and hug is always nice.  A quick re-supply with the assistance of the wonderful volunteers (who did offer to pay me for this comment) and being told the teacher was part of the 4 member relay team had helped.

 

Feeling revived I pressed on at a comfortable pace. The legs were painful with their fatigue, but I kept moving with the usual grace of a person trying to pass a large kidney stone. The feet were sore, but I was able to keep going and feeling relatively comfortable. A paraglider provided a momentary distraction as did the spectacular coastline and the Clint Hutton’s music blasting out from the finish line. Eventually, I reached the river boardwalk where the 100km winner passed me, looking as fresh as a Park runner out on a quiet, casual Saturday run. But walking along that final section, the family joining in for the last 200m I had run my race (not very fast at all 11.09) but I had achieved what I set out to do and that was to get through my first, reasonably tough Ultra safely. Having one of the college teacher’s place the finisher’s medal around the neck was a very special moment. My first ultra-didn’t resemble the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan, which it could have done.  I was only an hour slower on the last 25 which for a newbie I could take pride in. Despite Nuts being described as a race, you love to hate and a very tough day at the office I still felt physically ok and mentally strong at the end.  Not scared, not cowered by the experience but quietly confident to look for the next challenge (no it’s not cleaning the kid’s bedrooms) and glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone to see what I could do.

 

 

5 Weeks to go, to go nuts. Confessions of an ultra wanttobe

 

This time last year was the time I stepped away from my goal of doing the Gone nuts 50 race. I told myself I hadn’t done the work, both physically and mentally thus lacked the confidence to rock up to the start line. Those voices told me I probably wasn’t ready. It wasn’t my time to try it. In hindsight (which is an exact science) we all have those voices, it’s those that can tell them to sod off are the ones that cross the start line. For months after I would look at Table Cape (part of the final race leg) and wondered how would it feel to be crossing that final section and felt the regret of backing down.

This year would be different – as soon as entries opened I signed up and publically declared via waste book that I had entered in the 50. For a few brief moments I had wondered what I had done, but then worked out what I needed to do.

I needed to know more about the technicalities of moving through 50 km, of how to hydrate, of how to fuel myself. Of how to start off slowly and pace myself. So much to learn, but was made easier through my bushwalking experience and seeking advice from the punters who completed the race last year and the broader on-line ultra-running community( #TURA).  But at the same time not getting too bogged down on all the endless advice that’s online after all, it’s a fairly simple matter of putting one foot in front of the other 65, 000 times.

Physically I needed to be stronger and recover smarter- to do this there were some longer training jogs with a few more to come and with some back to back sessions to get used to moving on tired legs. There were a few strength sessions thrown in there that focused on my middle-aged core and sense of balance. In hindsight, I may have needed to do some more hill work and maybe some more speed work. But hindsight is an exact science. Those lovely hot (well be Tasmanian standards anyway) I trained, knowing that such sessions would give me the physical and mental strength to cope with such conditions on race day. Recovery was important, figuring out the balance was a challenge and ignoring the question of should I be doing more? But it was important to stay fresh, and relatively injury free.

Mentally was the big one. Most people I know thought I had gone slightly mad, including my wonderful, supportive wife. Some openly doubted that I would get through it. Even six weeks out I was asked: “You’re still doing the 50, not the 25?” I just nodded, sometimes I am too nice to say what some people need to hear about commenting on peoples dreams. I have learnt not to listen to those internal voices that plagued last years effort. I’ve now accepted that it is going to hurt and be as graceful as a cow giving birth to farm equipment. To accept there will be bad miles and good ones, and I won’t know what order they will come in. I am learning not to dwell on how far it is to go which often consumes most people by staying in the moment. Learning how to push the discomfort of burning quads away. Once more the good old bushwalking experience helped; I reflected on some of the hard trips I’d done over the years. Sudden blizzards that froze ones coat solid, waist deep mud and a raft of other unpleasant events (including walking with Collingwood and Carlton supporters)  that I chowed my way through. Ultimately I wanted to reach a point where I could stand on the start line knowing I am able to do this, with the acceptance that shit will happen out there.

As the days tick down, at an alarming rate there is a sense of quiet confidence, a sense of getting stronger (which hasn’t been there for the last 15 years). Despite this, there are normal moments of apprehension. I will be slow, not quite as slow as an asthmatic ant, with a heavy load of shopping, but I will get there. I am focusing on the quality of the effort I am putting in, the quality of my own performance, not against the quality of fellow runners. In five weeks it will be a hard day at the office, it is going to hurt. But I needed to push the envelope to find out what I am capable of, as over the recent years I was getting too comfortable, too safe.

Time for a challenge

It’s going to be epic

Stay tuned

 

Ray Yaxley January 2018

The South-West part one

Ray Yaxley 2017

The sun was slowly scorched the sun-baked midlands as we progressed our way south. The afternoon drifted by as Fleetwood macs Gold dusted women, Queen’s too much love will kill you and The Police every breath you take songs belted out of one of those new-fangled IPod things. My walking companion sang softly along, in-between discussing her chemistry thesis and intended research trip. She needed a break from the books, from her research just to get back to simple things. The other companion had to work, we did miss her and her smile. I too needed the escape, to work out where I was going as life was becoming increasingly complex. Of choices that needed to be made, but couldn’t be made at the same time. But I was excited by the prospect of spending five days climbing one of the most beautiful mountains ranges in Tasmania.

Eventually, we arrived at the deserted carpark. Angry clouds had started streaming in from the North West, as we shouldered heavy packs as we set off, the range we were climbing loomed large on the horizon. As we walked the first few kilometres you could sense my companion relaxing. Her multi-level analysis of variance was starting to become a distant thought. Then the slog began. In fading light, the dank smelling mud got deeper. Ankle to calf, calf to knee, knee to waist. Floundering along by torchlight we crossed the final, fast flowing stream. Cold, tired and hungry we set up camp for the night.

The next morning the sun did rise; somewhere, behind the rain clouds. Coffee with condensed milk was required to get us going. A long day on the trails awaited, climbing up onto the cloud covered range we could no longer see. We were excited but nervous with the wind driving the rain across the button grass plains. Fast forward three hours we were still climbing the range we were yet to really see. Lunch taken under an overhanging boulder provided temporary respite, but the cold was clutching at us with increasing furry as we climbed higher. Despite my walking companion being able to smash out 18 chin-ups she was finding it a long draining day (incidentally so was I). We eventually got to the top of the range, pummelled by driving rain and silenced by the winds roar. The track passed through rocky pulpits of black Quartzite, Pre-Cambrian in its antiquity. Folded and distorted by forces deep within the earth, these rocks were further scored by several glaciers as the aeons slowly passed. Eventually, we stumbled on the glacial lake that was to be our night’s camp. Being very cold, tired and hungry we set up camp, cooked tea in the tent and collapsed in an exhausted slumber as the jet stream roar of the wind continued.

The silence of the next morning had startled me. The wind was gone and a thick veil of silent mist covered our alpine campsite. I slowly walked down to the lake shore, where the glacial sandy beach contrasted the grey gloom surrounding us. My companion joined me, and in silence we just watched the world go by, we knew what each other was feeling. Tired, physically sore but mentally recharged by the remoteness of the place we found ourselves in. Recharged by the beauty we experienced together of parting mists illuminated by the morning’s sunlight, the craggy glacially sculptured peaks. Peace, tranquillity, solitude of this morning has not faded. But the intensity of some experiences bloggers can’t capture, nor do the photographs do it justice.

Reluctantly, we left for our next campsite, knowing we would be returning this way. The weather while improving from the foul tempest that was yesterday, was still far from ideal.  The pack’s weight was cutting, like a cat of nine tails into our shoulders, our bodies were tired from the consent physical exertion we were unfairly placing on them. Today was no exception, traversing a glacially carved range, there is very little flat walking, lots of up and lots of down. But on one level, we no longer felt the pain: just thinking about the untouched beauty around us and who we were there with. The day passed slowly, each climb brought new views of misty mountains, a chance to catch our breath and delay the knee-jarring slippery descent.

In the fading afternoons light, we came across the glacially carved lake that prompted this blog series. The wind was rustling the pandanis speaking like the children of the forest, in hushed tones that no one can understand. Nestled in the cirque, several hundred metres below the lakes leaden waters was capped with angry white waves crashing into another small pink quartzite beach. In the distance the range continued twisted, convoluted into the mists as the wind-pruned shrubs shook angrily, signalling it was time to carry on. The scramble down the decaying glacial headwall gave our tired bodies a kick of adrenaline as several loose boulders were dislodged, falling away beneath our feet. We paused at the glacial beach to refill the water bottles before setting up camp. Exhilarated to be in such a location, we cooked tea outside the tent just watching the clouds engulf the nearby mountaintops. But sad in the knowledge that tomorrow we were heading towards home, back to the #UTASLife and back to the choices awaiting both of us.

It’s still raining

Semester break was upon us, like most students who do the #UTASLife thing we actually took some time off. Packs thrown into the back of the car, as I offered reassuring words to worried parents that I wasn’t an axe wielding psychopath and that I knew what I was doing. Zipping past Potenia rain had started to fall with a worrying hardness that persisted till we reached a cloud soaked Lake St. Clair. It also persisted for the ferry ride up the lake, and the nine kilometre hike into Pine Valley Hut. Despite the constant rain there was amazing beauty, the shine on the snow gums, the ancient smell of wet rainforest and the fast flowing waterfalls.
We soon reached the hut and claimed a spot together on the bunks and cooked tea. After a sustaining meal of dehydrated chicken and pasta we discussed the adventures with those doing the Overland track. Of the sites they had seen and the mountains they had climbed. We also created some post-modern philosophical, management and chemistry inspired reflections in the log book. Despite a fairly crowed hut, we all slept well, usually there is one person who snores (or worst still sleep apena). The day was clearer and from the composting toilet you could see mountain peaks struggling to break free of their misty embrace. My companions repeatedly talked about the stunning pictures taken by Peter Dombrovskis among other wilderness photographers from the hills above us and were keen to see it for themselves.
Heavy packs were shouldered and we started the climb full of anticipation. Brief patches of sunlight penetrated the rainforest suggesting the weather was on the improve. Rainforest gave way to sub-alpine forest as we climbed higher. Eventually we reached the alpine moorland where the track levelled off. The morning’s sunlight was gone, replaced by grey swirling mists, which intermittently covered the three dolerite summits of Mount Geryon (named after the three headed monster of Greek Mythology) and the pinnacles of the Acropolis. The Leeawuleena, the indigenous name for the dark sleeping waters of Lake St. Clair could be seen many kilometres below snaking off into the mists. We set off to find this evening’s camp, only three or four kilometres away as the rain started falling and the mists crept down. We lost the track on the way, we shared a good laugh about this as we quickly realised someone had put the markers in the wrong spot. But the weather was deteriorating further, the wind had risen and the rain continued to fall unabated. We were all cold, wet and tired as we arrived at camp.
A small problem had then arisen in the state of our affairs, the campsite was flooded. Too late to get back to the hut safely. Too tired to care we pitched the tents. Just on two o’clock in the afternoon, we had already dived into the sleeping bags. To cut a long and depressingly boring story short, we spent the next twenty two hours listening to wind roar and the rain smash into our tents. We were miserable. Despite quality gear we were getting cold. There are only so many times you can read the back of a pasta packet, thinking I should have brought a book. My endless collection of jokes, much to my companion’s evident relief was exhausted. Around lunchtime the next day we all noticed it was getting colder as the temp had started to drop further. It was time to go, we had a small window where it was not raining nor blowing as hard. Wet gear was shoved into packs, wet socks shoved into cold boots. We were off, just as the cloud descended, suggesting the window of respite from the storm was closing quickly.
Shit. Shit. Shit. I thought to myself or was that one of my companions exclamations as I looked at two track branches in front of me, each clearly marked. We agreed to go left, it was the wrong choice, and it was always going to be the wrong choice in an area called the Labyrinth. Things started to become desperate. Despite the proper gear the wind was now cutting through our wet clothing. Flurries of snow had started falling, covering the ground. We were not in a good spot. Eventually the clouds parted, we got a glimpse of Pine Valley below. Voices deranged by the cold suggested we plough down the glacial, cliff studded ridge into the valley below. I still cringe at that idea of the horrible scrub and cliff’ bands we would have faced. But that view gave us our bearings. The track down the hill to the huts safety was located just on dark. Out of the wind we paused for some chocolate and to get head- torches out. Despite the weather, despite being tired my walking companions stoically put one foot in front of the other as we slowly made our way back to the hut through the dark, deserted forest. One of the many reasons I enjoyed their company. The hut was a welcome sight. The intense smell of wet, worn for a week bushwalking gear left too close to the heater barely registered as we fell, exhausted into the hut. Nor did the delicate aroma of twenty-five people, un-showered crammed into the hut. But we were safe, cold, hungry, and tired but safe. As the rain continued to fall and the wind continued to howl we ate tea then drifted off to sleep on the huts floor.
Next morning came by too quickly, some groans of discomfort emerged from the two ladies sleeping next to me. Groans that were worthy of a student’s lap top crashing with the only copy of their assignment. Groans that strongly suggests yesterday was rough. After the traditional Wheat Bix breakfast and cup of earl grey we started heading towards home. Home from the hills that now had a heavy covering of snow. The conversation centred on my chemistry companion chaffing. Innocently I was shown the six centimetre thick, angry red band just on her short line, which would make a 100 miler ultra-runner quake in fear.
The rain had stopped, but the grey gloom lingered as we arrived at the Northern end of Lake ST. Clair about 11. The ferry wasn’t due for another 3 ½ hours. We decided to walk along the rainforest rimmed lake-side track. Ent like myrtles twisted with age, the sleeping waters, the ancient smell of the rainforest, vibrant green mosses and lichens were our constant companions as we slowly trudged back. The long day of twenty-seven kilometres, carrying a sodden twenty kilo pack was taking its toll. One of the crew needed a shot of condensed milk and some hydrolyte as we struggled along the tourist walks at St. Clair. Eventually we reached the carpark, as darkness was falling.
Most walks there is a sense of not wanting it to end, but this was a brutal experience. The cold, the wet, the fatigue took its toll. The fatigue was not helped by the near midnight arrival back into Launceston. A few days later we caught up at the climbing wall to show off the photos, heard the chaffing was healing and to reflect on our trip. Despite the weather, the beauty of Tasmania’s wilds was evident for us to see and to experience. Despite the challenges we faced we did enjoy it and we were all keen to get back out .

 

cropped-cmls-257.jpg