Stranded in the Woods with No Passport

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Welcome back readers! This past weekend I managed to kick off my adventure racing season in fine form at Raid Pulse, an 8 hour adventure race in Bowman, QC. I’m assuming most of you are familiar with this local race series, since I’ve been racing in them for years! At any rate, I was racing as a solo, and also filming for the magazine (See video below). When the results were all tallied up, I finished off in 3rd place in the solo category and 12th overall, in spite of not fully ‘clearing’ the course (but only the top 3 overall managed that feat!). It was a fantastic race, and allow me to fill you in on some of the details without boring you.

As the race was less than 90 minutes from home, I had the luxury of a decent nights’ sleep in my own bed, and a relatively unhurried drive to the start. The weather all week had been pretty wet, so we knew conditions would likely be muddy and have overflowing rivers, etc. However, on race day itself, in spite of a forecast of rain, we emerged completely unscathed. Temperatures were perfect, ranging from about 10-15 degrees Celsius, and there was only a bit of sun, so burning to a crisp or overheating wasn’t a concern.

Due to the fine weather and a pretty good hydration and nutrition strategy, I felt pretty good for the entire race. In retrospect, I should have drank more (only drank about 2.5L over the course of 7.5 hours), but due to the length, I managed. The whole point of this race was to work out the kinks in my gear and strategies leading into my LONGEST RACE EVER, which takes place under a month away at Untamed New England. That race will be 4+ days of non-stop racing, where I’ve taken the role of head co-ordinator and navigator! Pretty stressful entry point into expedition racing, but I’m looking forward to it. This short race was meant to be a sanity check that I knew what I was doing out there. The good news? I feel confident coming out of it. Sure, I wasn’t perfect, but little mistakes are easily covered up in a long race (as long as you catch them early enough).

So, as to the course itself? Well, even though we had the same race HQ as 2 previous events, the course was completely different. This time, we were starting in the water. The opening section was paddling combined with trekking. 3 regular checkpoints, and 3 ‘advanced’ checkpoints. The race was rogaine style, which meant each CP was assigned the same number of points (25), and you were ranked according to your finish time and accumulated points. The ‘advanced’ designation of some points was more to let beginners know that they might want to skip these CPs. Although the maps we got prior to the race had all the info marked on them, they did NOT include the final 2 advanced CPs, which could only be attempted if you were basically back at the finish area by the 7 hour mark. As mentioned, that was only 3 teams!

What I really liked about this race was that everyone had OPTIONS right off the start. On the paddle, it wasn’t just a case of following all the boats. For example, some teams went the OPPOSITE direction from the start in order to try a portage to CP1. Others paddled straight to it. Finally, there was the option that I (and maybe 8 other teams) took, which involved paddling straight to the furthest point in the paddle, and basically doing that section in reverse. By doing that I started with a longer paddle, then hopped from point to point on the way back (and picked up the trekking CPs). The paddling was pretty calm, with only a slight cross-wind / waves to contend with. One racer managed to flip even before the start, but once underway, everyone was fine in the water.

I ended up portaging a total of 3 times in the leg (adding the 3rd one at the last second). However, by portage, I mean ‘drag’ my boat. She’s a tough little plastic kayak, and I’m a wee lad. It was just easier that way. I had no problem finding any of the advance CPs in that section, and headed back to transition feeling pretty good.

On shore were probably 10-12 other boats already, but several of these were teams that skipped the advanced CPs, so it was impossible to tell where I was in the standings. I wasted FAR too much time trying to change socks and shoes (don’t try putting on compression socks with wet feet and tape on an ankle!). On the plus side, I left with very dry and warm feet, shoes and legs (put on tights as well). I didn’t change again for the rest of the race. In other words, I did all the trekking with my bike shoes on. They are the bomb for this sort of race, so if you are looking for an upgrade, I recommend the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek V Shoes highly.

The next section was a bike and trek section, with the trek simply consisting of grabbing a CP on a nearby summit before heading to the bike pickup. I chose to go straight up the hill rather than take a trail, which I believe helped me pass a couple teams. From there, straight to the bikes where I hopped on and pedaled off on the trails. From here, it was a seemingly straightforward point to point slog to the next transition. Or so it appeared on the map! Starting out, we had obvious, double-track road / trails to follow. However, at one point, all that changed, with the trail veering off into what looked like just the bush. Supposedly there was a ‘faint trail’ to a beaver dam to cross a marsh to the TA, but damned if I (and those around me) could find the right one. There seemed to be many ‘faint’ trails. In the end, I said ‘screw it’, and marched straight into the marsh carrying my bike. Slogged across it to the other side hoping to find the trail on the other side. That didn’t happen as planned either, and I essentially ended up bushwhacking with my bike to the TA. Luckily, I found it, but it was a struggle to carry the bike through the woods like that.

At the transition, I was told that none of the teams were coming out where they were expected, and none of them had very high praise for the last bit of that bike leg. So at least I was in good company in that respect. Again, there were a fair number of bikes already there, but no way to know my standing. I was told that with the advanced points, I was still near the top. Buoyed on by this, I unclipped my helmet, and dashed off towards the next section, which consisted of 2 advanced CPs and 3 regular CPs. I decided to head straight for the advanced.

I love ‘advanced’ sections, because it usually means true navigation, and taking bearings. When you’re on a bearing, you can’t mess up. It’s always the trails that screw me up. With that in mind, I took a bearing early on and took an approach to a mountain-top CP that had the gentlest approach. In no time, I hit it bang on. Felt great. Took a new bearing, and made my way to the 2nd advanced point. Unfortunately, at one point, I made the mistake of following a couple trails, so it took me longer to find than it should have. Either way, I grabbed it, and jogged (as best as possible in the woods) back towards the TA. Once there, I did a time check. It was already 3:15pm! I was surprised (I had forgotten my watch at home). No time to waste, I chugged a Boost, and headed out for the next 3 regular CPs. I got them all, but spent longer than I should have when I overshot the first one, not realizing that they were in a much tighter area than I thought.

However, that was where a minor disaster occurred. I realized I’d lost my passport! It had been tied around my neck, on a string, but one end had apparently untied, and passport slipped off SOMEWHERE in the bushwhack. I doubled back as best I could for a bit, searching for the white paper, but to no avail. I didn’t want to waste more than 15 minutes on it, so resorted to punching the map instead of the passport to prove I had visited the CPs. Once back at transition, I reported my loss to the marshals, proving I’d visited the CPs. They had also verified all my controls up to the final 3 regular CPs, so they signed the map attesting that I’d gotten all the controls. WHEW! That meant I was free to continue to the next leg.

I was now back on the bike, racing against the clock in the hopes of making the cut-off for the final 2 advanced CPs. However, it was looking dubious, as I only had an hour or less, and still had to pick up 2 other regular CPs AND bike all the way back to the start area. All I could do was try. This final bike leg took us once again on what I’ll call a ‘phantom trail’ to retrieve the final 2 regular CPs. It was actually a lot of fun, and they weren’t super hard to pick up, but I realized there was NO WAY I’d make it back by 5pm. As a result, I decided to just end the day strong, have fun out there, and take some nice video on the way.

On my ride back, I helped a few beginner teams with some route finding, and chatted with others about their day as I passed by them. Seems everyone generally had a good time, but lots of comments about the difficulties of some spots. All in all though, that’s precisely what I’d expect to hear. After all, it is ADVENTURE racing, not trail racing! We all had adventures out there. Rolling into the finish area, I was welcomed by lots of racers and volunteers. Lots of people milling about enjoying a cold beer and swapping stories. I found out that I was 3rd in the solo category, but didn’t even check my overall standings at the time. Frankly, it didn’t matter that much. I’d had a great day grinding it out in the trails, and was happy with my finish, and even happier to hear that James had snagged 1st place overall with a brilliant race.

Once gear was thrown hastily back into a bag and zipped up (to be dealt with the next day), and the bike and boat were secured to the car, it was time for the meal and awards. We had a tasty post-race feast of beef, veggies and rice, while watching a slideshow from the day and hearing a few stories from racers. Home by 9pm and enjoying a celebratory beer. All in all, a good day at the 2nd office. Now, I get to focus all my efforts on preparing for UNE in under a month. *gulp*. Stay tuned for many more stories from that!

In retrospect, and in looking at the various times, I realize I probably should have pressed on hard towards the end rather than cruising. My 12th overall could definitely have been improved on (especially if I hadn’t wasted 15 minutes searching for my passport). But the mental crush of losing the passport also made me slow down, as I felt I had ‘lost’ my speed. Oh well. Either way, I had a blast, and here’s the video to prove it:

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