2004 Polaris Challenge

To get the show rolling Marea and I painted our nails to match our outfit.

Posing in the outfit.

Trying to make up for the height difference. Hmm this shot makes me look fat, or something (probably because I am <g>).

Julie was as coated in mud as everyone else on getting to the overnight camp.

I was wandering around in a Swedish Lapplander hat and thermal cycling gear.

The Team

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


Distance: 145km (approx 77KM each day)
Riding Time: 9h21m
Day 1: 09:00 to 15:40, 180 points
Controls: 6, 5, 17, 19, 27, 31, 35, 37, 33, 4
Day 2: 09:00 to 14:22, 80 points (then loss of 80 points due to late penalty)
Controls: 38, 30, 31, 26, 19
Total Points: 180
Mechanicals: 1 exploded rear tyre on my bike (8km from finish on day 2).

Other photos can be found on Michael Carden's site and Roy Meuronen's site (including another photo of Marea and I in the outfits).

The Event


Marea and I agreed to team up for the Polaris Challenge in January, we ride together a bit on group rides and thought it would be fun. It was a heap of fun so the decision paid off.

We started wearing loaded backpacks on road and mtb rides in Canberra from February onwards most of the time, this was in order to get used to carrying weight on our backs while riding. When I went to try out the backpack I used last year I found it was far too painful to use again for the whole event so I purchased myself a brand new Berghaus 35+8 pack 2 weeks before the event.

Every year Marea and her team mate get dressed up in interesting costumes (Lingerie, Wonder Woman outfits, Bond Woman Cocktail Dresses, etc) (Marea tends to wear some cool costume to most participation event/races such as this, the third place solo in the WSMTB 12 hour last year was gained while wearing a red riding hood outfit). Once others heard I was teamed up with Marea they all started asking what sort of dress I would be wearing, I was not too fussed whatever we came up with would probably be fun to wear.

After the Friday morning mtb ride I got home and ran around madly attempting to ensure I had all the necessary gear packed, finally I got to Mikey's place to pick him up at 11am, then we picked Marea up at 11:30am and were on our way. The event location of Pretty Beach north of Batemens bay was a popular one with many people looking forward to another Polaris near the beach. On arrival around 3pm it was indeed quite spectacular, clear azure water and sunshine.

Marea and I dropped Mikey off, registered at 4pm and headed back to the cabin we were staying at to mark up the map, eat, apply nail polish, etc. Huw had taken a while to announce the fancy dress theme for Polaris this year and Marea didn't want to wait that long so we ordered our outfits before the announcement. We agreed on the silver and shiny pink selection (there was a rather wide selection available) and discussed the design for a while. A friend of Marea's, Sharon Heap, made the outfits. The turn around of 2 weeks from initial discussions to having the outfits was most impressive. This is proper cycling gear, good fit, chamois in the knicks and all that, with the additional advantage of being shiny. To go with the outfits I put a disco ball under my mtb saddle.

We had a 9am start time, however rocked up in the morning around 8am so we could chat to people for longer before the start. The weather was good at the time, though very humid, which became more apparent once you were riding, like riding through water almost. Definitely a strong hint of the weather to come that afternoon. The question we were asked most often all weekend was "Are you sure you should be here and not Sydney?" or some variation of that. The Mardi Gras were on in Sydney this weekend and our outfit stood out somewhat.

Saturday Ride

Upon starting we decided like everyone else to head for control 6, on our way up Dave Baldwin was coming down and was heard to mutter that it was more difficult than the points value indicated, we were there anyway and kept going. I rode most of the way back down, which was fun, Marea had a close call or two, then we headed off to control 5. Dave Austin and Andrew Rowe caught us around that control, riding rather fast. Andrew overheard us discussing our intention to go to 17 next and said "No thats a bad plan" due to the fact it was exactly what they were doing next too <g>.

The ride into 17 was fun, but pretty slow going, rather impressively John Hardwick drove a large high clearance 4wd vehicle into and past the control and we watched him drive past us up over large mounds intended to stop vehicles and through fallen trees. After grabbing the control we continued along the track to get out. We found why John had headed in there, to take photos of people crossing a huge steep gully. I dragged myself up the other side than came back to get Marea's bike and we got through, it was a slow track to negotiate.

We had decided to head down to the bottom of the map and go for the north head control, so we next headed down the fireroads towards Durras, via control 19. Marea said the climb down to control 22 at pebbly beach was steep and not worth the effort, that although it was bitumen it would require a fair amount of effort so we gave it a miss. We grabbed the cave, Marea discovered she didn't like the enclosed feeling in the cave, it also took us and about 6 other people in the cave at the time a few minutes to find the control in there. After this we got down onto the beach and slogged over toward the next part of Durras. Grabbed the skate board park and headed down to the headland. Ran out to the headland and back, found Andrew and Dave again there. Then off to the north head control. This was a 40 pointer, so one would expect it to be hard to get to, apart from the fact it was a long way south it was a really easy ride in and out.

We met Jim and Joe leaving the control as we arrived, as we left the rain started. Climbing back towards 33 we saw Dave and Simon, Rosie and Toby, Tom and Alina all on the way down. Rosie, Toby, Tom and Alina were still riding together. Something they did all weekend to jointly take first place in mixed pairs. As we grabbed 33 we were starting to get worried about making it to camp in time, so we decided to head up the highway all the way to the track off to control 4 and call it a day after that.

I took the lead all the way up the highway in the hopes of keeping Marea's legs in good shape for the next day and getting up the top of the map again fast. This worked out pretty well with Marea able to draft most of the time. After we grabbed control 4 we had a brief walk up to the main fireroad and then a cruisy ride through to shallow crossing. By the time we arrived at camp with just over 20 minutes to spare so that worked out pretty well.

Overnight Camp

We set up camp with a bunch of other mtb-oz crew (Mikey and Warren, Jim and Joe, Matt and Tyno, Roy and Tony) and got down to the serious business of hiding from the rain and eating. Washing my bike gear in the river was an experience, upon placing the clothes in the river a balloon of mud spread out from them. We had obviously become caked in a lot of mud while riding.

Last year at Polaris I thought Jim had been wearing a strange/weird hat and wanted to out hat Jim. I have a lapplander hat I got in Sweden in 1989 that I thought may just do the trick. I bought this hat along and wore it around, due to its shape it had the added advantage of providing good rain protection. When I chatted to Jim about it I discovered he was not wearing anything unusual last year, he simply had a beanie sitting high on his head so it looked that way. Marea had a warm hat in reserve which was safely capable of out hatting the lot of us anyway.

For dinner Marea had purchased dehydrated bush walking meals, they did not have much pasta or rice in them so we added a packet of two minute noodles to both which made them sufficient dinner. Due to not eating quite enough at supper before my night time insulin injection I did however still wake up at around 2am and had to eat some chocolate and another toasted sandwich. For breakfast the next morning I had mixed up some trail mix nuts with the fruity museli I eat at home most of the time and powdered milk. I added boiling water to this and it turned out to be a really good breakfast (compact, light, tasty and full of carbs).

Sunday Ride

At the give out we saw that the control at North Head we had visited the day before was worth 90 points, so we thought we would grab 38 on the way out to the highway, then ride down the highway to the bottom of the map, grab 37 and head back up the highway level to pretty beach and come back in grabbing some other controls. We got to 38 alright then out to the highway, it was now 10:25 so we would have to hurry.

By the time we got to the intersection between North Head rd and Durras rd we only had a bit under 3 hours to grab the control and get to camp, Marea was already feeling a bit sore from Saturday and we made the decision to offload some of Marea's gear to my pack and not to go so far south. Instead we headed in from Durras rd to get 30, this took a while due to the quality of the tracks, then we got the skate park again and started heading back north. Marea's gear cables and rear derailleur were gunked up to the extent that she could not change into the top three sprockets on the cassette, we stopped to clean and oil the cables (though we did not clean out the derailleur) and got two more sprockets back.

We headed across the beach again, rather than going out to the hard pack near the ocean and riding along there (kind of like the last stage of wildside (that is me at the front of the pack)) we slogged through the soft sand again near the lagoon again, it worked alright though). We passed by the cave control, waving at the marshal as we did not have enough time left to get it. On arrival at 26 we found Ben and Natalie, Ben jokingly asked if he would make it back in the 50 minutes they had left. I replied no chance as Marea and I had 1 hour left at that point and were pushing it. Ben said they were planning to push the bikes the steep way up over the top of Mt Durras again. This surprised me as looking at the contour lines the way Marea and I planned to go around behind Mt Durras had to be easier. Apparently Ben was worried about the quality of the dashed line track past control 19, as we had ridden it the previous day we knew it would be fine.

So grabbing 26 and 19 on the way through we were settling in and working at getting back on time. Looking at the clock and where we were it looked like we had just enough time to make it, or at least make it in the first 10 minutes so not lose too many points. Then with about 8km to go my back tyre blew apart. Marea was about 50 metres behind me and said the noise was incredibly loud where she was. I started inventing new swear words, especially when I saw the gash along next to the rim was too long to fix with anything I had in the tool kit. Marea swapped her pack for mine and I started running all the way back. I ended up coasting down some of the hills (when they were not incredibly rocky so I was not destroying the back rim) and running flats and up hills. Amusingly I was running up some hills faster than Marea rode them, and when Marea's friends Katrina and Toby came past us I ran up a hill faster than they rode it. On the whole it was a lot slower though and we knew we were going to lose points. Fortunately we ended up only 22 minutes late, which meant an 80 point loss. We had only picked up 80 points on Sunday, so it was a bit demoralising, but hey we still had a lot of fun so it was not too bad. With the running we still got back before Ben and Nat which was somewhat entertaining.


For me the one woulda, coulda, shoulda control for the weekend was pebbly beach on Saturday. But it doesn't really matter, this is Polaris, that always happens. We probably should not have headed so far south on Sunday if we were not absolutely sure we could really hammer the pace all day. As for the point loss, bloody idiotic tyres, only one month old and not worn out much at all. Talking to Morgs about it he mentioned he carries a sewing kit for just his sort of thing. Thinking about it now I agree, if we had sewed the tyre back together and then used gaffa tape (which I do carry) around the repair it would have done the job nicely. We had some sewing equipment with us in Marea's pack (my jersey had required a bit of repair on Friday night and we were worried it would need more). However with only a few minutes to spare I think a sewing job on the tyre and and gaffa taping it up would have taken about as long as the run back ended up taking. It is a good idea to keep in mind for future years. We had discussed maybe carrying a whole spare tyre but I am confident this sort of problem could be sewed back up as Morgs suggested so if it happens with sufficient time or far enough away from the event center I applaud Morgs' suggestion.

We still both had a fantastic weekend, and thanks Huw and the rest of the darkside (Grunta, etc) for putting on such a great event.

As for gear. I slept well this year due to finally having bought a 3/4 length thick thermarest, the new pack I bought was brilliant. I had around 16 KG on my back by the end, and I didn't really notice it much, it really is a comfortable pack even when so heavily loaded. My bike performed pretty much flawlessly all weekend, One pad on my back disc wore away to nothing (the other still has most of the pad left) so I had to stop using the back brake on Sunday. Strange wear pattern, this happened at wildside too, one pad had lots of material left on the back, maybe this can be remedied. My gears worked well, apart from the crunchy noises coming from the drive train I didn't miss a shift all weekend, maybe after the triple tri, wildside and this Polaris my bike is somehow used to handling excessive mud. Food wise I think we did the right thing too, I had a a fair few left over museli bars on Sunday and some bread left, but excess of food left over is not a bad thing.

If it is not raining next year I may even take more photos, but whatever happens I am looking forward to the next Polaris already.

Steven Hanley <sjh@svana.org>
Last modified: Tue Mar 9 15:24:19 EST 2004