While most of us have moved through a standard Tuesday, about 150 adventure athletes from all over the world have been scrutinising and marking maps of the Townsville region, meticulously plotting their course that will take them trekking, mountain biking, sea kayaking, river canoeing, stand up paddleboarding and rock climbing 642km non-stop day and night over the next nine days with next-to-no sleep.
Yes, XPD Australia has arrived in Townsville — it’s the country’s toughest expedition adventure race and it’s the first time this international event has come to our shores. Thirty-six teams representing 10 different countries will set-off from Strand Park tomorrow at 9am, but — until then — teams have been determining their navigation, only becoming privy to the closely-guarded course route at about 8.30am this morning.
We showed up to the Mercure Townsville at 9am, where this year’s race is being hosted, in time to see competitors dispersing in their teams of four to nut-out their route that will see them push themselves to the ultimate limit of human endurance. XPD is known to be as much of a mental challenge as a physical as people test themselves in ways they’ve never done before. Meltdowns are guaranteed.
After the months of build-up, I was nearly as keen to see the route as the teams (who have come from as far as France, the Netherlands, South Africa, New Caledonia, Kuwait, Japan, the UK, Ireland and New Zealand to compete), and was pleased to discover that the first leg is Magnetic Island — our very own adventure playground.
Competitors will paddle 8km across to the island straight after leaving Strand Park at 9am, landing in Picnic Bay. From there, they will make their way towards Horseshoe Bay in a mix of short swims; snorkelling, ducking down to find underwater checkpoints; scrambling over boulders; trekking and stand up paddleboarding. It’s going to be a sight to behold for international visitors, with organisers keen to ensure that the best of our local scenery is captured, including the wildlife (there are special instructions to get the Geoffrey Bay rock wallabies and Forts Walk koalas in the coverage where possible).
After Horseshoe Bay, teams will trek west via the coastline or inland (their decision) into the night, stopping for a compulsory rest on West Point beach at about midnight. Now, if I was doing this and I had survived this far, this is the point where I would probably say, “Well, it’s been a fun day guys, but I’m just scooting back to the mainland for a nice hot meal, shower and comfy bed — enjoy!” But these impressive men and women will have just a couple of hours to sleep and eat, before heading off again at first light to the next stage — a 60km ocean kayak to Halifax Bay via Saunders and Balgal Beaches. Once they come ashore near Mutarnee, they’ll start moving 900m up the rainforest escarpment to Paluma.
From here, they’ll choose from two trails — both 50km options have waterfalls along the way. There will be an orienteering challenge on the plateau, followed by the next leg — a 45km mountain bike via single track and minor trails to the checkpoint at Hidden Valley. Leg six is a 28km spectacular trek through the remote Running River canyon area, including rocky rope descents and swims across large pools of water. The whole leg is on private property with no access to the public. Next up is a 53km mountain bike to the Burdekin Bridge, where teams then paddle 70km on the mighty Burdekin River, navigating around the shallow parts. From here it’s onward to Charters Towers — 48km by mountain bike via the Gregory Development Road. This is the race mid-camp (phew), so teams are greeted with a hot meal and a compulsory six-hour stop.
But they need to make sure they make the most of that rest, because then they’re into the longest cycle leg of the race — 145km via outback stations to the historic gold rush town of Ravenswood, and then on to Mingela. This leads to the most challenging trek of the race – 45km in an area called ‘the maze’ due to its confusing landscape, followed by a great canyon trek up the Reid River. Once they hit the escarpment they’ll be able to see the finish line, but — oh, no — they’re not there yet… there’s just another 50km to go on their bikes.
The race finishes at Mercure Townsville, but the day and time depends on the speed of the teams. The fastest will cross the line on Sunday afternoon, with the winning team expecting to have a total of about five hours sleep over the four days; while the more casual (and sleep-dependant) teams will take anywhere up to nine days. The winners of this year’s race will secure entry into the Adventure Racing World Championships, which will be staged at the end of the year in Brazil.
Local athletes taking part include Sam Stedman, Team 37: Peak Adventure; Jennifer North, Team 35: Rusty Ironman & The Yogis; Kris Maguire, Team 7: Mawson-Tiger Adventure; Rickie Single – Team 29: Macarthur Maniacs-Tiger Adventure; and Luke Miles – Team 15: Everyday Life Fitness-Tiger Adventure.
We quickly caught up with Luke Miles while he was dropping his gear off this afternoon and enjoying a pizza and beer ahead of the mammoth challenge. His team have agreed to race for 20 hours a day, sleep for two hours and spend two hours in transition sorting out gear with the aim to finish in the top 10 in seven days.
Luke said it was exciting to see 200 bike boxes and everyone’s gear getting weighed to send to different parts of the region where they’d catch up to it in three to five days. After spending the day working out maps, food and packing; he’s looking forward to seeing parts of the area he’s never seen before.
“It’s really going to highlight the best North Queensland has to offer — there’s places we’ll be going through that I never knew existed — I never knew we had canyons here.”
Media from all over the world will be covering the event as the 36 teams move through some of our most spectacular locations, taking photos, video, blogging, doing social media updates, and writing articles for global adventure magazines. It’s going to be a brilliant showcase of our region.
Also, teams are carrying satellite trackers with them and will blog about their progress during the race. Follow all the live action here: live.xpd.com.au.
Random fact: Apart from Australia, the next biggest audience tuning in will be from France.
We’ll keep you posted over the next few days. Good luck to everyone taking part! You are mind-blowingly awesome. Also a special shout-out to the local volunteers — we know how hard you’ve worked, and will continue to work, to ensure everyone enjoys our adventure playground.