As the seventh team over the XPD finish line, making Kris Maguire the first Townsvillian home, we caught up with Team Mawson/Tiger Adventure just a couple of days after they finished the 650km epic adventure race that’s dubbed the toughest in the country and played out on our very doorstep. To give you some context; the first team back were fellow Aussies Mountain Designs on Monday night, and there are still teams out there now.
“I said, ‘Mate, you know it’s only going to get worse’ and every leg seemed to be more epic than the other” – Kevin Piercy
For paddler, keen adventure racer and orienteering gun Kris, an expedition race had always been on his bucket list, but it wasn’t until about six weeks before this international event came to Townsville that he got the call-up — an all-male team was looking for another racer to join their ranks. After a chat with now fellow teammate Kevin Piercy, who is in his mid fifties and has done all eight XPD races all over Australia, Kris decided to sign on the dotted line and says the six-day experience was everything he’d hoped for.
We caught up with the whole team — Kris Maguire (Townsville), Russell Newnham (Melbourne), Ricky Thackray (Perth), and Kevin Piercy (Gippsland) for a coffee on The Strand earlier today to look at their blisters and get some ‘behind-the-dot’ info on what it was really like out there.
For the background on XPD and where it went, including maps, see the following articles we recently published:
Kris — this was your first XPD — how did it stack up compared to what you were expecting?
Kris: It’s probably what I imagined, but it surprised me how much your body can do and achieve if you put your mind to it. You think you’re going to get tired and you don’t, and you keep going.
Russ: There’s no doubt that, if your life depended on it, you could do it again; but you’d have to chop off your feet and be a bit slower (laughs). But it’s astounding what you can do.
Kris: The first day on Maggie Island was like, ‘Wow, up and down rocks’; then you got up the next morning and did the 60km ocean paddle [which saw Kris’ kayak fill with water and him capsize], and by that stage I was just like, ‘Well, this is what we are doing and we’re out here for another five days’.
Kevin: When you see people out there they’re all happy and everyone wants to be there.
What was the hardest part of the race?
Russ: Every leg you’d say, ‘Well, that was the worst part’, and then it got tougher.
Kevin: Kris said to me on the first night [on Magnetic Island], ‘That was epic’ and I said, ‘Mate, you know it’s only going to get worse’ and every leg seemed to be more epic than the other. Except for the mountain bike legs, which were quite straightforward compared to other XPD races.
Ricky: We had a really cold night on the [Burdekin] riverbank when we couldn’t get our fire started. After about three hours of jumping up and down trying to keep warm, we managed to borrow a lighter off another team, who’d borrowed it off another team.
“You tended to go through phases where you felt OK, and then you were so tired you’d be having mini sleeps walking along…” – Russell Newnham
Kris: There were peaks and troughs, but they were really quick. If you had a frustrating down moment it usually left fast. Like in the 70km kayak section of the Burdekin River where you’d be paddling along and you’d hit sand where it was so shallow and end up having to walk the boat 400m. It was getting me really frustrated, but then it was only five minutes later when it happened again and I just lost it laughing. I put my paddle down and just laughed, and then I got out and started towing the boat.
How did you end up buddying up with fellow Australian team Neverest, who you crossed the finish line with?
Ricky: We met up with them towards the end and it was a social boost — when you’ve been with the same three guys for the entire race, it’s exciting having a new team to talk to. We’d ended up spending a fair amount of time travelling with them, including the last one-and-a-half sections, so we thought, ‘Bugger this, we’ve been with each other too much, let’s just do the rest of the race together’…
Kevin: Otherwise it’s just far to stressful trying to race each other at the end…
Kris: It lifted morale too. We were six days into the race and obviously you’re flat and you come across another team and everyone’s chirpy again. They had a guy who was really foot sore, so I gave him my walking poles and he used those, then on the bike… we pushed pretty hard that last section [45km mountain bike to Mercure Townsville] and could have easily dropped them if we wanted to, but we’d worked hard together the last day so we said, ‘How about we cross the line together?’ It was a good moment and I really enjoyed it.
What about the sleep deprivation – was that tough?
Kris: Russ and I worked out that we had 12 hours sleep over six-and-a-half days and that included the five hours compulsory sleep at the midway point of Charters Towers and the rest on Magnetic Island the first night.
Ricky: We’d just grab a couple of hours here or there, or while waiting for the sun to come up. Say if we got to a point and couldn’t really see any features we’d call it [a day], rather than wandering off and having to backtrack.
Russ: Whether it was 30 minutes or two hours, in the initial 20 seconds after waking up, you’d think, ‘What am I doing?’ You tended to go through phases where you felt OK, and then you were so tired you’d be having mini sleeps walking along…
Kris: Yes, we stopped at one point to have a look at the map or have a discussion and within 20 seconds Russ was snoring propped against an uncomfortable rock. ‘Come on, get up — let’s go!’
Russ: I actually felt better after that two minutes [of sleep].
“It was getting me really frustrated, but then it was only five minutes later when it happened again and I just lost it laughing. I put my paddle down and just laughed, and then I got out and started towing the boat” – Kris Maguire
You got the call-up six weeks before Kris — how did you prepare?
Kris: I remain pretty fit anyway — I do a fair bit of racing: Adventurethon events, mountain bike racing and paddling; but I upped my trekking with the pack. Every time I went up Castle Hill I took the pack and mixed it up so I’d move on sand, trails, and bitumen, trying to get my feet used to the heavy pack and different terrain. That’s probably it training wise. Logistics were the big thing and I’d go so far to say that the race is 90% logistics. You obviously need a good fitness level, but you need to be prepared with the right equipment, the right food and be ready to race.
How did you all handle the most challenging part near the end — ‘the maze’
Ricky: We had to take two on the first checkpoint. We missed it totally and there was no way I could relocate it so we had to go all the way back to the railway and start again. We tried a new tactic, so I came around and hit it pretty much bang on. I said the maze section would make or break us early on. We had the other male team behind us and, although we had a one-hour-plus gap going into that last section, it was always going to come down to this last navigation and unfortunately it did and cost us big time. I was relying on the contours because that’s what I do, when I should have used the water. You really had to take different navigation skills into each leg.
“It was always going to come down to this last navigation and unfortunately it did and cost us big time” – Ricky Thackray
What was the biggest highlight?
Kris: The second last checkpoint from the end where a 1L bottle of Coke and can of Pringles awaited us. The shouting, screaming and cheering that followed…
Russ: …Ricky was ferreting through the empty ones and found one of the alleged empty ones was half full — extra bonus!
Kris, were you pleased to be able to fly the flag for Townsville?
Kris: Yes, it was a really proud moment to be involved as a Townsvillian.
Russ: Especially in the last bit when they sent everyone a message to say which teams had finished and we saw no one from Townsville had crossed the line yet, which surprised us as Peak Adventure were leading [unbeknownst to Team 7, Peak Adventure had to withdraw due to medical issues], and we thought, ‘This is OK…’
Kris: I was really blown away by the level of support I had throughout the entire race. I even got a phone call this morning from a friend in Brisbane who’d been tracking me. [My wife] Tegan helped because she was putting it all over Facebook, which kept everyone updated. On the last ride, as we came in, a workmate sat on a corner and cheered us as we went past, and another friend who I paddle with was on another corner in his car; then when we finished there was a crowd there as well, which was awesome. It was also great to see some of the teams who had already finished come down to the finish line as well.
Any advice for those keen to do the next XPD in about 18 months time?
Kris: You need to master your navigation. Get hold of your local orienteering club and get some advice. I think all of us can navigate at different levels, but the level that’s needed for a race like this, you need someone in your team like Ricky, who’s one of the best in Australia.
Russ: It’s also being able to focus — I can navigate quite well in that first day, but then after that I’m tired and just follow everyone.
Kris: You have to be a little bit crazy to take something on like XPD because it’s definitely not easy. In saying that, anyone could do it if they put their mind to it, but you’ve got to want to it and have the mental strength.
Results of teams with Townsville locals
Congratulations to everyone who took part — you are absolute legends:
Kris Maguire — Team 7: Mawson-Tiger Adventure: Finished 7th
Luke Miles – Team 15: Everyday Life Fitness-Tiger Adventure: Finished 13th
Rickie Single – Team 29: Macarthur Maniacs-Tiger Adventure: Finished 22nd
Sam Stedman — Team 37: Peak Adventure: Withdrew from race due to medical issues.
Jennifer North — Team 35: Rusty Ironman & The Yogis: Still racing non-competitively after failing to collect required checkpoints.