Tag Archives: orienteering

Racing for Redemption at Raid Pulse

Greetings friends! So, what does a fellow do when he is 4 weeks between 2 major ultra trail running races?  Why, sign up for, and race in a ‘shorter’ adventure race of course! As the title implies, I was looking for a little redemption after a botched attempt at the earlier Raid Pulse adventure race in May. At that time, I was a little over-confident, and ended up with a major orienteering snafu costing me huge amounts of time. I was determined not to make the same mistake at the shorter 4 hour event this time around. When the race is only 4 hours, you have even less of a margin of error if you’re trying to get on the podium. So how did I do? Well, read on and find out!

Continue reading Racing for Redemption at Raid Pulse

Doing it Wrong on the Right Side of Town

When you last heard from me, I was gallivanting through the hills of Bear Mountain, NY, struggling through my first trail run of the season, which also happened to be my first race of the season. Fast forward 2 weeks, and I was back out there competing in another race. However, I opted to go back to one of my other passions, Adventure Racing! I figured that since my foot has been a problem, I should dive a bit back into multi-sport racing. So with that, I found myself at the start line of one of my favourites, the 8-hour Raid Pulse Adventure Race with many old friends. Although it was my first AR in 2 years, I had high hopes, and was racing solo. Whatever the course may hold, I knew either way, it would be fun. Did it all go to plan? Definitely not, so read on to learn more about his adventure!

Continue reading Doing it Wrong on the Right Side of Town

Rogaine… Not just for Hair!

Well would you look at that? Less than a week since my last race report, I’m here writing about another impromptu race that I signed up for over the weekend. Well, ok, to be fair, I actually signed up for it on Wednesday this time, so not totally last second, but still, if you’d asked me a week earlier what my plans were for the weekend, I would have said ‘no plans’. The race in question this time? Challenge the Gats Rogaine. As a refresher, Rogaine stands for Rugged Outdoor GROUP Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance. In my case, essentially a 3-hour orienteering race. My group? Team Hyper-Active, consisting of Deanna and I. Yup, that’s right, a husband and wife team of super outdoor fun! Read on for the nitty gritty.

We entered with no particular expectations or goals (well, apart from the fact that I enter every race *hoping* to win!). For my part, I was looking forward to working on my navigation and route decisions, as well as using a thumb compass in an orienteering race. Knowing that we’d be unlikely to ‘clear’ the course, I wanted to see if I could plan an optimal route to get as many controls as possible, and also adapt on the fly if we were running short of time. As for Deanna, I’m pretty sure she was just keen to have a fun day stomping around in the woods with me, and maybe picking a bit more experience with maps and terrain.

Friday night was a soggy mudfest riding my bike home, and glancing at the Saturday forecast confirmed that we’d be up against more of the same. Temperatures around 4 degrees, potential of pouring rain, and lots of high winds to keep it all interesting. What could be better? On the plus side, I tend to thrive when others get grumpy about bad weather, AND we could just wear rain jackets and pants, so the discomfort wouldn’t be that bad.

Marking the Maps

After arriving and registering at the race HQ, we anxiously awaited our maps and instructions for the event. There were 2, 3, and 6 hour events. Lucky for us, the 3 hour event only started at 12:40, so we didn’t have to show up until 11am. Maps were distributed at 11:40, where we learned that we’d have 30 controls scattered about. Point values ranged from 35 to 80, with the higher value controls in trickier to navigate / ambulate towards. We had to catch a bus to the start line at 12:10, which didn’t really leave much planning time. My approach was to simply highlight the controls in 3 groupings for points. Blue were the bottom 10, Yellow for middle 10, and Pink to denote the 10 highest value controls. This is a quick way of visually scanning the map on the run to a) see if you are missing any nearby controls b) triage which controls are worth trying to get to in the limited time you have.

Frankly, I was surprised to see a lot of teams NOT take this simple approach. On the maps, controls are in brown text, and easy to miss on the run. I thought it made more sense to do what I was doing over trying to sketch out an exact route. Too many variables in the short race to choose a single route. I did mentally go over a number of route options, but didn’t settle on even the first decision until we were on the bus riding to the start. By the time we were gathering at Pink Lake lookout for the start, I had a pretty clean plan of attack. We’d seek to clear the northernmost controls, heading roughly clockwise, then make decisions based on timing. Given the time, we had to average 6 minutes per control in order to clear the course, and there was no way we’d maintain that!

With the starting gun, we got right to work, keeping a nice steady run/jog pace for the first CP. Luckily, I was familiar with a lot of the ‘secret’ trails in this area, so nabbing the first 3 CPs was pretty easy. We picked them off in about 15 minutes, putting us in the black. The next one was also easy, giving us confidence and 4 minutes in the bank. However, the next couple controls were ‘pink’, high-value targets, that took us quite a bit longer. While the weather was not bad (yet), some of the terrain was throwing our pace off. Deanna found it a bit tough to navigate over thick deadfall in places, so we slowed a bit to not get too pooped later. Luckily, we were having fun and working well together. Turns out Deanna has great spotter eyes in the woods. She often spotted the orienteering flags before I did once I’d give her the features to look for and where to scan.

Picking up a Control

I think somewhere around the 8th control I had to start making decisions on where to skip controls. I didn’t like admitting ‘defeat’, but realistically, we’d never get to some of the outliers. I had my eye on a string of 4 high-value controls along ridges further on in the course, and wanted to make sure we nabbed them. As such, we ditched 4-5 in the NE section of our map, as I couldn’t find an easy routing to get to any of them and stay on track. Somewhere around the 1h15 mark, the rain started on us. At first it wasn’t too heavy, but about an hour after that, it really started to pour on us. Our feet were thoroughly soaked, and in spite of rain coats and pants, the heavy exertion meant we were soaked on the inside anyway, whether it was rain or sweat! Waterproof breatheables my ass. No such thing as a breathable coat when you are actually working hard!

As we worked our way south, I had to be even more detailed on my nav decisions. The clock was ticking, and you didn’t want to finish late. Technically, the race is done at the 3 hour mark. However, you can finish late. BUT, for every minute you are late, you lost 10 points! So it’s a fine line between getting a control and finishing as close to the 3h mark as possible. I’d say I was reasonable in my estimate, but time would tell whether I’d meet the goal. In the string of 4 on the ridges, I bobbled a bit on one of the controls. It was located on the ‘foot of a cliff’ somewhere in a maze of hills and cliffs. Being 30m off in terrain like this can mean having to climb all the way up and down another steep hill to find a control, and it can be really tough to know exactly where you are on a map when there is no ‘YOU ARE HERE’ blinking icon! Just when I started to get frustrated, I found the control, but I think it took us 15 minutes from the previous one!

GPS Plotted on Course Map

Entering the home stretch, we were once again heading to familiar terrain. 4 Controls were located in a network of trails I used to run, bike, and snowshoe on when I lived in the Plateau. I looked at our time and decided we could only grab 3 of the 4, so we set off.

Nabbed the first one easily. HOWEVER, I then made a bad trail decision taking us DOWN the hill rather than across a ridge. Ultimately, this meant we’d have to do extra climbing. As a result, I changed our plan and swapped out one control for another. Seeing only 10 minutes left on the clock, I knew we were sunk. We had 15 minutes of RUNNING to finish, and that was generous.

I knew Deanna was starting to be tired, but I pushed an encouraged as best I could. I plotted out an ’emergency’ route that would take use close enough to 2 more controls that I could quickly run uphill to grab them while Deanna would follow a little further off. The plan here was to grab ‘bonus minutes’ while we made our way back. If we just beat a trail back, we’d have lost more points. This way, I grabbed a 73 point control and a 35 point control, basically giving us an extra 10.8 minute cushion. By this point, we were cold, tired, and very wet, so I had to very tactfully push Deanna by encouraging her to give it her all and remind her that every minute we were giving up another hard-fought 10 points. She dug deep and did her best, never complaining (I’ve taught her well from AR!).

We finally crossed the last field and punched in 9min 55s after the cutoff (or 100 points penalty). Thank goodness for the ‘cushion’ we’d grabbed on the way back. We had no idea how that result would stack up, and just focussed on getting the hot meal and changing into dry clothes. We got to chat with lots of other racers from both the 6h and 3h race to see how they all did. Everyone agreed that in spite of late day rain, it had been a great day of playing in the woods. I was very happy with how Deanna and I raced together, and also quite happy with my navigation overall. In the end, I’d say there was really only 2-3 controls that took a little longer that I would have liked, with the vast majority having been navigated to pretty much dead on.

Eventually, I strolled over to where results were being displayed. I was surprised and delighted to learn that we had won the co-ed category with a score of 1080. Not only that, but we were 300 points ahead of the 2nd place team! Looking at the overall results, I was even more pleased to see we managed 3rd overall! The best finish was 1544pts, 2nd was 1487pts, and then us with 1080 points! How cool is that? We certainly hadn’t expected to do so well, but I guess that’s what happens with a postivie attitude, and no dilly-dallying in the middle of a race! Oh, that and strong communication and willingness to push through the tough parts! I think Deanna was even more proud of us than I was. It was definitely a great way to end our day. We decided that deserved some celebratory wine and sauna time later in the evening!

Top of the Podium

Well, that does it for my little race report. If you haven’t tried an orienteering event, what are you waiting for? Head over to the Ottawa Orienteering website and look for an event. Their smaller events are very reasonably priced, get you out there in the great outdoors, and help you learn a new skill. I’m pretty sure that everyone who has ever tried it will tell you they had fun. It’s a great atmosphere, and attracts people from all walks of life! Till the next event, keep at it, get out there, and have some fun!

The Highs and Lows of Pennsylvania

Greetings friends. I’m pretty excited to be able to write a blog post about a race I recently did in Pennsylvania. Why? Well, for starters, it was a 44 hour adventure race. Also, I have never been to Pennsylvania for a race. And finally, it was because this race was not even on my radar until a few weeks before, when Deanna pointed out a post on Facebook from a friend stating they were seeking a team-mate. Had she not encouraged me to throw my name in the hat, I wouldn’t have even raced a multi-day AR this year! How sad would that have been? Read on for my tale of climbing mountains on my mountain bike over and over again….

48 Hour races (44 in this case) in the AR world are one of the best challenges for a middling team. You have enough time to get into real trouble and/or make some really great decisions to help your standing. Anything can happen, and you definitely start to hit the wall of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion. Going into a 48 Hr race, you know you will not sleep, so it is all about smart decisions and figuring out as much as you can in advance, so you are not planning when dead tired. Unfortunately, this race didn’t really allow you to use that strategy, and in my opinion, this race was more like a multiple stage orienteering race than a pure adventure race.

Full Map Set

What do I mean by that? Well, here are a few things. First, the maps. They were huge, and not marked. We got them 1.5 hours before the start, along with a very brief (<1 page) instruction sheet. I started trying to furiously plot the points on it using the UTM co-ordinates before realizing they had master maps posted on a wall of a building. Unfortunately, all teams were trying to copy the maps at the same time, making it VERY challenging to transcribe, and also prepare all your gear, since it was the first chance we had of seeing the order of events. Oh right, and I should mention that I was in the navigator role so that my teammate Brad could focus on doing filming of the event, and my other teammate Jessica could focus on the fact that this was her FIRST RACE >8 hours in length!

Matters were made worse by colder-than-expected weather, forcing organizers to completely re-imagine the course a day earlier! They had to cancel rafting, swimming, and ropes sections right off the bat, forcing extra mountain biking on us. As a result, we also only got instruction for about the first 20 hours of racing. The next sections would be revealed to us later (or maybe just made up as we got there??).

So, where exactly was the race and what was it? Well, this was the Equinox Traverse Adventure Race, and took place in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania (near the Maryland and West Virginia Borders). This region features many state parks and state forests, leaving lots of options for adventuring. It is also very close to the highest point in Pennsylvania, Mount Davis, at 3,200ft elevation. While we did not climb that feature, we DID go up and down MANY >2,000 ft climbs during the course of our race.

So, back to the start line. Maps now marked and roughly folded to fit into my map carrier on my bike, we straddled our mountain bikes to get ready for the rolling start as a group. We had a roughly 2k road section where we were to stay together before we were cut loose to hammer to the next transition. This section was a taster for what would become a theme of this race. On our bikes. Climbing long sections, then bombing down others. On a combination of roads, gravel roads, fire tower road, trails, and singletrack. Not to spoil the surprise, but we basically spent ~35 of our 40 hours of the race on our butts doing this!! Not everyone was as ‘lucky’ as us, as you’ll learn.

Our first section didn’t feature any real CPs to be punched, just a nice bike section to the first transition of the day, where we were switching to trekking. We started the bike leg at 9am, and got into the first transition at 11:15 am. You can click here for detailed results and times for the race. At this point, we took the time to organize food and maps before heading out. We didn’t want to overlook anything, as we only had until 6pm to get as many CPs in this area as we could, and we wanted to get them all. This area featured some great trails and elevation gain giving us impressive views of the area. I wished I could pull out my camera and snap pictures, but my hands were full with maps and compass, navigating and keeping us on track. We quickly discovered that there were plenty of trails not indicated on the maps. When trekking, I can say that I personally HATE that! The easiest is to take a bearing and just bushwhack in my opinion. When you have myriad trails, you have to take educated guesses on which might help, and decide then to abandon them.

Heading out on Trek

Luck was with us for the most part, and the route choices and trails made general sense. It helped that our destination was often the highest point in an area, so we could read the terrain around us for cues and clues. It took us a little longer than we’d hoped to grab our 2nd CP (the first was an easy grab on a small island not far from the TA). This CP also introduced us to the fact that this area was THICK with stinging nettles and briars. The best sum-up would come from a post I came across on Facebook after the event:

The only hints I’m giving away for the Equinox, is if your in the stinging nettles, briars so thick Peter Cottontail would have hard time crawling through, knee straining rock gardens, seeing occasional piles of bear poop and maybe hearing the sound of a baby rattle in the middle of the woods…..you might be close to a CP. Oh and ticks.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of pushing your way through a sea of stinging nettles, I do NOT recommend it. The going was very slow, and it definitely tested our mental fortitude. Looking at the time we’d spent already in this section, we got concerned about getting the remaining checkpoints in time, but pressed on, deciding to run to the furthest CP in the section, and making our way back. Once again, we had a slight challenge getting this one due in part to mis-reading the cue sheet descriptions. In reality, our navigation was in fact bang on, it was just finding the actual CP flags that seemed to challenge us, as they are often in an area of 100 square meters or so, and it can take time to locate them. Once again, although we were a little annoyed at the time delay, we again re-grouped and pressed on, with me adjusting our route plan on the fly in hopes of getting lucky on the next few CPs.

Luck was with us from that point for the remainder of the trek. We picked up some very useful trails, and had gotten more used to ‘guessing’ where the CPs might actually be. We also had the chance to do some classic straight-line bushwhacking, which netted us some solid progress and ending up finding the rest of the CPs on the mountain (while enjoying a few glimpses of the spectacular views). Time was tight, but we were confident we could run back to the TA in time. Luckily, backtracking was made simpler as the route I had chosen took us back to a point where we’d be able to basically just double back on the ‘right’ trails more easily. However, it was still a real push to wrap things up quick, as you’ll see by our time in at the TA. 5:56pm. Yup. 4 minutes to spare! While many teams had already left, we learned that several teams had not ‘cleared’ the section, so we took this as a small victory (and personally, I’d say in retrospect, that was our greatest accomplishment in the race).

The team was cooked from the recent effort, so time was spent re-grouping, filling water, etc, before taking off. This was perfect for me, as I had not even started planning out our next route choices on the bike, which involved plotting 3-4 supplementary maps, and preparing for a long night of cycling, much of it in remote park locations. As I sorted the routes out, it seemed very likely to me that we’d face our first true decision point on which CPs to skip, since our next deadline was 4am, and there was a LOT of ground to cover. Sadly, we mis-interpreted another little instruction on the sparse directions, which noted we had to check in at TA3 by 4am, and would not have access to any CPs north of a certain highway. Uncertain of which road that meant, we took that to mean we were not allowed to grab any more of the CPs in this whole quadrant by 4am. As we learned later (and others also made this mistake), that was not true.

So fast forward on the bikes now. I had plotted as conservative a route as I could (i.e. avoiding as many of the crazy long climbs as possible), while having a clear plan to get as many CPs as possible, while giving us ‘outs’ and shortcuts as needed in some of the parks. I was quite pleased with the plan I had devised as it should have maximized our ability to grab CPs. The plan involved working on clearing the ‘south’ area of this leg first, then working our way north before veering east to the TA. In effect, it meant we were grabbing CPs that we’d eventually (although at that time unknown to us due to not having the information yet) see again, and COULD have picked up AFTER 4am! Looking back at the maps, it isn’t clear that we would have done things differently, as the alternative was a LOT of trails and tougher biking, and we were already not that fast at this point.

I will state that although this section was now in the depths of the night, it was actually quite fun to navigate and ride. There was a good mix of route types, and enough trails and challenges that you had to be sharp, but not ‘perfect’. Given more time and speed, clearing it wouldn’t have been that difficult from a navigation perspective. However, hindsight is 20/20, and in the end, we left a LOT of CPs out on the course once we made our move to head to TA3. Some of the CPs were so far removed, and required really long slogs up or down trails that were un-rideable that losing an hour on 1 CP was quite easy. Again, we made our priority getting to the TA before that 4am cutoff a priority, as we were warned there would be ‘severe’ penalties for missing them.

Let me digress here to point out a complaint we felt is warranted here. The notion of a ‘severe’ penalty was completely unexplained to racers. There was not a single ‘rule’ about the race, nor how it would be scored or how we’d be ranked depending on these cutoffs, etc. This left us uncertain what the best choices to make would be. Rush to make cutoffs? Grab an extra CP or 2 to get more points? Would there be a short course option? Would we be disqualified for missing cutoffs? It was frustrating to have more questions than answers, especially when we were out there trying to make a decision on what to do in a pinch. So, we made the best decisions we could, and hoped for the best.

Digression over, I’m happy to say we yet again got to the cutoff with 8 minutes to spare. You’ll note on the timesheet we cut it closer than anyone else EVERY time :-). This particular cutoff was at a 24 / 7 gas station. At this point, it was FREEZING outside (like 4-5 degrees!), so we loved the heat indoors. We also loved the gas station Pizza, Burgers, and other food that we bought to fuel up. Once again, we took our grand time here. In part to fuel up, and also so that I could plot the next section, which was only revealed to us now. It involved quite a bit of back tracking, and then entering an area called ‘Bear Run’ and following what they said were orange ribbons to the next TA. We were given no information on what awaited us there, only that we had to make it there by 10:30am.

Seemed easy enough. 6.5 hours to bike to the next CP? Not so fast tiger. First, by the time we left, it was already 5am. Then, Jess flatted out as soon as we got underway, which I fixed as fast as I could on the roadside, but this still cost us time. THEN we made the decision to pick up 2 CPs from the previous section, now that we knew we were allowed to. We were happy to grab them, but didn’t realize the fresh hell awaiting us on the way to Bear Run. For starters, the climbing was really starting to wear on poor Jess. She was hurting and struggling, so we took some weight from her, and did what we could , but admittedly, progress on the roads was slow. The focus was on eating, drinking, and bouncing back, which she did by the time we got to the ‘entry’ of Bear Run, which was a flagged roadside trail entry. The directions just said to follow the flagging tape to the CP. We assumed that it would take a while with the mountains, but at least it should be straightforward, right?

WRONG! The flagging was pretty consistent for the first couple kilometers INTO this park, then, all of a sudden, it STOPPED! Ok, now what? We were well into the park, but with no map indicating ANY of the trails we were on (even though they were named). Once again, all we knew is that certain roads were completely out of bounds. Logically, we new that we might hit one such road, and wanted to avoid it, in case if would lead to disqualification. That meant a bunch of climbing up, looking for flagging, then changing our minds, doubling all the way back and dropping all the way down off the mountain, still not finding tape. We heard the road, worried about the DQ risk, and eventually decided to head back all the way UP, agreeing that either we’d missed flagging, or it didn’t exist, and that we should have just kept going up and around. This was definitely a low point on team morale, but the worst was yet to come.

Once we got ALL THE WAY BACK UP and a whole lot further, we finally saw another team, commenting “oh look, another team trying to follow the flagging”. They were trekking, so at least we knew what was next. They were kind enough to: a) share their own absolute frustration at this part of the race and b) share an additional map they had gotten AFTER the bike showing the trails and their names in this region. This indicated that we had to go ALL THE FRIGGING WAY BACK DOWN, and that we had been dangerously close to the TA and not known it (like 10-15 minutes away). We had lost many hours by now. Ultimately, although the cut-off had been noted as 10:30am, we only showed up at 1:21pm, but were told the cut-off was not being enforced here. Small miracles!

At this point, we got the lowdown on the next section, which was an orienteering leg in the Bear Run State Park. It looked quite easy (with the now-supplied map), but time consuming. Teams seeking to clear the whole course were taking about 4 hours to do so. Our main issue was that in order to make it to the NEXT transition, we still had a lot of biking to do, and were looking at a 6pm cutoff. We had the idea to grab at least 1 checkpoint near the TA, but after overhearing several other teams discussing the time it would take to bike to the next TA, we got spooked, and decided to pack back up and get right back on our bikes. All told, we spent 40 minutes in the TA. This was spent eating, addressing sore parts, and mapping out the next part of the race. This was the FIRST (and ONLY) chance we had access to our miniscule 40L team gear bin. It basically only had room for a little food, and spare clothes should we need it. In this TA, I was in a bit of a funk after the last major delay, and not excited about riding the saddle for many more hours. However, such is the way things go sometimes. We’d now been on our bikes from 6pm Saturday to 1pm Sunday, a total of 19 hours, and about to keep pedaling.

Once again, the route we were going to follow was a bit of back-tracking in the State Park, then we had to make a choice on how to get to the transition area. We decided to take a bit of a gamble by heading down an extremely steep ATV trail from the top of the mountain we were on down to the river, then follow this ATV trail along the river into a village before linking with the road many other teams were likely taking. What a ride! We had to stop numerous times to let our forearms have a break as well as make sure the brakes weren’t overheating or wearing out. It was STEEP! What a rush. At the bottom, we discovered our ATV track was not as ‘smooth’ as we’d hoped, so any time gain we might have had by taking the shorter route was likely offset by the slog we faced. I now hit my absolute lowest in the race. We often use a scale of 1-5 to share with the team how we feel. I reported a 0.75. However, that merely frustrated me, so I ate more, blocked out everything else (not even talking…), and just plowed on hard, taking no rest or giving me any time to get frustrated. I was determined to not make this be a factor in our race. After a little while I bounced back (as we always do), just in time for a stand-off we were NOT expecting!

Just before we hit a real road in the village we had targeted (and dangerously close to the cutoff) we realized we were about to cross a sign that said “Private Property”. A mere 500 feet from the road we wanted. And of course, the owner was on his porch, and none too pleased. We had a genuine standoff here, uncertain whether we were going to be fired upon, have police called or what. In our exhausted state, we did all we could to assure the gentleman we meant to disrespect, and were merely ‘lost’ and didn’t realize the property was private. In all fairness, this was true. From the map, this trail clearly went across state park land (free access) and was not clear that the final 500 feet might be private. We lost precious minutes before finally somehow convincing / promising him we’d leave quickly, quietly and would NEVER return. Apparently they are very zealous of property rights in this area. Duly noted. Reinvigorated by the adrenaline and fear, we roared off on our bikes, now more than ever determined to make the 6pm cutoff. A few quick route decisions, and we were pulling into the TA, seeing a sea of bikes, but no other teams. On the plus side, it was 5:59pm!!! We’d made it. Brad was ecstatic.

Just as quickly as he was ecstatic,  he was crushed. As we were hugging the fact that we’d ‘made it’, the race crew clarified that we had to be on the water at 6pm, not arrive at the TA. So we had missed the paddle section! This also meant we would miss the next trekking section, since it involved trekking from the kayak pull-out BACK to this point before grabbing bikes and cycling to the finish. However, the “good news” was that we could just take our bikes and do the trekking section using our bikes before making our way to the finish. We had now been awake for about 35 hours, and on our bikes for the last 24 hours straight. We didn’t immediately see the fact that we’d get to keep biking as ‘good news’.

For my part, I let Brad and Jess sort through their feelings about this while focusing on plotting the next section on the maps anyway. There was little point to getting angry now. On the plus side, there was no way we wouldn’t be finishing the race at least, and getting out as soon as we could would be helpful, as we still had some daylight to use to find the final 4 checkpoints. I soon realized that we had a VERY long climb ahead of us, and didn’t want to share the extent of this with the team just yet, instead just encouraging everyone to get ready and head back out. Which we did, but not before witnessing the eventual winner of the race running into the TA having finished both the paddle AND the trek, and back to grab his bike to head to the finish! He had a mere 7-9 miles left on rail trail to finish the race, whereas we were now facing many more hours on trails and access roads on our bikes before getting there. If nothing, it was inspirational to see a solo racer that far ahead and winning!

Off we went! We made our way to the bottom of what was called ‘fire tower road’, a climb of probably over 2,000ft total lay ahead. Luckily, a nice old timer at his house invited us to use his outdoor hose to fill up our bladders with fresh filtered creek water. This kind of made up for the last cantankerous fellow. We were warned by him (and several other people we saw on our way) that this road was NOT friendly, and very steep. Lol. If only they knew what we’d been up to for the past 32+ hours. We slowly made our way up and up and up. When we reached the top and grabbed the 1st of the final 4 CPs, we started running across teams on foot completing this trekking section, including friends. They were a bit confused seeing us on bikes. We explained our situation, wished everyone well, and kept going. Night was now upon us again, but luckily, I felt confident about the route choices, and just settled in for many more hours of riding at a slow pace to keep us all together (Jessica didn’t have a proper light for night 2, and was a bit bagged).

For the sake of brevity, I’ll just say the last 3 checkpoints, while not incredibly hard to find, did take us quite a little while to get. The final CP involved a long ride on a fun single-track trail (usually limited to hikers, but we got to ride it), then a long road climb to a park summit. Once we finally located the CP hidden in the woods, we knew it was just a matter of downhill riding to the finish line. We had a mini-celebration up there, knowing we had succeeded.

At the FinishWe rolled across the finish line at 1:08am. Technically, this put our finish time somewhere in the middle of the pack, albeit having finished an ‘alternative’ course. Our category standing put us in 6th of 9 teams, and overall  8th of 16 teams, based on our points. However, more importantly, we finished the race strong, as a team, and with smiles on our face (proof above). We had raced hard for 40 hours, been awake for 45 hours straight, covered about 260 km (most of this on mountain bikes), and used our bodies to climb 25,000 feet or more of elevation! Not too shabby. I was happy to race with both Brad and Jessica, and proud to call us a ‘Team’. We had a great attitude, helped each other out when needed, and managed to show Jessica just how far you can push yourself. I’m pretty sure she’ll be back for more!

The Video

Now, as a reward for sticking with me through this really long post, I have a treat. As mentioned, Brad was filming for this race, and as a result, we have a full video of our experience. Click below to watch it. Put it on full-screen HD and see what 40 hours of racing looks like from the inside!

 

Chasing Checkpoints in Beautiful Lac Ste. Marie

Well, the race season is shaping up quite nicely so far this season. I’m staying busy, but trying hard not to over-commit to racing in order to give myself to properly train for a few key events. However, it’s hard to say no to fun adventure races when I get the chance. With that, I bring you my re-cap of the ever-awesome Raid Pulse adventure race close to home. This early May race is a nice 8 hour duration, and this time, was held and hosted at Mont Ste Marie, a mere 1 hour drive from home. As a bonus, that means sleeping in my own bed the night before and after the race! Bonus.

This was, in fact, the 14th year that Thierry and his crew have been putting on events. In the world of AR, that is something to brag about. What makes it work and keep people coming back? Simple. The race is both accessible, and challenging. Top racers can put it all out there and try to clear the course to get all the advanced checkpoints, and novice racers can choose to chase less checkpoints yet still have a great day. Thierry has done an excellent job of crafting courses that can take you pretty much to the full 8 hr mark, both for the top racers and the newcomers. To make things even more accessible this year, there was even a 2-hour event, but I didn’t see any of that, given that we started before, and ended after their entire event and awards were done!

Based on the fact that the course was hosted at VeloMSM, the mountain bike trail group out of Mont Ste Marie, we had an inkling that this race would feature a fair bit of biking on the amazing trails of the region. We were not disappointed. VeloMSM has been around for a few years, quietly building up the trails around the ski hill. They have done some amazing work. This was my 3rd time racing in the area, and each time, it seems they have added to the trails, including building amazing wood berms and structures and ensuring there is a good mix of easy, medium, and hard trails. But I digress, back to the race.

Leg 1 – Mountain Biking

Leg 1 - VeloMSM

As mentioned above, our race began with a pseudo-remote start. For the start, we were bused back to where we had dropped bikes off on our way to the race HQ. This was about 10-12km from the ski hill, along rolling roads. The intent was to give everyone a chance to sort themselves out and separate the pack before the technical trails. After the roads, the next equalizer was the fact that most people opted to bike straight up the access road winding its way up the ski hill. This meant a steep climb, and chance to further spread out. A theme of this particular race was that pretty much all the checkpoints of the race could be picked up in any order within each leg.

For this leg, there were 8 regular checkpoints and 2 advanced checkpoints that we could snag. I had sketched out a tentative route at the briefing, but on the bus ride to the start, basically decided on the fly to try a completely different approach after the first big climb. The trick was to minimize the amount of double-backs on this section. Certain trails were 1-way only, and were scattered around a lake, so it was hard to tell on paper the most ‘efficient’ route. All in all, I’d say I made pretty good time. I learned early on that there was a faster way to get to one CP right off the bat, but only a few teams had lucked out on that (it involved a non-marked ATV trail from the original road INTO the ski hill area, where most of us got there via conventional trails).  For that reason, I knew I was about 5 teams back from the get-go.

Another good sign was that as I exited this area of the course, I linked up with Adam Mallory and James Galipeau, both of whom are strong competitors, and whose paths I’d crossed on the trails a couple times. We all took slightly different routes, but all started the next KILLER climb on a dirt road to the first transition. And by climb, I mean hard walk up a near-vertical road with our bikes!

Leg 2 – Trekking

Leg 2 - Trekking

The next leg of the race was what I consider my strong  suit. Trekking and orienteering. This time, we had 4 regular checkpoints and 3 advanced checkpoints to go after. Once we had reached a the transition zone at the peak of one mountain, we dropped our bikes, and headed off into the bush. A quick study of the may showed that the first regular 4 checkpoints shouldn’t be much of a problem, as they were located on ATV trails criss-crossing the area. Not only that, but our maps seemed to be pretty accurate, improving the odds we could run between these CPs. However, the 3 advanced CPs were placed at much further distances, and also involved some considerable elevation gain and loss.

I grabbed the first four points, then struck out on a bearing through the bush to reach the first of the advanced CPs. In this little section, I came across a few other racers, including James and Adam once again. Once again, we had NOT taken the same route in this section, but were together in the search for this particular point. Upon reaching the first point, we agreed that the most efficient route to the next point was down a pretty steep re-entrant along a stream from our high point. While it was not necessarily advisable to go at this one alone due to cliffs, we decided that by heading down together, there was some safety in numbers.

Not long after grabbing the next CP, I realized there was a serious problem with my navigation. James and I agreed on the bearing for the next point, but for some reason, we were pointed in complete opposite directions. Shortly after, I realized my compass was completely borked! The needle wasn’t moving. At first, I thought maybe it was a magnet or something, but I came to realize that the fluid in the capsule had somehow drained, to the needle was not able to properly moved. I guess 10 or so years of compass abuse in races leads to damage. Even more surprising is the fact that I *ALWAYS* carry a spare compass in a race….. until this one! I had NO backup. I was shocked. Not only that, but I was in the bush in the most remote part of the course. I had to trust contours, instinct, and most importantly, James!

I told him my predicament, and given the fact we had the same CPs left, we stuck together until the end of this leg. At one point I remembered my watch has a compass on it, but it wasn’t quick enough to give readings, and they were only bearings, making it harder to use in a hurry.

Add all this to the fact that there was a 2pm cutoff back at the TA in order to be allowed to continue onto the next ‘advanced’ bike section, and you can understand my concern for our pace. We picked up the pace as best we could , but ended up over-shooting the TA by veering a little too far east. Luckily, we hooked back up with a trail and ran / jogged back as quick as we could. We showed up a couple minutes after 2. Normally, it would be game over, but the race organizers had decided to add 30 minutes to the cutoff. Sweet! Still in the hunt for a course clearing. No time to waste, it was time to grab a couple glasses of Nuun, plot the new advanced CPs onto my map, and head back out.

Leg 3 – Biking / Advanced Biking

Leg 3 - Biking

Compass snafu aside, I was feeling that I was in a good position now. Not that many teams had made it to the cutoffs, and I was on track to finish and clear the full course. In other words, whatever position I was in at that point in the race should be the worst I’d end up in. With that in mind, I wanted to charge hard and see if I could pick up a spot or two. The rest of the race was bike / paddle / bike, and wouldn’t require the use of my compass, so I put that fear out of my mind. What I didn’t count on however, was how miserable the advanced biking leg would be. Ostensibly, it was on a ‘trail’, but this thing was horribly overgrown, and resulted in a lot of bike-whacking, and when riding, resulted in a lot of branches smacking me in the face. It was demoralizing. Eventually, I just closed my eyes and rode through the branches. Apparently, my wife does not approve of this technique.

There were only 2 CPs to grab, and both were super-easy to find once we were out of the really gnarly ghost biking trail. Having grabbed those, it was back onto backroads that were on the map, and the longish ride to the next transition. On the ride, I studied the maps a bit more to see if there might be a shortcut, and ended up devising a plan to cut back through the MTB trails at the ski hill and ultimately through a golf course rather than taking roads the long way around one spot. The jury is out on whether that was faster on the way TO the transition, but it would pay off later. There were a few delays as I had to consult maps and double check where I was.

Emerging as hoped by the golf course, it was a quick 800m bike to where the boats and transition bags were waiting.

Leg 4 – The Paddle

Leg 4 - Paddle

Considering I had only managed to go out once on my boat this season, 3 days before the race, and for a mere 45 minutes, I wasn’t expecting to break any records. However, I had the rush of being near the end of the race in my favour AND the sight of a lot of other racers around me. Keep in mind that these were racers that had skipped certain parts of the course, so there was the mental boost that I would likely keep up to, and/or pass them on the water. For this section, there were 3 main CPs and 1 advanced CP to grab. Looking at the distances and time, it looked pretty much a lock that I could grab them all and finish under the 8 hour mark, so off I went!

Not long into the paddle, I linked up with a few other solo racers in kayaks, and couple canoes. We were similar in speeds, so ended up paddling much of this section together. This lead to a few traffic jams near the CPs, and one spot where I tried hopping out of my boat only to discover that the ‘rocky shore’ was actually a dropoff. I dropped down to my belly button before propelling myself upwards again owing to the frigid water. Lesson learned. I decided to just wait my turn at the CPs and try to better position myself for the next ones.

James and Adam had started the paddle ahead of me (they got through the bike quicker), but I caught up to Adam on the water. James had gotten too far ahead, so we crossed paths with him on his way back to the transition. I’m guessing he had 10-15 minutes on us. I decided I had to at least stay ahead of Adam in this mini-battle we had set ourselves up for. After grabbing all the CPs, I gritted my teeth and focused on a smooth paddle stroke to get out of the water first. On the way, we also passed Deanna and Adam’s wife, who were racing as a team of two (ironic, no?).

I reached the shore at ramming speed, hopped out into the mud, and dragged my kayak up as fast as possible…

Leg 5 – Bike to Finish

It was down to the final 4-5k of biking. I knew that I would only be out for maybe 15-20 minutes from here. As a result, I made what I would arguably call my fastest AR transition ever. I left all my paddling gear on (well, mainly just PFD). Threw on my helmet, dropped paddle off in my bag (along with my map bag that I wouldn’t need) and hopped on my bike, all in one relatively smooth movement. I was back on the road probably within a minute or two of pulling off the water. It was time to put my shortcut theory to the test again.

Word on the street is that when Adam pulled off the water, he was gunning for me, and was fighting for an equally fast transition (although he took time to take off his PFD, which I think was a bad decision). I rode back up to the golf course, and turned in, now having memorized the exact route to get to the faint trail back to the ski hill.  A few other racers watched me turn with some interest, as the conventional route was to stick to the road all the way. However, this was the time to gamble in my opinion. Adam might well have caught me on the road!

Pushing hard, I emerged right where I’d hoped, in the ski parking lot. I crossed the line, relieved to see no sign of Adam. James was already there, and let me know he’d only just gotten there a few minutes before! In the end the results show me as having arrived 5 minutes after James, and Adam arriving 4 minutes after me! Our standings were 3rd, 4th, and 4th in the solo category. I’ll take it. Sad to be a mere 1 step off the podium, but there was some heavy competition in this category in this race. 1st place had beaten us all by an hour, and 2nd had beaten James by about 15 minutes. I feel the main difference had to be speed in the advanced bike section, and time lost on the trek due to the compass issue. Oh, and for the record, my finishing time was 7 hours, 34 minutes.

Time to celebrate! We all made our way to the awards ceremony to await the warm meal awaiting us. It was a tasty spaghetti with salad and bread, followed by a desert. The obligatory awards presentation, then lots of random draws. Sadly, I won no prizes that night, nor did Deanna, but I was happy just having had the chance to run yet another fun race. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention, I actually filmed the whole event with my array of cameras while racing ;-). If you haven’t done so yet, have a look at my re-cap video below. This should definitely give you a sense of the actual race. Enjoy! Next up, 44 hours of racing in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania!

The Video

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.