I was calm as I left the Trailhead.
Behind me were many months of serious training that had me confident (not cocky). I was in the form of my life and I would not be mentally overpowered by anything along this testing section of the challenge.
Behind me too was Randell Taylor and my eldest son George in support, as well as Simon Duke and Aiden the photographer for the Southern section. All very capable cogs of a war machine – strategic, focussed and each knowing their role, knowing the task in hand and knowing when to perform and how.
For my immediate support my new Coros Apex Pro watch had been skillfully dispatched to me by Chris Adams at Injinji Performance Products with the assistance of The Running Company (Thank you Chris Chapman and team).The device is so capable but for this specific challenge I only needed to set the screens to distance and time on one of the many screens available (and data choices) and elevation gain and time of day on another. Can’t wait to keep testing this watch out. For me a huge step up from my previous watch. Along with the navigation screen on the downloaded GPX file, that was enough. Keep it sharp. Keep it raw. Know that this piece of kit would prove to run without recharge for over 33 hours ( In fact I finished with nearly 10% battery. Astonishing and comforting).
The plan in this unforgiving first section was to forget about average pace, to forget about everything apart from what I considered necessary to know where the support team would be and the time of day so as to mentally plan overall nutrition and keeping half an eye on daylight availability when required later.
As I shifted away from The Cape there was now just me.
I smiled in the darkness and wound my way along sandy tracks and over the first beachhead before tackling the first sharp climb away to the headland .. looking forward I could see that pre daylight was there ahead of me to The East.. that ambient slight light which as it became half-light showed ahead the silhouettes of Kangaroos effortlessly springing over the rise like they had done for centuries before .. absolutely magnificent and requiring a big intake of breath .. what a magical site on a lovely morning .. no better place to be!
Beautiful South Australia. Simply beautiful. https://southaustralia.com/
Winding through the bushy beachhead, the drop onto Blowhole beach made me smile again as there was another Kangaroo standing on the beach! Now, this is a weird site. Not bush land, not trail, just on the beach. A bizarre sight! I screamed how great this was as I climbed up and out seeing Simon videoing the scene.
I mentioned knocking off all data sights that I did not want to see during this section. You must get through without thinking of pace and rightly so here as the gradient varies from -47% (serious steep drop off ) to +30% gradient as you go out the other side. The Heysen Trail often takes the route 1 approach and here was an early reminder of the fact.
If you did not know the area at this point you would be excited to know you were within 4 km of the Cobbler Hill Campground however if you do know it .. and I did ..I knew that what was coming was 4 lots of 20% gradient in scrubby, rocky, momentum sucking, overhanging branch threatening, and waterfall rock-hopping magic to contend with .. with a final climb to Cobbler Hill campground that eases into 20% gradient after you initially scramble up 30% gradient and a rock face .. welcome to Deep Creek Conservation Park.. your home for 20km of often brutal effort.
So much track in the early part of the course is run on a camber at an angle around 45 degrees and track that is often wide enough for one foot but not two so you often run with a stoop!
Reaching Cobbler Hill the support team were there in Randell and George and time to top up the drinks and food for the next 13km of bush running / walking/ stumbling that was broken down mentally into 4-5km sections including Eagle Waterhole, Tent Hill and Trigg Camps with Tapannapa campground the next key point and signifying a clearing that allowed you sight of being finally out of Deep Creek.
Deep Creek is challenging but there are some nice paths and circuits that can be covered too. It is a glorious site as it quite literally drops into The Southern Ocean and on a day like this, blue sky, blue ocean and watery near winter sunshine it does not get any better.
Dropping yet another 30% gradient onto Boat Harbour beach makes you sigh.You sigh big. You have Deep Creek behind you and you can now move on mentally. In a positive way before you then remember that the mother of all beaches you have to run along is approaching and there it is!
Tunkalilla Beach… heavy sinking sand for 5km.
Remember here that you have only run 34km, some 16% of the run and you have had cliffs, deep bushland and rocky canyon and now you are into beach running .. right carry on I thought .. One bit at a time! Chunk it down.
I guess what was really on my mind was after the sapping effect of the sand, compounded by all that had gone before there is a sign that tells you at the end of the beach to follow the fence line up off the beach and it is 40% gradient and you have to literally pull yourself up using the fence – like a mountaineer .. false summits abound and you finally make the road and look back wondering what the hell that was all about!
Here I was greeted with the support car and was I glad to see it – an unsealed road for 4km was next and on went the Hoka Cliftons that I had worn in my last adventure – Everesting – why?
Well, the quality of the mid cushioning is great and so it would be useful here again for this road. However just as they say “beware the chair” at any checkpoint or support point – it’s the same with these shoes .. once you put them on after having had the trail shoes on it’s hard to go back and so it would prove .. I wore them until the finish. Comfort beats technical here .. just for me and just for my feet at this juncture.
Climbing inland I then turned right down an old drovers track and following the fields down to Coolawang beach then Sheepies and Parsons beaches meant that at 60km it was time for the cliffs.
Parsons beach is stunning.
Small secluded and the home of the “ski lift” for the experienced surfers who walk along the jagged and threatening rocks and literally throw themselves into what looks like certain death to surf around a corner flying towards the rocks before jumping off to go and repeat! Incredible! So scary and dangerous for anyone but the most experienced and well let’s face it for them too!
It was great to do these with my son George and I had enjoyed his quiet but assured company earlier in Deep Creek.. but I was conscious of needing him to stay safe as I wanted to too!
Now, these cliffs are not for the faint of heart! They are treacherous, they are narrow and they are rocky and the drop to the Southern Ocean is direct. Booming below around 100 metres below, and the litter of driftwood mopping up against their base ..lean left.. lean left .. forget you have road shoes on .. and this is your life for 9km of sumptuous cliff top. A boat lies just out on the Ocean and it looks so small so insignificant as I am sure we do on the tops.
After Waitpinga a small cluster of cars signalled Kings Beach and finally, finally time to turn inland. Away from the Ocean and head to Adelaide.
Excited and warmed by clifftop sun I smiled for Simon Duke, camera and video in hand. It was around 4pm and we had covered 70km in 10 hours. Data I would have taken eagerly if offered up at the beginning of this magnificent piece of the run.
Repacked, refreshed and keen to lose sight of The great Southern Ocean I did not look back. I was off to Adelaide and into the guts of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Bound for Mount Lofty.
Written by David Turnbull