Have you heard the news?? Eco-Challenge is back! Televised adventure racing at its best! But I digress. This post isn’t about Eco-Challenge. It is, however, a post all about a recent 24-30 hour adventure race that I just took part in, Wilderness Traverse. The linkage is that the whole reason I began adventure racing, and indeed my entire athletic ‘career’ was thanks to watching Eco-Challenge so many years ago. That show opened my eyes to true adventure and challenge in the great outdoors, and I HAD to get into it and experience if for myself. 16 or so years later, here I am, writing yet another race re-cap for this blog! Anywho, read on for a telling of the tale of my race in Parry Sound!
Welcome back friends! What an exciting tale I have to share with you this time. In this blog post, I’ll be taking you step by step through my experience at this years Frontier Adventure Challenge Fall Classic, a 12-hour adventure race which took place in the Muskokas. To be more specific, it took place near Rosseau, at the Muskoka Woods camp. This race was the last race I had on the schedule for what I’ll call my ‘summer season’. After this one, the plan is to basically take the next month to month and a half pretty easy. Recover and do some light training before gearing up for the winter race season. Because of that, I was heading into this race with pretty high hopes, even though I’ve been going pretty hard over the last month. My chances were improved by the fact that I was teaming up again with my new friends on Adrenaline Rush; Adam Mallory and Mark Honsberger. Read on for the full story. As per usual, don’t forget to check out some pictures that I snapped, as well as the race video I shot for Get Out There magazine.
As I’m sure most of you are aware, I’ve taken part in this race for many years now. It’s a great event to wrap up the race season with, allowing me one last chance to push hard before turning the race thing off and tuning out for a bit. In years past, I’ve often taken newcomers to the sport along to this event, to expose new people to the great sport of adventure racing. However, this time, I was given a chance to once again race with Adrenaline Rush, whom I recently raced with at the 30-hr Wilderness Traverse. They’re usual teammate was still not fully recovered from previous events of the summer, so they reached out to me again. I jumped at the chance, as I knew that we’d be strong contenders. Last year, they finished second in the all-male category, 40 mins behind the 1st place male team. We were all pretty keen to do well, and based on our solid chemistry at WT, knew we had a chance to do something special.
In the days leading up to the race, I really didn’t think much about it, or stress about it at all. Work kept me pretty busy, and in the evenings, I’d putter around doing stuff around the house, and didn’t even really think about packing up till the night before heading off. My plan was to leave work as early as I could on Friday, as it would be a 5+ hour drive to the race site, and we had to register, as well as prepare all our maps and gear before heading to bed. Race start was 6am Saturday morning. On the drive up, the rain started coming down pretty well, and I was worried it would be a sign of the race we had in store. We already been warned this could be a pretty soggy race, so extra rain had me on edge before even starting.
Upon arrival, I shot some footage for the video, including a little interview with Geoff, the race director. As part of our chat, I learned a couple things about the course. Firstly, the overall distance of this course was actually SHORTER than the 8 hour race he’d put on earlier in the year! That only further raised my anxiety about what the course held in store. However, it wasn’t until we got the maps at 8:30pm that I’d see the actual terrain. On paper, it really looked pretty reasonable. The overall course was to be a big loop. The initial paddle took us from the start to a remote CP, and back to the only transition area of the race. From there, we’d hop on our bikes, and have to take all our trekking gear with us. At the far end of the bike loop, we’d stash the bikes, and complete an orienteering loop. Once that was wrapped up, hop back on the bikes, and complete the loop which would take us to the finish line.
The paddle looked like it would take around 2 to 2.5 hours, which led us to the obvious conclusion that we may need to take enough food and liquids at the transition zone to last us up to 10 hours of slogging through the woods. That was the tricky bit. Also, we were warned about a few sections of the bike which would be, shall we say, wet. In fact, there was even a warning that if it was too dodgy in our minds, to backtrack and take a road at one spot, and that we wouldn’t be penalized. This was an area that would need a ‘bike portage’. Very ominous indeed. Instead of worrying about it too much, we just plotted the maps as best we could, then headed back to the cabin to finish getting gear ready and trying to get a decent bit of rest before the race start.
Once we got up the next morning (at 4:45am!), we had to start the day by driving our bikes to the transition zone and leaving them, along with our gear, there for us to pick up during the race. Due to a bit of confusion, race start was pushed back to 6:15am. That didn’t make any big difference though, as it was still completely pitch black when all the teams were finally in the boats in the water ready for the starting gun. It was a cool site to see all the boats in the water with all the bobbing headlamps.
In our canoe, Mark was in the front, I was in the middle (sitting on a paint bucket), and Adam was manning the stern, doing both the navigation and the steering of the boat. we lined ourselves up at the front of the field of competitors, to give us the best chance at staying at the front. When Geoff gave the starting signal, team immediately went for broke. The initial pace was frenzied, with teams all vying for good spots by sprinting right out of the gate. Our cadence was super high, and our balance was a little off, causing us to roll pretty hard both left and right. After the first 10 or 15 minutes, the pace dropped just a little bit, and we found a pretty smooth rhythm. We were not at the complete front, but we were definitely well positioned, and not falling too far off the leaders. We made a slight navigational error which probably cost us 3 or so minutes before getting to CP1 at the far end of a bay. As it was an out and back paddle section, we had a good sense of our gaps, as the 2 lead kayaks, piloted by Ben and Nathalie, passed us by on our way. After that, another canoe, and another solo kayak passed us before we grabbed CP1 to the many camera flashes of photographer extraordinaire Bill Young snapping pics.
After grabbing that CP quickly, we spun around and started paddling back towards the other end of the lake again, trying to make up some time on our leaders. It was now starting to be more light out, and we could clearly make out more features, making it easier to navigate along the water. Unfortunately, it was also light enough to notice that we had a couple shadows, in the form of two canoes following and catching up to us. One of them turned out to be Leanne Mueller and Harper Forbes’ team Running Free, another strong contender. The other team was X3, an all-male team we’d have to watch for. It was clear we’d dropped our pace a little bit, but we couldn’t seem to get any faster. We counted on some good portaging coming up.
Sure enough, upon popping out of the lake, we had a solid portage system set up. Mark and Adam shouldered the boat quickly and jogged up the trail while I grabbed the seat and all the paddles and trotted after them. The end of the paddle leg involved a portage up to a river, then a river paddle / walk to the far end for the put-out, where we once again had to undertake a portage. This one was a bit trickier, with a scramble up big, wet rocks to get up to the road and ultimately the transition zone. For this one, Adam did the heavy work by grabbing the boat on his own. He was a machine on the rocks. Others were apparently not so lucky, judging by some stories. We jogged up to the transition, eager to get on the bikes and tear it up on the way to the orienteering leg, which we’d hoped would be our chance to get ahead, counting on Adam’s strong navigation skills. We ended up arriving at the transition in 5th place, behind 2 solos and only 2 teams.
We didn’t have the absolute fastest transition, but our 8 minute time in and out was well spent I think. we put on dry shirts and other clothes, grabbed food, and geared up with all we’d need for a possibly long day. It looks like other teams cut this time to as low as 5 minutes, but overall, I’d say we were pretty quick getting back out and on the road. The first bike section was pretty straightforward, involving a good hard bike along gravel roads until we got further from ‘civilization’. We’d taken a little bit of doubletrack, but nothing major. During our push, we managed to pass one of the solo racers, so we were now sitting in 4th. At CP5, the course finally veered off into something more challenging. This was actually the ‘advanced section’. This section had us riding a recently-smoothed-over ATV trail. Apparently, as recently as a week ago, this would have been much more difficult and involved a lot of bike-whacking (carrying bikes). However, due to ATV traffic, the majority of the trail was quite rideable (albeit a little slow). In retrospect, most teams commented that doing the advanced section was actually easier than doing the standard section, which involved more bike carries. How ironic.
The good news is that we had no issues at all on this part of the track, and pulled into CP6, which was the bike drop, in a solid 4th place. 5th place, a solo, arrived right with us. At this point, the time gap between us and the 1st place team was 10 minutes! Time to work hard. We quickly put on our trekking shoes, dropped helmets, and hit the bush. This was our chance to forge ahead. A good orienteering leg can shuffle up race results quite easily. It wasn’t long before we spotted both the teams ahead of us, Running Free and Raid Pulse. All of us were headed to CP7, the first point. The description was ‘point of high elevation in a clearing’. Not a very descriptive location, and not a lot of features to work with. We opted to do a straight bearing, and fan out a little left and right to keep our eyes open. We also sort of joined up with Adrian (solo), and basically vectored right in on the CP. We were the first two teams to punch it. Sah-weet. Without much noise, we ran off to get to the next point, so that others wouldn’t see us near the CP. At CP8, we caught site of Raid Pulse…behind us! Double sweet. By the time we headed to CP9, they were right alongside us, and we crashed along through the woods hoping the other would make a mistake. We all converged on CP9 basically at the same time.
However, that’s where we made a critical decision that paid off for us. There was an ATV trail near where we’d been. It didn’t strictly stick to the direction we were supposed to go, but we stuck to it and ran, hearing Raid Pulse in the woods next to us at the start. It led us straight to CP10, which we picked off quickly, and followed another ATV trail to take us towards the final CP in the trek, CP11, which was placed in a really large swampy area. We spotted it probably 800m or more away, and just crashed our way through the swamp to nab it. Once again, we bushwhacked a short bit, and grabbed another ATV trail which we guessed would take us straight back to our bikes. And guess what? It did! We were the first team out of the trekking section (tied with Adrian, who’d stuck with us), taking 1hr and 6minutes to clear the 5 CPs. The next fastest times were 1:24, so we had 8 minutes on the next team when we hopped back on the bikes. We knew this wasn’t a big lead and that we’d have to push hard to stay ahead, especially given Raid Pulse’s strength on the bikes. We dug deep and pushed hard. Adrian had already gotten a bit ahead of us, but we seemed to be keeping up a good pace. Until….
SNAP!! Adam was in front, me in the middle, Mark in the back. I heard very loud, angry cursing from behind me. Very uncharacteristic for Mark, a generally super-happy camper. The issue? On a little rise, he cranked hard and snapped his chain. For some less experienced teams, that would all but stop their momentum. However, I had both a chain tool and 2 gold links in my tool pouch, so we quickly re-grouped and fixed the chain. I think we were a little slower than we could have been, but all told, probably lost only 4-5 minutes. Ironically, based on the course, teams were now coming back from the other direction and passing us. These were teams that had taken the ‘standard course’. Several asked if we were okay, and we waved them on and wished them the best. We had a race to get back to! So far, no Raid Pulse, but we knew they’d be breathing down our cranks any moment now. That moment finally came on a gravel road, when we were just about to embark on the last technical biking section with 2 CPs AND the ‘bike portage’. It was most definitely ‘game on’ now!
For the majority of this section, we kept trading leads with Raid Pulse. Adrian was still somewhere ahead of us, but neither team cared. Every time we thought we’d lost the lead, we’d round a bend and there they’d be! A couple times they had to stop for a few seconds, and we’d do our best to race ahead of them. We jostled, joked, and talked as we pushed ourselves to the limit. At CP13, we were all together. Ditto for CP14. This was where the bike portage started. There was no doubt what had to be done. We crashed right into that swamp. It was insane. We had to carry our heavy bikes over our heads, since some steps would sink us to our necks. My height was definitely an issue. Mark and Adam were ahead (I’d paused to shoot a little video) and got our first. Adam waded 20m back in to grab my bike for me. I woulda made it, but it probably shaved 10-15 seconds off the crossing for me. Raid Pulse had also just finished, and we again found ourselves close. Pedal pedal pedal. No time to even think about route choices. Towards the end, we both opted for a trail that had an orange snow fence on the ground by it. This SHOULD take us to a road. We popped out by a house and were promptly greeted by 2 GIGANTIC and 1 Large dogs! They expressed their displeasure at our being on their land, and gave chase. No time for dog treats though.
We soon found ourselves back on the pavement, knowing we were not far from the end. The remainder would be on road and a well-worn gravel section. We formed our paceline and just hammered. To lighten the load, we were all dumping the remainder of the contents from our water bottles. We were keeping an eye out for CP15, on a gate, which marked approximately the 2k mark to the finish. Up the road, we spotted the team, and it seemed one person was dropping back. Unfortunately for us, that one person was actually Adrian, the solo. We caught up to him right after grabbing CP15, and passed him (barely), but couldn’t catch the other team. We put in a final effort, but when we finally passed through a tunnel, we saw them at the finish line. One final push, and we joined them to celebrate. Adrian was right with us, but didn’t try any last second pass at the finish. The dust settled, and we realized it was done! We’d fought, and ended up 2nd overall behind a formidable opponent, by about 30 seconds! Our 3 teams reveled in the sun, and were even treated to 2 bottles of champagne. One for 1st place male team, one for 1st place solo. It was awesome!
The funny part is that we’d finished the supposed 12 hour race in 5hrs and 45 minutes! Now what would we do? Well, lots of time to clean and sort gear, take long showers, and clean the bikes. Then, head back to the finish to cheer teams in while drinking recovery drinks (aka beer) in water bottles. The rain never did materialize, instead leaving us to enjoy the warm sun on a beautiful fall Muskoka day. We hung out and chatted with all the other teams, comparing races, etc. When the 12 hour mark finally hit, we headed to the dining hall for an amazing meal of chicken, prime rib, yorkshire puddings, potatoes, salads, etc. Pretty great meal considering the venue was a summer camp! There was also the awards ceremony and stories to be shared with other teams. Later on in the night, a group of us also headed to a nearby bar to enjoy a few more drinks and hang out with the race staff. Upon return, there was yet more drinks, and some late night wandering around the camp to the high ropes area and the waterfront. I was in bed by shortly after midnight, but it had been a very full day!
The whole race was another great experience, and thanks to the simple logistics and fine weather, the entire thing went off without a hitch, much to Geoff’s pleasure I’m sure. My team-mates were once again incredible, and I’m looking forward to tackling another race with them down the line. After all, now that I have the sticker on my bike, I’d say that I’m at least on hot standby to race with them. So ends another race story, and now, it’s time to get fat and relax for the next little while. That’s it for me till the snowshoe races start. So between now and then, my stories will likely take a more pedestrian pace 🙂
It is my great pleasure to bring you another race report. This time, I’ll be covering my part in a 30-hour Adventure Race known as Wilderness Traverse. Yup, the very same race that I did last year. However, I’m sure this time the weather will be much better, right? Not so much, but you’ll have to read the whole thing to hear more about that. I had been planning on re-doing this race since last year’s DNF, but two weeks prior to the event, I still had no team lined up! Lucky for me, some last minute cancellations presented me with a couple options to explore, and I found myself on a great team to undertake the experience. Not to name drop or anything, but I would have two Mount Everest Summitters on my team in Adam and Laura, as well as a veteran racer who designs and builds map boards for navigation on mountain bikes! How cool is that? It was a pretty amazing race, and I can’t wait to share all the details with you all. Have a look at the various pictures that I took on course, as well as some from Deanna (who was volunteering), then come back and read the whole story!
My last-minute break came about mainly due to another race, Raid the North Extreme. This race was a 6-day event in BC a mere few weeks before, which left many racers injured or exhausted from the effort. As such, a few slots opened up on a few teams. I was about to email Adrenaline Rush, the team I raced with, but was actually contacted by them first! The timing was right, our goals were in line, so how could I turn down the invitation. Our plan was to race hard, and hopefully pull off a top-5 finish, which would be EXTREMELY difficult given the pedigree of the teams in attendance. Essentially, this was a who’s who of the adventure racing scene from Eastern Canada. All the hot shots would be there.
The style of the race was to be a back-to-basics wilderness adventure race. Long legs, with few checkpoints and few transitions. To wit, we were given advance notice of the course logistics. Open up with a 35+ km trek, transition to a 65+km mountain bike section, transition to a classic canoe / portage leg of 35+ km, and transition to wrap up with a 10+ km final trek on trails. Why the “+” everywhere? Well, all these sections allow for route choices, and of course the possibility that you’ll make wrong turns, which is all in the spirit of adventure racing. The bonus to having the course disciplines spelled out was that we could all prep our gear choices and food in advance. In fact, this was the most organized I’d ever been in a race, being almost fully packed 2 days prior to the race! That doesn’t mean I didn’t screw it up though, as you’ll learn. Food and key gear in a dry bag for each leg, and extra clothes in separate bags for each bin.
I took Friday off in order to arrive onsite early. We’d be camping the night before the race start, and I wanted to get everything set up and not be stressed about race prep. Also, Deanna was volunteering, and was helping with registration. I still hadn’t formally met up with my team, and was hoping to see them soon. At one point I walked outside, and Deanna was waving me over. I said “I’m not really looking for you, I’m looking to see if my team-mates have arrived”. To which she introduced me to Laura, one of my team-mates! That was around 5pm. It wasn’t till 7pm that the other two arrived. With registration wrapping up at 8pm, we were the 2nd last team to get through gear-check and paperwork. Whew! Just in time to receive our maps where we’d finally see the actual course.
As another change from last year, Bob provided us with maps that were pre-marked with the checkpoints and transition areas. All we had to do was work on the route choices and plotting the distances and any other info we wanted to. Adam and I worked together on this task. With 5 primary maps and 4 other maps to pore over, there was plenty to do. I worked on the bike leg marking distances and trails, while Adam sketched out rough trekking routes with bearings, as well as figuring out the best canoeing route. There was some challenge there, as we had a LOT of portages to figure out, and we had to choose routes that suited us best. We opted for as few portages as we could, while not adding too much distance in paddling and/or carrying boats. With that work all done, we all headed back out to finish packing our team gear into the 2 bins we’d be using for the race. After that, a fitful sleep of about 5 hours before getting up around 5am.
At 6am, we were in the firehall having our delicious pancake breakfast. This would be the last warm meal for the next 30hrs or so. We also had to make sure we were on buses by around 6:45am, as it was a remote start, and we had to be driven there. Tried cat-napping on bus, but it was no use. The 4 buses converged at the start area, and 40 teams poured out into the area, totaling about 150 racers, all full of nervous energy. Final words from Bob, and we were off at 8am promptly! The first 4k or so of the race was an ATV trail, which meant a lot of teams sprinting away fast. Laura had cautioned us that she’d start slow, in order to warm up. All in all, a good strategy, as sprinting out could lead to burn-out, and in a 6-12 hour trek, we knew we’d make up any lost time here by being fast and accurate in the bush. Sure enough, once we decided to bear off the trail and hit the bush head-on, we had a strong pace in the woods. True to Bob’s words, the trek encompassed a wide range of terrain, from ATV trails, to easy open bush, to swamps and floating bogs, as well as scrambling up some rocky pitches, and clamoring over heavy alders and deadfall. We felt at ease in all these different terrains, and with Adam’s spot-on navigation, made solid progress.
Of course, given the bushwhacking and route options, we had no idea where we stood in the rankings. However, shortly, we popped out on a trail that should lead us to CP1, a hunting camp. We arrived at the spot, but no staff were there. We’d been told if that was the case, just remember the name of the camp, and head off. We did one better by snapping a picture. We wasted no time second guessing, and were off again. Soon after, we were passed by a couple teams we’d assumed would be a bit ahead of us. Seemed our strong navs were keeping us in the game. Once again, we dove back into the bush, and now chipped away at the features we’d identified would take us to CP2, on the side of a lake. As we were getting there, we heard splashing, and noticed a team swimming in the lake. Not sure why they chose that, since it was fairly easy to go around it, but to each his own. We’d rather keep as dry as we could. Incidentally, the weather had been awesome so far. In fact, it was a bit too warm! We had a quick chat with the volunteers at CP2 and kept on going. Our speed seemed pretty solid, and we had a good feeling about the trek. Sadly, we had a bit of a mishap on the next trek from CP2 to CP3.
Along the way, we were climbing some rocks, and Laura had her weight on her thumb. She slipped and *POP* it slipped out of joint! Much pain ensued, but it went back into joint fairly easily. Unfortunately, she was basically down a hand and we had to do some wilderness first aid. By sheer dumb luck, another team was actually within shouting distance. I asked if there were any doctors, and THERE WAS! He popped over, gave it a quick assessment and confirmed that although it had dislocated, it was in place now, and had only ligament damage likely. As a result, we opted to do a splint. One stick, a wad of duct tape, and a tensor bandage later, and we were good to go! This was not Laura’s morning. She’d been feeling nauseous much of the trek too, so we’d taken all her weight out of the pack and were helping in any way we could, but now we were concerned how this might impact the next legs. However, I’ll say this: anyone who has summitted Mount Everest can roll with the punches. There was NO stopping her. Her focus was awesome, and she had no hesitation in pushing on hard, in spite of the pain. Very impressive, and a great attitude to have for adventure racing. In fact, I’d say we all felt a renewed sense of energy and pushed harder due to this. In short order, we were at CP3, and there we met up with Pete and Team Random. We asked the CP staff to radio ahead to the transition to see about getting a proper thumb splint, and with that, we were off again in the bush!
We basically cat and moused with Pete’s team for the next whole leg from CP3 to CP4/TA1. Towards the end, it seemed they were content to follow our footsteps all the way till we hit a trail. Once there, we let them go so that we could bandage up Laura’s foot, which was now also blistering! Poor Laura! As always though, tough as nails. Also great to see the dynamics of a brother/sister combo that are used to taking care of each other in extreme circumstances. Adam never once said anything, and always seemed to know just what to do. It also helped that Laura is vocal and knows when to say stop in order to deal with issues. The foot thing was dealt with super-quickly, with Adam removing her shoe and sock, taping it up, and getting us back ready to go. Awesome teamwork. We jogged out the last bit to CP4/TA1, and were impressed to learn we were team #6 to arrive! And that was just after Pete’s team, who we’d been with. Just shows what good navigation can accomplish in a long trek. We’d completed the 6-12hr trek in just over 6 hours! It was now time to switch into biking mode for the next 65+km. Not a problem, since we’d all packed bike shorts, etc to change into. Well, all except for me!!
Yup, turns out I’d packed the wrong clothes bag in each bin. Luckily, I still had my helmet, shoes, lights, etc., just not the actual clothing. That meant I’d be biking with the same underwear on, and could only change into another pair of tights. Plus, it meant I’d have to pack my paddling clothes into my backpack to carry with me the entire bike leg, just to make sure it was with me. Ugh! Oh well, only option was to suck it up and go. A little banter with the TA staff, a little nudity while we got changed, some eating and drinking, and we hopped on our saddles. The medic on site didn’t actually have any thumb splints, so Laura opted to leave all as was, and just push on. Gear shifts would be tricky, as it was her right hand, and she’d have to shift with either her palm or fingertips. This would inevitably lead to some challenges, but we were up for it. Between us, we had bike tows on 3 of 4 bikes, and had lots of food and horsepower to burn up. Once again with strong navigation, I had no concerns for our chances.
As to the terrain of the bike section. Well, it was a mixed bag, but generally, I’ll sum up the next 65k as follows. Opening section was absolutely horrendous. Bus-swallowing mud pits interspersed with lakes and un-rideable terrain in between. Initially, we thought we’d get out by around 7pm if we did well. Suddenly, midnight looked more likely, as we were walking more than biking. However, that eventually switched to good solid double track, and we were able to actually bike smoothly. Between Mark and Adam towing Laura when they could, and taking all the right trails, we now were back to thinking we’d be done by around 8pm. We picked up CPs 5 and 6 with no great issue, and these were both unmanned CPs along the trails. CP7 was actually a total treat, as it was on the end of a lake and popped us onto paved road. PLUS, it was manned by Deanna, so I got a kiss on the racecourse! And more importantly, got to slap on some Vaseline to treat the beginnings bad chafing arising from not having been able to get bike clothes on. Spirits buoyed, we headed back out onto the pavement, which soon turned back into dirt trails. Thus far, the navs had been going really smoothly, and looked like they would the whole race. On the trek, I’d been keeping time between waypoints so that we would never go too far without being sure we’d chosen the right path. On the bike, I was calling out distances between points, again, to make sure we’d never overshoot. I also kept in close contact with Adam about what we were doing, sort of as a back-up. I’d like to think that this communication kept our team on a perfect course most of the time.
Although navs were still going smoothly, the final section of the bike, from CP7 to CP8/TA2 was back to a hell zone. By now, we’d been passed by several teams, and we were feeling a little bad about the now slow progress. To make matters worse, it started raining, and got progressively heavier and heavier. So much for the dry racecourse. It was now full-on can’t see beyond 10m heavy rain. Oh, and did I mention it also went dark now? We had to pull out our bright lights to keep going, and things just got more and more miserable. We were all looking forward to a few things. Firstly, getting off the bikes. Then, getting some food and drink from our bin. Then, changing into dry clothes again. And finally, we looked forward to getting in the boats and paddling 🙂 After all, we’d be doing that for pretty much all night. That’s where things would get interesting.
We finally arrived at the transition to some cheers and warm greetings. What a relief. We each set about our own little routines. I got changed, and got some boiling water to make some Mr. Noodles. I also carefully pulled out and checked that I had all the gear I’d need for the overnight paddle, including warm clothes. Unfortunately, I had no rain pants, so I was a tad worried about getting cold. However, I had a neoprene cap on, and a Gore-tex jacket, and also had a space blanket if I really needed it. All told, we probably spent over 20 minutes in transition. Not blazing fast, but not too long. In fact, what impressed me was that even though we were doing our own things, we were all ready at the same time, with Mark having prepped our boats for the paddle. We said farewell, and slowly slipped into the inky blackness of the night. With the rain, and temperature change, conditions couldn’t be much worse. It was pitch black, and there was fog coming off the water, making it nearly impossible to see ANY features around us. Adam was going to have to navigate this paddle by near dead reckoning! Good thing I now had 100% faith in him. I’d follow him anywhere he told us to go. He’s that good.
How can I summarize a paddle that takes you all night and is mainly in the rain? Well, for starters, you might think, “well, at least the terrain is predictable”. Wrong. Remember the word portage? We had lots, and they all had varied terrain that we’d have to hike on. Once again, Mark and Adam proved themselves as supermen. Our routine was this. Paddle to the portage. Everyone out, all gear out. Mark and Adam pop the boats on their heads and hike out. I grab the packs and Mark and I’s paddles, and Laura takes the last 2 paddles, and off we go. I haven’t said much about Mark, but he’s an animal. He’s very strong, loves doing this stuff, and can just keep going. So what was my role here? Well, I’d say my job was to be pretty much the independent guy. Never needed help, and did what I could when I could, like carrying an extra bottle on the trek, making sure we stayed close as a group, etc. etc. I simply didn’t have the size and power of Mark and Adam, so the idea of me doing any towing made no sense. It would just wear me out. I don’t think that made our team and weaker, it made us smart. We knew intuitively what we had to do in order to move in the most efficient way, and we did it.
But back to the paddle. Once again, we made pretty intelligent route choices, and it showed in our position. Basically, from the moment we finished the bike to crossing the finish line, I don’t think we changed positions at all. We saw lots of other teams on the water, but they were all at different points in their races. We had one challenging portage early on where we had to more or less bushwhack to a river (couldn’t seem to find the official trail), but apart from that, clear sailing. On the water, we were all staying warm, but I found that every time we got out of the boats for a portage, I’d get really cold. The other thing is that we’d now been racing all day and all night. We were getting sleepy. I think all 3 of them popped caffeine pills. I was offered some, but declined. I’m usually good up to about 40hrs. Sleepy, but not falling asleep. It was fun listening to Laura and Adam in one boat singing, shouting and talking to stay awake. At one point, I think they spent nearly 20 minutes reciting the Abbott and Costello classic ‘Who’s on First’. Both of them! Too funny. Mark and I were more quiet, but did a fair bit of chatting about everything under the sun. Eventually, Mark really wanted a nap, so he ended up taking a 10minute power nap while I kept up the paddling to stay with Adam. I think Laura was also taking cat-naps at the time. Can you blame us?
My only real concern came near the end of the paddle. We seemed to have slowed quite a bit, and seemed to stop a lot more. It was still quite dark, and I wasn’t sure Adam was still 100% certain where we were. However, I should NOT have doubted him. Once, again, out of the total darkness, we took a left, and cruised straight into a little opening into a bay which was ultimately going to take us to the put out on Raven Lake. Amazing! I wouldn’t have blamed him if he’d been a little uncertain, but truth is, he was just being very methodical, and making sure he identified exactly where we should go. My spirits once again lifted. In another 20 minutes, we were pulling out of the water for the final 400m portage to the transition area. As a bonus, it was now getting light again. All that remained was the final 10-12km trek to the finish.
Now you know the drill. Change clothes, stuff in some food, check out, and move on. We had somehow convinced ourselves this was only like an 8km trek, and assumed we’d be done in an hour and a half. TA staff told us it would be closer to 2.5 hours. We hoped not, and set out in the hopes of wrapping up before 8am, thus breaking the 24hr mark. However, experience should have told me to trust them. Even though we ran most of the flats and downhills, there was a lot of climbing that we had to walk (after all, this was called the 5 viewpoints trails, each one starting low and finishing high!). The final two CPs were a piece of cake to grab, it was just a matter of the slog along the trails. Laura was starting to have a concern about pulling her groin, and couldn’t run up hills. For my part, I was now walking like a duck, and had earned the nickname ‘Quack’. This was due to my very uncomfortable chafing issues. All along however, we stayed in good spirits and laughed and talked most of the way to the finish. When we finally crested the final hill and saw the finish area, we mustered up all our energy for a final ‘run’, which was more of an easy jog. Happily, the race director Bob Miller was at the finish to greet us, with medals awaiting us (and delicious chocolate milk!). Deanna was also on hand to see us in and cheer for us. It was the end to a technically near-flawless race, characterized by a fantastic course and molded by our team’s overall determination to see it through to the end as strongly as we could.
We learned that we were 12th overall, and had captured 10th in the Elite Co-Ed Category. Not to shabby considering there were 40 teams, and lots of tough competition. 9 teams ended up withdrawing from the course, and a further 10 teams finished, but on various modified, shortened courses. Our result was certainly nothing to be embarrassed about! We milled around for a bit, but shortly after that, I cleaned up and headed to the tent to try and grab a bit of sleep. I ended up getting around 3.5 hrs sleep before the head woke me up in the tent. Deanna had left me a Tim’s breakfast sandwich to eat, and some water. What a gal! I got up, and started the gruesome task of sorting stinky gear from our [returned] bins, and loaded the car back up. Awards took place in the mid afternoon, and we were soon all heading our separate ways again. It was a whirlwind race and weekend, but I’ll always have fond memories of it. Adrenaline Rush was a great team to race with and I hope they had as much fun racing with me as I with them! I’d be honored to race with them again someday :-). Now, time to rest up a bit, as I have an iron-distance triathlon to race in less than 2 weeks! Hope you enjoyed the story!