Often times, experiencing a Best Know Time (BKT) during race season can prove difficult as we train for races and become consumed by the endorphins and energy and connections of races whilst also maintaining our work lives.
Covid – Adventure Cancelled (CAC) has provided the time and space for so many people to venture out beyond the race paradigm and pursue their own Best Known Time adventure.
I had the opportunity to do this on 17 July for a month with the California Untamed 330 Virtual: 500miles with 33,000 feet of elevation gain within a 33-day period.
However, by the 17th of July I had not heard from the Race Director of the virtual and therefore presumed the virtual was off. I said to my partner Keith that I might just run to Robe then. Running to Robe may not have been a great idea had the virtual be on as the elevation to Robe was undulating at best.
After about 4 days of running near home and leaving my Suunto watch at home as always, I received an email from the RD with the Strava club details and associated instructions for the virtual. So, the virtual was back on. Blow it I thought, we are still running to Robe.
Upon closing the store on Saturday afternoon, I headed up the hill to home and finished packing for our adventure and cooking food for meals and snack time.
I went to bed later than I should have but excited for the anticipation of running long and running without a starter’s gun or with the company of any other participants or with time and precise route restrictions as this time it would just be me, Keith and our kelpies.
The alarm went off at 4.00am and I didn’t shower this time. I made a cup of chai tea and drank this with a bowl of oats and coconut yogurt. After a short while Maggie, our 18-month-old Kelpie, got up and was ready to head out the door for our usual early morning run. Keith and I had barely gone through logistics the night before which concerned me. I had started to write down some directions on a piece of paper but then scratched that idea for photos of the google map directions. Keith was coming to get Maggie in a couple of hours and with him he would bring my other pack and my phone chargers. I would be fine until then.
I had decided to take a route to Wellington that would keep me on more dirt roads and tracks but would mean finding a fire track that I was not sure whether I had seen it many times before or never at all.
Maggie and I set off at about 4.45am into the darkness and out on to our country roads headed towards a dirt road that we had run down together countless times. It felt wonderful to run and to know we were headed off to something long. About 15km into our run I started to search for the fire trail that would take us through a bunch of paddocks before popping us out to the dirt roads again. However, I couldn’t see the fire trail sign anywhere and I just wasn’t certain if I had ever seen it at all. Where I thought I had seen the sign now stood a house under construction and perhaps, I thought, the new owners had removed the fire trail sign. Google maps told me I was where the fire trail started. What to do? I could either take a left under the freeway and continue on to Wellington along more significant roads or I could bum my way through the paddocks hoping the fire trail had some resemblance of its former self. The sensible thing would have been to take the left and it was probably the route that Keith would have preferred I take.
Instead I scanned the fence line and found a good spot to pick Maggie up and haul her over. I thought she would be weirded out by this but the night excited her like it did me. Over a few more fences and then we came upon big mobs of earth that had been bulldozed to block vehicles moving along the fire trail. This was disappointing. It is always sad to see tracks disappear. Maggie and I pushed on and I hoped to be out of the paddocks before daylight came. We were well on our way down the fire track and google maps showed we were indeed heading in the right direction.
We crossed a few streams and after crossing a larger creek we found ourselves in a cow and calf paddock. Now, I am a country kid and I grew up with my bedroom window outside the neighbouring bull paddock and spent my youth racing around cow paddocks. But this time I had a dog and this time these mothers were protecting their calves.
At this stage Keith called me to organise the Maggie pick up. I had one hand holding the phone and one hand holding Maggie’s lead. Then a cow charged us, Maggie bolted with the lead still in my hand and I crashed to the ground and let out a yelp across the almost daybreak paddocks. This sucked. We were off the track and I had no idea how, but I kept walking up the hill and away from the cows. I had turned off the energy sapping connections on my phone but had forgotten to turn off one which may or may not have made much difference to my dying phone. I sent a picture of where I was on goggle maps to Keith and he figured out that I had turned right instead of left as I crossed the last creek.
We turned back and made our way back towards the cows and their calves and hoped we would be able to pass through without much fuss. A strong “shoo” and wave would usually send cows away but no this morning. These mothers were not happy we were in their paddock and they all came for us. Holy cow!! This sucked. “F%^* babe they’re proper charging us!!!” I scanned our surroundings for a way out and we made our way to a near-by fence and I managed to get over the fence and then get Maggie under it without any further trouble. Maggie was gorgeous in the paddock and stayed behind me as much as she could and didn’t go near the calves and was desperately wanting to get away from the cows. These poor mothers protecting their young from us and little did they know their babies would be herded away from them in the not too distant future.
We were over the fence and away from the cows and it was a wonderful feeling of relief. As we moved down the fence line, the mothers followed us, ready to charge again when necessary. Keith wanted to get off the phone as he knew my battery was waning, but I wanted to keep him on until we found our track again. We crossed the creek and located our track and realised I had made a silly mistake missing the turn. Keith hung up and Maggie and I made our way towards the end of the fire track. We went through a few gates that displayed signs for authorised entry only, so we started to put some speed into our movements. We crept pass a house hoping the owners were still in bed at this hour. Keith rang again and I let him know we were on the right track. We made our way to a public road and passed a blueberry farm. I took a photo of the sign and sent it to Keith, so he knew where I was. Finally, we made our way to the end of the fire track and came to a t-intersection. I pulled out my phone to check for directions. My phone was dead and I had no charger! F%%%%^^^^****!!! How did this happen. I never let this happen. I always have written instructions and battery power back up!! How did this happen? I turned left as I was pretty sure I remembered this is what I had to do. Hopefully Keith would be here soon, and I would have my charger and we would be fine.
I came to the end of the road and another t-intersection. Shit, left, or right? From my high point I could see water to the right and to the left I was sure was headed towards Murray Bridge. I could have waited at that point, but I had no idea how long Keith would take to reach me and I had over 100kms to cover that day. Sitting messes with my head and I needed to keep moving. I turned right. The morning was beautiful. Another t-intersection. To the right I would soon come upon a bitumen road, to the left another dirt road. I turned right to check out the bitumen road even though I was sure I wasn’t due to hit bitumen yet. When I saw the main road name, I was pretty sure that wasn’t on my list of roads and so I turned back. Upon reaching the previous t-intersection I scavenged around for some sticks and made an arrow at the edge of the road for Keith. Maggie and I continued down the dirt road. I was worried that I would run out of fluids soon and I didn’t have a heap of water for Maggie and what I had already poured out for her she had ignored. We ran on and with every sound of a car I turned hoping Keith would be coming down the road, but it was always another car.
I started to get angry. How had this happened? Why didn’t Keith work through the morning’s details with me the night before? Why hadn’t he gone out and checked the fire track? Why hadn’t I gone out and checked the fire track? Why hadn’t he left the house earlier? Why hadn’t I written down instructions? Why hadn’t I taken a battery pack? Why wasn’t I more prepared for this seemingly innocent 2 hour beginning of a 3-day run? Why hadn’t I?
I had clearly taken a wrong turn and there was no guarantee that even though I was adamant that Keith would intrinsically know the path I had taken, that he had any idea at all where I was or where I had made the wrong turn. All he knew was that I had passed a blueberry farm. Maggie and I ran on, by this stage knowingly in the wrong direction as Keith would have got to us by now. Over the years Keith had always known where I was. He understood race tracking with precision and always estimated my location without fanfare. I had come to expect Keith to always just be there, we were a team like that, no one else, just us and we hummed effortlessly along. I was concerned he hadn’t arrived, and I started to devise options of contacting him even though my gut told me he would eventually find us.
And he did, coming down the road in the direction that I did not expect him to come from. I had taken the right-hand turn towards the water and not Murray Bridge and that was my mistake. All I had to do was finish off my direction sheet which I stupidly left at home. I didn’t say anything to Keith when he arrived as what was there to say. He had been madly driving around for an hour looking for me, stopping cars asking if they had seen a woman running with a dog but with no luck. He had gone to where I was supposed to be and then guessed where I might have been until he found me.
I grabbed my larger pack and 2 battery charges and plugged my phone into the car charger whilst I pulled up google maps and devised a new route to Wellington based on my current location. Maggie jumped into the car and settled into a relaxing morning back home while Keith finished loading the car up for our trip.
My new route took me down some beautiful dirt roads lined with scrublands. It felt wonderful to be on the open road and heading out on an adventure. I wanted to get into Meningie at a decent hour so that Keith and I could eat together and time to get sorted for the following morning before getting some sleep.
After a few hours I pulled out my headphones and started listening to some podcasts. The running had been serene, but it was time to take in some learning and inspiration. Listening to podcasts slowed my running somewhat but it was something I loved, and speed wasn’t of any real concern on this run, or often ever.
My google maps had me turn off the dirt road and into some scrub without a track. Into the distance I could see the roads I needed to get to and I it had already been clear to me this morning that the walking tracks on google maps could be problematic. The safe option was to stick to the road but instead I disappeared into the scrub overgrowth determined to find some tracks. Which I did and the route through the scrubland to the road was pretty easy going. Coming back out on to the road and Keith called to say he was on his way.
Keith continued into Meningie to set up camp and I set in for some main road running with a nice portion of track running alongside the road. The podcasts I was listening to were great, but the sun was setting, and I was still 15 odd kilometres out of Meningie. The night came quickly, and I was met with trucks, fast cars, high beams and a serious concern that I was on a major road running towards oncoming traffic who couldn’t see me except for my headlamp and waist light.
I thought about my options. I didn’t need to be here; this was my choice, and this wasn’t an event. I wondered if they had Ubers in Meningie or maybe even a taxi. I messaged Keith and told him this wasn’t much fun and a bit dangerous. Keith said he would come and get me which meant dismantling our camp that was attached to our vehicle and heading out to me which all up took almost an hour.
It was great to get into the car and arrive at the caravan park at a decent hour with a few kilometres shy of 100km under my feet for the day. Keith set up camp for the second time while I had a heavenly shower. We heated up our veggie pasta and snuggled into our winter clothing in our awning room off the side of our Landcruiser. I unpacked and then repacked my running pack and put all my devices on charge. The night was still relatively early, but we made our way up to our roof top tent.
I didn’t get much sleep as I could hear footsteps outside, and I had left all my charging gear on our table inside our awning room. The footsteps were consistent, and it was probably birds or ducks I realised but it also concerned Maggie and she spent much of the night awake with the occasional bark at the footsteps she too was hearing and no doubt the smells of our new location.
I awoke early with my alarm and pulled on my days run gear. It was freezing outside, and I had a bunch of winter weather gear on. I climbed down from our roof top tent and started heating up some chai tea and porridge. I drank some Spark and then headed out into the dark. It was an easy, out of the caravan park and turn right, direction day. It started to drizzle but there wasn’t much in it. I didn’t bother with a rain jacket. I found a trail meandering on the outskirts of town and took this for some time before opening up to a picturesque country road. After running for over an hour I questioned whether I was on the right road? I had to have been as all I had to do was turn right which I did. I got my phone out and checked my maps. I had gone the wrong way. I had taken the right hand turn too early. This was nuts, how had I done this again.
Fortunately, my mistake was the good kind. Instead of heading out on a direct route that would take me to the main road towards our next camp and Robe I had taken a more scenic route albeit longer. As I was within a Best Known Time run it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that a good distance was covered, that I pushed through the aches and pains that I had a great time and that I discovered new and wonderful things. And that was what I was doing here. My pack was heavy, but it held everything I needed for hours out there on my own and I loved that feeling. I made my way to more dirt roads and then entered the Coorong National Park. It was beautiful here and wild. Growing up visiting the Coorong and melting into the story of Storm Boy as a kid, the Coorong had always held a special and wild place in my heart. I loved being out here.
Google maps had me moving through some more tracks which again I was willing to give a go. I ran along beach bush tracks and past camping areas until I came to a big sign that indicated that I was entering Aboriginal land. Bugger!! My public lands adventure for the moment had come to an end and I back tracked to the bitumen road I had passed a way back and headed towards the main road. Running along the main road is never the most fun part of a run adventure but it is often inevitable and makes all the bush tracks and dirt roads more rewarding. Keith and the kelpies met up with me and we spent the day pegging out sections and dirt roads for me to run along and parts that I would skip due to an over availability of main road and brutal head winds.
My last leg of day 2 was along the Old Coorong Road and deep into the afternoon. It was spectacular. The colours, smells and wildlife of the Coorong were beautiful. It was physically hard going by the end of day two and I started with some strategies of eating a snake at each kilometre for 100 metres and then running to the next kilometre for the 4 snakes I had. I then peed at the next kilometre and then put on some tunes for the next kilometre until I made my way into our bush camp. Our bush camp had a drop toilet and that was it and there was no-one else here. It was going to be cold, but this was spectacular.
I washed myself down with a wet cloth and put on some part next day run clothing and part bed clothing and we tucked into our succulent vegetable curry and cold beer. Heaven.
That night I made sure all my charging gear was in the car so that I wouldn’t lay awake wondering about it disappearing. Despite the active outside wildlife Maggie slept well but it was Sanni’s turn to be restless. She moved constantly around the roof top tent and would flop on us with gusto and lick us with puppy enthusiasm. We figured she needed to go pee and Keith carried her out of the roof top tent. Sanni is a “only in my yard and only off the lead” pee and pooper so it would often take us ages to get her to pee when we are away from home. The night before we had walked her around and around our camping area on her lead for her to pee and without much luck. It was little wonder she needed to go out during the night.
On his way back up to the tent Keith proclaimed “jezus, there are wild pigs out here!!”. What!! I said, “Are you serious”. My brain furiously scanning its contents for information about wild pigs and the Coorong. Sure, up in the Territory where we had lived, but down here? “Are you sure?”, I said. Almost flippantly Keith said, “I don’t know, there is something out here maybe it’s wombats”. “Well what is it?” “Oh, I don’t know babe, I just saw something tearing through the bush”. Shit I thought, I had to get up and run through this bush in the dark in the morning on my own and what the hell is out there? With little else to do I went back to sleep.
I woke early again with my alarm and made my way down to our annex room. Chai tea, porridge and Spark and off I went again into the dark. It was incredible out here. It was brutally cold, and I even had my hoodie on, but it was pretty wild to be out here. The sun rose and the lakes were beautifully picturesque. My body was hurting but I loved it out here. And I did see some wombat poo and eventually I saw a big old wombat too.
Some 20kms later Keith and the kelpies met up with me and I took Sanni for a frolicky walk. Sanni only walks in frolicky style which is pretty hilarious and loads of fun.
We met up again in Kingston and scoffed in a bunch of fruit bread, vegemite and also avocado sandwiches. We then picked the next point where I would run into Robe. I had some old dude drive past me and then do a turn back to me, drive up alongside me and ask if I was ok. I told him I was fine and then did my usual thing of texting his registration plate and car details to Keith. He too had seen this guy on the beach early. I am always hyper vigilant when I am out on the road by myself especially at night-time. Always scanning the landscape for getaway points if I ever needed to make a run for it. I was always fine, but I was always alert.
My last leg was into Robe and I had almost come to the end my Best Known Time Nairne to Robe adventure and it was a beauty. I had pushed myself, I hurt and got little sleep and I spent time with Keith and the kelpies every evening and regularly throughout the day. There were never any race participants in front of me or runners coming up from behind me, it was just me and I adored it. Keith and the kelpies came down to meet me as I neared the caravan park in Robe, and we walked the last segment together which was pretty splendid. The caravan park was lovely, and we had a great sea view, but the wind was a beast. Keith had not set up the awning as we were to leave crazy early the next morning so that I could get back to the store to open. We sat in the front seat of the Landcruiser and the kelpies in the back and we drank beer and ate yummy snack food. It was bliss. A few other holidayers were either sitting out either on their cabin verandas or their well organised caravan awnings. But here Keith and I were in real bogan style sitting in the front seat of our car drinking beer (damn good local Robe craft ales) and by this stage, our kelpies were on a joined lead outside the car with the head of the lead coming from in the car
I showered, Keith showered and then we walked into town to grab a couple of vegan burgers. Back at the car, delicious sparkling wine, hot chips and bloody awful burgers and a good movie on the iPad. After we ate, we headed up to the rooftop and fell into a lovely sleep.
Another 4 days at the store and then we were packed up again to head to Melrose for some more Best Known Time adventures and this time for the elevation. I undertook circuits of Mount Remarkable, coming in for chai tea and second breakfast or lunch or afternoon snacks whilst Keith would head out for some mountain biking when I would break and do some work. This was how we would spend our days at Melrose before heading home to the store.
Our trip to Robe saw me run for about 250km over 3 days with a bunch of wonderful family time and discovering new trails and revisiting places of wonderful memories.
By day 30 of 33 days I had reached about 600km and well over the necessary elevation I needed, and I was done.
The past month has been the awesome type of hard, and running BKT adventures reminded me of how much I loved just simply being out there, finding the determination to push through pain and fatigue for the simple pleasure of feeling so alive.