The sun was beating down hard on my neck. My leg muscles were just on the edge of starting to cramp after over 7 hours of hard effort. A team up ahead had paused to debate the merits of taking one route over another at an intersection. With my head down and with determination, I blew past them and pedaled hard to the finish. Keeping a very short lead on them, I crossed the line as 4th solo male, and 6th team overall at the spring Frontier Adventure Challenge in Huntsville. In retrospect, had they made the turn, they would have had 1km shorter to travel, and would have beat me, but seeing me blow by made them change their minds and try to chase me down. I got lucky this time! Of course, dear friends, I’ve just revealed the punchline, the finish of the race. This was the first summer race of the season, and it was a great one. Read on for the full story, video, pictures, and all the good stuff!
Pictures from Race
Some of you may be wondering where I’ve been hiding these past couple months. Have I been eating bon-bons and playing video games and fattening up? Well, not exactly. I’ve enjoyed a couple months race-free, but that just meant I had the time to start tuning up for the summer sports, and get some things done around the house. Early May is a great time to get back into the racing season, and luckily, there are a few classics on the calendar to help with that. The first weekend was the Frontier Adventure Challenge, a 5-8 hour adventure race that draws racers from Montreal to London and points in between. I was racing solo, and covering the race for Get Out There Magazine through a video review, and hoped to put in a solid effort. As we got closer to race time, the finalized racer list indicated quite a few solo racers with solid record would be coming out. This would be no cakewalk, but I had nothing to lose. I felt great, was happier than ever, and just wanted to race hard. So let’s see how it all played out.
The course designer was tackling the race for the third time. His first course was a touch too challenging for many. His 2nd course turned out too easy for the top racers. This time? Nearly perfect! The front runners had to put in a hard effort to complete the whole course and get all the sections including the advanced ones. Beginners and novices had several points in the race with cutoffs which helped ensure most people finished the race around the same time. For nearly all racers, that meant over 7 hours of racing in the beautiful wilds of Muskoka. It was spectacular all around.
The actual course design looked pretty straightforward. Of course, they all do when you first get maps and plot the points. There were no complicated logistics, as all transitions occurred at the same central spot, and the final half of the race you needed to be self-sufficient, carrying all the food, water, and trek and bike gear required. Race morning was chilly but would get nice. Map prep went smoothly, and there was a big crowd of teams excited to hit the trails. To quickly step through my race, I’ll go over each section and summarize.
Section 1 was a bike and trek deal. Hop on bikes at the start, with a lead out on some pavement to spread the teams somewhat, before diving into the ATV and snowmobile trails well known to adventure racers. Recent rains made some of these trails interesting, with nice mud pits and plenty of water. Staying clean and dry, as usual, would be tough. I had a great ride, and hopped off my bike at the far end for the trek section in 3rd place overall. There were 2 checkpoints to grab in the woods, and I made a few errors in there which cost me slots. I also did it all in bike shoes. Back on the bike to head back to the TA with another CP to grab on the way. It should have been easy, and I almost hit it dead on. Unfortunately, I chose to search right instead of left, and wandered too far around a lake, costing me more time. I was rather frustrated. With a little angst, I roared off to the TA for section 2.
Section 2 was an out and back paddle along a nice lake. Thankfully winds were pretty low, even though somehow it managed to be a headwind BOTH WAYS! Never understood that, but have seen it on more than one occasion when racing. Murphy’s Law and all that I guess. I’d only been on my boat a couple times, so finding my rhythm was a bit tough. However, I clawed my way through a few more spots passing some friends in kayaks as well. No clue where I was now in the ranks, but I was having fun. At the far end of the lake, we had an out and back bushwhack up a stream to grab a CP. About 3k running total. This was a great way to see the gap between me and other teams. I think I was about 10th in this area, and the leader had probably 20 minutes on me already! Luckily, it was a really easy CP, and I was trotting back to the boat for the return paddle in no time. Lots more teams now beating the trail down, but I should be able to stay ahead. I made up a couple more spots on the paddle back, in time for the final real transition.
Section 3 was the crux of this race. To avoid the logistics of gear transfer, the race organizers laid out a big mountain bike leg, with the next trekking section in the middle, but with no access to gear. As such, you had to bring enough ‘stuff’ to last the rest of the race. That included the advanced section with extra biking on some slower trails. I had only a small pack, but with 2 full bike bottles, 1.5L of fluids, and food, and a Boost meal replacement (I love those in races!), I was off. I had also strapped 2 shoes for the trek outside my small pack, being held in place with an elastic. Bad decision. I took off from the final transition in hot pursuit of the phantom racers ahead of me (it’s always hard to know how close or far you are, but anything can happen!).
I had plenty of time to make the advanced section, so that decision was easy, and I took off for remote checkpoint CPA at the north end of our maps. From there, it was a long and often times frustrating bike slog through very mushy ground. I will say however that with the 29er, I was extremely pleased. I was able to roll through a lot more things on that bike. I made it to the final trekking section just as the leader was coming out. Apparently, he hadn’t gotten either of the 2 CPS in the bush. So, as long as I got at least one of them, I would be ranked higher. There were a couple other teams there, and we opted to work together a bit to try and get ahead of others. Oh yeah, and the shoes? Well, one had fallen out somewhere along the way, so I ended up doing the whole trek in bike shoes again! Although they were not easy, the CPS were definitely findable, and we made it out in what we felt was pretty good time. This seemingly short trek would prove to be the turnaround point for many. Those who succeeded were rewarded at the finish.
After the trek, I hopped back on the bike, and tore out hard racing for the finish. I felt strong so I left another solo racer at this point to see if I could pass more teams. I did pass teams, but at this point, it was hard to tell if they were on regular or advanced course, so it may or may not be helping my position. As you read from the opening paragraph, you’ll note that my efforts paid off, and I was extremely pleased with my strong finish in a tough field. Although not good enough for a podium finish, this was a strong placement and has given me high hopes for the next race (yes, that’s foreshadowing).
At the finish line, under a bright sun, I hung out and ate junk food with all my racing friends. It was a glorious day, and Deanna and much of her family had also come out to volunteer at the race, so it was a lot of fun. The whole race went without a hitch, until the awards later that night, when a snafu with the electronic results system meant a long wait for final standings. That was of no concern to me by that point, as I had other exciting news to talk about and share. But to learn about that news, you’ll have to read another blog post :-). Here’s a hint: Why would Deanna’s folks be at a race?? Stay tuned for the full story there. Next up, Storm the Trent near Tweed, Ontario, another 6-9 hour race. Yippee! Summer is here! To close off, have a look at the race video review that I put together for Get Out There below.