Wild Women Recruit Some New Wheels

by Kim Beckinsale, Jan Leverton & Hayley Kellner – Team MD Wild Women

Wild Women Recruit Some New Wheels

The Mountain Designs Wild Women Adventure Racing team was the next step for Kim Beckinsale in the sport, following more than 10 successful and rewarding years of racing in the 'premier mixed category'. The name of the team is spin-off of the Wild Women Adventure Race that Jan Leverton and Kim conceived back in 2012. The purpose of both the Wild Women Adventure Race and the Wild Women Adventure Racing Team is to encourage and support women to become strong and capable adventure racers in their own right, and for Jan and Kim from Tri Adventure to pass on some of their knowledge and skills to other women, so they can step up to longer events in the future if they so choose. Mountain Designs are proud sponsors of the Wild Women Adventure race.

This race report, however, reflects racing with the Mountain Designs Wild Women written not by a stalwart but by our newest recruit Hayley Kellner. Jan and Kim first met Hayley over 15 years ago, not long after they had first started Tri Adventure, Hayley came along to some of the Tri Adventure mountain biking sessions and loved riding with the group. Fast forward 15 years, and Hayley has become a mum to two beautiful boys, a schoolteacher with a Master degree as well as a very accomplished downhill/enduro style mountain biker and road cyclist! Hayley re-connects with Jan and Kim at Tri Adventure and it's not too long before she is hooked on navigation, and adventure racing, so she decides to sign up for the Wild Women AR in 2022 and before she knows it, she's racing in her first 24-hr Hells Bells, and then takes on the navigation in the Wild Women AR 2022 finishing third overall in the Wild Mum's category.

Kim and Jan recognise that Hayley has potential in the sport and so an invitation was sent to Hayley and a new Mountain Designs Wild Woman has been unleashed! Hayley competed with the Mountain Designs Wild Women in the 2023 Mountain Designs GeoQuest in South West Rocks, NSW, and this is her story!



Wild Women Recruit Some New Wheels

Three months ago, I sat down for a coffee with Adventure Race legends Tri Adventure's Jan and Kim. At some point during our conversation, I mentioned that I might like to one day even attempt something like GeoQuest. It wasn't long before I received a message from Kim inviting me to join the Mountain Design Wild Women to race GeoQuest. I was comforted to learn that my good friends, and original MDWW, Gina Dunsdon and Cass Kimlin would also be in the team.

So began a furious attempt to be fit enough to race, with this legendary team, for 48 hours. I covered many km's on the bike and foot and a small amount in the kayak, which would come back to haunt me during the race. Fast forward a few months and I was as ready as possible and had even roped my brother in to attend his first adventure race as part of our all-important support crew. Upon arrival, I was fortunate to be given a very generous race pack of gear from Mountain Designs which would be invaluable throughout the race. Come Friday was all systems go with race check-in, map collection and athlete briefing dominating the afternoon. I had so much clothing, gear and food it felt like I was packing for a six-month military deployment. Somehow, we got it all sorted, bagged, labelled and into boxes for our support crew to decipher at each transition area.

Wild Women Race Registration
Registration. (Image courtesy of Murilo Mattos & Wild Women)

Pre-Race Fever

Doing the maps with the team was my first experience of how much skill, experience and focus goes into being a successful adventure racing team. The MDWW are a well-oiled machine who work together with copious amounts of trust, respect and consideration for every team members' thoughts and opinions. I was in awe of this process and these amazing women I was about to race with. We had an epic feed that night as a team and enjoyed swapping stories and sharing many laughs. Then it was a final check that everything was packed and into bed to try and get some much-needed sleep. Of course, this was not to be the case, I was like a kid on Christmas Eve and managed only the bare minimum of quality sleep.

Race morning dawned in a sleep haze (for me) and after some frantic last-minute organising, we all bundled into Jan's car and set off for the journey to the start line. We spent our time chatting and singing along to some Wild Women playlists while stealing glimpses of the course (river) on the way up. We arrived with plenty of time to spare and the atmosphere at the start line was incredibly relaxed and joyful. Being unsure of the water temperature and concerned about getting cold we made a team decision to wear rain jackets. I wore the new MD Stratus jacket made with Pertex which kept me dry and at a great temperature throughout the entire paddle. I was very grateful for the breathable material and armpit vents. These jackets were a favourite among the entire team and got a lot of use throughout the race.

Everyone was smiling, getting their boats ready and having a dance to the upbeat tunes that were playing. I feel like our team was always up for a dance and we bounced our way through our team photos with complete joy. As team 12 we were able to watch the half-course teams and a few of the full-course teams start before it was our turn. Chris, race director from Wild & Co, blasted his version of 'Wild Women Do' and we were off, spurred on by the cheers of remaining teams and supporters.


Rapid Run

This is my first race start, that hasn't been a frantic dash on foot with my HR soaring while I desperately try to stay with my teammates. In comparison, this was leisurely, we carried our boats down to the water, pointed in the direction we wanted to go and jumped in to start paddling. As the least experienced paddler in the team, I wouldn't even call myself a recreational paddler, I was incredibly intimidated by the idea of paddling 70km in one day or even 28km in one go. And predictably, I struggled. Mentally and physically this first paddle was one of the hardest points in the race for me, and it came at the very beginning! I was in the boat with Cass, and we had a great time negotiating our way down the rapids and trying our best not to bounce off other boats, or people. There were people and boats going every which way and teams flipping into the water at nearly every rapid section.

At one point Cass and I were spinning around when she called out 'I've lost my paddle!'. Mid-spin I looked to my left and there was her paddle, hanging in a tree! Somehow, I reached out and pulled it out of the tree and passed it back to Cass. I then called out 'What do we do now?' Cass, forever unfazed and eternally relaxed as I have come to learn, told me to wait and then paddle as soon as our boat faced downriver. This, I think, was our most dramatic moment in the paddle, closely followed by me stopping us from falling in by pushing against some unsuspecting racers bottom while he tried frantically to get out of our way after flipping over in the white water. Poor guy, he was just trying to race. Our hilarious paddle adventures continued with us being wedged on a rock, just swaying in the breeze, halfway down a rapid and coming across Kim and Gina floating, no longer in their boat, at the end of a rapid. They had been knocked out after being unable to avoid another team who had come unstuck in the rapid in front of them.

Despite all this drama and adventure, we set a good pace as we made our way through many of the teams in front of us, collecting checkpoints 1 to 3. This is where I came a little undone and began to struggle. Using a borrowed paddle that was far too big for me and trying to maintain a furious pace I was quickly losing the ability to keep up. Cass and Kim swapped spots and Kim and I swapped paddles and we soldiered on. This was my first experience of the teamwork that makes adventure racing unlike any other sport. Teammates who are willing to step up when someone else is struggling, the unspoken truth that everyone will have a moment in the race, and we will all be there to get them through. Safe to say once I could see the bridge and our support crew up ahead there were some stealthy tears that threatened to slide out. I was a mixture of feelings, completely exhausted and drained, worried that I felt that way at this point in the race and proud that I had pushed through when all I wanted to do was stop. In the transition after this leg, we also decided on nicknames for each other, which Kim would only discover at the end of the race. Kim was Terminator, Gina was Batgirl, Cass was Big Dog, and I was Wheels. This gave Gina and I endless amusement at points throughout the race, anything to keep the spirits up really.

Kim sets a bearing using a paper map and compass.
Kim sets a bearing. (Image courtesy of Murilo Mattos & Wild Women)

MB Transition

Our transition was seamless, the support crew (Nick and Trent) were amazing, and in no time at all we were out on the bikes. Finally, I was in my comfort zone coming from a strong mountain bike background. We blasted through this bike and collected both checkpoints with no issues. Kim was out front, with the maps, considering a more direct track for us to take but it didn't look like it would go through. We chose the 'longer' way, but as the roads had just been graded the riding was smooth and easy. It was on this bike leg that Gina established herself as the 'gate keeper' and performed this job effortlessly throughout the entire race, thanks Gina, that was a lot of gates! I was happily flowing along and so content to be on my bike it was a surprise when we quickly arrived at the next TA for the farm trek.

Kim and Cass marked up the map and we had to collect 5 out of 6 CPs in any order. This trek was on farmland so made for easy travel, though there were a few hills to navigate. We headed off to find checkpoint B first which was on its own up a spur. After a little search in the scrub Cass called out that she had found it. Then we were off, rolling down the hill to cross the creek and road. Hello, slightly wet feet due to not enough rocks in the creek. I've learnt that having wet shoes is just part of adventure racing! Luckily, we had the Mountain Designs Light Hike COOLMAX® socks which perform equally as well whether they are wet or dry. The entire team swears by these socks as an irreplaceable piece of kit for adventure racing and I'm planning to acquire many more pairs. This trek introduced me to many new ways to navigate a barbed wire fence. We rolled under them, squeezed through them, and climbed over the top. Every time we approached a fence, I was highly entertained by trying to guess how we would tackle it. On reflection, maybe I was already a little tired at this point! After collecting the next checkpoint, we decided to take a bearing straight across the farm through multiple spurs and gullies. This part of the trek was a bit more challenging, physically, as the ground was very uneven and the grass so long you couldn't see where you were walking. Eventually, we found the road and made rapid work of the last couple of checkpoints. With a quick, apparently obligatory bash through some lantana to a high point, the only real detour. As we got to the end of this leg, we started to see more teams coming out to start their trek, we were making great time and hours ahead of our predictions.

Mountain Bike Transition into Leg 2.
Leg 2. (Image courtesy of Murilo Mattos & Wild Women)

I barely remember the ride back to the TA as it was so quick with only one CP. The sun was setting as we rode across the farmland and made a beautiful backdrop for the end of our first day. A few gates, a couple of turns and more smooth roads led us back over the river and into the presence of our capable support crew. We took our time with this transition as we were heading out for a 30km night paddle and knowing there would be some white-water we were all preparing to be quite cold. I wore my Mountain Design thermals, MD GORE-TEX® jacket and a pair of MD GORE-TEX® rain pants that I have had for nearly 20 years. We also donned the warmest gloves we had, beanies, wool socks, and helmets (which were mandatory again). After the best toasted sandwich and hot chocolate I've ever had we set off down the hill to where we had left our boats. I think we were all a little nervous about this leg as we didn't know what we were in for. I would say we all had no idea it was going to be how it was and surprisingly it ended up being the favourite leg for most of the team. As Cass and I got into our boat she discovered that the boat was bubbling. This was quite concerning as it hadn't happened in the first paddle. We decided there wasn't much we could do and just hoped it would be fine.


Back In The Boats

We had four checkpoints to collect on this paddle and were assuming that the river would be similar to the first paddle with a few white-water sections. I have discovered, in my short racing career, that I enjoy racing at night. I think it is because I lose all concept of time and distance and just focus on one step, pedal stroke, or paddle stroke at a time. The temperature had been steadily dropping as we were paddling and not long after we started the fog descended. I have never been in such thick fog, and definitely not while trying to navigate a river with rapids. We couldn't see past the front of our boats and even had to turn our lights to face the sky to minimise the reflection back off the fog. The upside of the fog was that we spent time marvelling at the night sky and the remarkable stars.

Kim and Gina were out the front and the only way they knew which way to go was to listen to the flow of the river, or the dull roar of the white water, and numerous times Cass and I watched them disappear into a rapid, sideways in one instance, with no idea of where they were headed. The Wild Women really are just that and incredibly brave. We blindly followed and it was an adrenaline rush to be bouncing down the river never knowing what was next. I can now check off my list getting a complete shower from a white-water wave train and straddling the boat, facing backwards, with my heels dug into the rocks as Cass and I refused to end up in the strainer that was downstream. Despite this, we managed to all stay in the boats for the entire paddle. One advantage of racing at night is the checkpoint flags are usually reflective. This makes it far easier to spot, especially on the riverbank. At one of the checkpoints, we decided to get out to have a stretch and something to eat. We had all been warm enough up to this point but quickly realised that the air temperature was much colder once you were off the water. Kim, Gina and I started bouncing on the spot to keep warm and this quickly turned into an impromptu dance party. This is the joy of racing with the MD Wild Women and a memory that will forever make me smile. We made great progress on the second half of the paddle and were soon at the next TA after collecting all the checkpoints.



Now, I don't think I've ever been as cold as I was in this transition. Just getting out of the boat and up to where our support crew were set up was a challenge. Undoing shoelaces and zips and removing thermals seemed an insurmountable task. The rest of the team was furiously changing and organising their gear and I was just stuck shivering and struggling. This was another point of mental breakthrough for me, one of many apparently, and I just started doing one thing at a time. Eventually, I managed to get changed and sit down to some hot soup and bread. Once again, Nick and Trent absolutely nailed the support crew job and seemed to have exactly what we wanted and needed. With five, yes five, layers on and our preferred clip pedals installed on the bikes we rolled off over the bridge to begin the longest ride leg of the race. Kim and Cass made quick work of the first couple of checkpoints and soon we were up in the hills. I think originally this would have been a challenging ride with several hike-a-bike sections. Much to our joy, the roads had been recently graded, we could ride the entire time and only had to slow down for some sandy sections. Once I warmed up, and my fingers and toes stopped burning, I thoroughly enjoyed this leg. I am always happy to be on my bike, especially when I don't have to push it or carry it. This leg had the most checkpoints, and a few required off-track exploring to find. After a climb that seemed to just keep going up, we rolled into the next TA just before sunrise. With that, I had survived the first night of GeoQuest.


Day 2 Begins

Named the 'Briggs Lookout Trek' this leg had the option of teams splitting into two and getting two of the four checkpoints each. During our pre-race map session, we had decided that Cass and I would pair off and Kim and Gina would work together. Cass and I made quick work of our first checkpoint as it was straight down a recently graded road, and we just had to follow it all the way to the 'track-end'. Our second checkpoint was at a creek junction, and we knew this would be significantly more challenging. Thankfully the sun had now risen, and we were attempting this checkpoint in the daylight. We decided to follow the road around a bit further to find an attack point that wasn't as steep, and this worked well for us. We still slid our way down the embankment using trees, vines, and anything else we could grab onto to slow us down. Eventually, we were in the creek and followed it down to find the junction. The creek was incredibly overgrown and slow going. We were battling fallen logs, copious amounts of lantana and slippery rocks. Just your usual adventure racing creek line. At one point our only option was to crawl along the creek bed to get under the lantana. We had been inching through the creek for a while and were starting to second-guess our approach. Cass decided we would continue for five more minutes and then around the next bend, there was the elusive checkpoint! All adventure racers know how good it feels to finally find the CP after a battle like this.

We then bashed straight up the hill, with a few sideways detours, and popped back out onto the road. Before we split up, we had identified a road junction as where we would meet. Cass and I made our way to the meeting point and began waiting. Little did we know that Kim and Gina had already been there, after being unable to find their second checkpoint, and had gone back for another try. Cass and I got so cold while waiting we started pacing the road, which I've been told was very concerning for those who were watching our tracker. Eventually, a team on bikes let us know that Kim and Gina were coming up the road and would be there soon. When they arrived, they let us know that they hadn't been able to find checkpoint J and we decided to all go in together. Turns out many teams had a challenging time locating this checkpoint and some never found it at all. After approaching it from Kim's last attack point option she and Cass worked together to locate the checkpoint. Watching the MD Wild Women work together to problem solve and their grit and determination to find the checkpoint is awe-inspiring. With the final checkpoint for the leg punched we made quick progress back up to the TA and jumped back on our bikes for the final time.

Grassy Head leg
Grassy Head leg. (Image courtesy of Murilo Mattos & Wild Women)

Last Legs

As with all the bike legs in this race, they seemed to pass by so quickly with minimal issues or effort. We rolled through kilometres of undulating hills in the beautiful forest, only having to backtrack to one CP. After channelling our road-riding skills and taking turns on the front we rolled across several bridges, crossed the highway, and climbed up to where our support crew was waiting for us to begin the longest trek leg of the race. Once again, we feasted on gourmet toasted sandwiches, with brioche bread, and hot chocolates and geared up to tackle Mt Yarrahapinni, the 'you are amazing' trek as we had named it. I had heard many tales of the infamous hike-a-bike up this mountain from a previous GeoQuest and was very happy I wasn't taking my bike on this leg. We waved goodbye to our support crew and set off for what would be one of my favourite legs of the race. We were all in good spirits and, as we had for the whole race, we jogged all the downhill and flat sections.

Kim and Cass were on-point with their navigation and easily found the first CP on a little side trail. Not long after we began the scramble up Mt Yarrahapinni. At the base, we passed a few of the half-course teams and they were singing and in great spirits. I would later find out that these teams were from the Kaiarahi Cultural Collective and their energy and spirit was uplifting an inspiring, a great boost for me as we approached the climb. Kim suggested we all get a sturdy stick, which I quickly named, to help with the climb as there was no track. I was just following Kim as she made her way along a path that only existed from other teams pushing their way through the bush. A few times I stopped to check the incredible view and take a moment to acknowledge what we were doing, really, I just needed to catch my breath. Finally, we made it to the top and enjoyed a celebratory Coke, an adventure racing tradition.

We headed up the fire roads to the highpoint and here we belted out a unique rendition of 'You Are Amazing'. Another example of the joy this team brings even more than 24 hours into racing! We ditched our sticks after thanking them for their contribution and rolled on down to the lookout. The rest of this trek was jogging down and hiking up the undulating hills in some of the most beautiful forests I have seen. At this point in the race, I think we were all feeling the downhills in our legs and trying not to get out of control on the descents. We racked up a few more CPs and eventually made our way down to the coast. I was starting to struggle again, feeling very fatigued and ready for a rest, as we scrambled around Grassy Head. I forced myself to keep my head up and take in the view as I knew it was special. We quickly found ourselves trudging through the soft sand down the beach to our second last TA. A quick bush bash for the last CP on this leg and we found Jan on the bridge over to the TA. She was very happy to see us and gave us a boost of energy with her enthusiasm, thanks Jan. Once again, our trusty support crew had everything ready for us, including hot chips which were exactly what we needed, and we spent through the transition knowing we were so close to the end.


Race The Sun

Back into the boats and we headed off to race the sun to the final TA. With the tide and wind against us, I quickly began to struggle. The 60km of paddling we had already done and nearly 30 hours of racing combined to put me into a hole I was struggling to come out of. I apologised numerous times to Cass as I had to take a break from paddling and all I could do was complain. She assured me that people had been in worse condition at this point in the race and I was doing so well. After another forced soul searching, I've found adventure racing is good for this, I continued to do the best I could. Kim and Gina were also eternally patient and continued to encourage me to enjoy the sunset cruise paddle. We punched the two checkpoints we needed to get and set our course to paddle around the break wall. It felt like we would never get there but as we rounded the wall, we could see the transition area, and this gave me the boost I needed to make it the last few hundred metres. Reflecting back on the paddles, it is amazing to think we paddled more than 70km of the one river as the centrepiece of the extraordinary point-to-point course. I had been thinking when we arrived, I would put my jacket on before the last trek leg as I was wet and cold. As usual, in adventure racing, things don't go how you plan them, and the other girls sprang out of the boats and declared that we were going to just run. Honestly, I didn't take this too well at the time but just did as I was told and started running. Well, I thought I was running but it was more of a frozen shuffle with the people on the nearby jetties able to hear my teeth chattering.

Gina asked me what song I wanted to sing, and I chattered out 'Ice, Ice Baby' which made the whole team laugh. They hadn't realised how wet I was and none of us could work out how I had been the only one to get wet on the paddle. Thankfully, the coastal breeze was warm, and I quickly dried and was no longer feeling like a moving ice block. We made brief work of the first CP on this leg and only had to be on the beach for a short while, which everyone was happy about. The sun was setting at this point, and we all knew we were so close to the finish. We only had two CPs to collect and then find the finish line. Kim decided to take us to a trail she knew existed and after finding ourselves in the water processing swamp, not the nicest place, we followed her bearing and were on the right track.

Unbeknownst to us, our supporters at the finish line were stressing at this point as other teams had tried to find this track and had been unsuccessful. One thing I've learnt about adventure racing and the MD Wild Women is that you must trust your navigator and have full confidence in them. We were totally committed to this approach throughout the race and Kim and Cass never let us down, they are amazing. We followed this winding path, that made me feel like we were in a magical forest and emerged at the end of the bridge where the CP was. We only had one to go! Choosing the coastal path we made quick progress to the final CP, where Gina performed some athletic manoeuvres to punch the card. Then we were off to the finish line and the cheers and smiles of our supporters and friends. We crossed the line as the 4th full course team overall and the first women's team.

Podium for the Mountain Designs Wild Women team.
Podium for the Mountain Designs Wild Women team. (Image courtesy of Murilo Mattos & Wild Women)


What a pleasure it was to experience such a beautiful country through a course where every leg showcased the natural beauty of the area, from the crystal-clear water, and spectacular rolling hills to the lush green rainforest. Crossing the GeoQuest finish line with the MD Wild Women, my team, and my friends was the end of the race but the beginning of me knowing that with hard work, trust, teamwork, support and joy, we can do hard things and achieve beyond our expectations. I will forever be grateful to Kim, Jan and the MD Wild Women for giving me the opportunity to have this experience, test my limits, break down and keep going and in the process, learn more about myself, how to suffer joyfully, and the kind of person I can be. As a MD Wild Woman, I know I am strong, capable, adaptable, determined, resilient and joyful. Now bring on the next adventure!

The Mountain Designs Wild Women GeoQuest 2023 - Kim Beckinsale, Gina Dunsdon, Cass Kimlin and Hayley Kelner - would like to thank our major sponsor, Mountain Designs as well as our amazing support crew, Nick Baker and Trent Boyles.



Photo Credits

All images supplied by Wild Women & Murilo Mattos




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