My First Rogaine
When this city girl met her action-adventure husband there was always going to be a clash of ideas as to what constitutes a great way to spend a weekend. So when my seven-time-Antarctic-expeditioner UN-post-disaster-first-responder husband suggested a six-hour rogaine using just a map and compass to navigate our way around a state park three-hours drive from Melbourne I wasn’t immediately on board. That was until I arrived.
Rogaining is a distinctly Aussie-grown adventure sport having its beginnings in Melbourne in the late 1940s through the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club. The term Rogaine was coined in 1976, when the sport came into wide appeal, through a melding of the names of its three founders ROd, GAIl and NEil. By chance rogaine also presents the apt acronym, Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance.
I found rogaining to be an outdoor sport that can be anything you want to make it. It immediately struck me as an inclusive sport, to be enjoyed by anyone who simply loves the outdoors - young, old, the ultra-competitive right down to families just wanting to share a fun activity with their children. As a first-timer, there were no glaring looks at the out-of-place participant starting her first event. When milling around for the final countdown it’s not immediately apparent who the serious contenders really are. After all who looks a real threat sporting a beanie, backpack, and gaiters. I was lulled into the illusion that everyone was there for a nice walk in a state park - as I had intended.
You cannot underestimate anybody's abilities or intentions. The serious contenders are definitely there amongst the crowd. If you’d arrived two hours earlier, at the official opening time, you’d have seen them - map in hand sprinting towards their sturdy camp table to spend concentrated time marking the smartest most efficient route to reach the greatest number of checkpoints, worth the highest score in the shortest amount of time. If you’d have seen inside their backpack you’d know them too - full of their personal tricks for a winning edge. This might be as simple as a spare pair of new fluffy socks to brighten their aching feet near the end of the event.
Rogaining is a sport for teams of two to five and it’s good for the mind as much as the body. For the less serious contenders, who are there in equal numbers, goals are varied. Perhaps to brush up on long-lost navigation skills, to outdo friends or fellow families or simply to better their past performances. The playing field is even and everyone can run their own race. Participants all return at the same time, or earlier if they choose. There’s no restriction on the number of checkpoints they must visit or the order in which they must visit them. For the most fun day possible it’s best to be part of a team that has the same goals. So if your goal is for a scenic walk with friends with a bit of adult-Easter-egg-hunt-kind-of-interest along the way, don’t join a team planning a more serious challenge of endurance and navigational aptitude.
As the starting call sounds it’s time to remind yourself of your goal. Don’t be rattled by others who choose to sprint from the start to their first checkpoint if your goal is for a more leisurely day. It was clear to me from the outset that my husband had no winning aspirations when his first move was to wander to the portaloos - which were now free of anyone. As he was lead navigator and I was relying on him to guide me through the basics of navigation there was nothing left for me to do but relax and enjoy the fresh country air and joy of being in nature. Then I knew it was going to be a good day.
Being on our own and not following the majority heading to the first most logical checkpoint meant it was up to us to get our navigation right. There was a thrill of knowing that finding our first hidden marker was based only on our careful map reading, compass work, and pace counting.
Despite the number of people involved, the size of the course means you mostly get the sense you are out there alone - adding to the enjoyment. Newcomers can be assured though that there is some level of safety if they do run into difficulties. There’s a patrolled vehicle-accessible-safety-circuit that crosses the main sections of any event course, as well as a requirement at entry to carry a whistle, first aid kit and hand in an intention sheet outlining your planned route.
Latecomers at the end of the event can be presumed as needing assistance because teams are incentivised to return early, or on time, through significant points penalties deducted each minute late. And, with the added incentive of a hearty feast that awaits, it’s cause for anyone to move quickly back to base.
A wide variety of food is part of each event, complimentary to all competitors with entry. Soups, stews, pasta, cheese toasties and veggie burgers help turn any difficulties during the day around, set the stage for a strong social vibe and the surer safety of participants for their drive home.
This was a welcome surprise on my first event as was the unfortunate surprise that our score did not receive the fanfare response I’d anticipated. Puzzled I soon realised that while it felt like my longest walk ever, at six hours, it was one of the shortest rogaine events on the calendar, normally 8, 12 and even 24 hours, where navigation continues through the night, and keen participants run the events not walk, as we did. With our score near to the bottom, we still held a strong sense of achievement as we stayed true to our goals. We now have the perfect baseline for improvement.
Next time we’ll be ready. We’ll arrive early, note the checkpoints attracting the highest scores and do our best at distinguishing a spur from a valley and saddle from a gully. We might even burst out a jog if we’re up to it.
We weren’t quite up for the 24 hour World Rogaining Championships this year held in the East MacDonnell Ranges, just outside Alice Springs in July. A congregation of the world’s best endurance athletes took part with teams from Europe, Japan, Scandinavia, USA as well as a large contingent from Australia.
Our only regret now is the long pause until the next local rogaine. Understandable, with the hard work at organising the dedicated volunteers who coordinate every aspect of each event. In the meantime, we’ll consider one of the many rogaine offshoots: a metrogaine (navigation in the city), cyclogaine (on bikes), snogaine (on skis) or a paddlogaine (in a canoe). We’ll take these as training for next years world championship event in Southland New Zealand.
What is for sure is this city girl now hears the call of the bush and rogaining and its offshoots are a great way to get out there and enjoy it.
Rogaine events are scheduled across Australia. Upcoming events: