All posts by ActiveSteve

Celebrating in the Kingdom (Trails)

Hello friends! Every year, whether we like it or not, we must acknowledge the passing of another year of time, and the gradual aging we all go through. My most recent birthday was not a milestone event in my mind, so I wanted to keep it low-key, but I also wanted to make sure that I marked the day by doing something I loved. With that in mind, it was quite fortuitous that Deanna and I were passed along an invite to a road trip to the Kingdom Trails in Vermont for a weekend of mountain biking and celebrating. I hesitated at first, as I was a little concerned that Deanna might not be keen on the idea of joining three more ‘seasoned’ mountain bikers in this land of amazing trails. However, as you’ll see, it turns out she was as giddy as the rest of us with the experience!

Since it was my birthday weekend, we decided to make a proper road trip of it and visit different Vermont Breweries as we went. After all, Vermont is known for some great beers, as well as great scenery and mountain biking. This way, we could enjoy our drive down and back by breaking up the trip into ‘brewery segments’ 🙂 This meant a bit of advanced planning to make sure we arrived at the right times and could take advantage of tasting room opening hours. In the end, we managed to squeeze in 7 different breweries, one of which we basically had to beg to let us in to buy beer (they were officially ‘closed’ for the day).

The final list includes:

  1. Kingdom Brewing – First brewery across border, and a nice little farm-based family operation. Wish we coulda stayed longer, but bought 2 growlers
  2. Hill Farmstead Brewery – They were ‘closed’, but I convinced them to sell me beers to take. Spend $70USD on 4 bottles!
  3. Trout River Brewing – Closest brewery to Kingdom Trails. Great pizza place too. Sampled all their beers and brought some home
  4. Magic Hat Brewing Company – Magical place to visit, free samples, and brought back a bunch of their beer
  5. Fiddlehead Brewing Company – Ex Head brewer from Magic Hat started this place after Magic Hat was sold to larger interests. Bought 2 growlers
  6. Zero Gravity Craft Brewery – Sadly, no flights or true samples, you have to actually order a pint / growler to try there suds. That being said, I got 2 decent samples out of them.
  7. Vermont Pub and Brewery – Oldest craft brewery in Vermont, final lunch stop on way home. Had a nice flight of 6 here.

Needless to say, on our return to the true north strong and free, the only thing we claimed at the border was 48 bottles of beer.

But of course, we were also in it for the riding. Kingdom Trails did not disappoint. They have over 100 miles of mountain biking trails on offer, with something for everyone. You are required to buy a $15 day pass (or $75 annual pass), but for that, you get well, maintained trails, some of which had amazing flow to them. The trails are truly a testament at what can be accomplished when like-minded people come together with a common goal. The network has grown over the years, with support from the local community, including very gracious landowners.

Deanna and I opted to only get a 1-day pass, with the intention of heading back earlier on Sunday to visit Burlington. The other went with 2-day passes to squeeze in a few more hours on Sunday. As a group of 5, we set out around 9:30am on Saturday, and sampled a wide range of trails, including some favourites including Kitchell, Tap and Die, Sidewinder, and Jaw. The trails are set up so that you can take relatively easy connectors between the more fun trails.

Of course, there was also hills to climb, which is inevitable if you want a nice fast flowy downhill run! We ran trails that were rated from blue square up to double black diamonds, which was a great feat, given that Deanna was essentially only on her third or fourth time truly mountain biking. Although the energy may have started waning towards the end, she still had a grin from ear to ear and bought herself a t-shirt and socks to commemorate the trip, vowing that we will return! Awesome.

At about 3:30pm, we were back in the main village to grab some lunch. From there, Deanna opted to head back to our cozy cabin, while the rest of us headed out for another 2.5 hours of biking, where we hit some more remote trails and found a truly epic long downhill trail called Moose Alley (we also enjoyed Farmjunk on our way). We rolled back to the cabin around 6:45pm, somewhat pooped and ready for eat and enjoy the evening.

In that respect, we had hoped to cook sausages on the fire, but it was taking so long to get things going, most of them were cooked on the stovetop and served inside (personally, I *had* to cook one symbolically on the fire, and boy was it tasty!). We had a nice birthday feast (after all it was my actual birthday!), followed by very tasty ice cream sundaes for desert. From there, beer consumption, story swapping, and eventually, in a most ‘anti-cabin’ move, streamed an episode of Naked and Afraid before hitting the hay.

All in all, that was as near-perfect of a weekend that I could imagine. Thanks to Nathalie and James for organizing, and thanks to Deanna for being as excited about it as she was. I’ll be enjoying the ‘imported’ beers for a while, and dreaming of the next time I can slip down that way and tackle even more of the trails! Next up though, final preparations are underway for my upcoming 4-day expedition race in Maine at Untamed New England. Stay tuned for lots more about that in the coming month!

Stranded in the Woods with No Passport

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:

Rocking and Rolling 50k at Bear Mountain

Good day race fans! Well, here we are. We find ourselves at the first race of the summer racing season for ActiveSteve. To start things off with a bang, I decided to sign up for the 50k North Face Endurance Challenge Series event in Bear Mountain, NY. This race is a mere hour from the Big Apple, but you’d never know it from the rugged terrain and superb park that serves as the race setting. In an effort to be a little more ‘punchy’, I’m going to try to make my race reports a little shorter and more readable from now on. (Avoiding the TL;DR syndrome).

Deanna and I decided to make this a long weekend of camping and road-tripping.  I was racing the 50k on Saturday, and she the 10k on Sunday. Faced with an 8 or so hour drive both ways, we also decided to combine brewery visits on both legs of the trip, managing to stop in to 3 different breweries and squeezing in a super weekend-ending meal at Dinosaur BBQ in Syracuse. For lodging, we also opted to camp in a nearby campground, which, in spite of the rain both nights, was quite nice! Between new sleeping bags and a new thermarest, we were very comfy.

So, why ‘rocking and rolling’? Well, the title is quite apt, given that a large portion of the race is covered by kleenex-box sized rocks strewn all over the place, and posing significant injury risk to runners trying to keep at the front of the pack (i.e. to ME). In fact, the ‘rolling’ also refers to the fact that no less than 3 times during my race, I rolled my ankle severely enough that I had to hobble long stretches and tape up my left ankle for the last 15k of the race. Want to get a sense of the terrain? Here’s an excerpt from another blog post from the 2012 event:

“This section is the stuff nightmares are made of. They probably had prisoners from 50 states break rocks for the last 10 years and then dumped them on the fucking trail. There were rocks on the uphills, rocks on the downhills and rocks on the flats. All loose, about the size of a Kleenex box. When there’s no rocks, wait … there are ALWAYS rocks. Actually, we get to this trail that is nice and soft, EXCEPT IT’S AT A 45 DEGREES ANGLE and you have to run with a leg a foot higher than the other and your feet angled sideways. My ankles want to fucking explode. It’s impossible to run on that. Then I think it starts going up. The surface is back to loose giant ankle bruiser rocks. We go up, and up, and up. All this shit is happening on a 2.5 miles section, for fuck sake. And we’re not done. We go up some more and finally get to the top. We run a short distance and reach the gates of Hell itself. Hell is a downhill that looks to me like it’s a mile long. It’s steep. Very steep. Obviously, it’s covered with rocks, with a stream meandering though the trail, for added fun. Every single one of those rocks has a picture of my big toe on it. I start to go down. I will spare you the details, but I nearly have a nervous breakdown going down.”

So yeah, it had a few ‘tough’ sections. In spite of the early season race, I had managed to get in some pretty good endurance training, so my concern wasn’t the time or distance so much as the speed that I’d need to place well. James Galipeau was down for the race as well, and we decided to start out together. We were slated for ‘wave 3’, but decided to start with wave 2, as there was no way we would be that much slower than those ahead, and would have to weave our way through many people to get to the front. This was a good call, as we were clearly moving much quicker than our peers. In a short period of time, we’d passed a ton of people and found ourselves in what we figured was the front pack of the race.

From here, I was keeping an eye on my heart rate and really didn’t think I could sustain the current pace for the full 50, so I gradually let James put a gap into me, while holding the other racers at bay. I later learned that I was sitting in 11th overall, with a good shot at top 10! Unfortunately, lady luck wasn’t about to let me have that glory on the way to the finish :-).

For the most part, the course was  very enjoyable. Lots of wide singletrack sections, and only a couple little bits of road to get through. There were a number of climbs to tackle, but again, relatively tame to get through. Aid stations were well spaced out and VERY well stocked. I kinda wished I hadn’t played mule and packed so much of my own food with me. The aid stations were also nice as you got a little mental boost from people cheering you on, and on 3 occasions, it gave me a chance to see Deanna. The first 2 times all was going well. However, by the 3rd time, I had encountered a bit of bad luck.

Bad luck is the only way to describe rolling over hard on my ankle. The first time was on a grass-covered descent where there were also rocks lurking in the foliage. That time, I was being [relatively] careful, and didn’t have my full weight on the ankle. I hobbled a bit, then slowly picked back up to race pace. However, the 2nd time things weren’t as good. I caught a glimpse of the aid station down below from where I was on the trail, and momentarily lost focus. Not noticing a slight dip, I rolled my ankle hard, with full weight. This one was VERY painful, and I stopped completely in the trail.

Unsure what to do, I even hung on a tree branch to take weight off the ankle and stretch. That’s when the first of a few people passed me. Boo. Seeing no other option, I cautiously walked forward, knowing I had the aid station coming up to decide what to do. Upon limping in, I had a ton of support. People offering taping, shortcuts to the finish, food, etc. However, as I was still mostly mobile, I did the obvious, and waved off all help, and said I was going to press on. They took down my number just in case, knowing the trickiest section was actually next (reference the blog passage above to understand which section I’m talking about…).

I popped a couple ibuprofen, which, mixed with the endorphin, seemed to be doing the trick. Until I rolled my same ankle a 3rd time. 100m further out. On the grass. It was the stupidest spot, as it looked like a grassy field, but there was a giant hole that I didn’t see! I was pissed, and made it very clear to those around me with my loud cursing. I started to think the fates were against me. However, as usual, I was well prepared, and had a speed brace in my pack that I [finally] wrapped my swollen ankle with. Although awkward to run with, I’m pretty sure it is the only way I got through this mess.

Knowing my pace would drop, I decided to just focus on a clean final 15k. And clean it was. The previously-referred to mega-shitty section was one of the last sections in the course, and with my fragile ankle, I took my time on both the climb AND the descent, avoiding any bone-shattering risks. It paid off, as I didn’t get passed again by many racers for the remainder of the course. Apart from the ankle, I felt really good. Hydration and nutrition seemed solid, and I wasn’t too destroyed at the finish line. When I finally crossed, I was happy with my result (18th overall, 6th in category), and turned my focus to food, beer, and icing the ankle (in that order).

Deanna and I enjoyed the rest of the day in the sun watching and cheering other racers on, then headed back to the campground before having a meal in a nearby town. It rained most of the night, so we had a lovely night communing with nature from our tent. Had a great sleep, and woke up refreshed to cheer on Deanna and her 10k race, which she nailed with a great run. She was smiling from ear to ear and glad she did it. Back in the car, and long drive back to Ottawa to get back to recovery, training, and getting ready for the next race. Next up? Raid Pulse 8 hour adventure race on May 17th. Looking forward to that one! To wrap things up, if you haven’t seen it yet, here is my video review from the NY race: