You just never know how an adventure race will turn out when you start. This is especially the case in multi-day events, such as the 4-day staged Raid International Gaspesie that I most recently completed. Completion was far from certain. In fact, I finished on a different team than I started on! What follows is a tale of anticipation, teamwork, tragedy, rebirth, and triumph! It is also a concise explanation of why I love adventure racing so much. As my high school motto stated: “Palma non sine Pulvere” (No success without struggle).
Before I get deep into the meat of it, have a browse through the pictures that I have from the event. There are some real nice ones in there this time (click left and right to view more)!
As you may know, this race was the namesake of my summer adventure racing squad. We were entering this race with high hopes, and had been looking forward to it most of the year. However, 2 months ago, it was even doubtful we’d get to race as a team. We lost our 4th team-mate, and had to scramble to find a replacement. The search was truly International, and we FINALLY found a suitable replacement at the 11th hour in the form of Bruno, a racer and navigator from New Brunswick, who would even have some local knowledge, as he is from the area.
With our 4th in place, we had a couple hasty emails and even a group conference call with the team, including our excellent support crew (this was a supported race) to discuss final logistics and determine our plan of attack. It was go time! The race was 1 week away.
Upon arrival at Carleton-sur-Mer, we set about with the logistics of race registration, setting up camp for our first 2 nights at a seaside campground, and the all-important local brewery sampling (ok, only Bruno and I took part in that!). That evening, there was a welcome ceremony with all the teams on hand. After that, it was time to eat supper, bed down, and wait until morning when we’d receive our full set of race maps, instructions, and get set for the prologue. The race was slated to be about 300km for us, with 4 days of racing. Day 0 was the prologue, and only about 20-25km, subsequently, days 1, 2, and 3 were each to be up to 100km in length and featured an array of the typical disciplines. Trekking, running, paddling, ropes section, and mountain biking. The terrain was hilly, and beautiful. While it was relatively dry when we arrived, rains during the event ensured that there was plenty of mud to enjoy…
The prologue was a good chance to stretch our legs and test out our team. During the 3 or so hours we were out there, we realized this whole event would be like a giant sprint race, as there was very little difficult navigation, so everyone was going flat out. We learned we had to improve some of our communication, but were otherwise happy with the energy on the team. Crossing the line on Day 1 we were pretty happy.
We got to spend the 2nd night at the same camp, then had to get up early to pack up and head to the start of Day 1, which was about 55km away. This would be our first full day, and a true test for us. We worked well with our navigation and teamwork, managing to make some good early moves placing us well on the first paddle after the opening trek section. This was a long river paddle featuring some fun whitewater (nominally Class II water) and swiftwater. We emerged unscathed before tackling the next two long trek and bike sections.
Finishing the bike, we now had the task of getting back in the boats WITH the bikes to undertake another long paddle to the Day 1 camp site. We lashed the bikes into the awkward boats, made more difficult by the fact that we mostly ride 29ers. It was just ugly and unwieldy.
Our hope was that the river would be calmer water now, and so we lashed our two boats together to get a towing benefit. Well, unfortunately, just around the first bend was the biggest rapid of the day. With the boats tied together, all went to shit, with Bruno and I getting eventually flipped in the cold water. Amazingly, we didn’t lose either our packs or bikes, but had to pull off to completely clear the boats, and I had to put on a dry top to avoid succumbing to the cold. We actually managed to recover pretty quickly, and were just taking off again when we turned around to see another unfortunate team capsize in the same spot. A safety briefing would have been nice from the race organizer methinks, but that was just one of a number of nitpicks I’d level at the organization with respect to the actual racecourse and preparations.
We paddled the rest of the river with relatively little incidents, but admittedly, we were a little gunshy, and Bruno and I did NOT want to go in that cold water again. The wind was definitely chilling us at this point. We were quite relieved to finally pull off at the Mic Mac Camp and cross the finish line for the day. Time to warm up by the fire, dry up, and then get all the maps and gear ready for Day 2 before passing out for the day.
Day 2. What can I really say about that day? I’d really rather forget most of it, to be honest. We got up in good spirits, with Bruno and I heading to the water early to select the best boats we could (there were a few 17 footers in a sea of 16s, and we managed to snag 2, which we hoped would help. We hoped to make up some time this day and get a bit further ahead in the field, as we were sitting somewhere between 3rd and 5th place. It was chilly starting again, but not overly bad.
Our plan had been to hit the water, and see if the speed was matched, and if not, tie the boats together for towing again. Unfortunately, Bruno and I dropped back from Nat and James pretty early, and it was some time before we finally all came back together and tied up. We pushed hard to the first checkpoint, when we realized our passport had been left behind at camp. We might get a penalty for that, but you just have to make the best of it. So we punched the map, and kept going.
Unfortunately, that’s when we hit a major snag. Nathalie got with with first an asthma attack, which we got sort of under control. However, this then turned into a bout of hyperventilation and then full-blown panic attack. To spare the full details, we dealt with it as best we could on the water, but things got worse when we were <1k from the water take out. At that point, Bruno and I pushed hard to the transition to seek help while James and Nat went ashore to walk along the beach as a safety precaution. Long story short, we were intercepted by medical personnel, and eventually, an ambulance was dispatched to whisk Nat off to the hospital.
That was it. Game over. Race done. The organizers said regardless of outcome at the hospital, Nat would no longer be allowed to continue Day 2 OR Day 3. The three of us remaining could continue, or any 2 of us, but as a ranked team, it was done. Just like that. Most importantly, Nat was okay, and eventually released from the hospital about 2 hours later, and by now, we had switched completely off ‘race mode’ and instead were drying and sorting gear.
As far as any of us could see, there was nothing else to do. Frankly, it sucked.
As we cleaned up at a transition point, we watched and cheered on as the lead teams came through, with some friends looking quizzically at us, wondering what happened. As Nat was done, she and James opted to pack up and head straight back to Ottawa. Bruno, since he lived only 2.5 hours away, decided he would also just head home. However, he decided to join Deanna and I for a little trip up to Mont St. Joseph to see the view that we’d been unable to see during the prologue on account of fog. This little trip lead to the next stage of MY race.
On my tour of the top of the mountain, there were still race organizers up there, as this was the site of another transition zone. We chatted about my day, and I was informed that if I wanted to, the Costa Rican team of 2 were seeking a team or team-mate as one of them was injured and the other couldn’t race solo. I said thanks, but my race was done. That was my initial reaction. However, within 5 minutes, I was contemplating it seriously, and after about 15 minutes, I had discussed it with Deanna, who, knowing me well enough, guessed what I wanted to to. The arrangement was struck that as long as we got a hotel room for this night (the previous 3 nights of cold and wet camping was apparently enough for her), I was clear to race. So the rebirth took place. We headed out to the camp for Day 2 to see about meeting this new team and see if they’d be up for the new plan that I would race with their other racer, and form a NEW team, team Costa – Canada. I knew that without me, he would likely be out of the race, and having traveled all that way, I really wanted them to have a chance to complete the race as well.
After waiting several hours, they finally showed up, and we immediately started chatting about racing together. We all clicked right away, and made plans to have supper together in town, and prepare the maps. I would also be the navigator for the day, putting me back in the drivers’ seat for Day 3. I was excited. They had been racing well, and I guessed we’d keep the pedal to the metal the full day.
Getting a hotel room was awesome, as it poured rain most of the night, but my gear stayed dry and I was well rested and ready to push hard. My teammate Eduardo was similarly rested and good to go. With the starting gun, we took off like a bolt of lightening. Amazingly, for most of the bike leg, we were at the front of the pack, racing with the current leaders and staying with them. It was a great feeling of comeback.
Sadly, once we transitioned to the trek, we made a bit of a blunder in that we underestimated our speed by a fair margin, forcing us to backtrack and go hunting for a few CPs that we should have hit pretty quickly. However, after that snafu, everything else got dialed in, and our spirits were high. We had an amazing day of racing and getting to know each other, and forging a bond that can only be created through an event such as this. I was referred to as a Tico now (Costa Rican), and will be welcomed as an old friend when Deanna and I can finally visit Costa Rica.Overall, the day was another all-out speedfest, but we held on admirably, and pushed to the very end, edging out another team on the closing 500m paddle at the finish line. Crossing the line, we were elated. Team Costa Rica was able to stamp out a finish for their race, and thanked me profusely for this.
The fact is though, this day was as much for me as for them, as the end of Day 2 really didn’t sit well with me, and I was in the doldrums as a result. Having an excellent day of pushing at max limit with a new friend was just what I needed. Neither of us could wipe off the huge grins on our faces at the finish. This extended to the other 2 Ticos that were there with us acting as our support crew. All in all, it was an amazing feeling, and the story book finish to my weekend. Adventure racing is such an interesting sport. It’s physically challenging, but it is also an incredible mental challenge. These challenges manifest themselves countless ways in events, and this was yet another example of how you have to adapt and react to whatever situation is thrown at you in order to pull off a finish in a tough event. I don’t think I’d trade the way this event played out for anything. I’m sure this is exactly how it was destined to be for me! Huge thanks to everyone on both my original team and my newly-constituted team for how it played out, particularly to the behind-the-scenes support crews.
Up next, well, it was R&R in Vegas with hiking in many parks, but the next race is the County Marathon where I’ll be celebrating my wedding anniversary. Stay tuned as always for new stories!
[My apologies for not getting this race report written up sooner! Amazingly, two weeks have already passed! A few days were just for recovering, then life got in the way. But without further ado, here we go.] A mere three weeks before this race, I was tackling the toughest race I had tried to date, the 4-day Untamed New England. However, being slightly shorter, at 24 hours in length, does NOT make a race easier. In fact, racing with my ‘semi-pro’ competitive team actually made this another really tough race, thanks to the relentless pace, and the taste of podium pushing us hard the whole way.
Two weeks out, we had a good look through the roster, and figured we had a legitimate shot at winning this race, which is one of the toughest fought adventure races in Eastern Canada (if not Canada). It attracts top teams from all around, and this year even had 2 teams from France competing. However, a day later, I noted that a new team had signed up consisting of Benoit Letourneau, Alex Provost, Vincent Meunier, and Liza Pye. Yup, pretty much the dream team, and technically 3 time returning champions. They usually win by huge margins, so victory was FAR from assured, but we had to go in with a strong positive attitude, which we did.
With the race featuring a remote start early Saturday morning, we all converged on race HQ Friday evening for gear checks and race briefings. Maps were distributed around 8:30pm, and were pre-plotted with CPs and TAs. Harper then got to work on the important job of route determining. With tethered laptop we scoured Google Earth and Bing trying to make sense of the terrain to find the ‘hopefully best’ route. In AR, you are always taking a bit of a gamble when the course is predominantly raw wilderness. As the name implies, this race has that in spades. Race director Bob Miller never holds back, spending the better part of an entire year designing a kick-ass course. The asses being kicked of course are the racers’! Back at our hotel room, we wrapped up map prep and gear sorting and were in bed before midnight to get a solid 4-5 hours of sleep before rolling back to HQ to catch buses and start the race, knowing we wouldn’t be back there until sometime the next day (although we hoped for a quick finish by racing hard).
Stage 1: The Paddle
The first section of the first leg of the race was meant to put water navigation to the test, as it featured a canoe paddle amongst thousands of tiny islands to pick out a ‘needle in a haystack’ with a CP on one of the islands. You could either pick a direct route, or use a ‘handrail’ by sticking closer to the mainland and having visual cues of where to turn. We had chosen the ‘safe’ route as shown above (click to see full size), but unfortunately had our boats improperly balanced. Nat and I were in one boat, and James and Harper in the other. They were the stronger boat, so we had mismatched speeds. We arrived at CP1 to see many other teams had grabbed it and were on their way to the next CP already! Oh well, chasing from the back is easier, right? The full splits had us as 14th to arrive there!
We also delayed further at CP1 by shuffling the boats, now putting James and I in one boat, and Nat and Harper in the other. We all agreed it was ‘hammer time’, and set our goals on re-capturing the front of the race. With speed balanced out better, and fire in our paddles, we raced off. In short order, we had passed a number of teams, and were continuing to pull ahead. We then got a break further into the paddle when all the lead teams got tripped up in a ‘blind bay’ where the route back out to a river we wanted to follow was not obvious. We saw all the leaders, and even compared notes before we all set off en masse again.
We noted that Benoit (Team O-Store) and his crew opted to take a gamble and try for a portage rather than look for a tributary. However, we saw them just as we were actually starting the completely navigable stream, which in theory should help us. We traded paddle strokes with the other leaders, including the teams that had arrived at CP1 in 1st and 2nd. By the time we hit CP2, we were sitting in 4th overall, and held that placement until the first transition, where we were gearing up for the trek. All told, after the initial delays, we were pretty pumped with our position, especially knowing that our strength is in the trekking leg, which is what we were about to tackle. To buoy us even further, O-Store was still on the water, and we were leaving transition just as they were arriving. Their portage idea had hurt them, but they pushed hard to make up time.
Stage 2: Trekking
This section was where we knew we could pull ahead of many of the chasing teams by pulling off a solid trek. On the water, there is not much room to get ahead, as all teams are limited by hull speed on boats, as well as limited route options. With only 1 real portage, it had been just a straight up paddle. However, on the trek, there are many route options, and teams all have very different speeds when traversing real bush. We are fast on our feet, and have a top navigator to guide us. With over 20km of bushwhacking ahead of us, a LOT can happen.
We set to work on this section with a vengeance, with Harper leading the charge on a mission. Our first CP was a nice remote checkpoint where the staff had actually arrived by float plane on the lake! We crashed out of the woods to find out we were now sitting in 2nd place, and had arrived less than 10 minutes behind first place. We also learned that O-Store were now the team we were chasing! Yes, Benoit, the AR trekking legend, was working his magic once again and his team had completely overcome their earlier paddle snafu. As you’ll see, this is the theme that would define the rest of this race. O-Store in 1st, with use chasing hard, and a slightly longer gap behind us for 2 teams battling it out for 3rd.
The terrain had been [relatively] forgiving on the trek. Sure, we hit a number of swamps, but the bush itself was not super thick, which meant we were able to maintain a very good pace. At the end of the trek, Nathalie informed us this was the fastest she had ever moved through a bushwhack in a race. From CP4 to CP5, we veered NE to look for some features, deviating from the proposed ‘ideal route’ we saw later, which was a more easterly route. It resulted us in hitting a river, and following it for a while before catching on to an ATV trail that we’d revisit on the bike. Harper noted that we hit the river much further west than he’d hoped, but on arriving at CP5, and looking at the stats, I would say that didn’t hurt us, as we were holding steady at 2nd place, under 10 minutes behind O-Store. More notably, for the trek between CP4 and CP5, we were a mere 24 SECONDS slower than O-Store! That is an amazing stat for a race where you are literally crashing through the bush and everyone takes a slightly different route, hitting swamps, deadfall, etc.
The final leg of the trek was a straight bushwhack between CP5 and CP6/TA2. There were no good features or possible trails, so we just got to work on it. With more solid footwork, we emerged at the transition zone to see O-Store still there, with Benoit actually sitting down eating and resting. Imagine their surprise at seeing us so close! We had been only 2 minutes slower than them, and emerged still a mere 10 minutes behind them! They left in a hurry, but not fast enough, as we had a smell of blood! We pulled off a remarkably fast transition for trek to bike (fastest, at under 11 minutes), and left the peace of the transition zone now a mere 5.5 minutes behind the leaders.
Now, allow me to whine for just a moment about this type of racing. Transition zones, especially between two long legs, are a great chance to fuel up, change, and recharge. However, when you are racing at the level we were here, it is sheer panic and pandemonium. We are going through everything like a well-oiled machine, but you have to forego things like eating and sitting for a moment. O-Store had spent over 16 minutes in this transition, and the slower teams? They spent over 45 minutes there! Obviously, this is what you HAVE to do to be competitive, but inhaling two poptarts in 30 seconds is an impressive feat, but starting the bike with a mouth full of dry pastry and still putting gloves on can be a bit of a mental challenge! I seriously questioned whether I rather this kind of race or the more relaxed pace I had experienced at Untamed New England. Perhaps something in between?
Stage 3: The ‘Hydro Line’ Bike
Man oh man, what can I say about this leg of the race. It was by far the mentally most difficult, and technically pretty challenging as well. We were lucky, as we did 3/4s of this section of the race with daylight, and in dry conditions, but it was still a HELL of a slog! The beginning of this section was easy enough. About 12km of clear road riding. We formed a paceline, and just hammered. arriving at the next CP still about 9 minutes behind O-Store. Unfortunately, we were aware that the next, and super-long section of biking could be our weakness. As a team, we knew we’d be slower on the technical power line section than O-Store. We were also unsure how far our nearest competitors were, nor how fast they may be. All we could do was push hard, and maintain our pace.
We literally spent much of this leg glancing behind our shoulders, expecting to get passed at any point. Our nerves were also severely tested by a completely unforeseen foe. DEERFLIES! OMG. I have no words for what these bastards did to our spirits. Even Steely Harper completely lost his shit with them. Our speed was simply not fast enough to out-run them, and they kept flying directly into the vents on my helmet, eating chunks of my ‘head buffet’ as I battled the tricky riding, with both hands on the handlebars. All 4 of us were unanimous in our loathing. In a tough race, you do your best not to complain or be negative, but this was simply too much for us, and we basically were all whining like little babies, at times cursing at the top of our lungs at these buggers. Harper said he had NEVER experienced bugs this bad in ANY race he’d done (hint: he’s done LOTS, including in jungle climes).
Ok, rant over. The point is, the riding was tough, our going felt painfully slow, the trail was long, the terrain endlessly undulating, and our nerves shot from the bugs, AND spirits worried that we’d be passed at any moment. The hallelujah moment was at the next CP, where we were STILL in 2nd place, albeit trailing by almost 45 minutes :-(. This wasn’t the end of the bike though, and we were now continuing on in the dark, and the rain, for the final push to the next transition zone. Without the bugs though, this didn’t seem quite as miserable (yes, even in the rain). It was about another 12km of ATV trail riding.
On the closing kilometers of the bike, we passed by a slightly tired-looking team O-Store, who were starting the next trekking section. We knew the transition wasn’t too far ahead, and this lifted our spirits, knowing they were not super far ahead of us. They were also WALKING which had us surprised. Emerging at the TA, we discovered why. Apparently, Benoit was having some GI issues, and was periodically ill. Small blessing for us I suppose. By executing another blazing transition (over twice as fast as O-Store), we managed to leave that transition about 30 minutes behind O-Store, and not willing to give up the victory just yet.
Stage 4: Final Trek and Bike
Well, this is it! The final push, and location of yet another ‘close call’ for Mr. ‘Zero percent body fat’ Meyer. We left that transition running hard. So hard that we momentarily set off on the wrong trail. D’Oh! We recovered quickly, but were annoyed at this trip-up. Our plan was to run the entire section where possible, in the hopes of closing the gap to O-Store, and ensuring we kept the 3rd place team safely at bay. Unfortunately, they did to us the exact same thing we had done to team O-Store. Namely, we crossed paths with them at nearly exactly the same place O-Store passed us. This meant we only had about 30 minutes on them too! Damn! That meant we had to keep pushing hard, in spite of starting to feel the effects of a long day racing at 100% output.
At this point, it was raining, but nothing too hard yet, so the terrain wasn’t too bad. For this section, we had about a 10-12k trek to pull off before the final bike leg. As part of the trek, we also had the ‘option’ to swim to a couple checkpoints rather than taking a long trek around. Of course, it wasn’t really an ‘option’ for us, as we knew we had to do this to keep the pressure on. Armed with that knowledge, I had put a dry shirt and rain paints and raincoat in a dry bag in my pack with the intention of changing directly after our swim.
We made good time on the lead-up to the swim, and wasted very little time in ‘taking the plunge’. Our progress was only slightly nerve-wracking in the fact that we were tackling this in the depths of the darkness. Although it was supposed to be a full moon, the rain and clouds meant no visibility. Luckily, the volunteers at one CP had lit a fire, so we essentially had a beacon for the first swim. The distance was likely around 300m. Had we had daylight, I suspect we could have chosen a spot just a bit further that would have made that 200m. Regardless, off we went, swimming out little hearts out.
Unfortunately for me, I started cramping about halfway into the swim. These were leg cramps that I couldn’t get massaged out. I have to be honest, this was a bit frightening, as we had no flotation, and not a lot of chance for any sort of rescue, so I knew I had to suck it up. Luckily, my years of swim lessons (and lifesaving lessons!) kept me relatively calm, and I just focused on using my arms only. It made for slower progress, but I got there. Once at the CP, I hopped out to take a minute to attempt to massage out the cramps, before we hopped back for the next swim.
Harper estimated this swim at 100m, but in reality, it was as long as the first, and I guess 300m. Looking at the maps, it was painfully clear that we *could* have cut that to between 50 and 100m by going a little way around the point, but in the darkness, we opted to just head straight towards our landmark, which was a stream on the other side. By the time we hit the far shore, I wasn’t the only one getting a big cold, and we took the time to ensure we’d stay warm for the next bit. For me, that meant stripping off a layer on top and bottom, and swapping out for a dry shirt and putting on my rain gear. I instantly felt better. Well, except for my legs, which were left rather sore from the cramping. I wolfed down as much food as I could while everyone else finished getting set. Then off we went, back in pursuit.
This bit wasn’t too bad, and we managed to hit a good stream that took us basically straight to the final trekking CP. Elated with that, we bushwhacked quickly back to the ATV trail which we’d follow back to the road. Guess what we did once there? Yup, RUN. Ugh. I was feeling pretty beat, but didn’t dare say anything, and just joined in. Within a very short time, I was then overheating with the extra layers, AND had to have a nature break, but had nary time to deal with either. Eventually, James helped by carrying my pack while I peeled off my jacket and pants WHILE RUNNING. It was tricky, but allowed us to not lose much time. For the nature break, try as I might, I was unable to do the ‘running pee’, and eventually pulled off, did my business, then had to run twice as fast to catch back up. Double ugh. But, these are the things you HAVE to do to win. We were also paranoid that team Epitact from France would emerge behind us at any time.
This effort did net us the fastest split on the final run from that CP to the transition, and ready to mount up on our bikes for the final push. On arrival at that TA, we learned that O-Store was still exactly 30 minutes ahead of us. D’oh! Apparently they found their mojo again. The final leg was a biking leg, and was supposed to only take about an hour, which meant catching them would likely not be feasible. Despite that, we left quickly, in order to keep a gap on 3rd place. At that point, we had no way of knowing they’d eventually fall over 1.5 hours behind us at that transition! Soggy and tired, we mounted our bikes, and pedaled off into the darkness, aware there was one final ATV section, before grabbing roads to the finish.
This final ATV section is where something interesting happened. THE SKIES OPENED UP! And I mean sheet rain. It was the heaviest rain we’d ever raced through in Ontario, and it lasted. Not just 5 minutes, but for HOURS! Knowing O-Store was probably out of the ATV section by then, we were totally sunk. We had to navigate the final bits of the race in rivers that were forming on the trail. Eventually all we could do was laugh. We knew everyone else was stuck in the same shit, so it would be a great equalizer, and guarantee our placing basically. Luckily, it wasn’t too cold.
Emerging at the 400, all we had to do was jump on the access road to town, and ride the big hill back to the finish area. Our time on this section was the worst of the 4 teams that eventually actually did it (only the top 4 teams did the full course including this ATV section, the rest of the ‘full course’ teams were allowed to go by roads the whole final section. We lost another 15 minutes on O-Store, meaning we finished off 45 minutes behind them at the finish. Despite this, they all told us this was the hardest they had to race to ensure their victory in this race in their last few years, which made me feel pretty good. They were nice enough to still be up to greet us. Apparently they had been quite surprised to see us in the transition zones where they did. We gave them a good run for their money (both figuratively and literally, given the $1500 cash prize on offer!).
When all was said and done, we’d raced nearly 21 hours non-stop at full throttle, and had a great result to show for it. All our gear and nutrition worked perfectly in this race, so big shout out to all our various sponsors and supporters (Xact Nutrition, 2XU, North Face, Nuun, Milk2Go Sport, and Osprey Packs popping into mind right away). 3rd place was another 1.5 hours behind us, and 4th place another 1.5 hours behind them! Amazing race. Undoubtedly, much of this likely had to do with the extreme rain that had taken over the course. As we went to sleep for a couple hours, it was insane how heavy the rain was falling down.]
Once we were back up, we dealt with gear, had a first breakfast, then a BBQ lunch, and finally the awards ceremony, and time to catch up with our fellow competitors. All agreed that this was yet another epic Wilderness Traverse for the books. Bob always puts on a great race, and it seems every year, the weather also plays a starring role. We’re already looking forward to returning next year for another run at Bob the Beaver (the winner’s trophy). But till that time, there’s still lots more racing. For me, next up is the Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race, which I’m really looking forward to. For that one, I’ll also be filming, so keep your eyes open for that report! Till then, hope everyone is having as much fun this summer as I am!
This is a race report that was a long time coming. For many years now, I’ve planned on tackling a proper expedition-length adventure race, and Untamed New England was my first crack at it. With our team racing basically non-stop for 4 days and 4 nights, and covering about 380 km, it truly was an expedition. We were a new team, unfamiliar with each other, and with me acting as captain and navigator for the full race. We hit absolute highs and absolute lows. Although we were ultimately ‘short coursed’ early on, it didn’t detract at all from our overall experience, as we managed to snag 24th place in a field of the top teams around the world, and completed the course as a team. In this sort of race, for many teams, that is the ultimate goal.
The race is so large in scope and in effort, that it is kinda hard to figure out how to write up the whole report. The easiest would be to break it up into chunks once I get started, and I’ll do so in legs. Overall, the course had 5 unique legs, each of which had a combination of disciplines involving trekking, orienteering, bushwhacking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, packrafting, mountain biking, and a ropes course. Teams must be pretty much entirely self sufficient during legs, only having access to food or gear at the 4 ‘transition areas’ between legs. For this race, that mean carrying extremely heavy packs for long stretches (some of the legs were over 24 hours for us!).
For a quick intro to how I got there, I joined a ‘media team’ a while back, as just another team member. Over time, my role morphed and I stepped into more of a leadership role. Then, with only 2 weeks to do, one teammate had to drop out due to health reasons, and I had to scramble to replace them. In the end, our team consisted of me, and 3 ladies. This is relatively unique in AR, as usually a team has only 1 female. However, as our goals were all aligned, and the mix of experience seemed to lend itself to a good dynamic, we rolled with it. I think it was the best decision I could have made, and it was really cool to race with all ladies. I learned a lot in that race, and will definitely be better off for it as a leader on other teams as well.
So, back to the race. We got on site on the Monday night, with the race starting in earnest Wednesday morning. This gave us time to get to know each other a bit, as well as deal with all the pre-race gear bin packing issues. It also gave us a chance to sample the tasty beers that were brewed onsite at the host venue, Kennebec River Brewery at Northern Outdoors Resort. Good way to calm the nerves! Tuesday night, we finally had a look at the race course, by way of a video fly-over before getting the maps. To give you a sense of the scale of this thing, check out the actual video below. As some people have noted, they got tired just watching this!
Shortly after the video, maps were distributed, and they were massive! You can see a picture of the maps as part of my slideshow a little further down. These maps were handed out around 8:30-9pm on Tuesday. I had to plot out all our routes, and also make it to a captain’s meeting by 6:30am the next morning. That mean staying up till about midnight, then getting up at 5am the next morning. So, total sleep the night before the start? A mere 4 hours!! But who needs sleep, right? Let’s now dive into each leg of the race and give a quick rundown of how things went. But first, the slideshow (click right or left to cycle through the images):
Ugh. I wish I didn’t have to start here, as it was probably the one place I wish things had gone differently. I’ll blame it on race nerves, but ultimately we came out of this section 3rd to last! It was meant to be a simple little orienteering leg on ski trails at the Birches Resort, but one bad turn lead us to end up in what I’ll call a ‘black hole’ without knowing it. Essentially, we were wandering around all kinds of trails that didn’t exist on the little map that we were given right at the start line (just to add to the pressure, at certain sections, you are given ‘supplementary maps’ that you need to use on the fly). While the controls weren’t that hard to find in the end, we lost over an hour on these ‘non trails’. I’d like to say it didn’t shake my confidence, but it did! On the plus side, it took the pressure off a bit, as we were already on our own, fighting from the back. Plus, it reminded me to be super-careful with the decisions where there is any uncertainty. Regardless, our spirits were still intact, and we loaded up the canoes to start Leg 1 properly.
Leg 1 – Canoeing, Trekking, Ropes
Next up was a gorgeous paddle on lake Moosehead, a huge body of water that can display some nice waves in the right wind conditions. By the light of day though, this made for a straightforward paddle to our next challenge, which was a hike up a mountain to rappel off the backside. Knowing our position, I was convinced that there would be a backlog at the ropes, which meant that losing an hour in the prologue would quickly be washed away. How true I was. Once at the mountaintop, we learned of the horrible wait times. For us, it was nearly 4 hours sitting around doing nothing. We dried gear, ate, tried to nap, etc., but it was far too early in the race to be tired, so we cursed our luck. It even rained for a bit before we FINALLY got to descend the ropes. We polished that off, picked our way through the craziest boulder field I’ve encountered in a race, then bushwhacked down to the trail to hike back down to our waiting canoes.
Once back in the boats, we had another shortish (1hr) paddle to a nearby island which we’d ultimately circumnavigate on foot to grab a few more controls. By this time, night was already falling on day 1, For the trek, this was no big deal, as we had good lights, and the trail was relatively easy to follow. One of the controls was high up on a fire tower, so we were sad we couldn’t catch the view, but such is life. We boogied on back towards our boats for the next, LONG paddle leg, which we’d have to face in the dark.
Luckily, it was a clear night. Unluckily, it was a windy night. For the first time in a race, I ended up navigating by moonlight and stars, which was pretty cool. However, we all had to fight the water, which kept throwing us around. We did a fair bit of ‘surfing’ the waves, and just paddled on through the night, with only the starlight and the faint light of our glowsticks attached to the boats. We basically paddled all night in order to reach TA1, which we did at about 4:30am on day 2. This was the first time we saw our gear bins, and this gave us the chance to replenish our food supplies, and change into our biking gear, since the next leg was primarily mountain biking.
Leg 2 – Mountain Biking and Team Orienteering Relay
The next section of the race looked rather daunting on paper. We were set for a pretty long mountain bike section, following a series of gravel roads, logging roads, ATV trails, and hiking trails for what looked like an eternity. About halfway through we were slated to get a reprieve in the form of the ‘pancake paradise’. At this spot, the team was supposed to undertake the team orienteering relay, where each person has to do their own mini orienteering section while the rest stay at the lodge where it was located. On the plus side, for $10, each person could indulge in all you can eat pancakes! However, there was a lot of biking to get done before that, and we had a time cut-off to contend with. Those not COMPLETING the orienteering by 7pm on Thursday would be sent along onto short course 1. It was now just around 6am when we started, so we had 13 hours.
The first part wasn’t too bad, as we were on main(ish) roads, and I was being very careful on my navigation (I had pre-measured every single turn to make sure we didn’t mess up). The riding was a nice change from paddling, and we were collectively feeling good. However, eventually, we made our way to progressively tougher riding conditions which slowed us down. To add to the pace issue, one of our team was really not feeling well. Candice was feeling nauseated, tired, and was forced to walk a fair bit. We tried a few things, but it was clear that we’d likely need to stop and regroup. After spurring them on to a serene checkpoint which actually featured a little amphitheatre-type shelter, we decided to outright stop and make her sleep for an hour or more. Ultimately, we stayed there for 1.5 hours. I only got 20 minutes of sleep, as I was also plotting an alternate course in case things didn’t improve and we had to pull the pin on an emergency route.
Luckily, after the sleep, Candice bounced back just enough that she agreed that we should press on. We assured her we’d take it easy and just focus on getting to the pancake paradise. Checking on our speed and the timing, it became clear we were unlikely to make it before the cutoff, but didn’t let that dissuade us. Given the terrain and challenge that lay between us and the ‘paradise’, it was probably good that we rested a bit. Things got TOUGH as we pressed on, culminating with a solid 1.5 hour bike-whack uphill. We had mentally prepared ourselves for the misery of bushing a bike uphill through dense forest off-trail, so we ultimately popped out the other side relatively happy. That’s the trick with tough sections. Acknowledge it is going to suck and be hard, and do it anyway, since EVERYONE has to go through it (unless of course they magically find a trail, which does happen).
With that challenge out of the way, we made a few route changes on the fly, on the advice of another team we encountered out there. While I had plotted more direct routes with more elevation gains, we ultimately chose the ‘long way round’ on some of the roads. The benefit was being able to ride more, at higher speeds, but at the possible cost of time. However, it was the right call. I don’t recall the exact time we finally pulled into paradise, but it was definitely after 7pm. The sun was setting, so it was probably around 8:30pm or 9. We’d been under the impression we’d still be doing the orienteering, but were informed that was not the case. Amazingly, we were literally disappointed that we wouldn’t get to race more right away 🙂 However, we go over that as we tucked into some pancakes and thought about our next strategy, since we’d now been short coursed.
The short course meant we would not do Leg 3 at ALL in this race, and would instead bike directly to TA3 to start Leg 4. However, we also learned that the upcoming long canoe leg had been cancelled for all teams as the wind was too high on the lake, and safety was a concern with tired racers paddling for 12 hours on a choppy lake. However, no one knew for certain how that impacted the race. So what did we miss on Leg 3? Well, apparently the absolute hardest trek that many racers had EVER seen. Ultimately, I think our missing the cutoff was a blessing, as we would most certainly have missed another cutoff in the future, and might not have seen the other parts of the race we were looking forward to.
Faced with a decision, we opted to stop and sleep here for a couple hours (I got about an hour), before heading out at midnight to bike the long roads back to TA3. Then we planned to sleep down there as well, depending on what we learned (we heard there might be a hard stop down there). We might have pressed on right away, but now it was Tessa’s turn to be really tired, and she simply couldn’t focus anymore. The sleep did us well, and by shortly after midnight we were back on the bikes heading to TA3, which also featured tents to sleep in, and had our gear awaiting us. On arrival, we were informed we had to stop and wait for the lead teams to arrive from Leg 3 before starting again. Luckily, that meant we got a time credit, and had no time pressure right away, since lead teams were still a few hours away. We took the time to cook some proper warm meals, change clothes, and prep our packs for the remainder of the race. This was a bit of a challenge, as for the rest of the race, we basically had to carry EVERYTHING with us. Packrafts, PFDs, paddles, trekking shoes, clothes, food, mandatory gear (sleeping bags, tent, first aid, etc), trackers, trekking poles. It all added up to really heavy awkward bags, but again, everyone had to do it. Once we were sorted out, we decided to crash in a tent until someone would wake us to let us know we were free to continue.
Leg 4 – Mountain Biking, Trekking, Urban Orienteering
For us, this was the leg that would have the most trekking, which had me pretty excited. Of all disciplines, I like trekking and bushwhacking the most (although with 40lbs on my back, that is debatable!). Tessa was already awake to let us know the leaders were on their way in, so within a few minutes of their departure, we were also on the go. We had to backtrack on bikes back to the town of Greenville first, where we had our ‘urban orienteering’ which was quite nice. We raced around the town finding clues like names on plaques, etc. in the warm sunshine. It was also cool because we were now essentially racing with the top teams, and got to catch up with friends on the course. It was easy and straightforward, just the thing for a little mental boost. We also had the chance to grab food. Crepes and hamburgers, and on the way back out of town… ICE CREAM! It was AWESOME! You have no idea how nice something like that is when you’re on your third straight day of racing.
The next section once out of town was a nice long trek up two mountains, Little Moose and Big Moose, ultimately ending up at the summit of a ski hill and running down to the bottom. For the most part it was just a nice trek on trail. We ended up doing a little bit of a bushwhack at one point when we couldn’t find a trailhead, but that likely only cost us 15 minutes or so. Everyone was feeling pretty good, so we actually thought we *might* have a chance at getting to the whitewater rafting section before the darkzone imposed from 6:30pm until 10:30am!! How naive we were on that call. Ultimately, no one made it in time, not even the worlds’ best athletes. Ha ha.
The views from the tops of the mountains was quite frankly, incredible. We had 360 degree views of the surrounding terrain, and it was a bit emotional to realize all the ground we’d covered under our own power, and the fact that there truly was NOTHING out there. Just wilderness. Hence, the 100 Mile Wilderness. Beautiful lakes, rivers, and the Appalachian Mountains as far as we could see. Very uplifting.
The part that killed us was the mountain bike coming up… However, the highlight, and most surreal experience of the day has got to be when we finally came down off the ski hill. As we arrived at the CP, I could hear a familiar voice, but it made no sense. It took a little time for me to realize that my dad and his wife had driven 8 hours from NS to witness me in my element, mid race! It was both super-cool to have him there, as well as sad, as I really couldn’t stop and visit. However, he tagged along, and I tried to explain everything to him as best I could while scrambling with gear, food and maps. This was actually our last TA section, known as a ‘remote TA’. We had access to only a special bag we’d pre-packed. Just enough gear to get us through the rest of the race. However, with the darkzone coming up, we needed lots of food, as we’d be out a long time. I’m pretty sure dad was proud of our team, and I for one was really happy that he had a chance to experience a bit of what it is that I love to do, and maybe see why I love it so much (even though it can be sheer torture!).
Leg 5 – Mountain Biking, Whitewater Rafting, Trekking, Packrafting
Ahhh, the final leg of the race. Just a quick little jaunt, right? Well, not quite. When we left TA4, it was around 9:30pm. We didn’t finish the race until 2am. So this leg actually took a total of nearly 29 hours (counting the dark zone). The first part was another ‘pressure cooker’, as the volunteers handed me a map as we arrived at the base of the ski hill. On it were just 2 CPs plotted that we had to grab on bikes before heading to the rafting section. However, they were far to get, and one of them was located in a mess of ATV and logging trails. Add the fact that it was night, and our 3rd night racing, and you’ll understand why I say that for us, that opening mountain biking was our most challenging part of the race to date. We had actually paired up with another team (Towanda RWG) for part of the leg, until parting ways to pursue our own routes. Unfortunately, when we parted, we both assumed we knew exactly where we were, which was slightly wrong, and lead to a slew of problems. Ironically for our team, we stayed on course (well, ‘A’ course)the whole time, but didn’t realize it. We were making progress to the CP, but thought we were on a totally different route. That lead to me eventually forcing a complete stop and re-evaluation of the map to prevent screwing up too bad. We’d been heading more or less SE, with some SW sections, where I had been expecting to go more or less SW with some SE sections. Not a big deal, but we were also crossing water, and there should not have been any on my chosen route.
The team, being a bit tired, and everyone working through their own little demons, was starting to fracture a little bit. We were not all together, and spirits were low. I made the decision to pull us off the trail, stop completely and talk it all out. I had a hot meal and worked through the choices we’d made since the split from Towanda. Candice agreed with all my logic, and we made a plan to only go about another 2.5k before stopping for until daylight, rather than risking a major error. However, after we finally had the map all folded up and were ready to leave again, we heard voices behind us. It was Towanda! The news was interesting, as they said we’re 100% on track, and that they had been off. It took a lot of sleuthing on their part, but after we talked it through and examined the maps further, we came to the same conclusion. From that point, we agreed to work together and stay together until we finally reached the whitewater dark zone checkpoint.
The remainder of the biking to the remote checkpoint was still pretty tricky, but with good conversation and company, and 2 navigators working together, we got through it in one piece. What a feeling to finally reach that CP. Of course, we still had to now follow a different route to the whitewater dark zone, but after I showed them the route I had drawn, the agreed it looked good, and we followed it. In fact, the route was a veritable highway compared to the hell we’d just gone through. Our only problem now as the fact that it was only about 5 degrees out, and we were all starting to freeze. Even with jackets and pants on, with thin biking gloves and wet socks and shoes, we were feeling the chilling effects. Nicky had to keep pedaling ahead and doing circles to try and stay warm. However, we made it, and pulled into the ‘dark zone’ by the early dawn light at 4:30am!
Amazingly, the volunteers here had s’mores for us to make, and also cooked pizza, onion rings, and chicken fingers over a fire! It was heaven. Since we had roughly 6hrs until the dark zone was lifted, we set up our tent, and also borrowed a volunteers tent in order to all bed down for a couple hours. I probably got a solid 2 hours of sleep there after eating my fill and properly warming up at the fire. It was sublime.
Near-Disaster and the Final Push
Okay, this is STILL leg 5, but deserved it’s own subsection. With the bright Saturday sun on us, it was time to head out on the final few sections of the race. First up, whitewater rafting. 4 miles WITH a guide, 8 miles self guided. The best part for me was NO NAVIGATING. I was free to switch off my brain and just have fun. The rafting was amazingly fun. We hooted and hollered, and you’d never tell that we’d already been racing 3 full days and nights. We hit water up to Class IV with the guide apparently, and emerged unscathed. Our self-guided section probably only reached 2+ or low 3 class, but was still fun. We pulled off the water thoroughly drenched, but feeling fine. I put on a jacket and pants to stay warm as we headed out for the last trek of the race. This trek consisted of some road, then only a trail which lead us along the ‘Dead River’ to where we’d ultimately put in with out packrafts and make our way back to the original take-out. Or at least, that was the plan.
The hike was no problem. In fact, I even helped one of the pro teams by telling them I thought they were way too early in looking for a CP on the trail, to which they agreed and took off running. It was a small moment, but made me pretty proud of being able to recognize where we were at this stage of a race :-). So, we finally made it to the put-in and inflated our rafts. It was now later in the afternoon, with the sun still shining, but the water was cold. Having no experience in whitewater in my packraft, you can imagine my surprise when I got sucked into a hydraulic on the first set of rapids, and took forever to finally break free. I’ll never figure out how I managed NOT to flip, but I didn’t. Of course, flipping isn’t relevant in the rafts, as regardless, you are basically piloting a bathtub full of water as you go. Bailing the boats is pretty pointless, as they fill right back up in about 2-3 rapids, depending how you hit them. What does that mean? Well, with only a thin pair of summer tights, and a single long-sleeved polypro shirt, I was getting cold. And by cold, I mean rapidly becoming hypothermic. At first, my discomfort was a result of being unsure about the rafting, but once I gained confidence in running the water (and as it was just starting to be fun), I discovered that my uncontrollable shivering was probably not a good thing.
We hoped we’d make it to a portage where we would get out for a CP, but had almost no way of gauging our progress, as all attention was focused on the rapids. I kept trying to push on, but the convulsions were so severe that I eventually pulled off to some sun-drenched rocks on river right hoping I’d warm up. No dice. I was a machine-gun of rattling bones with my 0% body fat. Luckily, my team was there to help, and in no time, my three lovely ladies had literally convinced me to strip naked and had me in an emergency bivy and warm sleeping sack. Problem was, we were on the wrong side of the river, and were now clock-watching and concerned about impending darkness. Luckily, while the body was weak, my mind was still sharp, and I was fully committed to getting us out of this jam. Eventually, we ferried me back to the other side, and regrouped. I properly laid down and allowed myself to dry off. Within 5 minutes, I stopped shivering, just in time to avert my teammates from sending out an emergency message. I’d already convinced them not to signal that we needed rescue, but we had been contemplating sleeping out again.
Then, I had a stroke of genius. Everyone was getting a little chilly now. We decided that everyone should put on dry clothes. We would then make a short bushwhack back to the main trail, and hike back out towards there the final CP was. From there, we’d send 2 people over in a raft to punch the final control, and just hike back to the spot where our bikes were waiting. Obviously not as fast as rafting, but imminently safer! Turns out our instincts were good, because when we arrived at that spot, we learned of several other teams that had gotten into even deeper problems than us, and had called for rescues. Ultimately, this move both saved our race, and meant we didn’t have to camp out overnight, and could now focus on getting to the finish line. While I was a bit run down from the ordeal, I was still strong mentally and physically (fit for duty as they say), and lead the charge onto the final section.
The final section was just one final reminder that this is a tough race. It was a relatively straightforward mountain bike leg with only a single checkpoint to grab, but they managed to send us up one final mountain, and a nice screaming descent back down to the finish line. Apart from some exhaustion, it wasn’t overly tricky, but finding the motivation to push our bikes up another really long, steep uphill with our heavy packs was a bit of a challenge. I kept saying that once we reached the top, things would be better. Thankfully, they were, and our final 10k or so were quite nice. Well, apart from the very final 2k which was VERY steep and rocky descents into the resort. We were extra cautious as it would have really sucked to get injured here! However, I’m happy to report that we crossed the finish line sometime after 2am on Sunday morning, with a great sense of accomplishment, beers in hand, and a desire to eat lots of food, then crash out!
So ends the longest post I’ve likely ever written, on the toughest race I’ve ever done (so far). In spite of the challenge, I was immediately thinking about the next one. Re-integrating into ‘normal society’ has been a bit tricky, and I’m now quite sick a few days later, but I’ve definitely proved myself capable of this kind of feat, and know I could do even better. I know it is virtually impossible for anyone reading this to REALLY know what it is like if they haven’t done it, but hopefully this gives you a flavour. I’d like to thank Deanna for her unwavering support when I undertake these adventures, and also a huge shout-out to my dad for actually showing up on course! That was really cool! I have a few weeks to rest, and then it’s on to the 24 hour Wilderness Traverse race, which I’ll be doing with my ‘regular’ team. We’ll be pushing for a win here, so this will be a completely different style of race in terms of pacing, so stay tuned for that report next! Till then, get out there, and soak in the natural world around you!
To close off, I’m embedding a couple summary videos from the event as well, that can give you a sense of this race. The first is a short overview video, and the second a more comprehensive video that tracked all parts of the race.
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:
The invitation came exactly 11 days before the big event. I got an innocent-enough sounding message asking if I was interested in joining a U.S. team to race at Untamed New England, a well-known American adventure race. I was immediately interested, but also scared. Untamed is traditionally a multi-day race, and although I’d always wanted to tackle it, I wasn’t sure 11 days was enough prep time! However, this year, the race was actually being run as a 24-hour event instead of multi-day. For that reason, it didn’t take me long to respond in the affirmative that I’d join the roster! I was to be a last-minute replacement for an injured team-mate, and was recruited on James Galipeau’s recommendation (ironically, he was another replacement racer). All I knew was that I’d be racing on THE Untamed New England team (there were 2), and it would be a fast team looking to podium! What follows is the tale of that race, a tale of struggle, suffering, and success. Read on!
Pictures from the Race
Before getting this call, my schedule didn’t actually have any overnight races in it. Due to scheduling issues, I had to skip Wilderness Traverse, my favourite overnighter. As a result, this would be my ‘big’ adventure race of the season. My fitness level was certainly there, and my motivation was high. The only wildcard in the mix was my ankle, which is still in a fragile state after last year’s break (I’ve been bad about caring for it). As a result, in the days leading up to our drive to the start line, I did buy a few new pieces of gear to try out (all of which came in extremely handy, as you’ll learn). I bought a nice speed wrap / tape for my ankle, I bought pain killers, I bought calf sleeves (meant to help legs stay fresh longer), and finally, the piece de resistance, I bought a really nice set of carbon fiber trekking poles. You see, the race headquarters and terrain was all centered at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, the 2nd highest peak in the state. We were quite sure we’d be doing a fair bit of trekking up and downhill!
To make it to the race registration on time, I had to take the Friday off, which luckily wasn’t too big a deal for me. I was also driving down with 2 others, James, who was also going to be on my team, and Nathalie Long, who was racing on a team dubbed “Untamed Canada” for this race. There were actually going to be 3 total teams racing as “Untamed”. Two american ones (Coyote and Moose) and Nathalie’s team. My team had the distinction of being Team Number 1 (Coyote). A very auspicious number to be given. Nothing like putting pressure on an already stressful position of joining an ‘elite’ team for me, right? My overall plan was pretty simple. Pull my own weight, don’t drag the team down, and keep up! For me, that would mean constantly feeding and watering my machine, and let others figure out how to get from A to B. Navigation would not be my bailiwick this time.
After reaching registration (after a slight delay thanks to the thoroughness of the US border agency), James and I learned that in fact, the two U.S. Untamed teams would essentially be racing as one. 8 members, 2 navigators, and lots of energy. I was a little perplexed at that, but it certainly wasn’t my place to question that. Besides, it had the possibility of making our overall speed / efficiency better, improving podium chances. it was my first time meeting the 6 others, and they all seemed quite friendly, if not pretty focused on the race preparations. We also all ended up sharing a condo, so there were a total of 9 of us staying together before the race (the 9th was one of the injured who had come out as a product rep).
Maps were distributed Friday night, with Jason and Dave acting as the 2 navigators and captains. They pored over our 8 waterproof maps planning out the route and checking Google Earth for old trails, etc to help us along. Meanwhile, the rest of us (James, Molly, Meghan, Erik, Phil, and I) went about eating, and packing gear. We’d learned a couple days earlier that the race would feature a single transition point in the whole race (see picture above). It also featured an opening leg where we’d be trekking about 21 km and paddling about 21 km, meaning we’d be trekking with all of our paddle gear. This posed a bit of a challenge as far as packing light goes, and ensuring you had all the mandatory and extra gear you’d want. In a nutshell, we were expecting to race 6-8 hours on the opening leg, then needing to carry everything required for the remainder of the race. That meant lots of food, biking gear, lighting gear, clothes, etc. Water would be ‘purified’ en route from streams / lakes we’d find. The only other saving grace was that we’d get to drop off our bikes at one point, and could leave our helmets / shoes with them. Pretty handy considering the final leg would be a giant trek!
During the race briefing, Grant Killian, the RD, unveiled a new system of indicating the challenge leg of particular legs. The bunnies! Cute, innocent bunnies. Single bunny for easy, 2 bunnies for harder, 3 bunnies for hardest. This course was designed to progressively get harder as we went. A true expedition-style race taking place in a 24 hour period. I was quite excited to get things underway when we finally turned on on Friday. Weather was calling for a mixed bag, and I was pretty sure we’d be wearing rain gear for at least some of the race. In the end, the order of events was this: Quick 1.5k run, then into boats for a 21 km paddle. From there, a 21 km trek using a mix of roads and trails, with a touch of bushwhacking. From there, grab the bikes for a long bike section sticking to ATV / snowmobile trails mainly. During that leg, we’d also tackle an orienteering section (2 CPs) at the ‘pancake stop’ where you could buy food. Finish the bike leg, drop the bikes, and tackle the BIG trek, including lots of tricky route finding, bushwhacking, and elevation gain / loss to get to the top of Sugarloaf, then bomb down to the finish line. Using a cliche overused word: EPIC.
Opening Paddle Leg
To get to the start line we had a 1.5 hour bus ride. Ironically, it took us almost all the way back to the Canada / US border. Given how much everyone was drinking and eating (to pre-hydrate), we were all but ready to explode out of the bus for a nature break! We lined up at the start, and awaited the starting gun. Our teams had situated ourselves at the very front of the field. At the signal, I took off running, and stayed pretty much at the front of the pack. I think 4 of the first 6 people at the boats were from our 2 teams. James and I then went about picking a boat, but ended up in a traffic jam. Our other teammates had been more successful, hopping in boats and paddling off, literally leaving us behind :-(. We had opted to put our bags in dry bags before leaving. We almost weren’t allowed to go, as we had to put a wrist band on the boat to mark it as ours, but our team-mate had ours and was already gone! Quick explanation, and we were allowed to go. We couldn’t even tell where the others were in the fray, only realizing they were NOT in earshot! Oh well, I guess that would set the stage for us. We were more or less on our own.
Luckily, we were a pretty efficient paddling team, we put our heads down and just focused on the task at hand. I had opted to put on full rain gear, with both pants and jacket, due to the imminent rain and fact that paddling is inherently a wet pursuit. I was warm! But not overheating luckily. We soon picked our way through boat after boat, until we finally caught up to the others. From there, we just kept pushing at our rhythm, ultimately finding our way pretty much to the front of the pack. At the far end of the paddle, we were the first of our 4 boats to pull out, and 5th boat overall to finish the paddle leg. It had been a pretty quick paddle, owing to the swift current. We ALMOST went over once, as there were some class 1 rapids to navigate, and we went over a rock a bit close to the side forcing us to quickly compensate. James did a great job in the stern controlling that situation, but it was tight!
Stage 2: Trek 1
At the pull-out, it was a tight space and a lot of pandemonium. We had to re-pack all our paddle gear into our packs in order to trek. We probably got set in under 5 minutes, and our entire group was ready to go at pretty much the same time. We took off at a jog / light run, which once again foreshadowed how this leg would play out. It turns out that if you want to win at the elite level, there is no relaxing. You are putting nearly max effort out all the time. It was fine at that time, but later, it would prove rather difficult. This section was about 21 km in length, and was on secondary roads for a lot of it, meaning we kept a hard pace up. We started with a steady climb up on a trail, eventually flattening out on a network of roads. There were a couple more climbs to tackle, but all in all, not super hard. At this point, there were no trekking poles being used.
In generally, James and I hung more towards the back. James normally does nanny duty at the back, meaning he makes sure whoever is at the back is okay, and helps by taking weight whenever needed. I was hanging back not due to speed, but more just for the company. The other team-mates were actually a pretty serious bunch, focused on racing more than socializing. Fair enough. I was an outsider anyway I suppose. At the back of the pack, however, we soon realized that one of our fellow racers wasn’t having a great time physically. They were feeling like crap and starting to struggle a bit. Amazingly, they kept their speed up, but there was a concern how that might play out later as the race wore on. James chatted them up, and tried to keep spirits up, which I’m sure helped out. At the other end of the spectrum, in front of our 8-pack, 2 of the other guys always seemed eager to push the pace and dangle out in front of the navigators. It was clear that there was no great desire to stay as a tight group and check in on each other very much. Personally, I prefer a more cohesive unit that takes care of itself, but perhaps doing it this way helps drive forward. Either way, we were still at the front of the race and doing well, so no complaints there.
We finished the leg by jogging into transition as the first 2 ‘premiere’ teams (that is, 4-person co-ed), and I think we were 3rd overall, followed closely by another team. This was our one chance to stock up on food, and change clothes from our gear bins. Everyone was very focused, and once again, we had a very quick transition. I had fresh clothes on, and also packed another change for the last trekking leg. Bikes were ready to roll, and off we went. Latter teams would take over an hour there, but for us? Under 10 minutes. Again, that’s life at the front. A punishing existence.
Stage 3: The Bike
The bike, as you probably guessed by now, was another case of relentless pacing at the front. Happily for me, I think my bike fitness is the highest it’s been in years, and I felt no discomfort at all. There was a great mix of biking too, so when we hit the more technical stuff, I was having a blast. That is, until I lost pressure in my back tire. Sidewall cut! Damn. We ended up needing to remove the tire and put a tube in ( I normally run tubeless). We lost precious time, but were not overtaken (yet). Sadly, not 2 minutes up the trail, another teammate had a flat! This 2nd bit of bad luck allowed another team to pass us. We patched up quickly, and went into pursuit mode.
The teammate that had struggled a bit on the last trek was unfortunately still having a challenging day. They let me know that it was the worst they’ve ever felt in a race, thinking it may be a diet issue. They were having problems eating / drinking / and hadn’t had a ‘nature break’ for hours. Not a great sign. Reluctantly, they accepted the offer of a tow whenever we hit roads. However, the best part is that as we were a group of 8, when we did hit nice roads, we were able to get a really good paceline going, and keep the average speed quite high. This helped propel us forward to the ‘night orienteering’ section.
Lucky for us, due to our speed, we made it in and out of the night orienteering section in full daylight :-). Orienteering seemed a bit of a misnomer, as it was really a balls-to-the-wall sprint 2 km downhill to find 2 CPs, only to turn around and spring back UP a mountain. It was about this time that I started wishing they’d let up the pace just a touch. Perhaps lucky for me, because of our ill teammate, we did finally slow a bit, which gave me time to be a bit more proactive in my eating. So far, all systems were firing well, as I was taking in enough calories, water, and electrolytes. I will felt great overall. Once back on the bikes, it was finally time to bust out the headlamps. We were past the halfway point of the bike leg, with about 30 km to go.
Obviously, we’d been doing some climbing on the bikes, and the final section involved a tortuous series of climbs in the dark, but were followed by equally impressive downhills. I was thankful for having a bright headlamp, as the final series of steep downhills were rock-strewn with a lot of loose walnut-sized and above rocks. As you may know, this can make for pretty tricky descents. Luckily, we all emerged unscathed, and happily, after the initial two flats, the rest of the ride went smoothly (mechanically-speaking). Other teams were not so lucky. Broken pedals, broken frames, etc.
Stage 4: The Crux, Trek 2
Finally, we made it to the bike drop-off. This signified the start of the final trekking section. A 3-bunny challenge involving numerous mountain treks, lots of elevation change, and about 25 km of total distance. In the dark. And the rain. And the fog. And the cold. Yup, welcome to the crux of the race, and my unfortunate undoing. We were still racing from the front here, and aimed to keep our lead. It was immediately obvious that this would be a tough trek. We started out following a river bed, navigating our way around massive boulders and making numerous water crossings. So much for dry feet! We were having a tough time finding what we hoped would be an old trail up the mountain. So, the decision was made to cut into the bush, and just head out on a bearing till we hit a known feature.
The Rice Krispies Effect
Well, THIS was a bushwhack. Probably one of the heaviest I’ve ever encountered. The trees and brush were so tightly together that at points you had to physically throw yourself into them to break through. Even in the dark, with bright lights, if a teammate got even 10 feet ahead of you, they all but disappeared! It was intense, to say the least. The footing was also quite suspect. Lots of deadfall, tangled branches, and holes to watch for (but in the dark, remember?). Sadly for me, I soon had a ‘rice krispies’ moment. Snap went a branch covering a hole, crackle went my foot into it and POP went the ankle. White-hot pain shot immediately up my spine and I collapsed in a rather loud obscenity.
I *couldn’t* move at all. I just lay there in pain. My immediate thought was that I had just re-broken the ankle. It was that bad. I held back tears as I tried to self-assess. James and Molly were with me, with the other 5 up ahead waiting somewhere in the dark for news. We realized we had quite a predicament. There really was no way out from where we were. It would take just as long to back-track for help as to go forward. There were NO roads, so rescue was impossible. My verdict? I would have to go on. Slowly, but surely. Out came my ankle brace and painkillers. The ankle was swelling up, but luckily, no bones were sticking out, and no strange discolourations. I immobilized it as much as possible. My pack was split between James and Dave, and I relied 100% on my trekking poles. Best investment ever.
There were legitimate worries that this was it for the team. We’d press on, but may have to give up. Luckily, the human body is an amazing machine, and survival instincts are strengthened when put in a position like this. The next hour or so was the worst of my racing career. You see, we were still in this deep, thick, tangled shit, and I had no choice but to push on. Every other step was excruciating, and I kept getting frustrated as the team seemed to always dangle just out of my reach. Luckily, James and Molly stayed with me the whole time, encouraging me and empathizing. Of course, I may be a touch obstinate myself, so I was going to keep going until it killed me. Amazingly, we finally pushed through a final section and emerged on an old trail / road. Things suddenly seemed 1000% better. We paused for a few minutes there, congratulating our perseverance in that terrible bushwhack. Now the serious question was posed to me. Keep racing, or use this road to find a way out. By now, I was nicely drugged, and had gotten through the worst part, so I immediately responded we should press on. As it was a trek, we had no idea where we were in the standings now as a result, but we HAD to press on. I came to race, and I was GOING to finish!
Happily (sort of) the next part of the trek was simply overgrown trail. A few tricky bits, but I could much more easily pick my way along. We had to go off trail again to grab a checkpoint, but lucky for us, our navigators had actually found the trail that ran closest to is, so it was a relatively quick bushwhack in and out before being back on trail. We also seem to have lucked out and stumbled across a backcountry ski trail leading to the top of Spaulding Mtn., and ultimately the Appalachian Trail, which we could follow to the summit of Sugarloaf.
Once on the Appalachian trail, I actually ended up taking the lead. Seeing as I was essentially setting the pace, when I suggested I could go a bit faster, Dave said it would be easiest if I led them at my pace. With newfound gusto and the pressure, I set what I considered a pretty good clip on the rocky trail with my trekking poles supporting me. The equalizer was the fact that they all had to carry their packs. Oh, and did I mention the rain? At this point, the skies opened up and we were being showered. We’d all gotten our rain gear on in time though. This ridgeline carried on for miles, but eventually, we hit the branch that lead up to Sugarloaf.
I’ll always remember breaking out of the trail and hitting the barren top of Sugarloaf. It was surreal. The fog was super-thick. The wind was howling, and the rain was pelting us. I mused to James that this must be what it was like in Scotland. We could barely hear each other up there. Luckily, the peak is punctuated by a tower with lights on it, and we used those as a beacon to find the final CP, where we also found a photographer sleeping in a tent! We ALSO noticed (and heard) another team at the peak. At the time, we didn’t realize it was the current 1st place team, and that we were in 2nd and 3rd, in spite of my ankle!
The guys took a bit of time to double check the maps before choosing a route. It may sound easy to follow a ski hill to the bottom, but a hill the size of Sugarloaf has MANY trails, and one can easily screw up here, which is apparently what happened to the team last year. However, once they did choose a course, they took off at a blistering pace, apparently no longer aware that I was a limping gimpy in the back! It was frustrating watching them slide out of sight on the steep scree-like gravel slope. This was absolute hell on my ankle, as it was really hard to control my descent. However, once again, James stayed with me the entire way, letting me bitch and encouraging me on.
At the bottom, we noticed only our 2 teammates waiting. The other team apparently decided to push the last 5k to see about winning the race. So much for racing as one. But I completely understood and was glad they made that decision in order to contest for the win. Jason had re-checked our strategy on the maps, and we were ready to go. We saw people ahead, and I thought it was our team, but he said it was Checkpoint Zero, and they were in 2nd. I verified “You mean they are CURRENTLY in 2nd”….”as in, if we pass them, we’ll be in 2nd?”. When the answer came back affirmative, I said I would do whatever it took to beat them to claim 2nd overall. So with that, we took off at full steam.
I believe this final section is where I patented ‘double poling’ on a trek. I used the sticks almost as crutches now, swinging myself at ever-greater speeds forward. I was no longer the limiting factor, as I could see the fatigue starting to creep up in others. We played cat and mouse with the other team before finally choosing a different path, and leaving them. I had no idea whether this was a shortcut, longcut, gamble or what, so for that reason we ran flat out the entire way. No mean feat after over 19 hours racing. It was just getting light out, and the rain had let up to a drizzle now.
We rounded a final bend, and promptly scrambled up some rocks to cross the finish line, triumphantly coming in 2nd place overall! Our other team was quite amazed to see us emerge before Checkpoint Zero. So in the end, we accomplished exactly what we set out to do. We captured 1st and 2nd overall, triumph in the face of adversity. I have never been so simultaneously exhausted and elated as I was at that finish line. Beer was offered and accepted, photos were snapped, then it was all over! We had finished 9 minutes after our friends, and 7 minutes before the next team. AMAZING!
When all was said and done, gear sorted, pizza eaten, prizes awarded, goodbyes shared, and journeys home completed, the final stats came out. The race had started with 39 teams. Of those, 11 teams didn’t finish at all. A further 7 didn’t get to do the final trek (so finished on bikes). Finally, another 11 teams didn’t complete the entire trek (skipping final 2 CPs). If you’re doing the math along at home, you’ll see that leaves only 10 teams that officially completed the entire course! The 10th place team finished nearly 4.5 hours after us! If you really want to see the full stats, just check out this pdf. To say we were at the top of top here is very accurate. I have now raced at the leading edge, with the fastest and best in a 24 hour race in the U.S. In spite of everything, to be able to finish so strong is something I will always be proud of. I can’t tell you what motivates me to do these things, but that feeling at the finish is a pretty good reason!
I know this post is incredibly long, and I’m not sure if anyone will read it all, but I had to put it up and spell it all out, if for nothing than to give me something to revel in when I hit my twilight years ;-). Thanks for sticking with me, now if you don’t mind, I have some ankle rehab to tend to, and some training to tackle to prepare for the Leadville 100!
I truly am a big fan of alliteration. That, and palindromes. Although, I’ve always wondered why exactly the word palindrome itself isn’t a palindrome. But I digress. The point of this post is obviously to tell you all about my latest race, not of my grammatical proclivities :-). This time I’m writing about the May Raid Pulse race, an 8hr adventure race. Note I’m calling this an 8hr race, and not a 5-8hr race. Thierry, the race director, does an impressive job at ensuring most racers are out there for the full duration, so it does, in fact, end up being a solid 8 hour physical effort. For this race, I teamed up with the formidable James Galipeau, a seasoned multi-day international adventure racer, so you know we were planning to go for the win! I was also covering the event for Get Out There Magazine, which meant I’d have cameras in tow. With that in mind, there are of course a nice little folder of pictures to check out in flickr, as well as the full video review at the end of this post. Now read on for the exciting tale!
Pictures from the Event
One of the best parts about racing with a team is that you can split the tasks in a race. Most notable in this sort of race is that one person needs to be responsible for navigation, and the other can take care of things like checking for land features, punching the passport at the checkpoints, and in my case, doing some filming and narration as we go along. With that in mind, we decided that James would handle the navs for the race. He wanted the practice, and I was happy to oblige, as then I could blame him if we lost (or got lost). Ha ha. Kidding.
To avoid a painfully early morning drive out to the race venue, we both opted to camp at race HQ, and partake in the morning breakfast buffet on offer. Seemed a good way to spend $16. It also allowed us to get registered the night before and ensure all our team gear was sorted and ready to go. What we hadn’t counted on was how cold it got that night! Not below zero, but close. I was in my hammock, with no insulation underneath, so as the night wore on, I gradually moved from bag unzipped and in my underwear, to bag zipped, to bringing extra clothes into the bag with me, to putting on said clothes, to finally even wearing my jacket! Judging by the tossing and turning sounds from James little tent, I’d say he underwent a similar metamorphosis.
With the rough night, I think I only managed 2-3 hours of fitful sleep, not ideal conditions for getting ready to race for 8 hours, but no time to dwell on that. We fueled up with a good breakfast, dropped off our bikes and gear at the transition zones, and headed to race briefing, where we got our race maps and instructions, and got busy planning our route. Lucky for us, the cold of the night disappeared quickly enough, and we had a sunny warm day for the race itself. No complaints on that front! Racers assembled at the start for final instructions before taking off on foot at 10am for the first section.
Race Summary / Stats
The initial section was all trekking / orienteering, and consisted of a pretty good mix of terrain to deal with. The very first checkpoint was located high up at the summit of a nearby hill. We overshot slightly on the trails before heading off-trail to find it. However, we were pleased to learn we were in 3rd place when we finally grabbed it. From that point, it should have been a relatively straightforward WNW bearing to get CP2. Unfortunately for us, a slight navigational error had us heading on a more WSW trajectory. When you do that and traverse 1km of bush, it can add up to a pretty chunky time loss. In our case, hard to judge, but probably 30 minutes or so. This is NOT good in an 8hr race. We found ourselves smack-dab in the back of the mid-pack racers. Ugh. Time to put the game face on and push hard.
From that point, there were 2 more CPs to grab before the first transition. One of them involved a bit of a water crossing. Apparently, the previous evenings’ temperature left the air, but not the water. It was COLD. Especially when I stumbled on a submerged log and went almost completely under. Let’s just say there was shrinkage, and a desire to get out fast. Trouble is, this was semi-swampy, meaning very unsure footing. Regardless, we nabbed the CP and fought our way back onto solid ground. We made relatively quick work of CP4. We chose another ‘interesting’, if not inefficient routing to get from there to the transition, and as a result, still found ourselves in a position more than 30 minutes behind the 1st place team.
With little time to dwell on our current position, I put one of our bike trail maps on my bike map board, we grabbed some quick energy food, and took off in hot pursuit of the phantoms ahead of us (as they were out of sight). Lucky for us, it was nice gravel roads under the tires, and we hammered hard on the opening sections to make it to the start of the fun mountain bike section that was located on the trails at Velo MSM. We managed to make up a few positions on this section, with high hopes to nail the rest of the race course. On arrival at the marshal point at the start of the bike leg, we were shown the location of the ‘advanced’ checkpoints on the trails. There were 2 to find, both pretty easy to grab on the trails.
After copying the location onto our maps, we made our way onto the trails. What a treat! These are some amazing new trails that criss-cross the Mont St. Marie ski area. Well worth the drive up if you’re looking for a new mtb challenge close to Ottawa / Gatineau. Things in there went very smoothly EXCEPT for trying to find the stupid entrance to one of the trail sections we needed to get to. Lack of signs and confusing map illustrations complicated matters, and we lost a bit of time, although from what we gathered, we WERE NOT alone (and had a mini-train of riders with us at one point. Once we found the right trails, things were pretty straightforward. We made one big loop, ducking into the more technical trails to grab the advanced checkpoints.
All CPs gathered in the Velo MSM trails, it was time to head back out onto the gravel roads and make our way to the next ATV trail section on the bikes, and ultimately get to the next transition. This particular part of the bike course got rather interesting. By that, I mean kinda tricky. Lots of tough riding with downed trees, and debris on the trails. There were quite a few overgrown sections and bike walking sections. For us, we held hope that it would improve our standing, as we kept pushing hard. At one CP, we were told we were sitting 11th overall. We passed one other team on this section, meaning we were at least sitting in 10th. Anecdotally, we’ve heard that other teams had pretty rough times out there, with one friend going through all their spare tubes and patches and being forced to basically walk out of the woods. VERY rough go for them.
For our part, things weren’t great, but we kept moving forward. As you may recall, it had been 4 short days ago that I had a bad roll on my ankle, warranting x-rays. Although it hadn’t been broken, it was plenty tender, so I was wearing ankle braces. Due to the terrain, I found myself hitting the soft spots numerous times on rocks, trees, and even the bike frame. I had to really retreat to my pain cave to prevent from giving in to the misery of the moment. Luckily, good team-mates know when to talk it out and when to leave you be. James wisely let me suffer in silence, letting me dictate the pace and push as hard as I could.
To close out the bike section, we dropped our bikes off at one clearing, then had to trek about 1km along the waters edge to get to the paddling transition. Along the shore, we also had to grab a couple more checkpoints, but they were pretty obvious and easy to grab. No chance of errors there. Arriving at the paddle transition, luck was with us. There was one ‘fast, lightweight’ canoe left in the fleet, so we grabbed that quick. We also pulled another quick(ish) transition and had more Boost and grabbed more food from our stash. As well, we once again had to consult a supplementary map and sketch out 4 advanced checkpoints along the paddle section that we had to grab if we hoped to stay in the front pack of finishers. I took over navigation duties for this leg, as I was in the bow of the boat, which allowed James to handle steering duties while I’d check our course.
Timing was going to be tight, but we headed out on perfect waters and with full intentions of grabbing all the checkpoints. They had to be picked up more or less in order so the route was pretty much pre-determined. That is, up until the advanced CPs, which we could complete in any order. Here, there were a few options how to grab them, each involving different amounts of trekking or paddling, as they were located inland from different features. I made decisions on the fly as to how we’d attack them, and for the most part, things went pretty smoothly. Of course, things always look easier on a map than on foot, and I’m pretty sure one of the CPs was located a little further inland than intended. We still got it easily, it just meant more bushwhacking.
Time was of the essence, and we could now see that finishing in under 8 hours would be a pretty tough challenge. We calculated our average boat speed, and looked at the distance of the last inland checkpoint. We had to make the tough call of how hard to push before making the decision to turn back to get to the boat in order to make the time. In essence, each CP was worth 25 points. Those with all regular CPs AND advanced CPs are ranked ahead of others. HOWEVER, for each minute past 8hrs, you were deducted 1 point. We had to time it that IF we were late, we needed all CPs, and be there before 8hrs. 24mins. Happily, luck was on our side. The adrenaline of the final push helped us grab the final CP in very good time, and piling back into the canoe, we figured we had exactly enough time to make it by 8hrs.
Paddling our butts off for the last several kms, hitting the shore, and pulling the boat out, and we were still pushing hard. We had to run up a steep set of stairs and accross a grassy field to get to the official finish. As we crested the top of the stairs, we saw we had 3 minutes to spare! So, we ended up clearing the entire course, including the advanced CPs in under 8 hours. Whew! Sadly, we were a full 43 minutes behind 1st place! That dropped to 30 minutes behind 2nd and 3rd though, so overall, not THAT bad of a result 🙂
There may have been no prizing, honour, or glory in our final ranking, which was 5th in our category and 9th overall, but we still had a bang-up race. As is typical in AR, a couple little mistakes ended up costing us the podium. However, we still finished strongly, had a great race, and overcame physical and mental challenges to get there! I’ll take the rush of the event over the victory in most cases, since the podium is so elusive to us mortals anyway! Luckily, my next story MAY have a happier ending, but you’ll have to wait to read about that one.
As usual, the post-race feast and atmosphere was great, and we enjoyed catching up with all the other teams to hear about their days. Per usual, our story was neither unique nor that impressive compared to what some teams had to go through for their ‘victories’. That is probably the best part of this whole community. We can all relate to the successes and the failures of the sport and our own abilities. It is a humbling pursuit to take on these challenges. But as always, Thierry and the whole Raid Pulse delivered a great experience in spades. If you haven’t done so yet, I invite you to watch the race video below to see some of the highlights. Until next time, play hard, and I hope to see you all out there!
Video Race Review
Stories from an athlete, adventurer, and lover of life