2005 Polaris Challenge

The Udder Cow Cafe in Comboyne, they serve Mellowcino's here.

A view from near where we stayed on Thursday and Friday nights.

As we were driving around on Friday Marea said we had to get a photo with cows in it.

Marea, Rohan and Gnart discussing the map.

The view from the balcony of the place we stayed, Friday night.

Same view on Saturday morning. Looking off the Plateau toward the ocean.

Myself and Marea kitted out and ready to start.

Marea climbing up the easy side of control 10.

Another attempt at taking photos while riding, Marea is laughing as I had almost fallen off my bike doing this a few seconds earlier.

My map while riding along the bitumen road toward control 6.

We had to contend with views such as these all weekend, tough life isn't it.

Possibly where we shouldn't be going, heading from control 7 up toward 11 or 8.

At control 8, the bride pictured with Alyssa (blue gingham), Marea, the cow print guys, myself and Helen (red gingham). Showing off some of the many varied cow themed outfits (and bikes) on display over the weekend.

Terry Eveston, in his first Polaris, competing with Jim Trail, they came 4th overall at the end of the weekend. Way to go.

Marea not long before the descent down to camp on Saturday afternoon.

Jim Trail, who despite having not ridden his bike much for months blitzed the weekend. Well done.

Marea and I at the overnight camp still in uniform.

The obligatory fingernail polish shot, this year after a hard day of riding.

Crash showing off his beer.

My 2005 attempt to out hat Jim. A bigger and more unusual version of last year's hat.

Jim, Marea, Terry, Rohan (obscured) and Gnart all packed, waiting for the Sunday start in the rain.

Grabbing control 18.

Control 14 with my bike. I faffed around for a while taking photos, the climb out was steep enough that I would be able to catch up by the top.

At the Macadamia Nut Farm Cafe, control 28.

A few people walking toward control 16, I rode up the hill so faffed around with photos while I waited.

Marea is the walker on the left here.

I tried taking photos as Marea rode past, they were all blurry, I eventually rested my camera on my map board to steady it for this shot.

At the finish.

Alyssa and her daughter showing off the rather incredibly cool cow bike.

We were awarded Polaris Beer (for doing a good deed), yay. Limited edition Moo Brew.

And a single bottle.

The map, post event, with controls marked, contacted, scores marked and possible controls to head for.

The Team

Marea England, Purple Ethos Duallie
Steven Hanley, Giant Alloy Hard Tail


Location: Comboyne mid north NSW, near the coast above Taree
Dates: 12th and 13th of March 2005
Distance: 116KM (approx 65KM on day one)
Riding Time: 8h39m
Day 1: 08:50 to 15:25, 140 points
Controls: 10, 6, 1, 2, 7, 8
Day 2: 08:20 to 12:50, 80 points
Controls: 18, 14, 28, 16, 39, 10
Total Points: 220
Mechanicals: None.

Other photos can be found on Roy Meuronen's site (including another photo of myself I in the outfit).

The Event


As we did last year, Marea England and I decided to team up for the Polaris Challenge. Three weeks out the event theme was announced. This year Cows, Dairy and all things related, Marea decided we should be in theme rather than simply dressed up in costume this year. We talked about it a bit and put together two themes.

One theme, that of milking maids was reasonably predictable, though Marea thought blue gingham was too boring so we were to have sparkling blue skirts and decorations. The other theme was a More Cowbell idea, based in part, on a SNL Skit that has gained a semi cult following in the USA.

While Marea sewed up some of the costumes and arranged for the printing of our more cowbell logo onto some jerseys and t-shirts I looked around for Cowbells. Eventually I found a music store in Melbourne selling them for AUD $14 each. The bells are standard percussion Cowbells with a mounting bracket on the top to attach them to an instrument stand. They did not have anything inside the bell to make it ring by itself, nor did they have anywhere inside the bell to mount something. We solved this by drilling two small holes in the top and lacing a lead fishing eight into the bell with fishing line. The weight per cowbell is about 700 grams, but we were going to have a lot of fun, and possibly annoy every other team out there with the noise. Woohoo.

Two weeks out the event area was announced as the Comboyne plateau down to the Stewart river just north of Taree. We had been expecting somewhere up this far north but it was good to finally know exactly where. Marea has in the past always spent the weekend before Polaris in the region exploring and sussing it all out a bit. This year due to the distance from Canberra she decided to forego that and we agreed to drive north on Thursday leaving us with one day to explore and get used to the area a bit.

Marea booked us in to stay at the Comboyne Hideaway in the lodge. Which though expensive ($80 a night) was only 5 minutes from the event centre. Near the end of the drive we stopped in at my Aunt Jude's place (near Landsdowne) for dinner (Thanks for a great meal Jude) (and to drop off some stuff I took north for family members up this way). Last year in my attempts to out hat Jim I wore a Swedish lapplander hat made of felt, this year I had intended not to bother out hatting Jim as I had found out he had never intentionally been competing in the fancy warm hat stakes so I had bought my 24 Hour Solo fleece beanie with me.

Marea mentioned running into Terry (Jim's team mate) while shopping and being informed that Terry and Jim had grand plans for their warm hats at Polaris. In a bit of a Quandary as to what to do, I remembered that the coolest and by far the most interesting Swedish Lapplander hat we had ever bought had been given to my cousin Nick for a birthday in 1989 or there abouts. As Nick is living in Europe currently I wondered if Jude may possibly have the hat in question at her house. I was in luck the Swedish Lapplander Top Hat with wire in the brim to shape it was there, I had a hat I was set. (Though Jim never wore his warm hat all weekend, so I really have no idea if I succeeded in the out hatting effort)

While driving north Marea and I realised we had forgotten a few items, we rang Marea's husband Stephen and asked if he could ferry these items over to Jim Trail as he was driving up on Friday and would be able to bring them to us. Thanks to Jim and Stephen for doing this. We arrived at the accommodation at 11:30pm and headed straight for bed. In the morning we headed into Comboyne for breakfast. The Udder Cow Cafe appeared to be the place for this. The cafe had a lot of cow related paraphernalia for sale, Marea and I both purchased little soft toy cows with magnetic feet. As did Gnart and Rohan who appeared in the cafe to get coffee not long after. The standout item from this cafe in my mind was the Mellowcino. Often when I see people with a hot chocolate I think, gee I wouldn't mind a few marshmallows with my coffee. The Mellowcino is a Muggacino with Marshmallows floating in the froth. Truly a fantastic drink.

After breakfast we returned to the Hideaway to set up our bikes and check if they needed anything. Also to try fitting the two Miry map boards Andrew Rowe had leant us for the weekend (thanks Andrew they rocked). We discovered Marea's pedals were a bit worn, one of which looked as if it may fall off the axle any minute. We decided to drive into Taree and purchase a new set of Pedals, also we could purchase the remaining things we needed for our outfits or map work or whatever over the weekend.

We eventually returned to the event for registration around 5:30pm, neither Jim or Crash had arrived yet so we hung around for a while with Gnart and Rohan (who were waiting for Crash), I bought a Luxeon star LED head torch, the head torch being a piece of equipment I had been tempted by for a few years but until now had not purchased. When Jim rocked up I grabbed our stuff and Marea and I headed back to the Hideaway to mark up the map and eat diner and pack our gear. Upon arrival we found Kevin (The Nudist) Grimmer and Wayne Morris were also staying there (also Paying $80 pp/night but each had a Double bed room and ensuite to themselves. It made me wonder if the price for our accommodation had been increased for the Polaris (sharing a bathroom with other people and both of us in one room)

The Nudist and Wayne had purchased 2 large pizzas from the Udder Cow Cafe for their dinner, realising due to the size of the pizzas they were unlikely to be able to eat much more than one, they invited us to share in their dinner. Thanks guys, the pizzas were bloody good and saved us the effort of cooking up our pasta for dinner. We marked up our maps and then covered them with Nylex Cover It contact. I had purchased a 15 metre roll of it (AUD $34 from Magnet Mart in Gunghalin) as this is the only contact worth using (easy to apply smoothly, matte look, nice malleable feel once both sides of the map are covered.

When we woke up on Friday morning a heavy fog had rolled in so we were unable to see the view from where we were staying in the morning, as you can see on the left we got a good indication of the view around sunset on Friday, however upon waking up on Saturday we were treated to the rather spectacular view towards ocean with fog in the valleys and mountains (okay so they were intimidating as we were going to be riding in the area for two days) poking up into the vista. A good way to start the day, once more with less sleep than we would have liked (due to bing a bit disorganised Friday night) we felt okay for the start. Packed everything into the car and drove over to Comboyne.


With an 8:50am start time we rocked up to the event centre at Comboyne with about an hour to spare. Final bike checks, making sure everything was ready, chatting to Stuart, Dolores, Malcolm, Jackie and various other people near by. Jackie painted our fingernails (2 coats so it would last) with about 10 minutes before we had to be at the start gate. We got to the start gate on time and were all ready to go Cowbells ringing as we got moving.

We had spent a fair amount of time studying the map, but had not really planned any firm route, at the handout we marked the days control scores on and found, similar to last year there were not many high scoring controls. Huw had also spread the controls very evenly over the entire map making it tough to work out a good route. The camp turned out to be pretty centrally located on the map at a place called Swans Crossing, about 500 or 600 metres in altitude below Comboyne, there was guaranteed climbing to be done on Sunday no matter where you went on Saturday.

Control 10 looked easy for an initial 20 points, we went that way and decided to head further north after that. As it turned out a lot of teams also thought it looked like a gimme 20 points, and it wasn't. Steep descent from either side down to the river crossing, then we had to get back out. Using up a bit over an hour on this control (buying keys for the mongoose competition and grabbing a bridal veil for that competition) and marking up our map we finally started heading along the bitumen toward control 6 from Comboyne at almost 10am. After seeing how deceptive the contours down into that control were it seemed as if the weekend could be tougher than a quick glance at the map may indicate. Sure there were no sections of the map literally red with contour lines as there had been in Burraga two years ago, but there were still some big climbs and big descents.

Because we had the Miry map boards and were not using the plastic sleeve we thought I should keep the control card in the sleeve under my map. I had noticed already on a few descents that it tended to move forward about to fly out, so I was checking it on descents fairly often to ensure it was still there (I am sure you can all see where this is headed). In the past I have always simply placed the control card in a jersey pocket and I can easily pull it out of there below my pack as I approach a control. On a descent down from control 1 at the top left of the map I looked down and saw the control card had disappeared. Swearing loudly I turned around and started riding back up hill. I was incredibly lucky to find it only a few hundred metres back along the track. Sure I noticed it quickly because I had been checking for it often, however when I first discovered the card would not easily stay under the plastic I should have simply abandoned that plan and put it jersey pocket. With the good luck to find it again I put it in my pocket and it was safe for the rest of the weekend.

On the rather enjoyable descent to the bitumen from control 2 Marea and I were coming up behind a few teams, one of which was departing some trees as I arrived, while waiting for Marea I wondered if the break in the fence we were about to go through was a gate, it appeared to be but was wide open and not obviously one. As we found it open Marea and I left it open. The teams in front of us had not stopped here (we were coming downhill from a long way up and could see them go through this area) so we left it as we found it and continued descending. As we arrived at the bottom a whole lot of competitors standing there asked if we had closed the gate. We said we left it as we found it (no mention or warning yelled from any teams in front of us telling us they had opened it for us and we should close it).

By this time the farmer owning the land had had time to get in his car, drive over and start yelling at everyone. I left my bike and pack at the bottom and started running back up the hill. I asked the 4 teams that came through as I ran up if they closed it, a few of them did not even see the gate or that there may be one there. I closed the gate and ran back down the hill and Marea and I got going again. There is however a positive outcome to this running leg, one of the other teams there at the time must have mentioned the incident to Huw, at the prize ceremony on Sunday afternoon Marea and I were awarded a prize for doing a good deed. The 6 pack of Nalgene Polaris Moo Brew (pictured), a bike computer and a Nalgene drinking bottle.

In hindsight we may have made a mistake with our route plan at this point, heading down to control 7 with the intention to climb a track (smaller than a fireroad) up towards control 8 or 11. The better alternative would possibly have been to stay north on the bitumen road and head across (at speed) near the top right hand corner of the map and get the 10 pointer, pair of 20 pointers and maybe try for Bago Bluff 50 pointer, branching out on good quality fireroads to collect those points. Hindsight and the Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda principle are of course a big part of every Polaris. We headed for control 7 and spent an hour and half or more doing a lot of walking or slow uphills. After this we were both getting low on water and Marea was starting to feel the lack of training in her legs, we decided to head for control 8 where the "Bride" (see the photo) was located to get the next points and attempt to win the competition matching up a cutout part of the wedding veil. We chose this rather than the 300 metres vertical rise up to the summit of Mt Comboyne for a measly 30 points thinking it would be too much effort for the point value.

Upon arrival at control 8 we found Gaye Camm manning the control (unable to ride with Mel Mcintyre this year due to a recent operation), thus further removing previously successful womens teams from the competition. Julie Quinn who has won the previous three Polaris Challenges (last two with Sam Reinhardt and the year before that with Julia Grazcyk) had decided to avoid the 8 hour drive north and instead ran in the 6 Foot Track marathon on the same weekend, Sam gave birth to her second child about 6 weeks before the event so was also out of action. Mel and Gaye had won the womens Category for the 5 years before that from 1997 to 2001. Mel rode this year with Bill Hunt in the mixed Category (and won the category).

The other people we found at control 8 were some of the other teams in costumes, the two guys in a cow print outfit for the weekend, and Alyssa Rogan and Helen Mcmullen with their milk maid costumes and incredibly cool cow bikes (see the photo of Alyssa with bike and daughter), spending a bit more time than we probably should have (Gaye was commenting how she could not believe the number of people that stop and spend time at controls, as in her experience competing in Polaris she had never spent more than 30 seconds stopped at a control with Mel. I suppose that may help explain their success <g>.

We left the control with the intention to gather 10 easy looking points and then head toward the campsite, however with my water running out and Marea finding the long day in the saddle starting to wear her down a bit we decided to head toward camp which would conveniently take us past a stream to refill our water. The day finished with a really fun fast descent down to the campsite hitting speeds around 70Kmh.


We set up our camp on the edge of the entertainment field along with Crash and Warren, Jim and Terry, Rohan and Gnart, Stuart and Malcolm and a few other people we knew. We then got down to the serious business of lying around and chatting about the day of riding. We feel we did pretty well with our food for the weekend of riding and light weight camping. Food consisted of
  • On the bike: Marea ate a few powerbars while riding both days and some of the fruit nut and lolly mix we made. I consumed Mother Earth muesli bars for pretty much all my on the bike food. Neither of us felt the need for more substantial food while riding on either day.
  • Dinner: Like last year we had the Back Country dehydrated bushwalking meals, with one or two packets of 2 minute noodles mixed in to make the meal more substantial. I had Roast Lamb and Vegetables, Marea had Babotje.
  • Breakfast, Marea ate 2 minute noodles, I ate fruity muesli with hot water and condensed milk.
The big advantage with the freeze dri pack meals is you need not carry a container for dinner, you can simply eat dinner right out of the pack. Marea used a powerade bottle with the top cut off purchased from the VRA as a mug for tea and coffee, I used my milk pail that had broken on the first descent.

Of course sitting around talking to people in a random place like this for a few hours you are bound to learn a few new things about them. In this case Stuart Bragg and Andrew Remely had some surprises for us. Stuart seems to have an almost unhealthy fascination with Beagles, he was repeatedly suggesting some new Beagles they should use in airports to extend the capabilities of the standard sniffer dogs. The most unusual of which was the Penetrator Beagle he suggested they needed. It may be just as well that Dolores is not a fan of pets and animals thus meaning it is unlikely Stuart will own a Beagle any time soon.

Andrew Remely managed to do something I had previously thought close to impossible. He was able to gross out Crash with a suggestion for a different camp game/entertainment thing to the events Huw had organised. In the vein of Stuart's blind taste tests between No Frills and Name Brand products that were being discussed, Andrew suggested a new competition could be that of licking the chamois in your knicks. Andrew suggested anyone willing to lick their knicks as they finished riding in them should win a prize, upon hearing this Crash looked rather green. It may of course have something to do with the fact that at Crash's house there is a covered bucket into which he must place his dirty cycling clothes so as not to contaminate the soiled nappies from his 2 year old Son. The suggestion alas was extended by others, to a lick your team mate's knicks competition, or even worse a random lick a knick competition, where you draw a pair of knicks out of a barrel into which many people threw them and try to identify the owner by taste. Why oh why did we ever camp near these people.

We went to sleep to a starry sky in pleasant temperatures and the next morning awoke to drizzle and low clouds with a chill in the air. Hoping this would not turn out as wet as last year we all packed up camp and prepared to start riding. Discussing the possible difficulty ahead of us to mark up the contacted maps with permanent markers if the map is wet (they don't work on wet plastic) Jim mentioned he had a china graph pencil in his pack, which does work on wet plastic, after the rain last year I have to make a note of this in the hopes of packing one next year.


Fortunately as we started riding the rain had stopped and we were able to use our permanent markers to add the Sunday control scores to the map. The highest scoring control for the weekend turned out to be Bago Bluff on Sunday with a score of 60, we decided not to head for there and instead try riding around to the south of the camp collecting a few lower scoring controls. We headed off and picked up 18 then 14 and headed downhill toward the Macadamia Nut farm and control 28, after this we started the long climb back up to Comboyne and rode up the main road directly there picking up control 16 on the way. As we got to the top of the Plateau we decided going down a big hill to a crossing for a 10 point control was not worth the effort, we picked up control 39 just in on the road near the Hideaway accommodation we had stayed at, with an hour and a half to spare we now had enough time to pick up control 10 again and get back with a fair bit of time to spare.

On Saturday I used my long legs and leaning upon my bike in the water to cross without getting my feet wet, today as it would add difficulty to take a bike across I had intended to take my shoes off (we had spare time and I don't like riding with wet feet) to clip the control. Marea, in the nicest possible way said I was being a "fucking princess" <g> and clipped the control for us. We then had the climb back out, up the easier side that we had just come down.

All went to plan and we rolled back into the finish with 30 minutes to spare before our 1:20pm cutoff. Happy not to have overextended ourselves, or get any flats or other mechanicals and not to have lost any points we finished the weekend with a reasonably relaxed 220 points. After changing clothes and packing up the car we headed over to the complimentary feed for all competitors, Comboyne community put on a fantastic feed (I think the best yet of any Polaris) and we could then sit down and watch the presentations (and applaud, with the rest of the crowd, for Neil Dall and Andrew Cassie as they rode back in half way through the presentations.

After the presentation we hopped back in the car with the feeling of really fun weekend behind us for the 8 hour drive back to Canberra. Getting home a little after midnight on Sunday.


Marea would like it to be widely known that she has regained the Fairlight St trophy for the first time since the 2001 Narooma Polaris. Hi Stuart, Hi Malcolm.

My milk pail broke on the first descent on Saturday morning on the way down to control 10, the lead weight in my cowbell dropped out somewhere in the bush near control 7 on Saturday. Having these items attached to my bike probably limited their life span. This is unfortunate as I had grown quite attached to the noise of the cowbell while riding, fortunately Marea's lasted for the entire weekend. None of those breakages are particularly surprising I suppose when I take into account the fact that if I use under saddle tool bags on my mountain bikes I tend to have them break about once a month (thankfully they tend to have lifetime warranties, however it becomes annoying needing to pick up a new one every month at bike shops, so I no longer use them).

The Comboyne area just north of Taree is a gorgeous part of Australia, there is a huge amount of quality mtb riding in the area, as aunt Jude lives close I will almost definitely be doing more rides (and drinking more Mellowcinos at The Udder Cow Cafe) when I am staying in the area. Also the Comboyne community were incredible, friendly, generous, they put a huge amount of effort into making the weekend better for us all. Thankyou all.

The event was further north than ever before, and it did take a bit more effort to get up there. However the Polaris Challenge is still a fantastic weekend on the mountain bike and I would be happy to travel that far for the event again. Huw and the rest of the Darkside managed once more to pull off a fantastic Polaris Challenge, thanks to the Darkside, and thanks to all the other competitors out there on the weekend for the fun and frivolity. Time now for some "moo" brew!

Steven Hanley <sjh@svana.org>
Last modified: Mon Mar 13 17:47:51 EST 2006