Tag Archives: Gatineau Park

Chasing the Moose through the Darkness

As I crested yet another little rise, feeling the many kilometers in my entire body, I could utter only a single word to myself in my internal monologue: “run”. So goes the simple existence of an ultra-runner deep into a long race. In this case, it was the 106km Midnight Moose Ultra, taking place in Gatineau Parc, so near my house, yet so far away mentally. The mantra I trained myself to repeat ad nauseum is simple: “Run where you can, walk where you have to”. This truly is the key to getting through an ultra. You need to simplify, and try not to get into your own head. This race was slated to be my final race of the 2017 season, so I had entered it with a couple goals. Firstly, I wanted to complete the race in under 13 hours, and the 2nd goal was to reach the podium. I’ve been happy with my season (yes, including the DNF at Sinister 7), but the true podium had eluded me all season. Read on to hear more about this backyard ultra, being put on for the first time. Continue reading Chasing the Moose through the Darkness

The Good and Bad at Gatineau Loppet

Howdy folks! While the sun may be shining, and thoughts are definitely fully turned to summer training and adventures, now is as good a time as any to put fingers to keyboard to muse a little about another weekend of Winter racing I partook in during the depths of our winter in February. I’m talking about the venerable Gatineau Loppet, part of the World Loppet Series of cross-country ski events that takes place right in my backyard. Pit your skills against crusty Norwegians who have been at it since you were knee-high to a grasshopper. Or something like that. The race does have an International flavour and attracts a broad swath of avid cross-country skiers. Much the same as a big event like the Ottawa Marathon does for the running community. I always love the vibe at this event, and like to participate every year. As I have done in the past, I opted to race 2 days back to back this year, starting with the linear 51km Classic Ski event on Saturday, and ending with the fast and furious 27km Skate Ski event on Sunday. So which was good and which was bad? Read on to find out!

Before the Ski

Astute ActiveSteve followers will note that precisely one week prior to this event, I willed myself to ski 160km in questionable ski conditions, and slept overnight on a peasantly hay bale with only the clear skies overhead to shelter me. In other words, my body was likely somewhat cooked to begin with, right? I think I only got out for 1 ski during the entire week between the events, and definitely spent more time worrying about waxing and ski conditions for the weekend. I tell you, this stuff can really do a number on your head. It’s an art to get the skis just right, and makes a heck of a difference.

Leading into the weekend, the conditions on both days looked as if they’d be rather trying. Specifically, at the time we were to start the events, it would be relatively cool, with temperatures below zero. However, on both days, ma nature really wanted crank the heat fast, with temperatures rising FAST in the morning. I’m talking +8 degrees Celsius kind of heat. And intense sun. What does that lead to? How about nice ski tracks magically turning into mushy slush faster than you can say ‘klister’! The general online concensus was ‘ski fast’ in order to get the best conditions early in the day, and wrap the event up before things really went to shit. I picked up some new wax the day before the Classic event in hopes that it would do the trick.

I lovingly prepared my skis, with numerous coats of hot wax ironed, scraped and brushed out. These are my ‘race’ skis, so they were completely different from the skis I used in the CSM the week before. My theory was that I should be able to fly, since I had light, fast skis, and no giant, weighty pack on my back to contend with. Deanna and I were both doing the same events, so we both got a decent nights sleep before heading off to the buses for the start in the morning. Caught up with a bunch of other friends that were skiing before finding my way to my start wave, watching the elites take off at an astounding clip while I was doing laps on the warm-up track near the start.

Classic Route Imge

Now it was time for me to go. For whatever reason, I’d been placed in the second to last wave. I knew that I was capable of skiing much faster than most of my fellow wave skiers, but didn’t really care that much. I made sure I was at the front of this wave, which would mean very little start line issues, and only had to navigate my way through thicker crowds as we closed the 2 minute gap on the wave before (it didn’t take long!). I felt decent at the start, but my skis just didn’t seem to have the kick that I wanted. I was having a devil of a time getting into the groove, and felt my skis slipping just the slightest bit with every stride. This did not bode well for my overall time.

Lucky for me, I was also filming this event, so I could take a bit of extra time to try and get footage while I was skiing, and use that as an ‘excuse’ for poorer performance than I would have liked. To be clear, it isn’t like I was the slowest skier ever, and my overall finish time was certainly respectable, at 4h11 minutes (I had been aiming for sub 4 hours), and about mid-pack. However, I KNOW I’m capable of better, and that was definitely playing head games with me while I was slogging through. It became exceptionally trying when the sun really started slushing up the tracks. Lucky for me, that didn’t happen until the final 1/4 of the event, where things were mostly downhill. It was very bizarre in certain areas. I’d be flying down a hill in the shade, in full tuck, but if I crossed into a sunny patch, the skis basically got stuck right there, and I had to PUSH downhill. I could only laugh about it, as everyone was in the boat as I was. Wax was no longer a factor.

At the Start Area

I crossed the line feeling as good as I could hope, and tried not to think too much about the fact that I had to race once again the next day, in a discipline that I felt was my worse of the two. In potentially even more trying conditions. Ugh… what could I do? Rather than dwell on it, I milled about in the lovely sunshine (for spectating anyway) awaiting the lovely Deanna to finish her race, so that we could then both enjoy the post-race meal. She also wasn’t too happy with her time, and had been slower than hoped. We both agreed it was the weather and snow, not us! Food consumed, it was time to head home and prep skis for the next morning.

Arriving at Finish Classic

Our goal was to get to bed early, resting as much as possible. However, between more eating, and methodical hot waxing, it still felt hurried. As a last ditch effort, I contacted a certain ski guru friend of mine to lend their mad skills to our efforts. You see, I wanted to put ‘rills’ into our skis. These are essentially like the sipes you see on tires that help channel water away from the tire. I didn’t have the tool, but I knew people who did. And they were kind enough to let me intrude on THEIR race prep to help out. Even more than that, they took it upon themselves to actually help out by putting on some finishing layers for VERY high-end race wax onto our skis. I swear this stuff came out of a giant custom-built wooden chest that contained only a tiny nubbin of this rare earth material bestowed only to Ski Gods from Nordic spirits. Either way, I was very thankful for the help and the special wax job. I went home and went to sleep dreaming of how special my skis would be the next morning.

Skate Route Imge

And you know what? They WERE!! Even on a short warm up, they felt extra ‘slippery’ which is very good indeed for skate skiing. I just hoped I’d be able to control them. Again, the temperature swings would ultimately determine how people finished the day, but knowing I had the right rills and a high-fluoro topcoat certainly gave me every advantage I could hope for. In an effort to somehow prove my worth to my guardian ski angel, I vowed to ski my heart out on this event. Once again, for reasons not completely clear, I was relegated to a wave much further back than I felt I deserved. But again, I stuck myself at the very front, and when the start signal went off, well, you can see by the picture that I veritably launched myself into this race. My body completely ignored the 2 weekends of punishment I’d put it through, and responded to my every command to muster strength.

In no time flat I was flying UP the first hill, and at the same time weaving my way through the entire wave that had started 2 minutes ahead of me (or so it seemed). Having really no clue where I was sitting in overall standings, I just focused on my race, and skiing smoothly, channeling all the pointers I’ve gotten over the years. Most importantly though,  I was having FUN. A blast really. The pain was there, but numbed by the sheer joy of skiing in such a great place in such great conditions. On the longest climb of the race, I settled in at a reasonable pace, as there was virtually no way to pass many people on the uphill, due to the narrow track. This let me save up a little extra energy for the next push. Back on wide tracks, I had the thrill of seeing the leaders (and yes, my guardian ski angel was at the pointy end of the stick in this event, finishing 2nd overall!

Skating on Parkway

For my part, when I finally crossed the finish line, arms held high, I still didn’t know how I fared. My time was a very happy 1h38mins, better than my target time. It wasn’t until later at the ski expo that I learned that I actually got 3rd in my age group! I was 38th overall, in what I would consider a VERY competitive field. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little proud of my result. I *think* it may be my best ever ski result! The real takeaway was to never give up or assume you are starting a race in a certain condition. Trust your training and trust your abilities. The body is a remarkable machine capable of great feats. By all rights, on paper, I might have just thrown in the towel and opted to just cruise on the day, but I opted to push myself and see what might happen, even after a hard 3 days of racing in the past week.

Crossing the Line

Of course, it DID help that I had fast skis, no doubt about that! Deanna also had a great race on Sunday, and it both left us feeling a lot more upbeat than the Saturday slog. Considering we were heading to a potluck supper that night with fellow athletes, it was nice to finish on a high. After all, we’d be surrounded by literally the best racers of the weekend, including the fellow who won both the 50k classic AND 50k skate events!! It’s always so inspiring to hang out with these casual, yet top-performing athletes. I don’t claim to be anywhere at their level, but I can still relate to what it takes to get there, and the enormous pressure people put on themselves internally, even if they don’t seem to.

All in all, this was a great weekend racing doing the things we love. I was happy to once again lug a camera with me both days in order to pull together a review video of the events. If you haven’t done so yet, why not check the video out now, and see how things looked from ‘the inside’. Till next time, stay active, get out there, and have FUN!

Inside the Literal and Figurative Pain Cave

Whew! Now that my major races are all behind me, I guess it’s time to rewind the clock and write about my last few races! This post is all about the Bad Beaver Ultra (BBU), a 3-day, 150km epic event that I took part in in my own backyard. Right off the bad, I should probably admit that I think I took this one a little too much for granted. Given that it was in my own backyard trails in Gatineau Parc, was low-key, and was spread over 3 days, I somehow convinced myself that it would be a piece of cake. Big mistake! Read on to find out why!

Bad Beaver Ultra

As you are all aware, my focus this season has been on trail running, building up to the 125k Ultra-Trail Harricana in September. Before the BBU, I’d already put a couple 50-mile (80k) races under my belt. The first took me just under 10 hours, and the second took me under 9 hours. That’s solid progression, and I was feeling good about my training. The BBU came 2.5 weeks after my last 50 miler, so I mainly did short runs and recovery. During that time, I came to an interesting realization. This race was going to be TOUGH. Day 1 was 55km or so. Day 2 was slated to be 70km, and the 3rd day was 25km. Not only were distances not trivial, but we had to carry most of our gear for the entire 3 days with us on course! In that way, this was a semi-autonomous stage race.

What did that mean? Well, for starters, we had to carry all our in-race food for the 3 days with us on the entire course. We also needed all our clothes, first aid, camping stuff (mainly sleeping bag), lights, etc. Each day we were fed breakfast and supper, but nothing else. Aid stations were very spartan and were predominantly for re-supplying hydration (limited to water). If you wanted something over the 3 days, you had to carry it. There was no ‘drop bag’ waiting at the end of the day with spare stuff. It was with you, or you didn’t have it. So, that meant we were starting the race with maximum weight, and gradually eating our way through the weight. While I didn’t weigh my pack at the start of day 1, I’d say that it was on the order of 15 lbs or more. Considering my race weight of about 123lbs, that’s 12% of my body weight to drag with me as I ran long distances on tricky trails. Yeah, exactly, NOT easy!

However, the challenges are what make me sign up for these events, right? Besides, there was no way I would turn down the opportunity to be one of the first 20 people selected to ‘test’ this course for future participants. I can not lay claim to be one of the first-ever finishers of what I’m sure will become a sought-after race to tackle in the region. Why is it so special? Well, for starters, the organizers are all seasoned runners and racers, and are also putting this on predominantly to showcase the jewel that is Gatineau Parc, as well as raise funds and profile for a number of causes, including Impossible2Possible (after all, this is one of Ray Zahab’s initiatives!).

So, as far as showcasing the area, one of the great parts of this race was that pretty much everything going on was related to local businesses. It all started on the first night with a night’s stay at the beautiful Wakefield Mill Inn, which would also serve as our starting point on Thursday morning. From there, the rest of the weekend also featured things like food catered by a gourmet restaurant (Les Fougeres), a local coffee shop (Les Saisons), capped off with a Spa afternoon / evening at Le Nordik, and finishers mementos included hand-made candles from Doozy Candles. Have I enticed you yet? Well, no matter, as it’s really about the race, right? So let’s get to that!

Day 1 – 54km

Shooting Video

Day 1 was set to be a 55km ‘warm-up’ for the weekend, with the main event the following day. However, as we got up, had our breakfast and got organized, you could already tell it was going to be a pretty warm day. From Wakefield, we’d be heading off into the trails around Lac Phillippe, a camping area, and ultimately make our way through the Lusk Caves for a quick reprieve before finishing off our day. I set myself up near the front of the pack, but not the very front. I naively had in mind that maybe this would be ‘my race’ owing the fact that I had local knowledge. Silly me. that helps to a small extent, but that’s about it. Right from the get-go, I could tell there were a few real work horses in the mix here, including a jovial pair of Italian dudes that spoke limited English. They trotted off the start line in a relaxed pace, but you could tell they’d have no problem dropping any who really dared challenge them.

For my part, I was somewhere around 7th or 8th after the opening 15-20km. I felt good, but was definitely feeling the weight of the pack coupled with the heat. As is usually the case, I found myself plodding along more or less on my own, with the leaders out ahead out of sight, and the other chasers behind me and out of sight as well. So, you could imagine my great surprise later on in the day at about the 30-35k mark when I emerged from the woods to be told I was currently in 4th!

I came to realize that the reason was not very cool. Turns out there were a few confusing trail markers which lead the lead pack of 4 to veer off course. While I was eventually re-passed by one of them, the other 3 (including the 2 Italians and my friend Sebastien) sadly went WAAAY off course. They just Forrest Gumped all the way to the other side of the escarpment, basically covering a bunch of the terrain we’d see tomorrow. I felt bad for them, but these things unfortunately to happen. I could only run my own race.

Emerging from Lusk Caves

The highlight of Day 1 was undoubtedly the Lusk Caves part of the race. After a long slog in the heat, and with about 10k to go on the day, we got a reprieve by heading to the far end of the cave network and actually running THROUGH them before continuing on. The water was mercifully cool, and helped get the body temps down in a hurry. The only downside would only manifest when the day was over, and several of us realized we’d gotten some pretty heavy chafing as a result of wet shorts and lots of leg turnover!

Once the running was done, we were over-nighting at Brown Cabin in the park, a nice shelter with a full kitchen, and bunk beds with ma tresses for all. Future iterations won’t be as lucky, as there are limited numbers of beds, and the next edition hopes to grown to 60 racers, and require people to carry tents as well! Again, perks of being first, right? We enjoyed the hot sun as we re-fuelled on chips, watermelon, other fruits, and the good company of like-minded racers. Later in the night, we had an amazing feast of food, and even had live entertainment in the form of guitar playing, and even a fire dancer! Most people were too pooped to take it all in, but it was awesome!

What was NOT awesome was trying to sleep in the uncomfortable heat. I don’t think most racers slept very well that night. For my part, I tried sleeping with legs in the air to aid my feet in recovering the day 2, which promised to be TOUGH.

Day 2 – 73km

Day 2 Start

The next day we all got up bright and early to pack up and get ready for the longest day of running. In fact, it was still dark when the various alarms started going off. It felt odd applying sunscreen in the dark, but I knew it would be needed.  For those that needed it, there was coffee on offer, and breakfast consisted primarily of oatmeal with all the toppings you might want. I had my fill, and packed up my overnight gear back into my bag while filling up my hydration bladder and sorting the food I’d want on the day. I’d hoped to make relatively quick work of the 73km of the day, wrapping up in 9 hours or less. Once again, VERY naive!

We took to the start line, and got underway at about 6:30am (I think). The air was already thick and warm with humidity at this hour, which didn’t bode well. Not only was this day going to be long in distance, but we were also going to be climbing up and descending the steeper parts of Gatineau Parc 3 or 4 times this day, so LOTS of climbing was ahead of us.

From the start, I probably went too hard again, finding myself in the front of the race for a little bit, and mainly sitting in 4th for the first 10k or so. I felt strong and fresh, but eventually realized that it was a bad idea, so I dialled it back a little bit and ran with others to chat for a bit. There was really no point pushing too hard. After about 25k or so, I was already beat. I wasn’t the only one though. I joined forces with another battle-weary running and we slowly plodded along the roads and trails to get to the Lusk Falls trail, one of those ‘gems’ of Gatineau Parc, but not a lot of fun to try and run up with a pack on your back, and a gnawing hunger and thirst!

Regardless, I went up with reckless abandon, leaving my friend Sebastien to trail me a little behind. I’d hoped to make up a bit of time. I also knew that the next aid station would be the one where Deanna was stationed, so the thought of seeing her spurred me on.

The energy rush was short-lived after I crested the climb and started the run back along the big Trail Number 1 towards Wolf Trail. By now, it was VERY hot, and I was feeling it. I focused my mind on just getting through it and making it to the base of Wolf Trail. At that point, I knew I could go for a quick dip in Meech Lake to cool down. That became my sole focus for the next many kilometers, to the point that when I finally arrived at the aid station, I completely ignored Deanna. Instead, I unclipped my pack, threw it on the ground, and ran down to the water and dove right in. It was a life saver, and SOOOO refreshing!

However, I knew I still had miles to go, so I did my best to get through the stop and head back up the trail. Deanna told me I was actually looking better than several other that had made it through, being more ‘with it’ and self sufficient. Of course, perhaps I was only putting on airs for m’lady, but I took the encouragement and trotted off back UPHILL once again. However, I knew there would be another few trails, then we’d circle back down to a boat launch, where I could once again hit the water, which I did!

Refreshed from Lake

After the 2nd dip, I truly hit the doldrums. The next section was road. In the sun. Tired. Baking. Not having a great time. But what do you do? What CAN you do? Nothing. Except keep going. There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that you have absolutely no choice but to just keep pushing yourself. Abandoning never really crosses my mind, because I know everyone hurts in these situations, and I tell myself none of them would quit!

Eventually I made it back to the relative peace of the trails, and even saw familiar faces once again. I caught up to one racer, and also had chats with the race organizers, who were now out on the course cheering us on. Of course, it was needed, since we were heading back uphill once again, for our final climb and decent of the day, including heading all the way up to Champlain Lookout before the nice wooded decent to Camp Fortune. By now, I thought I must be the last person still alive out there, since I’d gone WAY slower than I’d hoped, and I just foolishly thought people behind me must have dropped out of the race.

Again, no time to think about that, and instead just focused on the run (ok, the speed walk). Up at the top at the lookout, I was surprised to learn the racer I’d been with at the bottom of the climb hadn’t shown up. Turns out, they’d also taken a wrong turn, instead running back to the finish for the day, having cut about 8k off the day. For my part, I was quite relieved, as I knew the rest of the day was pretty much downhill, and on one of my favourite trails, so I could just go on cruise control to the finish.

Upon completing, I think I was actually the 5th complete  finisher for the day, and not long after I got in, it started raining. HARD. We really felt bad for the other racers still out there. Turns out I was completely wrong about the people behind me. They were still hard at it, running and suffering in their own ways. A few were short-coursed,  and at least 2 didn’t finish the day, but there were still plenty  of amazing people still to come in after me, some in the pouring rain, and a few even well after the sun went down! Hats off to them.

It was a pretty low-key 2nd night. Once again, we were staying indoors which was nice. Floor sleeping, but nobody really cared. There was no party, as everyone was pretty much zombified after the long hard day of running. The focus was on re-hydrating and eating. Oh, and drinking BEER! Yup, each racer had a beer this evening, and for the most part, we all helped ourselves. You know, dulling the pain and all that. It was also a time to treat blisters, chafing, etc. etc. I think I now know what a field hospital must resemble in certain areas 🙂

Owing to the rough night of sleep after day 1, I slept much better this time. Overall, I was feeling a little down about my performance of the day. I’d hoped to feel much stronger, and instead felt like I’d suffered through it too much. My confidence was a bit low. However, tomorrow was another day, right?

Day 3 – 21k

High 5 to France

Alrighty. Final day. Time to pull out all the stops, right? I awoke feeling not bad. Did a bit of foam rolling and stretching to see how all the bits felt, and got a pretty good vibe from my legs. I decided that this was a day to let it all hang out. I was on local trails, the most popular ones in the park, and also the ones I train on all the time. I knew all the turns, hills, climbs, rocks, and HAD to capitalize on it. It was now or never. As a result, I put myself at the head of the class, planning to stay right on the heels of the speedy Italians.

The start found us heading into the Camp Fortune mountain bike trails, with a good uphill grind and technical decent. It was in there that I realized that I could actually pass these guys and break away from the small lead group that had formed. So I did! There was one runner way out ahead that I wasn’t able to touch, but I at least forged my own path ahead of the chase pack.

By the time we exited the bike trails and came back out to the ridge road, I was on my own, and my legs were turning over very solidly under me. I felt strong, and fed off that energy. I kept telling myself they were right on my tail, without daring to look back. I kept this up the entire way, until at one aid station, I was told I had 7-9 minutes on them! That was huge for me! I realized and  accepted that there was a good chance I could hold my spot.

Re-energized, I put even more effort into my gait, to make sure I kept my standing. With a huge grin on my face, I veritably flew over the trails, watching my step just enough not to fall, but running fairly recklessly. I imagine this is what it must feel like for those that are used to leading or being very close to the front, giving it their all with a single purpose. What a difference from the day before.

At the FInish

I barreled down the final series of trails, turned onto the final stretch on the SugarBush trail, knowing the finish line was just across a bridge. I heard the cheering, and managed to do a jumping heel click as I crossed the finish in 2nd place overall for the day. What a feeling. Cory, the overall winner of the 3 days (and basically untouchable) was there to congratulate me and share a few words. As were the organizers and Deanna. It was a perfect sunny finish to an amazing 3 days of running with friends old and new in one of my favourite corners of this little blue marble.

However, hands-down, the very best part of the entire event has to be what was in store next. We’d started a little later in the morning (like 9am), but with only 21k to run, it was only mid-day when I wrapped up. From here, ALL racers had a free all-access pass to the Nordik Spa, where we’d have our closing ceremonies and party. It was, in a word, heavenly! Since Deanna had volunteered for the whole 3 days, she also got a pass. So, naturally, since we live only 4k away, we stayed there until basically closing time, taking full advantage of the beautiful facilities.

Party at Le Nordik

I can honestly say I have never finished a race where every single participant AND the organizers hand out in bathrobes, beers in hand, talking about the race while bouncing between saunas, steam rooms, hot and cold pools, and a private party area. It was surreal, and  great way to get to know everyone just a little more, and forge the bonds that only running through the crucible of a 3-day staged race can create!

So there you have my all-too-wordy re-cap of one of the funnest events I’ve done in a long time. Of course, I did have a camera in town with me the entire time, and managed to put together 3 different videos, one for each day. They’re embedded below in case you haven’t already watched them! Enjoy them, and come on back later when I should have another post written up summarizing my NEXT 3-day race, which took place 2 weeks later!

Day 2 Re-Cap

Day 3 Re-Cap

Solid Season Start at Challenge the Gats

Sometimes, the best races are the ones you hadn’t planned on, and basically had no specific expectations going into them. Such was the case with the recent victory my friend John Ranson and I experienced at a 3-hour orienteering race called “Challenge the Gats” happening close to home in Gatineau Park. Although we weren’t the overall winners (4 super speedy solo racers beat us), we were however 5th overall, and the 1st team to cross the line and clear the course. Read on for more on this sweet victory.

For those uninitiated, an orienteering race, or rogaine, is deviously simple. Prior to the race, usually an hour or so, racers get a map with a series of controls, or checkpoints, marked on the map. Each CP has a certain point value (closer CPs typically have lower points, further ones higher points). Racers must then plot their own course, or at least a rough idea of the order they’d like to grab the CPs. The race is the same [maximum] amount of time for everyone. In that time, you have to decide whether you try to ‘clear the course’ (get all the CPs), and if not, which CPs you’ll try to nab before time is up. For every minute a person or team is late, they lose 10 points. So, the best plan is to at worst finish at the 3 hour mark. Here are some pics from our day:

We got out maps about 45 minutes prior to the start. The weather was calm, and promised to stay dry all day, which was good news, given that we would most likely have to cross swampy areas on our journey.  There was a total of about 30 checkpoints that we had to try and pick up. After scanning the map for a bit, we decided that clearing the course was definitely possible, but we set a few CPs aside closest to the finish line that we *could* skip if things went wrong out there. We opted to generally do the ‘middle’ section of the map, then do a large counter-clockwise loop to pick up the rest of the CPs, ending back in the middle section for the last few CPs before hastening to the finish line.

Our race got underway promptly at 9am, with a solid collection of racers with us. There was another wave starting at 11:30am, and the total number of teams was over 110, a strong showing. In our wave were a few solid teams that had us unsure where we’d end up. What’s even more interesting about these races is that everyone will choose different routes, so passing someone on course tells you NOTHING about your standing at that point in time.

Our plan was simple. Run hard, nav solidly, grab all CPs, and finish strong. John was the primary navigator, but we both had maps, so were able to consult on the fly during the race. Having 2 people that have a decent idea on how to navigate helps a LOT, as any small mistakes are quickly caught, and route choices can be confirmed. However, our speed as a team was definitely slower than the eventual winner. If you look at the final results, you’ll see what I mean.

The first few CPs were picked up pretty cleanly, but we decided that I would carry the timing chip so that John could focus on the map more. That way, as we got close to a CP, I could sprint ahead to check in while he planned our next move. This worked very well, and we got into a solid rhythm out there. The terrain was a mix of trails and bushwhacking, with plenty of little hills to challenge us physically, as well as mentally (since you had to be very precise to ensure you didn’t top out on the wrong hill!). The only physical snafu came when I rolled my ankle coming down a steep hill and hitting a rock. I had to walk / hobble for a good 5 minutes before I could move back up to light jogging pace. Of course, this has happened so many times to me that it was no big deal to me.

In the final 3rd of the course, we got a bit of a lucky break. A series of the CPs were in the snowshoe / biking trails near my old house. I used to do early season MTB training there, and knew a lot of the little off-shoot trails by heart, which enabled me to just glance at the map to confirm which trail to take while we were running. Grabbing these CPs in a hurry put us back in a good spot. We could see we’d clear the course with time to spare, now just wanted to see where we’d finish. We had come across another team we knew a number of times out there, but were unsure where we were compared to them. As it turned out, we were both chasing the exact same final CP!

We nabbed it first, then bolted to the finish, a mere minute ahead of them!! It was then that we also realized we were officially the 1st team to finish under 3 hours and have cleared the course! Teams had come in before us, but had not gotten all the CPs. More interestingly to us, our friend Benoit Letourneau had not turned up yet. He is a master navigator, and we did NOT think we’d beat him, as his team-mate is also a fast runner. It was another 7.5 minutes before he came in. My partner John was ecstatic, saying it had taken up 15 years to FINALLY beat Benoit. Nice one!

Smiles at the Finish

Of course, there is really no fanfare for winning these events. Entry fees are cheap ($20-$25), there are no t-shirts, no meal, no nothing. However, the accessibility of events such as these mean people young and old come out, and even young families. It’s a great activity for kids, as it is sort of like treasure hunting in nature! We did get super-sweet medals at the finish though, courtesy of one racers mom. She had hand-made cookie medals for EVERYONE! Now that is truly going above and beyond, and was probably the coolest post-race goodie I’ve gotten.

In the end, out of 111 teams, only 11 teams managed to clear the course, so even there we were in the minority. Of those 11, only 4 were on teams, with the other 7 being solo racers. I was a little surprised at how well we did, but I suppose all that adventure racing, and careful route choices really paid off. Here’s hoping I can pull off equally good navigation at my next adventure race! That will be next weekend’s Raid Pulse. Still not too late to join the fun there! Till then, stay tuned for more race reports.

Riding for Charity…

Good day friends and followers of ActiveSteve! As has been my theme as of late, this post is coming to you all just a little bit later than I would have wanted it to. In fact, I’m going to detail for you all an event I took part in a full 3 weeks ago! Yikes! Where does the time go, right? Well, in this case, my time went into a Toronto trip, and preparations for a Timmins trip, as well as my continued string of focusing more on having fun rather than telling the world all about my exploits :-). So, what event am I referring to? It was called Velogaroue, and was a 2-day staged Mountain bike ride through Gatineau Park. Note I said ride, not race! Yes, that’s right, it was a social thing through and through, and I wanted to make the most of it with the fall colours. It was the inaugural year for the event, and one of the big goals was to raise funds for a charity, whichever charity you wanted. I chose to support the Ottawa Regional Cancer Center, as I didn’t take part in the annual adventure race earlier this year that normally benefits them. For the full story of the weekend, please read on. Also, you can browse through some pictures I took of the weekend, as well as click on over and check out a custom map that I made of the whole ride!

Before I get any further into this blog post I’d like to start off by saying a huge thank-you to all those who supported my ride. I decided that I’d make it a short campaign by only soliciting people the week leading up to the ride, but I still had great response, and ended up raising almost $735 for my charity. The kindness of my friends never ceases to put a smile on my face. Your funds will certainly go a long way to help those that need it!

I’d signed up for this ride a long time ago, after my friend Tanya, the organizer, first mentioned it to me. Originally, I think she had hoped for a better turn-out, but for the first year running this event, I think she was happy with the sub-20 number of participants she had, just to get a taste for the logistics required in such a race. I tried convincing Deanna she should join me last minute, but she’d also made plans for that same weekend, so unfortunately, i was riding solo, and would have to suffer 2 weeks away from her :-(. Yeah, I’m that pathetic. Ha ha! But as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and time apart and on our own could only help put things into even clearer perspective for us.

Luckily for me, preparations for a ride such as this are pretty straightforward. Just had to get the bike tuned up, and pack a 30L backpack with the bare necessities for an overnighter in a dorm at the other end. I had decided to bike to the start line as well, so I was only taking what I could fit on my back with me. Sleeping bag, change of clothes, and some light toiletries. Of course, on the bike I also packed snacks, lights, GPSr, Blackberry, camera, etc. My plan was to also take part in a bit of Geocaching while I was out there on the bike. After all, I don’t always get to these spots, and the weather looked like it would be good to do a bit of stomping around. Were it a race, I certainly would have forgone this, but as a ‘tourer’, it would be awesome. Ride morning came, and it was chilly! Summer days definitely seem to be behind us now, and the dream of swimming in the lake at the far end seemed unlikely. I put on a toque and gloves, and hit the road. Managed to be the first rider on site. I was that excited! it took all of 3 minutes to register, then I just bummed around chatting with people and waiting to get underway.

As it turns out, getting underway was largely a matter of just going. This was a more or less ‘free-for-all’ event. We got little maps of the trails we were to take, but were told to just make our way at our own pace. Seeing as I was solo, and was going to geo-cache, it quickly became clear that I’d be on my own most of the day. No big deal, as I love being on my bike on the trails :-). I started out, and shortly thereafter, realized I had taken a wrong trail. This theme continued throughout the first day for me. A number of times I chose the wrong branch of a trail and ended up biking extra distances. All’s well for the training though, right? That’s what I kept telling myself. The caches also seemed to be elusive today as well. Admittedly, trying to scramble through woods and around rocky cliffs in bike shoes is a bad idea on the best of days, but when you have at least some schedule to maintain, it becomes downright impossible! Upon arriving at the first food station (there were 2 en route), I found out that I was basically at the very back of the pack! Oops. However, I had all day, and there was little else to do at the other end, so in that sense the journey truly was the destination that day.

All told, on the first day, I ended up cycling about 80km, and managed to grab 2 caches. At the end of the route for that day, I made another trail selection error, but it ended up being the funnest part of the ride to me. True bike-whacking, and even climbing over a beaver damn and crossing a lake with the bike on my shoulder. I later found out that was definitely *not* on the official route. However, I believe I convinced Tanya that it should be an ‘optional’ segment for next year’s ride.

Lodgings for the night were at Camp Gatineau, which is normally a camp used for children with various disabilities, so we had dorm rooms, and there were some common areas, as well as a big kitchen and multi-purpose area. I assisted things by getting the A/V gear working so that we could watch, what else, but a mountain biking video of the 2009 Trans Rockies race. All the riders sat in a semi-circle watching the movie. Pretty relaxing stuff (and inspiring to a degree). Afterward, a great meal of lasagna, salad, garlic bread and desert. To close out the night, we wandered down to the fire pit to start up a bonfire to chase away the night chill,and yes, it was quite cold. Once again, I volunteered my services to get the fire going, but there were a number of other backseat firebugs trying to intrude ;-). I kept telling everyone to be patient, as you need to start a fire out right for it to burn well, but they kept wanting to throw more tinder and bigger logs on. Oh well, majority rules and I eventually just sat back and let it go. We ended up with a respectable fire to warm our toes by (and me to dry my socks, gloves and shoes by, as s result of the lake crossing).

Probably the most amazing part of the night was the starry sky above us in the inky black space. Stepping away from the fire to enjoy my beer in the crisp air, I gazed up and was floored. It was absolutely stunning. Since we were quite remote in the park, there were no lights at all to pollute the view. There were also no clouds at all. I was reminded of one of my summer camping trips with Deanna where we lay outside taking in the Perseid meteor shower. I really wanted to send Deanna a quick note to share this with her, but unfortunately, we were so remote there was absolutely NO cellphone coverage. I felt totally incommunicado. Well, I suppose one night away couldn’t hurt, right? It was tough, but I managed, and the time apart probably gave us each even more time to reflect on what we have, and where we’d like it to go 🙂

After staying out a little bit longer, it was getting time to pack it up and head to bed (bed being a sagging cot with my thin summer sleeping bag!). Temperature was dropping, so I wanted to crawl into my bag and get some sleep before it got too cold. After the long day of biking, you’d think I’d go right to sleep, but I actually stayed up listening to music and writing out another blog post! However, once I finally went to bed ‘for real’, I slept quite soundly till the morning.

Dawn broke crisp, and luckily, dry. It still wasn’t raining, and I was ready to double back and do the whole trail again, only this time I had plans to actually follow the right route! We had a great breakfast of french toast and bacon, cereals and muffins, with juice and chocolate milk to wash it down. I definitely had my fill before packing up my stuff and heading back out. I started sort of at the front, as I didn’t want to be the last in the group today. I stayed in front until the first food station, but after that, I was back on my geo-caching kick! I picked up several more that day, which ended up putting me a bit further back in the group. However, I had all day to get it done, as our closing meal wouldn’t be until 5 or 6 back in Gatineau.

Lucky for me, the ride was fairly uneventful this time. No flat tires, no rains, no bad terrain, nothin. Just really fun riding and thinking about how lucky we are to have something like Gatineau Park in our area. Before I knew it, I was flying through the final kilometers of the course. I had a smile on my face, and the sun warming me up. I got in early enough that I opted to head home and have a good shower before the closing meal. After all, it would be dark once that was done, so I decided I’d just drive back.

Upon my return, I was surprised to learn we still had a rider out there, missing! There was a bit of a scramble and panic, and we dispatched a few people to try a search operation. We also called the park patrol folks, and they took over the operation. Long story short, the final rider made it in safe, and had just taken a completely wrong turn adding quite a bit of distance, which explained why no one had seen them. The rider was quite tired too, so their speed wasn’t the fastest. We were very relieved to see them walk through the doors.

After that excitement, we finally sat down for our post-ride meal, and a look through some of the pictures and videos of the 2 days. I managed to raise the most money of everyone, and was given a some applause for my efforts (and the guarantee of a 2nd piece of cake if I wanted). There were prizes drawn for (I snagged some really warm winter cycling gloves), and a few little speeches. Plans are already in the works for next year’s ride, and pretty much all of us said we’d be interested in doing it again. If each of us brings 1 person, we’ll be at maximum capacity for next year. Hopefully this is the beginning of an annual ride. There aren’t any other mountain bike charity tours, so I really like this format.

Well, that’s it for now. It’s taken me too long to get this out, and I have to get crackin’ on some other things around here. Snowshoe racing season is just around the corner after all! Thanks for checking in folks!