Kevin Tiller's 2001 12foot Report
This past weekend, there were 2 options available on the sydney running calendar smorgasbord, luckily at both extremes of the scale, to make the decision easier - best explained as "Sydney or the Bush". The city to surf now in its 27th year or so, and attracts 55,000+ plus runners. You pay $20+ to queue for hours to run in gridlock fashion on city streets with lycra-clad "fitness" crowds for 14km. Maybe you will get to be overtaken by a man-in-gorilla suit or a runner-plus-stroller. So passe. The 12 Foot track was an inaugural event with no fees, no aid, no bloody nothing. It starts more than an hour away in the Blue Mountains. Lots of trees. No cheering crowds - Maybe even no starters. Sydney or the Bush indeed.
As it turned out, the 12 foot track appeared to be an idea whose time had come. The Six Foot track is a walking track in the Blue Mountains close to Sydney (an hour drive inland), that marks the first traverse of said mountins by Europeans in approx 1884. It later became a "trade route" of sorts by horses, and was the width of 2 horses (approx 6 Feet) and so became known as the Six Foot Track. It is 46km long (28 miles ?). In 1984, the centenary of the first european crossing, the Six Foot Track (walking track) was officially recognised and opened. A marathon was also staged - The Six Foot Track marathon, which has been held every year since and has since grown into the largest "Ultra" in the country, attracting approx 500 runners yearly .
Despite so many people having run the Six Foot Track, it was surprising that no-one has ever thought of doing an out'n'back. We decided to put on just such a race "fat-ass-style" this past weekend. What to call it ? Well, a double Six Foot Track is clearly a 12 Foot Track ! And even better, as everyone who counts will have run the Six Foot Track we wouldn't even need to provide any maps. Marshals ?! on yer bike!
I awoke at 4:30am, did the usual and left home by 5am, in time to meet Paul Every ("the Everyman") at Turramurra by 5:15am. We drove up to the Blue Mountains, and arrived at the start area at about 6:40am to find a lonely Thomas Lenzenhofer and Ross Yates, the Traditional Aussie Damper Breakfast Man. He laid on a breakfast that would have suited about 100 runners, instead of the dozen that turned up. As usual, fewer turned up than said they would, but that was their loss. We hung around talking and sorting out our respective gear, going to the 'loo, fixing holey camelbaks, wlecome late arrivals (Jonathan!). We advertise a 7am start, but are failt casual about that, and everything else. At 7:30am, after the now-obligatory start line photo, we shuffled off into the bush, via the brakfast table for a last-chance piece of bread (Jonathan!).
I ran with Jonathan down Nellies Glen steps and out into the Megalong Valley. Despite the clear blue sky, and sun overhead, it is still officially winter in Australia, and there was a covering of frost on the grassy meadows and a thin - very thin - covering of ice on some of the puddles. Very beautiful indeed.
Pulling into the Megalong Cemetary crossing, Sean's mum had arrived with the drop bags (we advertise no aid - better to under-promise and over-deliver !!). I took some photos, including a neat one of Flimpyhead in his home-made T-shirt. He is the coolest dude I have ever met!
Jonathan took off, and I fell in with a group that totalled five : myself, Sean, Lawrence, Flimpyhead and Bill. We plodded on all the way to the Cox's river. Dave wears cut-off shoes and doesn't like getting his feet wet, so elected to take the bridge option and all followed him, except for myself and Sean, dedicated purists, who took the river crossing as per the Six Foot Track race. We all met up on the other side, had something to eat and drink briefly then headed off up the first big hill. I slowly drifted off the pace, which was ok as I like running alone best. I had a crap, took some photos, put on some bodyglide (anti-chafe roll-on) and continued on. Went past a couple of campers, crossed the streams then took on the next big one, The Pluviometer hill. The weather had heated up now so was really quite warm.
I trundled along the Black Range road, took another photo or so and eventually reached the turnoff where the next drop bag point was. Sean's mum was here, as was Kate and Jonathan, who was maybe still recovering from his HardRock efforts. I drank a gatorade and ate some rolls, then continued on my way. I went fairly well here, having recovered from my slow section earlier.
Crossing the Caves Rd, I went past Kieron, now on the return leg, then Martin and Goonie in close pursuit. Kieron was aiming for a sub-12 hour finish which was VERY impressive. Then Lawrence, recently returned from Spain, with Jan Herrman and Thomas Lenzenhofer. Thomas in aprticular looked very grim faced. A while later on was Sean. I didn't stop, and yelled out that I wanted to make a 7hr finish for the first Six Foot. Around the corner I stopped and took some photos as the view was great and weather conditions perfect.
Arriving at Caves House in 7:03 (who cares about the time anyway?) I met Bill who was stopping here, looking for his wife. Then Flimpyhead came out of the cafe with a plate of chips and some drink. I went in for some food and drink. Sat down, and ate it, getting colder by the minute. We put on some clothes and re-filled camelbaks. Some woman said we looked very professional. Dave laughed at that earlier - we looked like we'd been pulled thru a hedge backwards!
Dave said he was really pleased to not have to run back in the dark by himself. I said that I felt sick! We staggered up the hill together like a pair of old crocks. We chatted and seemed to arrive close to the top at Binda Cabins. Dave went to the bog here, whilst I laid down in the grass and watched some kids feeding the 'roos. It was now close to dusk, and there were kangaroos everywhere. Across the road we started a bit of a trot and starting making progress. Although out of the valley it was warmer, we were still grateful for the thermals we had on. We stopped and chatted to a couple of mountain bikers, and finally made it back to the aid station where we woke Max up. He told us that the others were hours a head of us, and that we carried too much shit. Still, it was good to see a friendly face. Optimistically, I had hoped to get to the river before nightfall, but although we had some light left (it was 5:20pm) we knew that darkness would descend soon.
We trotted off down the Black Range rd, Dave ahead doing his run 30 paces, walk 30 paces routine. I told him that I wasn't disciplined enough to do anything like that, so I just hobbled after him at a constantly slow pace. The sun slipped down quickly, but neither of us made a move to get a light out - we figured they'd be plenty of time for running under torchlight. There were a few more 'roos here - I was thinking maybe they'd jump at us thinking we were jeeps or something. Anyway, when we started to trip up on rocks, we stopped and put on our lights, then headed off. The forest was now completely silent - this was so weird.
Every so often we stopped to pee, to eat or whatever. Mostly Dave was ahead, and he'd turn round every so often just to make sure I hadn't gone awol. It was good track here, slightly downhill for 10km. The air was clean and fresh and smelt lovely. We did chat every so often, but I'm not sure what about. We reached the pluviometer and stopped to celebrate. I used some chocolate topping as a gu replacement (part of experiment - failed - tasted like crap). Not sure what Dave had. We saw some lights and I rather fancied that we were catching one of the others (we were in last place). Dave corrected me that if we were an hour behind back at Max's then we were even further behind by now, and the lights could be the Hydro-Majestic at Medlow Bath. Whatever.
The pluviometer was the first serious downhill, followed by the creek area - 3 crossings in as many minutes. At each one Dave worried about getting his feet wet. I became less concerned with the water and just strode or hopped across. Up to the mini-mini saddle and more downhills. The sky opened up as we came out of the forest, and the sky was just fantastic - clear jet black with millions and millions of stars. Dave summed it up best, so I will repeat his words here :
".. I felt almost euphoric. In an age when most of our fellow humans lack the means to choose their own destiny, and the few that can are consumed by materialism, I found simple pleasure in gazing up at a galaxy of stars. Sure, I was exhausted and my feet hurt and I was a long way from my beautiful daughters, but I was exactly where I wanted to be. And I felt a connection with the other Fat Ass crazies somewhere ahead of us on that same trail, under those same luminiscent heavens..."
It was here that Dave suggested he might quit when he met his parents at the Megalong Valley crossing. I was feeling good here, and said that we'd see when we got there. I wasn't really that interested in thinking about the finish now, just wanting to enjoy the present.
I took a photo of Dave here, and we carried on. Across the meadows and down towards the Cox's River. Down, down, down. The track was dirt road, but quite slippy. Luckily it was a sandy white colour so easy to see in the dark, but rutted in places with a few boulders thrown in to test awareness. Dave was leading all the way here.
At the crossing, we probably broke the oldest rule in the book. He wanted to cross on the bridge 1500 metres along, and I wanted to cross the river. So we split up, agreeing to meet on the other side. dickheads. The river at this point, for those who do not know it, isn't very deep - maybe waist high. But there are a series of sandy banks and big boulders. If you are careful you can cross without really gtting wet. This was uppermost in my mind as it was dark and cold. And I was alone. Normally you cross to a sandy bank halfway, then cross a bit more water and you are on the other side. I did that, but found another stream, and another sandy bank and another stream. Weird. Half fell in. Got wet. Finally made it to the other side. Ran off up the track. After a km, I just felt that this was not right. Shouted out, turned back, ran around in circles. Oh shit, I didn't like it at all. Stomach turning. Lost lost lost. Oh nooo. Eventually I found a sign, and a water tank, and a toilet block. Hang on, this looks like ... where I was before. Somehow I had gone full circle and re-crossed the river! Found the sign for the bridge and thought bugger being a purist, just get over the bridge to Dave. Found the river. No bridge. Dave's torch light "Dave Dave - are you on the bridge ?" Evidently not. A camper was out seeing what all the noise was and he pointed out the direction. I figured Dave could work out I was on the other side and headed for the bridge. I could see his light tracking back along the bank - obviously he'd worked it out.
Eventually I crossed the bridge. It was 10pm and very dark, very cold (especially since I was wet!). The bridge is a wire bridge high up off the water. A single track and you have to put out both hands to hold onto the sides. Similar to those ones in Nepal in the Himalaya. Boy was I glad to see Dave again. He'd waited for a few minutes before looking for me, thinking I'd had an accident in the river. We shook hands but I really wanted a hug!
We both felt mentally exhausted at the added stress and just started walking. By now I think we were also feeling the after effects of the all the downhill running and our legs were stuffed. Luckily the trail was fairly flat and quite rocky, so progress was quite good and we were less likely to have an accident by walking (oh yes, thought control!). Coming out at Pinnacle hill, I felt a breeze blowing and put on my last thermal top and wollen beany as it was quite cold now, especially when crossing the many stiles in the area, where you are even higher and more exposed.
By now, it was just a short jog to the Meglalong Cemetary crossing where Dave's parents might be - he'd said we'd be there by 10pm, and it was already past midnight. He ran on ahead and I trundled in a minute after him. His parents were there, and he quit. I think I'd already decided to stop here also. Had a quick coffee then got in the car and drove back to the start. I fell straight asleep so missed what was said.
Although I'd run 85km into a 93km event, I knew that if we continued, we'd only walk the rest, and we'd have to be looking at another 3 hours (we'd already down 16hrs 43mins and it was now 00:16) and it just seemed like what is the point of walking another 3 hours just to say we did the entire thing ? If his parents weren't there then for sure we'd have made it, but it did seem academic. We'd already done the hard work anyway. Even now, looking back on the day, sure it would have been good to be fit enough to run the whole thing, but there's no point in being a martryr about it all.
None of us hung around long back at the start/finish. No-one else was there. I drove to Woodford, maybe 20km, then turned off the road and slept for an hour at the wheel of the car as I was half asleep. When I awoke I drove another 5 mins then had another hour's sleep - I was totally stuffed. THEN I woke and drove home arriving at 5am in time to go straight to bed. In general, I held together well, apart from the tiredness and solid quads.
Am keen on going back next year to complete the deed....