Clawing My Way to the Podium in Season-Opener

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Serious (Active)Steve

The vision in my mind was clear. The start is called, and off I go, paddling hard and efficiently at the front of the race pack. I nail all my navigation challenges, bag all the CPs, and have quick transitions, to cross the finish line first, with no one even near me. Well, as you know, vision is often different from reality, particularly in the adventure racing world. So goes the backdrop for my start to the 2013 ‘Summer’ race season. I found myself once again in Huntsville, at Deerhurst Resort, for what may ultimately be the final Frontier Adventure Challenge. This was slated to be a 5-8 hour adventure race featuring all the fun of a classic adventure race in a manageable format. I was covering the event for Get Out There Magazine, and the lovely Deanna also joined me as a volunteer / race photographer. Good thing she had a brand new camera to try out! As a result, I’ve got both a video to share, as well as a whole folder of pictures that Deanna took. Now read on!

Pictures from the Event

Leading up to the race, things were pretty mysterious from the race organization. 3 weeks out from the event, we hadn’t even been told where it would actually be held. We were assured it was in the ‘Huntsville / Lake of Bays’ region, but beyond that, no host venue announced! Add to that the fact that Huntsville was actually under a state of emergency due to flooding and you can understand why we were somewhat dubious as to how the race might actually go. Would it be a paddling race only? Luckily, in the final week and a half, we were given the venue, as well as an idea of what were in store for. They apparently had to tweak the course, but with reducing water levels, we’d be good to go. That was comforting. To save some pennies, Deanna and I booked a cheap (but excellent!) hotel in Huntsville, aptly named the Huntsville Inn. Upon arriving and them seeing all my gear, they even upgraded us to a bigger room for the same price ($58 a night!).

We arrived just in time to register before the 9pm cutoff. Sadly, that meant we had to forego stopping in Algonquin park to take any pictures of the FOUR (!) moose we came across. Very cool! The order of events made me feel like this was more of an off-road triathlon than anything. First, a paddle, transition to mountain bikes, finally transition to trek. Only 2 transition zones, and only one checkpoint to reach on foot from the boats. I had a feeling it would be a hammerfest the next morning. Course designer Brad told me he estimated the top teams would clear the entire course, including the advanced sections, in 4 hours! Interesting foreshadowing there…

Back at the hotel, I got all my hydration, nutrition, gear, and clothing sorted into the right transition bags, and made it to bed shortly after 11pm. Not bad at all. As I lay there awake for a while, I visualized all my transitions and how to be most efficient, as well as deciding both my videography plan (trying to not slow down too much), as well as my game plan for decision making. What I mean by that is what I’d do depending on whether I was leading or trailing in terms of changing clothes / eating / filming. It’s a delicate balance to get right, and warrants planning. Next I knew, it was 6am and time to get moving!

Prior to race start, I had to shuttle my bike and transition bag to the transition zone that I’d been shown on a map the night before. Then it was off in a hurry to the race HQ to [finally] see the official maps and start plotting my points and route choices. It pretty much followed the course and area I figured it would, and as always, looked straightforward on paper. I know far too intimately the difference between a line on a map and a foot on the ground though, so I was cautiously optimistic about my chances. There weren’t too many teams I knew, so only a little trash talking took place while doing last minute prep and assembling in the water for the paddle start, now for the quick race synopsis…

Race Summary / Stats

FAC2013 Race Result

Paddle Leg

Under perfectly clear skies and calm conditions, the race got underway on the water at Deerhurst Resort. Total distance paddled was about 11km. Our route was pretty much due west from Deerhurst through the little canal leading to Fairy Lake. From there, we made our way to a pull-out at the base of Lion’s Head Lookout, where we scrambled up for grab CP1. From there, we wound our way down to a dam near Brunel Road, where we pulled out at TA1/CP2. Personally, I had a pretty good paddle. I was in about 8th or 9th at CP1, but made up a few spots on the steep climb, hitting the water in 5th place. Lost one more spot and finished off in 6th place. Luckily, the race is seldom decided on an opening leg, and in the paddle, there isn’t a whole lot of spreading out. I was only 6 minutes behind the leader at that point. I had a pretty speedy transition (in spite of some quick camera changes), and left the CP in high spirits (and possibly in 4th place.

Bike Leg

Lucky for me, the bike section played to some of strengths. Namely, my light weight, and the fact that I was on a 29er :-). Total distance was about 20km. The first 2.5k was on paved road, so it was a good distance to get the legs working. After that, it was time to turn into the dirt roads, then eventually into the real ‘trails’, which as usual were a delightful mix of mud, sand, and swamp along snowmobile trails. The total distance traversed in this stuff was only 7.5k or so, but seemed a lot longer! The best description I can give for some of that mud is that it was the consistency of pudding. Patience and ‘finesse’ was the only thing that could get you through. Lucky for me, I’ve learned both of those over years of this kind of racing, and managed to get through in a pretty timely manner.

During the bike, there was a decision point about whether or not to tackle the advanced section, but it really wasn’t a big decision. I was at the front end of the race, so skipping that CP would have been silly. In the bike section, I managed to bounce between 3rd and 4th the whole way, and avoided any major snafus. Yes, I went on the wrong trail a couple times (it’s always a maze out there!), but always corrected myself within 100m of the error, which helps big time. I credit this to my judicious use of both my compass, as well as having carefully measured distances to features using my digital map measuring tool. My only major screw up was near the end once back on the roads. I zigged when I should have zagged, and instantly dropped 2 spots :-(. Due to that, my check-in at CP5/TA2 (back at Deerhurst) was at pretty much the same time as 3 teams, so it was top 5.

Final Trek Section

Ahh, the trek. The is normally where I have things dialed in the best. I love a pure bushwhack where I need to rely on my compass only. The problem with this trek section was that it was directly across from the resort, on a network of ‘marked’ trails. We even got a ‘toy’ map of those trails (no scale, no indication of N, etc.) to help us. The trouble is, when you have trails, it’s tempting to take them rather than just shoot a bearing. A perfect running of this section would have been about 4km, but with some ‘errors’ and hunting around, I probably had closer to 5km of trekking under my belt. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one with errors, and the standings changed a big in that little section.

I won’t bother detailing all my errors, but my first one was a stupid overshoot because I thought the scale on the little map was a little smaller. Quickly fixed that and went on my way. My big mess-up was trying to find CP9: “On a ridge near a steep embankment”. Yeah, well, the ridge stretched a long way, so actually finding it first try didn’t happen and required some hunting and triangulation. I assumed this would be my undoing, but kept pushing hard. From this one, we hit the ‘advanced’ section, consisting of 3 checkpoints. Luckily, that meant they were pure orienteering, with no trails. Leaving nothing to chance, I took clear bearings, and followed straight lines, no matter how stupid (i.e. scaling down 20+ft cliffs). It paid off however, as I hit all 3 dead on, and had someone in my sights heading back up a ski hill. Little did I know it was Chad Spence, the fellow in 1st overall! Rather than engage in a foot race, I opted to be careful about grabbing my final CP by re-setting myself by using a cell tower as a landmark. He instead opted to go directly to where he thought the trail was. He made the right call, and as a result, I finally emerged from the woods running to the line less than 2 minutes behind him, surprised to learn I was 2nd overall!

However, the drama wasn’t quite over. While I had retained my electronic timing punch the whole race, I had lost my paper CP passport in the bike section. As this is a mandatory piece of gear, I was assessed a 10 minute penalty. I knew 3rd place wasn’t far behind. However, he had screwed up the final advanced CP by climbing to the TOP of a ski hill while it was at the bottom. I had seen him at the top and told him it was at the bottom. The question was how fast could he descend the hill, punch the CP, climb back up and complete the race? Lucky for me, it was nearly 13 minutes, which meant I was now officially 2nd overall! What a great start to my race season! We all celebrated at the finish and congratulated each other on a great race.

So, in the end, two teams finished the course in under 4 hours, all in, and I was one of them. Looks like Brad’s prediction was bang on. What I hadn’t counted on was that *I* would be one of those “top teams”. It definitely felt good. The remainder of the afternoon was spent enjoying the warm sun, cleaning up the bike, sorting the gear, and showering and changing. I even went back on the course (with beer in hand!) with a youth team of 3 girls to help them finish the race and give tips on how to find a few of the CPs. Gotta encourage the new racers, otherwise this sport will NOT survive! Later on, there was the post-race buffet, and more drinks with racers and the organizers. It was a great night, and a great weekend all in all. This race (and location) has a soft spot in my heart now of course, as it is where Deanna and I got together, and also where I proposed to her. It will be sad if this is the last time a race is held there. Here’s hoping someone takes over the reigns of the organization of this event!

With this race out of the way, the next one is a mere week away from now as you read this. Next up: the Raid Pulse spring race (there’s still time to sign up!). I’ll be racing that one with James Galipeau, a top racer from the region that does a lot of International races. Should be fun. Stay tuned for that report, and in the meantime, enjoy the video of this race!

Video Race Review

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