A Tale of Perseverance – 3rd Place Solo at Raid Pulse

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Race report and full blog posting to follow. Long story short, I had a long post written, but managed to delete it when formatting a hard drive! I’m not impressed, and haven’t had a chance to re-write it yet. I’ll do so while in Montreal this week. In the meantime, check out the links in my results section.

***UPDATE – HERE IT IS***

Howdy all, and welcome back to another extremely interesting chapter in the life of ActiveSteve! The first thing you might notice from the title of this post is that I came in 3rd, but in the SOLO category of this past weekend’s Raid Pulse spring Adventure Race, a 6-8 hour adventure race which took place in an area known as Notre Dame de la Salette. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, getting to the start line of a race is truly an accomplishment in itself. This race was no exception to that statement. This of course leads quite nicely into this posting. To start with, I’d like to point out that this story was one which I’ve actually written once already! I had a very long post written up, but then formatted the hard drive which contained it, without making a backup! How silly is that? At any rate, I’ll now try to duplicate this crazy tale. Read on…

It all started the night before somewhere around nine pm. My phone started ringing as I was getting my gear together for the race the next morning. It was a pretty ominous sign. There can only be one reason that someone would be calling me at that time of night. It’s that they would be calling to let me know that there’s a problem. My suspicion was very much on track, as it was Jim Doucette. He didn’t sound all that healthy, and informed me that his babysitter had gone home, leaving him alone with Xavier all day. The reason she went home? Well, she came down with a pretty bad one day flu, and now Jim was worried that he was coming down with it. At the present, he said he had a bad headache, and stomach ache, and now feared that it would develop into a full-blown flu. He was giving me this as a courtesy call, and to see what our options were. Well, when it’s nine at night, and you have to be up at 5 the next morning, there aren’t many options. Luckily, I wasn’t too worried about it, since I am now the proud owner of that fancy-pants new racing kayak.

About an hour later, the phone rang again. It was Jim, confirming that he would indeed not be in shape for the race. Unless, he noted, he could strap on a diaper and act as the anchor for the team. I assured him that it wouldn’t be a problem, even though I’ll admit it was pretty disappointing. I had my sights on getting first place in the 4-person category, which obviously wouldn’t be happening now :-(. Although it was pretty late, I tried to give Steeve a call to let him know the situation. There was no answer on his cell phone, and I decided to not worry about it till the next morning, since there was nothing we could change anyway. I finished packing my gear, now revised as a result of being a solo, and headed to bed. 5am came along, and I dragged my butt out of bed, wolfed down some Vector and a bagel, and hit the road. I showed up at Steeve’s place in the Rav4, with the kayak strapped on the roof, and no Jim. They looked at me curiously for a moment before cluing in to what it all meant.

“Hey, where’s Jim?”. The inevitable question. I just smiled and said, pack up your gear, we’re racing as a duo and a solo! With that, we were on our way. Issue number one sort of dealt with. When we got to the race check-in, we had to let the know the situation. To this point, I had been hoping to maybe race completely on my own, just to see how I would do. The unfortunate part was that the race was pretty much sold out! There were 67 teams registered already, and that meant that all the maps were spoken for. At the end of the day, it really didn’t matter to me, as this would give the three of us a good opportunity to work on our team dynamics some more. Half the challenge of a long race is the inter-play between the different members, and we want to make sure that we’ll be firing on all cylinders come time for the Quest for a Cure. In other races, there is such a thing as a 3-person team category, but not this one. It was still better to be racing as a duo and a solo, fully ranked, than it would have been had they decided that we’d have to race unranked.

We next headed off to get our last mintue gear tweaks carried out. We had to pack the right gear in the right bags, and make sure that our bikes were race-ready. This leads us well into the next section of this comedy of errors. I put the front wheel on my bike, and spun it to make sure things were smooth. I heard a bit of squeeking, and realized that that the rotor was rubbing on the brake pad. The fastest way to fix that is just to loosen the axle a little bit and nudge the tire to free it up. So, I loosened the skewer, and spun the wheel lightly to see where it was catching. As I bent my head to listen closely, I must have somehow got my finger in the wrong place, as the next thing I knew, I felt a pinching. Ouch. No biggie, right? Well, suddenly I noticed a warm sensation, followed by a nice crimson flow from my right index finger. Yup, I squished it good! As it turns out, I managed to slice through my fingernail completely, and into the fleshy part underneath, pretty much to the bone. Oops. I’m glad this happened before the race and not during though, as I had access to all sorts of first aid kits. I quickly disinfected and wrapped up the finger in thick gauze to absorb the blood for a while. There was still an hour to the start time, so I planned on re-treating it right before we started. Problem number 2 dealt with. This was turning out to be a rather ominous pre-race. What was going to happen next, I wondered.

No time to dwell on that little nugget though, it was almost race time. We’d gotten our map, and I set about figuring out the route that we would take. This was the only race I’ve ever been in that managed to cram a whole race onto one single map sized at 8.5 x 11in., yet still retain almost the same scale that I was used to. That made for a pretty sweet route plan. There would be no need to switch maps, and you could always see what the future had in store. Roughly speaking, the race course broke down as follows: First leg was a paddle leg of about 6km, with one checkpoint along the way. Single lake, no portages. Dead easy, flat and fast. Second leg was the biking stage, consisting of about 30-35km, through various ATV trails in the woods. It looked like it wouldn’t be too hard, but might have some tricky path choices depending how many intersecting trails there were. Leg 3 was to be the crux of the race, consisting of the bushwhacking segment. Overall, this section appeared to be 10km or less, but would require true navigation. However, the points were pretty simple, and I estimated no great problems for anyone comfortable with navigating a straight line in the bush. After the bush section, it was back into the boats for the final 5k paddle to the finish.

The weather at the starting line was warm. It was ten in the morning, and it now looked as though we’d have some interesting heat to contend with later in the day. I realized I probably didn’t have enough fluids to sustain me if it got really hot. The official start time was 10:05am. It was an energetic LeMan’s start, with everyone tearing from the start line to their waiting boats 300m away. I wanted to get into my kayak quickly, to avoid any major congestion. A-M and Steeve were right on my heels, and hopped into the Canoe. We had a relatively clean getaway, and paddled into the fray. This leg was all about pure power and speed. The water was calm, and everyone was looking to make good time. We fell into a very good rhythm, and stuck in the front part of the pack. I was extremely impressed with A-M and Steeve’s paddling. They were strong and pulled hard the whole way. As we got near CP1, A-M hopped into the water to punch our passport, while Steeve and I redirected our boats towards the next CP. She hopped back in, and off we went. At this point, I was clearly in 2nd for the solo category, as the only other kayak on the water was visible, and paddling away fast!

We made it into the first transition with a solid time. We set about carrying out a fast transition to the bikes. Helmets on, packs put on, and away we went! So far so good, and no mistakes made. We followed a dirt road to the apparent trail head, and plunged into the woods. The first section was on unmarked trails to eventually lead us to the snowmobile network. This is where things can get notoriously bad. Anyone who’s spent time on logging trails will tell you it gets might confusing out there if you’re not careful. I followed my instincts, and my distance estimates, and popped us out exactly where we needed to be. Sweet. We turned onto the now-marked trail, and followed it along to the next CP. The trail was really fun. Not too easy, not too technical. Overall, a sweet ride that I’d love to do again. There were ATV’s out, but they were generally quite courteous and slowed down to let us pass. We made good time, and nailed the CP. The next section was more of the same, and just meant we had to work hard, take in food and fluids, and put on the distance. At one point, we stopped for a moment to grab a bite, before carrying on. We had passed a couple teams, but hadn’t been passed, so we knew we were doing well. The word was we were about 20 minutes off the lead. I was comfortable with that. A-M and I took off, with Steeve seemingly right with us. The next little section was mostly downhill for a couple kms. That’s where we hit our next big snag.

I got to the bottom of a hill, after a super-fun downhill section with a big shit-eating grin on my face. I stopped, and turned to watch A-M coming down the hill to join me. I was again impressed with her abilities. She was riding a brand new bike, and had claimed to not be super-strong technically, but she showed no hesitation whatsoever, which was awesome to watch. This is one strong chick! She then stopped next to me as well, and we both turned expecting Steeve. A minute passed, no Steeve. A number of other teams now passed us… no Steeve. More time.. still no Steeve. Where the hell could he be. He’s a pretty strong biker, so this made no sense. I had a momentary thought they maybe he’d had an accident, or stopped for a nature break. Still no Steeve. Finally a team stopped and said, are you guys team 403? Yes we are. You’re team-mate had a derailleur problem, and is about 5 minutes back (if going downhill, which meant more like 15 minutes back!). Shit. Apparently the trouble had startd right where we had stopped, and we didn’t know because we had gotten a little ahead right off the bat due to the hill, and the fact that there were lots of people around us at just that moment. We had both concentrated on the downhill, and not noticed the people close to us were in fact, not Steeve at all! Shit.

We immediately turned around and started trudging back along the trails. Lots of walking. We knew we were dropping fast in the rankings, but were powerless to do anything at this point. Another team slowed to tell us that Steeve was just fixing his chain, and should be down soon, and that we should wait. By then, I wasn’t about to just wait, since we’d already left him alone for about 20 minutes. It’s a good thing too, because when we finally got back to him, he was still not close to being back on the trail. Another team was kind enough to have stopped to help, and were both propping his bike, and providing guidance. Now I knew we had big troubles, as Steeve was putting the bike back together as a single speed! The derailleur hanger had been stripped, so Steeve had totally removed the rear derailleur. I’ve seen this plenty of times in other races, but never had to suffer through it myself. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. I felt horrible for having left Steeve, but we really didn’t know. He was clearly frustrated, but taking it pretty well in stride. We helped him get the chain put back together, and decided to start down the hill again (as a tight group this time).

Not very long into the descent, I noticed a chain on the trail. I stopped to inspect, as I heard Steeve yelling out that he’d lost it again, and to just leave it. Instead, I back-tracked, picked it up, and put it around my neck. No worries, this won’t go to a near-decapitation story, it was pretty safe there. Steeve suggested we just pitch it in the woods, but I’d have none of that. Sadly, we’d already lost a lot of time, probably 40 minutes. Rather than stop again, to try and fix it, Steeve coasted through the downhill. After that, we tried various combinations of towing and pushing, which Steeve had nothing. By now, I was a touch frustrated too, so I told Steeve to just get on my bike, and that I would run his bike while they rode, me being the strongest runner. I soon realized this wasn’t a viable option either, since it looked like we still had another 10km to go. I implored Steeve to try and fix the chain one more time, while I swapped the tow system off his bike and slapped it on A-M’s bike. That way, two of us could tow, while Steeve did what he could on the single speed.

Another 15 minutes lost, and it looked like we were set to go. Unfortunately, Steeve’s chain had shortened to the point that he was stuck in a pretty hard gear, and would have to push pretty hard to get anywhere. That meant some heavy duty towing would be required as well. Luckily, it was now also well into the hottest part of the day, and we had been sitting in the woods getting eaten alive. Oh yeah, and we were running short on fluids too :-(. However, we persevered, and eventually made it back out to the main road. I couldn’t believe we were there yet, so took us about 400m in the wrong direction. Not a big deal when you’re on a bike though. We circled back, and happily made it to the next CP. I tried blowing past it, since I had Steeve on tow and we had momentum. Unfortunately, it was a gear check spot, so I had to stop, and prove we had a first aid kit and emergency blanket. Damn it! And of course, it was buried in my pack in a dry sack. Dammit again! I dumped the contents, showed we had it, and threw it all back in my pack and raced to catch up to Steeve and A-M, who I had sent off. Luckily, we were only a couple km from the end of the bike leg. Boy were we happy to see TA2!

We threw our bikes to the ground and swung into action to recover some time. We had a great transition, gulping down some Boost and drinks, put on our shoes, and took off on the trails. There were lots of teams there when we checked in, and still a pile there when we left, meaning we made up a little time already! Of course, luck was not with me to find the first CP in the woods, which was supposed to only be about 800m into the woods, on a pretty straight bearing. We tried following a ridge line and a bit of a trail, which in retrospect I shouldn’t have bothered with. A straight shot would have been the easiest. We circled around a bit in the woods and probably lost 10-15 minutes before getting back on track. By that point, we’d picked up a hitch-hiker. A fellow who was racing as a duo, but his team-mate was ill-prepared for this race, and ended up ducking out at the last transition. He was wandering around, apparently hoping to hook up with another team, as he had self-confessed that he wasn’t much of a navigator. In truth, later on, he admitted that had it not been for us, he figured that he would have been somewhere out in the woods wrapped up in his emergency blanket! Yeah right. Either way, it was fun to have some company and meet a new racer.

After the initial mess up on the first deep woods checkpoint, I decided to get back to my roots, and just rely on bearings. So at the first deep woods CP, I tracked a straight line on the map to a point between two lakes, at which point I was just going to take another straight-shot bearing to get to the next CP. In this way, it looked like we would avoid any major contour issues like cliffs, etc. Of course, it wasn’t flat going by any stretch of the imagination, but at least it was just up and down that we could handle comfortably. We plowed on, making good time in the bush. In what seemed to be no time, we were at my first way-point, and I hit it pretty much dead on. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

My confidence was definitely back for this leg, so I picked off my next bearing and off we went back into the woods. Well darned it all if we didn’t hit the next point dead on as well. We literally popped out at a clearing looking straight across a little lake to the checkpoint. Sweet. After this point, it was a pretty easy road hiking route to the next CP. To try and make up a bit of time, we decided to start running. Our tag-along was doing well too, and his spirits were buoyed by the fact that he got to race this section as well, rather than just sit out. All in all, a great experience for all of us. We picked up the next CP, and continued to run. The woman manning that CP was awesome in that she had bottled water for everyone. Suffice it to say, the heat had led us to all be a tad dehydrated by this time of the day.

While running to the final transition, we were spotted by RDS, who were filming the race for an upcoming half hour show that they were going to air. They were driving the other way, but turned around when they realized we were running. A lot of teams at this point were likely walking by this point, so they were sufficiently impressed to decide to film a bit. Well, we ran by the camera man all looking strong. Just after passing him, wouldn’t you know it, I started cramping. Badly. Like keel over and scream cramping in the legs. It would have been okay, if Steeve hadn’t informed me that the guy was still filming. How embarrassing. It’ll be interesting to see if I make the cut where they show the ‘struggles’ of adventure racing. In truth, I felt pretty great, just that one cramping section.

The remainder of the race would be on and off cramping to certain degrees, but as it was just paddling, it shouldn’t slow me down too much. At the final transition, we donned our PFDs once more, and got back in our respective boats. It was time for the final 5km paddle. I think our speed was a little slower than the first time over, but we still managed a pretty decent pace. I was afraid a couple times during the paddle, as the cramping threatened to cause my kayak to capsize. That wouldn’t have been very pleasant at all :-). In the end, I made it safe and sound. We got to the shore, and I waited for Steeve and Anne-Marie to pull up the canoe so that we could cross the finish line as a team. There were several teams enjoying the late afternoon sun who cheered us through the finish. It was quite a nice setup at the end.

The closing banquet was essentially right at the finish line, so once we gathered up our gear and grabbed showers, we were able to sit on a deck enjoying beers while watching other teams finish. In spite of all the various little things that happened (okay, they were actually rather large things, weren’t they?), this was another spectacular race put on by Raid Pulse. Thanks Thierry for another great time. The awards ceremony was fun as well, and I managed to get up and pretty much tell this entire story to all the racers to entertain them as well. For doing so, I even got to pick a prize. Yay. I grabbed a bottle of Hammer Gel. When all was said and done, I still somehow managed to grab third place in the solo male category. I’m pretty sure I could have gotten second if it hadn’t been for our unfortunate mechanical problems with Steeve’s bike. But such is life. It certainly never detracts from the race experience for me.

Looking forward, I’m now very much excited at the prospect of racing this year’s Quest for a Cure 48 hour race with Carl, Steeve and Anne-Marie. I think we make a very good team. We all have very good spirits and complement each other well in the various disciplines. Whew, this post seems to have grown far too long, so I’ll end it now, and say see ya for now, until my next racing exploit is posted shortly!

Before closing, I should mention that for the entire duration of the race, I decided to wear my Garmin Forerunner 305, to be able to review the race after the fact. Strictly speaking, GPS units are forbidden in adventure races, but this unit really isn’t a mapping unit, or meant to be a navigation aid per se. Yes, it tracks location, but getting meaningful data out of it on the fly is not practical. That is to say, I never once referred to it in a location sense, but just had it on so that we could map the race course. This is how I got the picture that you see with the post. I’m hoping to figure out how to add in a custom google map shortly, and if I do, I’ll be sure to post a link.

Hope I haven’t bored you all to tears. Stay safe out there, and have fun!


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