The Landrover G4 Challenge – Stage 3
About five hundred metres from the summit I ‘sucked rubber’; I drew on my CamelBac, to discover my SiS isotonic juice was empty, done, finished. We were near Marble Bar, the hottest place in Australia, with the record of one hundred and sixty days at over 100° Fahrenheit (37.8°C). We were running up a mountain called Mount Bruce and there was another team hot on our heels. I had no idea of the temperature, it was just plain hot and we still had to run to the top register then we would be faced by run down again before we would taste the refreshing touch of fluids. The sun beat on us relentlessly from the white sky in the Australian Outback. This was our brutal introduction to the third stage of the Landrover G4 Challenge Global Adventure.
The team selection had been based on my placing in the stage in South Africa so I had chosen to be paired with Alberta the Italian competitor for this stage. She was a small fiery athlete with the temperament you’d imagine from a beautiful Italian woman. The vehicle we had was a Range Rover and starting in Karratha we set off following the GPS to the first ‘hunter’, the special stages which were the challenges we faced to score points. As we approached our first hunter, the GPS told us we should turn left off the road down a track, so we did. The road petered out and we were faced with mud flats and the GPS pointed us out across it. We looked at it and set off; the thing about mudflats is they are a crust of hardened mud with soggy sand under. We got out to inspect it, you can easily walk over it but driving over it is a different matter, we talked about it and decided Alberta should drive and keeping the Range Rover moving at all costs. We set off and within a few yards the Ranger Rover slowed and dropped through the crust. It was buried up to the doors. I asked Alberta how much off road driving she had done. ‘Oh, I don’t drive very much, I have a scooter’. Oops.
We were running up a mountain called Mount Bruce and there was another team hot on our heels. I had no idea of the temperature, it was just plain hot.
Getting the Range Rover out needed our support vehicle to give us a ‘snatch tow’: with the support vehicle still on hard ground, attach a long strop to the front of the stuck vehicle, leave it slack and then with the wheels of the stuck vehicle spinning, drive the support vehicle away as fast as you can. This hopefully will snatch the Range Rover from the grip of the mudflats. I have to admit it felt a little criminal to do this to a vehicle with less than a hundred miles on the odometer. But needs must and the Ranger Rover’s wheels were soon spinning, firing mud in all directions, with a yell from me the support vehicle drove away, flat out, a gut wrenching twang from the strop as it went tight and the Range Rover leapt from the sandy brown grip of the mud, we were up and running again.
Our first day of racing in the heat and sun hadn’t started well. We weren’t the only team to get stuck but the worst thing; had we known the turning was a hundred metres beyond where we turned.
Difficulty formed the pattern of the week; we raced well but seemed to be beset by disaster at every turn. At the Comet Gold Mine, where we had a big underground abseil, Alberta lost her dibber, the electronic stick for recording the time of your visit to a place, so we had to go back down the mine shaft. We had navigation problems, there was a couple of tough off road sections but we laughed a lot and enjoyed the vastness of the stunning Australian scenery. I found this quote I made in a press release “This is by far the harshest place we’ve been to yet, and so far we’ve endured minus twenty degrees in America and a week in the African bush,” … “This place is beautiful but hellish. It’s 35 degrees, there are flies at you all the time. It sucks the energy out of you.”
The remote section of the stage came with a remote Maximiser in the Karijini National Park, south west of Port Hedland where we all raced head to head over a linear course. This one started with a bike then a run into the Knox gorge, then swimming and climbing over boulder chokes to where our kayaks were. Then we paddled and carried the boats further up the gorge until reaching the point where only one person could walk up it, it was as if a giant knife had sliced through the Outback, leaving slash like in a fresh cut piece of meat, a beautiful and harsh environment which takes no prisoners.
This is by far the harshest place we’ve been to yet, and so far we’ve endured minus twenty degrees in America and a week in the African bush. This place is beautiful but hellish. It’s 35 degrees, there are flies at you all the time. It sucks the energy out of you…
The Maximiser was a disaster for several of the competitors who took a wrong turn. Particularly Guy, the Australian, who didn’t make the finish; he regaled us with tales of suddenly stopping with no idea where he was and then noticing various snakes around him. For Alberta and me it was a tough stage, I caught her up in the boulder chokes and we ended up helping each other over the boulder chokes; tough and fit as she is carrying a kayak over huge boulders was difficult. It was a truly tough maximiser, testing everyone to the limit.
When we arrived at the end of the stage, we had day’s rest and a photo-shoot at Eighty Mile Beach between; Port Hedland and Broome, this including our first beer in three weeks and of course a barbecue. I discovered I had fallen in love with this barren, hostile, dangerous, subtle and beautiful country. The remote section of the stage finished with an early rise, as we as a drove to the airport the sun rose, treating us to a breathtaking display of colour from the dark blacks of pre-dawn through reds into orange and finally to the searing white of another scorching day; we headed to the airport and our flight to Sydney to face an Urban Maximiser.
From our all to comfortable hotel beds we were woken early. Our relationship, through the race so far, with hotel beds had been all to fleeting generally arriving at a very high class hotels; dirty, unkempt and tired; showering, falling into bed late only to hear the alarm rousing us almost before we had fallen asleep, I think we all vowed to go back and actually sleep in those beautiful hotels.
In Sydney our day started with an early morning surf lesson on Bondi Beach, then we were whisked to the harbour for an Urban Maximiser. This had the competitors start sat on kayaks in Sydney harbour when the gun fired, we paddled for the icon landmark Sydney Harbour Bridge, on our way past the Prime Minister’s residence, Kirribilli House, heading round to get out at the foot of the bridge. Off the kayak and on foot following a map on a run, including crossing the bridge.
There is one moment from the TV programme, they subsequently made, which is one of my favourite moments from the whole race. The camera in the helicopter was zoomed in on me as I ran over the bridge, they panned back and you get a view of the whole of Sydney harbour replete with the bridge and the opera house; one for my grand children when I am old and grumpy being wheeled round in my bath chair.
The Maximiser finished with an ‘off-road’ driving course built on a huge barge which was then towed out into the harbour for the helicopter to take more shots; a fitting end to our day in Sydney. The next thing we were at the airport checking in for our flight across the Pacific to the West Coast of the US.
As we sat in the airport and contemplated the results; they saw me fall out of the top eight but there was still one more stage and everything still to play for …
When we arrived at the end of the stage, we had day’s rest and a photo-shoot at Eighty Mile Beach between; Port Hedland and Broome, this including our first beer in three weeks and of course a barbecue. I discovered I had fallen in love with this barren, hostile, dangerous, subtle and beautiful country.
Tim Pickering is an outdoorsman who lives in the Outer Hebrides; teaching outdoor education and first aid. As a seasoned adventure racer he represented the UK in the Landrover G4 Challenge Global Adventure race in 2003; winning the Team Spirit Award and he recently completed his first ultra marathon.