A 24-Hour Race Not To Be Underestimated
Mountain Designs Hells Bells was recently hosted on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland by Wild & Co event director Chris Dixon, and as per previous editions this year’s course was certainly one not to be underestimated. We caught up with Kim Beckinsale from the Mountain Designs Wild Women team who took down the 24-hour epic.
Underrate It At Your Peril
For seasoned adventure racers who are used to expedition events that last for multiple days, 24 hours does not seem like a long or hard race. However, Hells Bells always delivers a challenging race that can bite you hard if you underrate its testing nature. The same can be said for Fairy Bells, its slightly shorter version run over the same 24-hour time period. Certainly for the Mountain Designs Wild Women team, Hells Bells has been one of our favourites and this year proved to be another great event.
During an adventure race you get to visit places that the average person never gets to see or experience. In 2019's Hells Bells and Fairy Bells - as in previous years - there were some amazing places visited and, more importantly, we had to work hard to get there and thus felt fully rewarded. The course took us down Obi Obi Creek through spectacular gorges and swimming holes, and although it was freezing cold, it was stunningly beautiful. We saw the biggest goanna lying in the sun as we were rock-hopping our way up the creek, and another incredible waterfall when we overshot one of the checkpoints by mistake - as did most of the other teams in the race.
Other highlights included: the views of the coast from Mapleton and Montville when we rode along the ridge as the sun was going down - the sunrise over the water while paddling the Maroochy River, seeing pelicans, eagles and cormorants flying overhead and some even got to experience Fluffy the emu who frequents the Radar Hill side of Parklands MTB forest - we looked for him but had to be happy with the dazzling night lights of Mooloolaba at 3am.
As you would imagine doing a race that potentially could see you out there for 24 hours is definitely not something to be sneezed at, so signing up for Hells Bells or Fairy Bells does require a good level of fitness. Skills in the main disciplines of trekking, mountain biking and paddling will certainly serve you well, and so will plenty of perseverance. The event started on Baroon Pocket Dam, and in what would have appeared to most 'outsiders' perfect winter conditions. The reality was that the wind was forceful and freezing in fact, chopping up the water and making the paddle physically demanding and challenging. This was followed by a technical rock-hop up Obi Obi Creek, amazing but again freezing! Everyone had to slide down a really steep embankment from the dam wall - Tarzan style - to get into the creek. Rock-hopping is always extra-taxing on the body and if you slip you can either get wet or really hurt yourself, so you have to concentrate all the time just to avoid disaster. Swimming in winter in freezing cold water is not fun, but amazingly when you are in a race you somehow just do it, but I must say I would have rather been that goanna lying like a lizard on a rock, even if just for one minute, but...we were in a race!
Mountain biking at night is something that is extra special as it is just another way of seeing the world, but racing on rough single tracks when you're exhausted requires skill and strength endurance. We rode some amazing single tracks in Mapleton State Forest and for the navigators it meant that they also had a map-board mounted to the handle bars - a skill in itself. Some of the amazing trails we rode were Sunshine Coast Hinterland Trail, Mapleton Forest Road, Blackall Road, Blackall Range Road, Python Break, Cornelius Break, River Break, Road Rage, Cancer Tree, Hoe Chi Ho and Double Break. I am sure that others may have experienced even more than that had they chosen a different route or if their navigation wasn't quite up to scratch, as there were many trails that were there to capture and maybe torture some without a bit of local knowledge. The fire trails in Parklands are punishingly hilly, and if you don't get lost, the single tracks are much easier to ride!
This year the Hells Bells Course included a leg called an 'Elite Trek' at Cooloolabin and this was targeting elite teams who would have otherwise finished the course early, so to offer that added challenge. As it turned out, this leg challenged some of the best navigators in Australia.
There was a lot at stake - miss one CP and get a penalty, start and take too long and risk not finishing the race or making the paddle start cut-off by 7.30am, or start and opt out without collecting all of the CP's and get 2-hour penalties for what you missed.
Just four teams took on this 3-5 hour challenge - three of the teams nailed it and managed to complete the course and make it to the paddle cut off in time and took just over three hours to complete the course all taking different route options, the fourth team however did not have the same success and seemed to be out there for more than five hours.
Tackling Hells Bells, the Mountain Designs Wild Women again made a good showing coming in first in the All-Female team division. This team has had consistent wins in this format now for the last few years. Our results and live tracking for can be found at the Hells Bells Live Tracking site.
Mountain Designs Gear Is Just Perfect For AR Events
In conditions like these and although there was no rain in the forecast, you must make sure that you are well equipped to enable you and your team to get through the race. So our Mountain Designs gear really came in handy, that's for sure!
- GORE-TEX® Jackets & Merino Thermals - these were our lifesavers on the final paddle, when the sun had not yet risen and we were paddling into fresh south-westerly winds;
- Socks - well we did not need to change our clothes too much but a change of socks can really make a huge difference and takes no time at all when you have to change shoes anyway;
- Warm Clothes For Post-Race - when freezing, it is really important to have some fast-warming, dry clothes to put on to help heat the body up quickly, and this is where a Mountain Designs down jacket is just perfect.