“Red Dog was a friendly kelpie cross who lived his life hitching rides and travelling throughout WA’s north before he died in November 1979. Tally Ho was his first name, given to him by his first owner and the one who brought him to Dampier. The nickname “Red Dog” has been attributed to the red dirt of the Pilbara Region. A second owner, was a bus driver whose work allowed Red Dog to travel via bus around Dampier, Karratha and surrounding districts, thus the dog became very well known by the locals. After his second owner died, Red Dog spent a lot of time travelling on his own and was taken in by many members of the community, some who took him on trips as far afield as Perth, Broome, Roebourne, Point Samson & Port Hedland.”
I had only just moved to the Pilbara a couple of months before this event last year but had tagged it for one of my future hitlists. Lucky for me, a Panna team was being formed this year and they weren’t too picky! I didn’t put in a lot of effort towards training for this event, although I had done some mountain biking and running several weeks out, time just got away from me to be able to put a dedicated effort in. While this event is a competition, it has a very friendly and relaxed vibe and I wasn’t stressing too much about completing the distances as each leg is completed as part of a team effort. There were some 25 teams entered this year, with over 300 competitors and support crew making the most of the Pilbara region with an 18km run, 4km paddle, 48km mountain bike, 180km 4WD, 9km walk, 1km swim and 123km road bike leg through some of the most picturesque and diverse landscapes the Pilbara has to offer.
The Pannawonica Team, Panna Pikey’s (team name care of the Irish contingent), consisted of six members with three females and three males. As we were very well prepared…ahem….we decided to hold our first meeting two days out from the event to make sure we had a support crew, all the right equipment/food/accommodation etc, and to decide who would be doing what leg of the relay. I could be wrong, but I think our process for deciding who got to do what, was based purely on who sucked the least on each leg. Obviously, we were a highly competitive team…watch out for Panna Pikey’s!
LEG 1: 18km RUN (Three members of the team to complete either 8km, 5km, or 5km)
The race kicked off from Dampier with the run leg first up, early on a wet and miserable Saturday morning. Apparently the Red Dog Relay is getting a bit of a reputation for being a dirty, wet weekend, all part of the fun I was told.
LEG 2: 4km PADDLE (Four members to participate, 2 x 2km in a double kayak)
There was a little controversy amongst the team over certain positions in the tandem kayaks. Now I am certain that there are no tall people in Pannawonica….ok, there might be a couple…..but I generally find that I am the tallest person around, especially out of the girls, and I am probably what you would politely call solid. The night before the race, the team was sitting around having a quiet drink and talking strategy when the paddle leg came up and the topic of kayak position was open for discussion. Obviously in the tandem kayak, balance is key and you will generally have your heaviest person in the back of the kayak. My paddling partner, who is tall and lanky (and Irish, just saying), without hesitation declared that ‘Beth is DEFINITELY in the back’. Really? Sheesh, maybe I have been hitting the chocolates a little hard but couldn’t he have hesitated a little, or pretended to at least consider that I wasn’t the heaviest? Lucky I grew up with a father who affectionately called me Big Bertha, so meh…water off a ducks back.
After our runners did a fabulous job, we were up first for our team in the paddle. After all the ribbing he received after his comment the night before, my paddling partner sheepishly told me to take the front position. Despite some doubt, we nailed it….yep, chunky but funky!!
LEG 3: 180km FOUR WHEEL DRIVE (4 Drivers, 4 Quizzes)
This section covered many miles of red dog country from Dampier to Karratha, Cossack, Roebourne, and finishing up in Millstream National Park. It was divided into four sections with a questionnaire to be answered before the next transition point and driver change over. As the organisers didn’t want to encourage speeding this leg was an untimed leg. Hmmm, we read this as stop and get a coffee at Macca’s, as you do during an adventure race.
It was a fun leg and you really got to see a lot of the diverse Pilbara countryside as well as learning lots from the quizzes you had to complete. Only two of the four sections were actual four wheel driving but not very difficult. It was a long leg, over four hours of driving, and I have to say it is sucky being a girl on these adventure races, there are no toilets anywhere out on the road.
LEG 4: 48km MOUNTAIN BIKE RIDE (3 team members – 12km, 22km, 14km)
After four hours in the car, I was more than ready to get on with the mountain bike leg. Our first rider had driven ahead and was ready and waiting. It had been fine for all of our 4WD leg but of course it decided to rain just as we came in to tag into the mountain biking. This part of the course had actually copped a lot of rain, it was muddy and washed out in some places. First riders made it through, but as second rider I was stopped just before 10km as some of the track was a little unpredictable for flash flooding. To be honest, I was completely bummed. I had just started settling into my ride and felt a little ripped off. Not to worry, I decided to join my team member for the last section of the mountain bike leg. I am so glad I did, this section was a beautiful ride.
And that was the end of Day 1. My wonderful husband and kids, and the rest of our fantastic support crew families, had driven ahead and set up camp at Millstream Homestead campground (at least those that didn’t blow a fuse in their car did). It was a fantastic location and camping with the team and support crew was a great way to end the day. After a wet night, a bacon and egg breakfast was provided the next morning to fuel us up ready for the second day of competition.
LEG 5: 9km CROSS COUNTRY HIKE (2 team members to complete together)
LEG 6: 1km SWIM (2 members, 2 x 500m)
All the teams came in pretty close together on the hiking leg, tagging the first of the swimmers for their teams. The Panna Pikey’s were sitting at about middle of the pack, so several swimmers had headed off in front of our first swimmer. As you already know, our team is very supportive and would never dream of having a bit of a laugh or paying out anyone on the team. So I won’t mention how our first swimmer dove in and headed in the opposite direction because that would be a little embarrassing. I imagine it would have been hard to know which direction to go when only 10 or so other teams had gone before you right? Lucky the support kayak managed to cut him off and point him in the right direction. No, that definitely wasn’t the rest of the team rolling on the ground with laughter.
Even without training at all for the swim, good old muscle memory kicked in, and I managed to pull back a couple of places in the swim. It was a beautiful morning and I loved the swim at Deep Reach Pool.
LEG 7: 123km ROAD BIKE (4 team members – 31km, 20km, 36km, 14km)
The final leg of the race started about 20km drive from Deep Reach Pool. The distances for each ride leg were a bit confusing and weren’t the same distances as detailed in our handbooks. Our game plan was a little back the front as our riders with actual road bikes ended up doing the shorter sections while the two of us with only mountain bikes clunked along for the longer rides. The first section wound through the stunning Chichester Ranges and was a tough but scenic ride. Our second rider whizzed through the next session and I was barely ahead of her in the car to be dropped off at the checkpoint. Initially, we thought the two middle legs were about 27km which I was fine with. I was feeling a little weary after yesterdays activities and an interrupted nights sleep, so was happy thinking that I might have a shorter than expected section too. Why I thought my section would be shorter as well didn’t really make sense when you do the maths, and I was about 10km in when I realised this. My support crew stayed a cautious distance away when they told me this section would be about 36km, approximately 10km more than I had psyched up for. They threw some lollies out the window at me and then dropped back to trail a safe distance behind. I admit my head was not in the game for this ride. It was a long flat ride with the occasional slow climbs thrown in and I was my own worst enemy. The middle 10km dragged on in the worst way until I spied another competitor in the distance. Yay, someone to try and catch and enough incentive to get my focus back.
It really was a fantastic weekend and I would encourage absolutely everyone to give this event a go if you are in the Pilbara for the WA Day Long Weekend. Go Team!!