Tag Archives: Deanna

A Little Urban Adventuring

Team on Boats

By now, I’m sure most of you have heard of the Amazing Race, and that most of your are familiar with adventure racing, and that you’ve perhaps also heard of City Chase, a race series that sort of (loosely) combines elements of both AR and the Amazing Race. In a word, they call City Chase an urban adventure challenge. Well this post will give you a taste of how the City Chase actually works, as Deanna and I recently competed in the Ottawa installment. Like the Spartan Race a few weeks back, I was taking part in the race to provide a video race review for Get Out There Magazine. If you’d like to see the video I put together (it’s kind of frantic), have a look at the YouTube video. I actually had no idea how the race would actually play out, as I only knew roughly what it was about, which is that you race around the city using public transit to complete ‘Chase Points’. First team of 2 that does 10 of them and returns to the finish wins. Plain and simple. Well, as we learned, it isn’t quite as straightforward as that. For our first time, we were actually pretty happy to finish in 172nd place in a time of 5hrs 26mins out of over 500 teams that started out. Besides the little video review I put together, you can also check out the photos that I snapped and posted on flickr. As I was focused on the video and racing, there aren’t too many I liked. When you’ve had a peek at those, pop on back and read about the race!

Okay, so we’ve established that in City Chase, there are Chase Points and you race around the city. You can only go by foot or public transit, which in the case of Ottawa means the O-Train or buses. Every participant was given a 1-day bus pass to use for that purpose. Being a Saturday though, I knew a lot of the routes would have limited bus runs, so Deanna and I did a lot of walking instead of waiting. Lucky for us, the weather on race day was absolutely gorgeous. Sunny skies and temps that would eventually climb to around 30 degrees. Hydration would be important over the course of the 6 hours. I should point out that the race has a hard cap. All teams must have crossed the finish line by the 6 hour mark to officially finish. This can be tricky with the public transit equation, and plays into strategy. Given that 40 or so teams ‘tied’ for 384th with a time of 6 hours even, I’m guessing they let that slide a bit. Amazingly, the top team finished in just over 3 hours! Preparation is the key, which leads me to the explanation of Chase Points.

After a group warm-up at city hall, and a race briefing, the Chase was on. We were told the Official Clue Sheet was available at Lisgar Field, meaning all 1100 racers would be bolting over there to get the information. The clue sheet outlines the Chase Points, and lays out the rules. In total, there were 31 possible Chase Points set in 4 groups. In the first 3 groups, you HAD to complete at least 2 of the chase points (these groups had 3, 4, and 4 CPs respectively), then choose 4 from the 4th group. I expected each clue would just tell you where to go and the nature of the challenge. Nope! It is actually a list of different puzzles, like cryptograms, plays on words, cryptic clues, etc. For example, our first CP we went to was called “Tinkle Toes” and the clue read: Bih-kuhm uh pruh-fesh-un-nl bawl-room dahn-ser aht wuhn uhv thee lee-ding dahns stoo-dee-ohs in ot-uh-wuh. Meet uhs aht wuhn huhn-drid and fif-tee-wuhn Chap-uhl Street. Obviously it was just a phonetic clue, so I got it quickly, but there were all sorts of other puzzles to unscramble.

Experienced teams took clue sheets and basically sat down with a map and smartphone. They worked at unscrambling the clues and trying to figure out where each of the challenges was, and tried to plot an efficient route between them that they could complete as quickly as possible in order to get back to the finish line quickly. Also, those keen on winning probably did CP #1, which was done in advance by raising at least $50 for Right to Play. Deanna and I were not quite as experienced, instead trying to figure out a nearby one we could start with. However, there were also 3 CPs which were awarding VIP line passes to the first 25 teams through, allowing teams to skip to the front of the line if they got to busy CP. I thought that might be a good idea, so with that in mind, we bee-lined for the dance studio to do Twinkle Toes. This was a matter of a jog through downtown to get to Rideau and Chapel. Luckily, we were amongst those first 25 teams, and the challenge, which had us do a dance routine, wasn’t too hard, and we were awarded our VIP pass. Happy with this, we set back out into the sun to get to our next CP, which we hadn’t decided on yet. We’d already burned up about 45 minutes for 1 CP!

To solve a couple of the clues, we had to get creative, first calling on Kevin to try and work on a crossword puzzle for us, then rummaging in a store recycle bin to get a Friday newspaper, which had a clue buried within it. While working on the puzzles, we headed back to the Ottawa U campus on foot, where one of the CPs was, and it was right up my alley! Put on by the Ottawa Orienteering Club, you were given a map of the campus indicating the location of 10 control points that you had to punch. I got to work on it right away, running from point to point with Deanna on my heels. We got all 10 controls in about 17 minutes, one of the fastest times of all the racers. Having completed only 2 CPs, we were starting to get nervous already, as we had 8 to go! We decided we’d need to actually do a little planning and strategizing. We now had 2 ‘optional’ CPs done, and needed all our mandatory ones. With that in mind, we solved a bunch of the clues and made a rough plan. We would head downtown where we could pick up 1 CP on Queen Street, 2 CPs on Bank Street, then head out to LeBreton for another CP. Grab a bus towards Westboro where we’d pick up 2 more CPs, then take a bus to the O-Train. From there, take train to Mooney’s Bay for our final 2 CPs before transiting back to the finish line. With a freshly-minted plan, we headed out on foot with purpose.

Our next CP had us at the Royal Oak at 188 Bank, where we had to each prepare a drink and serve to the judge. There was a huge line-up, but our VIP pass was used for maximum benefit here, allowing us to skip the line. Perfect! Sadly, there was no real alcohol in the drinks, and they weren’t something you’d want to sample, as it was dirty glasses and questionable ingredients. Too bad, as it was getting pretty darn hot. Deanna had one slight problem with her drink. Rather than reading ‘1/2 oz’ of Vodka, she tried pouring a 1/2 glass of vodka! The judges admired her strong drink mixing skills, but decided it might be best to try again :-). In spite of that, we were in and out quickly.

Further down the street at Bank and Gilmour, we grabbed a Blackberry from Rogers for the next challenge, which was to take 4 pictures (out of 6 possible clues) within 30 minutes and bring them back to the judges. This was another pretty quick task, which we completed lickety-split. We were now getting a bit more confident and had found our groove. There were lots of other teams out and about, all having a great time and shouting out to each other all through downtown. We now headed up to Queen Street to find the GoodLIfe fitness. Once there, we had to spend 7 minutes on spin bikes sweating it out as an instructor shouted instructions. If we weren’t totally hot from the sun, this workout put us WAY over the top. We finished the challenge and stepped back out totally drenched and looking for some relief.

Lucky for us, our next CP was just the ticket. We now made our way to the west end of downtown to find the whitewater practice area around LeBreton Flats, where inflatable kayaks awaited us. For this challenge, we had to grab a boat, and navigate the whitewater gates down the river for a bit before pulling out and carrying the boat back to the start. The water was a nice refreshing treat, even though we didn’t get to stay or swim for very long. However, the rocks and sand were absolutely scorching, causing both of us to burn our feet! Once again, we had a great run there, and were back on our way soon, this time heading for the transitway to grab a bus to Westboro. Destination? The Ottawa Gymnastics Centre for a super-fun CP where we got to do trampoline work, climb ropes, play on the rings, the pommel horse, balance beam, and the rings. The piece de resistance for us here was doing 5 cartwheels in a row, which anyone who knows Deanna might realize she wasn’t particularly good at those. However, under pressure, she nailed it!

Our reward for a job well done awaited just down the street at the CP called ‘The Mask’. This CP was located at a spa, and entailed me giving Deanna a lovely cucumber and peppermint facial. She had to wear the mask for 3 minutes. Once the time was up, I cleaned her up, and we had to take a ‘mystery shot’, which ended up being apple cider vinegar. YUCK! Luckily, it was watered down by the time we got to it, thanks to the many teams before us. With this CP done, we were left with only 2 more CPs, both of which were at Mooney’s Bay. A bus and the O-Train later, we were jogging to the site. First up was a puzzle CP where we had to assemble 6 puzzles of places in the world, and match the name of the place to each one after making the puzzle. The puzzles were pretty straightforward, and we quickly worked through them, also correctly matching the place names since I knew most of them from sight. Our only problem was the wind which had picked up and kept blowing our puzzle pieces away. Kind of frustrating, but what can you do?

Our very last CP was right up my alley as well. It involved paddling a kayak out to a buoy and back. However, it wasn’t THAT easy. The real challenge was that your teammate had to be seated on the front of the boat as you paddled. If you flipped, you had to start again. There were a range of boats, and one caught my eye. Fat and wide. Ultra stable. I told Deanna to just hop on the front and we’d get ‘er done quick. Sure enough, no problems. As we were out there, we saw another team trying the same, but they had picked a sleeker kayak, and didn’t fare well. In other words, they flipped! On our return I suggested they take our kayak. After all, we were all done and only had to get to the finish line now. Wrapping up was quick and painless, as we just had to take transport back to the Rideau Centre and walk over to City Hall. We’d had a great day and were plenty hot, so we were looking forward to finishing up. Hand in hand, we ran to the finish to complete the Challenge. Once there, they told us we were among the first 180 teams to finish, and directed to get a goodie bag.

Amongst the goodies? Two free beer tickets to use at the Hard Rock for the post-race party! Awesome! What a great way to finish the race. After hanging around for a little bit, we hit the market and the bar for beers. We sat with a few other racers and swapped stories. It was fun to hear about some of the other CPs that we didn’t get to try, including one where you had to let a tarantula or snake crawl all over you! The bar was totally full now, as more and more teams finished off and made their way here. We only stayed a little bit, as we’d also decided to head over to Zak’s for milkshakes, then join Dave and Meghan at Hintonburger for some delicious supper. All in all, a really fun way to spend a summer day with Deanna, and getting to show her a bit more about the city she now calls home. Can’t say for certain, but I can see us doing it again next year as well. Next time I’m sure we’ll approach it even more strategically and try to better our last time :-). Till that time, have fun, and hope you’re all enjoying the fine weather as well! Ciao.

Cycling Through Toledo and California

The Team Ready

Welcome back to another report from me, Activesteve, on my latest exploits. This time I’ll be covering a little cycle touring that Deanna and I did with a group of friends last weekend. The tour? Rideau Lakes. The distance? 370km over the course of two days. Biking from Ottawa to Kingston, and then back again. Yes, it’s a lot of time in the saddle, but with good weather and great friends, it really doesn’t feel all that bad. And luckily, we had both those ingredients with us on the weekend. I’ve done the tour once before, but this time, we were a different group, and took a different route. Read on for the whole story, and don’t forget to check out the pictures that I snapped along the way!

The decision to do the tour was actually rather straightforward. As most of you are aware, I plan on getting my first Rudy Award this year, and one of the mandatory events is to participate (and complete) the Rideau Lakes Tour. So that was that! Back in February, I was waiting for registration to get my name in early. The tour sells out every year, and I didn’t want to miss out. It was especially important because of the route I wanted to take. The ‘Classic’ route accepts thousands of riders. However, the ‘Cruise’ route only allows 250 riders to sign up. This makes the Cruise route much more relaxed and ‘touring-like’ in my mind. You’re not constantly being passed by large groups of cyclists. Of course, it also means that there is no support or signs, but I was definitely willing to forego that. After all, the essence of touring is being out there on your own, right?

Along with signing up myself, I had already convinced Deanna, a now ‘cycling convert’ to join me. However, the more the merrier, so Dave and Meghan were also enlisted as I knew they were doing more cycling as well. And to cap off our ‘six-pack’, both Kevin and Grant agreed to join in. For me, that was pretty much an ideal number. With 6 people, we can move at a steady pace, and rotate the lead enough that no one should get too tired at the front. Also, you don’t have to wait as long each time you stop for everyone to get sorted out. Here we were, months away, and already excited to embark on the tour!

The other aspect of the Tour is that you really should be doing some kind of prep work and putting in some good saddle time. On the site, they recommend putting at least 1000km on the bike in advance of the tour. As it turns out, the mileage wasn’t a great problem for us, but the time was. You see, Deanna and I commute to work every day by bike, so the kms added up quickly enough. However, we rarely got out for longer rides, as there was lots of other training and racing going on, particularly my prep for the marathon as well as some adventure races. In the end, I think we only went on one ride of over 60km I think! Needless to say, Deanna had a bit of trepidation as a result. I assured her it wouldn’t be a problem. I’ve watched her becoming a stronger cyclist, so I knew she could tough it out no matter what.

Of course, all that doesn’t matter if the weather turns sour. The most hardened cyclist can turn tail and run home when the weather turns to 8 degrees and the rain pours for hours on end! That’s precisely what happened last year, when, for the first time ever, the tour organizers had to charter buses for riders to get home! So in my mind, that was our only obstacle. Personally, I was willing to do it no matter what, since no Tour, no Rudy Award, which is what happened to a few last year. Luckily, in the days leading up to the ride, the weather forecast kept improving and improving, to the point that on Friday night, it looked like we would like barely get any rain, and by the time we got up at 5am on Saturday to head out, it looked like smooth sailing till Kingston at least!

Bags packed, bikes loaded, we got to Carleton at 6:30ish on Saturday morning to meet the ‘team’. By about 7:20, we were off! To summarize the entire day’s riding, using a line from Grant, it was “the least eventful 180km ride of my life”. That’s a good thing. Apart from Deanna going off the shoulder once and rolling down the grass a bit, we had zero incidents. No flats, no mechanical, no wipe-outs, no close calls, no winds, no rain, great temps, no exhaustion, etc. etc. We kept pretty much a constant speed the whole way down and made it to Kingston in about 6hrs and 40mins. Our average pace was around 26.5km/hr. We wouldn’t win the Tour de France, but that was right where we had hoped we’d be.

Along the way, we made our way through a number of back roads and small towns. Merrickville, Toledo, California, Elgin, Battersea. All pretty rural towns that if you blinked in a car, you’d miss them, but from a bike, you get a slightly longer glance of life in rural Canada. Oversized stuffed monkeys? Small general stores? Courteous drivers? Friendly waves from tractors? Yup, it was all there. Oh, and how about lovely little old ladies from a Church group? Yup, we had that too. Our ‘lunch stop’ was in Toledo at a Church. The volunteers there had a nice menu posted at the entrance and were making fresh sandwiches and had all sorts of baked goods, not to mention cold water and tables all laid out for us. It was the equivalent of the ‘royal treatment’ to some. I had a delicious grilled cheese sandwich and a big cookie. I also snagged a brownie for further down the road. Bellies full, we headed back out.

Once in Kingston, we were faced with the reality that this is in fact a large tour, as hundreds of people were streaming into town, and the campus was abuzz with lycra clad superheroes who had all finished their respective rides. We checked in, got our keys and headed to our ‘quaint’ dorm accommodations. Spartan as they were, the shower I had was absolutely awesome. After cleaning up and lounging a bit, we all headed over to be in the early group for supper. Silliness ensued, and we stayed quite a while, everyone marveling at how much food I could shove into my stomach, and wondering where it all went. I was so full that I paid Kev to go get me deserts 🙂 Good times. It’s always a good sign when the people you just spent the day riding with are still happy to stick together and socialize. I should also mention that while we were eating, the heavens opened up outside. I’m talking massive thunder and lightening, and huge downpours. It couldn’t have been timed better. We hoped it would all rain out by morning.

After supper, the socializing didn’t stop. As a group, we visited each others rooms while heading over to the beer gardens. There were not many partiers, but we stayed out there for a good bit, with Kev, Dave, Grant and I each having 4 beers! It was also the site of our ‘red nordic berry challenge’. Basically a blind taste test of real Swedish Berries that Deanna had, to knock-offs that Kev had picked up in Battersea. It was no contest. Everyone to a T, regardless of conditions, accurately identified the real deal. Well, all but Grant, but he doesn’t count, as he didn’t even know what they were supposed to taste like!

Beers and chips done, and it was off to bed. There were two single beds in the room, but I’d have nothing of it. Deanna and I snuggled up into one bed and drifted off to sleep, ready to face the next half of the trip!

The next morning, the skies were pretty grey, but the forecasts we looked at along the route looked like we’d avoid most of the rain, as it would be clearing in Ottawa by noonish. Sounded great to us. Off to a 6:00am breakfast with the team. We were shooting for a 7am departure, but in the end, it was once again after 7:30 by the time we were rolling out of the campus. It was also raining just a little bit, so we had rain gear on. However, after the first 15km or so, the rain was all but gone, and we had made our way to the ‘rollers’, so we took the jackets off at Battersea, and rolled on in dry skies and roads. The legs were all a bit stiff, but we still managed to keep the same pace we had the day before, probably assisted by the slight tailwind.

In an unfortunate navigational error (which I’ll partially take credit for), we actually ended up cycling an extra 3.5k or so at one point, as we missed a turn. Dave and Meghan had called it, but were not given their due attention. After all, we were rolling at a good pace and had the wind at our backs. When we reached a highway, we realized that we’d definitely made a mistake. Ooops. Well, a little doubling back and we were back on the right track. After getting on our road, we ended up back in ‘Thunder Alley’, a spot we’d nicknamed that on account of all the high tension towers that we figured would be a cool place to be during a big storm.

This was about the time where our discussion turned to the best aero position to be in for downhills, and Grant stated unequivocally that it would be the ‘superman’. This is so named as the rider puts his ass behind the seat, put his belly on the seat, unclips, and sticks his legs straight back. I gave it a half-hearted attempt, foiled by my safety flag. Then our of nowhere, Grant gave it a try. Sadly I didn’t have my camera out. Deanna described is as a giraffe looking like it was falling over. Not pretty. He also almost wiped out.

As we kept pushing on, the wind started picking up the closer we got to our finish line. By the last 15km or so, I think we were all ready to call it a day, but we did finish strong and as a group, rolling back onto the Carleton campus around 3:30pm, received warmly by volunteers who clapped and cheered for us. It was a nice way to finish off. Quick pose with our certificates (and a full complement of smiles), and it was all over. We bid each other adieu and went our separate ways to find our post ride meals. For Deanna and I, that was take-out Chinese food. Yum!

And there you have my little tale of a 370km ride in one weekend. I was very relieved with how smoothly it all went, especially since I needed to have this done for my Rudy Award. With the ride out of the way, I’m now 80% of the way done. Just one tiny little Iron-distance Triathlon to get out of the way. Child’s play, right? Not quite, but I’m looking forward to doing it on the Labour Day weekend. Hopefully some of you will be able to make it out along the canal to cheer me on during my 11-12hour race! Till that time, I’ll fill you in on the rest of my races from now till then. I think I have something like 5 more races between now and then! Next up, Ultimate XC at Mont Tremblant!

Into the Darkness for Mad Trapper Race #3

Welcome back to another exciting chapter in the winter racing saga of ActiveSteve! I’m finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as blog posts go. I’ll only be a couple posts behind once I get this one polished off for you all :-). Let me start by saying I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting races. Although this was actually just another snowshoe race, there was a slight twist on the topic this time around. Mike decided to turn off the lights on us, and make this a night race! Any of you who have raced or trained at all in the dead of night will realize that this has the potential of completely changing the way things unravel. Mountain biking is particularly challenging at night for example. With that in mind, I was pretty excited to try this race with a big headlamp strapped on my head. On account of the darkness, and the fact that my primo photographer Deanna was also racing, there aren’t many photos taken by us. However, fellow race-goer Jess Madott did provide some, that I’ve put in a folder on flickr! However, read on for a synopsis of the events that unfolded before, during, and after the race.

Well, as mentioned in the opening, the major difference between this race and every other snowshoe race that I’ve taken part in was the fact that Deanna was also strapping on the metal shoes and taking part! She’d been hemming and hawing since I first mentioned the series, and really wanted to take part, but needed to see it for herself a bit first. Well, because this was a night race, the fun factor was just too high for her to pass up I guess, and she signed up, even renting race snowshoes from Mike for the race. She opted to take part in the 5k race, which was a single loop, while I was going for the full pain of two loops.

Not only was this race set up at night, there were also the standard perks lined up. Namely, a well-marked course that challenged everyone as much as they wanted, as well as a post-race meal to fill all our bellies at the end. In addition to those things, Mike had also announced that there would be a big bonfire in the backyard, and that the party would continue after the race for any who wanted to hang out. BYOB, crank the music and stay for a while in other words. Deanna and I decided we’d definitely stay for a while, and play it by ear depending on what other people decided to do.

Being a night race, the lead-up and preparation were a bit different from usual this time. I’m used to getting up bright and early, stumbling around, eating my oatmeal, then driving out to the race for the 10am start. However, this time, we had to fill our day with all sorts of other activities before heading out. We decided to take advantage of the nice weather and go for a little cross-country ski then run some errands during the day. Before we knew it, it was later in the afternoon, and we had to be on-site for registration prior to the race start of 6pm. We hadn’t made any real food plans, so the standby option was to grab subs at Subway on our way home to get our gear. Opting to eat a full 12 inch ham sub, in hindsight, may NOT have been the ideal pre-race option. Perhaps if it hadn’t been about an hour from race start it would have been better!

We arrived at the Ark with about 40minutes to spare before the starting gun, and were happy to see a fair number of racers were going to take part, including a few old faces that I hadn’t seen in a while. In particular, Mike Abraham would be racing. He and I had previously run neck and neck in another Mad Trapper (the Canadian Champs I believe). The total number of racers was 33 between the 5 and 10k races. There were only 10 males racing the 10k, and a full 14 ladies doing the 5k. Looks like that is a bit of a trend. Either way, the numbers are somewhat irrelevant, as the calibre of racers I was up against was pretty spectacular as usual. Along with Mike A, the incomparable Dave McMahon was also racing. He of course prefaced it with “I’m no threat, I did a 2hour time trial earlier today [on skis]”. As if that would make me feel any better when he eventually mopped the snowy floor with me in the results.

This time, my jersey number was in the 30’s, so that was no indication of the result I hoped for. Accordingly, I decided to shoot for top 5, after all, there were only 10 of us, right? Well, it just wasn’t going to be my night this time. I’m not entirely sure what happened over the next hour and 9 minutes, but I didn’t get my goal. In fact, I finished a (in my view) dismal 7th of 10! Also, I was a full 8 minutes off the winner, Alex Michel (no surprise there). This was my worst gap of the year. Ironically, it was not for trying on my part. Far from it. I noticed my heart rate over 190 (maxing out at 192) several times in the race. This was even greater output than the last race.

In spite of the hard work, I was gapped pretty early on by the front racers in lap 1, left in 6th chasing the ankles of Glen Day for a long time. However, by the time lap 2 started up, even he had gapped me, and eventually, Mike Abraham, who had been behind me to that point, put a little move on my and passed. I tried to gauge my pace in the hopes of dropping him on the last major climb, as I felt I could out-climb him. His only edge was on the flats. Downhill, we were both fearless and fast. Uphill, I always felt a little slowed down. But on the flats, he had a better kick. He took advantage of that at one point, and it was game over for 6th place. Hello 7th!

All in all, the race was hard fought, and once again, I tip my hat at the tenacity of the competitors vying for the win. I suspect the were pushed to greater levels this time as a result of some of the new blood at the race, as 3 of the guys ahead of me this time were not ‘regulars’ in the Mad Trapper circuit. Oh well, there’s still one race to go in the series, and it looks like in the overall points standing, I will be unable to rise up out of 4th overall to nab my hopeful 3rd. Such is life. It will still have been a blast fighting my way through all four races this season.

But enough about me, right? Deanna for her part, had been quite concerned at how she might fare in a race situation in the snowshoes. However, knowing her fighting spirit, I had no concerns. Her greatest fear was that she would get lapped by the eventual 10k winners, and happily, that didn’t happen either. In fact, she managed to nab 8th in her category with a time just over 58 mins. So although she only made it to the finish 3mins ahead of Alex Michel, her fear was not realized. I’m pretty sure she was both happy with her race as well as amazed by just how friggin hard snowshoe racing in the woods at night in the hills can be! Regardless, I’m pretty sure she could be convinced to do it again. And I’m also quite certain she’d have her eyes on improving her result. I love her fighting spirit!

With the race behind us, it was time to focus on the post-race activities. Even though I’d had that footlong a mere 2 hours ago, I wasted no time in tucking into all the delicious food on offer. Double brownies? Why not! Tasty chips? Yes, please! Lasagna and soup? Don’t mind if I do! That’s the big perk of racing and training all the time, food is of little consequence. To wash down the grub, I’d brought along a few cans of Keith’s Dark. Yum! Once awards were done, I also tried to get the party going a bit by attempting to start some tunes. In the process, I nearly destroyed Mike’s giant external hard-drive, which almost made him cry. In the end, I opted to put on the radio and head back to the warmth of the woodstove.

In the end, not too many people stayed behind, so those of us that did just sat around the stove enjoying a couple beverages and chatting about the race and life in general. Met a few more people, and just generally had a good time. We were on the road heading back home around 9:30 or so. An early night by most Saturday night standards, but we’d had a fun time just the same. I for one hope that Mike repeats the night race idea in the future. It attracted some new faces, which is always good, and provided a new challenge for others. Well done all around!

So there you have it, 3 snowshoe races down, and one remaining at the end of February. A few other races, and that’ll be it for my winter racing schedule. Hard to believe it’ll soon be time to focus on the summer activities. Good thing Deanna and I are already spinning a few times a week in the basement 🙂 Till the next post, have a great time friends! I’ll write again shortly. Next up: Winterlude Triathlon!

Awesome Vacation in the Late Fall

Holy smokes ActiveSteve readers, it’s already into 2011, but this here blog is stuck back in time at November 2010! I guess I had better do something about that. Here goes nothing 🙂 Allow me to start off with a skill testing question for you: How can you have a honeymoon without actually getting married? Give up? Just ask for it, and take a vacation with me! Yep, in fact a honeymoon is exactly what Deanna and I managed to get away on during a great week in mid November. Well, technically, it was just a honeymoon special, but we just treated it as a full-on honeymoon to make the most of it. Where did we go? An awesome place known simply as the Couples Resort, located just outside the east gate of Algonquin Park. Read on for the full details of the deal as well as what we got up to that week. And of course, don’t forget to check out all the great pictures that we took while up there for an amazing week!

Originally, we had been hoping to get away for a trip to London to do some cemetery-hopping to assist Deanna in some of her ongoing family history research, but that sort of fell flat on account of complicated schedules and the choice to save a few pennies. After that, we got the idea of looking for a cabin for a week in the winter, with the idea to do some dog sledding, skiing, snowshoeing, hot tubbing, etc. The decision to look for something with a hot tub got my mind back to looking up the Couples Resort. I’d passed signs many times while heading to various races around Muskoka and Algonquin Park. I was mighty glad I looked it up, as the facilities were absolutely top notch, with a price to match!

The Honeymoon special basically gave us a free night during our stay, so we extended from a 4- night to a 5-night stay there. We booked what was called a ‘Masters Junior Suite’. Essentially, 1000 square feet of opulence. We had an in-room double jacuzzi tub, steam shower, fireplace, kitchenette, sitting area, 47” plasma TV, king bed, separate bathroom, and the kicker, a nice private deck with our own hot tub! Yeah, it was as awesome as it all sounds. Also, because it was the shoulder season, and during the week instead of the week-end, the price was awesome. We paid just over $1000 total for the whole week. Oh, and did I mention that it includes gourmet 5-course dining every night, as well as full breakfast that was brought to our room every morning? Oh yeah, AND it was also customer appreciation month, so there was a mere $10 corkage fee to bring your own wine. Or if you wanted to dine in your room, there was a $10 delivery charge, but of course, then there was no corkage, so it was win-win!

Now as most of you will be well aware, ActiveSteve wouldn’t be able to simply lounge around fireside sipping wine for a whole week, and not take advantage of the amazing surroundings that we also had at our disposal. Before even heading up there, we had decided we’d try to squeeze in some geocaching, hiking, horseback riding, ATV’ing, biking, gym, and kayaking. I’m happy to report all activities transpired, save for the biking (weather just wasn’t right for that). Add on to that list some great soaks, plenty of R&R, pool, ping-pong, shuffle board, foosball, and even darts, as well as Deanna taking a little time out to hit the spa, and you will start to get an idea of why we have both decided we’ll definitely be heading back, and why we wouldn’t hesitate for a second to recommend this little slice of heaven to any of our friends. Unless of course you are averse to being able to completely unwind and do as much or as little as you’d like, all the while enjoying great food and wine 😉

On the food front alone, I could go on forever about the great choices on the menu. The executive chef always had a couple specials on offer each night, as well as a regular menu with mouth-watering options. We hoped to get to try it all during our stay, but there were a few unexplored options, as well as some dishes that were too tasty not to repeat. For example, for one of my appetizers almost every night I was too tempted not to order the Wild Mushroom Strudel. It was so heavenly, that we have since contacted the chef for the recipe.

To start out our grand experience, I first spent a week working in Toronto, sharing the 400 square feet of living space that Deanna enjoyed in Toronto. During the week, we headed out with friends to enjoy a meal and see the musical ‘Wicked’, which was good fun. We also attended the Remembrance Day ceremonies in Toronto taking the time to remember all those who have served and sacrificed so that we may enjoy things like vacations at a Couples Resort! At week’s end, we drove out to the resort, via a quick visit with Deanna’s folks in Trenton. Upon entering our massive suite, we were greeted with two ‘honeymoon’ mugs, complementary hot chocolates, and a nice card from the staff congratulating us on our recent life event. Hee hee. We got a good kick out of that. In truth, we never once said we were getting married, we merely asked what the honeymoon deal was and how to get it! Either way, we’ll take it!

Weather-wise, we had a mixed bag on the forecast, and most of it came true as predicted (how odd is that?). As a result, we tried to plan our more intense outdoor activities for the front half of the week, as there was a lot of rain forecast later. The first full day we did a bit of geocaching, as well as heading into Algonquin park for a day of hiking. We did a couple shortish ones, then hit the Centennial Ridges trail, which had a number of great vistas. Day 2 it was all about the off-roading as we rented an ATV for the day and took off on the snowmobile trails. I’d never rented one, particularly not a big one like the one we had, which seated both of us. We had a blast.

Sadly, from day 3 onwards, I had come down with a pretty significant flu / cold. I did my best to keep it in check and not let Deanna know how miserable I was feeling, but it was tough! We still managed to head out for a nice early morning kayak on Galeairy Lake. People thought we were nuts, as with the current water temps, if we bailed, we probably only had about minute to get out an get dry before risking serious problems. However, the glass-smooth water and still of the air was too much to resist for us, and it was well worth it. We both really love going out kayaking, so it was pretty special, and we saw some cool stuff like the wreck of an old paddle steamer on the shore of the lake. On our final full day at the resort, we headed out for some horseback riding, which Deanna had not tried since she was a very little girl. The horses were very docile, and we had a great time out there, in spite of the heavier rain and even a bit of snow flurries. Luckily, the hot tub was always a great respite after these activities, or even a nice lounging in front of a built-up wood fire!

Well, I think that should at least give you all a good idea of how Deanna and I spent our 1-week vacation. This was another milestone for us, as it was the first time spending a whole 2 weeks together. Happily, there were no issues whatsoever, and we both agreed that we’d be happy to do it again. Little did we know that in just over a month from then, Deanna would actually be moving in with me full time! In fact, at the end of that week, we actually rushed back to Ottawa so that she could have a job interview, which was ultimately from the firm that she now works for! So all in all, it was an a great week for many reasons, some of which we didn’t even know yet! That’s it for now friends. Next post will be about the opening snowshoe race of the 2010-11 season, so we’ll veer back into the roots of the ActiveSteve blog 🙂 Till then, play hard everyone!

Relaxing my way through October…

Greetings all! Looks like it’s high time to fill everyone in on my latest fun and excitement. As I’m typing this post, I’m actually sitting in the billiards lounge at the Couples Resort near Algonquin Park while Deanna enjoys a nice spa treatment! Yup, we’re taking a great vacation at the moment, and I have a bit of time to write a quick post to catch you all up. Luckily, the catching up will be pretty easy to do, as there are no race reports to write up for the month of October. When you were all last filled in, I had just wrapped up a 2-day charity mountain biking tour in Gatineau Park. At the conclusion of that, it was time to start my month of laziness and recovery. As is usually the case for me, I try to take a the month of October as a month for recovery from the race season. As I managed to squeeze in a couple pretty challenging races this year, including my furthest ever running race (as part of the 3-day Ultimate XC), I definitely needed the break, since my left knee is once again starting to bother me. However, that doesn’t mean I did absolutely nothing. Read on to see how I rest and recover 🙂

For starters, I don’t completely do nothing. There is of course still the commuting to work on the bike, as well as some really enjoyable bike rides with Deanna over the course of the month. Especially because she picked up a shiny new bicycle this month! A great road bike that we had to put through its paces. It’s awesome that we can just pick up and do stuff like that when we feel like it. We’ve been thoroughly enjoying heading out on the rollerblades, or in the kayaks, or on the bikes, or just a nice hike. We always feel happiest after a nice activity outside.

Apart from those things, there was also some work commitments which took me out of town for the first time in a really long time. Where exactly did I get to go? Well, how about the land of Shania Twain? Yup, Timmins, Ontario for a public hearing that I had a hand in. This was my first time in the near north of Ontario, and I was one of the few people actually looking forward to it. I had high hopes of doing some hiking, and exploring the area a little bit. However, that came to a grinding halt when I arrived and found out I had no luggage! I didn’t even get it for a couple days. This made it difficult to do much of anything, including going to the hearing! After all, I was in the same clothes for several days, so there could be no strenuous workouts, etc. Eventually, I did go shopping, and got a whole new suit, with 2 shirts, 2 ties, shoes, belt, and socks and undies! And all courtesy of American Express, whose insurance policy should reimburse me. All’s well that end’s well, right?

So what else was there to do in October? Well, lots! After all, it was All Hallow’s Eve at the end of the month, and Deanna and I had a party to attend. As a result, we had to come up with a good costume idea. We ended up choosing to dress as Aphrodite and Dionysus, and I must say, we definitely looked good :-). Of course, you are free to check out a whole folder of pictures that I put up from that weekend. Not only did we have the party to attend to, but we also made some other plans, like carving pumpkins (started as a contest between us, but we both knew Deanna would win that one), as well as heading out to Saunders Farm for the hedge mazes and spooky hay ride. We had high hopes for that one, and we DID have fun, but unfortunately, the weather was abysmal. It was pouring rain when we showed up, and then turned into a full-on snowstorm while we were there!! By the time we were pulling out, we were both completely frozen, and drenched AND caked in mud. However, some awesome shawarmas and a nice warm house made it all fine and we were laughing about the whole thing before we had actually even pulled out of the parking lot. Yup, doesn’t matter what the circumstances, doing things with someone you really care about always makes it fun and bearable!

So what else did I get up to this month? Well, October…. hmmm…. OKTOBERFEST maybe?!? Most definitely :-). This is one of those venerable traditions that although it doesn’t happen every year, it still holds a pretty warm spot in my heart. I was actually working in Toronto for a full week, and Deanna was also interested in seeing what the fuss was about, so when Al and Matt sent out their normal call for interest, we signed up! It was a pretty lean crew this year, with just Al, Matt, Deanna, myself, then Tina and Jack from Kitchener. However, there was one new addition as well, Alix’s ‘little’ (huge) brother Vince! For the first time, he was of age. It was a little odd to remember other years spent playing with him in the basement when he was just a little kid, but now he’d actually be going with us! Crazy. We were happy to be part of this ‘rite of passage’, and with Al as our driver in a sweet rental Van, we had a great time.

We normally go to Bingemann’s hall, which is just a big drunken fest with the younger crowd, but we’d always dreamed of going to a true festhallen, which we finally did this year, ending up at Schwalben Hall. Of course, there are some pictures that I put up, but they don’t do complete justice to the weekend. Along with the normal drinking that goes on at Oktoberfest, we also went to the St. Jacob’s farmers market, which is another tradition. Good spot to try and soak up the alcohol and fight off the hangover from the night before. The weekend went pretty quick, as we just went down Friday, and headed back Saturday evening, so I was glad we were starting and finishing from Toronto! As is tradition, I’m pretty sure Matt, Vince and I managed to have perhaps just a FEW too many Schnapps in the course of the night, but it was still a fun night, capped off with a little of my own silliness in the front yard of Silver Aspen Haus….Thanks again to Roger and Sharon for being the excellent hosts that they always are!

So there you have it, my October in a nutshell. The weather may be starting to change, but I’m still excited at the thought of many more activities and adventures in the coming winter. Deanna hasn’t really ever done that much in the way of winter activities, so getting her out on snowshoes and skis should be good fun! There’s also the prospect of a certain relocation to Ottawa by someone pretty special that has me quite anxious too 🙂 The winter tires are on the car, and we were also looking forward to our first vacation together, which I’ll have to write about in a completely different post. There’s also the upcoming start to the snowshoe racing season that has me both excited and nervous. Excited as I love these races. Nervous because the knee issue I mentioned is really starting to flare up, and every time I go for a hard run, I have serious pain and swelling. Sadly, navigating the Quebec healthcare system is proving to be annoying, but that should also be kept for a separate, albeit brief post!

Till then, stay warm, and have fun friends. Just because the days are shorter, it doesn’t mean you can’t fill them up with fun things!

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.