Tag Archives: Adventure Racing

Tale of the Tape: Tactical Triumph

On the Paddle to CP3

Ahhh, Adventure Racing, the sport of kings. Well, perhaps that’s too glorious a title. More fittingly, I suppose it would be the sport of fools. Still noble in the king’s court, but for different reasons. After all, we spend countless hours training in a multitude of disciplines, spend countless amounts of money on equipment and race entries, all in order to suffer countless injuries and endure pain in races where the outcome is determined by much more than the money and training invested :-). In this post, I’ll take you through my first adventure race of the season, the 2011 Frontier Adventure Challenge 8 hour race that took place in Huntsville. As the title implies, I had a tactically (and physically) very strong race. Unfortunately, as is often the case in AR, it was all for not, as a bit of difficulty in the last section took me from 3rd place overall to a ranking of 66th!! And that is no indication of a tight race with everyone jostling for the finish line. This is all about strategy, tactics, when you got to the finish line, and how much of the course you completed! Parsing how that ranking was calculated, as well as the full story of my race, which I contend was one of my strongest ever in spite of it, is what this blog post will be all about. Read on for the whole story, and don’t forget to check out some of the shots from the weekend as well. No GPS race map to share, so I went old school and snapped photos of map!

Alrighty then, time for the story. The first race of the season is always exciting. I hadn’t secured any team-mates in time, so I was racing this one solo, as was Deanna! This would be her first ‘official’ solo race, as we raced together last time. Being the mean guy I am, I told her a while back I wanted to test myself on this one, and planned to race hard. As you’ll learn, she sorta got the last laugh on that one. The other special part about this weekend and having Deanna along is that this was out unofficial 1 year anniversary. We got together at this very same race one year ago, while she was volunteering, and I was racing. In the lead up to Friday, we got all the gear ready and finalized a few details. Deanna was nervous, but also excited. As was I. My training has been a bit less structured and spotty, but I still felt pretty good.

Friday night we spent time sorting gear bags and discussing a few possible strategies with other races, all in absence of any idea what the course would hold for us yet. Maps weren’t distributed till the next morning. Early morning came, breakfast was eaten, and off we all went for our maps (9 of us were sharing a condo!). In what was a rare treat, there was only one single map to deal with, making life pretty easy. Plotting the points unveiled the extent of the course. Logistically, it was awesome for race organizers, as the Hidden Valley Resort served as our basecamp, and was also the site of pretty much all the transitions, so there were no bag or gear movements involved. In order, the race would consist of the following: 1) Le Mans start running to top of ski hill, then back to start, 2) Paddle leg of either ~11km or 20km depending on whether you shot for an advanced checkpoint, 3) Bike leg heading northwest leading to, 4) Trekking section with 2 checkpoints in the bush, 5) Biking section which ultimately ended back at start, but could also include the 6) Advanced trek section with 3 remote checkpoints in the bush, after which you biked back to start for 7) the Final trek section around the resort, ski hill, and golf course area to the finish line, which we’d re-visited 3 times already!

Le Mans Start and Paddle Section

For starters, I seeded myself up near the front of the pack. This was the biggest FAC race to date, with literally hundreds of participants. I know I’m a pretty strong runner, so I figured it would be better to get a jump on the crowd and try to pick off CP1 before the masses showed up. At each CP, you had to punch a physical passport AND insert a timing chip into a device and wait for a beep. Luckily for CP1 we only had to do the beep, but the wait would still be lengthy with lots of teams at the top. Plan worked well, and I was in the top group of 10-15 at the top of the ski hill. Grabbed the CP, then booted it back down the hill, passing by Deanna as I ran by and wished her luck. Back at CP2 / TA1, another punch and timing check, before grabbing my kayak and starting the paddle.

The paddle was perfect. The water was a near-mirror sheet, the sun was shining bright, temperatures were only about 10, and the winds were quite low. It was ideal weather. I fell into a good rhythm, and made steady progress, passing several teams on my way. They were in canoes while I was of course in my kayak. I could see the leaders up ahead, but there was no way to catch them, as they were obviously stronger paddlers. Reached CP3 area, and pulled on shore, jumped out and ran up the hill to the area where the CP was waiting. Made a slight detour, but didn’t lose much time. Punched in, and ran back to boat. At this point, there was a cutoff of 11:15am to choose whether to do the advanced paddle CP or not. I had lots of time, but strategically chose to skip it. Basically, it would be nearly an extra hour of paddling to pick up 1 extra checkpoint, whereas later in the course, there was a trek section with 4 extra checkpoints. Ultimately, my time would be better spent trying to get those. At a minimum, grabbing 2 of those would result in a higher standing than someone who got the paddling CP, but ran out of time to grab the other trek checkpoints. I know, sounds complicated, but I knew my strengths, and stuck to my strategy.

As a result of my decision, I found myself in a rather awkward position for me. I was, in a geographical sense, LEADING the race!! All others ahead of me had opted to go for the advanced paddle CP, leaving me alone to paddle towards the next transition. With no one to chase, it was an odd feeling, but I tried my best to keep pushing myself hard. People were rather surprised to see me pulling off the water so soon, and cheered loudly; “I’m not really winning, I just skipped CPA” is what I yelled out. Still felt cool though.

Bike Section 1 and Trek Section

After a quick transition all alone (no one else was coming in yet), I hopped on my bike and pedaled off to the trekking section. This was also the first time I truly used my Intrepid Mapboard. It was perfect, especially with the single map.There were no difficulties on the bike leg at all. I chose to stick to the roads, later finding out that was definitely the right call. Along the way, my picture was snapped, and again I was cheered for being in the ‘lead’. This carried on into the trek. When I arrived at CP5, the start of the trek, Geoff, the race director, was there, along with a small army of volunteers. They were NOT prepared for any racers yet. The actual checkpoint wasn’t even set up yet. I stashed my bike off in the trees (the only bike at the time), and headed off to work on the first trek.

Seemed straightforward enough. Two checkpoints to navigate to, both of which were along the river that snaked through the area. However, there were several trails around there, and the challenge was choosing whether to follow them or not. I opted to use them a fair bit, while keeping an eye on the time to estimate distance. In spite of that, I still overshot the first CP by a bit, judging by the river features and direction. No problem, I decided to just follow the shore back to grab both CPs. Somehow, I still managed to miss CP6, but didn’t know till I ran into Bob Miller. Damn! He was the official leader, having completed the advanced paddle and now caught up to me. However, for the record, this guy is an animal, and untouchable by most. He was a very fast paddler. Oh, and he was also last year’s overall winner of the Full Solo UXC!!

The great part though was that we hooked up and worked together to grab the two checkpoints. Doubling back, I realized I had somehow ran right past the bright orange and white CP marker, most likely since it was on the back side of a tree. No matter, we got it, and booted back to grab CP7. I was having fun keeping up with Bob, happy that I could. We then made a tactical decision to cross a ‘creek’ to grab a direct bearing back to the transition area. Two steps, and the water was up to my damn neck! We opted to swim the short crossing and let me tell you, it was COLD! Bob had already started up the next hill, and was a little surprised to see me right with him. We made it back to the transition, and both hopped back on our bikes to start making our way off to the next section. By now, there were tons of bikes in this area, but we were the first two to clear out of the trek with the CPs.

Bike Section 2 and Advanced Trek Section

Bob and I were now making our way along the ‘mandatory’ trail section of the bike leg. Here we were finally met with some thicker mud and wet trails. Again, the overall nav was pretty easy. There were a couple decision points, but nothing too confusing. Bob managed to pull ahead of me relatively early on, as I had opted for regular pedals with ‘cages’, and was causing me grief in getting on and off my bike when I’d wipe out or have to get off due to mud. I also had the wrong tires. At any rate, I arrived at the start of the next trek in a solid 2nd place, about 12-15 minutes behind the incomparable Bob.

For me, this was another decision point, as there were 3 extra CPs off in the bush, but I was mindful of the time due to needing to complete the race by 6pm. I gave myself a cutoff of 4pm to leave that area, estimating I’d need at least an hour to bike back to the next transition, and another hour to complete the final trek, which I thought would be pretty simple. I chose to tackle CP’D’ and CP’E’. I was happy to have the chance to try this advanced trek, and wasn’t disappointed. The CPs were much trickier to find than the last section, as the features were not as defined and you had to be tighter on your navs. I wandered around and wasted quite a bit of time before finding CP’D’ hidden in a copse of trees in a marshy area. Luckily, after that one, I took a straight bearing and pretty much hit CP’E’ dead on at a little waterfall area. Coolest part of this section for me was seeing (and shadowing) a moose for a while. I kept coming across fresher and fresher dung until I was almost on top of the actual creature! He luckily wasn’t too interested in me, but seemed to be on the same bearing as me. Very cool experience.

With CP’E’ bagged, I took a straight west bearing to meet back up with a 4×4 trail leading back to transition. I jogged a lot of it, and popped back at the transition at 3:45pm. A quick consult and I decided my best bet was to boogie back to the start. I found out I was once again the 2nd person out of this section. Well, at least 2nd that actually grabbed any CPs. A few teams made it up to grab the east CP right at the transition point, but didn’t bother actually trying any of the actual trek. That made me pretty happy about my choices, as I knew that even if they had done the advanced paddle, I’d now have an extra CP over them. As I was getting set to leave, Team Running Free, with James, Leanne, and John came out as well. Lucky them, they had nabbed all the CPs. We decided to head back together.

Bike Section back to Final Trek

The final bike section was just a hammerfest to get back to the transition area. With Running Free at my heels, I tried to stay just ahead of them for much of this bike leg, and did a very good job. In the end, we basically stayed very close the entire bike leg, with me coming in only slightly ahead of them. Considering the strength of their team, I was very happy to be able to match them pedal for pedal. On the way, we collectively passed quite a few other teams who had skipped all the advanced sections, and were just heading back. It was nice to see more bodies again. Definitely put me back in ‘race mode’.

Unfortunately, my 1hr estimate was a little off, and in spite of some hard biking the whole way back, I didn’t get to the transition until about 5:10! That left me with under an hour to clear the final section.

Final Trek and Finish

Really quick transition, and I was off again. On the map, this looked pretty easy, as we were now in the golf course / ski hill area, so I assumed things would be a piece of cake. Again, I made a tactical choice. I opted to follow the road all the way back out to the road in order to take what I thought would be an easy bearing to CP10. This was my complete undoing. What I should have done was just follow the same trail we’d used nearly 8 hours ago on the Le Mans start. My route was much longer, and also involved a lot of climbing, and a distinct lack of features to landmark off of. End result: very long search before actually grabbing CP10, which was not where I expected it based on the map. Turns out the ‘lake feature’ I was looking for had been drained and replaced by the friggin golf course! Grrr.

Time was running out, and I still had 2 CPs to go! I was frantic, and only managed to puch CP11 at 5:55 or so. In my mind, game over. Cutoff was 6:02, and I was still 1.5km away through bush. I didn’t even bother grabbing CP12, since I assumed I had now DNF’d. Extremely disappointed, I made my way back to the road and managed a bit of a jog back to the finish. I wandered over to the finish area, and admitted defeat and tried to hand in my stuff, but was told I still had to punch in. Apparently, I would still be ranked. Crap, maybe I should have grabbed CP12 after all.

But now I give you the tale of the tape for real. Baseline race is completing all regular checkpoints within 8 hrs. If you finish all those AND get any of the advanced CPs within the 8 hrs, you were ranked higher. If you finished under 8hrs but with less than all CPs, you were ranked lower. However, finishing in over 8 hrs, regardless of regular or advanced CPs, and you were torpedoed in the standings. That’s how my dear Deanna, who had some rough luck on the first CP, and missed a large part of the racecourse, but punched in at the finish just under 8 hrs, still managed to be ranked 10 spots higher than me, even though I did a pile of the advanced course! Crazy, right?

Well, believe me, there were a lot of very ‘experienced’ teams that got burned on this course. In the end, it was agreed I made all the right decisions, and it WOULD have paid off, if I’d only not screwed up the last trek. After all, only 2 teams (Bob and Running Free) actually finished the whole course, including all the advanced CPs in the 8 hrs. If I’d finished under 8, I would have been 3rd overall, as I had nabbed the next most of the advanced CPs. Bugger, eh? I had a few beers to ease the pain and decided to just enjoy the rest of my night

Post Race Party and Anniversary

After cleaning up and some good food, it was time to unwind. There were many battle stories to share with other racers, lamenting our bad luck and great decisions. There was some fun live music, and I even brought in my bongos and tambourine to join in the fun. Eventually we started a sort of drum circle with a hula dancer in the middle entertaining everyone. Good fun. Deanna and I ended up turning in before midnight, after only a few beers. We were pooped.

Next morning, the weather wasn’t as awesome, but still pretty decent. In my world though, it was a perfect day, as this was essentially 1 year to the day that Deanna and I had gotten together. We decided to stick around the area a little bit, grabbing some geocaches, and visiting a couple spots that were special to us together. Eventually, we made our way back to Gatineau via the 60, with my semi-traditional stop in Barry’s Bay at the Dixie Lee chicken for post-race pig out.

All in all, it was another great race (in spite of the annoying result), in a great area, with great people. It was especially special getting to share it with Deanna, who had her own stories to tell about the race, and new-found appreciation for the sport I think. We’re now both looking forward to our next race, which is a week from when this gets posted, where we’ll race as a team of 2. That race, we vow to both complete with honour 🙂 But who knows, it’s adventure, so anything could happen, right? As always, I’ll lick my wounds, and return to the battlegrounds once again to challenge my demons and my fellow combatants. Till that time, hand tight friends, and thanks for sticking with me through the whole story!!

Fall Classic Delivers the Thrills!

Well, hello again all my friends! I’m back with yet another fun race story to share with you all. This is one of my staple races that I like to do every year, the Frontier Adventure racing Fall Classic, a 12-14 hour adventure race. It’s just one of those races that is always a good time, and is a fitting close to my summer racing season, meaning that at the end of the race, I can enjoy a few beers :-). I had registered for this race quite some time ago, but even a week before the race, I was team-less. However, that wouldn’t prove to be any problem. Read on for the whole tale of why, and don’t forget to check out my pictures from the race. You can also check out a whole pile of other pictures here.


So just why wasn’t it a problem that I had no team? Well, in a nutshell, it was because I could do the race solo, and decided to do so. However, although I was registered as a solo, I would NOT be alone. Hunh? How does that work? Well, another thing about this race is that I have a habit of racing it with at least one complete newbie to the sport. I’m not sure why, but it always seems to work out that way. And this year, that newbie was none offer than Deanna! Yup, she wanted to tackle the race, and was registered as a solo. I decided that I would take the opportunity to race it with her, and maybe ‘coach’ her through her first race. Also seemed like that might be a good test for our relationship!

Of course, half of the challenge of these races is just getting to the start line. That axiom proved true, as a combination of factors on both our parts led us to both be late getting on site, Deanna even more so than me. What that meant is that I basically ended up plotting the checkpoints and the route on my own, and poor Deanna only had time to copy them to her map. Not a great start, as I had hoped she would have the experience of planning her race. However, getting gear sorted and getting some sleep were deemed more important. We were set to get up shortly after 4am, and hit the hay around midnight.

No sooner had we really gotten into the deep sleep that the alarm seemed to go off. We both stumbled around eating our oatmeal, and getting ourselves geared up for the day, which included getting the bikes and the gear bag out to TA1 before race start. In the pouring rain. And dark. And cold. Yup, a perfect start to a long day of racing. Deanna took it all in stride, which was quite encouraging. We got that stuff done, and were at the start line with time to spare. Ahead of us lay the following challenges. First, a nice trek to separate the teams. Then, hopping on the bikes for a significant ride that would likely take 5-6hrs for us, then, we were supposed to go for another long trek, and finally transition to our kayaks (since we were solo) and paddle the 15km to the finish line.

With great energy and excitement (not), Geoff announced the start of the race, and nearly 100 teams got underway, a long string of headlamps all heading down the same trail to start. That ended at the road, at which point the first bushwhack was to happen. My plan was to get Deanna to do all the navs, with me only offering advice here and there. However, due to the distinct lack of coffee, it would appear she would need some heavy prompting to get going, as she appeared to have forgotten how to even use her compass right away. We laughed it off, and eventually got ourselves going in the general direction of CP1.

I’d love to tell you all it was a wild adventure and have a crazy story for you here, but you know what? We nailed both CP1, CP2, and even getting to TA1. We took our time, consulting on the decisions, and rationalizing our choices, and it paid off (well, that and staying very close to our bearings). The result? We made it onto the bike course with a respectable time, and even ran into Pete Dobos there. He didn’t look too happy to see us there, given Deanna’s lack of experience. It was priceless. At that point, we had no idea how his race was actually unfolding…

We took our time getting organized here, as I cautioned Deanna that we’d be on the bikes for quite a long stretch, and there were very few checkpoints. As a result, we needed enough food, clothes, and liquids to last us up to 6 hours in the varying weather conditions. The trails were complete unknowns, and given the amount of rain they’d been getting in these parts, combined with Deanna’s loathing of mud had me a little concerned.

Once we were convinced we could make it all the way to the next transition point, we mounted out bikes and pedaled off. IN THE WRONG DIRECTION! Ha ha ha. My fault totally. Luckily, we only went about a kilometer or less before realizing it and doubling back, but it was not a pretty start to this leg. After that, we were underway in earnest, turning the cranks and chatting and laughing as we went. Eventually, the conversation started lagging a bit, and I could tell Deanna needed a bit of encouragement. My solution? Sing silly made-up songs of course 🙂 I also took the opportunity to get her to test out a tow system, so she could get a sense of how they work. However, like a real trooper, she didn’t want to use it much, as she was a solo racer. Great attitude! But it was still worth explaining about the power of the team and the fact that everyone has weak moments, and that’s when your team-mates step forward and help (without asking). As a result, I told her to give me her pack, and rode with both packs for a chunk of the course. It just made sense.

So, how about the navs and the riding? Well, both were somewhat challenging. There were a myriad of criss-crossing ATV trails throughout the bike leg, and even washed out bridges. That meant having to keep a keen eye on both the map and the odometer. However, the problem was that my odo had stopped working due to the moisture and the mud. Mud? Hells yeah, There was no shortage of it on the course. At one point, we mused about the fact that we should take some and sell it as high-end Muskoka mud therapy to yuppies. However, once Deanna fell into the stuff for the third of forth time, she no longer saw the therapeutic benefits that it may possess, and simply wanted to get out of it.

Unfortunately, it was a long slog, and nearing the end of the bike, a lot of people had suffered. There were lots of bikes with no brakes (I later found out I had burned my pads to bare metal myself!). There were lots of shifter issues, and chain suck too. Then there was the determined fellow who was riding along on a completely flat tire, due to a bead separation and 3 tube changes. At one point, he cheerily informed me that it actually rode quite well on a flat. I just took his word for it.

The last section of the bike was along the power lines, and popped us out on a road that we’d follow to TA2, Well, at least that’s what happened for teams not doing the ‘advanced course’. We were not one of those teams. Also, we realized that we were cutting it close to make it onto the next leg. We had to get to the TA by 13h00, and we rolled in at 12h45. That was when we had to make a critical decision. The next trek leg was quite long, probably 8km, much of it straight bushwhacking, which can take a very long time. Unfortunately, the next cut-off was at 15h00, giving us a mere two hours and a bit to get it done. At that point, if we missed the cut-off, we’d DNF and be shuttled to the finish.

The alternative was to bike along the roads to the TA, so that we could paddle. We opted for this for a couple reasons. First, we really wanted to finish the race (especially in light of our last race!), and that gave us the best chances to do so. Second, it was Deanna’s first race, so we didn’t want to push too hard. Also, we both really wanted to do the kayak, as we’d both been looking forward to it. To us, it was still going to give us the full experience of an adventure race, since we’d done a trek / bushwhack, a long bike with lots of challenges, and then cap it off with a long paddle. All the elements that make up a good race. There would always be future races to push harder and do more, right? It was clearly the right call, especially once we learned from Geoff that the top teams were taking 1hr45mins or so to get through it!

So back on our bikes we went, getting tired, but still in good spirits and looking forward to the next leg. When we finally did close in on the TA3 for the boats, who should we run into again, but Pete! It was rather odd. He was not in the best spirits, as he was not having what he would consider an ideal race. However, we had just the thing for him. We’d had the fore-sight to actually pack a tetra-pack of wine in our transition bag. So, we cracked it open and passed it around to all those around the transition.

Due to our short-course decision, we now had a bit of time gained, so once again took the time to properly prepare for the long paddle. I even put on a dry top and used a skirt. After all, this paddle was on paper quite straightforward. No portages, no whitewater, no rocks, just a bit of navigation around some islands. Deanna got all ready too, rocking her new gloves, and keen to try out her rental kayak. Boy, if only we’d known how badly that would go at the TA…..

So, what was the problem? How about a kayak that would do nothing except go right and left for Deanna. As hard as she tried she just could not get it to track straight, which was quite frustrating for her (and yes, a bit for me too). After a while of suffering like that, we rigged up a tow line from my boat to hers, hoping that if I just paddled hard, it would sort of pull her boat straight as she paddled. No dice. Instead she only succeeded in creating drag for me, and still going side to side. At this point, we were making quite a spectacle for other teams calmly paddling by in their canoes. We definitely did not look professional here 🙂

We finally had enough, and I suggested we pull over to a dock for me to try out the boat. I convinced her to just get in my boat while I ‘tested’ it. In reality, I had no intention of letting her paddle it again. I guess my experience of paddling many more boats in different situations paid off, as I was able to break her in and convince her to track straight for me. So, we were finally off at our nice pace. It was quite peaceful out there, and luckily, the rain was pretty much done, which meant we didn’t get too cold. In fact, we even took off our hats to cool off a bit.

The paddle was pretty decent, but the day was starting to wear on Deanna a bit. She was definitely feeling it, but had the right attitude. When asked, she’d just say, “Well, I know there’s nothing else to do but paddle, so that’s what I’m doing”. That’s as simple as it gets sometimes in a race. You grit your teeth, and you DO it. No time for whining or over-analyzing. Paddling gets you to the finish. That’s for sure.

There were some interesting cross-waves as we crossed some open stretches of water, but we both dealt with them well. I credit the overly challenging water conditions we faced in a canoe a few weeks back in Prince Edward County. That day, the waves were also cross-waves, but much bigger, so today was a walk in the park so to speak. Others were not so lucky on that front, with some teams bailing in their boats and needing a rescue. (Is this where I mention Pete again? For his full story, you *really* should read his race report in 2 parts).

Luckily, no such thing would be needed for us. We just paddled, and paddled, and paddled. We finally rounded a bend and I realized it was the final stretch of paddle. Still a few km, but a straight run up the shore. We started musing a bit about the whole day, and what a great experience it was, even more so because we did it together. Deanna was very kind and thankful that I’d raced with her, and I was just really happy to be with her and seeing her succeed. It definitely was making up for the dreaded double DNF we suffered at Logs Rocks and Steel.

There was no real fanfare when we finally reached the virtual finish line, but to us, the feeling was still pretty awesome. A lot of people had been rooting for Deanna, and it was nice knowing that she would live up to their expectations. After all, she’s volunteered at so many of these races, that a lot of people know her. Not to mention her dad and uncle were also there helping out. I’m sure I wouldn’t have heard the end of it from them if she hadn’t finished! We finally pulled the kayaks up on the shore, and it was once and for all shower time! Yay!

Sadly, the cottage key was in my car, at the start line, located close, but not that close. I tried bushwhacking to get to it, and was met with several water crossings. D’oh! Once I got the keys and car and returned, I found out that our roomie had already let her in.

That’s pretty much the end of the race tale. As you may guess, the rest of the evening was pretty fun. For starters, the showers, dry clothes, food, and beer were tops. Then, there was the Jiffy Pop that I cooked up outside. Sadly the side blew out of it, and we ended up eating popcorn off the deck, but luckily, Deanna had learned earlier in the day just why racers are willing to eat off the ground :-). We finished the night off by heading to the bar to meet up with some other racers and volunteers, and stayed there till we were well and truly ready to crash.

The next day opened up sunny, so we got up, had breakfast, and took advantage of the weather to do some geocaching in the area. After all, fall in the Muskokas is truly beautiful. Sadly, it then came time to wrap up the weekend and for me to start the 5 hour drive back to Ottawa. All in all though, I had no complaints. I was, and remain, very proud of Deanna for sticking with the race the way she did, and fighting all the way to her first-place solo female finish (what? I didn’t mention that? Well now I did!). She is already contemplating her next race, but has also acknowledged that there may be some training required, which we will hopefully be able to do together with greater frequency in the near future!

Tip of the cap yet again to Geoff and all the crew who put on the race. Weather wasn’t perfect, but the course was crafted in a way that with the right decisions, pretty much everyone was able to finish it, and get a lot out of it. I know I did! Now onto a bit of resting for a few weeks (or not, future blog posts will tell the tale…). Take care all, and hope to see you out there somewhere.

[Not so Triumphant] Return to Overnight Racing!

Ahhh Adventure Racing. Probably one of the ‘fringest’ of the fringe sports, right? We toil in obscurity, with both the racers and the races themselves pretty much unknown. We train for hours on end in places unknown, be it the wide open roads or deepest forests or raging rivers. And what for? Well, the chance to take part in really cool events like the Wilderness Traverse, a new 24-hour adventure race put together by the incomparable Bob Miller. Yup, whether you finish or not is never certain when you start, but you can pretty much be guaranteed a good time. That brings us to this post, a brief tale about my teams performance at this race. I hadn’t done a 24-hour race in a couple years so I was pretty stoked. Read on to learn more about it, and don’t forget to check out the pictures I managed to get from the event.

As I talked about earlier this year, my racing plans for this summer included a lot more off-road races, and the intention to return to more pure off-road racing. This race piqued my interest early in the season, as a lot of people I know would be racing it, and it was put on by Bob Miller, a well-respected racer and course designer. The fact that it was a 24-hour race was just the icing on the cake. I’d also confirmed with Carl early on that he was game to do it, so we just needed two more people to round out our team, and that came in the form of J-R and Marie-Noel from the Montreal region. Sweet, let the games begin!

The location for this backcountry adventure was the Haliburton region. Plenty of lakes, hills and trails criss-crossing this way and that. It had all the hallmarks of a classic race, although we wouldn’t be privy to exactly what style race it would be until the race briefing and map distribution the evening before the race start. Our first challenge was finding the start location, as we had no map or directions. Oops. Our convoy of 3-4 cars sort of drove around till we found it. Ha ha. Once onsite we worked through gear check and registration, and waited for the maps.

Maps in hand, the race was on. Yeah, I consider this part of the race, even though the start gun hasn’t gone off, since you have to scramble to prep maps, pack bags and get everything ready. Goal was to be set early enough to get a decent amount of sleep. It was soon clear that this was definitely going to be an interesting race. Although things looked straightforward at first (Trek start, transition to paddle, back to trek, finish with biking), they were anything but. A deep dive into the paddle route quickly uncovered an impressive amount of portaging that we’d need to tackle. Luckily, Bob had secured relatively light canoes for this epic lake paddle. I think about a third of the total distance was portages!!! The mountain bike leg also appeared as though it would be a great mix of trails, although we’d never actually see it (more on that later). The treks, well, they were just what we expected and hoped for. Long distances, few checkpoints, and lots of route choices, including whether to swim to shorted treks.

I focused on the treks and bike legs, and let the rest of the team sort through the various paddle maps to better understand that route, and where all the portages would be located. The team-work helped us wrap up in time to head back, laminate all the maps, and hit the hay.

Weather in the morning looked ok, but we were aware that rain was a definite possibility later in the race. No problem, we all had extra clothes in the transition bags, and waterproof jackets just in case, right? The answer is yes, but you’ll see how that wasn’t quite enough :-(. There were lots of teams taking part, and before the race, we had a nice pancake breakfast where we all got to mingle and chat about our thoughts for the race. All agreed the paddle would make an interesting section with all the boat hauling. Before I knew it, we were loaded onto buses and heading to the remote start. And yes, the majority of the race was quite remote, perfect!

Opening trek: no problemo. We chose the route that the majority of teams did, and it was basically some nice bush-whacking with only one checkpoint between the start and the transition to the paddle. We worked really well as a team, and made good time. We arrived at transition in 9th place, gaining 4 spots between CP1 and the transition. There a great chart of all the splits on the website as well. Of course it gets depressing when you see where we screwed up :-(.

In the paddle, we continued to work well as a team, and had a pretty good system with our portages. Everyone did some portaging, and Marie-Noel was easily proving to us how strong she will likely some day be in this sport. After all, this was only her 2nd race, and 1st race of this length. I actually felt really good in the paddle, and towards the end, was happy to shoulder the boat for a lot of the portages. I guess all that paddle training in prep for UXC paid off a bit. It helped that the canoe was quite comfortable to carry. I will say this for the paddle though. DEATH TO ALL MOSQUITOES!!!! Towards the end, all four of us were literally losing our minds from all the friggin buggers! We had chose to paddle a series of lakes at the end rather than take a super-long portage, and may have made the wrong call, as the bugs were uber-intense in all the portages, and each put-in had us in little creeks moving slow, so they were able to harass us all the way!

By the time we got off the water, we were totally bonkers over the bugs, and did everything we could to avoid them, but in transition, it was basically a buffet for the bastards. At one point there was apparently blood all over my head from bites. Yuck! on the plus side, it forced us to move quickly, and get ready for the next section, the crux of the race, an epic trek. We’d juggled a few spots during the paddle, but ended up in 10th coming off the water. We were happy with that.

The next trek had lots of route choices, but we had all agreed on our strategy, and got right to work on it. Part of the strategy involved a pretty long swim, but would shave several kms off the trek. We agreed that if it was still light, and weather was good, we’d swim. Otherwise, do the trek. It was close, but we made the call to swim. Rather than give anyone time to think too much, I stripped right down, put my clothes in a dry bag, and got in. J-R is not a very confident swimmer (understatement), but we coaxed him in, with the promise that he’d only have to do the first section, as we’d stop at an intermediate point, and only a couple of us would swim on to get the next CP. Carl and Marie-Noel volunteered for that task while J-R and I ate, and I checked maps, times, etc. Marie was kick-ass, and just put her head down and swam hard like a true triathlete. Carl stayed at about the mid-point, then they both came back. We took the time to let them regroup a bit, then took off before they got cold. By this point, darkness was coming down.

That move bumped us up to 9th place overall, and we pressed on hard. We made great nav choices, and moved quickly through the brush to the next CP. The logs show that we gained another spot, and moved up to 8th place here. Sweet. The next section looked pretty straightforward. Circle a big lake, then bear straight east to CP8. Seemed we’d be home free. WRONG! This is where things fell apart for us. It was around midnight now, and the darkness had engulfed us. The maps lacked great detail, and every time we tried to pick our way to the lake where we wanted to be, we’d run into more rivers and creeks. We’d decided to try and stay dry in order to avoid any risk of getting cold. We also ran into other teams having similar issues, some of which I have great respect for. If *they* were confused, what hope did we have? Well, we should have just trusted out instincts I think. In the end, we lost at least 2 hours in that area. VERY disappointing, but that’s AR, right?

Eventually we DID get on the good foot, and got to follow our East bearing. The result though? Well, once we got to CP8, the transition to bikes, we’d lost 3 spots, and were sitting in 11th once again. Not only that, but during the last hour of the trek, the rain started. And I’m not talking a sprinkle, I’m talking about a soul-crushing rain. We ignored it for a long time, just focusing on the trek, but upon arrival at CP8, it was clear this was going to put a wrench in our plans.

The other thing? Well, it was now 5:30am! We’d already been racing almost 22 hours. This was called a 24-hour race, but we knew the bike was gonna take a minimum of 7hrs for us in good conditions, probably more! An impossible feat in our minds. In truth, we had 30 hours to finish, but at this point, with the weather, finishing that section was pretty unlikely. At that point we were given an option. Bob Miller informed CP staff over the radio that teams coming in now could take the roads to return to the finish instead of the trails, and would be ranked officially. It was still 50km, but on roads, rather than 75km of trails. I made the team decision at that point (yup, the tough decisions you have to make when you are ‘leading’) that we’d take the roads. My primary goal was for all 4 of us to finish together, in order for Marie-Noel to get an official finish, and I just didn’t see the math working if we attempted the trails, which would now be a complete disaster.

Given that even the very best teams took 7+ hours to finish that section, I stand by my decision. We just didn’t have it in the tank. Truth be told, if we hadn’t had that option, it isn’t even clear to me we would have continued. But we were glad to have that option. We took the time to warm up a bit, all changed into dry clothes, and figured it’d be a slog, but we’d wrap up the race in the next 3-4 hours. Then to celebrate.

We took off in good spirits, singing and chatting. After all, straight roads on bikes, minimal nav, and only 50k separating us from ‘personal’ victory. Sadly, mother nature decided to mess with us a bit more. The rain was absolutely relentless. And the temps dropped to 9 or less. Funny thing about the human body after >24 hours of physical exertion. It has no ‘extra’ energy for warming you up. We started getting cold, and it got worse and worse. Eventually, it was clear a couple people were succumbing to early hypothermia. Every downhill where our speed kicked up, would send bone-chilling winds through us. No amount of Gore-tex would appear to be able to help.

Eventually, we had to pull off, and Carl huddle with Marie-Noel, who was in very bad shape, under a space blanket. I chose to continue with J-R (who was also very rough) to seek somewhere dry and warm to call for help. As we rode, J-R was shivering and shaking pretty uncontrollably, and could no longer speak. I was very concerned he’d wipe out and get injured any second, and was desperate to find safety. We finally found an ‘outdoor center’ open at the early hour, and popped in there.

Once there, J-R stripped down and was given towels to dry and warm up. I broke out the radio and made the very difficult call of requesting a medical evacuation. We were unsure how Marie-Noel was, and needed to get picked up. I’ve never had to do that in a race, and it was not a happy or easy thing to do, but it was the right call. Later, we learned we were only 12k away from the finish. Very rough. C’est la vie though, and we’d all live to race another day with smiles on our faces. For the record, we were far from the only teams to have to bail.

Out of 19 teams that had started the race, only 15 of us got to the bike start, and by the time the rain cleared, only 8 teams ended up finishing the race. Yup, 42% success rate. That’s another hallmark of a ‘classic’ race, when a lot of teams don’t even finish. We were in good company.

Much later, once all back at HQ, relatively dry and looking back on our race, we were still happy. It was a hard race, and we did well to get as far as we did. The screw-up on the trek is obviously a sore spot for me, but even if we’d gotten those 2 hours back, I’m not convinced we’d have completed the full journey. However we might have at least seen some of the epic mountain biking that they had in store for us. I guess the best part of the post race was when J-R turned and said “So when do we do it again?”. We had a great team dynamic, and had worked through all our problems with relative peace through the course. That’s not always easy in this kind of race. We also are always learning from these races, so you want to try again, just to see if you can do better.

So when do we do it again? Not sure right now. Next couple events are more solo events for me, but there’s always another race, right? At the moment, I’m seeking 2 people to round out my FAC champs team for September, so if you’re interested, give me a shout 🙂 Post race festivities were minimal, and after the awards and packing up, I headed out for Toronto, where I was slated to attend a conference starting 7am the next morning. Could be interesting given that I’d gotten no sleep all weekend, and had to clean gear and [happily] would also be spending time with Deanna later that night!

So endeth the tail of Wilderness Traverse. Next up in the story-factory… Ultimate XC!! My most grueling solo race to date. Lots to say there too, so stay tuned 🙂 Till then, stay cool kids, it’s mighty hot out there!

Of Racing, Redemption, and Relaxation

Hello sports fans! I’m back to try and catch you all up on another of my recent weekend activities. This time, I’ll be tackling what I did over the May long weekend. Originally, the plan was pretty simple. Race hard at the Raid Pulse 5-8 hour Adventure Race at Lac de L’Argile, then spend the remainder of the long weekend prepping my house for my housewarming party the following weekend. However, when I got an invitation to do some camping in Prince Edward County, I put the kibosh on the second part of my plan and decided the weekend would be about racing and relaxing! With that, I’ll present you with a brief summary of both activities, which I’ve conveniently put into one set of pictures for you all to check out on my flickr page. I also put together a map of the actual race. No pictures on this map, but you can check out the terrain. After you’ve had a quick look at those, head on back for a quick report on the race and the camping.

As you might have already gathered from my oh-so-witty alliterative title, the race went pretty smoothly for me and my team (actually, 2 teams, but you’ll read that in a moment). A few weeks back, I was racing solo at Deerhurst resort in the FAC race, and unfortunately, due to a navigational snafu, my hopes of a good placement were dashed on the rocks. The goal for Raid Pulse was (as it always is) to have a strong, and technically flawless race, which if all works well, would lead to a good overall standing. For this race, the competition would once again be very stiff. Starting the race was over 60 teams, all chomping at the bit and hoping to do well. I was racing with my team-mate Carl, so we were in the very competitive duo male category. However, we decided to race not as a pair, but as a 4-person team before starting the race.

How did that happen you ask? Well, simple. As it turned out, there was another 20-person co-ed team racing, and it so happened it was out two team-mates for the 24-hour wilderness traverse adventure race that would be happening two weeks later. Since they live in the Montreal region, we hadn’t trained with them at all, and it was actually Marie-Noel’s first ever race! So before the race, we decided that we’d all race together as part of training and preparation for Wilderness XC. It’s always more fun with 4 people anyway. We agreed to race smart, share the workload, and have buckets of fun, no matter what! While the weather outlook had looked dodgy, it ended up being pretty good race conditions. Mostly dry, and good temperatures.

It looked as if bad luck would plague us before even starting this race. On our way to the start line, which was a 2km bike ride away, JR ended up getting a puncture on one of his tubeless tires! We sprinted to the front of the start area, and proceeded to carry out a formula-1 tire change as the race director was counting down for the start. We got a new tube and the tire re-mounted just in time for the starting gun. Talk about a stressful start. The whole first section was a nice bike ride through lots of ATV trails and some singletrack. As a team, we were moving pretty well together, helping each other whenever it was needed to keep our speed up as a team. I had taken on the navigation duties, and was very anxious to prove myself to everyone in light of the upcoming 24hr race. For the bike section, things went very well, and we got through it in very respectable time.

At the end of the bike was the ever-popular trekking section, generally the crux of any race, as you are literally on your own in the woods, making route choices to try and find the checkpoints. We made sure we were all eating and drinking lots, to make sure we didn’t bonk later when it mattered. We were obviously hoping to get to the advanced course, but nothing was certain. As the trek progressed, we continually seemed to nail our checkpoints, with my navs bringing us out usually very close to exactly where we wanted to be. It was definitely a confidence booster, and felt good to not have to wander around or back-track to re-set the clock. Sadly, I’d forgotten my watch once again, but with 4 of us, we were more methodical about ensuring we didn’t stray too far from the time goals we set for finding features.

With high spirits, we popped out of the final section of the trek right where we wanted to, and now had to make our way along the camping area to the beach where our boats were waiting for the paddle section. With no certainty about which roads were dead end or not, we made one slight error and ended up on the wrong side of a creek. Rather than circle around, we opted to just swim across, since the beach and boats were literally just on the other side. The water wasn’t too cold, and we probably saved 5 or so minutes by swimming, so it was totally worth it.

We were now onto the last stage of the race, a nice triangular paddle on the lake to pick up two more checkpoints. Depending on what time we finished that off, we’d have the option to challenge to the advanced course. As we were paddling along, we verified the time, and realized that we were a mere 20 minutes away from the cut-off, but had at least an hour of paddling ahead of us. D’oh! No advanced course for us. In spite of that, we didn’t let up the pressure in the least, as there were teams within sight of us both ahead and behind. With decent paddling, we stayed ahead of the teams behind, and even managed to pip one or two teams ahead before finally running back to the finish line.

As usual, I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t have the opportunity to race the advanced course, but still really happy with the way our team worked and raced together. The personalities gelled pretty well, and some of the overly-competitive characteristics were evened out by the need to help each other to get through it. We couldn’t feel TOO bad about not doing advanced, as only 7 teams actually got to it. We still finished quite competitively, and ahead of a lot of others. In fact, we tied for 14th overall, which I was plenty happy with, given the fact that it was our first race together, and Marie-Noel’s first race EVER! More importantly, we’d gotten to know each other well enough that we were comfortable to be heading into a 24 hour adventure race as a mentally strong team. That’s probably the most nerve-wracking aspect of a longer race: will we get along? There would undoubtedly still be some mental challenges, but I was now sure we could get through any of those challenges!

Once the race was done, it was time to move on to the more relaxing and social aspects of my weekend. Basically, I showered, loaded all my gear back onto my car and set out again on the lonely roads for a 4.5 hour drive from the race site to Prince Edward County where I was meeting up with Deanna for a couple nights of quiet riverside camping. Admittedly I was a bit tired from the early rise, and the day of racing, but I managed to keep my eyes open while driving. I made only one stop on the way, and that was for gas, and to fill my belly with Kentucky Fried Chicken AND Taco Bell. Yup, it was a crazy meal choice, but I was starving, and didn’t want a grumbling tummy while I fumbled in the dark trying to set up the tent!

I made pretty good time and showed up just after dark, about an hour and a half earlier than I had expected to get there. I also arrived to find that we weren’t alone that night. There were a number of relatives enjoying a roaring campfire as I pulled in. Luckily, that also meant there was a nice gooey s’mores ready to greet me made by D’s sister Cheryl. Yum! Just what I needed. A little chocolate fix. The tent was set up fairly uneventfully before I joined the gang at the fire and enjoyed the warm flames and the beautiful evening. Had some nice quiet time on the dock a bit later as well, just enjoying the evening. Every time I camp I’m reminded again why I love it so much. Nothing quite like canvas walls and the sounds of the outdoors enveloping you!

The remainder of the weekend was spent remembering how to relax and just enjoy life unfolding around you. We were pretty lazy around the campsite, hanging out near the water and on the dock, as well as having fun camp snacks and general camping fun-ness 🙂 Our only real plan was to head out on bikes to do a bit of biking around the county, and hit the County Cider company for lunch. We made our way out, and for the first time in a long time, I will tell you that I wore NO helmet, and had ‘civilian’ clothes on. Not a stitch of spandex was gracing ActiveSteve’s body! I know, it felt weird too, but quite enjoyable too. Now, if only I hadn’t been riding a fancy-looking bike, I would have fit right in as a country cruiser. Hee hee. Either way, it was a fun ride complemented by a nice meal of wood-fired pizza at the cidery and some wine tasting!

The only other outing of note was a trip into Picton for Ice Cream on a whim. I’d never been to ‘Scooperman’s’ before, but will hazard a guess I may just return there. Tasty treats await. Of course, Slickers is still my perennial favourite in that area, but in the heat, Scooperman did the trick! We had a few other visitors throughout the weekend as well, in the form of other relatives popping down to spend some time enjoying the river-side setting, but apart from those little visits, we were the only ones who camped overnight. The second night we made a nice roaring fire, and Deanna even fell asleep by the warmth of the fire. Yup, definitely a peaceful setting, and I’m already looking forward to a return trip (which is actually coming this weekend!)

The moral of the second half of this post? Well, I may be crazy, but I haven’t totally forgotten how to actually slow down and enjoy the simpler pleasures as well. In fact, I may be starting to develop a taste for it again, so maybe, just maybe, I’ll opt to do a bit more camping rather than racing all the time! No guarantees though :-). That’s it for this post, and I still have 2 to write! Dang. Where does the time go?

Foiled by Past Lessons

The Start Gate

Howdy race fans! Time to update you on my first adventure race of the 2010 season. The race in question? The Frontier Adventure Challenge 5-8 hour race held at Deerhurst Resort in the Muskoka region. Yes, the very same resort hosting the upcoming G8/G20 summit in June. And yes, it actually did have an impact on the race and the venue, which I’ll fill you all in on in the coming paragraphs. Although this was supposed to be a ‘short and sweet’ race, you’ll soon find out that my race was anything but. It was longish, and bitter-sweet. I did manage to complete the whole course, including the advanced section, but my placement was deep-sixed by a navigational error of my own doing. That’s what I get for racing solo to really push myself I guess :-(. At any rate, I’ve got a few pictures from the weekend, but no map to share. Bill Young has some great race shots that he took and shared on Facebook as well. If you want the whole funny tale about my race, please read on. I’ll *try* to be succinct.

For starters, an early May adventure race is always a crap shoot. There’s no telling what kind of weather will be in store for racers. Luckily, with the mild winter we’d had, and the generally dry spring we also enjoyed, it looked like the race would be pretty much ideal, right? Well, not so much. Pretty much the moment the starting gun went off, the rain started. And although it didn’t last the whole race, it did manage to start off pretty heavy, and early enough to turn sections of the course into some pretty interesting terrain. Witness this shot for an idea of what the bike section turned into 🙂 Pretty awesome, eh? Of course, as I’ve said before, bad weather really doesn’t bug me in a race. I feed off it, so I was hoping this would be my chance to shine!

I managed to leave work early on Friday, and was therefore at the race site at Deerhurst fairly early in the evening. Since I was racing solo, I was able to get fully registered and gear checked, and just chill out while I waited for the rest of the Ottawa crew that I was sharing a room with. We crashed around 10 or 11, and got a decent nights rest prior to the early morning race briefing. Looking over the maps and plotting out the course, it really looked pretty straightforward. Even the ‘advanced’ section was basically just some trail running on resort trails. They’d had to cut out anything more adventurous as the land around the resort had become ‘off-limits’ due to the G8/G20. The hardest part appeared to be the trekking, and only because it was anyone’s guess what the terrain might be like in the bush. Luckily, I love bushwhacking, and again, planned to just nail it!

Good and ready, I hit the start line. The countdown commenced and boom! We were off. First was a flat-out sprint from the start to the water where the boats were. I got there pretty fast, and was ready to just hop in and kayak away. I was probably about the 12th craft on the water, but basically the 2nd solo from what I could see. I passed a few canoes on the way to the first transition, but was also eventually passed by a couple other kayakers. However, I had a speedy transition, and believe I was the 2nd place solo out of the transition (or 3rd). We were on bikes at this point, and it was a pretty easy nav to get to the next transition to trekking. Half of the bike at this point was roads, half on trails, but not too many confusing intersections to deal with. I was feeling awesome and my performance had me pumped! There was only one uncertain bit to the bike here, as we had been told to find a trail that would take us to CP4 (trekking transition), but there was no real way of knowing whether we were on it. I grabbed what I thought was the trail, double checked the heading, and dug in.

I made the right call 🙂 I was one of the earliest to arrive at the transition. I can’t recall my exact place, but I saw a couple teams there at the same time, and they were the eventual winners, so I was only 10 or so minutes off top pace at that stage. Now of course was the deciding factor. Bushwhacking is always hit or miss. In the past, I’ve been sucked in to following trails, only to have them disappear, leaving you uncertain exactly where you are. As a result, I repeated this mantra in my head: “Trust the bearing, trust the bearing”. I decided to take my bearings, and stick to them. This is a lesson I learned long ago. Keep that in mind 🙂

First nav checkpoint, CP5, I nailed almost dead on. In fact, I came to where I expected it to be, but couldn’t find it. Then I noticed Geoff, the race director, running around the little lake. Apparently, the checkpoint hadn’t been set up yet, so he had it with him! That gives you an idea of where I was in the pack. Very cool in my mind. Elated, I simply doubled back to CP4 in order to take a fresh bearing from a known location. Another lesson I’ve learned. Only two points left to get. Straight shot to CP6, and pretty much nailed that too! Awesome. I was convinced now that I’d be doing very well in the race. I set my compass for the final checkpoint in the trek, and took off in the woods.

I trekked. And trekked. And trekked. Every time I thought I should be there, I kept saying “trust the bearing” and “just over the next hill”. This is where humility turned to humiliation for me. You see, normally I’d wear a watch, that way you know how long you’ve been on a bearing, and can make a decision that yup, you missed it. Without a watch, and with race mentality, I had no clue if I’d been going for 20 minutes or 40 minutes. I tricked myself into thinking I was moving much slower than I was. Big mistake. Eventually, I spotted a clearing, which I hoped was the lake I was seeking. Instead, I came out onto a steep bank leading to a freshly paved road! Hunh? Not on any map I had. I realized it was a subdivision. WTF?!? No houses anywhere on my map either. This was not good, as I realized I wasn’t sure where I’d ended up. I didn’t feel like backtracking in the woods, as that’s too slow, so I decided to try and figure out what roads would take me back on track, so that I could run it.

Upon reflection, I made the wrong decision there too. Although I couldn’t tell from my map, I really wasn’t that far from the lake I had been searching for in the first place. In fact, I could have simply backtracked about 1k or less in the woods to get to the lake. At least, that’s what I’ve pieced together by looking at Google maps, which shows all the new roads! Instead, I ended up running around like a fool on roads for about 7-8km. Aaaargh. Of course, before choosing to do that, I had sought out some assistance from a couple guys working on drywall in one of the houses in this new subdivision. Sadly, between their broken English and my broken Spanish, I ended up running an extra 1.5km in a circle through this subdivision before getting on the good roads. Needless to say, I completely took myself out of the running because I easily lost an hour on a mere 5-8hour race from this error. Fark!

My resolve did kick in though, and instead of throwing in the towel and skipping checkpoints, I decided I WOULD finish this race, and WOULD get to the advanced course before it was closed. I dug deep and RAN this race. I’m almost positive that I was flying through the woods and along those snowmobile trails faster than anyone else had. I was pissed! On the trails heading back to the transition to get my bike back, teams kept passing me on bikes going the other way, encouraging me on. I felt like a tool, as these were teams that I normally be well ahead of, and in fact, I’D be the one encouraging them. I felt like a total rank amateur. Even more fuel for the fire. By the time I got my bike, I was a man-demon possessed! I hopped on the bike, and gave ‘er stink through the mud and water trails on the way back to the resort. After all, I didn’t need to navigate at this point, as I’d JUST finished running along all these roads!

With reckless abandon, I flew past many teams slogging along slowly in deep mud. My legs screamed and I just prayed they’d hold it together till the finish. After all, I had run out of water, so cramping was a possibility if I pushed too hard, but I no longer cared. Once back on the paved roads, I locked out the fork and dropped the hammer again. I kid you not when I say I have not gone that fast on my mountain bike in a looong time, if ever. At one point, on a hill, I glanced down and noticed that I was clocking just over 70km/hr! For real! I didn’t even notice it or think about the consequence of wiping out on the slick roads.

Before I knew it, I had gotten back to the resort, threw my bike on the ground, and barked out to the race staff that I’d be going out on the advanced course. I think I’d made it with about 10 minutes to spare. Put on my running shoes, and tore out of the finish area once again to track down the final 2 advanced checkpoints. Lucky for me, they were both located relatively close to marked trails to which we had a map, so it was just a matter of running hard on the uphills and picking them off. One was located right where expected, but the other was nowhere to be found. Teams were crawling all around where we expected it, and were giving up. I decided not to waste time, but played on a hunch, taking a different trail back down. Guess what I found? Yup, the checkpoint! Saved a bunch of time over other by not wasting my time. Flew back down the trails, and called it a day at the finish line. I was annoyed at my mistake, but overall, very happy with my performance physically. Clearly, my body had been up to the challenge, just didn’t have ‘my’ day, which is always a risk in adventure racing. I can take my lumps.

Luckily, the fun wasn’t over yet for the FAC race. After all these races, there’s always ample time for socializing with other races, as well as awards ceremonies and a post-race meal. First order of business was to unlock my car so that Pete and I could bust out the clean clothes and grab showers. I’d also stashed a half a pizza in the car, and enjoyed a slice. After cleaning up and changing, I headed back to the car and sunshine. Eventually, all my gear was rounded up and put back in the car to stink it up while I partied. In line to wash my bike, I chatted with a bunch of other racers, and just generally enjoyed the atmosphere.

I’d had grand plans to hijack the post-race party and play DJ for it, but as it turns out, at the end of the meal and awards, things pretty much fizzled out in the main reception hall. Luckily, I’d gotten wind of another post-race party in one teams’ suite. Sweet 🙂 I still had to get my boat, and ran a few other mini errands with uber race volunteer Deanna, but eventually, it was back to party mode. In the end, there were probably 12-15 of us in the room. The beer flowed nicely, and there was a great mix of racing friends old and new to talk with and party. Eventually, I got my iPod and took over DJ duties, which is when a bit of madness ensued. At one point, there was some sort of dance-off between me and another racer, and lots of other general silliness. One of the attendees? Lawrence Foster. Don’t know him? Well, he’s the man behind the prey camera on Mantracker, as well as the chase supervisor. He’s a racer as well, which is how he got into that gig in the first place.

Anyway, the party wore on into the wee hours of the morning, with a few eventual noise complaints coming our way from other resort guests. Oh well, it wasn’t my room. Oh yeah, that’s because I had no real room that night! At one point, I was assured there was room for me somewhere in another building. I took note of the building and number for later. The party eventually petered out, with people going there separate ways, including my ‘roomies’ for the night. I wasn’t quite ready to give up the ghost yet though, and went on a walkabout around the resort for a while, including a nice little trip back to the waterfront where the race had started so many hours before. The peace of the night was great to clear my mind, and it was a pretty pure moment by the waters’ edge, just enjoying the world around me 🙂

Sometime around 3 or 4, I stumbled back up to the buildings, trying to make it to my ‘crash pad’. Sadly, the door was locked, and a few soft knocks did nothing to rouse anyone. Being the polite person I am, I decided to seek shelter elsewhere. My only option? My car. Ha! I opted to passenger side, so that no one would think I was drinking and driving, but didn’t think to move gear around to be able to recline or move the seat back. So I had an incredibly uncomfortable 3 hours of sleep in the front. I was beyond caring by that point however. I still went to sleep, happy at how the day had unfolded. Once again, I’d been given the opportunity to do what I love to do, surrounded by others that also love this stuff. What could be better? This is living! I wouldn’t trade a hundred uncomfortable nights in my car for a comfortable night being unable to do the things I love.

The next morning, it was sadly back to reality. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, and joined a few other friends outside to chat. I stuck around a bit longer, to help out a little bit with the high-school race that was going on that day, but sadly, had to leave in order to get home and deal with ‘responsibilities’. After 3 hours of sleep, a tough race, and partying all night, the drive home was a bit mind-numbing. I only stopped once at a Dixie Lee for some delicious fried chicken. 4.5 hours after leaving Deerhurst, I was back at home ready to start my week all over again.

As usual, it was an amazing weekend, and I look forward to many more like it this summer with the various races and training engagements I’ve got planned. Let the ‘Summer of Steve’ begin (a la ‘Summer of George’ Seinfeld reference)! Till next post, y’all have a great time doing whatever it is you do between my stories 🙂

Cottage Champs at the 2009 FAC Champs!

Welcome back to another exciting chapter in the life of ActiveSteve. I’m especially excited to write up the story for the race that I just took part in last weekend. Specifically, I’m talking about the 2009 Frontier Adventure Challenge fall champs which took place at Rosseau Lake in the Muskoka region of Ontario. This is a great race to close off the adventure racing season for a lot of teams, and never fails to impress. The format is simple. 10-14 (or more) hours of gruelling off-road racing mixing orienteering, paddling, trekking, mountain biking, and sometimes swimming. This year’s edition of the race was another doozy with some interesting results, as you’ll learn about if you read my whole post. For starters though, you might want to check out my folder of pictures onflickr (I carried my camera on course), as well as the custom map that I put together of the route we took. If you look through the map, you’ll probably see a couple spots where we strayed from the ‘ideal’ route 🙂 Also, you’ll see it isn’t a complete map, as the battery died on my GPS. For the record, I did have permission from Geoff, the race director, to wear my GPS to make this map. I wasn’t using it as a navigation tool, merely a track recorder. Once you’re done checking that out, come on back and read the rest of the story.

First off, let me give you a quick dump on our race result. I was racing in the co-ed category, and we finished 6th in the category. Overall, we finished in 15th place. You can pore over all the gory details in this spreadsheet if you so desire. A quick look through these sheets will also reveal that of the 43 teams that started, only 20 completed the race under the allotted 14-hour mark. Of those, only 9 teams completed the advanced section. 6 teams managed to finish the race course, but took more than 14 hours. The remaining 17 teams got aDNF, abandoning the course at different points! So all things considered, we were happy with our result.

I was originally thinking of racing this one solo, just to put myself to the test in a real challenge. After all, I’m in great physical shape this year, and just wanted to know where I stacked up against some of the other strong teams. However, with only a couple weeks to go, I was contacted by Alex Provost, a well-experienced racer looking for a team-mate. Having already qualified for the AR World Championships in Portugal in November, I knew he would be a great team-mate. Our 3rd member was Marlene, a girl really excited about trying her first ever adventure race. I decided to join them as these races really are more fun in a team. We were racing as Team Raid Pulse.com, as I had won this race entry at one of the races put on my Raid Pulse. Plus, with Alex taking the lead role, I would have to navigate, and could focus on the physical aspects of the race, while also being able to take some shots during the race.

We booked a cottage at the nearby Clevelands House resort, where we bunked with another team and another solo, for a total of 7 of us in one cottage, and 3 different teams. Hence, the
“Cottage Champions” moniker. You see, we were the only official finishing team in the mix. Our solo guy had to pull out due to mechanical problems, and the other guys finished the race, but after the 6pm cutoff time. Made for a fun weekend though, with all of us sharing a roof and swapping stories. It also helped us save a few pennies, considering the price of accommodations in this area, that was a good thing.

The race itself was laid out in a pretty straightforward fashion. A total of 3 regular sections, plus 1 advanced section if you made the time cutoffs. The opening salvo was a paddle, followed by a nice trekking section, topped off with an epic biking section spanning over 70km! At the tail end of the biking section, if you made it to CP 8 by 3pm, you could tackle the advanced section, which was another tricky little trek. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t have to worry about that section 🙁

At 4am on Saturday, we all found ourselves in the boats bobbing around in the dark waiting for the starting gun. The maps were all drawn up, and we had out ‘ideal’ routes planned out, and were raring to go. It isn’t very often you start a race with a long paddle in the pitch dark. It can make for tricky rescues and such if the weather turns nasty. However, there wasn’t much fast moving water to worry about, although there were plenty of chances to teams to go off route if they weren’t careful (and many did!). Our focus was on paddling steady, and not going off course. Things got a bit dicey a few times, when we passed through more open areas of water, and the wind picked up delivering little swells, coupled with headwinds. When you have 3 paddlers in a canoe, if your paddling isn’t totally in sync, it can be a real frustrating slog. We had our moments, but came our relatively unscathed. I think we came off the water somewhere around 16th place. Interestingly, our position would remain unchanged for most of the race, in spite of a number of boo-boos.

We pulled off a slightly sluggish transition, clocking in at 16 minutes. We could have been a bit quicker, but we took the time to make sure that Marlene had all she needed, and talk a bit about transition strategies before taking off down the road. It was important that we had things planned out, as we didn’t want to go to hard only to realize we forgot something important.

The trek itself was a real fun one for us. We had made a few route decisions the night before which we though might give us a leg up on other teams. It involved taking a gamble on a water crossing. On the map, it looked as though we’d be able to make a short crossing of a swamp / river, and avoid a longer hike around the water. Of course, maps can be deceiving , but in this case, we got lucky. The crossing, although up to our heads in depth, was relatively short, and allowed us to get back on track quickly. We relied on railroad tracks and other features to help keep us on the right route. You’ll note on the map that we did make one fairly major mistake, but luckily, it was on a trail, so although it looks far, we were able to jog most of it, so only lost about 20 minutes. Up to this point Marlene had been doing really great, but towards the end of the trek, we could already see that she was getting a bit tired. This caused us a bit of worry, as we had a 70+km mountain bike on tap next!

Once at the second transition area, we worked hard at a quick transition, in order to keep the momentum going. Any additional stops would start to eat at our ability to reach the cutoff at CP 8 (we were still hoping to do the advanced course). The transition was 11 minutes, and we made sure to grab extra food and water, as we’d be out on the course for quite some time after that.

The mountain bike section was one of the better biking legs I’ve seen in a race in a while. The majority of it was off-road, using a combination of snowmobile trails and powerline trails (always a crapshoot how those ones work out). Although there hadn’t been too much rain recently, there was still for reasons unknown to us, a TON of muddy ‘lake’ puddles all along these trails. The terrain also made it quite difficult to try and do any serious towing of team-mates. Marlene was super-tough and stuck it out, but it was pretty clear to us early in the bike leg that this was going to be a real challenge for her. We did what we could by taking all her weight out of the bag, and towing where possible. However, the amount of stops and slow-downs was increasing, and it would have been easy to get frustrated, but we knew this was going to be more of a ‘fun’ race, and the goal was to get Marlene to the finish line with a big smile on her face, so we had to push hard enough to get it done without breaking her!

However, all that is part of the sport. It’s always great to bring someone new into the sport and see them excited at the finish line, talking about how great it was, and that they really want to do more races. That means “job well done” as a team in my books, and that’s exactly what we pulled off. We had a few navigational errors on the bike, but from what we heard of other teams, that was par for the course here. In the end, we were pretty surprised to learn we hadn’t really lost any positions. Alex had a good head on his shoulders in the navigation department here. Anytime we went a little off, or were uncertain of the trail we had chosen, he was able to clearly rationalize his strategy, and ultimately, it meant we didn’t have any ‘catastrophic’ errors like other teams. We heard of teams making 1.5+ hour mistakes. The most we lost on any error was 20 minutes. Upon review of the whole race, we figured we’d lost about an hour total in navigation issues, which isn’t too bad in this kind of race.

Towards the end of the long pedal, the rain starting pouring for a bit, and Marlene was really having a tough time. However, we had now made our way to gravel roads, where towing was a bit easier. So, we decided to make the “Raid Pulse Train”, a tow-line with all three of us. I was hooked up to Alex, and Marlene was hooked up to me. It made us able to push hard, and let Marlene just coast behind us, towing her to the finish. She is asthmatic, and was having a hard time breathing, but didn’t want to stop to get her inhaler, as we were a mere 5k or so from the finish. What a trooper! Also, there had been 2 other teams trading leads with us over the past while, and we had finally made it to the front of them both, and really didn’t want to lose our position in the dying moments of the race. I know it was a real challenge at this point, but Marlene’s awesome attitude and resolve paid off, and we pulled in to the finish are side by side to cross the line. Sadly, there was no fanfare, as racers were still straggled our all across the course, within only about 12 teams having gotten in before us.

Marlene pretty much collapsed by that point, but was really happy in spite of it all. We re-grouped a bit, and headed in to the mess tent to grab our closing meal. My appetite was waning, but I was still able to wolf down a delicious cheeseburger and a pop before biking back to the cottage to clean up. Normally, there’d be a big ceremony, but due to the trauma of the course, teams were out a lot longer, and Geoff had to send out people to retrieve teams from various places. All that meant that there was no real possibility of having a proper closing ceremony. That was okay by us. We just gathered all our gear and headed back to the cottage to enjoy drinks there while sorting gear and chatting about our experience along with everyone else in the cottage. It was a pretty early night, but ended up just the way I’d want it to.

So there you have it. My official race story from racing as Team RaidPulse.com at the 2009 FAC Champs. Great race, great team-mates, and overall great experience. It made me once again realize why I love adventure racing so much. There are no other comparable race experiences. Why? Because it truly is an EXPERIENCE, not just a race! Couple weeks off now, then an off-road trail running race, and finally a marathon in Hamilton on Halloween weekend, and I’ll be done for the season. Till then… stay Active!